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SNOOZE

A STORY OF AWAKENING


PRAISE FOR SNOOZE: A STORY OF AWAKENING, WINNER OF THE 2015 NATIONAL INDIE EXCELLENCE AWARD FOR NEW AGE FICTION “Snooze is a moving story ... a multi-dimensional, many-faceted gem of a read. From mysteries to metaphysics, entering the dream world, Bigfoot, high magic and daring feats of courage, this book has it all ... I highly recommend Snooze for all ages. It’s an exciting journey within.” —Lance White, author of Tales of a Zany Mystic “Snooze is a book for readers ready to awaken from our mass cultural illusion before we self-destruct. Snooze calls out for readers open to the challenging adventure of opening their minds. It illustrates, in intriguing story form, the possibilities that imagination, dreams, visions, paranormal experiences, respectful relationship to nature, and non-linear thinking may hold the keys to resolving the ecological, economic, social, and political deadlocks we are currently experiencing.” —Merry Hall, Co-Host of Envision This “Luckman’s dazzling abilities as a novelist abound with lyrical prose ... If you enjoy colorful characters, a fast-paced plot and stories that tug at your heart, this novel in eighty-four chapters is anything but a yawn.” —Readers’ Favorite “Snooze is without doubt one of the best coming-of-age, awakening books that I have ever read, and it had me entranced from the beginning to the end.” —Ingrid Hall, Author & Freelance Editor “This was the first novel I had ever read by Sol Luckman but I will certainly be reading more of his work now. I would recommend this to all readers as the story truly holds a lot. It was deep, it was humorous and it left nothing to be desired.” —OnlineBookClub.org “Snooze is a captivating coming-of-age tale about a gifted boy traveling to a fantastical realm to save his father ... Thanks to author Sol Luckman’s writing ability, Snooze can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, despite being aimed at young adults. Right off the bat, the writing is engaging and captures the attention.” —Indiereader.com “Snooze … is so much more than a story about a young man’s awakening … Snooze is as critical to spiritual seekers today as The Celestine Prophecy in its time. Get ready for the ride of a lifetime. You won’t want to stop.” —Laura Walker, author of The Black Moon: Guide to Healing the Shadow Side


ALSO BY SOL LUCKMAN HUMOR The Angel’s Dictionary NONFICTION Conscious Healing Potentiate Your DNA


Copyright  2014 by Sol Luckman. All Rights Reserved. ISBN: 978-0-9825983-4-4 Library of Congress Number: 2014935617 No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), businesses, events or locales is entirely unintentional. Cover background painting: Dreamcatcher by Sol Luckman. For paperback, ebook and other versions of Snooze, please visit www.CrowRising.com.


For my beloved Peeps, who inspired and encouraged this tale


“I, Chuang Chou, dreamed I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, for all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware I was Chou. Soon I awakened, and there I was, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly—or whether I am a butterfly dreaming I am a man.” Zhuangzi


A

s a kid, Max often dreamed of flying. Not that he always remembered his dreams. But the ones he managed to wrest, often in fragments, like bits of sand dollars washed ashore from the aquatic world of deep sleep, invariably involved flight. Sometimes he was a passenger aboard some kind of craft, such as a fighter jet or the Space Shuttle. Fittingly, his father had been borne aloft high above the earth’s surface both ways. Virtually everything Max could remember about his father, Captain Thomas Diver, Navy pilot and celebrated NASA astronaut, had to do with flying—starting with the occasional spin in the Captain’s private Cessna out over the Everglades or down around the Keys. There were the model airplanes gifted for birthdays and Christmases the two of them, so alike in their attention to detail, painstakingly pieced together and painted. There were the elaborate paper planes and jets, like flying origami, often featuring complex designs in ink, left by the “Tooth Fairy” or “Easter Bunny.” And of course, Max would never forget the kites they designed, assembled and flew together for hours on end, like condors riding endless thermal currents, out over the breezy Gulf beyond Cape Carnival. With the squish of sand underfoot and the salty wind in his hair, squinting in the sunlight, chest thumping with excitement, Max would work the string to his father’s exhortations—“Higher! Faster!”—while feeling absolutely in the right place at the right time. 13


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Years later, even after graduating Salutatorian and enrolling at an Ivy League university, kite flying remained Max’s signature memory of his father, preserving a feeling of fleeting bliss—one that, like an imperfect but beautiful crystal, was created only to be shattered. Naturally, there were dreams that didn’t include his father. Most of them, actually. Alone, Max had parasailed high above turquoise waves, hang glided over tropical forests, sailed over rugged canyonlands in hot air balloons. Such dreams were indeed captivating. Still, the dreams Max loved best involved no special equipment, no technological support, no hitching an aerial ride, no “crutch.” These were the dreams where he himself flew. Actually flew. No sails needed. No wings necessary. No engine required. No wheel, no stick, no throttle to interfere with the purity of the experience. In defiance of gravity, or maybe somehow working with gravity, he would simply lift off. There was hardly any effort required. Or if there was effort, it wasn’t of a physical kind—it was entirely mental. It was like … meditation. Though he didn’t know a lot about meditation in those days. Later, as a young man beginning to grasp intellectually what he had started doing naturally, he would jokingly refer to the process as “beditation.” Flying in his dreams was an exhilarating, breathtaking experience, sometimes literally, that tended to leave reality wanting, like riding a roller coaster compared to mowing the lawn. His dreaming heart fluttered like a sparrow as his body rose up out of bed and hovered in mid-air, head almost touching the ceiling, for a few seconds or minutes. Sometimes it took a while to recall how to direct his flight. The steps involved first intending to go somewhere, then allowing himself to go, then actually moving—mentally—in the opposite direction. As he came to understand the weird, counterintuitive mechanics of dreams, Max discovered that down was up, up was down, right was left, and left was right. When he was a pre-med student studying anything but medicine, he would also learn that, in the world of dreams, outside was inside—and inside was outside. Not only that, but in the world it was possible to access through dreams, time was no arrow shooting forward (as it seems to be here) but a traversable landscape. In such dreams taking place in a parallel reality mirroring our own, to simplify things somewhat, your current location is the present, the past lies behind you, and the terrain ahead is the future.

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But as a kid dreaming of his own world, Max knew none of such finer navigational points that applied to the dream world beyond. There was no pressing need—and in any case, grasping that in inversereality dreams, feeling and intuition are physical senses, while sight, hearing, touch and the like are more like hunches, would have been like studying calculus before mastering arithmetic. As a kid just dreaming, all that really mattered to Max was knowing how to move about, which required only the rule of opposites. To be a flyer, he soon realized he had to be a diver—a joke that wasn’t lost on Maxwell Andrew Diver, an uncommon boy not only in his abilities but also in his intelligence, even at a tender age. At which point, diving, he would zoom out the window (physical barriers usually posed no obstacle in dreams) and dart up and off like Superman in pajamas in the direction of his desire.

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ake up, Snooze! You don’t want to be late for school again!” His father’s baritone urging was accompanied by the comforting smell of Old Spice and the firm, warm pressure of his large, manly hand on Max’s forearm. “Snooze” was an old nickname, bestowed on him when he was just a toddler by his father, who possessed a kind, if wry, sense of humor. Max had justly earned the epithet. As a boy, he slept as much and as often as he could—and literally could fall asleep anywhere, anytime, if he put his mind to it. Concerned that his son might have an illness, Max’s father had once taken him to see a specialist, a Navy doctor considered an expert in sleep disorders, a man named Dr. Morrow with a vaguely European accent, angular features and owl eyes behind round, wire-rimmed glasses. Max spent a surreal night in the Navy hospital undergoing an array of scans and tests with scads of electrodes attached like tentacles to his little body. But even under these difficult circumstances, he was able to fall asleep easily and remain so until morning. Dr. Morrow concluded that Max didn’t suffer from narcolepsy or hypersomnia—though there were some anomalous readings in his results indicating extremely heightened brain activity during sleep. Max remembered Dr. Morrow removing his glasses and biting one of the silvery arms in a perplexed gesture as he commented in low tones to

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his father, “Honestly, Thomas. I haven’t seen anything like it. But I don’t think your son is sick. To the contrary.” “To the contrary?” his father had said. “Let’s just say he’s … gifted.” Until this moment, Max had never thought of himself as particularly gifted. If anything, his propensity for sleep, as much as he loved to doze, was often a burden. This was especially true on school mornings when his father awoke him in the middle of a riveting dream. His dreams were always at their most vivid toward morning when he entered the deep, visionary rhythms of REM sleep. Eyes rolling like magic marbles behind his eyelids, moving faster and faster as his flight speed increased, often he would find himself high above the earth, which resembled a blue-green ball on a vast carpet of black velvet. Occasionally, if his velocity managed to reach what he came to think of as “critical mass,” there would be a flickering followed by a tremendous flash of light, like an electric strobe exploding. Once or twice, he actually found himself at the edge of what seemed to be a different world. But this was as far as it ever went. He never got to explore this startling new frontier because, inevitably, he was woken up out of his dream. “Come on, Snooze. Get your clothes on. Your oatmeal’s getting cold.” “What’s going on? Dad? Where am I?” he would ask sleepily, disoriented. “You’re in bed. Still. You’re going to be late for school if you don’t hurry. Time to get a move on!” Fortunately, his father was willing to overlook a little oversleeping, because Max was a hard worker and nearly straight A student, once he shook off the drowsies and applied himself. For his part, Max was willing to overlook the fact that he disliked oatmeal, grinning and bearing each unpleasant bite, because he really loved his father—who was all he had and did the best he could—and dared not disappoint him, on purpose, over a trifle.

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ax, whose sense of humor was every bit as dry as his father’s— so dry that his classmates, misconstruing his jokes, chided him for being too serious—liked to describe himself as “an only child of an only parent.” He never knew his mother, though oddly enough, he felt he understood her … perhaps too well. Besides looking alike, with the same wavy hair and bony, almost Asian facial structure, they formed an oddball dynamic duo: the poster child and poster adult for “weirdoes” everywhere. His mother had been a maverick anthropologist specializing in cryptozoology—a fancy word for the study of mysterious, officially unacknowledged creatures such as the Yeti, Chupa Cabra, and Loch Ness Monster. As a scientist studying animals other scientists held to be, at best figments of the collective imagination, at worst hoaxes, Dr. Cynthia Holden Diver—despite winning a number of prestigious academic awards, including two Fulbrights—had known firsthand what it was to be an outcast, ridiculed and marginalized by her peers. Never mind that, as a tireless explorer and field researcher, she had produced an impressive body of evidence for the existence of hominid cryptids—aka, Bigfoot—including dozens of eyewitness accounts, enormous footprint casts the size of snowshoes, and fur samples with unknown DNA.

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The evidence never seemed to matter to those in power, who had already made up their minds and did what people typically do when their worldview is threatened by new data: they attacked the messenger. When he was ten years old, Max gave into curiosity about his mother by sneaking a peek at her personal effects, which his father kept in a scuffed Seward travel trunk beneath his bed. Inside, he found her throwback, horn-rimmed reading glasses; a chestnut-colored suede satchel; binoculars; a gold and onyx hairpin patterned after an Egyptian scarab; a red alpaca wool scarf; a broken compass; knee-high safari boots worn to almost nothing at the heels; and a torn blue rain poncho that smelled of grease and mud. It was strange—and unsettling—to think that a whole life (his own mother’s, at that) could boil down to half-forgotten oddments molding away in the darkness of a hidden chest. The most intriguing item Max discovered was a leather-bound book, which turned out to be his mother’s field journal containing a veritable bestiary of pencil illustrations of strange creatures, in addition to many pages of notes of a complex scientific nature in her feverish handwriting. At first glance, the handwriting sent shivers down Max’s spine. It looked virtually identical to his own hurried, barely legible script, which usually earned him a C for Neatness (or lack thereof) on his report cards, his lowest grade by far. Max never intended to be messy with his writing, which he could read just fine, years later if necessary, even if his teachers couldn’t. He merely found that his active mind tended to move too fast for his hand to keep up with. Obviously, his mother faced a similar dilemma. Inside the journal’s front cover, as a kind of private epigraph and guiding philosophy, she had penned a quote from the renowned psychologist Carl Jung: “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.” Though Max loved and respected his father more than anyone else alive, in most ways he more closely identified with his mother. His father was the proverbial insider, a folk hero, a golden boy who could do no wrong—whereas mother and son were quintessential outsiders, quirky individuals with eccentric notions and substandard handwriting. Max wondered if she, too, as a child, had trouble coloring inside the lines? He always visualized her as a slightly irreverent young woman, fresh out of Yale graduate school, as she appeared in the framed photograph that graced the mantelpiece of the Diver family (such as it was now) home on Tupelo Street. In the photo, over which Max sometimes caught his father in the melancholy act of reminiscing, his parents were captured arm in arm,

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smiling and in love, next to Captain Diver’s red and blue Cessna Skyhawk parked on the sun-drenched tarmac of nearby Cape Carnival Jetport. His mother looked like a cover girl with her olive tan, white teeth, hazelnut eyes, and lustrous, auburn hair. Only her slightly raised nose gave away something a little left of center in her character, some inherent rebelliousness, a sassy gene that made her go her own way—even if it meant flying against the flock. Twelve years her senior, his father was tall, robust, and in the prime of his life and career—with the barest hint of gray in the tips of his cropped brown hair. He looked like a statue of a Roman emperor with his square chin and noble bearing. Fittingly, the Skyhawk was called the Tempus Fugit, Latin for “time flies.” According to Max’s Aunt Nadine, whom he sometimes questioned whenever she babysat in matters regarding his mother, rather than burden his father with memories that could only depress him, the photo had been taken around the time of their engagement. The two had met barely six months earlier—while flying, no less. When not hunting for Bigfoot, his mother was an avid amateur pilot who owned and flew her own rebuilt (as in, by her) Cessna 150J, christened, appropriately enough, the Rara Avis, Latin for “strange bird.” She had contacted his father via radio on sighting the Tempus Fugit off the southern coast of Florida one Sunday afternoon. They had exchanged words about a storm coming in from down around the Keys and somehow, before their aerial chat ended, managed to make a date for dinner the next weekend. The rest was history. To say the two were made for each other would be an understatement. They seemed destined to meet—and fated to live together happily ever after. Had they known what the future held in store, Max couldn’t help but ask himself, would they still have chosen to marry and have a child?

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ax was there when she died. He was the reason she died. He had to live with that. Her candle went out in childbirth. It seems like a cruel joke by the universe, but sometimes a child sees his first light at the exact instant his mother sees her last. It just happens sometimes—and unfortunately, it happened to Max. As he learned years later when he was old enough to understand such things, there had been “complications.” He was positioned in an abnormal way (imagine that); there was an emergency procedure to save him; his mother wouldn’t stop bleeding; and she passed away right there in the hospital. In the blink of an eye, what was supposed to be a joyous occasion, for all involved, turned into a life-altering tragedy—for all involved. Strangely, Max was born with the caul, which means there was a removable membrane like a rubbery bubble of skin attached to his newborn head. Throughout history, and with gut-wrenching irony in Max’s case, children entering the world this way have been considered extremely lucky. In Roman and medieval times, such babies were thought to be very special indeed, even marked for greatness. There was a legend that anyone in possession of a caul could never drown, which made cauls highly valued by sailors. Others believed cauls could defend against sorcery and witchcraft. People would preserve and sell them, turning them into charms for protection. 23


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By the time Max was born, such superstitions had been replaced by another superstition: having a caul signified one in possession of supernatural capabilities, such as ESP or the ability to heal with touch. True, Max was “gifted,” to borrow Dr. Morrow’s word. And the nature of his gift did seem to be somewhat supernatural—at least in the sense of being above and beyond what is considered “natural.” This fact Max had proved to himself by the time he turned twelve. His birthday was typically celebrated, if one could use this term for an occasion that elicited such ambivalence, not least in himself, in conjunction with New Year’s Eve on December 31st—even though he was technically born on January 1st at the stroke of midnight. Throughout his eleventh year, Max’s dreams had taken on a more … intense quality. The colors were brighter. The sounds were crisper. He could actually feel the wind in his hair and eyes as he flew and flew right up until his father gently nudged him awake. “Time to wake up, Snooze! Get dressed while I prepare the oatmeal.” Then, right around the time Max noticed the beginnings of facial hair and pimples, when he had shot up three inches in as many months over the course of the fall and his voice started to crack and deepen, otherwise known as adolescence, his dreams abruptly shifted from Technicolor to, well, real. He would dream of flying through rainclouds and wake up wet from head to toe. This caused his father to assume, naturally enough, that his son had wet the bed. But he hadn’t. He had never wet the bed, not even as a young child. Or dreaming, he would zoom through a thick jungle dodging sinuous vines and huge fronds—only to wake up with strange bits of plant matter stuck in his hair and what looked like grass stains on his pajamas. Could he be sleepwalking? Maybe. But that hardly explained some of his dreams—especially the ones he woke up from clutching bizarre, outof-context objects from the dreamscapes he had just visited: sacha inchi seeds from Peru, a tattered prayer flag from Tibet, an obsidian arrowhead found behind the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. He placed everything he retrieved from his dreams in an old Lego box he had found one day, while waking, in the attic. The box he hid behind the stack of sweaters in his closet. He wasn’t willing to share these objects, given their strange provenance, with anyone just yet. In trying to make sense of his increasingly confounding sleep experiences, Max was forced to consider the possibility (admittedly, troubling) that his dreams no longer stemmed from a virtual reality—but were actually taking place somehow. He had proof now, stashed in an old Lego box.

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Remembering the epigraph to his mother’s field journal, “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud,” he began to understand it a little better. It seemed to be addressing scientists, many of whom appeared to believe that anything real had to come with an explanation, as if nature somehow owed them that—or else it wasn’t real. This “scientific” mentality appeared deeply flawed to Max, especially in light of his dreams, not to mention all the mysterious phenomena that obviously were quite real, if still barely fathomed. Visions. Reincarnation. Telepathy. Telekinesis. Levitation. Spontaneous combustion. Time travel. UFOs. Ghosts. Apparitions. Poltergeists. Bigfoot. For personal reasons beyond simple curiosity, during the first half of sixth grade when his dreams began to turn concrete, Max read every book in the library on such topics. All of these mysterious occurrences, and many more, had been documented and studied by thousands of people for hundreds of years— yet most modern scientists acted as if they couldn’t sweep these phenomena under the rug fast enough. The alternative approach, of course, which his mother had obviously chosen, was to embrace (or at least, strike a truce with) life’s mysteries. This required allowing yourself not to be able to explain something, temporarily anyway, and be okay with that—a tall order for big brains. The more time went along, and the more dreams of an apparently tangible nature Max experienced, the more questions he had. Not infrequently, he found himself wondering about his caul. Aunt Nadine had shown it to him once. She had been there at his birth—and despite her grief at losing her younger sister, had thought to save and preserve her nephew’s caul, which remained in her keeping almost two decades. “Do you mind if I hold it?” he asked, examining the thin, translucent membrane—folded, dried, and shrunken with age—in his aunt’s hand. “Not as long as you’re very careful,” she replied, placing the caul gently in his palm. “Those things are as rare as hen’s teeth.” It was light, diaphanous, and almost weightless—like brittle plastic. In a sense, it was all that remained, physically, of his mother. “Time to give it back,” said Aunt Nadine. “You’ve held it long enough. I’ll put it in a safe place.” “Why was I born with the caul, Aunt Nadine?” “Because God made you that way.” “But why did God make me this way?” “God moves in mysterious ways.” Max had been assured his caul had nothing to do with the “complications” that took his mother. At the very least, that was a relief. 25


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But did his caul have anything to do with his being so complicatedly … “gifted”?

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n his mother’s honor, vowing not to commit the “fashionable stupidity” of ignoring things he didn’t understand, Max performed a brave act of nonconformity by accepting the possibility that his dreams might be exactly what they seemed: real. This got him in the first real trouble of his elementary education and succeeded, finally, in making him a genuine pariah in the cruel, survivalof-the-fittest microcosm that was sixth grade. Max wasn’t just an only child; he was also a lonely child. The other kids at school, from the beginning sensing he was “different,” even if they couldn’t put their finger on just how, tended to retreat into their little cliques and keep him at arm’s length. His coping mechanism was to seek solace in books, in whose company he learned a great many things but cultivated no friendships. Inevitably, he came to be thought of as something of a bookworm, an unflattering image which his glasses—acquired by prescription when his vision started blurring—certainly didn’t help. Nor, for that matter, did his choice of “weird” reading material—lately books about the paranormal, supernatural, and unexplained—which his classmates judged as harshly as scientists with big egos and closed minds, dubbing him “Mad Max” behind his back. Only the fact that he was the son of a well-known astronaut, and thus indirectly famous, spared him, for a while, from utter social annihilation. Not surprisingly, Max felt he had no one to confide in about the unconventional quality of his dreams. Certainly not Aunt Nadine, who 27


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would think he was in league with the devil and, gossip that she was, blab the story to anyone willing to listen. Whenever he considered telling his father, he always stopped just short of doing so. Captain Diver was busier than usual flying solo missions in the Skyhawk he described cryptically, when Max inquired, as “related to naval intelligence.” “Naval intelligence?” said Max one morning over oatmeal. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” “Ha, ha. Believe me, I’ve heard that one a few times.” “So why are you flying so much, Dad? And if it’s official business, why are you in the Tempus Fugit instead of a Navy plane?” “I’m afraid that’s classified.” “All the good stuff is.” To his enormous credit, Max’s father never held his wife’s death against his son. If anything, he seemed to love him more for having lost her, maybe because mother and son were so alike—and not just in physical appearance. “Something on your mind, Max?” “Why do you ask?” “You tend to crack jokes when your thoughts are serious. Are you sleeping okay?” “Do I seem like I’m not?” “You look a little tired. There are circles under your eyes.” “You can see them through my glasses?” “I’ve got pretty good eyesight. Remember your father, the astronaut?” “But you’re older now.” “I’m not older. Just better.” This was the way the two typically communicated, through playful banter, skimming along with their words, both careful not to break the water’s surface and enter deeper territory. For better or worse, Max resisted the urge to share his dreams with his father, the one person in his life who might have understood them, and instead, just before Thanksgiving break, made the mistake of confiding in Ms. Bridgewater, the school counselor. “You think your dreams are what?” she asked, sitting upright and alert in the chair across from his in her little office two doors down from the cafeteria, when he began to relate his odd experiences. “Real?” he answered with the tone of a question, suddenly unsure of himself. Trying to remain professional, Ms. Bridgewater patted her permed blonde hair and put on a strained, lipstick smile. “Max, honey. Dreams are not real.” “None of them?” 28


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“Not a one.” “How do you know?” “I just do. Everybody does,” she commented with the kind of nervous laugh people sometimes use in the presence of a slightly “unhinged” person. “Zhuangzi didn’t,” said Max, plucking up his courage. “Zhuang Who?” “Zhuangzi. A Chinese philosopher. He’s the guy who couldn’t figure out whether he was a man dreaming of a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of himself.” “Under no circumstances, Max, does an obscure philosopher’s question prove the reality of dreams.” “People have had visions in dreams that came true, Ms. Bridgewater. Did you know that? People have seen things in dreams they couldn’t have known about otherwise.” Before responding, Ms. Bridgewater drew a deep breath. “Max, I’m going to put this as plainly as possible. This dream thing is totally in your head.” “Just hear me out, Ms. Bridgewater. I’ve got proof. I find things in my dreams and bring them back.” “Things?” “Objects. Objects that don’t belong in Florida.” For a moment, she appeared on the verge of debating the point—only to decide at the last instant not to add fuel to the fire by encouraging him. “That’s impossible, Max. But I have to give you credit: you have a very lively imagination!” This she said with the obvious intent of ending the conversation and sending Max on his merry way. She turned back to her desk and straightened her cup of pens and holiday poinsettia with the tips of her painted fingernails. When Max didn’t budge, she turned back and asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss today?” This would have been the moment for Max to cut his losses—to grin, shrug, and treat the whole subject like a bit of make-believe that just got out of hand. That would have been the wise, the prudent thing to do. But Max had far too much of his mother’s feisty nature for that. And nothing got under his skin like being talked down to by an adult who knew less about the topic of conversation than he did. In addition to the characteristics already mentioned, there were two other important aspects of Max’s dreams, especially many of the ones he had been having for the past several months leading up to his twelfth birthday. First, many of his recent dreams involved temporal displacement, or 29


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time travel. Such dreams undeniably took place in the past or future, sometimes the distant past or future, other times closer to the present. And second, a lot of these dreams were even more striking than usual because they featured actual people Max knew and apparently real events from their lives—in the past or future. The previous night, clear as day, Max had dreamed of Ms. Bridgewater as a young girl of ten or eleven with torn blue jeans and dirty bare feet. “You grew up in the mountains, Ms. Bridgewater, didn’t you?” he said. “Why, yes, I did, Max. Near Johnson City, Tennessee. A long time ago.” “You lived on a tobacco farm. Back in the days when there were many small tobacco farms in the mountains. When lots of people still smoked cigarettes before it was proven that smoking causes cancer.” “That’s right,” said a surprised Ms. Bridgewater in a thin, faraway voice. “I did.” “But not your father,” continued Max. “Even though he farmed tobacco to make a living, he hated cigarettes because he suspected them of having caused your mother’s lung cancer.” “How do you know all of this?” “Your house was purplish, sort of U-shaped, surrounded by a tall boxwood hedge. Your mother died in the big bedroom overlooking the deck.” “Max, have you been talking with my sister? Did she contact you for some reason?” “I can imagine how you must have felt when she was gone. I’m sure you didn’t know what to do with your feelings. You lived beside the tobacco field, which was separated from the woods by a tiny creek. In the fall, you preferred hunting chinquapins to helping your father in the tobacco.” “How do you know about chinquapins? They don’t tend to grow this far south.” “That was where he caught you smoking right after she passed away. Red-handed. In the woods where there were chinquapins. He tanned your hide that day. He grabbed a hickory switch and whipped you until you bled through the legs of your jeans.” “I never told anybody that story. Not even my sister. How did you know about my daddy whipping me, Max?!” He could sense that his story had deeply upset Ms. Bridgewater, whose face was bright red from a mixture of anger, shame, and sorrow. Being brutally punished by her father for smoking after her mother’s passing had driven a wedge in their relationship, one that had widened over the years—to the point that for nearly two decades the two hardly ever spoke before he, too, was gone. 30


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Max was unaware of these subsequent details. But intuiting that he had accidentally poured salt on a still open wound, he felt genuinely sorry to have revealed the contents of his dream in such a sudden and unexpected fashion. Realizing with a start that Ms. Bridgewater was in tears, her head bobbing in her hands, he stood up and approached her hunched form. He was in the process of touching her jerking shoulder and apologizing, when she looked at him with bloodshot eyes and said, “Go back to class.” “I’ll need a note.” “Here it is,” she said, scrawling it out and handing it to him. “Thanks. I’m sorry, Ms. Bridgewater.” “Go now please.” Max exited the office, closing the door gently behind him, and stood in the echoing hallway for a moment with his note and a heavy heart. Under no circumstances had he meant to cause Ms. Bridgewater any more pain; he just wanted her to believe him. Before returning to geography, he reached in his pocket and fished out a handful of miniature chestnuts, known as chinquapins, he had thought to use as evidence, and dropped them in a trashcan.

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n the aftermath of Max’s encounter with Ms. Bridgewater, Thanksgiving had been the calm before the storm. He spent it with his father, who had most of the long holiday weekend off from “classified” missions in the Tempus Fugit and was in excellent spirits. “Be sure you don’t eat too much turkey, Snooze,” he had joked while carving the enormous, sizzling bird. “All that tryptophan might make you sleep forever. You know what tryptophan is?” “You mean the amino acid released by protein during digestion that helps produce serotonin and makes you sleepy?” “God, you’re so much like her,” his father said, as if to himself, with a smile that somehow managed to be both proud and wistful. “That’s a big bird for just two people.” “I think we can handle it.” Max and his father had flown kites on the unseasonably cool beach in the afternoons, treating themselves to hot chocolate at their favorite little stand on the boardwalk, before returning to evenings of leftover turkey sandwiches (which did make Max gloriously drowsy) and old reruns of Star Trek. “You remind me of Captain Kirk,” he remarked to his father, suppressing a yawn. “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “Well, now that you mention it, you remind me of Dr. Spock.”

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“Seriously?” “Seriously.” Max made the Vulcan symbol of blessing by parting the second and third fingers of his left hand. “Live long and prosper.” “And boldly go where nobody has gone before!” For three nights running, Max hung on as long as he could—snuggled against his father’s side smelling Old Spice on the couch in front of the TV—before the sleep of a blessed day took him and he was carried like a sack of beans down the hallway and tucked in bed. But on Sunday, the air started going out of Max’s emotional balloon when Captain Diver had to fly another mission and, just after he left, Aunt Nadine landed in their home with a thud to babysit. “I’ve asked your father I don’t know how many times to get a desk job,” she said, bustling in the door with her suitcase, by way of hello. “Why?” asked Max, dispensing with formalities himself. “He would hate it.” “For starters, he’s no spring chicken. And you’re only getting older.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “A young man your age needs a strong masculine presence in his life, Max.” He had followed her into the guest bedroom, where she plopped her suitcase on the bed and glanced several times around the room to get her bearings. She had a way—half annoying, half comical—of looking out of place wherever she was. “But under the circumstances,” she continued, removing her jacket and hanging it neatly in the closet, “I think he’s probably done the best he could. Lord knows being an only parent is no cakewalk. That said, I don’t know what he’s doing down there halfway to South America in that puddle-jumper. I can tell you one thing: he’s not delivering the mail.” Max had spent enough time around Aunt Nadine to realize she often spoke around what she really meant to say—and he had developed a fairly keen ability to read between her lines. In this case, she was trying to communicate that since Max had already lost his mother, it was irresponsible of his father to risk his neck on a regular basis, when he could snap his fingers and take an administrative job with NASA that would be a lot closer … and safer. Max spent a subdued, depressed evening with his aunt, who read her Bible and wouldn’t let him watch Star Trek, and then all heck broke loose Monday morning when school resumed. He had a sinking feeling in his gut, a premonition of something bad about to happen, as he walked, backpack heavy with books, under the swaying palm trees the six blocks—four down the beach and two back from it—to John F. Kennedy Elementary School. 34


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On entering the grounds, his intuitive sense of a storm on the horizon grew stronger. People seemed to be giving him funnier-than-usual looks. “Hey everybody, it’s Woo-woo Maxwell!” Doug Biggins, JFK’s best athlete and resident bully, greeted him in the crowded hallway near the lockers to a round of conspiratorial snickering from those listening. “Got any visions for us today, Woo-woo?” “Woo-woo” was a new nickname. Max was wondering where it came from, and what exactly it meant, when he was sternly tapped on the shoulder and turned to find Mr. Priestly, the principal, scowling above him. “Max, I need to see you in my office.” “Right now?” “Right now.” Gossip travels fast in any school. Bad news in particular has a way of exceeding the speed of light, so that everybody seems to know everything before anyone has uttered anything. Exactly how the whole student body knew about Max’s meeting with Ms. Bridgewater would remain a mystery. He suspected word had traveled via the teachers’ lounge to select students’ ears, and thence along a whispering grapevine until it was common knowledge he had freaked out the school counselor with his spooky talk. Ms. Bridgewater, suggesting that Max suffered from a “severe mental disorder,” possibly schizophrenia, and might be in need of medication, had reported the incident to Mr. Priestly, who was concerned enough to take immediate action. “You understand, Max,” he told the bewildered eleven-year-old seated in his office, peering at the boy over his spectacles, “I’m just trying to do the right thing here.” “But Mr. Priestly, I didn’t do anything wrong.” “You acted very strange, Max, and frightened Ms. Bridgewater.” “I didn’t mean to. It just … happened. I’m sorry.” “How long have you been having these … dreams?” “All my life. Well, ever since I can remember.” “And you think they might actually be … real?” Max knew it was absolutely the wrong thing to say, even though it was the truth, as soon as he spoke the word: “Yes.” Mr. Priestly’s pale moon of a faced seemed a bit shaken by Max’s frank response. “It doesn’t strike you as odd that you can’t tell the difference between reality and … dreams?” “But I can tell the difference. This is reality right now.” Mr. Priestly appeared to consider this new information for a moment. “Is there any history of … mental problems in your family, Max?” “None that I know of.” “I’m going to have to contact your father.” “I was afraid you’d say that.” 35


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“It has to be done.” “He’s on a mission right now.” “A mission?” “Navy stuff.” “When will he be back?” “Tomorrow.” “Okay. I’ll be in touch tomorrow. You can go now.” Max stood and was halfway out the door when Mr. Priestly called after him. “Max?” “Yes, Mr. Priestly?” “Try to be … normal.”

36


“W

hy so pale and wan?” a voice with an exaggerated British accent inquired as Max slumped against the school wall at recess. Nearly all the other boys were engaged in games of physical skill, mostly basketball and soccer, which never much interested Max. Squinting in the slanted sunlight of early December, he looked up at twin reflections of himself in Tuesday Monday’s saucer-sized glasses. In both distorted images, he stood out as puny and unathletic, pathetic and defeated, with his own fairly large glasses like bug eyes and wooly hair ruining any chance of ever being able to consider himself attractive. “Why so pale and what?” he asked. “Wan,” answered Tuesday in her normal accent, grinning from ear to ear with big teeth in a natural manner that struck Max as unnervingly ... genuine. “It’s poetry. It means lifeless.” “You got that right.” Tuesday Monday was the smartest student at JFK—and it wasn’t even close. Especially in language arts, the teachers were unanimous in thinking she was some kind of prodigy. She knew the answers even to the trick questions, usually before they were asked. She had paid the price for her precociousness by being ostracized as the resident nerd ever since she showed up and enrolled, fresh in from somewhere faraway, like Oklahoma, in fourth grade.

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Max had never actually had a conversation with her. He wasn’t sure why—but he suspected himself of having judged her, like the others, simply for being different. Now that the shoe was on the other foot and he was being judged, he felt a tinge of hypocrisy, which produced a hint of shame that reddened his cheeks. Against a backdrop of kids running helter-skelter and making noise, Tuesday was still grinning quietly above Max in patched corduroys and Birkenstocks, staring down at him with enormous gray eyes framed by her own curly hair, sort of a yellow ochre, snailing down the sides of her plump, lively face. “You … feel like sitting down?” asked Max, politely if a little awkwardly, indicating the sidewalk beside him. “Sure,” she replied, plopping down in yoga position, legs crossed and back straight, not even touching the wall. “So, do you really have dreams that come true?” “Is that what you wanted to know?” “It’s one thing I wanted to know.” “Is that what they’re all saying?” “Not all. Some of them.” “I bet it’s not all they’re saying.” “No. It’s not.” Something in her relaxed tone and body language, which seemed utterly devoid of anything resembling a hidden agenda, made Max feel comfortable opening up—at least a little. “Technically, my dreams don’t usually ‘come true.’” “What’s so special about them?” “They, uh, they’re … real.” “You mean lucid dreaming? Where you figure out, while dreaming, that you’re in a dream?” “How do you know about lucid dreaming?” “My mother’s an old hippy. We’ve got all kinds of reading material that’s off the beaten path, if you get my drift.” “I get it. Look, Tuesday, I don’t mind talking about this stuff with you. To be honest, it’s kind of a relief. But you’ve got to promise you won’t say anything to anyone.” “I promise. Cross my heart.” “Good. Where were we?” “Lucid dreaming.” “Right. Well, as far as I can tell, based on my research … That’s a funny thing for a kid to say, isn’t it?” “You mean the ‘based on my research’ part?”

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“Yeah.” “Kind of geeky?” “Yeah.” “I’m cool with it.” “Great. Anyway, as I was saying, lucid dreaming is when you simply become aware of the dream, right? Sometimes this happens naturally with people, but there are also techniques you can use to cultivate the ability.” “Like remembering to look at your hands in your dream? That’s what Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, Don Juan, instructs him to do.” “Who’s Carlos Castaneda?” “A psychedelic writer. My mom has his books.” “I don’t know. I never tried looking at my hands. I guess I just did it naturally.” “I tried it.” “And?” “Didn’t work.” “The thing is, Tuesday—why on earth were you named Tuesday?” “Care to venture a guess?” “You were born on a Tuesday?” “Bingo, Ringo.” “And your last name really is Monday?” “Kind of wild, huh?” “Actually, I sort of like your name. It has a nice ring.” “Thanks. I like it, too. Care for an Altoid? They’re curiously strong.” Max had seen but never tried Altoids. “Thanks,” he said, accepting a little white mint from the red tin and popping it in his mouth. Sure enough, it was curiously strong, just like the label said. “If you think about it, Max, we’ve got more in common than not having any friends.” “What else have we got in common?” “We both have only parents. I know about what happened to your mom. I mean, your father’s a celebrity. There’s a biography and everything.” “You actually read it?” “Yeah. You?” “No. I figured I already knew most of it. Where’s your old man?” “Long gone.” “Dead?” “Not that I’m aware of. I never knew who he was. I don’t think my mother did either, if you get my meaning.” “Something to do with the hippy thing?” “Exactly. She used to live in a commune in New Mexico. She’s changed a lot over the years, though. We get along pretty well.” 39


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“I get along with my only parent, too.” “He seems like a good man. His biographer spoke highly of him.” “Let’s just hope he keeps his cool tomorrow. He’s not going to be a happy camper.” “Parent-teacher conference?” “Worse. Parent-principal conference. Do you think I’m crazy, Tuesday?” “Crazy? As in schizophrenic?” “You heard?” “Everybody did.” “Of course. Ms. Bridgewater really has it out for me, doesn’t she?” “Seems that way. What did you do to her?” “I didn’t do anything. I just … I just saw some stuff from her past that upset her.” “In a dream?” “Yeah.” “Let me get this straight, Max. You’re not just lucid dreaming; you’re also seeing visions in your dreams?” “If that’s what you want to call them.” “Wow. That’s super cool.” “You really think so?” “Definitely. Absolutely. I’d love to see visions like that. Who wouldn’t?” “Uh, everybody except you?” “What did you see concerning Ms. Bridgewater?” “It’s not important. There’s more, Tuesday.” “More?” “About my dreams. I … bring stuff back.” “Stuff?” “Things that don’t belong here, in Florida. Objects totally out of context. I have a box full of bizarre items hidden in my closet.” “Like what?” “A Venetian Carnival mask. Some kind of antique Celtic bracelet. A tiny ceremonial statue from Easter Island.” “For real?” “For real.” “Far out! This is way more than just lucid dreaming, Max.” “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. So what’s the verdict? You think I’m crazy?” “Actually, not at all. I’ll side with Emily Dickinson.” “Emily Dickinson?” “Come on, Max. We just studied her. ‘Much Madness is divinest Sense … To a discerning Eye … Much Sense—the starkest Madness … ’Tis the Majority … 40


SNOOZE

In this, as All, prevail … Assent—and you are sane … Demur—you’re straightway dangerous … And handled with a Chain.’” Max reflected for a moment. “So if I understand, a lot of so-called insane people are perfectly sane?” “It’s the way things are.” “And the crazy people actually run everything?” “Exactly.” From inside the school building, the bell suddenly rang, loud and shrill, signaling the end of recess. Over the course of his talk with Tuesday, possibly the best conversation of his young life, Max had completely forgotten he was at school. “I really enjoyed chatting,” he said. “Me, too. I like to chat.” “We should do this more often.” “Then let’s do it.” They stood up and started inside to algebra. “And Tuesday?” “Yeah, Max?” “How about we be each other’s friend?” “Deal.”

41


M

ax examined his hands with their long, graceful fingers waving like pale sea grasses in front of his face from under the covers and, though he was still in bed, instantly knew he was dreaming. Breathing from the bottom of his diaphragm, like yogis are taught to do, and pushing down with his mind, he floated up and hovered, weightless, staring beneath him at his own sleeping form with its bushy eyebrows, incipient whiskers, and two unsightly pimples at the base of the elongated chin. Otherwise, in sleep, his face was perfectly smooth and relaxed. Besides the slight undulation of his breath, only his eyes were moving, jitterbugging manically under malleable lids. In one of many epiphanies, small and large, he had experienced over the course of his dreams, Max realized those eyes were watching him even as he was staring at them. With this thought, he glanced at the window, outside whose curtains the first, barest hint of daylight was beginning to drain the pitch out of the sky. Knowing his father would wake him soon, he made the most of what was left of the night—zipping out into the cool December air in his pajamas and heading south toward Cuba. As he approached the Keys, little subtropical islands dotting the Straits of Florida like emeralds he had flown over numerous times in real life, dawn was streaking the sky with yellow rays. His cheeks could feel the warmth of the sun surging up against the vast Atlantic horizon.

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At that very instant, his peripheral vision registered a small craft tailed by an even smaller one on course to intersect his line of flight in the eastern distance. Speeding up while adjusting his flight pattern, he approached the two aircraft at a sharper angle—realizing after a few seconds, with a jolt, that the lead plane was the Tempus Fugit piloted by his father! The red-and-blue-striped Cessna Skyhawk was veering farther and farther east in an attempt to outrun a nasty squall preceding a nastier storm, resembling a dark octopus with spinning tentacles of clouds, blowing up from down around Puerto Rico. Max found himself fighting the wind as well and instinctively fell in behind the Tempus Fugit, taking advantage of the draft like a race car driver to lessen his wind drag. In the same motion, he became aware, once again, of the other aerial object tailing the Skyhawk—which was now roughly parallel to him at a distance of maybe two hundred yards. Imagine his astonishment when he grasped that it was no aircraft, but another person sailing through the wispy clouds beside him! On seeing this most bizarre sight, the first thing he thought of was a story he had once read about Padre Pio—a devout Catholic priest who bore the stigmata, or Christ’s wounds, and was reportedly able to bilocate, or be in two different places at the same time. Padre Pio, who later became a saint, was sighted by multiple eyewitnesses flying alongside Allied fighter jets during World War II, when he successfully kept the pilots from bombing a beautiful church that was no longer occupied by Axis forces. The figure flying alongside him in his dream was still too faraway for Max to discern his (or her) features. But it was obviously an adult human flying headlong, arms outstretched, at high velocity against the wind just like him. The storm was gaining quickly. As a group, like a phalanx of birds, the three fliers adjusted their trajectory northeast toward the island of Bermuda in a last-ditch attempt to escape the fast-approaching, spinning darkness. Coming within a hundred yards of the other airborne person, Max made out that it was a young man—and as he got even closer, unless his eyes were playing tricks on him, he found himself staring at … himself! Well, himself at eighteen, or thereabouts. Even under emergency weather conditions, Max was relieved to see that he turned out well, actually handsome, with a male version of his mother’s attractive face, no glasses, and a decent physique under faded jeans and a gray Maroon University sweatshirt. “So that must be where I end up going to college,” he thought. 44


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The older Max took no notice of his younger avatar, remaining singularly focused on the Tempus Fugit, which seemed to have lost its sense of direction and was now sailing directly into the storm’s swirling vortex. Max, the young boy, felt that he had to do something—but he didn’t know what. He zoomed up and over the Skyhawk until he was peering down into the cockpit, where his father was adjusting instruments and repeating himself into his radio, which appeared to have gone dead. Max shouted and shouted and banged and banged on the cockpit with his fists, but his father couldn’t hear him. As they neared the outer edge of the vortex, their speed steadily increased—until there was a thunderous BOOM indicating they had broken the sound barrier. The stormy light began to flicker in searing, multicolored strobes as the wind buffeted the three fliers left and right. The light looked like electricity riding cyclonic currents; Max could feel it, brisk and tingling, like peppermint on his skin. Instinctively, agonizingly, he was forced to let go of the Cessna and allow it to careen forward at exponentially increasing speeds into the center of the vortex, spinning in a three-sixty as it went, with the older Max hot on its tail. There was a nearly blinding flash, like a small atomic bomb detonating, and the Tempus Fugit disappeared into the impossible brightness like a stone dropped into a raging wildfire from above. The older Max, with an alarmed but determined look on his face, hesitated briefly—before shooting forward, following Captain Diver into the empty center of the vortex, and likewise vanishing with a flash from sight.

45


“W

ake up, Snooze! Come on, buddy. It’s just a bad dream.” Max sat bolt upright in bed, shaking and gasping, only to find his father seated beside him with a concerned look on his chiseled face that sported a two-day growth of salt-and-pepper beard. “Dad?” “It’s me, Max. I’m right here.” “Oh, Dad!” Overcome with emotion, Max grabbed his father’s neck like a three-year-old and tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back the tears. “I thought I’d lost you!” “It’s okay. I haven’t gone anywhere.” Slowly, Max composed himself, noting as his eyes dried that the room seemed brighter than usual. “What time is it?” he wondered aloud. “A little after ten.” “Ten? As in, o’clock?” “I got a phone call from Mr. Priestly early this morning right after I got back—” “From your ‘classified’ mission?” “Yes. Look, we don’t have to talk about this right now. Do you feel okay? You were squirming pretty hard there with some kind of nightmare.” Max felt his chest, drenched with sweat, inside his damp pajama top. “Yeah, I’m okay. I’m fine. Really. Why did you let me sleep in?” “There was no sense in waking you earlier. I’m going to take you to school with me after I get cleaned up.” 47


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“So that you can look good for your parent-principal meeting?” “At least smell good.” Never had Max appreciated his father’s quick wit more than just then. “I suppose you’re wondering what’s going on with your son?” “That’s … putting it lightly. Care to enlighten me, Max?” “I didn’t lie to Ms. Bridgewater, if that means anything.” “It does mean something. Go on.” When Max didn’t continue, his father tried to reassure him. “Look. You’re my child. We’ll get through this. If this is some kind of … mental problem, I’ll do everything in my power to help.” “It’s not some kind of mental problem. The only people who have mental problems, it seems, are Ms. Bridgewater and Mr. Priestly.” Captain Diver actually laughed out loud. “I’ve definitely felt that way about my superiors before. I just didn’t have the guts to say it.” Another silence ensued. “Tell me, Max, what’s this about your dreams? You think they might actually be happening?” This question, like ice water splashed in his face, immediately called to mind the terrifying dream Max had just lived through—and he burst into tears again. “Did I say something wrong?” “No, Dad. You never say anything wrong.” His father laughed again. “Well, that’s good news. I was beginning to feel like I’d been born with my foot in my mouth.” “You seriously want to know about my dreams?” “I think I need to know about them.” “Okay. You asked for it. They’re real. That’s what they are.” “Your dreams are real?” “Yes.” “All right. I’m going to do what your mother always urged me to do and suspend disbelief for the moment. Just for the sake of discussion, how exactly are your dreams real?” With the exception of his most recent dream, which he kept to himself, Max proceeded to relate the progression of his dreaming career: how his dreams began, how they intensified, how they started to cross the line into the waking world, and how lately they had centered on actual people and scenarios. He had simply dreamed of a painful episode from Ms. Bridgewater’s girlhood, he explained, and made the mistake of sharing it with her out of the blue when she wouldn’t believe that his dreams weren’t just dreams. “I can see how something like that would upset a person,” admitted his father. “Me, too. Now. I said I was sorry. I’d take it back if I could.” “You realize, Max, all of this sounds a bit farfetched?” 48


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“People used to believe the earth was flat. They considered the idea of a round earth ‘farfetched.’” “Yes, I know.” “I’ve got proof,” said Max, getting out of bed and fishing the Lego box out from behind the sweaters in his closet. Once again his father attempted to keep the conversation as light as possible. “Look,” he quipped, “I like Legos as much as the next guy. But I hardly consider them proof of anything.” “Ha, ha.” “What am I looking at?” asked Captain Diver, staring at the brown sacha inchi seeds about the size of marbles his son had placed on his outstretched palm. “Incan peanuts.” “Incan … peanuts?” “From Peru. And this,” said Max, showing him the wooden carving resembling a skeletal alien with a goatee, “is a Kava Kava Moai statue. From Easter Island.” “Easter Island?” “It’s ceremonial.” “Where did you get these things?” “Exactly. Here’s a Tibetan prayer flag. This is a Carnival mask from Venice. This obsidian arrowhead was found near the Pyramid of the Sun …” “Wait a second. Are you trying to tell me you brought this whole box of things back from your dreams?” “Not all at once.” His father sat still and quiet for a long while, maybe thirty seconds, digesting this new information. “Nobody gave you these things?” he asked finally. “Nope.” “And you didn’t …” “Steal them?” “I was going to say buy them. I don’t believe you’d steal anything.” “Think about it, Dad. My allowance wouldn’t even cover the shipping.” His father smiled and said, “Touché.” “So do you believe I’m crazy?” “I … don’t know what to believe.” “You think I’m lying?” “No. I definitely don’t think you’re lying.” “What are you going to do?” “Well, first I’m going to have a chat with Mr. Priestly.” “He’s going to tell you I’m crazy.” 49


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“Probably.” “Then what?” “I’m going to speak with Dr. Morrow.” “Great. He’ll probably put me on some kind of ADD medication that will make me truly delusional.” “I’m not so sure about that, Max. Let’s just say Dr. Morrow’s area of expertise is … aligned with the sort of thing you describe.” “Aligned?” “That’s all I can say about it.” “More classified business?” “I’m afraid so.” “Wonderful.” “Sorry. I wish I could tell you more.” “Me, too.” “So, are you ready to get on with our day and put the unpleasant part behind us, Max?” “Ready as I’ll ever be.” “Good. Hang in there. I’ll grab a quick shower and make us some oatmeal. I’m starving.”

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T

hat Friday, the last day before Christmas break, in celebration of the holidays, there were no afternoon classes and everybody was enjoying a glorified post-lunch recess until school let out at three. Max, who had endured the dreaded parent-principal conference (which led nowhere and decided nothing) earlier in the week, was still waiting for his father to have a chat with Dr. Morrow and deliver his verdict on his son’s mental condition. In the meantime, Max and Tuesday were seated at their usual sidewalk spot discussing subjects well beyond the general purview of sixth grade. “Want an orange?” she asked. “I’ve got one in my bag we could split.” “No thanks. I’m not hungry.” “So tell me again exactly what you saw in your dream,” she said, excitedly popping an Altoid in her mouth and offering the tin to Max. “It was some kind of vortex,” he said, accepting a peppermint absentmindedly while attempting to articulate the intense imagery of his recent dream in which his father—and apparently, an older version of himself—disappeared into the eye of a hurricane. “It was like a gigantic whirlwind. Some kind of … portal.” “You mean like a dimensional doorway—a stargate?” “Yeah. Like a wormhole leading somewhere else.” “Groovy!” “I guess. It was actually kind of terrifying. You know, Tuesday, I never realized you had a tattoo.”

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Her grass-stained corduroys had slid up her calf to reveal a small, beautifully intricate mermaid, with hair like twisted Celtic knots and ornate scales like ancient armor, just above the inside of her ankle. “My mom gave it to me. Because of my middle name.” “Which is?” “Serena. As in ‘siren.’” “You mean like a police siren?” “No, dummy. Like the mermaids who trapped Odysseus.” “The Greek sailor?” “One and the same.” “Your mom gave you that?” “She’s an ink artist. Among other things.” “It’s really good. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.” “You don’t like it?” “That’s not what I meant. I really do like it. I just had never thought about tattoos much.” “We come from different worlds, don’t we?” “In some ways.” “So what did you look like?” “Come again?” “At eighteen. In your dream.” “Oh. I … I was wearing an old gray sweatshirt with ‘Maroon University’ in maroon letters on it.” “Seriously? That’s an Ivy League school. And it’s at the top of my list of colleges. They let you design your own curriculum.” “That would suit you well.” “It would suit you well, too.” “Maybe.” “Hey, Woo-woo! Get up off your butt and come play some hoops with the boys! Or would you rather just sit there like a sissy?” The protective bubble created by Max and Tuesday’s conversation burst as Doug Biggins walked right through it into their shared airspace. “Don’t you want to play, Woo? We need another sacrificial lamb for the opposing team.” Despite his brawn, athletic prowess and perfectly groomed blond hair, Doug was far from stupid. For a bully, he had a surprisingly big vocabulary—and was an expert at getting under one’s skin. “I think I’ll pass,” said Max. “Pass what? Gas? That’s called flatulence,” said Doug. “Piss off, Doug,” said Tuesday. “Or you’ll do what, little miss four-eyes? Hit me with a sonnet?” “Leave her out of this,” said Max.

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“Or you’ll do what? I’d love to see what Woo-woo Maxwell could do to me.” Here was yet another occasion, eerily similar to his disastrous interview with Ms. Bridgewater, when Max clearly grasped, in no uncertain terms, the polarized choice being presented to him. Either he could kowtow to Doug’s superior strength and say nothing, which might save his hide while merely damaging his pride; or he could throw caution to the winds and stand up for himself and his friend, the devil be damned. “Hold my glasses,” he told Tuesday, removing them and handing them to her. “Put aside this masculine ego crap, Max. It’s not worth it. He’s going to cream you!” “Masculine ego? Obviously, you never knew my mother.” Sensing a fight brewing, a crowd of children—distorted and out of focus owing to Max’s myopia—had stopped playing and gathered like murmuring vultures along the sidewalk. Doug stood nearly six feet tall and once had actually dunked a basketball, which made him a living legend at JFK, where he ruled the playground with a heart of stone and an iron fist. “Get him, Doug!” someone yelled. Max went down on the grass like an autumn leaf with one punch (which he hardly saw coming) to the left eye and bridge of the nose—at which point the crowd erupted in guttural urgings like drunken bettors at a prize fight. “Is that all you’ve got, Woo?” said Doug, towering over him. “I’ve seen punching bags offer more resistance!” He kicked his fallen opponent’s ribs with the toe of his sneaker. “Get your puny ass up and fight me!” With his good (so to speak) eye, Max watched dazedly as an orange struck Doug, though not hard enough to faze him, on the side of the head just above the ear. “Get away from him!” yelled Tuesday, who must have thrown the orange. “I’ll deal with you later, four-eyes,” Doug snarled at her. Max had never been in physical combat before. After the initial shock of being punched and kicked, like diving into arctic water, everything went sort of numb. In fact, he temporarily passed out. During his unconscious state, it dawned on him that the primal, ferric taste on his tongue was blood. In his mind’s eye, he touched his left nostril and saw the glistening red on his fingertips. There it was—his own blood, pressed right out of his membranes. Perhaps it was the blood, or the shock of seeing it, that pushed Max’s sleeping self over the edge. Somehow he found himself standing again. He

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had the distinct impression he was sleepwalking. Sensing another drubbing, the crowd went wild with hooting and hollering. As Doug approached like a heavyweight intent on delivering a knockout, the world suddenly slowed down. With crystal clear vision, Max found himself watching everything in super slow motion, as he sometimes did—accidentally, as it were—in his nighttime dreams. During the time it took Doug to rear back and propel his fist forward, Max was able to compose himself. He didn’t technically move, except to breathe deeply with his diaphragm, as the same vaguely luminous body he sometimes moved about in while dreaming seemed to step out of his skin and deflect Doug’s blow with a forearm. The alarmed look on the bully’s face was priceless. Max’s Dreambody—a term he would learn years later—proceeded to strike him, at lightning speed, multiple times like a black belt: under the chin, in the collarbone, across the back of the head, in the ribcage, in the abdomen. Doug went down on both knees, wheezing with the wind knocked out of him and defeated for the first time in his life. Max’s Dreambody stepped back into his own astonished skin and mysteriously disappeared from his sight—which straightaway reverted to blurry as he became wide awake. Just like that, the fight was over. Apparently, nobody except Max had seen anything. Rather, they had watched as Doug tossed backward and forward like a ragdoll, then doubled over and collapsed to the ground. Doug’s actions were so bizarre and exaggerated many of those assembled thought he was goofing around and merely pantomiming a fight—especially since Max was just standing there playing the spectator with the rest of them. “You really are a freak!” Doug, obviously in pain, managed to gasp. It took a minute for the reality of the situation to sink in on a collective level. Then, somebody went in search of Mr. Lipton, the science teacher, who was supposedly supervising the playground. “You okay, Max?” asked Tuesday, stanching his bleeding nose with tissues from her backpack. “I’ll be fine.” “You look terrible.” “It’s nothing. Really.” “Here. Put these on,” she said, sliding Max’s glasses onto his sore face. “Ouch!” “Sorry.” “It’s okay.” “That was incredible, Max.” “What was incredible?” “You know what was incredible.” 54


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“You mean you saw that?” “I don’t know what I saw. I saw something, that’s all I know. And it was pretty incredible.” “What are you doing?” “Getting you the heck away from these savages.” Tuesday had scooped up Max’s backpack with her own and grabbed him by the arm and was resolutely leading him away from the school grounds. “But school isn’t out yet, Tuesday.” “It’s out for us.” “Where are you taking me?” “Home. I think it’s time you met my mom.”

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ax and Tuesday waited for the adrenaline rush of the fight with Doug to subside, perhaps ten minutes spent walking away from the beach toward downtown, before speaking again. “You sure you’re okay, Max?” she asked finally. “It looks like you’re starting to get a shiner.” “Seriously? I’ve never had a black eye before.” “You remind me of one of those dogs with only one white eye.” “Thanks. That makes me feel a lot better.” “I think your nose has stopped bleeding, though.” “Count your blessings. That’s what I always say.” “You realize there will be repercussions for skipping out like we just did?” “What’s the worst they can do, Tuesday? Suspend us? Personally, I could use a break from that Animal Farm.” “A literary reference! I didn’t know you had it in you, Max!” Despite himself, Max tried to laugh—which nearly doubled him over with pain in his ribcage. Instead of laughing, he wheezed like a smoker. Tuesday stopped grinning and said, “He kicked the crap out of your ribs.” “He sure did. I hope they’re just badly bruised and not broken.” “You think you can make it?” “How much farther?” “Seven more blocks.” “I’ll give it my best shot. Here, let me carry my own backpack.” “No way.” 57


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That was just as well, since he probably couldn’t have managed. After another couple blocks in the direction of downtown, Tuesday commented, as if speaking out loud what they were both thinking, “Doug Biggins. What a dingleberry.” “My sentiments precisely.” “He’s the one who’s going to get in real trouble, you know.” “You think?” “Absolutely. You didn’t do anything.” “We both know I did something, Tuesday.” “That’s true. But nobody else does. What did you do?” “Heck if I know. It just happened. Things just happen with me.” “I’m starting to understand that.” “What did you see?” “I’m not sure, Max. It was as if your … spirit stepped out of you and took out Doug.” “That’s what I saw, too.” “Has that ever happened before?” “Nope.” “Did you mean for it to happen?” “No. Well, maybe a little. I don’t know, Tuesday. Maybe I am a freak.” “Stop badmouthing my friend or I’ll find another orange to throw.” “That was a great shot. You hit him square in the head.” “I know! Could you believe it? I’ve never thrown anything at anyone in my life!” The two children had entered what Max’s Aunt Nadine would have called a “sketchy” part of town, with somewhat rundown houses lining the streets and generally less green and more litter than was to be found in his upscale suburban neighborhood. Max felt a ripple of anxiety as a tall black man wearing a green hood, low-riding jeans and untied Nikes approached on the sidewalk. “Yo, Tuesday, how’s it?” he said. “Gordon!” she exclaimed. “Where’ve you been?” “Nawlins,” he said, which after a couple of seconds Max decrypted to mean, “New Orleans.” “Let me see that last tattoo Mom gave you. Do you mind? I never got to look at it dry.” Gordon, who looked about thirty, smiled a congenial smile bright with silver and gold teeth as he pulled up his sleeve to reveal an impressive tattoo of a raven in flight with the sun in its beak. “Dat’s some fine work,” he said. “Your old lady’s got talent. And she’s fine, too. You tell her what I said.”

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“I will. It really is gorgeous,” said Tuesday, who explained to Max, “The design is based on an Athabascan legend of the raven who gave light to the world.” “Athabascan?” “Native Alaskan.” “Who’s yo friend, Tuesday? He looks kinda rough.” “I’m sorry. Gordon, this is Max. Max, Gordon.” “Nice to meet you,” said Max. “Same here. You alright? I hope the other dude looks worse. Or did Mistress Tuesday open a can on you from jealousy?” “Oh, stop it!” laughed Tuesday. “We’re only friends. Let’s just say the other fellow won’t be picking on Max anymore.” “Good. That’s what I like to hear. Ya’ll take care, now.” “You, too, Gordon!” said Tuesday. Max had a sense, not unlike that of his dreams, of entering a parallel universe related to, yet distinctly different from, his everyday world. The uncanny sensation of slipping into an alternate reality grew stronger as they covered the final three blocks to Tuesday’s house— which, from the outside, looked more like a haunted house than a place where normal people lived. Well, maybe not normal. A rambling, three-story, white Victorian with mahogany accents, the Monday home struck Max as more of a magic gingerbread house in a primeval forest than a real residence on a contemporary street corner. Yet despite its two medieval turrets and three bay windows seeming to lean out and peer down over them like bulbous eyes, the overall feeling the old relic of a place gave Max was one of exhilaration rather than apprehension. “We’re here!” announced Tuesday. “You actually live here?” “I take it it’s a little different from your place?” “That’s putting it mildly.” Tuesday’s hair bounced as she skipped up the uneven wooden steps onto the slanted porch that was home to a small forest of potted plants, many of which struck Max—who had never seen most of them before— as … exotic. Experiencing an unexpected energy surge, he climbed the steps and followed Tuesday in the front doorway, where they were immediately met by a huge black tomcat with exceedingly long whiskers. Tuesday set the two backpacks on a nearby beanbag and scooped up the tomcat, scratching him behind the ears—which, judging by his loud purring, he enjoyed tremendously. “Max, this is Merlin.” “Hello, Merlin.” “Take him. He won’t hurt you.”

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Max, who had never had a pet of any kind, could only think to say, “Are you sure?”—before Merlin was in his arms staring up at him impatiently. “Scratch him behind the ears.” Max started scratching—and Merlin started purring. “I can tell he likes you,” said Tuesday. “Tell him I like him, too.” “There’s no need. He understands English perfectly well.” If the vortex from Max’s dream had seemed like a different world, the inside of the Monday home was a different world. But he had very little time to take it all in, other than to note a particular smell like that of old books mixed with boiling herbs and fresh paint, before he was greeted by the owner of the house. With waves of scarlet hair framing her Botticelli face and a multicolored scrollwork of tattoos too complicated to process decorating both graceful arms to the wrists, she emerged like a sunlit ruby from behind an Arab-looking curtain on the other side of a shelf stacked with antique tomes. “Max, this is my mom,” said Tuesday. “Mom, this is Max. You remember, my friend from school. He needs your help.” “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Monday,” said Max, almost too flabbergasted—by everything, but especially Ms. Monday—to speak. “Good gracious,” she said, foregoing formalities and ignoring, for the moment, Max’s injuries, as she stared intently at him with Tuesday’s same incisive gray eyes. “Your aura is huge!” “My aura?” Max managed to respond. “The subtle energy field around your body,” said Ms. Monday. “It’s absolutely enormous—and almost blindingly bright. I’ve never seen anything to compare.” “Mom,” said Tuesday, reprovingly. “Can we get to his aura in a little while—like, after we tend to his wounds?” “Right you are. How on earth did this happen? He looks awful!” “He got in a fight at school.” “Well, judging by the look of things, he didn’t win.” “Yes, in fact, he did. That’s part of why he needs your help.” With any other people and in any other situation, Max would have been irritated at being discussed in the third person to his face like a toddler. But for one reason or another, it didn’t bother him, coming from these two kind people in that one-of-a-kind house. And then, just as he was able to identify the odd sensation of gratitude in his heart for having someone besides his father sincerely care for him, he blanked out cold from shock and exhaustion on the hardwood floor.

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ax awoke from a mercifully dreamless state, only to find himself unable to see—at which point he realized something cool and clammy was covering his eyes. He reached up and discovered what felt like some kind of giant leaf draped across his face. When he removed it, sure enough, it turned out to be a wilted white cabbage leaf, slightly damp from water and smelling vaguely of vinegar. He was stretched on his back on a bright bed in a bright room, whose specific details remained blurry without his glasses. Palpating his ribs where he had been kicked, he discovered the area had been bandaged with a poultice, which left his fingers slightly sticky. “You’re awake!” Tuesday’s unmistakably cheery voice came from the indistinct figure that had just entered the room. “Where am I?” “My room. Mom and I carried you up here after you fainted. You weigh more than you look.” “How long have I been out?” “Barely an hour. Just long enough for us to tend to your bruises. The eye already looks better.” “Really?” “White cabbage. It’s marvelous for facial bruises. You just break the ribs and submerge it in hot water with vinegar. Fortunately, your own ribs aren’t broken.” “How do you know?” 61


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“Kinesiology.” “Kinesiology?” “Muscle testing. It’s a way of asking the body what’s happening with it. You can even muscle test on behalf of somebody else. Your ribs are just bruised. We put some arnica in the poultice to help with the pain and swelling.” Tuesday came into focus as she sat down on the bed beside him. Despite the harrowing ordeal at school, and her best friend collapsing in her living room, she looked typically upbeat. “Here. These should help,” she said, taking the cabbage leaf from his hand and sliding his glasses on his face. Instantly, his surroundings coalesced into a chaotic menagerie of a bedroom (so different from his own Spartan quarters) that appeared to have grown up organically, rather than being planned in any deliberate way. There was a telescope on a tripod beside the tall bay window. There was a guitar featuring a Celtic pattern on the cushioned window seat. There was a ceiling-high bookshelf haphazardly stacked with classics from Dickens to Dickenson. There was an incense burner on a coffee table flanked by two mismatched beanbags. There was a paint-stained writing desk with the crusted remains from Tuesday’s breakfast of Irish pudding still in the bowl and an Earl Grey teabag still in the mug. There were dozens of shoes scattered on the floor, none of which seemed to be near its mate. There were what appeared to be theatrical costumes strewn hither and thither. And there were exactly—Max counted them—twelve helium-filled balloons still nearly full stuck like colored gumballs to the ceiling. “What do you think?” asked Tuesday. “About what?” “My room.” “It’s … bright.” “You like it?” “Yeah. I like it.” “Me, too.” Anticipating more pain than he ended up experiencing, Max sat up stiffly. “How do you feel?” wondered Tuesday. “I’ve felt better. Overall, though, things could be worse. You play guitar?” “I’m learning.” “When was your birthday?” “How did you know I just had a birthday?” 62


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“The balloons. They’ve barely even deflated.” “Very astute and grounded of you. Perfectly Capricorn. I’m Sagittarius.” “So when was your birthday?” “Monday. December sixteenth. Jane Austen’s birthday.” “Who’s Jane Austen?” “To be so smart, you don’t know anything about literature, do you?” Max had to laugh, even though he expected his ribs would pay for it. They did—but not to the extent he feared. “You didn’t even have the decency to tell me, your one and only friend, that it was your birthday?” “You had a lot on your mind.” “Like what?” “Uh, like the parent-principal meeting? Or have you already forgotten what had to be the worst week of your life?” “Not the worst week. My first week was my worst week.” “Right. Got you. Okay, the worst week you can remember.” “I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me it was your birthday.” “Sorry. Feel up to going downstairs? Mom’s brewing some bilberry extract in the kitchen.” “For what?” “You. It fortifies capillaries and stabilizes the oxygen in your system to help bruises heal faster.” “I thought science wasn’t your strong suit.” “It isn’t. This is herbology.” Max’s shoes were nowhere to be found, so he followed Tuesday in sock feet. The upstairs had the feel of an old castle. You never knew when you might bump into a suit of armor (which Max literally did in the hallway) or a restless ghost (which, if one was about, kept to itself) emerging from one of many mysterious doors. From the foot of the staircase, Max and Tuesday could hear Ms. Monday in the kitchen speaking with someone on the phone: “Yes, I realize it’s school policy to sign out students when picking them up early.” Max’s ears pricking up, he whispered, “Oh my God. She must be talking to—” “Hush,” said Tuesday, cutting him off and listening intently. “You’re right, Mr. Priestly,” continued Ms. Monday. “The fault certainly wasn’t Max’s or Tuesday’s—and I trust they won’t get in trouble for my mistake. I simply forgot to sign them out when I arrived at school. I assure you it won’t happen again.” The two kids waited for her to hang up, then waited a few more seconds, staring at each other hugely and exultantly from the bottom of the staircase, before trying to look casual entering the sunlit kitchen.

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“I see you’re up and about, Max!” said Ms. Monday. “Your eye’s looking better. How are the ribs?” “A little sore, but I’ll be okay. Thanks for your help, Ms. Monday.” “Please. Call me Maizy.” “Who was that on the phone?” Tuesday wondered as innocently as possible. “Mr. Priestly. He called asking where the two of you had gotten off to.” “Oh.” “And I explained that when I picked you both up from school this afternoon, I unfortunately forgot to sign you out. A simple mistake on my part.” “Thanks for covering for us, Mom.” “You’re welcome. But don’t make this a habit, young lady. The world may be shades of gray, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy having to lie.” “Don’t worry. It was just a really bad scene.” “And I want to hear all about it. But first, Max, sit down and drink this,” said Maizy, pouring a steaming, purplish concoction from a pot on the stove into a mug, which she set on the kitchen table. “Bilberry extract for your bruises. It’s still piping hot. Be sure to blow on it.” “Thanks, Ms. Mon—I mean, Maizy. For everything.” “Don’t mention it.” Max sat down and blew across the surface of the mug. The smell, almost sweet, could have been worse. The taste wasn’t bad either, sort of like spicy herbal tea. “I added a few drops of stevia,” said Maizy. “Stevia?” “A natural sweetener from a tropical plant. It’s three hundred times sweeter than sugar and doesn’t cause diabetes.” “Or tooth decay,” added Tuesday, flashing her big white teeth. “I can see that,” said Max, who continued sipping the extract while taking in his surroundings. The kitchen—which was practically glowing, being on the same side of the house as Tuesday’s room, and also featuring high ceilings—displayed a similarly organized chaos. Pots and pans hung from a rack suspended above an island beside the stove (three of whose gas burners were in use brewing pots of who knew what), which occupied the space between two sprawling countertops nearly covered with enigmatic clay crocks and drying herbs laid out on towels. The thought occurred to Max he was sitting in something rather like an alchemist’s laboratory, or even a witch’s kitchen—when a large, soft and furry presence pressed up against his calf. Looking down between his legs, he discovered Merlin’s green eyes staring up at him like two stars shining from a field of black. 64


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“He wants to spend time with you,” said Tuesday. Max picked up the massive tomcat and, setting him in a comfortable position on his lap, proceeded to scratch him behind the ears, eliciting a deep, satisfied purring and causing the animal to close his eyes and, apparently, drift asleep. Meanwhile, mother and daughter joining Max at the table, Tuesday began recounting the story of the fight with Doug. When she got to the part where Max went “out of body,” she paused and looked at him as if asking permission to share this part of the tale. “It’s all right,” said Max. “Go ahead.” Tuesday finished the story, describing from her point of view the luminous figure that stepped out of her friend and proceeded to offer a twenty-second clinic in the art of self-defense. Maizy had remained silent during the entire narrative, staring at Max with virtually unblinking eyes that seemed too old, energetically, to belong to a relatively young (and admittedly, attractive) woman with blazing red hair and tattoos decorating much of her fair skin. Initially, he felt uncomfortable under the weight of such intense scrutiny. But realizing there was no ill intent in it, only compassion mixed with curiosity, he began to return the gaze, examining Maizy even as she examined him. This was how he managed to see that all her tattoos were actually one huge tattoo—of some kind of gigantic, perhaps prehistoric bird. From talons that terminated around Maizy’s wrists, the bird’s wings stretched up her arms to her shoulders, where the bird’s body was inked, culminating in an ornate head, eyes and beak encircling her neck in a manner that seemed to stare with her at whatever she was seeing. “Your tattoo,” said Max almost as a question. “What about it?” asked Maizy. “Is it, by any chance, a thunderbird?” “Now, that’s very interesting.” “I told you Max was gifted, Mom,” put in Tuesday. “What’s interesting?” asked Max. “You’re the first person ever to guess what my tattoo is without having to be told. I don’t suppose you were born with the caul?” It was Max’s turn to find a question very interesting. “How did you know that?” he asked. “How did you know about my thunderbird?” “I didn’t know. It was just a lucky guess. My mother believed thunderbirds were real. The memory just popped into my head.” “So you believe thoughts like that just ‘pop’ into your head?” “It’s an expression.”

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“But just for the sake of argument,” continued Maizy, “where do you suppose intuitive thoughts ‘pop’ into your head from?” “Well, science says all thoughts occur in your brain. Maybe thoughts pop into one part of the brain from another part.” “Ah, science.” “What about it?” “Mom has pretty strong opinions on science,” said Tuesday. “I suppose I do,” said Maizy. “Let’s just say science only sees what it wants to see.” “Meaning?” asked Max. “That there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in science’s philosophy.” “Shakespeare,” whispered Tuesday. “You’re talking about the notion,” said Max, processing the thought aloud, “that there’s an intelligence, some kind of consciousness, outside of us that we tap into with our brains like a radio picking up radio signals?” “That’s exactly what I mean.” “It’s a fascinating theory. Personally, I’ve always suspected it to be true. It just makes sense. And it sure explains a lot of strange phenomena.” “Like intuition?” “For starters.” “You’re quick, Max. I’ll give you that. But you’ve yet to scratch the surface of your potential. You think you were born with the caul by accident?” “I have no idea why I was born like that. I take it you do?” “Not really. But I certainly don’t believe in accidents.” “Mom tends to speak in riddles,” observed Tuesday. “You still haven’t told me how you knew about my caul,” said Max. “You have a double aura. It’s quite rare. That’s why it’s so large.” “And a double aura indicates I was born with the caul?” “It can.” “You really can see my aura?” “Plain as day.” “What does it look like?” “Think twin rainbow eggs.” “Tell me something else about … about who I am that I might not know,” said Max. “Okay. Give me your hand.” “My hand?” “I promise I won’t bite.”

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Max gently set down Merlin, who wasn’t happy to be let go in the middle of his repose, as he yawned and butted Max’s leg with his forehead. Maizy held Max’s palm with long fingers and black fingernails about a foot in front of her face and nodded as she found what she was seeking. “Just as I suspected. You have two life lines.” “What does that mean?” “You live a double life.” “You mean, like, a spy?” “You know what I mean.” “Because of my dreams?” “You live in two worlds, Max. All of us do, to varying degrees. But for one reason or another, you’ve blended the worlds so totally they’ve both become real and you’ve literally become two people.” Max was wondering if Tuesday had let slip to her mother his recent dream featuring an older version of himself flying in formation beside him—when his friend, who had no small intuitive ability herself, said, “I didn’t tell her anything, Max, if that’s what you’re wondering. You asked me not to.”

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ell you what,” said Maizy. “I’ll make us some fresh juice and a snack and we can reconvene on the back porch to chat a bit more about this stuff. Metaphysics requires a lot of energy. Are you two hungry?” “Starving,” said Max. “Ditto,” said Tuesday. “In the meantime, perhaps Max would like to see the garden?” “I’ll show him!” said Tuesday. She led him back past the stairwell, through the cavernous living room (where Max slipped on his shoes), past a smaller room that appeared to be Maizy’s tattoo parlor, onto a screened and furnished lanai, out a side door, down some steps, and into some kind of urban … farm. Most of the backyard was cultivated in neat circular installations, ringed by large rocks, of different species of plants. There were many plants Max didn’t recognize, but among those he did were beets, broccoli, cabbages, and carrots. “Permaculture,” explained Tuesday, noting the quizzical expression on her friend’s face. “Perma what?” “Max, is it just me, or am I always having to explain things to you?” “You’re always having to explain things,” he said, kneeling at the edge of a circle and touching a large white cabbage with a finger to verify that it was real. He had never seen an actual farm before—much less one like this. 69


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“Do you really want to know what permaculture is?” “I asked, didn’t I?” “Fair enough. Permaculture is a system of growing food based on year-round agriculture that relies on renewable resources and an ecosystem that’s self-sustaining.” “Translated?” “You let nature take care of you all year while taking care of it without a lot of pesticides.” “Cool. I love new ideas.” “Actually, it’s really old. It’s the way things were done for centuries. What do you think?” “I think it’s amazing,” answered Max, standing back up and inhaling deeply. Just being in the Mondays’ garden was invigorating. “Even the air out here is like food.” “I know what you mean.” “They just let you do this? The city, I mean?” “They don’t like it. Sometimes they fine people. Mom says we’ll know the world has truly changed when people start receiving citations for not growing gardens in their yards.” “Hey, guys!” Maizy called, as if on cue, from the lanai. “Snack is served!” The two children ran, laughing, back through the garden, up the steps, and onto the porch. Max felt utterly exhilarated—and had completely forgotten about his injured eye and ribs. Maizy had set three glasses of practically fluorescent green juice and a large plate of cheese and fruit on a glass-topped coffee table. She sat in a wicker chair as Max and Tuesday plopped down on a matching love seat and started feeding their faces. “Wow. This juice is … different,” said Max. “You don’t like it?” said Maizy. “I do like it. A lot. It’s just really … fresh.” “As fresh as it gets. I just juiced it.” Max tasted the strong, mineral sweetness of beets and carrots. “Is everything in here from your garden?” “Not everything. The apples and jalapeños are from the Saturday farmers market. And I grow the wheat grass on the front porch in a dry spot for better drainage to limit mold.” “Wheat grass?” “It’s a superfood,” said Tuesday. “It contains more nutrients than just about anything else.” “And it’s just … grass?” “Yes, basically. It’s fantastic for decalcifying your pineal gland,” said Maizy. 70


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“Doing what to my pineal gland?” asked Max. “Decalcifying it. The pineal gland is your third eye, the seat of mystical power in ancient wisdom traditions that many Hindus still mark with a bindi.” She pointed to the center of her forehead. “It’s said to be the exit point for kundalini, the serpent-like energy of enlightenment that travels up the chakras, or major energy points, along your spine. Descartes thought the pineal gland was where the soul resides.” “A French philosopher,” explained Tuesday. Not everything Maizy was sharing was Greek to Max. Over the course of his “paranormal” reading, he had encountered many of these concepts before, in one form or another. He just had never understood how to apply them, in any practical way, to his own experience. “Why would I want to decalcify it?” he asked. “Because fluoride, chlorine and other toxins in our water, food supply and even toothpaste harden, or calcify, the pineal gland, making it less functional,” said Maizy. “This should be of particular interest to you, Max, given your … proclivities.” “You’re saying that certain foods, like wheat grass juice, can increase psychic ability?” “That’s exactly what I’m saying. In fact, nearly any kind of green, leafy vegetable will help.” “And other things, like chemicals, decrease it?” “You are what you eat.” “Far out. I always thought food was just … food.” “Unless it’s soul food,” quipped Tuesday. “Speaking of, these are really flavorful apple slices, Mom.” “The cheddar’s good, too,” said Max. “It’s raw,” said Tuesday. “Glad you’re enjoying everything,” said Maizy. “Now, let’s talk a little about your astral body, Max.” “My astral body?” “Do you realize you often repeat things back to people as a question?” “Sorry. I guess it just gives me time to think so I don’t sound stupid.” “That’s a curious conversational strategy.” “I think it’s kind of endearing,” said Tuesday. “So what’s an astral body?” asked Max. “It may be what you saw during your fight. Though I have to admit, I’ve never heard of one popping out in the middle of a crowd like that during broad daylight. Usually, they’re solitary aspects of our being, confined to our dreams—and sometimes daydreams.” “I see it in my dreams as well. Come to think of it, I was dreaming. I was out cold for a minute there—and then I got up sleepwalking.” 71


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“That doesn’t surprise me.” Max felt the by-now familiar nudging against his leg, reached down without even bothering to look, and set Merlin on his lap for another scratching. “Tell me,” said Maizy, “do you ever see a silver cord attached to your astral body when you’re dreaming?” “A silver cord?” “You’re doing it again.” “Sorry. Well, yes, now that you mention it. But it’s more like a thin ribbon. It’s almost invisible and seemingly can stretch forever. What is it exactly?” “It’s the connection between your waking and dreaming selves. It’s made of the same subtle energy as your aura and kundalini. The Taoists called this energy chi. If you can visualize the silver cord right now, where would you say it attaches to your physical body?” “To my pineal gland—my third eye?” “And where does it connect to your dreaming self?” “To the back of my head, I’d say, though I can’t actually see the connection point.” “Textbook. It’s all just textbook, Max. You really are astral projecting. Is there anything particularly strange about your dreams?” Tuesday actually burst out laughing at this question—and Max couldn’t help following suit. There with a full belly on the roomtemperature lanai overlooking the permaculture garden on a gorgeous December late afternoon, the psychodrama that was Max’s life suddenly seemed surreal, absurd, and hilarious beyond words. “I gather there’s more to this story,” said Maizy, which only made the two children laugh harder, to the point of doubling over and slapping their knees as they wheezed. “That’s putting it lightly,” Tuesday finally managed to say between fits of giggling. “Would you care to clue in your mother?” “Do you mind if I tell her, Max?” “Be my guest,” he laughed. “If she doesn’t think I’m a freak by now, she never will.” After a minute, the two kids were able to compose themselves. While Max scratched Merlin and—prompted by Maizy—finished off the last of the cheese and fruit, Tuesday, with her typical literary style, proceeded to weave Max’s history of increasingly bizarre dreams into something resembling a short story. Max listened along with Maizy, nearly as fascinated as she was, as his own life was laid out in the third person—starting with his earliest notable dreams, continuing through his learning how to bring objects back from 72


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the dream world, and ending with his latest visionary dream of himself and his father disappearing into the vortex. When Tuesday finished, Maizy remained quiet for a moment, then said, “That’s some heavy stuff. Does your father know all of this, Max?” “Most of it. Now anyway. Everything except my last dream.” “What does he make of it?” “He’s still making up his mind.” “I think you should pull a card.” “A card? What kind of card?” “A Tarot card. It’s a form of divination, a way of comprehending oneself better in the past, present, and future.” “Like palm reading?” “Something like that. Would you like to pull one? It could shed light on why these things are happening to you.” “Sure. Why not.” “Tuesday, honey, please go get the little deck. I think it’s in the parlor.” Tuesday was only gone a few seconds, before sitting back down and handing her mother a small black deck called The World Spirit Tarot and an accompanying booklet explaining the significance of the individual cards. Making space on the coffee table, Maizy shuffled the deck several times with practiced fingers, before spreading out the cards facedown. “Now, run your hand over the cards,” she instructed Max. “Don’t touch them. Just feel them. Ask your higher guidance to help you select the one card that most clearly speaks to who you are and who you are endeavoring to become.” Max suppressed the “scientific” urge to laugh off this ritual as superstitious foolishness. Recalling the epigraph to his mother’s field journal, “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud,” he resisted reaching a premature conclusion regarding something about which he knew virtually nothing— and instead, opened his mind and did as he was counseled. Merlin suddenly stirred from sleep, opened his eyes and watched with Maizy and Tuesday as Max ran his hand over the cards, trying to “feel” them with his fingertips and asking for “guidance.” Selecting a card that seemed “hot,” for lack of a better way to describe the odd sensation, he carefully pulled it from the spread. “Flip it over,” said Tuesday. He did. The card showed a muscular blue man hanging from a tree limb by a rope attached to one foot, grasping an arrow behind his back with both hands, his long black hair dangling down into a sunken whirlpool the same color as his skin.

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“What does it mean?” Max asked, seeing the serious look on Maizy’s alabaster face framed by coils of scarlet hair. “It’s the Hanged Man,” she said in a distant, philosophical voice. “That certainly explains a lot.” “It really does,” said Tuesday in a similar tone of amazement and respectfulness. “The Hanged Man?” asked Max. “That’s bad, right? I mean, it can’t be good to be hanged?” “It’s not that simple,” said Maizy. “Would you like me to read about this card?” “Do I have any other choice?” “You always have a choice.” “Okay. Fire away.” Maizy opened the little booklet to the page that discussed the Hanged Man and read, “‘Suspended between the worlds, the Hanged Man links heaven and earth. He is a visionary, a shaman, a mystic. His connection with the ethereal realm imbues him with psychic powers.’” “So I’m supposed to be some kind of modern-day medicine man?” Max asked incredulously. “Try to think about it in a more nonlinear way. This card is not you; it merely speaks to you, offering insights wherever they apply. Shall I continue?” “Sure.” “‘When the Hanged Man appears,’” Maizy went on, “‘some element of your life is on hold. You may feel vulnerable and be questioning things you’ve always taken for granted. Your world may even feel … upside down …’” “You got that right,” interjected Max. “‘But have faith. Allow yourself to be in suspense for a while; let go of having every answer. It may not make any sense to you right now, but a reversal of ideas could be exactly what’s needed.’” “Is that it?” “No. There’s a little more. Shall I finish?” “Please.” “‘The Hanged Man often asks for a sacrifice in exchange for his wisdom. Feelings of being stuck or trapped persist only as long as you cling to your usual perspective. If you are willing to give up some belief or attitude that no longer serves you, your reward will be well worth it. You will gain a deeper understanding of your life and, with this new perspective, old dilemmas and chronic problems can be resolved.’” While Maizy was reading, Max instinctively saw the vortex from his dream as the whirlpool into which the Hanged Man’s hair was dipping. The arrow behind his back suggested someone who could navigate in two 74


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different directions, or worlds. He shivered, though it wasn’t cold, with the sense that the card really was speaking to him. “There now, Max,” said Tuesday with her usual cheerfulness, which she somehow managed to maintain even in the face of adversity. “That doesn’t seem so bad, does it?” ‘

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o say Max had a lot to chew on during the ride back home would be a vast understatement. He sat in the passenger seat of the Mondays’ Winnebago, with Tuesday behind and Maizy at the wheel, staring up through citrus trees lining the sidewalks at an immaculate early evening sky, miles away in his mind from South Florida. He had just had a condensed education—and it didn’t take place at school. While many longstanding questions had been answered by Maizy, in one way or another, his thoughts were spinning like river eddies with even more questions. The biggest question, of course, transcending physics and the realm of how he was able to do the extraordinary things he did, remained firmly rooted in the realm of metaphysics and begged an answer to why he could do these things. He could still remember the last words, echoing in memory’s chambers, Maizy had read aloud. The Hanged Man often asks for a sacrifice in exchange for his wisdom. Feelings of being stuck or trapped persist only as long as you cling to your usual perspective. If you are willing to give up some belief or attitude that no longer serves you, your reward will be well worth it. You will gain a deeper understanding of your life and, with this new perspective, old dilemmas and chronic problems can be resolved. What kind of “sacrifice” was required of Max to gain wisdom? And how could he shift his perspective enough so he no longer felt a victim of his seemingly haphazard gifts—and might harness them by becoming their master? 77


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“I bet your mind’s racing,” commented Tuesday, as if she had been listening to his thoughts, placing her hand on his shoulder in a supportive gesture. “You can say that again.” “But I won’t,” she joked. “Don’t forget Joseph Campbell’s words of wisdom,” said Maizy. “You mean to follow your bliss?” asked Tuesday. “That, too,” said Maizy. “But I was actually talking about another quote.” “Who’s Joseph Campbell?” asked Max. “A famous writer on comparative mythology. He said, ‘Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.’” “That sounds about right.” “He called periods of ‘trial by fire’ like yours the ‘Hero’s Journey.’” “I’ll buy trial by fire. But you can keep the hero part.” “Well, you’re certainly not the villain,” interjected Tuesday in an impromptu literary analysis of Max’s character. “So you must be the hero.” Max directed Maizy through the ritzy residential neighborhood of Oceanside to his sprawling, one-story, ranch-style house, which seemed as wide as the Mondays’ three-story Victorian was tall. The two dwellings struck Max as like water and fire: elementally incompatible. “We do live in different worlds,” he told Tuesday, observing with new eyes the manicured, cookie-cutter, unreal quality of the toy houses and lawns along Tupelo Street. “It doesn’t matter. If you get bored with yours, you can come over to my world anytime you like.” When they pulled in the driveway, Captain Diver’s Jeep was nowhere to be found. Max figured his father was out looking for him—and was going to be royally displeased with his son even more than he already was when he returned. It was almost six o’clock—and Max was supposed to have been home soon after three. “I’d invite you both in,” said Max, “but I don’t think my dad will be in a very entertaining mood when he gets home. He doesn’t even know about my fight yet.” “God. I forgot all about that!” said Tuesday. “Me, too. Almost.” “You won, at least.” “At least. I do have some things for the two of you, though, if you don’t mind waiting here just a second.” “We can do that,” said Maizy.

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Max grabbed his backpack, exited the van, hurried inside his house (which, compared to the Monday’s funhouse, felt empty in more ways than one), tossed his bag on his bed, retrieved the Lego box from his closet, and found what he was seeking. “These are for you,” he told Maizy, dropping a handful of sacha inchi seeds in her palm through the open van window. “They’re from Peru.” “Incan peanuts!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never eaten dream food before.” “Me neither,” Max laughed. “You know, they may not look like much,” said Maizy. “But they’re the food highest in Omega-3 fatty acids on the planet. Which means they’re really, really good for you. Thanks, Max.” “You’re welcome, Maizy. Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “And this is for you, Tuesday. Happy late birthday. I thought it would go well with your hair.” He held out the Celtic bracelet from his dream. “I brought it back from Ireland, I think.” “Mom and I are both Irish!” said Tuesday. “Well, our ancestors were.” The bracelet, which looked to be a mixture of interwoven white and yellow gold, was thin but extremely intricate—like a braided rope or multi-stranded helix of DNA twisting in two tones around itself endlessly—and fit like a charm when she slipped it on her wrist. “That’s some bracelet!” said Maizy in an astonished voice. “Is it real? I mean—is it an antique?” asked Tuesday. “I’m not sure,” said Max. “Maybe. Probably. I retrieved it from some kind of archeological dig.” “It’s cool. I mean, it’s … beautiful. Breathtaking even.” Uncharacteristically, Tuesday seemed nearly at a loss for words. “Are you sure you want to give this to me? It must be worth a lot.” “Money, I have, or at least my dad does. But friends, not so much. I want you to have it.” “That’s incredibly generous of you. Thanks for this, Max. I’ll never forget it!” She reached out the window and hugged him. Awkwardly and self-consciously, Max returned the hug. “Is that your dad?” asked Maizy. “I believe that’s him.” Max’s heart sank as he immediately let go of Tuesday and tried to compose himself. The new white Jeep pulled up alongside the old black Winnebago. It occurred to him that even the two families’ vehicles were polar opposites. Captain Diver cast a quick eye on his son as he got out of the Jeep, assessing with military efficiency whether Max was okay, despite the watermelon hue around his eye, and what might be going on with two strange females parked in his driveway. But keeping his thoughts and

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emotions, whatever they were, in check, all he said was, “I see you’re home.” “Yeah. Sorry for being so late. Dad, this is Tuesday from school and her mother, Maizy. This is my dad.” Never one to be shy, Tuesday said, “Pleased to meet you, Captain Diver. I read your biography.” “You read my biography? Don’t you have better things to do?” he joked. It was a classic Diverian icebreaker, delivered with ease and authenticity, and everyone laughed, relieved. “Pleased to meet you, too. Lovely bracelet.” “Thanks,” said Tuesday, seemingly unsure whether to divulge that Max had just given it to her. “I’m Thomas,” said Max’s father, shaking Tuesday’s mother’s hand. “Maizy.” “I know. I’ve seen you occasionally at PTA meetings.” “Oh, I hate those tacky things. I only attend when my guilt at not having attended reaches a certain level.” It was Thomas’s turn to be made to laugh. “Same here,” he admitted. “Look. I’m sure you and Max will discuss today’s events. But I want you to know, from my perspective, he’s a great kid.” “I realize that.” “And he’s my best friend,” added Tuesday. “Please go easy on him, Captain Diver. Nothing that happened today was his fault.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” When the Mondays left them standing alone in the twilit driveway at last, Max’s father turned to him and asked, “So, is that your girlfriend?” “No. Just my best friend.” “She’s got potential. Wait a few years. I bet she’ll look like her mother.” He never once asked about the bracelet, though he surely registered that Max had given it to Tuesday. Probably, being fair-minded and not in the least covetous, he figured it was Max’s to give to whomever he liked. “How’s the eye?” “Could be worse.” “Do you want to talk about it?” “Yes. But not right this instant—if that’s okay with you. I think I just want to be alone this evening.” “Would you like something to eat?” “I’m not hungry.” “Fair enough.” His father draped a muscular arm around his shoulders and Max smelled the familiar, comforting scent of Old Spice. “But I’m here if you need me.” “I know. Thanks, Dad.” 80


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“Don’t mention it.” In his exhausted dream that night, in which he could feel his eye socket and ribs throbbing, Max found himself walking through a dense forest at dusk. Glancing at his hands, he was surprised to discover they were perfectly blue. When he looked behind him, his silver cord shimmered its way back through the dark trees until it was lost from sight. He came to a clearing, where a natural whirlpool, seemingly lit from below, cast glowing reflections of ripples all around. Kneeling beside it, his long hair, perhaps wet from rain in the forest, in whose branches he could hear the wind, nearly touching the water’s steaming surface, he was greeted by a blue face that he mistook for his reflection—until he realized the face was making independent movements that didn’t correspond to his own. “Thank you for coming,” said the blue face, which otherwise, except for the bindi in the middle of the forehead, was identical to his own face. “I cannot express how glad I am you received my message. He desperately needs your help!” “Who?” asked Max, not knowing what else to say. “You must come to him. I cannot do this alone.” “Do what alone? Who are you?” “My name is Max,” said the blue face, just as a howling wind bent the forest and extinguished all the lights—and Max sat bolt upright in bed with the early morning sun glowing behind the curtains.

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t was just before seven, according to his alarm clock, when Max wandered through the house in his pajamas, disoriented by his dream of meeting another Max, in search of his father. He looked for him in the kitchen, the living room, the study, the guest bedroom where Aunt Nadine stayed when babysitting, even the garage— but Captain Diver was nowhere to be found. As a military man, his father had always been an early riser, which explains why it occurred to his son last that he might still be in his bedroom. Silently gliding across the carpet barefoot, that was where, unnoticed, Max discovered him. At that early hour, his father had no reason to suspect he wasn’t alone. He was seated, dressed in jeans and a blue Naval Academy T-shirt, on the bed beside his wife’s old Seward trunk, its hinged lid open to reveal its contents, staring, lost in memory, at her Egyptian scarab hairpin in his palm. The scene sucker-punched Max. He never saw it coming. It encapsulated in one poignant instant the tragic beauty of his family history. Still disoriented by his dream, his emotions nearly got the best of him—and he instinctively sucked in his breath to keep from sobbing. His father heard the sound and turned, only mildly surprised, still lingering over thoughts that had to be that much more bitter in the end for being so sweet at the beginning, to examine his son in the doorway. “Sorry for disturbing you, Dad.”

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“She was wearing this when I first saw her,” said his father in a distant voice. “Sort of to the side of her head in that amazing hair of hers.” Max didn’t know what to say. He had never heard his father speak with such tender honesty about his mother. “I can come back, if you like.” “That’s okay. I was just … having a moment. Forgive me. I tend to miss her this time of year especially.” “Me, too. Even though I never knew her.” “You’re just like her. Brilliant. Headstrong. Different.” “Too different.” “Hey, variety’s the spice of life,” Captain Diver said as he carefully replaced the hairpin, latched the lid, and slid the trunk back beneath the bed. “You’re up early.” “I couldn’t sleep.” “You couldn’t sleep?” “Okay. I had a bad dream.” “Another one, huh?” “Yeah.” “Care to talk about it?” “Not really.” “You hungry?” “Ravenous. But not for oatmeal.” “I was afraid you’d outgrow my oatmeal someday,” his father said, only half-jokingly. “Why don’t you grab a shower, brush your teeth, and put some clothes on.” “Where are we going?” “Out to breakfast.” “Where?” “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” A little over an hour later, having parked the Jeep downtown, Captain Diver led his son the length of an alleyway into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant whose fluorescent sign in the window read Juanita’s. “What is this place, Dad?” asked Max, looking around the packed, miniature dining room that smelled of decades of cigars, strong coffee, pork fat, black beans, and rice. “This place, my friend, serves the finest Cuban food outside Cuba.” “I thought it was illegal for Americans to visit Cuba because of the embargo.” “It is.” “Have you ever been to Cuba?” “Not officially.” “Hola, cómo estás, Thomas?” exclaimed a full-bodied Hispanic lady with graying hair in a bun on seeing Max’s father at the register. 84


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“Muy bien, Juanita. Muchas gracias,” replied Captain Diver in perfect Spanish. “Y usted?” “Muy bien, gracias.” “Ocupada, como siempre?” “Sí, como siempre.” “This is my son, Max.” “Qué rico!” exclaimed Juanita, who, turning to Max, spoke in English with a thick accent. “You look exactly like her! I loved your mother!” A formica table beside the window was just opening up. With a whistle to the busboy, Juanita saw that it was cleared and wiped clean, then seated Captain Diver and Max herself. “I’ll be right back with your menus,” she said. Max had no idea what to expect when his father said he was taking him to breakfast. Certainly, he didn’t see this coming—any of it. “I had no idea you spoke Spanish,” he said. “Not like that anyway.” “It’s a little rusty, I’m afraid.” “Where did you learn?” “Off the record?” “If it has to be.” “Cuba.” “Here are your menus,” said Juanita, reappearing and disappearing in a flurry to greet two new customers at the door. “How do you even know about this place?” asked Max. “Oh, I’ve been coming here nearly twenty years, ever since I entered the space program. This was where I brought your mother on our first date. We used to eat here regularly.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “I wish I could have been a fly on the wall listening to your first faceto-face conversation.” “It was pretty one-sided, I’m afraid. She mostly talked and I mostly listened. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.” Juanita reappeared to take their orders. Max realized he hadn’t even glanced at the menu. “Un momento, por favor,” said Captain Diver. “Claro.” “What was Mom’s favorite breakfast dish?” asked Max. “We used to order a medley. Would you like me to order the same for us?” “That would be great.” “Okay, Juanita. Nos gustaría tostadas … croquetas … fufu … jugo de mango …” “Sí.” 85


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“… café cubano … y café con leche.” “Qué más?” “Nada, gracias.” “Muy bien.” Max was amazed to hear such fluent Spanish coming out of his father’s American mouth. There was clearly a lot more to this man, in any number of ways, than met the eye. When Juanita was gone, and the busboy had brought ice water with lime, Max asked, “What did you order for us?” “Buttered and toasted Cuban bread, for starters.” “Sounds good. What else?” “Ham croquetas, which are breaded and fried creamed ham rolls.” “Keep going.” “And fufu, a dish made with green plantains, onion, and in this case bacon.” “I’m glad we’re not watching our weight.” “Yes, let’s give thanks for having been born with high metabolisms. I also ordered mango juice and coffee. I hope you like everything.” “I’m sure I will.” “I guess you’re wondering why I’ve asked you here today?” “Is that supposed to be a joke?” “No. You are wondering, aren’t you?” “Well, I have a pretty good idea. There are at least two reasons. First, you want to know about my fight at school.” “Yes.” “And you also spoke with Dr. Morrow.” “That’s right.” “Is there another reason?” “Yes. But it’s about me. We’ll get to that.” “Fair enough. You want to start with the fight?” “Sure.” Max recounted the bizarre episode in its entirety, from start to finish, pulling no punches, literally or figuratively. Just as he finished, Juanita brought black café cubano for Captain Diver and creamy café con leche for him. “Try it before adding sugar,” she said. “It’s already muy dulce.” Being unaccustomed to coffee of any kind, Max feared he might not like it—and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was delicious. “It’s excellent,” he said, blowing across the steaming liquid and taking another sip. “Not too sweet?” asked Juanita. “Just sweet enough.” “Muy bien.”

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“So how’s your eye this morning?” asked Captain Diver when they were alone again. “Sore.” “It doesn’t look too bad. And the ribs?” “Really sore.” “You think we should get them checked out?” “No. They’ll be fine.” “So what did Doug look like?” “Not so good. Though I didn’t exactly stick around to ask how he was doing.” “What if I told you you broke his collarbone?” “Broke? You can’t be serious!” “Ah, but I am.” “How do you know?” “A little bird told me.” “Come on, Dad. Get real.” “Let’s just say news travels fast on the naval grapevine. Captain Biggins and I go way back.” “Who’s Captain Biggins?” “Doug’s father. As if he needed another reason to hate me.” “Why does he hate you?” “He was passed over when I was selected to become an astronaut. That kind of snub can run deep in a career military man.” The proverbial light bulb flashed on in Max’s mind. “So that’s why Doug likes to pick on me so much,” he said. “That would be my guess. Though not anymore, I’d wager.” “No, not anymore. Thank God. Is he okay?” “They set the bone. He’ll be okay when it heals up. Max, have you been studying any kind of martial art I don’t know about?” “No.” “Swear?” “I swear.” “And you’re absolutely sure this … astral body beat him up like that?” “Positive. Tuesday saw it, though I don’t think anybody else did. She can vouch for me.” “She doesn’t have to. I believe you.” “You do?” “I do.” “Because of what Dr. Morrow said about me?” “Let’s just say my conversation with Dr. Morrow was … eyeopening.” Juanita returned bearing several plates of exotic food and two frothing glasses of fresh mango juice. “Buen provecho!” she said. 87


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“Muchas gracias, Juanita!” said Captain Diver. “Eye-opening?” asked Max. “How?” “I don’t have all the technical language. Basically, he said the readings from your brain that night in the hospital were indicative of someone with highly advanced psychic ability. It’s the kind of thing observed in people exhibiting telekinesis, or the ability to move objects with the mind. Have you ever heard of remote viewing?” “You mean where the government employs specially trained psychics to access classified information by spying at a distance?” “How do you know about that?” “I read a book about it.” “That’s one application of the technique.” “Is that what Dr. Morrow’s really involved in?” “What makes you say that?” “Come on, Dad. Do you think I’m so naïve as to believe the Navy sponsors research in sleep disorders?” Captain Diver laughed. “Hard to believe you’re not even twelve. Yes, off the record. Dr. Morrow would appreciate the chance to study you a bit more.” “At least, he doesn’t think I’m crazy.” “No, he doesn’t think you’re crazy. I don’t either. Eat up before your food gets cold.” On his father’s suggestion, Max tried dipping the tostadas in his café. Then he tried the croquetas and fufu, which he particularly liked. “Better than oatmeal?” “Much better. It’s delicious. Especially the fufu.” “That was your mother’s favorite.” “You say Dr. Morrow wants to study me?” “That was his word. I don’t think he meant in any sort of invasive way.” “Why? So he can determine if he wants to train me to be his little spy monkey?” “Not to my knowledge. Perhaps he could glean things from you that could help him train others. Look, I wouldn’t be bringing this up if I didn’t think it’s an opportunity to learn more about who you are.” “Who I am?” “You know, what’s going on with your … abilities. Dr. Morrow could help you .. control them better. Or do you want to go around breaking people’s collarbones forever?” “Very funny. We’re talking about someone who works for the same government that won’t even let Americans visit Cuba, Dad. Officially.” “I realize that.”

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“This same government, the one you work for, puts toxic fluoride in the water supply. This glass of water,” said Max, holding his glass up to the light from the window, “contains poison. And we’re just supposed to drink it, no questions asked.” “What’s your point?” “I thought this was a free country, Dad.” “It is a free country.” “Maybe for some. Don’t get me wrong: I respect your patriotism because it’s obviously genuine. But why would I, knowing what I know, want to help people who insist on hurting other people?” Max, who considered himself a pacifist, found himself in the middle of his second fight in less than twenty-four hours. In many ways, this one was even worse than a fistfight, because he had never so much as argued with his father. Captain Diver, though his son’s words had to sting, took them on the chin like a man. He downed half his glass of mango juice and said, “I respect your opinions, even if I don’t agree with all of them. I also know it’s easy to be idealistic when we’re young. But the world, Max, is run by pragmatists.” “Do you think my mother believed it was a good thing for the world to be run by pragmatists?” “No. I’m quite aware she believed just the opposite. But I loved her. And I love you. That’s why I do what I do.” “I know. I love you, too, Dad.” “I know. You certainly don’t have to see Dr. Morrow, if you don’t want to.” “I’ll think about it.” “I appreciate that. There’s no pressure, though. This needs to be your decision.” “Thanks. That means a lot.” “Which brings us to the third reason I brought you here today.” Before Captain Diver could continue, Juanita swung by to check on them. “You like the food?” she asked the boy. “It’s great,” said Max. “Muy bien. Más agua aquí, José!” she called to the busboy, who promptly refilled their nearly empty glasses. “I gather it wasn’t to sample Cuban food,” said Max, picking up where his father had left off. “Not exactly. I’m thinking about … dating again.” “Dating?” “I haven’t been out with a woman since I dated your mother.” “I noticed that.” “I’m sure you did.” 89


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“Why not?” “I guess I wasn’t ready.” “And now you are?” “As of this morning, yes, I believe so. I’d like to ask out Maizy, if it’s okay with you.” Max thought there was no way he could be surprised over breakfast more than he already was—but he was wrong. “Maizy? As in, Tuesday’s mother?” “I understand if this feels a little weird.” “It’s not that. It’s just … you two are very different.” “Don’t forget, Max, I married your mother.” “I realize that. But Maizy …. Dad, she’s a witch.” “Come again?” “I don’t mean she’s ugly. To the contrary. I mean she’s an actual witch.” “I think the more politically correct term is pagan.” “Well, you’ll have to sort out the semantics with her.” “So do I hear a tacit yes?” “You don’t need my permission, Dad.” “No. But I do want your blessing.” “Then you have it.” “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.” “I wouldn’t want you to feel I’m doing anything to dishonor your mother’s memory.” “Look, I think it’s a wonderful idea, really, so long as you’re up for a little mind expansion. I think Mom wouldn’t wish you to be alone indefinitely. And you’re not that old.” “Ha, ha. We could go on a double date. Me with Maizy, you with Tuesday.” “Don’t push your luck, Dad.” Father and son smiled at one another, comically yet with genuine affection. After years of skimming along the surface with respect to their shared past, Max had the sensation they had finally, like the name they also shared, dived beneath the water’s surface—and it wasn’t nearly as cold as he had feared.

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hristmas came and went. On the twenty-third, Aunt Nadine came to dinner and gave Max a bulky new sweater, which he promptly placed on the stack of bulky sweaters (most given to him by his aunt, who hailed from the snowy Northeast) hiding the Lego box in his closet, rarely (if ever) to be worn in South Florida. The next day, she flew to Connecticut to spend two weeks with her parents, Max’s maternal grandparents, who, being unable to travel following Grandad Holden’s recent hip surgery, sent Max a crisp onehundred-dollar bill in a Hallmark card. Max stashed the bill in the Lego box with his other prize possessions and thanked his grandparents via telephone. On Christmas eve, his paternal grandparents, Blake and Hettie Diver, who lived several hours up the road in Pensacola, showed up for two nights on their way to their time-share in the Keys laden with armfuls of presents. Their haphazard generosity included a copy of Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (Max had once expressed an interest in medicine); a snorkel and fins; an old-timey Rubik’s Cube (which took Max only a few hours to solve); a set of three leather juggling balls; a right-handed Wilson infielder’s glove (unfortunately, Max didn’t play baseball, and was also left-handed); and a gallon jar of homemade rum balls Max loved above all other holiday sweets. Being unused to a lot of company, both growing up as only children, Max and his father seemed somewhat relieved, though they didn’t speak 91


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about it, when Christmas was officially over and it was finally just the two of them again. Captain Diver never gave Max a lot of presents—but the ones he did give rarely missed their mark. This year was no different. Father and son spent the better part of three days in the study, starting when they were alone again on the twenty-sixth, assembling and painting Max’s present: an exact replica (enormous for a miniature) of the International Space Station. She was quite a jewel, endorsed by NASA, featuring genuine miniature solar panels, and required considerable skill and artistry to complete. When she was done, Max couldn’t tell who was more pleased—himself or his father. Even so, the real fun of the holiday season was scheduled for New Year’s Eve, also celebrated as Max’s birthday. Normally, this wasn’t the case, given that the date was fraught with ambivalence for both Captain Diver and his son (and Aunt Nadine, for that matter, whenever she was around). But this year, with Max turning twelve, though still bittersweet in many respects, the thirty-first couldn’t arrive fast enough. It was the most anticipated New Year’s Eve ever for father and son—who both acted rather silly in their overflowing excitement, truth be known—because this year they were entertaining. Not that they themselves were entertaining—though a fly on the wall, watching them giddily clean the house as never before, might have found them so. No, they were entertaining company—and the company happened to be Maizy and Tuesday. The Mondays had accepted the Divers’ invitation to join them for the day in celebration of Max’s birthday and New Year’s Eve. It was, in effect, Thomas’s first date with Maizy … which explains why he acted more like a teenager with raging hormones than himself for the better part of the holiday week. Max was just as deliriously happy, but for different reasons. Despite his father’s adolescent jokes about their impending “double date,” Tuesday was more of a sister than a girlfriend—which made Max wonder whether she might actually become his sister someday. His sister-in-law, anyway. Would their parents’ getting married reinforce or ruin their friendship? How would the two of them get along under one roof? Where would that roof be: Tupelo Street or downtown? What would it be like to have Maizy for a mother-in-law? Max realized he was getting ahead of himself, but stranger things had happened—and that was no mere aphorism in his case. A stranger thing happened the night of the thirtieth, in fact. A much stranger thing. 92


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In his dream, walking through yet another forest, he happened on the entrance to what appeared to be an enormous cave. And he wasn’t alone—he found himself staring at an eight-foot humanoid, which somehow struck him as familiar, towering over him in a mass of muscle and thick, ruddy fur. His initial impulse was to flee into the forest. But figuring that the creature, whatever it was, could run faster than he could with its gigantic strides, and seeing that it wasn’t aggressive, he mastered his fear and looked directly into its oval face. He was amazed to discover that it looked almost … human. Its eyes were slightly reddish; its pug-nose was large but perfectly formed in its hairless face of grayish skin; and except for a cone-shaped head, it could have been exactly what it looked like: a large, hirsute person. “You’re—you’re Bigfoot, aren’t you?” he gasped in his dreaming voice. There were reports and legends of Florida Bigfoots known as Skunk Apes, but this wasn’t Florida. On examination everything seemed much bigger, as if belonging to a different world that was much older. The creature made no reply, except for what might have been the faintest of smiles pursing its dark, meaty lips. Turning, it gestured with a long arm and hand like the underside of a cowhide for the boy to follow into the yawning blackness of the cave. Once again, Max awoke to daylight even as he was swallowed up by the darkness of his dream. “What was that about?” he wondered aloud. Trying to shake off the cobwebs, he got up, stretched, used the bathroom, and wandered down the hall. It was just after seven-thirty, judging by the stove clock, when he found a note on the kitchen table from his father saying he had gone running on the beach—something he once did routinely but to which he had only returned over the past couple of weeks. Wasting no time, remembering something possibly related to his dream, Max took advantage of his father’s absence to access his mother’s field journal in the Seward trunk. He sat cross-legged on the floor beside the open trunk that smelled of must, opened the old leather notebook carefully so as not to exacerbate the slight rip in its binding, and flipped through the stained pages—soon locating the one he sought. Sure enough, staring at him with the same deep eyes, wide nose and pointed head, was his mother’s sketch, done while on an expedition in the primeval redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest, of the creature she identified with a single word scribbled underneath: Sasquatch.

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Max had been drawn to this particular sketch the first time he looked in the journal. Fascinatingly, and improbably, his mother’s illustration and the Bigfoot from his dream could have been the same creature. Was this just a coincidence? Had he simply dreamed of this creature because he had once been imprinted by a drawing of it? Was his subconscious merely playing a trick on him? Or was there something … weirder at work here? “You ready for the big day, Max?” Captain Diver, breathing hard in a Naval Academy sweatshirt drenched with sweat from his jog, asked excitedly, grinning and rubbing his hands together, from the doorway.

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uesday and her mother arrived just past noon, pulling into the driveway in their dusty black Winnebago and getting out in shorts and T-shirts under which they were wearing bikinis. Max and his father were waiting in swim trunks and T-shirts themselves. Just in the past few days, the weather had gone from chilly for South Florida to unseasonably warm, bordering on hot, at nearly eighty degrees under a neon blue sky. The plan was to spend the afternoon at the beach, then return for dinner and a movie, before capping off the evening by watching Cape Carnival’s fireworks display over the Gulf. “You’re here!” said Max as he approached the van. “Where else would we be?” said Tuesday through her open window, staring cheerfully with oversized eyes from behind her glasses. “Your face looks almost normal. Where you got punched, I mean.” “Can we help with anything?” asked Captain Diver. “Sure,” said Maizy, who climbed out and casually squeezed Max’s shoulder with fingernails freshly painted red to match her fiery hair. “Why don’t you two grab our bags and we’ll carry the presents.” “Will do,” said the Captain. “Careful with mine. It’s the canvas tote. I stashed a bottle of Burgundy in it for later.” “Roger that.” Watching their somewhat awkward greeting, which felt polite but stiff, Max wondered if his father and Maizy (who lived not in different worlds 95


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but, arguably, in different galaxies) could actually get along—or if it was a classic case of an apple and an orange. Then again, his mother had been a nectarine. “Lovely day,” said Captain Diver, holding open the front door for the ladies, who each carried a large rectangular present (Maizy’s was a good bit bigger) wrapped in metallic silver paper. “It’s a beauty,” Maizy agreed. “It’s hot,” said Tuesday. Mother and daughter placed their presents on the coffee table, while father and son set the two bags on the couch. “I’m thirsty,” said Tuesday. “Can I get you something to drink?” asked Max. “What have you got?” “Well, you’ll be pleased to know I made Dad promise not to buy any more soft drinks. I’m taking care of my pineal gland,” said Max with a wink. “We’ve got grapefruit juice, lemonade, iced tea, and Perrier.” “And sangria!” said Captain Diver. “For the adults.” “Too bad,” said Tuesday. “I’ll have a Perrier.” “What would you like, Maizy?” asked Max. “Make that two,” she said. “If I start drinking this early, I’ll fall asleep before the fireworks.” “Coming right up.” “I’ll help,” said Tuesday. “Is this weird for you?” whispered Max as he led Tuesday into the kitchen. “You mean my mom and your dad?” “Yeah.” “Not particularly. She thinks he’s cute.” “What do you think?” “I think he’s cute, too.” “No. I mean about the two of them getting together.” “Oh. Well, I really don’t mind. They’re grownups, after all. What about you?” “I just want to make sure, whatever happens, we’re still friends.” Tuesday wiggled the gold bracelet on her wrist alongside her signature toothy smile. “You worry too much, Max. We’ll always be friends.” An hour later, having chatted over drinks around the coffee table, the four trekked the two blocks to Oceanside Beach armed with beach towels in beach bags, a cooler Max’s father had packed with bottled water and ham sandwiches, snorkels and fins, a paddleball set, and two boogie boards. “Isn’t ‘Oceanside Beach’ redundant?” wondered Tuesday as they made their away across the sand sprinkled with broken seashells. 96


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“I also thought the same thing myself, too, as well,” quipped Max. “That’s pretty good. That’s almost literary of you, Max.” “They’re like two peas in a pod,” Captain Diver remarked. “I’m happy for them,” replied Maizy. “They both needed a sounding board.” “Because lately I’ve been sounding bored,” commented Tuesday, overhearing her mother. Given the uncommon weather and the fact it was a holiday, the beach could have been a lot more crowded. They settled in at a spot near the lifeguard stand directly in front of Lighthouse Rock, aka Dolphin Point, jutting out into the Gulf. “I don’t think we’ll be doing much boogie-boarding,” observed Max in light of the uncommon number of shell fragments on the beach, which posed a risk to both board and rider. “Let’s go shelling instead,” said Tuesday. “Shelling?” “You know, looking for shells.” “Okay.” “Care for some paddleball?” Captain Diver asked Maizy, brandishing the paddles. “I’m game. But only as long as you actually try to beat me. No deferring to the so-called fair sex, all right?” “All right.” “Let’s leave them to their little mating ritual,” whispered Tuesday. Max chuckled as they left their parents to their game and strolled down the beach, feeling the salty Gulf breeze on their skin and listening to the cries of the gulls and the sound of countless shells clicking as they were pushed along by the tepid waves lapping their ankles. Stopping suddenly, Tuesday picked up a gray-white, perfectly formed sand dollar, its five-pointed design resembling a symmetrical plant leaf. “Won’t you look at that,” she said, holding it in her outstretched palm for Max to see. “I don’t think I’ve ever found a whole sand dollar before.” “It’s called a test. It’s the endoskeleton of the sand dollar sea urchin. I’ve only found a few whole ones myself.” “It’s beautiful. There’s another one!” Sure enough, only a few feet away, amid the shell fragments on the wet sand, lay another unblemished sand dollar, smaller and even more delicate. Even as Tuesday bent to pick up the second sand dollar, Max spotted a third completely whole one and scooped it up before a fresh wave wrapped around his knees. “I found one!” he yelled. “Me, too!” yelled Tuesday. “Another one! No, two more!”

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For some reason owing to the mysteries of weather and ocean currents, there were sand dollars everywhere. Max and Tuesday zigzagged along the waterline, in rhythm with the waves, waiting to pounce as fresh deposits of sand dollars spilled up out of the sea. “This is completely crazy!” exclaimed Tuesday. “Tell me about it!” “Have you ever seen anything like it?” “Never.” It was like fishing when all you had to do to catch something was throw your line in the water. The experience was joyous, blissful even, and made time disappear. The two friends became more and more daring, pushing up against the incoming waves, stuffing their pockets with sand dollars, cradling sand dollars against their T-shirts. Finally, wet from head to toe, and covered in sand, they simply couldn’t carry a single sand dollar more and headed back, exhausted but victorious. “Look, Mom, we’re rich!” shouted Tuesday when they came within earshot of the two paddleballers. So fierce was the competition Captain Diver had stripped off his shirt, Maizy was down to her turquoise bikini, revealing all but the tip of her thunderbird tattoo’s tail, and both players were drenched with sweat and dusted with a fine layer of sand. “Wow!” said Maizy between staccato breaths. “Wow’s right!” said Max’s father, breathing hard himself. “You guys must have robbed the sand dollar bank!” “What do sand dollars mean, Mom, in terms of animal wisdom?” wondered Tuesday. “Animal wisdom?” asked Captain Diver. “You know, Dad,” chided Max. “When animals teach you things.” “Right.” “I have no idea,” said Maizy. “We’ll have to do some research.” “In New Zealand, they’re called sea cookies and snapper biscuits,” said Max. “How did you know that?” asked Tuesday. “I did a report on them one year for biology class.” “Anybody else hungry?” asked Captain Diver. Everybody was famished. They devoured the ham sandwiches, which Max pointed out were “mostly organic,” and downed a bottle of water apiece. Then the kids stashed their loot of sand dollars in the empty cooler, stripped down to their bathing suits, and joined their parents for a swim. “The water feels awesome!” said Tuesday, soaking in the moment, literally. 98


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“It’s perfect!” agreed Max. It did feel great—and everybody was in good spirits. Captain Diver and Maizy dunked each other, laughing and spluttering, several times, causing Max and Tuesday to roll their eyes. Really, though, beneath their distant adolescent veneer, they were both happy their parents seemed happy together. If Max was self-conscious of his lanky body on land, in the water it was a different story. On land, playing basketball or soccer, for example, he was all left feet; but in the water he was graceful and surprisingly powerful given his slender build. He and his father had a habit, whenever they swam at Oceanside Beach, of racing each other out to Lighthouse Rock and back—about five hundred yards roundtrip. As a dyed-in-the-wool Navy man, his father prided himself above all other athletic talents on his aquatic skills. He always made sure to beat Max handily to show that, in astronaut parlance, he still had the right stuff. Today was a little different, though. Captain Diver produced two pairs of goggles from his pockets, handed Max one, and strapped on the other as he yelled, jumping the gun, “Race you!” He got a decent head start as Max fumbled with his goggles, before he too shot up off the sandy seafloor into a windmilling crawl, quickly catching up with Captain Diver. Tuesday and Maizy urged them both on with shrill cries from the receding shoreline. As Lighthouse Rock grew larger and larger straight ahead, feeling a new strength in his almost twelve-year-old frame, Max pulled ahead of his father. He touched the rock first, by at least a couple seconds, which he had never done, but he also realized the race was only half over. Pushing off and starting back toward shore with as much strength as he could muster, Captain Diver still trailing, Max felt something bump against his belly from beneath the water’s surface. It almost took his breath—more from surprise than physical force. Hoping it wasn’t a shark, he stopped as his father sped past spraying water with his strokes, and peered underwater while swimming in a circular motion. This time whatever it was bumped sideways against his shoulder. Raising his head above the water, he came face-to-face with a bottlenose dolphin grinning at him with a huge mouth full of glistening teeth and sparkling, intelligent eyes. Max had occasionally seen dolphins in the Gulf, but he had never been approached by one. Bottlenose dolphins, in particular, tended to steer clear of humans—making this impromptu encounter all the more surprising. 99


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The dolphin grinned wider and made a loud clicking noise, as if trying to tell him something, then nudged against his shoulder once again in what struck Max as yet another attempt at communication. “What’s your name?” he asked, reaching up carefully and petting the dolphin’s slick snout. “Click-click-click-click-click,” went the dolphin, swaying beside him in the swells, its fins resting on his shoulders in a strangely hypnotic aquatic waltz—before clicking again, spinning away, and disappearing like a spirit into the deep blue. Captain Diver was already standing on the sand, stretching after winning the race, beside Tuesday and her mother, who were sunbathing on beach towels and, given their fair skin, already starting to turn pink. “Good try, old sport,” said his father in his best Great Gatsby imitation. “Better luck next time.” “You’ll never guess what just happened,” said Max, bending over and catching his breath. “What happened?” asked Tuesday. “What kind of animal wisdom do dolphins represent?” “You saw a dolphin?” asked Maizy. “More than that. I just … danced with one.” “Cool!” said Tuesday. “Interesting,” said Maizy, sitting up and staring at Max intensely with what felt like X-ray vision. “Some cultures say they’re nature’s escorts.” “Escorts? Where?” asked Max. “To the world beyond.” “You mean, like, the afterlife?” “Not exactly. Though maybe that, too. I’m talking about the reality that parallels our own.” “Dewey Larson called it time-space,” interjected Max’s father, to everyone’s amazement. “Time-space?” said Maizy. “The counterpart to space-time, which is where we live.” “Who was Dewey Larson?” asked Max. “An engineer who developed something called Reciprocal Theory. He wrote several books about the interface between what he called the material and the cosmic sectors, or space-time and its counterpart, timespace.” “And you know about this how, Dad?” “Your mother. She wrote a brilliant article on it.” “Now you tell me.” “I thought you didn’t believe in this kind of thing, Thomas,” said Maizy, examining Captain Diver with new eyes … and perhaps new respect. 100


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“I never said I didn’t believe. As a fellow engineer, I find it a rather fascinating notion, theoretically anyway, that our reality could be constantly interacting with a mirror reality.” “Sort of like Alice in Wonderland,” said Tuesday. “Yes, now that you mention it,” agreed Captain Diver. “Reciprocal Theory explains a lot of strange phenomena, like near-death experiences and so-called free energy technologies.” “And visions?” said Maizy, considering this new perspective. “And visions. According to Larson, time-space is as real as spacetime—and is an actual landscape where duration, or time, becomes distance, that we can travel to in our dreams,” said Captain Diver, coolly watching Max as he spoke. “Far out!” said Tuesday. With the sensation that he was passing through the Looking-Glass, Max stared at his father as if he had never seen him before— simultaneously impressed and unnerved at the thought that, after all these years, he still knew so little about him.

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n the late afternoon, the sun dipping in the sky, the four contented beachgoers strolled back to the Diver home on Tupelo Street, where Tuesday and her mother took turns showering off the day’s sand and salt in the guest bath, while Max and his father did likewise in their own showers. When everyone was fresh and clean (if a bit sunburned in the case of the ladies), dressed in jeans and long sleeves for the evening, and sufficiently hydrated with fresh lemonade, Captain Diver brought out the sangria—for the enjoyment of the adults, of course. Meanwhile, he fired up the gas grill on the back patio for steak kabobs and corn on the cob to go with a Greek salad Maizy was preparing in the kitchen, while Max and Tuesday were charged with setting the dining room table. “Your house is huge,” said Tuesday, placing the knives on the napkins to the right of the plates. “You wouldn’t think so from the outside. But it just goes on and on.” “It’s not as big as your place,” replied Max, setting out four water glasses. “Your house is like a funhouse. I mean that as a compliment.” “What’s in there?” asked Tuesday, indicating the study door with a flick of damp hair. “Dad’s study.” “I thought so.” “Want to see?” “Sure.” 103


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They entered the large room illuminated by light from the street lamps shining through French doors that led out onto a small private porch. Max switched on the overhead to reveal built-in shelves stacked with books (mostly science and history), Captain Diver’s massive mahogany desk overlooked by a framed photo of himself in astronaut gear, and a massive table on which sat the International Space Station. “I got this for Christmas,” said Max, pointing out the latter. “Dad and I built it.” “I like it. It’s … detailed.” “What did you get for Christmas?” “Books and clothes, mostly. Though technically, we celebrated the Winter Solstice.” “Some kind of pagan thing?” “Wiccan, actually.” “Wiccan?” “White witchcraft. Druidism, basically. You know, natural magic.” “Why does your mom have a giant tattoo of a thunderbird, Tuesday?” “Well, the thunderbird is also known as the phoenix.” “You mean the bird that spontaneously combusts and is reborn from its ashes every so often?” “Exactly. She felt she was reborn a number of years ago when she left the commune and started thinking for herself again. Is this your mom?” Tuesday had picked up the small framed photo on Captain Diver’s desk of Max’s mother seated—decked out in full aviator garb with a sort of whimsical “retro” flair while sporting her scarab hairpin—in the cockpit of the Rara Avis. “Yeah.” “She was beautiful.” “She died tonight. Twelve years ago.” “I know. It must be a bummer to have that line up with your birthday every year.” “It is. But not so much this year. Thanks to you guys. I haven’t seen Dad enjoy himself so much … maybe ever.” “That’s sweet of you, Max. I like your dad a lot. But you look like your mother.” “Yeah, I’ve been told that my whole life.” “You’ve been having dreams again, haven’t you?” “Why do you say that?” “Why did I say that?” she asked seriously, with a curious glance at the gold bracelet Max had given her. “It’s almost as if … I could read your mind.” “Fair enough. I’ve had a few.” “Want to talk about them?” 104


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“One of these days. But not tonight. Tonight I just want to be normal.” “Normal?” “I just want to be a regular guy having a regular birthday.” “Hey, it’s your party.” “Want to see my room?” “Of course!” After Max showed Tuesday his room, the two friends returned to the kitchen to help with last-minute dinner preparations. As soon as Captain Diver returned from the grill with sizzling kabobs and corn deliciously blackened in the husks, Maizy instructed everyone to join hands around the table for the blessing. “Lord and Lady,” she said, “please watch over us and bless us as we eat of your bounty. Bless this sacred food, this gift of the earth, for which we thank you, and bless Max also on this important day in which he becomes a young man in your sight, so mote it be.” “So mote it be,” repeated Tuesday. “Amen,” said Captain Diver. “Dig in, everybody!” Over the course of the afternoon and evening together, Max’s father and Maizy had acted more and more natural around each other—which made the general atmosphere casual and enjoyable. During dinner, sipping a glass of the Burgundy Maizy had brought on top of a glass or two of sangria, Captain Diver’s tongue was sufficiently loosened to tell a few stories (which Max had heard before but still found interesting) from his journeys into space—including the one where he saw a UFO, up close and personal, out over the wing of the Space Shuttle. “What do you mean, a UFO?” asked Maizy, whose sunburned cheeks were also slightly wine-flushed. “I mean a UFO. An unidentified flying object.” “You got a really good look at it?” “Yes.” “What did it look like?” asked Tuesday. “Like an angel.” “An angel?” “That’s what I said.” “You mean, like, with wings?” “I mean multicolored light in that shape, yes.” “What happened to it?” asked Maizy. “After a minute or two, it just flew off faster than anything I’ve ever seen. To this day, I don’t know what it was. I certainly didn’t put it in my report.” “Were you frightened?” asked Tuesday. “To the contrary. I felt extremely … peaceful.” 105


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“Astronauts see these kinds of things all the time,” said Max. “They just don’t talk about them very often.” “It’s true,” said Captain Diver. “Up there you see WSFM constantly.” “WSFM?” inquired Maizy. “Sorry. It’s an unofficial intelligence community acronym. Stands for ‘weird science & frigging magic.’ Like UFOs. You get used to this kind of stuff after a while up there.” “I’d love to travel into space,” said Tuesday. “Especially if I could see an angel.” Captain Diver refilled Maizy’s wine glass, then his own. “I didn’t say that’s what it was.” “But it could have been.” “Sure. Absent a plausible explanation, why not?” “Have you ever seen any UFOs, Max, in your dreams?” asked Maizy. “Max isn’t talking about his dreams tonight,” said Tuesday. “Really? Why not?” “Tonight he’s a regular boy having a regular birthday.” “I see.” “Did everyone enjoy the food?” asked Captain Diver. “My tongue was wagging so fast I hardly tasted mine. But the wine was excellent.” “The food was delicious,” said Maizy. “You can grill out for me anytime.” “Me, too,” said Tuesday. “The corn was especially tasty.” “That’s Max’s favorite part as well.” “Who would like some rum balls?” asked Max. “My grandmother made them. They’re loaded with sugar, but they’re fantastic.” “I’ll try some,” said Tuesday. “My pineal gland will recover.” “Why not,” said Maizy. “Would anybody else like a cup of coffee?” asked Captain Diver. “We’ve got a late night. And Snooze here is likely to crash without a little pick-me-up.” “Ha, ha. Very funny, Dad.” “Snooze?” wondered Tuesday. “It’s an old nickname,” said Max. “Well, if the shoe fits.” After some discussion on the merits of coffee (which Maizy insisted, despite its reputation, provided many health benefits when consumed in moderation), Captain Diver drank his black, Maizy sweetened hers with honey, Tuesday added cream and honey, and Max took his with just cream. Meanwhile, Captain Diver asked for Maizy’s help in the kitchen and the two excused themselves. “They’re putting candles on your cake,” commented Tuesday, matter-of-factly. 106


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“Probably.” “Only it’s not a cake. It’s a pie … a key lime pie, I believe.” “How do you know?” “I don’t really. It’s just … intuition. Am I right?” “I have no idea. Dad’s been kind of secretive about it. But whatever it is, I’m sure he stashed it in the garage refrigerator.” “Key lime pie is your favorite dessert, isn’t it?” “Now that you mention it, yes. Another intuitive hit?” “I guess.” At that moment, sure enough, Max’s father, singing “Happy Birthday” with Maizy, walked back in carrying a key lime pie with twelve flickering candles. Max looked at Tuesday as if to say, Somebody must have told you, to which she shook her head No and shrugged, as surprised as he was, while singing along. He blew out the candles with a deep swimmer’s breath—and everybody clapped and cheered. The pie was tart and wonderful. When they had each eaten a piece, feeling “stuffed to the gills,” in Captain Diver’s words, they cleaned off the table and washed the dishes that didn’t go in the dishwasher. Before long, they reconvened in the living room to open Max’s presents. He opened Tuesday’s first. An unmistakable new-clothes smell filled his nostrils as he tore open the box and held up a gray sweatshirt with “Maroon University” in maroon lettering across the chest. Max stared nearly in disbelief, realizing it was the exact sweatshirt (only brand-new, before suffering years of wear and tear) from his dream where his eighteen-year-old self followed his father into the vortex. “Do you like it?” asked Tuesday. “It’s … it’s a great sweatshirt. Where did you get it?” “I ordered it—with Mom’s help. I sent off for an application this fall and a university store catalog was included.” “You sent off for an application—for college?” “Yeah. Why not?” “Uh, you’re in sixth grade?” “So. I just wanted to see what’s ahead of me.” “That’s some serious initiative,” remarked Captain Diver, impressed. “She’s always been highly self-motivated,” said Maizy. “Thanks for this,” said Max. “You’re welcome,” said Tuesday. “I hope you enjoy wearing it.” “I’m going to enjoy wearing it right now,” he said, slipping it on over his shirt. It was slightly big, with plenty of room for him to fill out. “You look fantastic,” said Tuesday. “You really belong at Maroon University.”

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Maizy’s present turned out to be a kite—but not just any kite. Still in the box, it was a large, single-string diamond kite, elegant in its design, featuring a vaguely Native American bird motif … a thunderbird. “Wow, that’s some kite!” said Captain Diver. “This is super cool,” said Max. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like this. I can hardly wait to get this thing in the air.” “You really like it?” asked Maizy. “I love it. Thanks, Maizy!” “You’re most welcome. Happy Birthday!” “We’ll have to put that thing together and sail it as soon as I get back,” said Captain Diver. “Get back? From where?” asked Max. “I’ve got to fly a mission tomorrow. Just down to Puerto Rico.” “Not Cuba?” “Not officially.” “They’ve actually got you flying a mission on New Year’s Day?” “I know. Crappy timing. But I should be back by bedtime. And I assume, now that you’re officially a man, you’ll be okay without your Aunt Nadine?” “I’ll be fine, Dad.” “I’d invite him to stay with us,” said Maizy, “but Tuesday and I are driving up to visit relatives in Atlanta tomorrow.” “Thanks. But I really don’t mind staying by myself,” said Max. “Aren’t you going to open my present?” asked Captain Diver. His father’s present was only the size of a shoebox—but enigmatically heavy. Max unearthed a generic cardboard box from the wrapping paper featuring birthday balloons. Opening the box, he wondered if he was dreaming. “What in the world?” asked Maizy. “Is this what I think it is, Dad?” said Max, holding up and examining a pair of sci-fi-looking telescopic goggles with a camouflage design. “If you think they’re night vision goggles, yes,” his father said. “They’re my old ones. But they’re still in excellent condition and almost state-of-the-art.” “Whoa,” said Tuesday. “Those are, like, spy goggles!” “You can spot a mouse at a hundred yards in the pitch dark with those babies,” said Captain Diver. “I thought you’d enjoy playing around with them.” “I’ve always wanted a pair of these. Thanks, Dad!” “Don’t mention it. They’re waterproof and practically indestructible— so have at it!” Max had in mind to watch something from the Divers’ DVD collection before the fireworks, but they never got around to it. The four 108


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had way too much fun to vege out in front of the TV turning off the lights and taking turns finding each other in the dark with Max’s night vision goggles. Hide-and-seek had never been such a blast—for parents and children alike. Everybody came up with some creative hiding places, though none better than when Captain Diver somehow wedged himself behind the washer in the laundry room, but the night vision goggles never failed. Around eleven-thirty, played out, they put aside the goggles, downed some eggnog, put on jackets, and headed back over to Oceanside Beach for the fireworks. “This is going to be really good,” said Tuesday, rubbing her hands in expectation as they made their way through the crowd to the water’s edge. Being an iconic NASA town, Cape Carnival took its New Year’s Eve fireworks display seriously. Standing between his best friend and his father arm in arm with Maizy, Max was reflecting on how this was his finest birthday—when rockets of every color and description began launching and exploding high overhead. “It must be midnight,” said Maizy, kissing Captain Diver on the lips, apparently to his surprise as much as anyone else’s. “Happy New Year, everybody!” “Who needs mistletoe?” said Captain Diver with a grin. “Happy New Year!” “Happy New Year!” yelled Max. “Happy New Year!” shouted Tuesday above the crescendoing rocketry, giving Max a friendly peck on the cheek. “And Happy Birthday.” “It sure has been.” The fireworks went on for nearly half an hour, great pulsing strobes, fiery dandelions and starbursts of light brightening both sky and water. It was hard to tell which was reality and which was reflection, as if there were two displays, above and below, going on simultaneously—one in space-time, mused Max, and the other in time-space. In that instant, an image of his mother’s face popped into his mind. Smiling, it was very clear and almost tangible, only more aged than in her photographs, set against a backdrop of exotic plants leading up to an adobe casita with a tile roof—as if part of her still lived on somewhere else, naturally growing older with the years. The vision (or whatever it was) ended with the fireworks. When the four revelers returned to Tupelo Street, Max and Tuesday, both yawning, split the sand dollars while their parents said their tender goodbyes beside the Winnebago. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” said Tuesday, quoting Shakespeare while climbing sleepily in the passenger seat, in the fake British accent

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with which she had first addressed Max that day at school seemingly years but really only weeks ago. “Goodnight, Tuesday,” said Captain Diver. “I’m glad you could celebrate with us this evening.” “Me, too. I hope to see you again, Captain Diver,” she yawned. “What a strange thing to say!” commented Maizy. “Sorry. I’m half asleep. I meant I look forward to seeing you again.” “Same here,” said Max’s father. “Thanks for coming, you two,” said Max. “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Maizy. “Happy Birthday!” When mother and daughter were gone at last, father and son stood side by side in the humming streetlamp light for a long minute savoring their memorable evening. “Now, that’s what I call a double date,” said Captain Diver.

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racing himself, expecting to be bewildered, Max followed the creature into the dark cave—where, to his amazement, he could actually see. Not very far and not very well, perhaps, but he was able to make out the enormous humanoid striding with arms swinging ahead of him through a weblike network of tunnels. “Please wait!” he pleaded. “I have to rest.” As the creature stopped and turned around, Max could see its eyes high above glowing a soft red in the surreal twilight that seemed to emanate from the cave walls themselves. “I’m not used to this … this place,” explained Max, hopelessly trying to orient himself underground. “Where are we anyway?” When his companion made no answer, taking a handful of deep breaths, Max motioned that he was ready to continue. “Just not so fast, for God’s sake,” he said. “You walk like most people run.” The creature’s only acknowledgment of this request was to slow its pace. Soon, growing accustomed to navigating in semidarkness, Max got his second wind and was able to keep up without complaining for what seemed hours … until the tunnel began to brighten. Almost imperceptibly at first, then steadily and noticeably, the walls glowed brighter and brighter, until they seemed no longer solid but diaphanous like heat waves, mirages of themselves through which he glimpsed the features of an external landscape: trees, streams, hills.

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The creature stopped again for reasons of its own. Holding out a leathery hand the size of a baseball glove, it indicated with a grunt for Max to take it. Not without trepidation, he extended his comparatively tiny hand, which the creature grasped firmly yet not too hard—at which point there was a sound like wind in tree branches accompanied by a searing flash of light. Max found himself standing alone on a sandy beach beside the bluest water he had ever beheld. The sound he had heard was the breeze rustling the palm trees; and the blinding light was the deep tangerine sun pulsating overhead. There was no sign of Bigfoot, but on the hill overlooking the ocean was a familiar sight: the casita surrounded by tiered gardens in front of which, just a few hours before while watching fireworks, he had glimpsed a vision of his mother—or rather, his mother if she had lived into her forties. No one was outside the casita now, as Max made his way up a winding trail flanked by strangely bluish palm trees of an enormous size and many other plants with shapes and colors that seemed somehow … otherworldly. “Wake up, Snooze!” Popping up out of his dream like a dolphin clearing the water, Max smelled Old Spice as he came face to face with his father seated on the mattress beside him. “I hated to wake you, Max, but I’ve got to head out.” “What time is it?” “Just after six.” Dressed in his flying gear, Captain Diver was literally ready to walk out the door. “That’s early.” “I know. You sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” “I’m sure.” “I should be home no later than eight. I left some cash on the kitchen counter, if you’d like to order a pizza, along with Dr. Morrow’s phone number in case of emergency.” “Dr. Morrow?” “No, I’m not trying to pressure you, Max. It’s just that with Nadine out of town, and Maizy and Tuesday traveling, I couldn’t think of anyone else I trusted.” “Not to worry, Dad. I’ve decided I’d like to see Dr. Morrow. Maybe he really could help me … understand myself better.” “Are you certain you want to do this—for you, not because I want you to?” 112


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“I’m certain.” “Okay. We’ll look into scheduling an appointment when I get back— maybe for next week.” “Sounds good.” “You behave yourself today, all right?” “Don’t worry. I will.” Captain Diver kissed his son’s forehead and was almost out into the hallway when Max called after him, “Dad?” “Yes?” “You be careful down there, all right?” “Not to worry.” Around eight o’clock that night, after a quiet New Year’s Day Max spent reading and watching TV, around the time Captain Diver should have been walking back in the front door, there was a loud knock instead. Max discovered Dr. Morrow fidgeting on the doorstep in a beige trench coat. Peering at the boy from behind his wire-rimmed spectacles, he sighed and said with his slight accent, “Do you mind if I come in?” “Where’s my father?” Max demanded as Dr. Morrow let himself in and plopped down on the couch still in his coat. “That’s what I’m here to tell you, Max.” “Well, would you please hurry?” A pained look crossed Dr. Morrow’s thin European face. It occurred to Max he looked kind of shaken—and the boy suddenly felt sorry for being rude. “I don’t know how to tell you this, Max, except to just tell you.” “Tell me what?” “As of fifteen hundred hours this afternoon, your father is officially MIA.” “MIA?” “Missing in action.” “Meaning what?” “Lost at sea with no radio contact. It’s possible he’ll show back up— but I wouldn’t count on it. His plane was totally lost from radar.” “The Tempus Fugit … lost?” was all Max, stunned and in shock, managed to stammer. “I’m afraid so, Max. I’m truly, truly sorry. Your father was … my friend. Many more people than just yourself lost a hero today.”

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urn that bloody alarm off, Max. If you hit the snooze one more time, I swear I’ll sock you!” Raul’s idle threat, delivered in an insouciant English accent, emerged, somewhat muffled, from somewhere beneath the mound of covers where he was sleeping—or trying to. Running on fumes himself from studying organic chemistry and advanced calculus for hours on end the previous night, Max summoned the energy to turn off the alarm and sit up in his bed. In the early morning light, the dorm room looked frightfully schizophrenic—with Max’s half, including his desk, neat and orderly, contrasting Raul’s half, where a mound of designer clothes, men’s fashion magazines and other quotidian debris covered his desk like barnacles on a capsized boat’s hull. “I thought you had class this morning yourself,” yawned Max, getting up and pulling on his jeans and a T-shirt, over which he put on his old Maroon University sweatshirt given to him for his birthday by his best friend Tuesday going on seven years ago. “I do have class. I’m just not going. I’ve got a bloody headache,” was the clipped reply from under the blankets. “I warned you not to drink on school nights, Raul.” “I haven’t been drinking. Well, not much. The thing is,” said Raul, abruptly popping upright clutching his blue teddy bear and staring at Max with wild hair and wilder eyes, “I think I’m in love.” “You? Mr. Playboy? In love?” 117


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“I know it’s hard to believe. I’m not sure I entirely believe it myself. It’s just … I can’t seem to shake this bloody feeling.” “Fair enough,” said Max, leaving the bathroom door open as he emptied his bladder. “Who’s the lucky girl?” “That’s just it. That’s precisely the problem. I’m quite certain she positively loathes me.” “I would think loathing would be a negative.” “Piss off, Max.” “What does it look like I’m doing?” “Ha, ha.” “Is it anyone I know?” “It’s Tuesday.” “You are out of it, buddy. It’s Wednesday. I’ve got intramural tennis this afternoon.” “Don’t be a cad. I’m talking about Tuesday. You know, that longlegged, blonde, American goddess that masquerades as your friend.” “Tuesday?” Understanding suddenly dawned on Max, who couldn’t keep from laughing. “Are you serious?” “Do I look like I’m bloody joking?” “Actually, no. You look horrible.” He did. There were dark circles visible even against Raul’s toffee skin under his staring, spheroid eyes that made Max think of Salvador Dalí. “Are you angry with me, Max?” “Why should I be?” “Jealous?” “Of somebody she obviously, vocally dislikes?” “Touché. Oh, Pablo, it’s hopeless!” Raul was addressing his threadbare teddy, his best friend since his early boarding school days, named after the great Spanish painter, whose “blue period” had inspired the aspiring young artist to dye the stuffed animal blue at the start of eighth grade. Max brushed his teeth, inserted his contact lenses, and returned to the room to double-check his backpack—which he always made sure to pack the night before to streamline his morning. In addition to the correct books and notebooks, he verified he had a pair of shorts for tennis. “What on earth am I going to do, Max?” “Suffer, I guess. Isn’t that what true love’s all about—suffering?” “Come on, you don’t actually mean it. This is a tragedy! I know she can see straight through me. She thinks I’m a superficial nincompoop who cracks inappropriate jokes and can’t manage to be sincere for the life of me.” “And?” “And I admit I am. All of these things. And more. But I do love her.” “Raul, you hardly know her.” 118


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“I know she’s gorgeous. I know she’s brilliant. And I know she’s a faithful friend. Well, to her friends, anyway.” Max couldn’t disagree with any of these assessments. Tuesday had gotten prettier with the years until, losing the last of her baby fat as she topped out at five-eleven, she turned into a bona fide knockout—just as his father, Captain Thomas Diver, had once predicted. She was also inarguably bright, having aced the SAT, graduated at the top of their high school class just ahead of Max, and won a national scholarship competition to attend Maroon University. As for being a faithful friend, Max was rarely outwardly sentimental— yet privately he doubted he could have made it without her support (often provided with little thanks, truth be known) in the years since his father was lost at sea. “Max? Hello? Anybody in there?” “Sorry. What were you saying, Raul?” “Nothing much. Just that I think I might throw myself off the James River Bridge this afternoon out of unrequited love.” “You have a flair for melodrama, my friend. Perhaps you should study theater and look for a part in a soap opera.” “Funny you should say that. I’ve actually given it a great deal of thought. But all those late hours spent in set design, rehearsals, performances. When would I have any time left over to party?” “I’m sure you could work it in.” “Perhaps. What do you think of theater, Pablo?” “I’ll leave you two to discuss it.” “Going so soon, Max? I was just starting to open up.” “Sorry. I’m late as it is.” “Well, we wouldn’t want that, would we?” “See you this evening?” “Pablo and I will be right here. Unless, of course, we’re somewhere else.” “Later then.” “Later, alligator. After while, crocodile.” “Goodbye.” “If we’re not back by midnight, look for us in the James River.” Max shouldered his pack and started out the door. “And Max?” “What is it now, Raul?” “Don’t forget your racket.” “Oh, right. I almost did. Thanks.” “Don’t thank me. Thank Pablo. He has a very keen eye.” “Thanks, Pablo,” said Max, grabbing his tennis racket and speeding out the door. 119


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He hurried down the hall, out the front door of Chatterton House, and across the ivied campus of Maroon University, breathing the crisp, invigorating air of the early October morning—truly late for class for the first (though not the last) time.

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ax had traveled to college with Tuesday in his Ford Explorer barely a month earlier, closing the door on his painful past in Florida (so he thought) while opening a new, happier one into his future. Or so he thought. After his father’s airplane, the Tempus Fugit, mysteriously disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic southeast of the Florida Keys, life in Cape Carnival was never the same again for Max. He moved in with his Aunt Nadine, who lived in a townhouse near Dolphin Point, out to which Max and his father used to race each other swimming. His aunt was a competent enough parental figure—if normally a distant, uninspiring one. She gave Max his own room upstairs with a view of the Gulf, saw that he was properly fed and clothed, looked after him to make sure his education was progressing, and kept a close eye on his behavior in the aftermath of watching him lose his second parent to tragic circumstances. There was, of course, another, arguably larger reason she tracked him like a hawk for the slightest sign of abnormality. This reason had to do with his strange childhood dreams—and certain still unexplained events surrounding them. They never, ever talked about such things. Nadine was secretly terrified of encouraging more of the same paranormal “devilry” that had always unnerved her where Max was concerned.

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In reality, however, she had no cause to worry. Losing his father had changed Max in a variety of ways. Most significantly, he stopped dreaming (or at least, remembering his dreams) cold turkey. Gone, in an instant, were the vivid dreamscapes of his childhood. Gone as well were the interpersonal visions, the traveling through space and time, the returning with foreign objects, the out-of-body experiences. Though on several occasions Dr. Morrow tried to convince Nadine to let him study Max, as the boy’s legal guardian she would have none of it, dismissing the entire subject of lucid dreaming as modern-day “witchcraft.” Besides, there was no longer anything to study—Max was about as psychic as a pineapple. Meanwhile, being orphaned (Captain Diver was presumed dead) sent the boy corkscrewing (mostly unconsciously) through the first three of what Elizabeth Kübler-Ross called the “five stages of grief.” For a long time, several months, he was simply in denial, insisting against all evidence to the contrary that his father would return. When he didn’t, Max went through anger, in which everything in life seemed absurd, unfair, cruel, bestial. Marked by solitary, raging walks to Lighthouse Rock and back, screaming internally (and sometimes externally) at an uncaring, probably unlistening God, this stage lasted nearly into high school—gradually giving way to bargaining, a phase characterized by twisted, illogical “deals” with the universe. In Max’s case, the deal he tried to strike with a higher power (had he been conscious enough to put it in words) would have gone something like this: I will devote my life to medicine and helping others, if only I can have my father back. It was at this point that Max began to push himself harder and harder academically, taking as many advanced classes as possible, often staying up late into the night studying—only to get up at the crack of dawn to study a little more before school. Now, someone experiencing the stages of grief is rarely aware of how his behavior might appear to others. Grief often produces a “zoom lens effect,” in which the focus is entirely on oneself, to the exclusion of external considerations. Aunt Nadine felt that her prayers had been answered when she observed Max’s newfound dedication to scholastic excellence. Especially on the heels of two challenging years, she saw it as a sign of moving on with his life, an indication he was putting the past behind him through a determination to make something of himself. Others—namely, Tuesday and Maizy—had a different interpretation. Mother and daughter watched Max obsessively tunneling inward in his grief-stricken state with no small concern. 122


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They both knew enough about psychology (and for that matter, about Max) to realize there was nothing particularly healthy about his allconsuming “dream” of becoming a doctor—which, combined with his abandonment of his actual dreams, struck them both as a diversionary tactic. In a mostly unconscious way, theorized Tuesday and her mother, Max was doing everything in his power to lock anything associated with his real dreams (where he had foreseen his father’s disappearance, only to be powerless to stop it) in a safe corner of his psyche. The upshot, in their estimation, was that even as Max progressed through different phases of grief, he was simultaneously struggling against another, perhaps more insidious opponent: guilt. But it was impossible to speak to Max about such subjects. Though he remained friends with Tuesday, and even occasionally visited her house, where Maizy treated him like family, he was no longer the wide-eyed boy who first showed up there in search of answers to the enigma of himself. To the contrary, he wanted nothing to do with pop psychology, not to mention the paranormal, the supernatural, animal wisdom, Tarot cards, or dreams. These mysteries having utterly failed him, he had cast his lot with science—and was now only interested in that which could be measured, proven, and rationally understood. Yet he was still his mother’s son. Even though his focus became myopically materialistic, deep down he never committed the “fashionable stupidity” of viewing spiritual matters as fraudulent per se. He knew perfectly well (even if he wasn’t inclined to admit it) that the material body had a spiritual aspect. He knew that “spirit,” however explained, was real, because of his own undeniable experiences—which, though he might suppress them, he couldn’t altogether erase from memory. He simply refused to talk about such things anymore. Tuesday and Maizy may have wished otherwise, but they respected Max enough to give him a wide berth and hold their tongues. Tuesday had the only real success in helping him break out of his selfimposed shell when she convinced him to take up tennis in ninth grade. “You may not have particularly quick feet,” she said, “but your hand-eye coordination is excellent. And you enjoy watching tennis on TV. Why not come up for some fresh air and give it a try?” “Me? Play tennis? What about my glasses?” “Ever heard of contact lenses?” So he got contacts, started practicing tennis, and actually made the JV team that spring. He finally won his first match on his fifth try. By the end of junior year, playing varsity, he had improved enough to be voted second-team all-conference. 123


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Meanwhile, continuing to set his standards high academically, Max learned in the fall of senior year that he was accepted to Maroon University—thrilling Tuesday, Maizy and Aunt Nadine alike, though for different reasons. Tuesday was understandably excited to be near her old friend, while Maizy was happy for both her daughter and Max, who she figured would mutually benefit from having each other around. Aunt Nadine, for her part, was proud that Max would continue the Holden family tradition of attending Ivy League colleges. Her father, Max’s Grandad Holden, was a Dartmouth man; her sister, Max’s mother, graduated from Princeton before getting her Ph.D. at Yale; and she herself attended Cornell. For Max’s eighteenth birthday, Aunt Nadine gave him two very small presents, each in a box about the size of a cell phone, which both packed very large punches. The first box contained a Ford key … that went with the brand-new, silver Ford Explorer parked in the driveway. “You … got me a new car?” said Max, who had been driving Aunt Nadine’s back-up, a rusty Volkswagen Rabbit, ever since he got his license at sixteen. “Technically, it’s an SUV. And technically, you bought it yourself.” “I bought it … myself?” “Open the other box.” Inside the second box was another key, smaller than the first and nondescript. “What’s this for?” asked Max. “Your safety deposit box. I’ve placed a number of objects you inherited from your father inside, along with the paperwork having to do with your trust fund. I recommend leaving everything exactly as it is and allowing its value to appreciate.” “I have a trust fund?” “You do now. As your guardian, I’ve arranged for your college tuition and living expenses to be covered. You’ll come into your full inheritance as of your twenty-second birthday or upon graduation from college— whichever happens first.” “Full inheritance? How much did Dad leave me?” “A lot. Oh, and I also made sure you had a decent four-wheel-drive for the Northeast. Make sure you learn to operate it in the snow.” “Thanks, Aunt Nadine.” “Don’t mention it. Happy Birthday, Max.” Tennis season came and went (Max got a lucky draw and advanced to the quarterfinals of the state championships); graduation followed suit (he and Tuesday delivered the salutatory and valedictory addresses, respectively); and summer arrived and was nearly over before Max

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screwed himself up enough to check out his safety deposit box at First Bank of Cape Carnival. Inside the little private room, opening the box, he found a number of gold and silver coins; several platinum bullion bars; his father’s monogrammed money clip and Rolex watch; and his mother’s diamond engagement ring and white gold wedding band. Placing these objects in his backpack, he examined the paperwork at the bottom of the box. He discovered several stock certificates and bonds; his letter of trust indicating he had a projected $8 million coming to him, depending on his portfolio’s performance; and most surprising of all, an unpublished essay written by his mother entitled “Cryptids Explained: A Novel Interdimensional Theory.” “I can’t deal with this right now,” he said to himself, stuffing his mother’s essay in his pack along with the other papers, returning the empty safety deposit box, and leaving the bank. That evening, his last in Florida for the foreseeable future, since he didn’t plan to return anytime soon, Max finished packing for college by stashing the objects from his safety deposit box in his mother’s old Seward trunk along with her personal effects. To these, discarding the tattered Lego box, he added the Easter Island figurine, Mexican arrowhead, Tibetan prayer flag and Venetian mask he had once retrieved from the world of his dreams. The trunk, outfitted with a new combination lock, he packed in the Explorer along with his personal effects; his tennis racket; his iPod dock, MacBook, and printer; his clothes (including some of Aunt Nadine’s sweaters, which might finally come in handy); Stedman’s Medical Dictionary; his father’s night vision goggles (which still worked); and the thunderbird kite (still in the box unopened) Maizy had given him. The next morning, he shared a sunrise goodbye with Aunt Nadine, who hugged him—which she almost never did—and even appeared to shed a few tears as he backed out of the driveway. “I’m proud of you, Max, after all you’ve been through!” she called after him with watery eyes. “God bless you! Spend your money wisely—and call if you need me!” “Don’t worry, I will. Thanks, Aunt Nadine. I mean it.” Before picking up Tuesday, who was carpooling with him to Endurance, he took a detour down Tupelo Street for the first time in over six years. There it was: his old house. The property had been sold after Captain Diver disappeared and seemed to be inhabited—but amazingly, based on outward appearances, very little about it had changed. Feeling the stirrings of sadness and determined not to give into them on this, the first day of the rest of his life, Max wondered if he would ever see the old place again as he sped on down the street. 125


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Tuesday was already on the porch with her belongings when Max pulled up beside the curb. “You’re late,” she said. “I thought you skipped town without me.” She gave Max a probing look, then smiled and winked. He noticed she was wearing his old bracelet—and that she wasn’t wearing glasses. “Where are your glasses?” he asked, helping load up her suitcases and bags. “You like me without them?” “You look … more mature. It’s nice to see your eyes.” “I stopped wearing glasses almost six months ago, Max.” “Six months ago? You’re joking, right?” “Do I look like I’m joking?” “Contacts?” “No. My eyesight just improved.” “Where have I been?” “That’s exactly what I was wondering.” Maizy appeared on the sidewalk, wearing an ink-stained apron and carrying a mid-sized cooler. “Here’s some healthy food for the road,” she said. “It should be enough to keep you two from having to stoop to fast food for a couple days.” “Thanks, Maizy,” said Max, accepting the cooler and squeezing it into an accessible spot on the back seat. “I see you’re taking that old kite I gave you,” she observed. “Yeah, I thought maybe I’d finally get around to flying it one of these days.” “You look after my girl, Max, you hear?” “I’ll do that.” “And you look after our boy, Tuesday, okay?” “Okay, Mom.” Maizy hugged first Max, then Tuesday. Everybody seemed more than a little hyper from excitement—and mother and daughter were also a little teary. “I can’t believe this day is actually here,” said Maizy. “Me neither,” said Tuesday. “I’ve never driven all the way up the East Coast.” “That’s my Tuesday: always lightening the mood.” “Are you ready for a road trip, Max?” “I was born ready.” “Then let’s burn rubber.” “Don’t burn too much rubber!” Maizy called after them as they climbed in the Explorer and set off for Rhode Island.

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he most difficult part of Max’s transition to college life wasn’t freshman orientation, finding his way around campus, fending for himself, adjusting to the workload, or even the occasional hazing by upperclassmen. No, the most challenging thing, by far, was Raul. As an only child, having any kind of roommate would have presented problems for Max. The fact he was required to share his quarters with another human being—any human being—necessitated, in itself, significant evolutionary adaptation. If Max had been given a say in the matter, he would have at least requested a quiet, respectful, studious roommate, one who also valued personal privacy, property, and space. But since roommates were assigned to freshmen randomly, he didn’t have any say—and was pretty much stuck with Raul for the year. By his own admission, Raul Eduardo Carlos dos Santos was a “mutt.” The son of a wealthy Brazilian executive and a wealthier British socialite, Raul had split his childhood between cultures and continents while being raised by nannies and educated by private tutors, until he was packed away to boarding school in New England at the ripe old age of twelve. “I would have preferred Rio,” he explained to Max the first evening they spent as roommates. “I feel I belong in Rio—if I belong anywhere. But both my parents insisted Brazil was nowhere to get an education. Except in all the wrong things,” he added, wistfully reclining on his bed, hands behind his head, recalling some illicit or immoral memory.

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“So you speak fluent Spanish?” asked Max, unpacking his suitcases and arranging his clothes in his chest of drawers. “No.” “But you said you’re from Brazil. Sort of.” “Hello? Brazilians speak Portuguese, Max.” “Sorry.” “It’s a common mistake. Spanish—how shall I say this?—is like Portuguese spoken with a speech impediment.” “Say something in Portuguese.” “‘Ela Não Gosta de Mim.’” “What does that mean?” “She doesn’t like me.” “Who doesn’t?” “Nobody. It’s the name of an old song.” “Look, Raul, if you’re talking about meeting Tuesday this afternoon—” “I didn’t mean to offend her, Max! Good God, how was I supposed to know she was a bloody feminist? Didn’t you think my joke was funny?” “You mean the one about the ideal woman turning into a pepperoni calzone at the stroke of midnight?” “Spot on. I thought it was screaming. Didn’t you, Pablo?” The blue teddy, sewn together in various places and seated at the corner of Raul’s bed, remained noncommittal. “I think it’s safe to say, Raul, that at this university any joke about women that can be misinterpreted, will be.” “Oh, you’re probably right. What about you? How do you offend women?” “I … don’t ... usually.” “That’s good. That’s proper of you. I think, in my case, it must have something to do with my upbringing. I only saw my parents over major holidays. I don’t really even know who they are. They’re just … names to me.” “I know what you mean.” “Do you?” “Sort of. I never technically knew my mother. And my father was very … complicated.” “I know all about your father, the famous astronaut who mysteriously vanished at sea.” “You do?” “Yes. I googled him.” “Well, I guess that settles that.” “Hardly. I didn’t mean to cut you off, Max. I’m actually frightfully sorry for your losses. A tough bit of luck, that.” 128


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“They were both a long time ago. I’ve … moved on.” “Jolly good for you! I’d think that would be the type of thing to linger. But it would make a top-notch screenplay, you have to admit.” Having finished arranging the drawers, Max was in the process of hanging up the items from his suit bag in his closet. “Need any help there, old chap?” inquired Raul, who was still stretched out on his bed and looked to be in no hurry to get up. “No, thanks.” “Suit yourself, ha, ha.” “Aren’t you going to unpack?” asked Max with a glance at Raul’s pyramid of suitcases taking up a good chunk of the room at the foot of his bed. “Yes. Eventually. I plan to unpack slowly and carefully over the coming weeks. My bags aren’t in your way, are they?” “Not at all.” “I thought they were stacked quite artistically.” “They’re beautiful.” “You’re a bit of a neat freak, aren’t you, Max?” “Me? I don’t know about ‘neat freak.’ I guess I do like things to be in their proper place.” “I had a roommate very much like you in tenth grade. Little Arthur Pennington. Lots of sinus problems. He went slightly bonkers and eventually was asked to leave the school.” “Raul, have you been drinking?” “Yes. But only alcohol. Would you like me to make you a caipirinha?” “What’s that?” “A fine Brazilian beverage. Cachaça, which is sugarcane alcohol, processed sugar and lime over ice.” “Thanks. But I don’t drink.” “If you don’t drink, Max, you’ll die. It’s a biological fact.” “I mean alcohol.” “Well, why didn’t you say so?” “How did you get your hands on alcohol, Raul? Aren’t you, like, eighteen?” “I’m nineteen, thank you very much. Just barely. But Max, I can assure you age is merely a state of mind.” “Fake ID?” “Fake IDs.” “So what are you planning to major in, Raul? Counterfeiting?” “Very amusing. I haven’t the slightest notion. Possibly art history. Or perhaps computer hacking. You?” “I’m on a pre-med track.” “Dr. Diver, eh?” 129


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“One of these days.” “You know, I have a nasty rash I’d love for you to examine.” “I recommend abstinence.” “Max, despite yourself, you really are a funny bloke. But seriously, it’s right here behind my elbow.” Raul held up his elbow, twisted slightly for Max to see, to the light. Sure enough, there was a pinkish rash extending about halfway to the shoulder. “I’m not a doctor—yet,” said Max. “But it looks like a mild case of eczema. You could google it.” “Capital idea. Are those your parents?” Raul pointed to the picture, newly placed on Max’s desk, of his father and mother in front of the Tempus Fugit that used to sit on the mantelpiece in his home on Tupelo Street. “Yeah, they were.” “Handsome couple. You look exactly like her. Well, not exactly. You’re not quite as pretty.”

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ime has a way of flying, as the saying goes, during one’s first college semester. There’s just so much to wrap one’s mind around and integrate all at once: new schedules, new freedoms, new places, new people, new frontiers, new expectations. Some freshmen (such as Raul), emphasizing social priorities and seeming to forget (if they ever knew) why they attended college in the first place, adopt Mark Twain’s infamous philosophy: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Other freshmen (such as Max) err in the opposite direction—gradually abandoning any pretense to a social life as they find themselves losing themselves to academia’s perfectionistic grind. For many who aspire to higher education, especially those who desire to enter the ranks of the so-called professionals, there’s always something more to learn, some uncharted area of ignorance to be filled in, a piece of the cognitive map to be surveyed and drawn. It was all Max could do to keep up with his reading and workload. His head swam with facts and figures. While eating was a necessity, sleep became optional, and socializing transformed into a strict no-no. Still other freshmen (such as Tuesday) manage, by accident or design, to strike a balance between having a social life and getting an education. These individuals are rare birds, to borrow another phrase, and doubly blessed to have both friendship and knowledge.

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To his chagrin, Max had barely spoken to Tuesday in over a month, when he bumped into her—quite literally—while crossing the Quad one Monday afternoon between classes. It was approaching the mid-point of October in the capital of Rhode Island. The sky was high and blue; the air was crisp even in the sunlight; and the trees were starting to lose their leaves, which had mostly turned to rust and brown. “Well, if it isn’t Maxwell Andrew Diver!” said Tuesday, breaking through the “information overload haze” that seemed to emanate like invisible fog from the young would-be doctor’s brain. His faraway eyes snapped into focus on Tuesday’s lovely, smiling face like a memory of yesteryear with its white teeth and big gray eyes framed by coils of blonde hair. Backpack slung over one shoulder, two-tone gold bracelet on her wrist, she was dressed more or less as she always was—which just happened to be perfect for college—in an oversized sweater, faded jeans with holes in the knees, and Birkenstocks with wool socks. “Tuesday! I didn’t even see you. How have you been?” “Thanks for asking. Why haven’t you returned my calls or answered my emails? I even stooped so low as to text you. Have you got a girlfriend or something?” “No! I … I’ve just been really busy.” “Well, I’ve got a boyfriend—and I’ve still tried to make time for you.” “You have a boyfriend?” “Carter. He’s a junior. History buff. He’s a lot of fun, but we don’t have a future.” “How can you say that?” “I can see it.” “If you say so. When were you going to tell me?” “When were you going to break your radio silence?” “I’m really sorry, Tuesday. I feel like a shmuck. Tell you what—I’m not going out of town for fall break. If you’ve got a free day, we could spend it in Rockport together. Maybe catch up a little?” “That could work. I’ve been wanting to visit Rockport. How about Thursday? I’m going to Carter’s house in Manhattan for the weekend. We’re taking the train down Friday.” “Manhattan, huh? Thursday’s fine. Should I pick you up in the morning—say, around nine?” “Sounds good. I look forward to it.” “Me, too.” The two old friends were on the verge of resuming their divergent paths to opposite ends of the Quad, when Tuesday said, “Max?” “Yes, Tuesday?” 132


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“Good to see you.” “Good to see you, too.” That Thursday, the first day of fall break’s long weekend, with Raul having mercifully vacated the premises (taking Pablo with him) for three days of nonstop partying in Key West, Max awoke feeling oddly … rested. He didn’t know exactly how or why he felt this way—though undoubtedly it had to do with Raul’s absence and the resultant quiet in the room that Max welcomed back like an estranged companion from the distant past. Truth be known, it had been a long time since Max had slept long or well enough for his own good. Years of pushing himself academically, on the one hand, combined with fears of sleeping too much and allowing his dreams to return to haunt him, on the other, had taken a toll on his immune system. Not to the mention that, being so preoccupied with his studies, he had developed rather poor eating habits: too many sweets, too many sodas, too much processed food. Believe it or not, such unhealthy behavior is actually common among doctors, who tend to know a lot about medicine but very little about health. Max wasn’t by any means “sickly,” to look at him, but he had become prone to colds and the flu, sinus infections and fever blisters, and more often than not felt vaguely run-down. But not that Thursday morning. He woke up just before nine, having apparently turned off his alarm in his sleep, if he even remembered to set it. Even as he stretched and yawned, thankful to have no classes, he realized he was supposed to pick up Tuesday—in less than fifteen minutes! How he managed to throw on jeans and a sweater, rush out of Chatterton House to his Explorer, drive halfway across campus, find a parking space, and sprint to the lobby of Avalon House in twenty minutes flat will remain a mystery. Somehow, out of breath and only a little late, he found himself rendezvousing with Tuesday and opening the passenger door for her. She climbed in and buckled her seatbelt as he got in the driver’s seat and did likewise. “You hungry?” he asked. “Ravenous. Have you had breakfast yet?” “No. Let’s swing by that little natural bakery on Faith Street and pick up some pastries and coffee for the road.” “Lay on, Macduff! I dig that bakery. They use natural sweeteners and alternative grains.” An hour later, having consumed organic lattés and mammoth, agavesweetened sticky buns made with spelt flour while traveling south along Queequeg Bay, Max and Tuesday arrived in the peninsular town of 133


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Rockport, famous for its rocky beaches and sumptuous summer homes built by the super-wealthy “robber barons” of the 19th century. The weather that morning was a continuation of the beautiful autumn skies that had seemed the norm the past few weeks. Max found a parking spot just off Somes Street. As he was feeding the meter, Tuesday offered him an Altoid from a tin in her pack. “Have one. They’re curiously strong,” she said, popping a mint in her mouth. “Some things never change,” said Max, accepting an Altoid with a grin. “And some things do.” “Such as?” “Us. Look at us. Here we are all grown up in … Rhode Island.” They both stood still on the sidewalk for a moment soaking in the historical atmosphere generated by the colorful New England architecture. “Kind of weird, huh?” said Max. “I’ll say. I used to think your dreams were strange. But this … this is surreal.” Max’s dreams, having taken place so long ago, had almost, though not quite, become the thing of legend in their minds. It had been years since Tuesday had so much as broached the subject. But Max had no intention of opening that closet full of skeletons. “It’s going to get cold up here before long,” he said, switching the topic. “Especially for two South Florida kids. I hope you packed a winter coat.” “Oh, I did. Two of them. Plus snow boots, ski gloves, and several hats.” “Shall we walk?” “Absolutely!” They strolled around Somes Street for an hour and visited a number of tourist shops. Having their fill of kitsch, they climbed back in the Explorer and circled the famed “Luxury Loop,” where the neoclassical “cottages” of the robber barons overlooked the rocky coastline. “These houses are insane!” commented Max. “So much money went into their construction. Do people still live in them?” “In a few,” said Tuesday. “Some are museums now. They’re really beautiful … in a disgusting sort of way.” “Disgusting?” “You realize who the people were who built these so-called cottages, don’t you?” “You mean the Bandervilts, Crockafellers, and Carnalgies—that sort?” “Exactly. These are the immensely rich banking families who control the world by controlling the monetary system.” “You mean the ‘Illuminati’?” “That’s one name for them.” 134


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“Come on, Tuesday. The Illuminati? That’s just an urban legend.” “That’s what they want you to believe. You’re much more easily controlled if you don’t know you’re being controlled.” “Have you been watching the Matrix again?” “No. I’m just saying.” They parked beside a little cove with a sandy beach and got out to explore. “I didn’t realize that in addition to being a health nut, you were also a conspiracy theorist,” said Max in a failed attempt at humor. “It’s only a theory if you can’t prove it,” replied Tuesday, slipping off her Birks and socks, setting them on a rock, and walking to the edge of the waves. “For people willing to take their head out of the sand, this stuff has been proven many times over. Ever read The Creature from Jekyll Island?” “No. What’s it about—Bigfoot?” “Very funny. It’s about how these banking families conspired to create the Federal Reserve System in 1913 to confiscate the world’s wealth. Did you know, Max, that the Federal Reserve isn’t federal at all, but a private bank owned by these same families that controls our country’s economy outside of any governmental oversight?” “No. I didn’t.” “Did you know there’s a lot of evidence these people orchestrated every war dating back to World War I and even funded both sides of most major conflicts, including World War II, when they gave financial and military support to the Nazis?” “I thought there were no classes today. I feel like I’m getting a history lesson.” “Did you know that both President Eisenhower and President Kennedy warned the American public against this powerful cabal—and that Kennedy’s attempt to return money printing to the Treasury, as opposed to the Federal Reserve, may have got him killed?” “How do you know all of this?” “I’m taking a fascinating seminar with Professor Icarus on the Hero’s Journey.” “The Hero’s Journey? What in the world does Joseph Campbell have to do with the Federal Reserve?” “Why don’t you take off your shoes and we can walk on the beach and chat about it?” “Okay.” Max set his tennis shoes with his socks inside them on the rocks and joined Tuesday on the sand. It had been close to two months since he had stood on a beach—which he realized was the longest he had ever gone without feeling sand between his toes.

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“This water’s icy,” said Tuesday, rolling up her jeans as a wave frothed up around her shins, momentarily submerging her mermaid tattoo. “You got that right,” agreed Max, dipping a toe in the frigid surf. “I don’t think we’re in Florida anymore, Toto.” “I’m actually glad to be somewhere else. I mean, I miss my mom. But these days, Florida’s just one big strip mall.” Seagulls circling overhead, the two friends began walking toward the opposite end of the cove. “So where were we?” said Tuesday. “The Hero’s Journey.” “Right. The basic idea is that ‘Heroes’ Journeys’ from literature map universal archetypes, or underlying patterns, that can be extrapolated to the various stages of personal development—starting with the ‘Call to Adventure,’ moving through a series of ‘Trials,’ and culminating in the ‘Freedom to Live.’” “So you’re saying we’re all on our own version of the Hero’s Journey?” “More or less.” “Okay. I’m with you.” “Professor Icarus has this idea that the Hero’s Journey can also be used to understand larger developmental patterns—like those that society goes through on its ‘journey’ from slavery to freedom.” “The ‘micro’ also applies to the ‘macro.’” “Bingo. Or as the alchemists liked to say, ‘As above, so below.’” “So what about the Federal Reserve and the Illuminati?” “Well, these forces represent one of the Trials society must pass through to complete our shared Hero’s Journey. We have to come together to defeat this ‘Beast’ that controls every aspect of our world— from money to politics to medicine—so that we can have the Freedom to Live.” “Sounds to me like Professor Icarus has been smoking something.” “Well, that may be. But it doesn’t make him wrong.” Tuesday suddenly stopped as another wave washed over their feet and fished something up out of the water. It was a sand dollar—an actual, living one—with blue-gray hairs like bristles that moved. “Won’t you look at that,” said Max. “I’ve never seen a real, live sand dollar before.” “Me neither.” “Do you remember the time we found all those tests? There were so many they barely fit in the cooler.” “How could I forget? It was your birthday.” “And the day before Dad disappeared.” “I still think about him. He was a good man.” “Thanks.”

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“There’s something else I’ve been wanting to talk with you about,” said Tuesday, releasing the sand dollar back to the waves. “Something else?” “Something you’re probably not going to like. But I have to ask.” “What’s it about?” “It’s about my bracelet.” “Your bracelet? You mean the one I gave you?” “Yes. This bracelet right here,” she said, turning her slender wrist slowly as the dark and light strands of gold, interweaving, caught the sunlight from different angles. “What about it?” “Do you remember where you found it?” “Yes. I told you where. It was some kind of archeological site in Ireland. Probably.” “Probably?” “I can’t be sure. Heck, I’m not even sure that really happened. Why are you bringing this up?” “Because I think it’s a magical bracelet.” “A magical bracelet?” “Mom thinks so, too.” “Oh, come on, Tuesday. First the Illuminati, and now this. I thought Lucky Charms was just a cereal.” “Ha, ha. You’re on a roll today, Max.” “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” “Quite serious.” “Have you been smoking with Professor Icarus, Tuesday?” “Hardly. Are you hungry?” “Starving.” “Me, too. Those pastries ran out an hour ago. Let’s go get some lunch and I’ll tell you everything I know.”

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ack in Rockport, they settled on a seafood restaurant called Barnacle Bill’s that had recently received a positive review in The Daily Scooner, Maroon University’s student newspaper. As luck would have it, they were seated at a table by the window with a view of the harbor. “What looks good to you?” asked Max, perusing the menu while sipping the water their waiter had just poured before leaving them to make up their minds. “I think I’ll have the grilled tilapia,” replied Tuesday. “You?” “I’m leaning toward the fried oysters.” “Interesting.” “Interesting? How so?” “Unless they’re farm-raised, which I doubt, they’re probably full of mercury, for starters.” “Ah, yes. Our toxic planet where shellfish suck up all the heavy metals in the sea. Pretty soon we won’t be able to eat anything without being poisoned.” “You’re joking, but it’s not far from the truth—if we keep going down the road we’re on.” “I imagine mercury’s not very good for one’s pineal gland.” “Or one’s life expectancy. You realize all those ‘silver’ fillings dentists put in people’s teeth are actually made of highly toxic mercury, don’t you?” “I don’t have any.” 139


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“Me neither. We’re lucky.” “Maybe. Studies show they don’t actually leach mercury into the body itself.” “Which studies are you reading, Max? Everything I’ve read suggests amalgam fillings are basically genocidal.” “Genocidal? That’s a pretty strong word.” “Mercury’s a pretty strong neurotoxin. Especially to be fixed permanently in people’s heads.” “May I take your order?” asked their waiter, an efficient young man with cropped red hair who showed back up at their table with pen and paper at the ready. “I’ll have the grilled tilapia,” said Tuesday. “Anything to drink?” “I’m good with water.” “And you, sir?” “I’ll try the fried oysters,” said Max, smirking at Tuesday. “To drink?” “Coke.” When they were alone again, Tuesday said, “Look, just because we’re old friends doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.” “Right. We can agree to disagree. Like adults.” “Exactly.” “Now that that’s settled, tell me about this magical bracelet of yours.” “Your voice is dripping with sarcasm. Do you really want to hear about this, Max?” “Absolutely. I haven’t heard a good fairytale in a while.” “Funny you should call it that. Because that’s pretty much what it is.” “I’m all ears.” “I want you to take a good look at my bracelet. See the way the white gold and yellow gold filaments twist around each other?” “What of it?” “There’s a poem in Irish folklore that tells the story of a magical object called the Bradelring. Would you like to hear it?” “A poem?” “A poem.” “Sure. Why not.” Tuesday took a deep breath, which she tended to do when being theatrical, and recited the lines: Sight beyond springs From the Bradelring Two hairs of gold Woven of old 140


SNOOZE One white The other bold Fairy’s consummation For mortal’s consolation A kingdom of mirth Lies in the earth Though she dared not stay And with her life did pay Joy was not to be By the Causeway sea Sight beyond springs From the Bradelring

“Let me get this straight,” said Max. “You actually think this bracelet is the mythical Bradelring?” Tuesday nodded. The look in her lively eyes, which hardly batted their long lashes, was confident and probing. Max felt slightly unnerved by the intensity of her gaze—much as he did years ago when Tuesday’s mother, Maizy, sized him up during their first meeting. “How can you be certain?” he asked, willingly suspending disbelief for the moment. “Lots of reasons. First, just look at it. It perfectly fits the description of the Bradelring. Two hairs of gold … Woven of old … One white … The other bold.” “Just to play devil’s advocate, Tuesday. But how many bracelets that look more or less like yours must there be in the world? Thousands? Tens of thousands?” “My thoughts exactly. But it’s not from just anywhere in the world, is it? You said yourself you found it at an archeological dig in Ireland.” “I said probably Ireland.” “Would you recognize the dig site if you saw it again?” “I don’t know. It’s possible. Maybe.” Searching in her backpack, she produced a slightly crumpled color copy of a photograph of an archeological site atop basalt cliffs overlooking a rocky, raging sea. “Was this it?” “Where did you get this?” “I googled ‘recent archeological digs in Ireland.’ This came up for Northern Ireland, where the Giant’s Causeway is located.” “And you think that’s the Causeway mentioned in the poem?” 141


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“I don’t know of any other Causeways in Ireland.” “Is that it right there? The long honeycomb structure extending out from the cliffs?” “Yes. According to geologists, it’s from volcanic activity. Some legends say a giant built it as a bridge to Scotland—where, strangely enough, a similar structure is positioned in line with it. But there are also other legends.” “Such as?” “That it’s a road into the fairy kingdom inside the earth.” “Ah, we’re back to the Bradelring.” “Yes. The poem tells the story of a Fairy King who fell in love with a mortal woman and gave her the Bradelring as a wedding present. ‘Bradelring’ appears to be a play on words—meaning both ‘bridal ring’ and ‘braided ring.’” “Just one problem, Tuesday. A bracelet isn’t a ring.” “Not in the sense of being a modern-day wedding band. But it could be a ‘fairy ring.’ There are recorded instances dating all the way back to the 9th century of crop circles supposedly made by the ‘little folk’ called fairy rings. ‘Ring,’ in this case, might simply indicate a circle.” The waiter reappeared with Max’s Coke and two steaming plates of seafood and refilled their water glasses. “Bon appétit!” said Tuesday. “Bon appétit!” replied Max. “You realize, don’t you, this isn’t the kind of case that would stand up in court? The evidence is, to say the least, circumstantial.” “There’s more.” “More? Then let’s hear it.” “According to the poem, the bracelet increases the wearer’s psychic ability. Sight beyond springs … From the Bradelring.” “You call that evidence?” “No. This is the evidence. Think of a color.” “A color?” “Any color. But just one color.” “All right. I’m thinking of a color.” “Red.” “Good guess!” “Think of another.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “Okay.” “Violet.” “How did you do that?” “Think of another color.” 142


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“This is some kind of parlor trick, right?” “Just think of another color, Max.” “One second. All right. Done.” “Blue.” “Yes. But it’s a specific shade of blue.” “Teal.” “That’s amazing. How did you do that, Tuesday?” “Now think of a number. Any number between one and, say, a thousand.” “Any number?” “Any whole number.” “All right. I’m thinking of a number.” “One hundred and eleven.” “How did you do that?” “It’s called ESP, Max. I’m basically reading your mind. We could do this all day—and I could tell you practically everything you’re thinking.” “So what am I thinking?” “You’re thinking this conversation can’t end fast enough.” Max laughed self-consciously. “I guess I am thinking something along those lines,” he said, eating a fried oyster and gazing out at the boats in the harbor. “How’s the tilapia?” “Delicious. How are your oysters?” “Tasty. The mercury’s the best part.” “Ha, ha.” “So just to be clear. You honestly believe your bracelet is the fairy Bradelring from legend that increases the wearer’s psychic power?” “Not only that. But it may also grant access to the fairy kingdom in the Inner Earth. There’s something called Hollow Earth theory that suggests the inside of our planet may be inhabited.” “And there are secret military bases all over Mars. Come on, Tuesday. This stuff is straight out of Harry Potter. Take off the tinfoil hat for a just a minute and put on your critical thinking cap.” “So I can—what? Be miserable like you? I’m sorry, Max. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.” “That’s okay. At least, now, I know what you think of me.” “No, apparently, you don’t. I care very deeply about you.” “You sure have a funny way of showing it.” “I said I’m sorry. So are you going to help me or not?” “Help you? How?” “By determining whether this photo is of the site where you found my bracelet.” “How would knowing that help you, Tuesday?”

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“Because the poem suggests the mortal bride, having spent time in the Fairy Kingdom but being unable to stay, was buried beside the Giant’s Causeway.” “You actually think that bracelet enhances psychic ability?” “I know it does. I’ve done zillions of self-tests. I’m fairly psychic by nature, but I’m considerably more tuned in with it on than off. And apparently, it even healed my eyesight. My ophthalmologist was shocked, given my astigmatism, when I suddenly no longer needed glasses.” “Now, that is interesting. That’s something I can put my finger on.” “So you’ll help me?” “No.” “Come again?” “Don’t get me wrong, Tuesday. I’d love to help you. But I just can’t do this … kind of thing anymore.” “Can’t or won’t?” “Take your pick.” “After all I did to help you when you really needed it, this is how you repay me?” “I didn’t realize our relationship was quid pro quo.” “What relationship? Clearly, you don’t see me as your friend anymore.” “Is that what your psychic powers are telling you?” “Piss off, Max.” The drive that afternoon back to Endurance was lonely for both Max and Tuesday, who, though seated side by side, remained miles apart. The sky had darkened ominously and begun to sprinkle rain as Max dropped her off at Avalon House and watched his former best friend disappear into the lobby silently without so much as a glance back. By the time Max got to Chatterton House, the rain was funneling down in chilling ribbons, wetting him to the skin in just the few seconds it took to traverse the parking lot and enter the lobby. While changing into dry clothes in his room, he suffered a fit of sneezing. Sliding his finger over the first telltale tingling of a fever blister on his lower lip, he realized with a sniffle his sinuses were aching and he was running a low-grade fever.

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ax crashed—and crashed hard. Not to put too fine a point on it, but physically and otherwise, he basically imploded. Overnight, as the season switched from Indian summer to late fall and the rain splattered down outside, he was overcome by a wicked combination of cold and flu that might have been diagnosed, (from a purely psychological standpoint) as a bad case of burnout. For the better part of twenty-four hours, shaking until his teeth chattered, he wrestled with a fever of nearly a hundred and two. Wondering how it was possible to feel so cold while being so hot, he managed to locate and put on wool socks, sweatpants, and his Maroon University sweatshirt. Still freezing, he piled his blankets and a sleeping bag he unearthed from Raul’s pyramid of belongings on top of him—until, shivering in his bed like a wet leaf on the branch, he sweated through his clothes and was forced to change into dry ones. Never had Max felt so alone, so orphaned, than while suffering— beginning in the early morning after his trip to Rockport—through multiple rounds of vomiting and diarrhea. Contemplating, between rushed trips to the bathroom, the picture of his parents on his desk, he succumbed to self-pity and wished aloud to himself—raving in his feverish solitude like a madman—that he was living someone, anyone else’s life but his own. By that rain-soaked Friday evening, with the help of Ibuprofen and Pepto Bismol, his fever and nausea showed signs of subsiding—just in 145


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time for his sinuses to explode in what felt like a cloudburst in its own right. His headache, even with painkiller, was almost unbearable. The worst part, however, was the seemingly endless exodus of mucous (often accompanied by violent fits of sneezing) that required so much noseblowing his trashcan soon overflowed with tissues and his nose turned raw from wiping. On top of everything, the fever blister on his lower lip had ballooned to a painful, pustular monstrosity with no indication of going away anytime soon. Max endured another dark stretch when he realized, in a doublebarreled epiphany, that he had nothing to put on the fever blister to help it feel better and no one to pick up something either. Under normal circumstances, he could have counted on Tuesday’s help. But even if she wasn’t in Manhattan with her boyfriend for the weekend, there was no way Max could have reached out to her— especially after the way he had treated her. In his mind’s eye, he replayed their argument multiple times, trying desperately with his wounded ego to justify his behavior. But the more he did so, the more it became obvious he was at fault for ruining their friendship. More than anything else, he felt embarrassed. Deeply, thoroughly ashamed. This type of emotion, which through various subtle channels connected to his suppressed guilt at being unable to save his father, wasn’t something Max was willing to process consciously—not yet anyway. So he did his best to ignore it. Saturday saw the rain finally let up as the headache followed suit and the coughing began. Fortunately, he was able to locate some cough drops. He drank lots of water to rehydrate and flush his system, but the only thing he managed to eat with his hair-trigger stomach was a piece of dry toast. Left alone in Chatterton House, which uncharacteristically was as quiet as a cloister, he attempted to get in some studying—but with the intense sinus pressure, he found it impossible to maintain his train of thought. In the evening, after one last failed crack at reading his organic chemistry textbook, he tucked himself in bed while experiencing unrelenting existential loneliness, feeling rather like an astronaut traversing the vast reaches of space in an otherwise unmanned spaceship. In this state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, his defenses lowered, sleep wrapped him up and took him down deeper than he had permitted himself to go in years.

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Like a rock, down to the silent bottom of sleep he sank. And then, suddenly not feeling so heavy, it was as if he was swimming uphill, strange as that may sound, and he realized he was actually flying. A nearly indescribable exhilaration—one he had felt many times before—gripped him as, glancing back, he saw his silver cord reminiscent of a kite line disappear into the distance as he zoomed like a bottle rocket across the sky. He soared high above an ocean dotted with whitecaps, traversed a lovely green country of hills and fields, then, reaching the coast again, sped at a much lower altitude along spectacular basalt cliffs half shrouded in mist. The area began to look increasingly familiar as the honeycomb cliffs seemed to funnel themselves into a road or bridge thrust with tremendous force far out into the sea. There it was: the Giant’s Causeway. He glided above it so close he could feel the icy sea spray on his face. He marveled at the Causeway’s massiveness and perfectly geometric construction, before sailing up to the cliffs high above, where another familiar sight—or site—greeted him. Yellow security ropes demarcated an archeological dig, in the center of which was a tomb dug out of solid rock. Staring at its uncovered entrance yawning like a stone mouth, Max vividly recalled visiting this place once before in a dream … and retrieving Tuesday’s bracelet from inside. There were no workers or vehicles anywhere nearby. He touched down just outside the tomb’s entrance. The earth was cold under his toes. He realized he was barefoot. Not only that—but his feet were blue, he noted, staring at them wonderingly. They weren’t blue from the chill; they were simply blue … and they perfectly matched his hands, which seemed to glow slightly, emitting enough light to see by, as he cautiously entered the tomb. Inside, on a stone slab jutting out from the wall, a pale form lay positioned on its side, its back to him. The form, which even in the dim light could be clearly identified as humanoid, appeared to be naked. Its skin was greenish, rather corpselike, though there were no burial clothes to be seen. Approaching slowly, not knowing what to expect but expecting whatever it was to be unpleasant, he touched the form’s shoulder. His intention was to roll it over gently onto its back to get a better look at it. But there was no need—it rolled over all by itself! As it did, it opened its eyes wide and gasped for air, as if it had been drowning. The figure was Max himself—down to the ugly fever blister on his lower lip! “Please!” the figure managed to utter, enigmatically, in his consuming weakness, staring up impotently from the stone slab. “Why did you call me?” Max asked, staring down at … himself. 147


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“Because I can’t do this alone. I need your help!” “If I help you, will you help me?” “How can I help you? I can’t even help myself.” “I am yourself.” “But—” “Max, we need to talk. But not right now. Allow me to give you something that can help … bring us together. I was born with it.” “What is it?” “It is this,” said the blue Max, removing a thin object from his pocket and placing it in the pale Max’s palm. Lightweight, it felt hard yet brittle, like organic plastic, and was nearly invisible in the dimness. “If you choose, you can be born with it, too.” “But I was already born.” “Where I come from, time is no excuse.” “Wait! Where are you going?” “Home.” “Hello? Anybody in there? Wake up, Max! It’s just a scary dream!” Popping bolt upright, Max opened his eyes to find a pair of bloodshot, frightfully large eyes uncomfortably close to his. Instinctively protecting himself by pushing away the eyes, he sat up and looked around the room wildly, half expecting to see a blue version of himself slipping out the door. Instead, Raul, sporting a luau shirt along with a three-day tan and European razor stubble, was lying spread-eagled on his back where he had landed when Max pushed him. “Bloody hell, Max. Is that any way to greet an old friend fresh in from Key West?” “Sorry, Raul. What just happened?” “What happened is that you were having a nightmare. I tried to wake you—and you cold-cocked me!” “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to. Are you okay?” “Yes. I’m bloody okay. Or I will be. What’s that?” “What’s what?” “That disgusting object in your hand. It looks like—well, I won’t say what it looks like.” Realizing what he was holding, Max had a moment of being confronted by something so bizarre that, though he certainly knew the name for it, he couldn’t immediately locate it in the word cloud inside his head. He turned the object over and over, examining it from different angles as the name came to him in increments, one letter at a time. C. A. U. L. Without question, it looked like the genuine article.

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But how his caul came to be there was anybody’s guess. He had intentionally left it with his Aunt Nadine in Florida—and he had intended to leave it, along with everything it stood for, there for good.

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eriously, what is that ghastly thing?” insisted Raul, sitting up and examining the caul in Max’s hand with wide-eyed, morbid fascination. “It’s a caul,” answered Max, still trying to process how it got there. “You mean one of those creepy, membraney things some blokes are born with?” “Exactly.” “I have a second cousin in Porto Alegre who came in with one of those. A savant. Retarded, really. To this day, the poor blighter can’t wipe his own bum—but he can decode any computer encryption on the planet in ten seconds flat. Where did you get it?” “I was born with it.” “Did you hear that, Pablo? Our roommate’s birthday suit included a caul.” Pablo, seated on Raul’s bed, looked impressed. “What sort of supernatural things can you do, Max?” Raul’s question prompted Max to replay the old dream sequence of himself pounding on the cockpit of the Tempus Fugit—unable, despite the fact that he was “gifted,” to keep his father from being swallowed by the vortex … before he disappeared for real. “Apparently, things that don’t matter much,” he said. “Come again?” “Nothing. I was just thinking out loud.” “Well, enough of this introspection. It’s depressing, quite frankly. Shall I tell you about fall break in Key West?” 151


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“Go right ahead.” “Righto. First off, I met this amazing young lady from Panama with a most intriguing tattoo … Good Lord, you look an absolute fright, Max. Was it something I said?” “I’ve been sick. I’m still sick.” “So that’s why you’re a whiter shade of pale?” “That would be my guess.” “You have the look of someone who’s never actually slept before.” “Funny you should say that.” “How so?” “I used to be able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I could practically fall asleep standing up. My father went so far as to nickname me ‘Snooze.’” “Snooze, eh? I rather like that. It suits you somehow. What happened?” “Happened?” “You said you used to be able to sleep anytime. That implies you can’t any longer.” “It’s … a long story.” “All the good ones are.” “Maybe some other time.” “As you wish. I think I’ll make my way down to the kitchen and try to rustle up some grub. Are you feeling peckish? Would you like me to bring you something?” At the mention of food, Max heard his stomach grumbling. Maybe he was peckish. “What are you going to have?” he asked. “God only knows. Whatever the ravenous beasts of Chatterton House have left in the larder.” “Well, I’ll try it, whatever it is.” “That’s a good sport. I’ll endeavor to make sure you’re not disappointed.” After Raul left, Max dialed Cape Carnival on his cell phone. Aunt Nadine answered on the third ring: “Hello?” She sounded older than he remembered, her voice a little crackly, though it hadn’t even been two months since he last saw her. “Aunt Nadine? It’s me. Max.” “Max! How are you, child? It sounds like you have a terrible cold.” “I’m okay. Really. Listen, I was just thinking about my caul,” he said, looking at it in his palm. “I don’t suppose you still have it, by any chance?” “Why, naturally I still have it. It’s not the kind of thing I would just throw away.”

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“No, of course not. I was just wondering, Aunt Nadine … Would you be willing to get it out and measure it for me?” “Right now?” “If it’s not too much trouble.” “What’s this about, Max?” “I … I’m writing a paper for biology about children born with the caul—and I’m having trouble remembering my caul’s exact dimensions.” When his aunt still seemed hesitant, he added, “It has to be scientific, Aunt Nadine.” “Well, in that case, give me a minute.” Max waited while she located the wooden box in which she kept the caul. He could hear her opening it on the other end of the line—and then he heard her surprised intake of breath. “What is it, Aunt Nadine?” “It’s … gone! Your caul is gone, Max. It’s nowhere to found.” “That’s really weird.” “That doesn’t begin to describe it, I’m afraid. You didn’t take it, by any chance?” “I wouldn’t be calling if I’d taken it.” “Then where on earth could it have gotten to?” “I have no idea. But I imagine it will turn up, sooner or later.” “I’m so sorry, Max. I pride myself on being responsible. Especially with other people’s belongings.” “I wouldn’t worry about it, Aunt Nadine. It was just a piece of skin.” “A very rare piece of skin.” “I’ve got to go.” “Please forgive me, Max.” “There’s nothing to forgive.” “Who was that?” asked Raul, shutting the door behind him with the toe of his Italian leather sandal as he reentered the room carrying two steaming ceramic bowls. “My Aunt Nadine.” “How’s the old bag these days?” “Fit as a fiddle.” “I think you’ll be impressed. Despite limited options, I managed to create a culinary masterpiece.” “What is it?” “My favorite nanny’s oatmeal, may she rest in peace. Complete with golden raisins, gobs of cinnamon, loads of sugar, and a dash of nutmeg.” “Oatmeal?” Max hadn’t allowed himself to come within ten yards of a bowl of oatmeal since he turned twelve. The very word, oatmeal, was like kryptonite to his emotional stability—what was left of it after losing his

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best friend and being subjected to a nightmare that, by all indications, actually happened. “Yes, oatmeal,” answered Raul. “But not just any old oatmeal. Porridge. The best bloody porridge your taste buds ever encountered. Enough to make you long for Olde England.” There’s a famous scene at the beginning of Marcel Proust’s epic novel, Remembrance of Things Past, in which the adult protagonist suddenly revisits his childhood in microscopic detail after merely eating a cookie he loved as a boy. Having never read this book, Max had no way of realizing he was on the cusp of experiencing his own “Proustian” moment. Like one of those dreams where your feet are planted in cement, Max was powerless to stop the approach of the oatmeal. Raul seemed to hand him the bowl and accompanying spoon in super slow motion. Time congealed to an excruciating crawl in which the very steam from the concoction appeared not to rise, but merely to hover, like clouds in a photograph, above the bowl in mid-air. Finally, the unmistakable smell of oatmeal made its way into Max’s olfactory system. Not to be denied, the scent penetrated his blocked sinuses. As it did, it cut loose a veritable barrage of memories that surfaced all at once from their hiding places, willy-nilly, slicing Max’s insides like so many razorblades. Memories of his father, Captain Thomas Diver, and his horrible oatmeal, which now Max would have given anything to eat by the pound. Memories of flying over the Everglades together, assembling toy airplanes and spacecraft, sailing kites in a stiff Gulf breeze, racing out to Dolphin Point and back, eating turkey sandwiches and watching Star Trek together on the couch until Captain Diver tucked his sleeping son in bed … Taking a bite of hot oatmeal, Max burst into long-overdue tears. Nevertheless, he was surprised at how hungry he was. His shoulders jerked as he wept into the oatmeal he was eating. “Come on, Max, give a guy a break. It doesn’t taste that bad. Besides, you’re making it worse by adding salt.” Max wept harder and harder as he ate faster and faster. Soon the oatmeal was gone—but Max kept crying. “Are you quite all right, old boy?” “No, Raul. I’m not. I’ll never be all right again.” “Never’s a long time.” “Never.” Max shook his head resolutely. “Never. Never. Never.” “Why not?” “Because,” Max managed to articulate in his freshly reawakened grief, “my dad left me. I’m all alone in the world.” 154


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hus, at long last, finally leaving bargaining behind, Max embarked on the fourth of the five stages of grief: depression. Even after he began to feel better physically and his fever blister started to heal, he hardly did anything but lie in bed and stare into space. He hardly left the room, hardly ate, hardly took care of life’s basic necessities. Raul, knowing Max only as a pre-med student who was far too serious about academics for his own health, assumed his roommate would shake off the doldrums and return to his habitual spirit-siphoning grind in a day or two. But he was wrong. Though Raul might have made fun of Max’s lifestyle (or lack thereof), he didn’t actually dislike him. To the contrary, he intuited that Max— despite himself—had the potential to be fun someday. Besides, having an essentially good heart, despite his cultivated air of nonchalance, Raul recognized another good (if terribly wounded) heart in Max. When Max seemed to grow more despondent by the day, Raul began to worry. Worry wasn’t an emotion to which he was particularly accustomed—and it worried him. To his surprise, he found himself doing little things to help his roommate hold it together. Making sure he had a glass of water beside his bed. Bringing him a sandwich from the cafeteria. Opening the shutters to let in a bit of light.

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For the most part, Max appeared supremely unaware of these small but kind gestures—as he appeared supremely unaware of virtually everything except the hall of mirrors of his own suffering. After a week of inactivity, in which he neither attended class nor cracked a book, Max’s melancholy, angular face had sprouted the makings of a dark mustache and beard. “Like a tragic visage out of an El Greco,” thought Raul one evening as he and Pablo lay beside each other contemplating Max in supine stillness in his own bed. “I’m quite sure his sheets are badly in need of washing.” Raul and Pablo had drifted off and were sunbathing surrounded by bronzed and oiled Brasileiras while sipping caipirinhas on Ipanema Beach— when an odd, repetitive sound interrupted their shared dream. As it turned out, the sound came from Max, who, flinging off his covers while rolling to and fro in his own dream, was speaking in a language that Raul, linguist though he was, had never heard before. The language sounded vaguely animalistic, more chanted than spoken, and perhaps more sung than chanted, with lots of bizarre tones and clicking noises, and Max seemed to be struggling to express himself in it. But this “speaking in tongues” was the least unsettling part. Somehow, though Raul was fairly certain Max hadn’t budged from bed (which he practically didn’t do anymore), he was holding Pablo in the crook of his elbow as he writhed and sang! “Now, that’s odd,” thought Raul, tiptoeing over and carefully extricating the stuffed bear from Max’s delirious embrace. The following night, Raul and Pablo weren’t even asleep yet—when Max, rolling back and forth in his dream while undulating like someone swimming underwater, began his singsongy chant again. Raul gripped Pablo tightly, but apparently needlessly. This time the blue teddy didn’t go anywhere—but the glass on Max’s dresser did. Half full of liquid, it started to agitate, sloshing water up its sides. As Max uttered incomprehensible sounds and writhed like some kind of large aquatic mammal, the glass lifted up by itself and came to hover, gently spinning, four feet above the floor in the middle of the room. Raul, who had a Catholic background and, despite his materialistic façade, very much believed in things like demonic possession, couldn’t help but cry out in alarm, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Max suddenly grew still and fell silent, though he didn’t wake up, even when the glass stopped spinning and crashed to the floor, splashing water and glass in all directions. “Stick close to me, Pablo,” Raul whispered, perfectly terrified. “I’ll protect you.” The next morning, while sweeping the room around Max (who, though awake now, continued to lie lifeless on his bed like a slowly 156


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decomposing body), Raul plucked up the courage to ask his roommate about the previous couple of nights. “I say there, old chap,” he began, clearing his throat and leaning on his broom in an awkward attempt at appearing natural while broaching an altogether unnatural subject. “I don’t suppose you have any memory of what you were dreaming about the past two nights?” “Dreaming? I wasn’t dreaming. I don’t even think I slept. I haven’t been sleeping much.” “Well, that’s true. Except for the last two nights—when you did sleep, and you did dream.” “Don’t tell me I said or did anything embarrassing. I don’t think I could deal with any more shame right now.” “No, nothing like that. You were … singing.” “Singing?” “Chanting, sort of.” “What was I saying?” “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” “I’m the one trying to ask a question here, Max.” “Sorry.” “Anyway, as I was saying, you were speaking in some strange language with lots of clicks.” “You mean like some kind of African dialect?” “Not exactly. More like … more like whale or dolphin speech. Do you have any memory of that?” “None.” Raul seemed to hover with his broom—wanting, needing but not knowing how to say more. Max finally asked, “Was there something else?” “Yes, now that you mention it. You were … moving objects.” “I was sleepwalking?” “No. You were still. It was the objects that were moving.” “What kind of objects?” “Well, on the first night, it was Pablo. He somehow ended up in bed with you. Promiscuous little fellow.” “What happened?” “Oh, I gave him a strong tongue-lashing.” “I mean, how did he get in bed with me?” “Precisely the question I asked myself! Pablo can be very stubborn. He was completely mum on the subject. So I bided my time. And the following evening, you answered my question yourself.” “I did?” “Yes. Most emphatically.”

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Raul started sweeping again, first under Max’s desk. “You know,” he remarked, “your side of the room is rather like a train wreck at the moment.” “Turnabout’s fair play.” “Touché.” “So how did I answer your question?” “Quite simply. You levitated your glass. That’s why there are glass shards everywhere—and also why I’m sweeping.” “Because I … levitated my glass?” “And then dropped it like a bomb on the tile floor. I admit I played a small role when I interrupted your chanting.” “And this has to do with Pablo how?” “I assume you levitated him as well. It’s called telekinesis.” “I know what telekinesis is.” “If you don’t mind my asking, Max, is there any history in your family of demonic possession?” “Wait a minute. You’re serious, aren’t you? About me levitating things?” “As a heart attack.” “I don’t believe you. I won’t believe you.” “Why on earth not?” “We’re freshmen at an Ivy League university, Raul. We’re supposed to be getting a higher education. People in our shoes don’t go around levitating things!” “Well, if it makes you feel better to maintain your illusion of normalcy, go right ahead.” “Thank you. I am normal.” “As you wish. Good God, this is absolutely disgusting, Max! Don’t you have any sense of decency?” Cleaning up glass shards from under Max’s bed, Raul had swept out a giant dust bunny—in the middle of which, like a desiccated insect trapped in a spider web, was Max’s caul, carelessly discarded in the depths of his depression. Raul disentangled it from its gnarly filaments and held it up between his thumb and forefinger with the nauseated look of someone holding a dead rat by the tip of the tail. “I assume you wish to keep this excrescence?” he asked. “A family heirloom and all that.” “Sure. Why not.” “What would you like me to do with it?” “Just set it on my desk.” “Where you can lose it again?” “Sure. Why not.”

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Raul stashed the caul in a secure place inside Max’s top desk drawer. “Done.” “Thanks.” “Don’t mention it. Just one more thing, Max.” “Yes?” “Please don’t go levitating me. I have a terrible fear of heights. And despite what you might think, I do need my beauty sleep.”

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valon House, like other dormitories at Maroon University, had a public lobby on the ground floor, while access was only granted to the students’ rooms above via electronic cardkey. Raul was confident, examining the slot in the security door, that he could hack its amateurish code in a matter of minutes. He even was in possession of highly sophisticated equipment for doing just that—not on his actual, GQ-clad person, sleepily reclining in a loveseat by the window staring out at the upcurling mist on this chilly, late October morning, but stashed in his closet. But why go to all that trouble, and risk getting expelled, and possibly even prosecuted, when all one had to do was simply wait for Tuesday to appear? Nine o’clock was dreadfully early for Raul, who was anything but an early riser. There was a compelling reason for him to have dragged his sleep-deprived self out of bed into the brisk exile of the morning, performed his time-consuming toilette, and hoofed it across campus to sit twiddling his thumbs. That reason was Max. Far from having overcome his depression, or his terribly upsetting paranormal displays in the dead of night, he had actually sunk a good bit deeper in both arenas. The straw that broke the camel’s back came just last night—when Raul and Pablo were startled awake by clicking and chanting, yet again, only to witness Max himself floating a foot and a half above his bed. His blankets

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were still draped over him. He looked rather like a human tent, with his own suspended body serving as the central pole. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing, Pablo?” Raul asked, clutching the teddy bear, whose eyes were also wide with fright, for dear life. Realizing he couldn’t in good conscience allow this kind of thing to continue without seeking help, Raul considered his options. Confronting Max was out of the question. How does one go about confronting a person who appears to have no memory of what he’s doing? Ratting on Max to a student counselor or, worse, a university psychologist was even less acceptable. That would be like feeding Max to the wolves. Hadn’t the poor boy experienced enough trauma for one life already? That left only one option, really: Tuesday. An intimidating strategy, no doubt about it, fraught with tremendous potential for judgment, ridicule, and outright rejection. But what else could Raul do? Tuesday represented a living link, the only one Raul could access, to Max’s past. Possibly, she held the key to helping him overcome whatever demons he was battling—on his own terms and in his own way. Then, perhaps, Raul could finally get some sleep again. But he almost let her slip past him. In the middle of his reverie, she had exited the security door, traversed the lobby, and was nearly out the front door, before he spotted her—or rather, her blonde hair coiling down marvelously over her backpack nearly to the level of her baggy jeans. “I say, Tuesday!” he called, popping up and trotting after her. “Raul? What on earth are you doing here?” she asked with the door ajar, her attractive face configured to just this side of a grimace. “You’re looking quite smashing this morning,” Raul commented, unable to resist. “Please don’t tell me you came here at this hour to hit on me.” “Actually, that wasn’t my primary intention. Do forgive me.” “So why are you here?” “Max. I’m here because of Max. Look, I know you and I have our differences.” “You and I don’t have anything, Raul.” “Sadly true. And I also know the two of you experienced some kind of falling out—” “Did he say something to you?” “No. That’s not like him. I just … picked up on it.” “Fair enough. Look, Raul, in case you didn’t notice, I’m in a hurry to get to class. And I still don’t understand why you’re doing this?” “Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.” 162


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“Care to translate?” “It’s a Latin proverb. I learned it at boarding school. It means, ‘Thus, silence gives consent; he ought to have spoken when he was able.’” Tuesday reassessed Raul bedecked in an obviously premeditated ensemble of Italian loafers, designer jeans, gray long sleeves, black leather jacket, and Ray-Bans. His couture was like camouflage designed to distract all but the most penetrating gaze. She seemed to see right past it into his heart of hearts and know that his outside and inside didn’t match. “I’m impressed,” she said. “But still in the dark.” “Max needs you, Tuesday.” “Uh, I’d say I’m exactly the opposite of what Max needs. He made that painfully clear.” This she said as she continued out the door and began walking at a fast clip across campus, forcing Raul to keep up with her long strides. “I’m not saying he knows he needs you. I’m just saying he does.” “Please feel free to elaborate.” “With pleasure. It all started with this bloody bowl of oatmeal—” “Oatmeal?” “A Proustian thing. Like Marcel’s madeleine. He ate it, it made him remember his father tenderly, and then he completely fell apart.” “Ah. The fourth stage of grief.” “Exactly. Depression. Very bad. Saudade, really.” “Saudade?” “Sorry. It’s a Portuguese word for intense, crippling heartache. If I know nothing else, I know saudade when I see it.” “You speak Portuguese?” “I’m bilingual. Trilingual really, if you count eight years of French. But that’s not what this is about. There’s more, Tuesday.” “More?” “Much more, I’m afraid. Not to put too fine a point on it … but I’m living the bloody Amityville Horror. The dormitory version.” Tuesday pulled up short on the sidewalk and asked excitedly, “Are you trying to say Max is finally dreaming again?” “Dreaming? Like bloody hell. I wish it were only dreaming. We— meaning you and I—need to perform an intervention, Tuesday.” “An intervention?” “Look, either your old friend needs to be institutionalized and given heavy doses of medication, which I don’t condone, or he needs to be … exorcized.” “His siddhis are starting to come out again, aren’t they?” “I wasn’t aware Max owned any cities.”

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“No, silly. Siddhis. S, i, d, d, h, i, s. A Sanskrit term for superhuman powers typically accessed by yogis or other enlightened beings.” “You read Sanskrit?” “A little.” “I should think a dead language would be rather boring, socially speaking. More to the point, Max seems anything but enlightened. And you said these powers are beginning to emerge … again?” “He started bringing back objects from his dreams when he was eleven, right around the time we first met. He brought back this bracelet and gave it to me.” “That’s a spiffy piece of jewelry.” “Thanks. Then one day at school, when this bully tried to pick on him, I witnessed Max’s astral body step out and beat the guy to a pulp. Snapped his collarbone like a twig.” “Ouch. And he looks so perfectly harmless. Hardly more dangerous than a puppy. Remind me never to offend Max in any way again.” “My mother, who’s a witch, and I theorized that Max was beginning to access the siddhis, which is sometimes done spontaneously. But then his father was lost and all delving on Max’s part into the supernatural went by the wayside.” “Your mother’s a witch?” “A Wiccan, yes.” “Where do you people come from? I mean, I go my whole life only hearing stories about such things—and now I half expect to meet a centaur at any moment. Is Max really levitating objects, including himself—or am I actually the one who needs to be institutionalized?” “Max is acquiring telekinesis, huh?” “Acquiring? I’d say it’s a fait accompli. And a royally frightful one, at that. But is it real—or merely the product of my admittedly stressed imagination?” “Oh, it’s real. You don’t know the half of it,” said Tuesday with a furtive glance at her bracelet. “I’m not sure I want to know the rest.” “Don’t you have class this morning, Raul?” “Me? Well, technically, yes. Why do you ask?” “I noticed you don’t have your backpack.” “Actually, now that you mention it, I don’t own a backpack. They’re such tacky things. Except for yours, of course.” “Of course. So how do you carry your books and notebooks?” “I don’t. Usually. As a general rule. I work from memory, you know.” “How’s that working out for you?” “Let’s just say if I had myself as a student, I’d fail me.” “How droll. Raul, you’re an acquired taste.” 164


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“I’ll take that as a compliment. So will you come to Max?” “What do I say to him?” “You’ll figure it out. You’re his best friend.” “I was his best friend.” “But you’ll come?” “I’ll be there this afternoon.” “Thank God. I owe you one. I’ll be loitering around to make sure you’re let in.”

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aving at last begun to realize that his dreams were generating bizarre effects, over which he apparently had little control, in the world around him, Max was beyond strung out. But it wasn’t just the real-world implications of his dreams that disturbed him. He could hardly close his eyes without his internal movie screen lighting up with a poignant scene from his childhood, a rerun of some previous dream, or even a fleeting vision of his father stranded on a tropical beach somewhere. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Max’s dreams now centered on his father. And each time he dreamed of him, he missed him more—to the point that everything else, from college to friendship, from other people to himself, seemed insignificant. Even under the best of circumstances, depression is a wily opponent, a shape-shifting adversary constantly seeking to knock out one’s potential for happiness while turning one’s world upside down. But in Max’s case, his depression was intensified by such a steady string of paranormal occurrences that he felt altogether overmatched— like a boxer foolishly punching above his weight. In short, absent intervention of one kind or another, Max was on the brink of losing it. “What are you looking at?” he asked Pablo that afternoon with irritation plainly audible in his voice, feeling the weight of the blue teddy’s gaze on him where he lay.

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Pablo, as was his wont, made no reply. Just then, there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?” yelled Max. “It’s me. Raul.” “Then come in, for God’s sake. It’s your room, too. Or have you misplaced your key?” Max heard his roommate take out his key and insert it in the door. The lock turned, the door opened, and there stood Raul, Ray-Bans in hand, peering into the dark room like an explorer encountering an unknown cave. “Max? Are you in there?” “I’m right here.” “I can’t see you—but I can most assuredly smell you. It’s like a bloody men’s locker room in here.” “I’m just trying to get back to nature.” “You, my friend, have succeeded.” “What are you doing?” “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m letting in a little light.” As Raul opened the shutters, the afternoon sunlight, shining at just the right angle, landed flush on Max’s face. He squinted behind his unkempt beard and recoiled with one hand in front of him like a vampire. “You remind me of Robert Redford as Jeremiah Johnson,” said Raul. “Only with a slightly gothic edge.” “Close those stupid shutters.” “I’m not closing anything, Snooze. You have a guest.” “I have … a guest?” At that moment, Tuesday, hair surrounding her in waves, appeared, silhouetted, in the bright doorway. “Who asked you to come here?” said Max. “That would be yours truly,” admitted Raul. “I figured I was the one who got you in this god-awful state by serving you that wretched bowl of oatmeal, so I should be the one to help get you out of it.” “Look at you, Max,” said Tuesday, shaking her head. “You don’t do anything halfway, do you?” “I warned you seeing him like this might come as quite a shock,” said Raul. “How long has it been since you showered?” asked Tuesday. “Too long,” quipped Raul. “I’m just getting to know myself better,” said Max. Tuesday managed a smile. “I’m afraid we’re all getting to know yourself better, Max.” “It’s time we all knew you a little bit less,” said Raul. “Raul did ask me to stop by today,” continued Tuesday. “But I was planning to come here on my own. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry, Max.” “Sorry? For what?” 168


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“For everything. For your mother. For your father. For not being there when you really needed me.” “But you were always there, Tuesday. You and your mother always had my back.” “That’s not what I meant. I’m sorry I didn’t confront you years ago when I first realized you were running away from yourself.” “I didn’t know how to stop running, Tuesday. Otherwise, I’d have stopped a long time ago. A lot of good it did me.” “I know. That’s why you needed my help. I’m ashamed I wasn’t brave enough to give it to you.” “Ashamed? You? Let’s not even talk about being ashamed.” “No, let’s do talk about being ashamed, Max. That’s the one thing we must talk about. Of all the things you’ve been carrying, guilt has been the biggest monkey on your back.” “Would anyone care for a spot of tea?” inquired Raul. “I’m going down to the kitchen and attempt to scrounge up some Earl Grey.” “Sure,” said Tuesday. “That would be nice.” “Cream and sugar?” “Just cream, thanks.” “My pleasure. I’m glad to be of service. In fact, I enjoy being used. How about you, Max?” “I’ll have a caipirinha.” “Ha, ha. The very last thing I’m giving you right now in your deranged frame of mind is alcohol.” “I’ll have Earl Grey, then.” “Cream and sugar?” “Why not.” “Coming right up.” When Raul had shut the door, Tuesday placed Max’s desk chair beside his bed and sat down. “So, you finally took the red pill,” she commented. “I guess I did. In a manner of speaking.” “And you’ve been wishing ever since you’d taken the blue one.” “Are you reading my mind?” “I don’t have to.” “Well, you could, you know. That bracelet you’re wearing is the real deal. I traveled back to where I found it.” “I picked up on that. I’m not sure why I wanted your confirmation, Max. I’ve known the truth all along. I suppose I just wanted to sense some kind of connection with you again.” “I can’t tell you how bad I feel, Tuesday. I’m so embarrassed. How could I just trash our friendship like that?” “It takes two to tango. Besides, I wouldn’t worry. I retrieved it from the garbage.” 169


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“Retrieved what?” “Our friendship. It’s right here.” Despite watering a little, Max’s eyes had adjusted to the bright light enough to be able to see his old friend grinning and tapping her heart with her braceleted hand. “You mean you don’t hate me?” “I admit I was pissed off. But I never hated you, Max.” “I just wanted the whole situation with my father to be like rain falling on me. You know, I might get a little wet—but it wouldn’t seep under my skin.” “I don’t think that’s how it works.” “Me neither. Now anyway. The more I tried to forget everything, the closer everything kept hitting to home.” “I know.” “I couldn’t keep from wondering, if I was so ‘gifted’ and had all these ‘abilities,’ why I couldn’t save my father. It wasn’t as if his disappearance wasn’t telegraphed. And I was there. Two of me were there, Tuesday.” “Did you ever consider maybe you weren’t supposed to save him?” “Yeah. But how depressing is that?” “That’s precisely what this is.” “Depression?” “Yep.” “I realize that. I read through the clinical symptoms in my Stedman’s. I’m the poster child for depression.” “Medical diagnosis is so unimaginative. I prefer to think you merely have saudade, Max,” interjected Raul, reappearing with and distributing three steaming mugs. “Cream for Tuesday. Cream and sugar for Max. And twice the cream and sugar for me.” “You prefer to think I have what?” asked Max. “Saudade.” “It’s a Portuguese term for intense, crippling heartache,” explained Tuesday. “Isn’t that the same as depression?” asked Max, who had sat up to drink his tea and was blowing across the surface to cool it. Raul, having pulled his chair alongside Tuesday’s, replied while sitting down, “Not at all. Depression is when things are meaningless. Saudade, on the other hand, is when things are too meaningful.” “Sounds like splitting hairs,” said Max. “Perhaps it is. Either way, one can become rather incapacitated.” “I just wanted to put it all behind me,” said Max. “All the tragedy. All the trauma. All the supernatural crap. Do you realize, Tuesday, I woke up at the crack of dawn for years—even when I didn’t have to—just to avoid REM sleep and the recurrence of lucid dreaming?” 170


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“But Max, don’t you think there must be some kind of reason for all this paranormal business?” she asked. “Yes, I do. Now, in any case.” “You do? Pray tell.” “I think I was destined to have these strange powers. I think I’m supposed to travel to where the blue Max lives. And I feel it has something to do with my dad.” “The blue Max? You mean the Hanged Man? You dreamed of him?” asked Tuesday. “Twice. Once before Dad was lost. I never got around to telling you. And then again not long ago. Only, this time, maybe it would be more accurate to say he dreamed of me.” “Who in bloody hell are the blue Max and the Hanged Man?” interrupted Raul. “Tell me everything,” insisted Tuesday. Max recounted all he could remember about his first encounter with the blue Max in the forest whirlpool. Then he summarized his recent dream of being found in the tomb above the Giant’s Causeway by the blue Max. “How very creepy,” commented Raul. “What exactly did he say to you the second time?” asked Tuesday. “He asked why I called him. And in exchange for helping me, he wanted my help.” “And he gave you something, right?” said Tuesday. “Yes. He gave me … my caul.” “And you brought it back?” “I brought it back.” “Where is it now?” “It’s right here,” said Raul, removing the caul from where he had placed it in Max’s desk drawer and handing it to Tuesday. “Perfectly ghastly, isn’t it?” “What else did he say to you, Max?” “He said we needed to talk. But not just yet. He said the caul could bring us together. He was born with it.” “And here I was thinking you were born with it,” said Raul. “He was born with it,” said Tuesday. “They were both born with it.” “Now, that’s just plain mind-bending.” “And very soon after you came back with the caul,” said Tuesday, “you started levitating objects, didn’t you, Max?” “Yeah. Almost immediately.” “I wonder what the connection is. I can feel it—but I’m having a hard time defining it.”

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“I think I know. It’s as if your caul is some kind of computer disk!” exclaimed Raul in an inspired insight. “A computer disk?” asked Max and Tuesday. “Well, not an actual computer disk. That would be ridiculous. But nevertheless, some kind of ‘floppy disk’ for uploading and downloading data between networks.” “Networks?” said Tuesday. “Yes, networks. Systems. Or in this case, worlds. Some scientists believe reality itself is merely a computer simulation. Even to me it seems rather obvious the blue Max isn’t from this world—and would need some way to share instructions for accessing his world with Max here in this simulation.” “Two reality simulations wouldn’t necessarily be mutually compatible?” asked Max, beginning to grasp the concept. “Of course not,” said Raul. “Why would they be? They’re just as likely to be mutually exclusive. Think Apple and Microsoft.” Max and Tuesday, their mental wheels spinning almost visibly, could only stare at Raul. Max couldn’t help but recall his father’s little speech on his twelfth birthday about Reciprocal Theory and the interfacing yet distinct worlds of space-time and time-space. “I mean, come on,” continued Raul. “Haven’t you ever wondered whether cauls really are capable of granting supernatural powers—and if so, how?” “I believe he’s right, Max,” said Tuesday. “Do you remember what the Hanged Man card says?” Max recited the text from memory: “‘The Hanged Man often asks for a sacrifice in exchange for his wisdom. Feelings of being stuck or trapped persist only as long as you cling to your usual perspective. If you are willing to give up some belief or attitude that no longer serves you, your reward will be well worth it. You will gain a deeper understanding of your life and, with this new perspective, old dilemmas and chronic problems can be resolved.’” “Exactly,” said Tuesday. “Don’t you see, Max? You just crossed an important threshold in that your perspective shifted, literally, to that of the blue Max.” “I did just shift my perspective, didn’t I?” “One hundred and eighty degrees. At least mentally. The universe is becoming almost too obvious in its choice of spiritual signposts.” “I wouldn’t go that far.” “Nor would I,” put in Raul. “Regardless, I believe you’re right, Max. This has something to do with your father.” “Does the Bradelring help you see that?” 172


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“Yes.” “Does it help you see anything else about him?” “No.” “Would someone mind telling me what the bleeping Bradelring is?” asked Raul. “Tuesday’s bracelet,” said Max. “It’s a magical bracelet from the fairy world.” “Well, I certainly know some fairies. But to the best of my knowledge, none of them is in possession of a magical bracelet. What does it do— help one dance better?” “It enhances the wearer’s psychic ability,” said Tuesday. “Psychic ability? Like ESP, reading people’s minds, that sort of thing?” “Precisely.” “Seriously, you two. Isn’t all this talk of dreams becoming real and abnormal abilities granted by enchanted objects just so much hocus pocus?” “You’ve witnessed Max hovering in mid-air, Raul, and you still feel the need to ask that question?” “Fair enough. So what am I thinking?” “Red.” “Too bad, that’s not what I was thinking.” “No. But it’s the answer to the question you were asking.” “Which was?” Tuesday responded in her patented fake British accent: “I wonder what color underwear she has on?” A wash of red stained Raul’s dark cheeks. “Oh,” he said. “How embarrassing.” “So you believe us now?” asked Max. “I believe you, believe me. It would take some doing to make this crazy stuff up.” “Now that that’s settled,” said Max, “where do we go from here?” “For starters, we get you cleaned up and your sheets washed,” said Tuesday. “Then we go to work helping you master your siddhis.” “That’s a Sanskrit word for paranormal skills usually reserved for yogis or other evolved beings,” explained Raul. “Thanks, I know what siddhis are,” said Max.

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’m here on Wikipedia,” said Raul, seated with Pablo on his bed reading from his iPhone, “and it says the primary siddhis include—I’m paraphrasing—making oneself tiny; growing infinitely large, or infinitely heavy; becoming weightless; manifesting one’s desires; being able to go anywhere … I don’t see a word about telekinesis.” “It probably falls under manifestation,” said Tuesday, who was in the process of stripping Max’s bed and changing his sheets. Just toweling off after his first shower in longer than he cared to count, Max could overhear their conversation through the slightly ajar bathroom door. “How I would love to become infinitely small,” said Raul. “I could be a spy in the house of love.” “Give me a break,” groaned Tuesday. Max wiped the steam off the mirror with the damp towel and stared at his pale, bearded face that really did resemble something out of a Renaissance painting. In principle, the beard didn’t look half bad—and he decided to keep it … for now. “Seriously, Tuesday,” said Raul. “Max is supposed to be able to just snap his fingers and do all these things?” “Certainly, not all at once, I’d imagine. And maybe not ever—at least not where mastery of all the siddhis is concerned. This type of thing takes time and dedication. Max has to learn to crawl before he can walk. Hand me that pillowcase, will you?” 175


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Hardly breaking stride in the conversation, Raul tossed her the spare pillowcase. Max heard the cloth softly whistle through the air. “Even though, apparently, our good man can already fly—in his dreams, at any rate?” “That’s just it. He only flies in his dreams. The siddhis are about doing the miraculous here in the waking world.” “Why don’t you just let Max use the Bradelring to get back on track, if it’s so bloody magical?” “I considered that. But I don’t think it would work.” “Why not?” “Because it was made for a woman and only operates properly for women. In fact, according to legend, it would seem the Bradelring’s full power can only be harnessed by a female of Irish descent.” “And you called me a sexist!” “You are, aren’t you?” “Tuesday, my dear, let’s not confuse sexist and sexy. There’s a difference, you know.” Despite still feeling rather gloomy, as he pulled on his jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, Max couldn’t help grinning (another act he hadn’t performed in ages) at Tuesday and Raul’s playfully absurd banter. “Tell me, are you still seeing that dreadfully boring history major?” asked Raul. “Skipper—or whatever his name was?” “Carter.” “Right. Like Jimmy.” “How did you know about us?” “Word gets around, Tuesday. This is the Ivy League, after all, a place crawling with the idle rich. No secrets are safe.” “Well, it wasn’t exactly a secret. And we just broke up anyway.” “Did you hear that, Pablo? Tuesday’s single again. Now’s your chance!” “Would you like to go out with me, Pablo?” asked Tuesday. Judging by his energy, Pablo seemed willing—though he was too shy to speak his mind. “So what was wrong with old Jimmy Carter? Were his teeth too large?” “He was … boring.” “Ah, yes, I should have known. Boredom has killed far more relationships than infidelity.” Max reentered the room as Tuesday, having finished making his bed, was just sitting back down. “How does it feel to be clean?” she asked. “I, for one, prefer to be dirty,” interjected Raul. “I feel … cleaner. Thanks. And thanks for making my bed. You didn’t have to do that. I was going to get around to it.” 176


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“And when would that have been?” wondered Raul. “You’re welcome,” said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t have done it for just anybody. But you can take care of your laundry yourself.” “I think I can handle that.” “And drop the facial salad, Max,” said Raul. “I realize you’re a solitary creature. But the beard makes you look frightfully monastic.” “I don’t know,” said Tuesday. “I kind of like it.” “So what do we do now?” asked Max, sitting on his freshly made bed and pulling on a pair of socks. “We return to basics,” said Tuesday, “and clean up your system— especially your pineal gland. Given your lifestyle, I’m sure it’s pretty calcified.” “What’s so bloody special about the pineal gland?” asked Raul. “Well,” said Tuesday, “it produces two important hormones: melatonin, which helps with sleep, and serotonin, which regulates conscious thought. But it may also make something called DMT, dimethyltryptamine, which generates hallucinogenic experiences and, according to some theories, may grant access to the spirit world.” “It says here,” said Raul, having googled “pineal gland” on his iPhone, “that Herophilis, a Greek anatomist, described this so-called master gland as ‘a sphincter which regulates the flow of thought.’ Curious word choice, that. You mean to tell me we’re putting so much time and energy into a sphincter?” “It’s not describing an actual muscle, Raul,” said Max. “‘Sphincter’ is just a metaphor.” “And all this time I believed you didn’t know a metaphor from a stethoscope,” said Tuesday. “I may prefer stethoscopes,” said Max, “but I know what a metaphor is. In this case, Herophilis’s poetic terminology indicates he believed the pineal acts as a valve between—in Reciprocal Theory terms—the material and cosmic realms of space-time and time-space.” “How I love poetry,” said Raul. “You do?” said Tuesday, surprised. “Naturally. ‘Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.’” “Carl Sandburg?” “Indeed.” “Are we going to discuss poetry or the pineal gland?” interrupted Max. “Sorry,” said Raul. “We have to get your pineal clean so it can do its job,” said Tuesday. “The best way to do this, that I know of, is through food.” “You mean I have to go on one of those awful health food diets?” moaned Max. 177


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“Yep.” “Why doesn’t he just see a doctor?” asked Raul. “A doctor?” laughed Tuesday. “What can a doctor do in a situation like this? As soon as Max mentioned what’s actually happening, he’d be diagnosed with a mental disorder.” “Good point.” “Besides, doctors don’t know the first thing about nutrition. They’re basically drug pushers for the pharmaceutical industry. And all those pills they dish out don’t do anything but poison you anyway. Sorry if I’m stepping on your toes, Max.” “It’s okay. There’s some food for thought in what you’re saying.” “Really, Tuesday, you should focus on learning to formulate a definite opinion,” said Raul. “I suppose I do have strong views. At least, they’re based on a lot of research combined with years of experience. The food pyramid, for example—which doctors study when they study diet at all—is a complete lie. Just turn it upside down and you’ll be closer to the truth.” “Like everything else,” said Max. “Don’t get me wrong,” said Raul. “I positively loathe doctors. Just consider the arrogance implicit in the doctor’s question, ‘Now, what seems to be the problem?’” “What should I be eating?” asked Max. “It’s not just what you eat,” said Tuesday. “It’s also what you don’t eat.” “So what don’t I eat?” “No processed or fast foods, Max. Ever. Organic foods only. No GMOs. No sodas. No seafood containing heavy metals. No fluoride. Which means switching your toothpaste probably and drinking only reverse-osmosis water, preferably in bottles free of BPA.” “GMOs. BPA. Our world is a carnival of confusing acronyms,” said Raul. “What’s next—no FUN?” “Very FUNny,” said Tuesday. “GMOs are genetically modified organisms. They’re found in a lot of foods these days—and they’re very, very bad for you. BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical in most plastics.” “Who would have thought it?” said Raul. “It’s as if we’re all just canaries in a coalmine.” “Sometimes it feels like that,” said Tuesday. “Fortunately, there are ways to cleanse and protect ourselves from environmental toxins.” “Here comes the FUN part,” said Max. “We need to get you on a strict protocol,” said Tuesday. “You can borrow my juicer. I recommend juicing beets, turmeric, ginger, garlic, kale and celery twice a day.” 178


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“How perfectly delicious,” said Raul. “It wouldn’t hurt you to try some yourself,” said Tuesday. “Me? Thanks, but no thanks.” “What else?” asked Max. “Your tone suggested you were just getting started.” “You need to limit your grains. Most grains contain phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption. That means no bread and no pasta.” “Which means no FOOD,” said Raul. “Root vegetables are fine,” continued Tuesday. “Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca.” “I love tapioca!” exclaimed Raul. “I practically grew up on it Brazil.” “Good,” said Tuesday. “You can show Max how to make tapioca pudding.” “Com prazer.” “We also need to get you drinking wheat grass juice and eating foods with high levels of vitamin K2.” “I thought K2 was the second highest mountain in the world,” said Raul. “Never heard of it,” said Max. “That doesn’t surprise me, Dr. Diver,” said Tuesday. “So what is K2 and what does it do?” “Oh, it’s just the single most important nutrient for lots of things, including decalcifying the pineal gland.” “Where do I get it?” “Butter and other dairy products made with milk from grass-fed animals, for starters. Gouda cheese is an excellent source.” “I hear it’s quite gouda for you,” said Raul. “Organ meats in general, and goose liver in particular, are high in K2,” continued Tuesday. “You’ll have to start shopping at a health food store. You know what that is, don’t you?” “Now, I could get serious about some goose liver pâté,” said Raul. “Ever try it, Max?” “Not that I can remember.” “I daresay you’d enjoy it. Think: stinky socks. But in a good way.” “Is that everything?” asked Max. “No, there’s one more thing,” said Tuesday. “Wear this at night.” Opening her backpack, which she had tucked under her chair, she fished out a small package wrapped in brown paper and handed it to Max. “Let me guess. It’s a hairnet!” said Raul. “Or perhaps a beard guard.” Inside the wrapping, Max discovered a blue silk sleeping mask covered with gold stars, moons and dolphins complete with an adjustable Velcro strap. “It’s to keep light out of your eyes and help your pineal gland come back online,” said Tuesday. 179


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“Thanks. It smells like lavender.” “That’s to calm your nerves.” “Me—nervous?” “A little warm milk or chamomile tea before bedtime wouldn’t be a bad idea either.” “You really think all this stuff can help me, Tuesday?” “I know it can. How much, though, is probably up to you.” “I was afraid you’d say something like that.” “Just remember, Max,” said Raul, “if you get frustrated with your progress. Scientifically speaking, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly— but it does.”

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ax blinked like a chick fresh out of its shell in the autumnal sunlight the next morning as he exited Chatterton House for the first time since falling ill on returning from Rockport. It had been two weeks, give or take, since he had attended class— though it felt more like two years. So much had changed in such a short time. And the funny thing was: he wasn’t even going to his own class. The previous evening, Tuesday—while in the dormitory kitchen teaching him how to use her juicer and serving him up a glass of fresh juice with a wedge of smoked gouda on the side—had insisted that Max drop in on her Hero’s Journey seminar and meet Professor Icarus. “Why would I want to meet that crackpot?” Max asked. “Now, now, Max. You’re one to talk. Mr. Lucid Dream.” “Sorry. Can’t you at least tell me why I should meet him?” “Call it a hunch.” “A hunch?” “Okay. A premonition. I believe he’s got some missing pieces for you.” “Is this the Bradelring or yourself talking?” “A little of both.” At bedtime, with Raul out and about, Max shared a quiet moment with Pablo while sipping a cup of chamomile tea. He wore his sleeping mask to bed and, to his surprise, slept deeply and peacefully until he woke up on his own, feeling genuinely refreshed, shortly before nine. There was just enough time to shower, get dressed, brush his teeth, pop in his contacts, boil some eggs, and make some fresh juice with 181


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Tuesday’s leftover vegetables. He ate the eggs with some more gouda while downing the juice—and then he was out the door into the bracing fall air. Sliding on his sunglasses, he looked more like an incognito rock star than a pre-med student, wearing a thick beard and Raul’s black leather jacket, which he had just asked to borrow from the humped form under the mound of covers on the other bed purporting to be his roommate. “Ahhhhhh,” said the form’s muffled voice in a manner that sounded somewhat painful. “I’ll take that as a yes?” said Max. “Ahhhhhhh,” the form repeated. Rather like Raul, Max found himself trekking across campus without so much as a backpack, feeling free and relieved to have left behind that unnecessary burden. He was, in effect, though not on purpose, in costume—and it was a good thing because today happened to be Halloween. This fact progressively dawned on him as he kept encountering students and university personnel decked out in Halloween regalia. On the final leg of his “journey” to Professor Icarus’s class in Olympia Hall, of all places, Max passed Shrek, a minotaur, Scooby-Doo, and a girl wearing clear plastic stuffed with multicolored balloons to resemble a giant bag of jellybeans. Max had no intention of sitting through the entire hour of the teno’clock seminar. Purposely arriving with only a few minutes to spare, he squeezed into an empty seat at the back of the packed lecture hall. A figure dressed as a Native American shaman—feathered headdress, face paint, beaded leather hides, and all—standing behind a lectern at the front of the auditorium, was concluding a point in a resonant and eloquent voice, “As Jung wisely observed, breakdown is essentially required for breakthrough, so as you can see, it becomes quite obvious, when we examine the archetypal trajectory of the Hero’s Journey, that, to paraphrase Rumi, we must work in the invisible every bit as hard as we do in the visible world if we wish to—as in the immortal title by the Doors— ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side).’” Max had a minor epiphany when he realized the curiously bedecked speaker citing a Swiss psychologist, a Persian poet and an American rock band in the same sentence was none other than Professor Icarus! The two hundred or so students in the hall listened in rapt silence as he concluded, “Although it may involve such things, the Hero’s Journey is ultimately not about strength of arms or courage under fire—it is, far more simply, about creating a circle, not only in space and time, but in consciousness as well. This is the Great Circle, the continuity of existence, the Ouroboros 182


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that swallows its own tail as it enacts the underlying unity of creation. Upon completing his or her journey, having faced his or her demons, the true hero sees separation for the illusion it is, and embraces the reality of a unified self inhabiting a unified cosmos. Thank you for listening today. And have a pleasant and safe Halloween!” Max had never been to a class at the end of which most of the students actually stood and gave the teacher an ovation—but that was precisely what happened when Professor Icarus finished his lecture. There was something like electricity in the air, different from anything Max had ever felt in the factual, monotone atmosphere of his science and math classes, as he searched the sea of costumes for Tuesday—only to recognize her as the Easter Bunny searching for him from the front row. He made his way to her against the stream of students starting to head for the exits. “I was afraid you wouldn’t show up,” she said, grinning with whiskers drawn around her mouth under pink rabbit ears. “Who are you supposed to be?” “Jim Morrison.” “How apropos. I can see the resemblance. Especially later in his career during his blues phase.” “So that’s Icarus over there?” Max nodded toward the lectern, where the professor-turned-shaman was assembling his notes and placing them in his briefcase. From this angle, Max could see he was wearing knee-high moccasins with beaded leather fringes. “Bingo, Ringo.” “Should I just … go up and talk to him?” “I’ll introduce you.” Tuesday, sensing her friend’s shyness, took his hand and led him over to the lectern. “Professor Icarus,” she said, “that was an inspired lecture.” “Did you really think so, Tuesday?” he replied. “Coming from my best student, that’s high praise.” Professor Icarus was taller than he looked from the audience, even accounting for the headdress. Max, who went six feet himself, guessed the professor was a good six inches taller. “I particularly enjoyed your prevailing meme of the heroic unification of consciousness,” said Tuesday. “That’s very kind of you. So who is this gentleman with you? Your boyfriend?” Tuesday self-consciously released Max’s hand as she replied, “Heavens no. This is my oldest and best friend. Allow me to introduce Max Diver.” “Pleased to meet you, sir,” said Max, shaking the professor’s long, bony hand.

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“Likewise,” said Professor Icarus, staring at Max thoughtfully with gray-green eyes that seemed unnaturally small and widely set under his enormous tulip bulb of a forehead. “Diver, did you say?” “Yes, sir.” “Are you a student here?” It was Max’s turn to feel self-conscious, given the fact he hadn’t been much of a student at all lately, as he replied, “Pre-med.” “I’m terribly sorry to hear that. Something tells me you’d make a crackerjack anthropologist. Where are you from, Max?” “Cape Carnival, Florida.” “Cape Carnival, did you say?” repeated the professor with surprise dawning on his ivory face. “My goodness gracious. I know who you are!” I know who you are. Inevitably, whenever Max heard this phrase in the past, it was followed by some variation of, You’re the famous astronaut Thomas Diver’s son! But this time was different. Chuckling to himself, Professor Icarus was shaking his oversized head. “I thought you looked extraordinarily familiar, even with your sunglasses and beard,” he said. “You’re Cynthia Holden’s kid, aren’t you?” “You knew my mother?” said Max, shocked. “Knew? I worshipped her! In a manner of speaking.” “Could you please explain?” “We were in graduate school together at Yale. Two inveterate troublemakers in the Anthropology Department. Oh, how they wanted to get rid of us both!” Beaming with validation, Tuesday glanced at Max as if to say, I told you he had some missing pieces. “You really knew my mother?” “I really did.” “What was she like?” “Your mother? Brilliant. Beautiful. Boisterous. I was … immensely saddened at what happened.” A painful, perhaps bittersweet memory seemed to show in the professor’s faraway expression. “I attended her funeral in Connecticut. Your father was there, of course. I felt even sorrier for him than I did for myself. How is Captain Diver these days?” “You mean you didn’t hear?” asked Max. “Hear what?” “He disappeared in his plane near Bermuda almost seven years ago.” “Oh, my. Where have I been—hiding under a rock? I feel like an idiot running my mouth like that. I’m so sorry, Max.” “It’s okay, Professor Icarus.” “Please, call me Andrew. I feel more like your uncle than a professor to you.” 184


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“Your name is Andrew?” asked Max, shocked again. “What of it?” “My middle name is Andrew.” “Oh, dear.” “You and my mother weren’t just friends, were you?” “Oh, my.” “Please don’t worry, Professor … Andrew. I just … would love to know more about her.” “Of course, you would. I’m happy, and honored, to answer any questions you might have. Would you like to come see me in my office tomorrow morning? Say, ten-thirty?” “Where’s your office?” “Mellon Hall. Room 203. Just look for the door covered in Tibetan prayer flags. You know what those are, don’t you?” “I’ve … seen one before.” “Excellent.” Professor Icarus extended his hand again. “It was delightful to meet you, Max.” Max shook his hand and replied, “Likewise.” “Thank you for introducing us, Tuesday.” “My pleasure.” “I’ll be off now,” said Professor Icarus. “I mean, some say I’m always a little off. But today I’m truly off. Goodbye!” “So you think that was just a coincidence?” asked Tuesday as she and Max watched Professor Icarus in his powwow gear exit the auditorium carrying his briefcase. “I don’t know if I believe in coincidence. Anymore.” “Fantastic, Max! That’s a great sign!” “A sign of what?” “A sign you’re beginning to see the universe for what it is: a gigantic web of connectivity.” “Listen to yourself, Tuesday,” joked Max. “You really are Professor Icarus’s best student, aren’t you?”

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alloween has come to be celebrated as a monumental costume party designed, it would seem, to satisfy society’s collective sweet tooth—but its origins are rather less mundane and more … paranormal. Originally known as All Hallows’ Eve, this day and night preceding the traditional Christian feast of All Saints is actually pagan to the core, as Tuesday could have attested, with roots possibly in the Celtic festival of Samhain—when the veil between worlds was thought to be especially thin. Perhaps this explains why so many pieces of the puzzle that was Max’s past, like so many rattling skeletons, chose Halloween to come spilling out of his life’s closet all in a jumble. Or maybe he was “guided” that morning to grab a copy of The Daily Scooner, having just made plans to get together later that evening with Tuesday and watched her faux-fur rabbit costume—complete with a wicker Easter basket full of plastic eggs—bounce across the Quad to her next class. Whatever the explanation, with thoughts still racing from Professor Icarus’s impromptu revelation about his mother, Max sat on the steps outside Olympia Hall and turned, for no obvious reason, to the Classifieds, where this ad immediately caught his eye: Psychic? Test and improve your skills in pilot program. Report to Lumina Hall, Suite 386, Monday-Friday during normal business hours. 187


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What were “normal” business hours? Max wondered as he suddenly and mysteriously found himself making a beeline across the Quad. If he wasn’t going to attend his own classes (which he had no real intention of doing), he needed, as Tuesday had reminded him, to stop by Bread and Circus for organic food and juicing supplies. But he had the rest of the day for that—and here he was already at Lumina Hall, home to the Psychology Department! A sign on a metal tripod next to the imposing double doors reiterated: PSYCHIC SCREENING IN SUITE 386. Max entered the unknown building and, preferring not to take the elevator (which tended to make him feel claustrophobic), quickly located the door that accessed the switchback staircase leading up to the third floor. At the top of the stairs, out of breath for lack of exercise (he hadn’t played tennis in weeks), he exited into an empty hallway stretching in both directions and—by chance or otherwise—guessed the right way to Suite 386. He could hear the squeak of his shoes on the marble floor as he approached the door, which was half open, and entered a waiting room with a handful of chairs (all empty) and a desk behind which sat a relatively young woman in a white doctor’s coat. Her thick blonde hair was pulled up in an elaborate bun and her eyes were a cold blue atop high cheekbones. In terms of appearance, she struck Max as vaguely Eastern European. “May I help you?” she asked in a perfectly unremarkable American accent. “Yeah. I’m here about the, uh, psychic ad.” “Your name?” “Max. Max Diver.” “Are you a student here?” That pesky question again. “Sure,” said Max. “Have you ever had your psychic ability evaluated before?” “Specifically? No. Not really.” “But you think you might have some innate ability?” “You could say that. I just … I just want to get a little more control over it, if you know what I mean.” “I think perhaps I do. You’ll need to fill out this questionnaire,” she said, sliding a clipboard with a pen to the edge of her desk. “I can do that,” said Max, taking the clipboard and selecting a chair. “There’s also a waiver underneath the questionnaire that must be signed.” “What am I waiving?” “Everything,” she said, smiling. “So is this … pilot program affiliated with the university?” 188


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“Not exactly.” “Not exactly?” “We’re government-sponsored.” “I see.” “If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m Dr. Ishtar.” “Ishtar?” “It’s an old family name. We trace our origins back to Sumeria.” “That’s a long way.” “Indeed.” Three pages in length, the questionnaire was straightforward enough: name, contact information, family background, childhood diseases, health issues, education, psychic history. Feeling reluctant to respond truthfully to the questions about the nature of his supernatural experiences, Max opted to make up “psychic” anecdotes in place of telling what actually happened when he dreamed. After signing the waiver and handing it back to Dr. Ishtar with the questionnaire, he was instructed to follow as she inserted a cardkey into the door behind her desk and entered a multi-digit code into an electronic keypad on the wall. Max could hear her gold fingernails tapping the touchscreen like talons. There was a click; the door seemed to open of its own accord; and Dr. Ishtar led him past several closed doors into a room featuring a large diagnostic apparatus Max thought he recognized. “Isn’t that some kind of brain scanner?” he asked. “Something like that.” “Come on, throw me a bone, Dr. Ishtar. I’m pre-med.” “All right. It’s a state-of-the-art hybrid device that provides CT scanning combined with diffuse optical and magnetic resonance imaging. It allows us to get a full-spectrum picture of your brain activity.” “Us?” “The Program Director and myself.” “Where is the Program Director?” “He’s … out of town at the moment. Here, please drink this.” “Are you going to drug me and remove one of my kidneys? Is that what all this is really about?” Dr. Isthar didn’t appear to find this joke funny. “I can assure you it will be far less painful than that,” she said, her demeanor expressionless. “This is a proprietary iodine solution designed to assist with imaging. It also contains a mild muscle relaxant to limit involuntary movement.” “Well, in that case,” said Max as he accepted the glass of liquid and drank it down in one gulp. Sure enough, it tasted terrible, mostly like iodine. 189


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“Do you need to visit the men’s room before we proceed?” asked Dr. Ishtar. “How long will this take?” “Half an hour at most.” “I’m good.” “Very well. Please take off your clothes.” “Take off … my clothes?” “And put on this gown.” She opened a cabinet and handed him a blue hospital outfit. “I’ll be just outside the door waiting.” Five minutes later, with Max self-consciously remarking the cool air circulating unimpeded under his thin gown, there was a knock on the door as Dr. Ishtar reentered the room. She instructed him to lie on his back on the extendable cot, feet toward the scanner. “Don’t you need to, like, shave my head or something?” he joked. “Thankfully, no. As I said, this device is state-of-the-art.” “Are there any risks associated with this procedure?” “Not any major ones.” “That’s comforting.” “You could feel slightly dizzy or experience a minor headache.” “Sleep disturbance?” “To the contrary. You may feel drowsy or even doze off. The effect is quite temporary. Are you ready to proceed?” “Ready as I’ll ever be.” As he was slowly pushed inside the machine’s imaging cavity, where he felt like a caterpillar in a metal cocoon, Max’s consciousness was flooded with images of himself as a young child being tested by Dr. Morrow at the Navy hospital. He remembered the brain scanner into which he was slid, the electronic bed he was placed in afterward for observation, the dozens of wires and matching electrodes, the beeping monitors—all with great clarity and in impressive detail. He recalled being dropped off earlier that day by his father, who assured him that everything would be okay while patting his little wrist with his manly hand and hugging him tightly to his broad chest smelling of Old Spice. And then, even as the state-of-the-art device began to flash and clickclick-click-click-click, Max unexpectedly plunged beneath sleep’s waves— spontaneously diving down, down, down with a bottlenose dolphin grinning at his side. As he touched the sandy bottom, there was a pulse of luminescence. The sand seemed to quake and part. Max found himself sitting on a beach in his hospital gown being washed by warm waves inside what he could

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only identify as a colossal soap bubble that extended below the horizon in all directions. There seemed to be a bright sun somewhere in the sky—but he couldn’t locate it. It occurred to him the light emanated from the translucent, shimmering bubble itself. He wasn’t alone. Seated beside him in the gentle surf, naked except for a loincloth made of huge red feathers, was the blue Max, his dark hair freshly wet from the sea nestled atop his muscular shoulders. “So, we meet again,” he said, smiling, as Max noted that the indigo of his twin’s skin wasn’t innate, but came from some kind of dye. The same also applied to the bindi marking his third eye. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” said Max. “Of course. I am, too.” “Where is this place?” “This is the Interface.” “The … Interface?” “The membrane between your world and mine. You might call it the subconscious. But that would only be an abstraction.” “Have I been here before?” “Yes. Many times. This is where we have always met.” “It looks different.” “It usually does.” “How did I get here this time?” “The dolphin brought you.” Max heard an unmistakable clicking, which sounded uncannily like the sound of the imaging device in which he had drifted off, and looked up to see the dolphin’s bright, toothy face swaying above the waves just offshore. “I’m really very confused by all this,” he admitted. “It is quite confusing—until you realize how utterly simple everything is.” “How exactly is everything simple?” “Everything is one.” “I see.” “Look, Max. We do not have a lot of space. Or as you would say in your world, we do not have much time. He is going silver even as we speak.” “Going silver?” “Being reabsorbed by the background energy. He cannot live in my reality. He is not … made for it.” “And I am?” “Yes, in fact. Now. You have received the caul.” “Caul or call?”

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“Both, I suppose. The point is, once he is completely silver, there will be nothing anyone can do to help him.” “Help who?” “Why, your father, of course.” Max felt something brush up against his leg with the tide and, as the foamy water receded, picked up a whole sand dollar freshly embedded in the sand. “Well, I’ll be,” he said, holding out the test for the blue Max to see. But the blue Max was gone—along with the beach, the ocean, the dolphin, and the soap bubble. In that instant, Max reopened his eyes inside the brain scanner. Everything had gone quiet and still. Shivering as Dr. Ishtar pulled him out of the device, he realized he was soaked with salt water! “How do you feel?” asked the doctor, gazing down at him dispassionately as if he were a lab rat. “Fine.” “You’re drenched. You must have sweated in there. Was it too hot?” “No.” “What’s that in your hand?” Sitting up, Max looked down to discover he was clutching a damp sand dollar. “Is that what I think it is?” asked Dr. Ishtar. “Yes. It’s a sand dollar. It’s … a lucky charm.” “How did you know what I was thinking?” “I … just … did.” “Remarkable. You are psychic, aren’t you, Max?” “I was under the impression that was for you to determine.” “How right you are.” “So do I contact you for my results?” “No. We’ll contact you if you meet our qualifications.” “Fair enough.” “You can get dressed now. I’ll be outside.” Max was just slipping on his shoes when there was a loud knock on the door. “Come in!” he yelled. The door opened and someone other than Dr. Ishtar entered. Tying his shoelaces awkwardly while still holding the test, Max felt the energetic shift in the room before he saw who was causing it. A chill ran down his spine as he looked up only to discover that the tall doctor in white holding a clipboard was Dr. Morrow! His hair was slightly gray now—and he was perhaps a little thinner than when Max last saw him nearly seven years ago when he was the bearer of tragic news. But he still wore wire-rimmed glasses over his owl eyes, which seemed to twinkle with secret delight in his angular face. 192


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“Maxwell Andrew Diver,” he said, smiling from ear to ear as he held up the clipboard on which Max could see several digital images of his brain’s activity. “Well, well, well. Miracles never cease. I knew it had to be you before I even saw your name. I could pick your beautiful brain out of a crowd.”

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ith a sensation like that of water swirling unstoppably down a drain, or Alice spinning down the rabbit hole, Max gasped, “Dr. Morrow?” “Max! How very good to see you again after all this time!” “Good to see you, too. I take it you’re … no longer with the Navy?” As Max slipped the sand dollar in his pocket with one hand, Dr. Morrow shook his other hand with a firm grip. “Well, you see, I was never really with the Navy, Max. I was contracted to do some … experimental work.” “Of course.” “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” “Sorry. It’s … Halloween.” Dr. Morrow laughed. “You always had a sense of humor, even as a little child.” The doctor’s slight European, probably French, accent came through as he pronounced little “leetle.” “How do you like my new setup?” “I’m impressed. It’s very high-tech.” “Very high-tech. Would you like to see my office?” “Why not.” Max followed as Dr. Morrow led him down the hall away from the reception room, stopping to punch a code into an electronic keypad beside a door—which opened following a series of low tones—labeled “Program Director.”

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“I take it you’re a student here,” he said as he sat down in the leather chair behind his desk. Placing Max’s file on top of the desk, he peered over his computer monitor and motioned for Max to have a seat as well. “Freshman year.” “Science major?” “Pre-med.” “Pre-med? That doesn’t surprise me. You come from extremely bright stock.” It was all Max could do to process this latest bizarre turn of events. Meeting Dr. Morrow again under such circumstances after all these years was enough of a jolt to his system. But then to find himself staring at a framed photograph on the wall of his father and the doctor standing in front of the Tempus Fugit at the Cape Carnival Jetport was positively a time warp. “You still play tennis, Max?” “Sorry?” “If memory serves me, you made it to the state quarterfinals last year.” “How did you—” “Oh, I tend to keep tabs on people like yourself who are so … gifted.” Like a replay of yesteryear, “gifted” echoed in Max’s reeling brain. Again he recalled his night of tests at the Navy hospital and overhearing Captain Diver’s conversation with Dr. Morrow, who first indelibly described him as gifted—a loaded term that ever after struck Max as two parts blessing and one part curse. “I assume you already knew I was a student here?” “Naturally.” “Then you probably also know I still play tennis sometimes. Just not competitively.” “Perhaps we could hit balls together one of these afternoons? You’ll have to promise to take it easy on me. I’m no spring chicken.” “I’d enjoy that. But I don’t imagine you asked me in here to chat about tennis?” Dr. Morrow shifted in his seat and stared with his owl eyes over the top wires of his glasses. “How very like your father you are.” “That’s a new one. I’m usually compared to my mother.” “I never knew her, I’m afraid, though I can see the resemblance. But you have your father’s no-nonsense demeanor,” observed the doctor with a glance up at the photo of himself beside Captain Diver. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” “You should. He was a pragmatist, your father.” “I remember that about him.” “I was afraid you might be an idealist, given your choice of university.” “I used to be.” 196


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“Idealism can be a necessary developmental stage. But in my line of work, there’s ultimately no place for it. I’m after results, not pie-in-thesky.” “Then we’re on the same page.” “Are we?” On a day when the odd had become the strange on its way to the bizarre and beyond, the enigmatic direction of this conversation seemed perfectly, if eerily, fitting. Max had a strong sense Dr. Morrow was feeling him out, testing the waters, before committing to a certain level of disclosure. Begging the question: disclosure of what? “What did you dream about inside the scanning device, Max?” “Dream?” “I know you dreamed. Your readings clearly indicate you experienced a lucid dream. A real whopper, by the look of it.” “I met myself on a beach.” “I see. A dream of self-reflection. What did you look like to yourself?” “I was … blue.” “Dead?” “Very much alive. Painted.” “And had you met this version of yourself before in previous dreams?” “Yes.” “How many times?” “Several.” “Did you speak to each other?” “Yes.” “Were you given any sort of message?” “Yes.” “Do you remember it now?” Max distinctly recalled the blue Max’s message about his father being in danger of reabsorption, whatever that meant. But for one reason or another, under Dr. Morrow’s focused scrutiny, he opted to keep this information to himself. “No.” “Not any of it?” “Not really.” “You would tell me if you remembered?” “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” “Indeed. I was wondering … By any chance, are you afraid of your power, Max?” “Afraid of my … power?” “Sorry to be so direct. But let’s not dance around this important subject.” 197


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“Okay.” “Because fear is the only thing that’s holding you back.” “Fear? Of what?” “Fear of yourself. Fear of what you can become. There’s absolutely no reason to fear power, Max. The only thing to fear is—” “Fear itself?” “I was going to say powerlessness.” “Why are you so sure I can access such power?” Dr. Morrow grinned like a poker player holding a winning hand. “Your brain tells me. Your gamma waves are completely off the charts— like nothing I’ve ever encountered. This indicates a state of being where the dreamer begins to physically bridge this reality with … another reality. You know what I’m talking about, Max, don’t you?” “I think I do.” “How long has this been happening to you?” “A long time.” “Since around the time I studied you as a boy, I presume?” “More or less.” “Have you brought back objects?” “A few.” “Ever levitated or experienced telekinesis?” “Maybe.” “Have you accessed the Interface?” “You mean the membrane between the waking and dream worlds?” “Precisely.” “Yes.” “Extraordinary. And have you ever gone beyond? I mean, have you actually entered the dream reality itself?” “No.” “Never?” “Well, maybe just the edge. When I was very young.” “Why haven’t you gone further?” “I’m not sure. I guess … it frightens me.” “What about it frightens you?” Max wanted to say, Everything. Instead, he asked, “If I go there, how do I know I’ll be able to come back?” “You don’t. But there are techniques to increase your chances of returning safely. I can teach you some of these methods—some of which I developed, others of which I merely enhanced.” “Are you ‘gifted,’ Dr. Morrow?” A look Max interpreted as frustration crossed the doctor’s pale, angular face. “Sadly, no. Unfortunately, my life has followed the old adage, Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” 198


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“So have you ever successfully taught others to do this?” “Successfully? That depends on your definition.” “Okay. Have you ever had any students return from the dream world?” “Yes. One.” “Just one?” “One was enough to prove it’s possible.” “What happened to this person?” “She left the program some years ago.” “In what kind of mental condition?” “She was still functional.” “Functional?” “Yes, I’d say … functional.” “Damaged goods?” “Slightly, perhaps.” “And you want me to take that risk?” “Not just for me, Max. For science. And I truly believe there’s very little risk, given your heightened brainwave patterns. How can I explain? It’s as if you … belong in the dream world.” “Well, that’s a relief. Because I certainly don’t feel like I belong here.” Dr. Morrow smiled again. “Will you at least consider my offer?” “I’m considering it right now.” “Excellent. Do you have any other questions before I let you go?” “Yeah. Just one.” “Ask away.” “Was my father one of your students who didn’t make it back?” Dr. Morrow scratched his chin thoughtfully as he seemed to reassess Max. If this last question had surprised him, he didn’t show it. “I can understand why you might think that,” he said finally, “in light of our conversation today.” “So was he?” “No. Tragically, your father was lost at sea and presumed dead.” “Is that what you believe?” “That’s what the Navy believes. That’s good enough for me. Do you have reason to believe otherwise?” “No. I was just asking.” “Fair enough. For what it’s worth, Max, I miss him, too.” “That’s kind of you.” “It’s not kindness. It’s selfishness. He was someone I could trust.” Dr. Morrow stood up and Max followed suit. The two shook hands again over the computer monitor. “Be sure to check with Dr. Ishtar on your way out,” said the doctor. “She has a program waiver for you to read and sign.” 199


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“Who said I’d made up my mind?” “You have, haven’t you?” “I guess that’s for me to know and you to find out.” “I won’t lie to you, Max. It’s thrilling to imagine what incredible work we could do together. With your brain and my expertise, we could make beautiful music.” “I don’t doubt it.” “It was a pleasure seeing you again. I hope you’ll give my regards to your Aunt Nadine. She was quite a tough old bird with me. I respect that.” “I will. Goodbye, Dr. Morrow.” “Talk to you soon, Max.”

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aving placed his food and juicing supplies from Bread and Circus in the Chatterton House kitchen’s refrigerator, Max approached his room distractedly, replaying the day’s gauntlet of intense events in his mind’s eye. In the span of a few short hours of Halloween, he had met his mother’s old boyfriend, after whom he was apparently named; allowed his brain to be scanned as part of a psychic “tryout”; met the blue Max in the Interface only to be told that his father—somewhere, somehow—was in danger; and in yet another blast from the past, been invited to study with Dr. Morrow, of all people, to harness the power of his dreams. But Halloween still wasn’t quite through with him. As Max stood before his door fumbling in his pocket for his room key, the past reached out once again with the sound of unfettered laughter like ringing bells coming from inside: Tuesday’s laughter. Of all the things that had happened that day, the unmistakable trill of Tuesday’s laughter was perhaps the most poignant—instantly taking Max back to his twelve-year-old self and the start of his uncommon friendship with a unique, round-faced girl wearing saucer-thick glasses. Max didn’t know why she was laughing, or even what she was doing in his room—but for a brief timeless time, transported by that familiar sound of happiness, he didn’t care. In that moment, he recognized, in no uncertain terms, that he had been away from himself far too long—for years, truth be known. With an

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unexpected glimpse of his own lost joy, he intuited that he was finally, slowly, starting to make his way back to his center. The laughter crested like a wave, washing over him, as he inserted his key, turned the knob, opened the door, and entered his room—only to find Tuesday still in her Easter Bunny costume seated on his bed clutching Pablo while giggling hysterically at an avian figure resembling a giant ostrich stomping on the opposite bed. “Raul?” Max said. The ostrich peered down at him with enormous painted eyes like dotted ping-pong balls and jerked its head like a massively overgrown chicken. “Isn’t he an absolute disaster?” cackled Tuesday, meaning the ostrich, as she doubled over again with spasms of laughter. “What exactly are you doing, Raul?” asked Max. “I’m dancing, mate. Isn’t it bloody obvious?” Raul said this while going into a full-blown “chicken dance,” flapping his feathered wings as his headdress bobbed and the multitude of beads on his elaborate costume sparkled and clicked. “I can see you’re doing something you consider dancing,” said Max. “But what’s with the outfit?” “It’s from Brazilian Carnaval,” said Tuesday. “Let’s go to Rio, Max. We must visit a place where the men dress up and dance this way.” “Where in the world did you get it?” asked Max. “Uh, Rio,” said Raul, sambaing down off the bed and shaking a leg for good measure. “You know, the place where I grew up.” “You grew up in lots of places.” “True. But Rio will always feel like home. Spiffy jacket, by the way.” “You like it?” “I love it. That’s why I bought it. Now give it back, you bearded thief.” Max set Dr. Morrow’s waiver on his desk, took off Raul’s leather jacket, and tossed it to him. “Thanks, Raul.” “Don’t mention it. And just so you know: that Jim Morrison circa 1970 look does not suit you.” “I beg to differ,” said Tuesday. “How was the rest of your day, Max? Did you go grocery shopping?” Taking the sand dollar from his dream, now completely dry, out of his pocket, he tossed it to Tuesday. “Yes, I went shopping.” “Where did you get this?” she asked, turning the sand dollar face-up in her hand. “I assume Bread and Circus doesn’t sell these?” “Guess.” With a glance at the Bradelring, Tuesday concentrated for a moment. Then, eyes widening, she exclaimed, “Dr. Morrow?!” “Dr. Morrow.” 202


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“Whoa. I never saw that one coming. You must tell me everything, Max.” “Would someone care to explain who the bleep Dr. Morrow is?” said Raul. “He’s Max’s old doctor,” said Tuesday. “Well, this might come as a surprise, Brer Rabbit, but I managed to figure out that much on my own.” “Have a seat, Raul,” said Max. “If you can sit without ruffling your feathers, that is. You might as well hear this, too.” Raul carefully installed himself on his bed while Max sat in his desk chair and began to share the story of his afternoon. When he finally finished, the three friends sat in silence for a moment, processing. “Max, I hope you won’t take this the wrong way,” said Raul at last. “But you’re what I can only describe as a strange attractor.” “I didn’t think you knew anything about science,” responded Max. “I know things about science. I just don’t trust science. Unless we’re talking computer science. Then I can see some integrity in it. Code doesn’t lie.” “What about you, Tuesday? What do you think?” “I think … it’s a lot to digest all at once. Do you really believe your father could still be alive?” “I don’t know. Maybe. Do you?” “Maybe. But how?” “Exactly. How?” “Simple,” said Raul. “That is, if he’s alive in the dream world.” “Okay,” said Max. “Just to go with that idea for a second. Why would the blue Max say he isn’t made for that world? Why would my father be in danger there?” “You’ve got me,” said Tuesday. “Me, too,” said Raul. “Why don’t you put these questions to Professor Icarus?” asked Tuesday. “If anybody might be able to answer them, it’s him.” “You read my mind. That’s exactly what I’m going do.” “So what’s with the waiver you mentioned?” asked Tuesday. “You said Dr. Morrow gave you one to sign?” “It’s right here,” said Max, handing her the paperwork. “I don’t believe in signing things,” said Raul. “Period.” “What about your credit card payments?” asked Max. “I prefer to use cash or bitcoin whenever possible.” “Bit what?” “Bitcoin. The cyber-anarchist’s crypto-currency.” “I’m not sure I understood a word you just said.”

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“That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Earth to Tuesday. Come in, Tuesday. Do you read?” “I could read, if you’d be quiet for half a second,” she said, scanning the third and final page of Dr. Morrow’s waiver. “Wait a minute. This is weird.” “What about this isn’t weird?” put in Raul. “No, I mean this waiver. Have you read it, Max?” “Not yet. What does it say?” “That by signing it, you give permission to be injected with an experimental microchip as part of the good doctor’s protocol.” “An experimental what?” asked Max. “See what I mean?” said Raul. “Weird, weird, weird.” “A microchip,” repeated Tuesday. “An experimental one, at that.” “What for?” asked Max. “It doesn’t say.” “I’ll tell you what for,” said Raul. “To mind-control your sorry ass.” “Or worse,” said Tuesday. “Come on,” said Max. “You guys can’t be serious. Does it really say that—or is this some kind of sick Halloween joke?” “Read it and weep,” said Tuesday, handing Max the waiver. “Line 33.” “I’ll be darned,” said Max, finding the line and shaking his head in near disbelief. “You think it’s talking about some kind of RFID chip?” “It clearly states ‘experimental,’” Tuesday reiterated. “RFID chips have been around for years.” “And even if it were an RFID chip,” said Raul, “do you really want to be tagged for easy geolocation like an animal in the wild?” “This truly is bizarre,” said Max. “My sentiments exactly,” said Raul. “What do you think, Tuesday?” “You want me to be frank?” she asked. “No, I want you to be Tuesday.” “Ha, ha.” “Seriously. I’d love to hear your opinion.” “All right. I don’t trust this program. And I don’t trust Dr. Morrow.” “Me neither,” said Raul. “Something just isn’t right. It smells like something you wouldn’t care to step in, if you know what I mean.” “But guys, don’t you realize that Dr. Morrow worked with my father?” “So? Look what happened to your father,” said Tuesday. “Are you saying Dr. Morrow might have had something to do with my father’s disappearance?” “I don’t know what I’m saying. But I know what I’m feeling.” “What are you feeling?”

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“Goosebumps. I don’t like anything about this situation, Max. The whole thing gives me the creeps.” “Hear, hear,” chimed in Raul. “Maybe you’re just feeling Halloween,” said Max. “Maybe,” Tuesday conceded. “Speaking of, it’s starting to get late. Raul and I were planning to head over to a big costume party at Sigma Chi.” “Sigma Chi?” “Free beer,” explained Raul. “Thank God. I was afraid you guys were going Greek.” “No, my friend. I’ll always be Brazilian.” “Care to join us?” asked Tuesday. “No thanks. I’ve … got a lot on my mind.” “I realize you do, Max. And I want you to know I’m here for you whenever you need me.” “I know. Though I don’t always show it, I really appreciate it.” “Just promise one thing, okay?” “Shoot.” “Promise you won’t commit to this program before we’ve had a chance to vet it more carefully.” “I promise.” “That’s a good lad,” said Raul. “We certainly don’t want to see you lobotomized before your time.” “Oh, and I almost forgot,” said Tuesday, reaching in her Easter basket, which she had stashed on the floor at the head of Max’s bed, and handing him a bar of organic chocolate. “Happy Halloween!” “You’re the best, Tuesday.” “I know. I just didn’t want you falling off the wagon and eating a bunch of toxic candy. Remember your pineal.” After Tuesday and Raul headed off to their party, Max took advantage of the virtually empty dorm—most of whose denizens were out celebrating—to make himself a ham and gouda on sourdough and a tall green juice and then dine, slowly and thoughtfully, seated alone at the kitchen table. When he had eaten Tuesday’s chocolate bar for dessert, he cleaned up after himself—then returned to his room to clean himself. After a relaxing hot shower, feeling slightly lonely, though not particularly sad any longer, he picked up Pablo where Tuesday had left the blue stuffed bear on his bed. Switching off the light, with Pablo in the crook of his arm, Max snuggled up under the covers, before falling into an exhausted slumber in which, thankfully, neither he nor his companion dreamed of anything.

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he next morning, having dressed and breakfasted on two boiled eggs, some celery stalks and a hunk of gouda, Max thought to place Pablo on top of Raul’s snoring outline, then instinctively slung his empty backpack over one shoulder and headed out the door as if on his way to class. In a more profound sense than he realized, he was about to attend class—though not one of his own and not one for which Maroon University (or any university, for that matter) would award credit. After Halloween’s visible excesses, everybody on campus looked more or less normal, if a bit lethargic. “Why don’t people dress up like angels on All Saints Day?” Max wondered as he located Mellon Hall, home to the Anthropology Department, and climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor. Room 203, Professor Icarus’s office, was impossible to mistake with its door completely covered in multicolored Tibetan prayer flags. Neither the room number nor the professor’s name could be glimpsed, yet there was no doubt Max was in the right place as he knocked loudly. “Enter at your own risk!” came the professor’s tenor, woodwindy voice from somewhere inside. Turning the doorknob, Max was instantly greeted by a distorted image of himself, wearing jeans and his Maroon University sweatshirt, about half his height and twice his width, reflected in a funhouse mirror attached to a bamboo partition. “Professor Icarus?” “Andrew. Back here, Max.” 207


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There was a smell of resinous incense mixed with that of strong coffee in the air as Max made his way around the partition, past ceiling-high bookshelves stacked with books, and into an enormous open room with tall ceilings and huge windows. He had expected—to the extent he expected anything—the typical professor’s office: small, cramped, messy, utilitarian. The contrast with this mental image, to say nothing of Dr. Morrow’s austere headquarters, could hardly have been greater. An anthropological museum and SoHo artist’s loft rolled into one, Professor Icarus’s “office” featured an eclectic collection: Zuni pottery, Hopi kachinas, Bolivian flutes, Guatemalan worry dolls, Peruvian beadwork, Brazilian berimbaus, samurai swords, aboriginal didgeridoos, African statuary, and Mesoamerican headdresses. Some of these exotic objects were in glass-topped cases; some sat haphazardly on shelves; still others were scattered about on the hardwood floor. In a patched leather armchair draped with a Navajo blanket beside a matching couch next to a colossal redwood desk, Professor Icarus— dressed normally today in a gray tweed coat and purple bowtie—sat sipping his morning coffee as smoke from a stick of incense burning on a wicker coffee table spiraled lazily in the bright light from the windows. “So, Max, you managed to locate me,” he said, smiling. “It wasn’t hard. I just followed the prayer flags.” Max couldn’t help looking around. “Some office you have here.” “Do you like it? Or is it perhaps too bohemian for your taste?” “I like it. It feels sort of like … a parallel universe.” “It does, doesn’t it? Of course, the Department would love to sanitize it and get rid of me in the process. But happily, they can’t fire me because I’m tenured. And my books sell—which is more than most of my colleagues can claim. May I offer you a cup of Turkish coffee? Experience has shown that frankincense combined with a powerful shot of caffeine always helps clear the cobwebs first thing in the morning.” “I’ve never tried Turkish coffee.” “Would you like to?” “That would be nice.” “Coming right up. Please, put down your backpack and make yourself at home.” Smiling again, Professor Icarus stood up (as before, Max was surprised at how tall he was) and wound his way through his sprawling anthropological collection over to a small kitchenette featuring a sink, stovetop, microwave, and refrigerator. As Max set down has pack and got comfortable on the couch, the professor proceeded to finely grind some beans in an electric grinder and 208


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prepare a long-stemmed pot (known as a cezve) of Turkish coffee by heating it over a gas burner. “Sugar, Max?” “No thanks.” “Good. Sugar’s nasty.” “So Tuesday loves to remind me.” “How about Sucanat?” “Suca what?” “Dried cane juice. It’s better for you than sugar.” “Sounds good.” Professor Icarus placed the steaming cezve, along with an espresso cup and saucer, on the wicker table and plopped back down in his armchair. “Speaking of, that Tuesday’s one smart cookie. How long have you two known each other?” “Seven years. Almost exactly.” “My sources tell me you’re a smart boy.” “Your sources?” “You know, the little campus birds with whom I sometimes communicate. It’s all very hush-hush.” Max poured the coffee from the cezve into the espresso cup and blew across the liquid’s steaming surface. “Careful,” said Professor Icarus. “It’s hot as blazes. I already sweetened it.” It was very hot—and just as robust—with a spicy, exotic undertone Max couldn’t quite place. “Cardamom,” offered the professor. “Cardamom. That’s it. This is really tasty.” “Glad you like it. I learned to make it in Istanbul.” “I take it you’ve traveled a little in your time?” “A little. You?” “Not much. Belize. The Cayman Islands. Quebec when I was too young to remember it.” “Not to worry, Max. I didn’t start traveling until my junior year abroad in France. And honestly, the world isn’t that big a place.” “What else did your sources say about me?” “You really want to know?” “If I didn’t before, I certainly do now.” “Well, they say you’re in serious danger of flunking out after your first semester. Somehow I find that difficult to conceptualize.” “Maybe you shouldn’t.” “So it’s true?” “Oh, it’s true.” “I’m confused, Max. You just got here with a stellar high school record. Are you finding the university’s academic standards too rigorous?” 209


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“It’s not that.” “Do you find higher learning itself somehow … distasteful?” “Distasteful?” “Or useless. Or meaningless. You wouldn’t be the first person to conclude that the last place to get an education is college.” “I wouldn’t?” “No. I’m afraid I beat you to it. The wide world is a far better teacher than the ivory tower.” Professor Icarus smiled once again—a broad, genuine smile beneath his wide-set eyes, which seemed to twinkle like tiny galaxies under the celestial dome of his eggplant-shaped head sporting thin wisps of hair that used to be blond. “Look, Max, I don’t mean to pry. In fact, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all if I didn’t feel some sense of obligation to offer my support with whatever’s going on with you.” “Because of my mother?” “Because of your mother.” “Did you love her?” “I loved her, all right. I loved her long after she broke my heart by marrying your father.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. You had nothing to do with it. So tell me, Max, what’s troubling you enough to keep you from attending class?” Max stared at Professor Icarus trying to decide whether he could trust him. He thought he could—but also thought it best to feel him out first. “Well, one thing that’s been … troubling me,” he said finally, “is that lately I’ve begun to question some of science’s central dogmas.” “Like what?” “Like materialism. Like medicine being purely a biological affair, consciousness existing only in the brain, the speed of light being unattainable, dreams not being real. That sort of thing.” “Have you now? And what, if I may ask, has led you to ask such unorthodox—dare I say heretical?—questions?” “Maybe I’m just my mother’s son.” “You are that, it’s plain enough. But am I wrong in intuiting there are other factors at work here?” Max took another sip of coffee and stared at the swirling incense smoke—only to realize the smoldering stick was affixed in and held aloft by, of all things, a sand dollar test! “Professor Icarus—” “Please. Call me Andrew.” “Sorry ... Andrew. It just feels sort of strange to call you that. By any chance … would you happen to have a picture of my mother?”

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“Funny you should ask. I have a picture of her on my desk. Would you like to see it?” “Please, if it’s not too much trouble.” “Not at all.” The professor reached over with his long arm and wiry fingers, retrieved a small picture frame from his desk, and handed it to Max. Under the protective glass, his mother, in her mid-twenties and dressed in a bright orange one-piece, was reclining on a beach towel with a mischievous grin beside a younger, lankier version of Professor Icarus in lime green swim trunks. “Where was this taken?” asked Max. “Misquamicut Beach. Not too far from Mystic, where your mother grew up.” “And where’s she’s buried.” “Yes, tragically. Your mother was so much more than just a pretty face, Max. She was both a personal and professional inspiration.” “Did you ever ask her to marry you?” queried Max, handing back the photograph. “Many times.” “And she refused?” “Many times. If I may speculate, I think she loved me—but she wasn’t in love with me. I believe she thought of me as the older brother she never had.” The professor wistfully examined the photo for a moment, then replaced it on his desk. “Did you ever get married … later?” asked Max. “Many times.” Professor Icarus grinned sheepishly. “It never worked out. I suppose I’m just a strange bird, Max. A rara avis.” “You’re preaching to the choir.” “I thought I might be.” “Tell me, what do you know about the psychic abilities of children born with the caul?” “Do I sense our conversation going deeper, Max?” “Maybe.” “I know the psychic abilities of such children are quite well documented, though they vary considerably from case to case. Why do you ask?” “Were you aware I was born with the caul?” “Were you, now? That’s news to me. I take it your questioning of scientific dogma may be rather more experiential than theoretical?” “How observant of you.” “A traveler needs to be observant. It’s always the subtle things, the little details that contain the most significance. I assume you’re interested in my perspective for … personal reasons?”

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“Let’s just say I have more than a passing interest in this subject matter.” “Do you have ESP?” “No, that’s Tuesday’s department. I, uh, have dreams.” “We all have dreams, Max.” “True. But my dreams are …” “Are?” “Real.” “Are you talking about lucid dreaming?” “I’m talking about a lot more than just lucid dreaming. I need to know what you know about dreams and the dream world.” “Why?” “Somebody I love may need me to know.” Professor Icarus sighed. “Listen, Max. I want to help you. I really and truly do. And I will, if I can. But my hands are tied if all we’re going to do is talk in circles.” “Fair enough. Then will you permit me to talk in a straight line?” “Permit you? I implore you.” “All right. But first, you must promise that what I’m going to share will remain strictly off the record. This is the kind of thing that could get me in a lot more hot water than missing a few classes. Get my drift?” “I get your drift.” “Where do I begin?” “Why don’t you begin at the beginning, Max?”

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rofessor Icarus listened, without interrupting, except to request the occasional clarification, frequently nodding along as Max recounted the full history of his paranormal experiences—starting with his earliest lucid dreams and continuing all the way up to his latest dream inside Dr. Morrow’s brain scanner. Never before had Max laid out his complete psychic story (not all in one go, at least) to anyone. The effect was cathartic, cleansing him emotionally from the inside out like a Greek tragedy exorcising his demons and clearing the way for a brighter day. He actually felt physically different—less heavy, more limber, and deeply relaxed to have finally gotten all that pent-up weirdness off his chest. The experience, which took the better part of an hour, was uncharted territory for Max. He had no idea what to expect from Professor Icarus, who was eyeing him keenly in the silence that followed Max’s surreal narrative. At last, without uttering a word, the professor stood and motioned for Max to follow him over to the far inside corner of the office beside the bamboo partition and funhouse mirror—where he proceeded to open what turned out to be a massive metal safe attached to the wall and floor. “What are you doing?” asked Max. “You’ve told me your secret. Now I’d like to show you mine.” “Is that a box of art supplies?” wondered Max as the professor pulled out a paint-spattered wooden case about three feet long by two feet wide. 213


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“Not exactly. The box is just camouflage. Let’s take this over to the light, shall we? I want you to see my baby.” Professor Icarus asked Max to clear off his desktop; then he set down the box and opened it like a sideways door. Inside was what Max could only identify as some kind of … scooter. But not any normal kind of scooter. For one thing, it had no wheels. “Isn’t she beautiful?” said the professor excitedly, beaming with pride. “Beautiful? I don’t even know what it is.” “That’s part of her beauty. She’s in disguise. Check this out.” Removing the scooter from the box and setting the wooden base on the floor, Professor Icarus unfolded and extended its metal handlebars to their full upright position and delicately mounted the platform. By squeezing a bicycle brake on one of the handlebars, he was able to open and close multiple layers of canvas partially covered in—Max realized with a mild shock—insect wings with intricate patterning that had been hidden beneath the base in stacked position … at which point the scooter resembled an elaborately gilded Japanese fan in the process of unfolding. “What do you think, Max?” “I think … I’ve never seen anything like it. But what is it?” “Ever heard of Viktor Grebennikov?” “I assume he was Russian?” “Correct. A very brilliant and misunderstood Russian scientist. He invented a device similar to this one.” “What for?” “Levitation.” “Levitation?” “And time travel.” “Are you serious?” “Quite. Grebennikov applied for a patent on the device, only to have it suppressed. He even wrote a book about it, with pictures of himself levitating, only to see his text heavily censored for reasons of ‘national security.’” “Why?” “You mean why do those in power do such despicably unscientific things? Why are so many scientific breakthroughs labeled ‘hoaxes,’ when everybody knows, or ought to, that the labelers are pathological liars?” “Yeah.” “So they can maintain their authority, of course. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is easily controlled.” “How does it work?” “Excellent question. The complex patterns in the chitin of the beetle wing casings appear to harness the flow of gravity for lift and even 214


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temporal displacement. Grebennikov claimed to have literally flown backward and forward in time on one of these.” “Does it really work?” “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” “I haven’t finished it yet. I’ve dedicated the better part of two decades to this project and have only been able to find enough scarabaeus specimens to cover roughly half the surface area of the canvas folds. Care to give it a try?” “But you said it isn’t functional.” “I mean just for fun. In the immortal words of Kurt Kuzba, ‘Anyone can pilot an improbability, but it takes a special touch to fly and land an absurdity.’” “Sure. Why not.” Professor Icarus stepped down off the platform and let Max have a go. The canvas folds with their patchwork of beetle casings easily collapsed and expanded like a frill-necked lizard in territorial display as Max braked and released. “I like to imagine I feel just a tad lighter when I do that,” commented the professor. “What do you think?” “I think … it would be really intense to just float up in the air on one of these.” “You of all people should know what that feels like, Max.” “Maybe. But I’m always asleep when that kind of thing happens.” “You must realize there’s no ontological difference between our world and the dream world? Both are equally real—or equally illusory, depending on your perspective.” “Space-time and time-space are mirror realities?” “You’re familiar with Dewey Larson’s work?” “My father mentioned it once.” “He must have learned about it from your mother. I know I did. She wrote a groundbreaking paper using Reciprocal Theory to explain the existence of cryptids—animals that supposedly don’t exist, like the Loch Ness Monster—as ‘interdimensional’ beings that live in time-space but occasionally visit space-time. This would explain why such creatures are so elusive. She never did find a publisher.” “Why not?” “When you seek a path to any new truth, said Albert Guérard, expect to find it blocked by ‘expert opinion.’ And the worst part is, I never received a copy myself.” “Would you like one?” “You have a copy?” “I have the original. I can make you a copy.” 215


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“This is a minor miracle, Max! I was just daydreaming about your mother’s theory last week while working on my new book. Have you read the article?” “No.” “You might find it … illuminating.” Max got down off the scooter and helped Professor Icarus fold and replace it in its box. When the professor had locked the contraption back in the safe, he joined Max again in the “living room” to continue their chat. “I take it you believe my story about my dreams?” said Max. “I absolutely believe it.” “Why?” “If nothing else, being an academic surrounded by such piles of BS all these years has taught me to discern truth from falsehood.” “And you showed me your scooter—which I found very interesting, by the way—why exactly?” “Care to venture a guess?” “So that … I’d know you’re familiar with the territory I’m attempting to navigate and listen to your advice?” “How observant of you. You must have some questions still, Max. I had my first, and only, out-of-body experience at sixteen—and I still have questions about it. Anyone attempting to penetrate the mysteries of the Undiscovered Country can’t pretend to grasp its intricacies fully.” “You’re right. I have several questions.” “Pick the most pressing one and ask away.” “Okay. I suppose the most important question is how am I able to do what I do?” “That’s where I’d start. Your ability certainly isn’t common. Any ideas?” “Well, my roommate, Raul—who’s admittedly a bit off his rocker— has this notion that my caul acted like a computer disk. He thinks that when it was given to me by my alter ego from the cosmic sector, it ‘downloaded’ (retroactively, as it were) his natural ability to operate in the dream world into me. That sounds pretty far out, doesn’t it?” “Far out, perhaps, but probably true. Scientists have discovered a way to store MP3 files in DNA. Why not an ‘operating manual’ for a world with different laws of physics that otherwise make it difficult, even impossible, for normal space-time humans to function? A caul is full of DNA that, technically, isn’t your own. And it’s attached in close proximity to your developing brain in perfect ‘downloading’ position.” Professor Icarus made this point while lighting another stick of frankincense and replacing the burnt-out stick with it in the ash-covered test’s “mouth.” “Next question,” he said, smiling kindly. 216


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“Okay,” said Max. “This is something I’ve often wondered. It’s a rather painful subject, but I need to bring it up. Do you think my mother’s death was in any way related to my caul?” “That is painful,” replied the professor, the smile disappearing from his lips. “But it’s a fair question. The answer, in my opinion, is no. But it’s probably accurate to say her death had something to do with your paranormal ability.” “How so?” “Among the depressingly few scientists willing to examine the evidence for the paranormal and supernatural scientifically, there’s a growing consensus that at the moment of an embryo’s conception, a ZCR, or zero chronology reference, is created.” “A zero chronology reference?” “Yes. The ZCR is what marries together space-time and time-space and energetically modulates the reciprocal relationship between the material and cosmic sectors.” “You said the ZCR was created at conception. But what about the moment of my birth when she died?” “It’s possible her death widened the connection between space-time and time-space and made it easier for you to do what you do.” “You mean it blasted a hole not just in my life—but in whatever separates this reality from the dream world?” “Precisely. A hole specific to you which you’ve used, albeit unknowingly, to gain access to the interdimensional realm.” “You’re talking about the Interface between worlds, aren’t you?” “Yes. Think about it this way, Max. There aren’t just two worlds. There are actually three: this reality, which from a psychological point of view is consciousness; the dream reality, which is the unconscious; and the inbetween, otherwise known as the subconscious.” “I get all that.” “Good. You yourself inhabit the material world. Your alter ego lives in the dream world. And a Dreambody belonging to both of you, in a nonlinear sense, exists in the Interface and can be utilized by both of you when traveling out of body.” “When astral projecting, in other words?” “You may have begun by astral projecting. But trust me, you’re a long way from that now.” “Please elaborate.” “It’s true many of the same rules that apply to traveling in the dream world also apply to astral projecting.” “Like the rule of opposites?”

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“If you wish to call it that. When we’re out of body, whether in dreams or otherwise, down is up, up is down, outer space is inner space, and that sort of thing.” “But astral projecting and actually traveling in the dream world aren’t the same?” “Not at all. Astral projection, where awareness stays embedded in the material realm, doesn’t access the cosmic domain. Pushing out of body in this manner merely allows you to nose about in space-time by proxy. Remote viewing comes to mind. Still with me, Max?” “I’m with you.” “Glad to hear it. These ideas have become hopelessly muddled in popular literature and can be extremely confusing for the novice.” “I’m not exactly a novice.” “True. Now, if you wish to journey into time-space, or perform concrete acts here in space-time, while dreaming, you must initiate a ‘physical projection’ via the Dreambody from the Interface. Think of the Dreambody as a two-way interdimensional vehicle that allows your consciousness to operate physically in both space and time.” “So when I bring back objects, I’m using my Dreambody?” “Yes.” “And when I fought Doug Biggins, that was also my Dreambody?” “Indeed.” “And the same goes for telekinesis and levitation?” “The same.” Max thought for a moment, letting this new information sink in while watching the incense smoke spiral in a tight vortex toward the pressed-tin ceiling. “So if I understand correctly,” he said finally, “the blue Max uses the same Dreambody.” “He most certainly does.” “But if we were both using the same Dreambody, how were we able to meet each other in the Interface?” “Elementary, my dear Watson. You are each other.” “Everything is one?” “Precisely. The shortest distance between two points is to bring them together so there is only one point. According to Larson, human beings are a ‘life unit,’ a viable amalgam of more or less tangible matter and etheric antimatter. What the average person can see is a fraction of our totality. We are both a body here in space and a spirit, or soul, there in time. Next question.” “This is really mind-blowing information. But are you sure I’m not boring you with my questions?” “Boring me? Max, this is the stuff I live for!” “And you don’t have to teach a class or anything?” 218


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“I am teaching a class. Of one,” said the professor with a wink. “Fair enough. My next question is about my father. Would it be accurate to say that if, somehow, he’s still alive in time-space, he probably wouldn’t be able to function very well there?” “That would be my guess. It’s likely his circuits simply aren’t made for a world that is in every way imaginable the inverse of this one. The experience of landing in the cosmic sector, for the typical material being, would be like that of a fish taken out of water and thrown upon sand.” “Meaning he could be in real danger?” Professor Icarus leaned forward to emphasize his point. “Max, I won’t lie to you. I was very upset with your father when he married your mother. But I certainly never wished him any harm. If—and this is a big if—he has somehow become stuck in time-space, he could be in grave danger.” “Because everything, to his way of seeing, would be reversed?” “Everything. Completely inside out. Including, most importantly, space and time. As difficult as it may be to visualize, time there is space, and space is time.” “Is this why Grebennikov’s scooter didn’t just fly physical distances, but simultaneously traveled in time—because moving in ‘space’ there equates to traveling in time here?” “Exactly. Our duration is distance in the cosmic realm, and vice versa. How quickly you’ve grasped a most challenging concept. You really are your mother’s son!” “But apparently, Grebennikov was able to come and go easily between space-time and time-space.” “Some people do. Others aren’t so lucky. Consider the fairy stories where ordinary people are lured into the ‘Otherworld.’ The Otherworld appears to be time-space, where traveling even short distances can produce disproportionate temporal effects in space-time. There are dozens of accounts of individuals stumbling into the fairy world by one path and exiting by another—only to bewilder their aging friends who had gone on living for years in what felt like merely minutes or hours to the disoriented time traveler. Any more questions?” “Just one more. It’s a two-part question, actually.” “Be my guest.” “You said you’ve spent years searching for scarabaeus specimens for your scooter?” “That’s correct.” “You’re talking about a type of scarab, right?” “Yes.” “By any chance, did you ever give my mother a scarab hairpin?” “You know it?” 219


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“I’ve seen it.” “I gave it to her for her twenty-sixth birthday—not long after the photo on my desk was snapped. She was just finishing her doctoral thesis.” The professor seemed to peer back in time with his wide-set eyes. “Besides being a fascination of mine, given my work on Grebennikov’s scooter, the scarab represented rebirth in ancient Egypt. What better way to celebrate a brand-new phase in the life of a loved one?” “Indeed.” “I assume you know the famous story of Carl Jung and the scarab?” “I know my mother liked Jung.” “We both did. One of Dr. Jung’s patients was telling him about her dream of a scarab when he heard a tapping against the window. As soon as he opened the window, a rose chafer beetle (the kind most closely resembling a scarab in Switzerland) buzzed in. This was an aha moment in the development of his theory of synchronicity—a phenomenon that proves the cosmos isn’t meaningless but full of messages. It’s teeming with vital connections, not some lifeless mechanism as many so-called intellectuals would have us believe.” “I believe in synchronicity. It’s what led me to you.” “Synchronicity demonstrates the reciprocal nature of reality, Max. The cosmic sector is always impacting and informing the material sector, and vice versa, whether we realize it or not. Just the other day, having not so much as thought of it in years, I was wishing I’d made a copy of your mother’s article—and here you suddenly show up saying you can provide me with one.” “I can. And I will.” “I really appreciate that. What can I do for you in return?” “You’ve done quite enough already.” “I’ll tell you what. You can borrow Dewey Larson’s books. They’re out of print, believe it or not, but I have several copies.” Like a homing pigeon, Professor Icarus popped up and zeroed in on a specific shelf behind his desk. Quickly locating what he sought, he returned to Max with three books: The Structure of the Physical Universe, The Universe of Motion, and Beyond Space and Time. “Take these,” he insisted. “Keep them as long as you like. I’ll wager they’ll occupy even your sharp mind for a while.” After stashing the books in his backpack, Max stood up and shook the professor’s bony hand. “I really appreciate your time, Professor Icarus.” “Andrew. And I really appreciate your time as well. I haven’t had a conversation this stimulating in years. Just do me a favor, Max. Two favors, actually.” “Sure. Anything.” 220


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“Try to pull yourself together enough to keep from flunking out. I’d like to think I have another several years to enjoy your presence on campus.” “I’ll give it my best shot. What else?” “If you do enter the Otherworld in search of your father, be prepared for anything. Anything. And make sure you drop a lifeline of breadcrumbs as you travel through time so you can find your way back to us again in the here and now.”

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pon reemerging from Mellon Hall into the angled sunlight of All Saints Day afternoon, Max felt as if he had just spent four years in the Otherworld of Professor Icarus’s office during which he had completed his real college education. The feeling was similar to one he recalled from his boyhood, in the aftermath of his fight with Doug Biggins, when Tuesday led him to her home and he first met Maizy, who opened his young eyes to a variety of things. How many times must one feel one has learned everything, Max wondered, only to find out later one has hardly learned anything? He had another familiar feeling: hunger. Hollow from so much brain work in so short a time on so little food, he headed straight to Bayer Street—where he promptly fell of the wagon as he wolfed down a bacon cheeseburger and fries at Gaiters Café. He did, however, order a Perrier instead of a soda. When he finally returned to Chatterton House, belly full and head still spinning from his meeting with Professor Icarus, it was probably around four o’clock. But that was just a guess (Max had forgotten to wear his watch) based on the low position of the sun in a sky growing cloudy as the early autumn evening approached. Raul was nowhere to be found, but Pablo greeted Max with a welcoming expression when he entered his room and switched on the overhead light.

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“Good to see you, too,” said Max. “Unfortunately, I don’t have time to chat right now.” Pablo seemed to understand as Max cast off his backpack, opened his closet, and dragged out his mother’s old Seward chest stuffed with his past he had brought with him from Florida. Sitting beside it on the floor and opening the lock (whose combination, being the last six digits of his childhood phone number, was indelibly printed in his memory), he soon located his mother’s age-stained essay which Professor Icarus had said might prove “illuminating.” On the title page, under “Cryptids Explained: A Novel Interdimensional Theory,” the author was listed as Cynthia L. Holden, Ph.D., the “L” standing for Louise, which was also Max’s grandmother’s name. Though no date was listed, the article clearly predated her marriage, after which, as a tenure-track anthropology professor at the University of South Florida, she published under the name Cynthia Holden-Diver. The article was only thirty double-spaced pages—but it was positively overflowing with aha moments and took Max, seated with Pablo on his bed, the better part of three hours to take in fully. Starting with a brief introduction to Reciprocal Theory and the idea that our reality, space-time, exists in inverse relationship with another reality, time-space, the essay went on to outline the work of a Scottish scientist named Ivan Sanderson, who wrote a famous article called “The Twelve Devil’s Graveyards around the World.” This article examined a dozen different areas on the earth’s surface, all laid out in a geometric pattern, where unexplained phenomena—including spinning compasses, electrical malfunctions, time anomalies, and disappearances—had been routinely documented throughout recorded history. Theorized to be “vortex points” where the planet’s crystalline structure created perforations, or wormholes, between the material and cosmic sectors, these areas went by imposing names such as the Dragon’s Triangle, the Devil’s Sea, and the Bermuda Triangle. A shiver of recognition traveled Max’s spine at the mention of the Bermuda Triangle. Naturally, being from Florida and having read many books on the paranormal as a kid, he had heard of the Bermuda Triangle. Like most people, though, he assumed there was nothing particularly supernatural to the stories of planes and ships disappearing in this legendary expanse of ocean flanked by the islands of Bermuda, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. But Max’s mother painted a very different picture. In the second half of the 20th century alone, nearly one hundred boats, two hundred planes

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and two thousand people had gone missing in the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen or heard from again. These astonishing numbers represented only the most bizarre cases— for which no ordinary explanations were ever offered, and which amounted to a mind-boggling statistical improbability given the relatively small “triangle” in question. While it was never framed in such terms in the official Navy statement or subsequent press reports, the truth was immediately obvious—glaringly so—to Max: his father had mysteriously disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle! Logically, this had to be the case. Captain Diver’s “classified” missions in the Tempus Fugit inevitably, like clockwork, centered on this region. But more than this, Max knew it in his heart. He vividly recalled his dream shortly before his twelfth birthday in which his father, followed by his eighteen-year-old self, vanished into a stormy vortex smack in the middle of … the Bermuda Triangle. Once again, Max visualized pounding with his fists on the Skyhawk’s cockpit in an attempt to warn his father, who though adjusting his haywire instruments and speaking into a dead radio, didn’t seem particularly alarmed. To the contrary, the look on his face was perfectly calm, even resolute. It was almost as if Captain Diver was trying, had been trying, to find just such an access point into the cosmic sector. But if so, why? A team of Russian scientists, according to the article by Max’s mother, had discovered a “planetary grid” centered on the twelve Devil’s Graveyards originally identified by Sanderson. The grid lines—known as “ley lines” in Europe, “aka threads” in Polynesia, and “songlines” in Australia—were theorized to form a network of subtle energy (which could be tapped into for various purposes) along which animals migrated, unique flora and fauna thrived, and ancient civilizations built their sacred sites. Among these were the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, and the statues of Easter Island. Just as there were many strange disappearances in the vicinity of the Devil’s Graveyards, there were just as many odd appearances in these areas and along the interconnected web of lines that formed the planetary grid. From all over the world, researchers had catalogued dozens of reports of lake monsters sighted near the Devil’s Graveyards or the planetary grid with serpentine tails, elongated necks, and flippers in place of lower limbs. The Loch Ness Monster, or “Nessie,” first mentioned by Saint Columba as far back as the 6th century and seen by as many as four thousand people since just the 1930s, was the most famous example.

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The most plausible explanation for Nessie, according to some biologists, was that this creature was a type of dinosaur, known as plesiosaurus, that—like the ancient coelacanth thought to be extinct until a fisherman hauled one out of the deep—had somehow survived into the modern age. There was also the case of “Caddy,” an alleged cadborosaurus seen from British Columbia as well as along the Washington and Oregon coastlines. According to two alternative science publications, the bones of an eleven-foot Caddy were recovered inside a whale’s stomach. In the Congo, a dinosaur-like animal resembling a small brontosaurus, called a sauropod, had been regularly seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. Uncannily similar creatures had been described in reports from various other African nations. What was apparently a dinosaur was spotted by nine individuals on Umbungi Island near one of the Devil’s Graveyards in the vicinity of Papua New Guinea. And at China’s Sayram Lake, over a thousand spectators had witnessed a large aquatic creature perfectly matching a dinosaur’s description. Max was fascinated to learn that such sightings weren’t limited to cryptids inhabiting water; there were also numerous reports of what could only be explained as flying dinosaurs. Max’s mother proposed that mythological dragons (which appeared in legends all over the world) and even the thunderbird sacred to Native Americans might actually represent winged dinosaurs such as pterosaurs and pterodactyls. She examined several related cases—including thousands of “thunderbird” sightings across the western United States as well as Papua New Guinea’s “Ropen,” seemingly prehistoric creatures whose twentyplus-foot wingspans exceeded that of any living bird. Finally, she arrived at the most renowned cryptid of all: Sasquatch. There was overwhelming evidence for the existence of Bigfoot—from tracks, to hair samples, to the famous Patterson-Gimlin film showing an adult female Sasquatch walking through the woods of Northern California, to the so-called Minnesota Iceman. The Iceman was a tall, hairy (except for his face, palms, and underarms), ape-like hominoid shot by a hunter and frozen in a block of ice that, before it vanished under suspicious circumstances, had been studied by none other than Ivan Sanderson, a credentialed zoologist, who suggested it might very well be a Neanderthal! Other Bigfoot researchers claimed that Sasquatch, which went by scores of names in cultures across the globe, was a Miocene-era ape. Still other scientists hypothesized that Neanderthals, rather than being

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smooth-skinned like contemporary humans, as typically depicted, were actually covered in fur and resembled not so much us as … Sasquatch. Whether Bigfoot was an upright-walking Miocene ape of huge proportions, or a modern-day caveman, or whether the Neanderthals were, in fact, huge Miocene apes still inhabiting the planet, the question remained: How? Assuming that they were simply historical anachronisms, creatures that had managed—even on dying—to avoid detection and escape capture, mostly, one had to account for their elusiveness and lack of fossil evidence. Some explained their elusiveness by pointing out that less than forty percent of the earth’s surface was fit for human habitation. That left fully sixty percent of the planet—much of which was poorly surveyed even if it had managed to be explored—as a potential habitat far from human eyes for any number of cryptids, including Sasquatch. As for why no fossilized Bigfoot bones supposedly had ever been found, Max’s mother pointed out that practically no fossilized monkey bones had ever been discovered either, for the simple reason that fossils didn’t form in the heavily forested areas inhabited by monkeys. If Bigfoots lived in similar places, as often reported, it only made sense that they wouldn’t leave fossils either. For those who argued that Sasquatches and Neanderthals were one and the same, the problem of fossilized bones was also elegantly solved, since bones had already been found: in caves all over the world since the dawn of anthropology. While admitting the possibility that dinosaurs and Bigfoots could simply be natural inhabitants of our world, Max’s mother went on to propose an alternative hypothesis for their existence based on Reciprocal Theory. Reiterating that a highly disproportionate number of cryptid sightings occurred near the Devil’s Graveyards or along the planetary grid, where an energetic exchange seemed to exist between space-time and timespace, could it be possible, she asked, that cryptids weren’t natural inhabitants of our modern world at all? If contemporary people (to the tune of hundreds per decade) were constantly crossing over into the cosmic sector in such locations, wouldn’t it make sense—from a reciprocal perspective—that prehistoric animals from time-space might be balancing the equation by periodically popping over into the material sector? Her theory didn’t just explain why cryptid sightings happened in geospecific locations. If cryptids had a way of returning to the cosmic sector, using the natural planetary interchange between time and space, her theory might also account for their elusiveness. 227


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She pointed out that virtually all the same unexplained phenomena associated with the Devil’s Graveyards—compass malfunctions, electrical breakdowns, time discrepancies—were often reported in conjunction with cryptid sightings. Indeed, cryptids seemed to make electrical equipment go berserk— which might shed light on why so little convincing photographic evidence of their existence had ever been produced. On finishing the article, a tsunami of exhaustion swept over Max. Though it was barely after seven, he found himself so depleted (mentally and emotionally) it was all he could do to stash the Seward trunk, brush his teeth, remove his contacts, strap on his sleeping mask, and tuck himself in bed with Pablo in the crook of his elbow. His mother’s article had been illuminating, all right. But at the moment, especially so soon after his meeting with Professor Icarus, he was in no place to piece all the swirling data points together into a coherent mental picture. His inability to focus extended into his dream—where everything, though seemingly belonging to a tropical setting, appeared blurry and distorted. He could hear the ocean washing up behind him in bursts as he stumbled deliriously away from it across indistinct sea shells—and as a vast avian shadow, like a gigantic heat mirage, rippled menacingly across the sand.

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ax awoke with a start, still half in the dream world and expecting to find himself alone under a blazing sun on a deserted beach. Instead, removing his mask, he discovered Tuesday seated beside him lit up by the searing light from his desk lamp gently squeezing his shoulder. “It’s okay, Max,” she said softly. “You were just having a dream.” “Tuesday?” he asked, squinting in the brightness. “Yes, Max. I’m here.” “Me, too, old boy,” said Raul, who Max realized as his eyes adjusted was seated in his chair just behind Tuesday in the lamp’s penumbra. “What time is it?” asked Max, sitting up, yawning, and looking around confusedly while still clutching Pablo. Without his contacts, his vision was far from perfect, though at such close range he was able to make out the contours of things. “It’s a little after ten,” said Tuesday. “At night?” asked Max. “Of course.” “You’re in bed frightfully early,” said Raul. “I was just … beditating,” said Max. “I’m sure you were. Was Pablo beditating with you?” “He was teaching me how to beditate.” “How was your meeting with Professor Icarus?” asked Tuesday. “Couldn’t this have waited?” “I’m afraid not.” 229


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Max was starting to get his bearings. Tuesday’s question about Professor Icarus opened the floodgates on the day’s events—which poured back into his consciousness like a waterfall. “Our meeting was … enlightening. So was reading my mother’s essay on cryptids,” he replied, motioning toward the old manuscript he had left on top of his desk. “Cryptology, did you say?” asked Raul. “Cryptids,” said Max. “Creatures that are hard to explain. Like yourself.” Tuesday laughed and Raul smiled sarcastically. “Jolly good one,” he admitted. “What did you find out?” asked Tuesday. “I learned that my father … that he …” “Come on, man, spit it out!” said Raul. “… disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle.” “Oh, I could have told you that,” said Tuesday. “Come again?” “It was obvious, wasn’t it? You dreamed about him vanishing into a vortex resembling the eye of a hurricane. But it was after hurricane season when he actually disappeared.” The simple, indisputable logic of Tuesday’s observation momentarily stunned Max. Hurricane season in the Gulf ran from June through November, with few major storms occurring after October. His father disappeared January 1st. “How long have you known?” he asked at last. “Since right after it happened. Mom and I independently reached the same conclusion.” “Why didn’t you say something?” “I tried.” “You did?” “But you wouldn’t listen. Remember the Cold War years of your adolescence?” “Okay. So maybe I didn’t listen.” “I’m listening,” interjected Raul. “And I still don’t understand a bloody thing you two are saying. What’s this mumbo jumbo about the Bermuda Triangle?” “If only it were mumbo jumbo,” said Max. “It seems the Bermuda Triangle constitutes a wormhole into time-space. My mother actually called it a vortex point. That’s why so many people—including my father, apparently—just blip out in that area.” “Ah. Now I see,” said Raul. “Professor Icarus confirmed this?” asked Tuesday. “He didn’t confirm it. He just explained how it could be possible—and my mother posthumously filled in some of the technical details.”

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“Did the professor think Captain Diver might be in actual danger, Max?” “Yes.” “Serious danger?” “Yes.” “What are you going to do?” “I don’t know.” Tuesday shifted in her chair and sighed audibly. “Well, maybe what Raul and I just discovered will help you decide.” “What you just … discovered?” “Show him, Raul.” “Are you sure you want to see this, old chap?” “Do I have a choice?” “Not really.” Raul pulled up a website on his iPhone, which he leaned forward and handed to Max. The site was dedicated to exposing some sort of conspiracy theory about European scientists who, a quarter of a century ago, had supposedly developed a mind-control methodology using microchips to scramble brainwaves called Operation Paper Cut. “Sound familiar?” asked Tuesday. “Hand me my glasses, will you?” said Max. “Where are they?” “On my desk. Behind mom’s paper.” After putting on his glasses, Max continued reading. He learned that this group of researchers—many of whom were students of Nazi scientists—had reputedly inherited a great deal of dangerous knowledge (including much of an esoteric nature) straight from the Third Reich, which was infamously obsessed with utilizing the paranormal for planetary control. “Well, this is a fascinating website,” said Max. “But I don’t really see how it applies to me.” “Scroll down to the group photo,” suggested Raul. Max scrolled down until he found an old Polaroid of the scientists allegedly behind Operation Paper Cut. The photograph was taken in a sunlit park, identified as Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and featured ten Caucasian men of varying ages dressed in lab jackets in two rows of five. “I still don’t get it,” he said. “Check out the scientist with round glasses in the first row,” said Tuesday. Max could hardly believe his eyes. There, without question, wearing wire-rimmed glasses on his thin, carved face, was a younger version of Dr. Morrow! “This can’t be,” gasped Max. 231


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“But it is,” said Tuesday. “Then why does the caption identify him as Guillaume Demain?” “I wondered the same thing,” said Raul. “Until it dawned on me, thanks to my years of French, which had previously only come in handy at restaurants and in a handful of amorous encounters, that Guillaume Demain translates to—” “William Morrow,” said Max. “Précisément.” “He must have changed his name,” said Tuesday, “when he came to the United States to work for—” “The CIA,” said Max. “Yes. How did you know?” “I think I always knew. I think even my father suspected and hinted at it many times.” “There’s definitely a historical precedent,” said Tuesday. “After World War II, a number of Nazi scientists involved in all kinds of black ops were recruited to work for the United States by the CIA through something called Operation Paperclip.” “Probably some of the same bastards who mentored Demain,” put in Raul. “Max, do you think your father knew the specifics about Dr. Morrow’s past?” asked Tuesday. “I have no idea. My gut says no.” “Mine, too.” “But there’s no way I can be sure.” “Well, actually, maybe there is,” said Raul. “How?” asked Max. “There’s more, mate.” “More?” “Raul and I followed up with some additional research on the Demain-Morrow connection,” said Tuesday. “It appears he wasn’t just a mind-controlling microchipper,” said Raul. “That was small potatoes. He was also quite keen on harnessing the power of—” “Time-space.” “Crikey, Max. Could we please be allowed to finish our own sentences?” “Rumor has it,” continued Tuesday, “that Demain, now going by Morrow, started a special CIA program under cover of the Navy called Project Thunderbird.” “Project … Thunderbird?”

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“Kind of strange, huh? Anyway, the story goes Project Thunderbird’s object was to establish a bridge between the cosmic and material sectors in order to gain access to unlimited energy—and thus unlimited power.” “We’re talking world domination,” said Raul. “Oh, is that all?” said Max. “This must be why Morrow has always been so interested in you,” said Tuesday. “Because he thinks he can use me to establish the bridge?” “He thinks you can be the bridge,” said Raul. “Under his direct mind control.” “That’s crazy.” “No crazier than levitating objects, my friend.” With the distinct impression his life was quickly funneling down to a single point of choice that was more like an inevitability, Max considered this new wave of information. Like most things that initially struck him as absurd, he reluctantly conceded that every bit of it was probably true. “Raul, you said there was a way to be sure about the nature of my father’s involvement with Project Thunderbird.” “I said there might be a way.” “What if the truth isn’t pleasant, Max?” asked Tuesday. “What if you learn that your father was … brainwashed?” “Or CIA?” said Raul. “Whatever I find out,” said Max, “I don’t think it will change what I do. But at least I’ll be doing it with eyes wide open.” “So you really want to go through with it?” asked Raul. “Even if it means risking getting expelled—or worse?” “I really want to hear what you have in mind. Then I’ll consider my options.” “Understood. Why don’t you get dressed and we can all go down to the kitchen. I’ll make us some tapioca pudding while we chat. I’m thoroughly famished.”

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hatterton House residents rarely used the kitchen, preferring to dine in the Maroon University cafeteria or at one of the numerous restaurants along Bayer Street. Many students, in fact, had small refrigerators in their rooms and never so much as visited the kitchen. Especially at eleven-thirty at night, Max knew there was a good chance of having total privacy for discussing Raul’s plan to uncover the secrets of Project Thunderbird—even while whipping up a batch of tapioca pudding. “Now, the first thing you must do, meu amigo,” said Raul, holding up the bag of Bob’s Red Mill tapioca, which Max had purchased at Bread and Circus, like a chef on TV, “is soak the tapioca pearls in water.” “Are you seriously going to teach me how to make tapioca pudding— right now?” asked Max, who had pulled on a pair of tennis shorts and one of Aunt Nadine’s old sweaters for the occasion. “Of course,” replied Raul, as he finished washing and drying his hands, then proceeded to roll up his designer shirtsleeves and crack his knuckles in preparation for this culinary exercise. “I promised I would, didn’t I?” “I suppose you did.” “Hand me a bowl, will you? After washing your hands. No telling where those fingers have been. There’s a good lad.” Reluctantly, Max did as he was told. He was slightly annoyed by Raul (as usual) but even hungrier. Truth be known, he had always had a weak spot for tapioca pudding—and especially loved it when it was still hot. 235


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“What can I do?” asked Tuesday. “Shall I get out the eggs and milk?” “Thanks, that would be a big help,” said Raul, measuring out a cup and a half of filtered water and adding it to the two-thirds of a cup of tapioca pearls already in the bowl. “What time is it, Max?” “How should I know? Do you see a watch on me?” “Don’t be daft. Just check the time on the stove clock. I can’t see it from here.” “It’s eleven thirty-four. No, thirty-five now.” “So the pudding will go on no sooner than five after.” “What about the other ingredients?” asked Tuesday. “Right. We need vanilla extract, salt, and some kind of sugar.” “How about Sucanat?” asked Tuesday, holding up a half-full bag she had found hidden at the back of one of the cabinets. “At least, it’s better for you than refined sugar.” “So is cocaine, apparently,” said Max, rolling his eyes and plopping down at the table. “That should work,” said Raul. “We can’t be too careful with young Maxwell’s brain. So much depends on his pineal gland, glazed with rainwater, standing beside the white chickens.” Tuesday giggled while searching for the vanilla. “I’m impressed,” she said. “First a Carl Sandburg, and now a William Carlos Williams reference. For someone who doesn’t read, how do you know so much about poetry?” “Oh, I read, my dear. I just don’t read what I’m told to read.” “I can respect that.” When they had located the final ingredients, with twenty minutes to spare before the next step in the recipe, Tuesday and Raul joined Max at the table to discuss their plan. “Assuming there’s documentation on Project Thunderbird,” Raul began, “the first questions we must ask ourselves are, one, who would have it and, two, where would it be kept?” “Easy,” said Max. “Dr. Morrow would have it—most likely somewhere in his office.” “Probably on his computer,” added Tuesday. “That would be my guess,” said Raul. “Which brings us to our next round of questions,” said Max. “How do we break into his office? And if we can get that far, how do we access his computer files?” “First things first,” said Raul. “Before we talk about Morrow’s office and his computer, we have to get into the building.” “Piece of cake,” said Tuesday, her large gray eyes twinkling mischievously. “It’s not as if it’s a high-security fortress. It’s just the Psychology Department.” 236


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“Then let’s use psychology,” said Raul, his own dark eyes widening. “When, given the venue, would be the optimal time to engage in this bit of skullduggery?” “Over a weekend,” said Max. “A Saturday night when nobody’s on the premises.” “That’s certainly when I would do it,” agreed Raul. “If six years of boarding school taught me anything, it was how—and just as importantly, when—to sneak around. What time is it?” “Eleven forty-two,” said Tuesday with a glance at the stove clock. “Good. We’ve still got thirteen minutes before I have to beat the eggs.” “So when should we … sneak around?” asked Max. “You should enter the building in the late afternoon while it’s still open—then hide under a table in an unused seminar room until after the janitors have shut down the place for the night.” “Me?” said Max. “What about you?” “I’m your eyes, old boy.” “How am I supposed to get back out again?” “The front doors of a public campus building should open from inside without a key. It’s a fire code requirement.” “Well, at least I won’t burn to death in the event of arson.” “I’ll come with you, Max,” said Tuesday. “That would be for the best,” said Raul, “assuming you’re willing to put yourself on the line, Tuesday. Somebody should be there on the ground to watch Max’s back.” “I said I’ll do it,” said Tuesday, sitting up straight and summoning her courage. “If I get kicked out of college, I’ll just—I don’t know—become a writer or something.” “Getting kicked out of this place may be the least of your worries if the CIA’s involved,” warned Raul. “You don’t have to go with me, Tuesday,” said Max. “I can do this myself.” “How very Lone Ranger of you. But after the last time I didn’t insist on helping you when you clearly needed it, I’m not going to make the same mistake again.” “Fair enough. So, Raul, you said you’re going to be our eyes. What does that mean, exactly?” “It means I’ll outfit the two of you with encrypted wireless earpieces so we can stay in contact. After I hack into Lumina Hall’s surveillance system to provide you with passage into Morrow’s office without being filmed, I’ll be able to monitor the entire building for signs of trouble.” “And how do we get into his office?” “That depends. How’s it locked?” 237


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“By some kind of cardkey system.” Max thought back to his surreal afternoon of psychic screening. “There are at least two devices—one for an inside door, and another for Dr. Morrow’s office.” “What floor are we talking about?” “The third. Suite 386.” “And how’s the main door to the suite opened?” “Possibly by another cardkey.” “Not to worry. I can find out easily enough by taking a peek with the third-floor security cameras.” “What about hacking into Morrow’s computer?” “Could be tricky. But it’s manageable.” “And this can be done without any trail leading back to us?” asked Tuesday. “If it’s done right.” “You really can do all of this?” asked Max, who was nearly as blindsided by Raul’s revelations as by any of his other recent surprises over Halloween and All Saints Day. “No problem. Like taking candy from a baby.” “How?” “Let’s just say my father works for one of the world’s premier information security firms. Sometimes he leaves toys around the house. And sometimes his toys go missing.” “He has to know you took them, doesn’t he?” asked an equally astonished Tuesday. “Of course. But I think, in secret, he’s actually rather proud of his eldest for pursuing the family business, so to speak. We have what you might call an unspoken gentleman’s agreement to keep our little open secret … secret.” “Miracles never cease,” said Tuesday. “So is this the end of our planning?” asked Max. “Hardly,” said Raul, standing back up and grinning like a mad genius. “This is merely the end of the beginning of our planning. But I think, for tonight, we should give it a rest and shift our focus to tapioca.”

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or the next three nights, the planning did continue—with Max, Tuesday and Raul convening at Chatterton House for troubleshooting and choreographing their roles in what Tuesday jokingly dubbed “Operation Bumblebee.” “Let’s just hope Operation Bumblebee actually flies,” said Max on more than one occasion. Late that Saturday afternoon, with the weather turning chilly as the sun went down, Max and Tuesday rendezvoused on the Quad dressed as regular students in coats and jeans with backpacks slung over their shoulders. Tuesday had pulled her coiled hair into a Greek-style bun so it wouldn’t get in her way. “Care for an Altoid?” she asked, producing a tin from her coat pocket and opening it as the lights around the Quad flickered on. “They’re curiously strong.” “You do realize these mints to which you’ve been addicted all these years contain sugar?” said Max as he popped an Altoid in his mouth. “What can I say? They’re my one weakness.” “You mean you only have one?” “Only one major one.” “Are you ready to do this, Tuesday?” “Are you?” “I guess. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” “Of all people I’ve ever heard quote Camus, Max, you’re perhaps the most surprising.” 239


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“Sometimes I surprise myself.” “Have you got everything?” Max patted his backpack. “As far as I know. You?” “As far as I know. Shall we?” “Sure. Why not.” Both taking a deep breath, trying to appear casual, the two friends strolled through the half-light to Lumina Hall. As they stood on the outside steps with a forced air of nonchalance, Max checked his watch. “Is it five o’clock yet?” asked Tuesday. “It just turned five.” Raul was supposed to have rerouted the building’s surveillance cameras by then to a loop feed to allow their presence to go unrecorded. “Let’s give it five more minutes,” suggested Tuesday. “Just in case Raul encounters any … technical difficulties.” “I couldn’t agree more. Better safe than sorry.” Five minutes later, nervous as cats, they entered by way of the front door (which was fortunately still open) into Lumina Hall’s echoing vestibule. Encountering no one, on Raul’s advice they headed straight for the stairs. After ascending to the second floor, where Raul had identified several possible seminar rooms for hiding out, they found the light in their first option off and the door conveniently unlocked. Once inside, Max switched on the overhead to make sure they were alone. The seminar room was relatively small, mostly occupied by a large oval table with twenty or so chairs encircling it. Meanwhile, Tuesday retrieved a flashlight from her pack and used it just long enough to guide them—in the darkness that ensued after Max switched off the overhead—to a hiding place under the table where they could wait, with any luck, out of harm’s way. “Here we are,” said Max, immediately conscious of how loud his own breathing sounded in the dark. “So far, so good.” “Shall we check in with Raul?” “Yeah, we’d better say hello before he starts to worry.” “Oh, I’m pretty sure he’s already worried.” “He’s not the only one.” “Are you really worried?” “I’m always worried, Tuesday.” “Want another Altoid?” “I think I need one.” “Me, too. I find that Altoids can be a great comfort in times of stress.” After they clipped on their wireless earpieces, Max said softly, “Raul, are you there?” There was no answer. 240


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“Come in, Raul,” said Tuesday. “Operation Bumblebee is underway.” Still nothing. “Where the hell are you, Raul?” demanded Max. “This is just grand, Tuesday. He probably heard about a party and is halfway to Key West by now.” “Take a Valium, mate. I’m right here.” Raul’s disembodied accent was a joy to hear over the encrypted airwaves. “I was just getting myself set up here at my laptop with some Chunky Monkey. Nothing soothes a hacker’s nerves like Ben & Jerry’s.” “Have you locked the door to our dorm room like we discussed?” asked Max. “This is no time to be entertaining unexpected guests.” “The door’s locked and all’s well with the world, Max.” “How about the video loop?” asked Tuesday. “Is that up and running?” “It’s been online since just before five.” “So what do we do now?” asked Max. “We wait,” said Raul, “while I eat ice cream.” “Rub it in,” said Tuesday. “That’s an interesting idea. Though I imagine it would be rather sticky.” “Raul, do you ever take anything seriously?” asked Max. “Only those things I laugh about.” Seated in the darkness under the cramped table, Max recalled a conversation from long ago in which his father pointed out that he tended to make jokes when his thoughts were serious. On the heels of Raul’s last quip, the memory hit Max like an epiphany—and he immediately discovered a new level of respect for his unorthodox roommate. “Fair enough,” he said. “How’s the Chunky Monkey?” “Absolutely delicious. I simply must finish this pint of ice cream so I can stop eating it.” While maintaining radio contact, the three friends fell silent with their own thoughts. Finally, Tuesday said, “At least, if we get caught in here, we can just say we were fooling around.” “True,” replied Max. “Perhaps you two should fool around,” suggested Raul. “Besides lending credibility to your alibi, a good snog would help pass the time. Plus, I could listen in.” “Póg mo thóin,” said Tuesday. “What, pray tell, does that mean?” inquired Raul. “It’s Gaelic for ‘kiss my arse.’” “Is that a threat or a promise?”

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“Shut up, you two unrequited lovebirds! I think somebody’s coming,” whispered Max. Sure enough, the door suddenly opened and the light flashed on. Holding their breath, hearts hardly beating, Max and Tuesday glimpsed a pair of scuffed work boots, probably belonging to a janitor, before the light went back out and the door shut again with a dull thud. “All clear?” inquired Raul. Max joined Tuesday in breathing a deep sigh of relief. “All clear,” he said. “If things go according to plan,” said Raul, “that should be the end of the evening’s human encounters.” “Meaning we still might have nonhuman encounters?” joked Tuesday nervously. “With the two of you, anything’s possible. I’ve come to think of life with you guys in it as the New Paranormal.” “Speaking of nonhuman encounters,” said Max, “please tell me you finished the Chunky Monkey.” “I did indeed. I put the little blighter right out of its misery.” “How inhuman of you,” said Tuesday. “So how much longer must we crouch here in the shadows?” asked Max. “I’d say give it another two and a half hours,” said Raul. “Two and a half hours?!” groaned Tuesday. “That puts it past eight. It’s unlikely anyone will still be hanging out in the Psychology Department at that hour on a Saturday night. I hope neither of you needs to visit the loo.” “Fortunately, I went just before heading over to the Quad,” said Max. “Me, too,” said Tuesday. “That’s thinking ahead,” said Raul. “Tell you what. Why don’t you both get a little R&R before the fireworks start.” “Are you monitoring the second floor?” asked Max. “I’m monitoring most of the building.” Max and Tuesday, in an effort to decompress and pass the time, took Raul’s advice and stretched out on their backs under the table with their packs for pillows. “What if we fall asleep?” asked Tuesday. “I don’t recommend it,” said Raul. “The last thing we need is for Max to go levitating and dropping heavy objects.” “Come on, you said I only dropped one object. And it wasn’t even very heavy.” “But it was very loud.” “Don’t worry. I drank so much coffee this afternoon I’ll probably never sleep again.” “I wouldn’t count on it,” said Tuesday. 242


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Growing still and quiet while remaining alert, Max didn’t dream, but he did daydream. In his mind’s eye, he traveled back to the Florida of his childhood, where he saw himself—in a sort of time-lapse in which he rapidly grew bigger and faster—racing his father out to Dolphin Point again and again. Then the scene switched. Max watched his father meticulously gluing solar panels onto the model of the International Space Station, surprised at how dexterous he was given the size of his hands. “Astronaut training,” explained Captain Diver, glancing sideways with a grin. “I often think about him, too,” said Tuesday. “It’s kind of strange— because I didn’t really know him that well.” Max stiffened with the realization that his daydreams, in Tuesday’s presence, weren’t exactly private. “You were reading my mind, weren’t you?” “Yes. By accident, really. I can’t always control it.” “What’s it like?” “Reading your mind?” “Yeah.” “Sad.” “Sad?” “Sometimes.” Max considered this perspective. “I can understand why that might be the case,” he admitted. “But it can also be … inspiring.” “How so?” “It’s hard to explain. I get a sense you’re close to being able to … embrace your destiny.” “Embrace my destiny?” “You’re doing that thing again where you repeat other people’s questions.” “Sorry. I was just trying to get clear on your point.” “That would be difficult. I’m not even clear on it. I’ve just always had a feeling you were meant to do something extraordinary with your life. I felt that way from the moment I met you.” “Well, for what it’s worth, the feeling has always been mutual.” “And now here we are: in the middle of the Hero’s Journey.” “Funny, nobody ever told me the Hero’s Journey involved breaking and entering.” Tuesday laughed—a welcome sound under the circumstances. “That just goes to show there are as many different types of journeys as there are heroes.” “I suppose so. Sometimes I feel like pinching myself really hard just to see if I can wake up from all this paranormal stuff.” 243


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“I think I know what your mother would say in response to a statement like that.” “What would she say?” “That there’s no such thing as the paranormal—only infinite varieties of normal we’ve yet to comprehend.” “You’re right. That’s exactly what she’d say.” “This is Chunky Monkey to Operation Bumblebee,” said Raul. “Do you read, Bumblebee?” “We read,” said Max. “What’s up, Chunky?” “It looks like we have more action on the second floor. Possibly a grad student. Keep quiet.” “Roger that,” whispered Tuesday. After a couple of minutes, Raul’s disembodied voice spoke again. “Excellent. The coast is clear.” “How much longer before we get this show on the road?” asked Max. “Half an hour,” replied Raul. “Jesus,” moaned Tuesday. “I think I’m getting a cramp,” said Max. “Is it that time of the month?” asked Raul. “Ha, ha.” Twenty minutes later, Tuesday asked, “Do you have any final words of wisdom before we’re thrown to the wolves, Raul?” “I’m afraid I’ve never uttered a single word of wisdom in my life, Tuesday.” “Seriously.” “Have you put on your winter beanies yet?” “Not yet,” said Max. “Well, now’s the time. Make sure your earpieces are covered so that— in the unlikely event you run into someone—you don’t look like you work for the Secret Service. And while you’re at it, go ahead and slip on your gloves as well.” Max and Tuesday fished out their knitted beanies from their packs and placed them snugly over their ears, then pulled on the thin leather gloves Raul had also recommended so no incriminating fingerprints would be left behind. “Done,” said Tuesday. “Is the coast still clear?” asked Max. “As far as I can tell,” said Raul. “What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Tuesday. “There’s no way for me to know what’s actually happening inside Suite 386,” said Raul. “I can just show you the door. You have to walk through it.” “With blind faith, apparently,” said Max.

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“Not blind,” said Tuesday. “The Bradelring should give an indication if there’s anyone with a mind to read inside the suite.” “What if there’s somebody in there without a mind?” asked Max. “Then we’re in trouble.” “Enough twaddle,” said Raul. “Are you two prepared to take the plunge?” “I’m a Diver—and you’re asking me that?” said Max. “Well, are you?” “Sure. Why not.” “Let’s get this over with,” said Tuesday. “And then I’d like a caipirinha, Raul.” “Make that two,” said Max. “With pleasure. If you pull this off, you will have earned a stiff drink.” “So are we good to go?” asked Max. “You’re good to go. May the road rise up to meet you. And may the wind be always at your back.” “Thanks for the Irish blessing,” said Tuesday. “Let’s just hope we have the luck of the Irish.”

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ax and Tuesday emerged, blinking, from the dark seminar room into the bright second-floor hallway. Finding themselves alone, they immediately entered the stairwell and started climbing to the third floor. “How does everything look upstairs?” Max asked Raul. “Peachy.” “No sign of movement?” asked Tuesday. “Not a creature is stirring.” “Let’s do this,” said Max. “I’m with you,” said Tuesday. Exiting the stairwell into the empty third-floor hallway, they had to keep themselves—in their roller coaster ride of excitement and anxiety— from sprinting all the way to Suite 386. “Okay, Raul,” said Max. “We’re at the door.” “I can see that. Tuesday, do you sense anyone, with a mind or otherwise, inside?” Tuesday twisted the Bradelring on her wrist with a gloved hand and closed her eyes. “I’m not picking up on anybody or anything. I think we’re good to go.” “You think—or you’re sure?” asked Max. “I think I’m sure.” “Take out the cardkey device, Max,” instructed Raul. “Tuesday, keep your eyes peeled and ears open—just in case.”

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Max opened his backpack and removed the cardkey device—which consisted of an electronic box with a small screen and a metallic cardkey attached to it via a thin cable. “Got it.” “Good,” said Raul. “Insert the key into the slot in the reader beside the door.” “Done.” “Excellent. Are you seeing multiple numerical digits in red flashing on the screen?” “If you mean numbers, yes. They’re flashing like crazy.” “They should be. Let me know when they stop changing and turn green.” “Will do.” “Everything still kosher with you and the Bradelring, Tuesday?” “Yep.” “There,” said Max. “We just got the green light.” “Literally and figuratively,” replied Raul. “The door should open as soon as you remove the cardkey. But before you do, Max, put on your night vision goggles. I don’t expect the lights to be on inside.” Again, Max did as directed while Tuesday nervously maintained the lookout. With his goggles on, Max could hardly see his hand in front of him in the well-lit hallway. “Okay. I’m blind.” “Good,” said Raul. “Well, not good. You know what I mean.” “You look like a giant insect,” commented Tuesday. “You could play Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis.” “Let’s hope Max’s story has a happier ending,” said Raul. “Tuesday, on my signal I want you to remove the cardkey. As soon as you do, you’ll hear a tone—at which point you’ll have just a few seconds to open the door. Got that?” “Got it.” “In the meantime, Max, make sure you don’t drop the cardkey device. You’re going to need it again—twice.” “Hey, a rhyme,” said Tuesday. “I may be a blind man,” said Max, “but I’m no fumble fingers.” “Glad to hear it. Ready, Tuesday?” “Ready.” “Do it.” Tuesday steeled herself and pulled the cardkey out of its slot. Immediately, just as Raul had predicted, there was a low electronic tone. Without hesitation but with palpable apprehension, she turned the knob and the door swung inward ominously. The light from the hall revealed the outlines of the empty reception room.

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“Now get in there and shut the door quietly,” said Raul. “Operation Bumblebee is going dark. I can’t be your eyes for this next part—but I’ll watch your back.” “Roger that, Chunky,” said Max. “I can’t see a darn thing,” said Tuesday after gently closing the door behind them. “Fortunately, I can now. Thank God for these goggles.” “I bet your father never envisioned you’d be using them for this purpose.” “Who knows what he envisioned. The man was completely opaque. Here, take my hand. It’s a straight shot over to the next door.” Grasping Tuesday’s hand tightly, Max led her past the desk to the next cardkey reader beside the door to the suite’s inner rooms. “So, Raul, I assume we basically repeat the same song and dance?” “You assume correctly.” Max inserted the card into the reader and waited again for the green light—at which point he removed the card, listened for the tone, and opened the door. “Update please,” said Raul “We’re through the second door,” said Max. “Be sure to shut it behind you.” Tuesday shut it by feel. “Done.” “What do you see, Max?” The inner hallway was also dark and empty. “Nothing. We’re good to go.” “Approach the Program Director’s door.” “Okay. We’re standing in front of it,” said Max. “Do you sense anybody in there, Tuesday?” “Nope. Not a soul.” “The luck of the Irish is still holding. Remind me to kiss the Blarney Stone the next time I’m in Ireland. Go for it, Max.” Once again, Max repeated the cardkey protocol. In less than a minute, he had guided Tuesday into Dr. Morrow’s pitch-black office and closed the door. “We’re in.” “I’m impressed,” said Raul. “You guys are genuinely talented at this spying thing. Perhaps, instead of hacking the CIA, you should join it.” “Look who’s talking,” said Tuesday. “What do we do now?” asked Max. “Lock the door behind you manually …” Max turned the lock on the doorknob. “Done.” “… put away the cardkey device, which you won’t be needing again, and take out the small USB plugin I gave you.” “Got it.” 249


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“That was fast,” observed Raul. “I was already getting it out.” “I admire your initiative, Max.” “Thanks. What next?” “Are you at Morrow’s computer?” “I’m just sitting down in front of it.” “How’s the good doctor’s chair?” “Comfortable. Leather.” “Okay. Now insert the plugin into a USB port and turn on the system.” “Just like that?” “Just like that.” “This won’t trip any hidden alarm bells?” “The plugin should disarm that sort of thing.” “What’s to keep Morrow’s computer from filming us or recording our voices?” “Chill, Max. It’s taken care of.” Max was skeptical—but seeing as how Raul had gotten them this far unscathed, he did as he was told. The computer quickly booted up and a dialogue box appeared on the monitor. With the room dimly illuminated by the monitor’s glow, Max removed his night vision goggles and let them hang from his neck. “It’s asking for a username and password.” “Perfect,” said Raul. “You said you thought it was a Mac, right?” “It’s definitely a Mac.” “Is the caps lock off?” “Yes.” “Then press and hold control, option, and command.” “Okay. I’m doing it.” “Now, before letting go, type x, i, x, i.” “Xixi?” “It means ‘peepee’ in Portuguese.” “Whatever. Can I let go now?” “Yes. Let go and tell me what happens.” “It seems to be accessing the desktop automatically.” “This is super cool,” said Tuesday. “You know how to use the Finder, right?” asked Raul. “Of course,” said Max. “I’m a Mac man.” “Do a search for ‘Thunderbird.’” “Done.” “Anything?” “Nothing.”

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“Blimey. I thought that might be the case. Press and hold command and option, then type in ‘Thunderbird ghost drive.’” “I’m getting another dialogue box. It’s asking for another password.” “Give it a second. Let’s hope the plugin is able to auto-sequence a password into the ghost drive.” After a minute, with nothing changing on the screen, Max said, “Nothing. Zilch. We’re screwed, aren’t we, Raul?” “We’re not exactly screwed—yet. Tuesday, we need to go to Plan B.” “I was afraid you’d say that,” she said. “What’s Plan B?” asked Max. “Just a little contingency Tuesday and I discussed.” “Without me?” “I was praying it wouldn’t be necessary. Are you up for this, Tuesday?” “I’m willing to give it a try.” “Up for what?” demanded Max. “That’s a good lass. Max, let her sit down in front of the screen.” Not knowing what else to do, Max obliged. Tuesday installed herself in Dr. Morrow’s chair and said, “I need peace and quiet. Please, nobody say anything until I speak.” Suddenly, in a flash of recognition, it dawned on Max she was attempting to use the Bradelring to read Dr. Morrow’s mind to access the password for the ghost drive. “This is completely insane,” said Max. “Shhhh,” said Tuesday, closing her eyes. “Put a sock in it, Max,” whispered Raul. Though it wasn’t particularly chilly in the climate-controlled room, Tuesday began to shiver, then shake. Reopening her eyes at last, she said, “Well, that was unpleasant.” “Did you actually read Morrow’s mind?” asked Max. “Yeah. I actually did.” “What was it like?” “Cold. Twisted. Hard to penetrate.” “That’s all well and good,” interrupted Raul, “but did you get the bloody password?” “I got something. I hope it’s the password.” “What is it?” asked Max. “69ZEEZ96. It’s a palindrome.” “A palindrome?” “A word that reads the same forwards and backwards. ‘ZEEZ’ seems to be a reference to sleep.” “And ‘69’ mirrors itself like a reciprocal system,” said Raul. “You would pick up on that, Raul,” said Tuesday. “I believe this could be the password,” said Max. “We have to try it.”

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“A word of caution,” said Raul. “If it doesn’t work, you must be prepared to get out of there, like, immediately. Any message along the lines of ‘Access Denied’ and we really are screwed. Understood?” “Understood,” said Max. “Understood,” repeated Tuesday. “Then roll the dice,” said Raul. “Shall I?” Tuesday asked. “Be my guest,” said Max. Tuesday entered the possible password. For a few seconds, nothing seemed to change. Then a dialogue box appeared with the words, “Accessing Ghost Drive.” “Would somebody please be so kind as to clue me in?” said Raul. “It’s pulling up the ghost drive,” replied Tuesday. “I can’t believe it actually worked!” “Me neither,” said Max. “Jolly excellent, Tuesday. I sense a caipirinha in your not-so-distant future.” “Shall I search for Project Thunderbird?” “By all means.” As soon as Tuesday entered her search, a large file appeared. She clicked on it—only to discover multiple subdirectories. “Do you mind if I take it from here?” asked Max. “Not at all,” said Tuesday, giving up the chair. Max sat down again and clicked on a file labeled “Overview.” Quickly scanning the document, he learned that Project Thunderbird (which was indeed designed to explore time-space) was divided into two different approaches. The first of these, or Dream Approach, involved specially recruited psychics—trained in advanced lucid dreaming and astral projection techniques—who were injected with a microchip designed to enhance their brainwaves and prolong REM sleep. Project Thunderbird’s other method, or Mechanical Approach, involved pilots attempting to enter the cosmic sector by physically encountering the interdimensional wormhole thought to exist inside the Bermuda Triangle. Since the wormhole’s precise location couldn’t be pinpointed, this method involved staging repeated flights, outfitted with high-tech equipment for navigating into and out of time-space, from Cape Carnival and (unofficially) Cuba. “So that’s what your father was doing flying out of Cape Carnival and visiting Cuba all those years,” said Tuesday, reading over Max’s shoulder. “Apparently.” “This is really heavy stuff, Max.” 252


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“Tell me about it.” “Do a search for Thomas Diver,” said Raul. “Do I have to?” asked Max. “Absolutely, mate.” “Okay. Here goes nothing.” Captain Diver’s file came up onscreen. Under his photograph, his status was MIA. Further down, his dossier catalogued hundreds of flights into the Bermuda Triangle over the years. Under “Background & Psychological Profile,” the dossier stated: “Thomas Diver, former NASA astronaut and decorated Navy captain, exhibits strong tendencies to patriotism and service to his fellow Americans. These qualities are easily manipulated to induce risk-taking behavior with respect to attempting to access time-space, which he has been led to believe is a matter of national security.” “There’s no mention of any connection between your father and the CIA,” observed Tuesday. “No. There’s not,” said Max. “That’s a relief.” “Yes. It is.” “Are we finished?” “Not quite.” “What are you doing?” In the search window, Max typed his own name and hit return. Sure enough, a file appeared onscreen. “That’s weird,” said Tuesday. “What’s weird?” asked Raul. “There’s a file on Max.” “That is bloody weird. What does it say?” “I’ll tell you later,” said Max. Max’s dossier featured two photos of himself—one taken when he was a little kid at the Navy Hospital, the other snapped recently while he was inside Dr. Morrow’s brain scanner. His status was listed as “Under Prioritized Recruitment.” “Look, there’s even information under Background & Psychological Profile,” said Tuesday. There was indeed. Max read: “Maxwell Andrew Diver, son of Project Thunderbird’s Thomas Diver, is a world-class psychic talent with extraordinary potential, particularly with regard to dream manipulation, including remote viewing, object retrieval, and Dreambody projection. Currently a freshman on a pre-med track at Maroon University, despite showing signs of rebelliousness and exhibiting an abrasive personality, Max is considered the project’s foremost recruiting objective.” “Do I really have an abrasive personality, Tuesday?” 253


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“Not always.” “That’s encouraging.” “I like you just the way you are, Max.” “Thanks.” “If you’ve got what you need,” said Raul, “it’s time to turn off the system and get Operation Bumblebee the heck out of Dodge.” “My thoughts exactly,” agreed Tuesday. “Okay, Chunky,” said Max. “Walk us through it.” Exiting Dr. Morrow’s office was a lot easier, and far quicker, than entering. Soon Max, having stashed his night vision goggles back in his pack along with Raul’s plugin, was beside Tuesday hoofing it down the switchback staircase to the first floor. Lumina Hall was as deserted as a mausoleum. Within minutes they were through the vestibule, out the front door, and down the steps onto the sidewalk. Here the last of the evening’s surprises greeted them—in the form of the first snow of the year just beginning to sprinkle down like fairy dust under the burnt sienna glow of the campus lamps. “Wow,” said Tuesday, her breath briefly materializing. She removed one of her gloves and reached up to touch the tiny flakes. “We’re definitely not in Florida anymore.” Feeling as if he had just been unburdened of a tremendous weight, Max looked up, grinning deliriously, at the swirling night sky as icy snowflakes tapped against his cheeks and got caught in his beard.

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he start of that week was a busy one for Max. Monday he awoke to find a message on his cell phone from Dr. Morrow asking whether he was up for a little tennis and politely inquiring whether he had made his decision about participating in the doctor’s “program.” Ever since discovering he was Project Thunderbird’s “foremost recruiting objective,” Max couldn’t help suspecting that Dr. Morrow had selected Maroon University for “psychic screening” for an ulterior reason: to gain access to him. Chances were, if he hadn’t wandered into Lumina Hall serendipitously of his own accord on Halloween, Dr. Morrow would have eventually approached him—directly or indirectly. For what it was worth, there was no indication in the doctor’s voice that he was aware of his recent security breach. Nevertheless, given his track record, there was also no telling what he might be willing to try to bring his young recruit into the fold. Max took the phone message as a sign that if he was going to do what he knew he needed to do, he needed to go ahead and do it—pronto. The next day, he had two important appointments. In the morning, having considered doing so for months, and suspecting they might come in handy, he finally got around to acquiring extended-wear contact lenses that could be kept in as long as two weeks at a time. In the afternoon, he met with an estate planning lawyer in downtown Endurance to draft his will. Not that he planned on giving up the ghost

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anytime soon. But he was about to disappear off the radar—and there was at least a chance he might not come back. In the event of his demise, he bequeathed a living stipend to his Aunt Nadine sufficient to meet her needs to the end of her days. The rest of his assets—to the tune of millions—he divided between Tuesday and Raul. Before leaving the lawyer’s office, he had three notarized copies of his will made. Back in his room, he stashed the original in the Seward chest and sealed the copies in separate envelopes, which he addressed to his three beneficiaries and placed in a file folder on top of his desk. The following morning, remembering his promise to Professor Icarus, he made a copy of his mother’s article and proceeded to hand-deliver it to Mellon Hall. He hoped to have one final chat with Professor Icarus—but unfortunately, the professor wasn’t in. So Max slid the essay, sealed in a large manila envelope on which he had written “For Andrew,” under the door. As for his other promises to Professor Icarus, if Max was able to leave enough of a breadcrumb trail to make it back to this reality, he had every intention of doing everything in his power to salvage the semester and stay in school. Maybe he would even drop medicine and become an anthropologist … But first things first. Stomach empty and growling, he strolled over to Bayer Street and wolfed down a shawarma and fries—remarking that after falling off the dietary wagon, he had just rolled under it. When he got back to Chatterton House, finding Raul out and about, he packed a duffel bag with some spare changes of clothes, his toiletries, the sleeping mask Tuesday had given him, his caul, and his mother’s scarab hairpin. With the bag over one shoulder and the box containing Maizy’s old thunderbird kite under the other arm, Max was already across the parking lot to his Explorer when he heard Raul call after him, “I say there, old chap. Aren’t you forgetting something?” “This is just like you, Max,” said Tuesday. “Luckily, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.” Max had hoped to slip away quietly—not because he didn’t want to say goodbye to his friends, but because, after so many losses, he didn’t think he could bear to. Stashing the duffel and box in the back seat and tossing his jacket on top of them, he watched as Tuesday and Raul (dressed for the cool weather themselves) approached, grinning and shaking their heads in unison. “You’ve been quite the busy beaver the last few days,” said Raul. “It was obvious you were up to no good.” 256


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“Look, guys. I have to do this part alone,” said Max. “Of course, you do,” said Tuesday. “We’re not here to dissuade you.” “We just wanted to give you a proper boa viagem,” said Raul— producing Pablo with a theatrical flourish from behind his back. “I thought our little friend here might be able to keep you company while you … travel. I noticed you two have taken quite a liking to one another.” Raul’s gesture of kindness was so unexpected, and so heartfelt, tears welled up in Max’s eyes as he accepted the blue teddy from his roommate along with a hug smelling strongly of Calvin Klein cologne. “Take care of yourself, mate,” said Raul. “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” “I can’t think of much that would preclude, frankly.” “Ha, ha. Just be sure you keep your wits about you on the other side.” “I will. Thanks, Raul. For all your help. I mean it.” “Oh, stop it. What on earth are friends for—if not occasionally misbehaving badly together?” “I misjudged you when we first met. Despite appearances to the contrary, you’re really a first-class human being.” “Ditto and ditto, Max.” “And I brought you this,” said Tuesday, tears in her own eyes, as she placed a tin of Altoids, still shrink-wrapped, in Max’s palm. “Feel free to share them with Pablo.” “You’re the best, Tuesday.” “I know. I can’t help it.” “Do you really think I’m up for this?” “I really do. You were born for this.” “Apparently.” “I expect a detailed report when you return. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a book about Max’s journey to the Otherworld. I’ll call it Where the Wild Things Are.” “How original.” “Take care of yourself, hear?” “I’ll do my best.” “And say hello to your father for me.” “Maybe you can say hello to him yourself soon.” “I like that better. Let’s visualize a happy reunion all the way around.” Max and Tuesday embraced like the longtime friends they were. “Thank you, Tuesday. I don’t know what I would have done all these years without you. Certainly, I didn’t deserve you.” Tuesday had stopped trying to hold back her tears, which were streaming down her pink cheeks. “To the contrary, Max. You know as well as I do we were meant to be best friends.”

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His own vision blurry, Max turned and climbed in the Explorer. Buckling Pablo in the passenger seat, he slipped on his sunglasses, opened the Altoid tin, and popped a mint in his mouth—then started the engine and backed out of his parking space. Rolling down his window as he came alongside Tuesday and Raul, who were both wiping their eyes on their sleeves, he said, “Oh, I almost forgot. I left something for the two of you in a file on my desk.” No sooner had Max spoken these words than he stepped on the gas. His tires squealed and smoked as he pulled out of the parking lot. Smiling, he caught one last glimpse of Raul and Tuesday, arm in arm, as he set off under partly cloudy skies for Connecticut.

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ust over an hour later, Max steered the Explorer into the empty driveway of his grandparents’ lavender two-story house and— wondering if they were even home—got out and stretched. It had been almost three years since he had last visited Mystic with his Aunt Nadine. But things, in New England, have a way of staying the same. Seemingly nothing about the old place—from the white picket fence to the ancient oaks—had changed. Having climbed the stone steps to the porch, he rang the doorbell. Before long the door opened and his grandmother, in a purple housedress matching her curly, purplish hair, stood on the threshold, blinking through her spectacles in an attempt to discern the identity of the young bearded man on her doorstep. “Max?” she asked, squinting harder. “Max? Is that you?” “Yeah, Grandma. It’s me.” “Why, you’re so grown up I hardly recognized you! What in the world are you doing here? It’s not Thanksgiving yet, is it?” She looked momentarily confused, like someone who had just taken a wrong turn in time. Max bent down and kissed her alabaster cheek, catching a whiff in the process of her familiar scent of roses. Laughing, he replied, “No, Grandma. Thanksgiving isn’t for two weeks. I just thought … Do you mind if I stay for a night or two?” “Do I mind? Listen to yourself. Max, my dear, you’re always welcome. Your grandfather will be delighted when he gets back from the barbershop. I hope nothing’s the matter?” 259


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“I just needed to come up for some fresh air.” As if on cue, a stiff breeze clicked the oak branches and Max distinctly smelled the salty sea. “College life can be … hectic.” “Don’t I know it. I was a Smith girl in my day. I met your grandfather, a dashing Dartmouth man, at a coed dance. Shall we get inside out of this wretched wind? Sometimes I wonder whatever possessed us to retire in the Northeast.” “Sure.” “I’ll make us some hot cider. That will warm our bones.” “I’d like that.” “Are you hungry?” Grandma Holden asked as she led Max through the living room (which appeared as unchanged as the outside of the house) into the cozy kitchen with lots of beige cupboards. “Driving always made me positively ravenous. I was just about to heat up some clam chowder for lunch.” “I’m starved. Clam chowder sounds delicious.” “Then sit down while I take care of things and tell me all about your life.” Though he had rarely spent much time alone with his grandmother, Max always felt comfortable around her. Besides resembling his mother with her ringlets of hair and mischievous brown eyes, and having been a teacher as well in her day (of high school English), she displayed a similarly vivacious temperament. Sighing with gratitude for this respite from the fatigue and stress of late, and glad to be in a place that felt more like a home than merely lodgings, Max sat down at the little four-seater table with its old-fashioned red-and-white checkered tablecloth. “Somebody sounds bushed,” said Grandma Holden while pouring cider in a pot and placing it on a gas burner. “Too much studying, too much socializing, or a combination of both?” Max laughed again. “Not enough of either, or so I’m told.” “Freshman year can be challenging—like taking a trip to a foreign country where one scarcely speaks the language.” “Tell me about it.” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “I have … friends. But no girlfriend.” “All in good time. Have you settled on a major yet?” “I started out pre-med. But I’m probably going to switch. I’ve had a notion to go into … anthropology.” His grandmother turned and stared with wide eyes. “Goodness, you just gave me quite a déjà vu,” she commented with a bittersweet smile. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought that up.”

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“To the contrary. I asked you to tell me about your life. You still look just like her, you know.” “So do you.” “Which means you and I are alike, if you haven’t figured that out already.” “I figured it out.” “I figured you had. Though you’re fairly inscrutable behind that impressive beard.” “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you don’t care for facial hair?” “Actually, I don’t mind a man with a beard—as long as he’s handsome like yourself,” said Grandma Holden with a devilish wink. “But I wouldn’t count on a lot of encouragement from your grandfather. Old insurance executives will always think like … insurance executives.” “Thanks for the heads-up. Speaking of, how’s Grandad’s hip these days?” “He manages. Though not without his share of complaining, bless him.” After putting on the chowder to heat, she joined Max at the table. “Let me see your hands.” “Why do you want to see them?” “You can tell a lot about a man by his hands.” Max showed her his hands. “They’re quite large,” she remarked, momentarily taking them in her own miniature, wrinkled hands. “I bet you’ve still got some growing to do.” “Physically, mentally, or emotionally?” “All of the above, I suspect.” “I was wondering,” said Max, changing the subject, “if you ever met one of my mother’s old boyfriends named Andrew?” “Andrew Icarus? Of course! Though I always called him Drew. Why do you ask?” “He’s a professor of anthropology at Maroon University. We’ve become … friends.” “It really is a small world, isn’t it? Young Drew visited us here on numerous occasions. I rather liked him, though your grandfather found him a bit odd. Cynthia and he were thick as thieves. I thought they might wind up married—before she met your father.” “It seems Professor Icarus thought the same thing.” “I’m sure he did. Tell me, Max, while we have a moment to ourselves, what’s really on your mind?” To his surprise, Max felt the same sensation he often experienced around Tuesday of being read like an open book yet not particularly caring. 261


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“Just tell me to stop if my prying annoys you.” “It’s not that, Grandma. It’s just … complicated.” “Does it have anything to do with your parents?” “It usually does.” “Yes, I imagine in your case that would be especially true. My poor child, how I’ve hurt for you all these long years.” The look on his grandmother’s face was so far from condescension, and so close to pure empathy, Max simply said, “Were you ever afraid to do something you weren’t even sure how to do—but you knew you had to do it, one way or another?” “Yes. You just perfectly described my feeling when I received the phone call that your mother was gone. I knew I had to tell your grandfather, even though it would break his heart and for the life of me I didn’t know where I would find the words.” “What did you do?” “The words came and I told him.” Max heard the front door open and close. Seconds later, his grandfather, dressed in gray slacks and a muted argyle sweater, thinning gray hair freshly clipped close to his mottled scalp, limped into the kitchen. “My goodness gracious!” he said catching sight of Max. “Look what the wind blew in!” Max stood up and gave his grandfather a hug. “Good to see you, Grandad!” “Likewise, my boy! I saw the SUV with the Florida plates in the drive and wondered who on earth could be visiting us from so far south.” “Actually, Max drove down from Rhode Island,” explained Grandma Holden. “Ah, yes. Rhode Island. I think I’ve heard it. Isn’t there a second-rate university up there that claims to be a member of the Ivy League?” “I believe you’re thinking of Harvard in Massachusetts,” replied Max. Flashing his false teeth, Grandad Holden laughed long and hard at his grandson’s joke. “Good one,” he said. “Too bad you didn’t choose my alma mater. Dartmouth can always use a man with a sense of humor.” “Care to join us for some cider and chowder?” asked Max. “It should be ready in ten minutes or so,” added Grandma Holden. “Excellent. That should give Max here just enough time to shave the wool off his face.” Of course, Max did no such thing—yet. Instead, after lunch with his grandparents, with several hours of daylight left, he persuaded Pablo to join him for a short drive back across the state line to Misquamicut Beach, where his mother used to hang out with Professor Icarus.

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“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said as they pulled up outside the little seasonal village, whose buildings were now closed, within shouting distance of the Atlantic. Pablo seemed impressed. “Wait here,” said Max, putting on his jacket and grabbing the box containing Maizy’s thunderbird kite from the back seat. At a picnic table under a nearby pavilion, he removed the box’s plastic wrapping and opened it. It occurred to him he was finally finishing his twelfth birthday nearly seven years after the fact. He assembled the kite with some difficulty in a stiff seafront breeze with nearly numb fingers, then sprinted with it across the deserted sand toward the crashing waves. Getting the thunderbird aloft was like riding a bike—he might as well have been a kid again on Oceanside Beach with his heart pounding and his father yelling, “Higher, Max! Faster! That’s my Snooze!” The diamond-shaped thunderbird, golden yellow with Native American accents in red, soared up into the sky, where it was framed by patches of blue peaking through the clouds. Max ran up and down the beach with the kite riding as high as the single string would allow until he was well and truly exhausted. Finally, letting the kite fall, he too collapsed, huffing and puffing, on the sand. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say he was happy—yet for the first time since Captain Diver disappeared, Max found himself remembering his father without a sinking feeling of gut-wrenching sadness. In that very instant, something shifted inside him. A heaviness grew lighter. A blocked passage opened. A cloud in a portion of his mind seemed to lift and let the light in—and suddenly, as the sun literally broke through the clouds with perfect timing, he realized he could think more clearly. Though he didn’t encapsulate it in quite these terms, at long last, after much pain and toil, he had arrived at the fifth and final stage of grief: acceptance. A clicking sound followed by a high-pitched whistle interrupted his reverie. Looking up in the direction of the noise, he was shocked at coming face to face with a bottlenose dolphin chattering at him dangerously close to shore. He hopped to his feet and quickly approached the water’s edge. Sporting a toothy grin, its nose skyward, the dolphin kept whistling and click-click-clicking as it rode the swells. To his astonishment, Max understood what it was saying.

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“Don’t worry, I’m on my way,” he replied through a series of clicks and whistles that would have been completely unintelligible to any human listening. “Now, get out of here before you beach yourself!” Amazingly, the dolphin did as directed, spinning and rocketing off back into the deeper water. Max watched until it disappeared about a quarter of a mile out. Still processing what had just happened, he gathered his kite and returned to the Explorer to share this latest development with Pablo.

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efore heading back to his grandparents’ house, Max had one last piece of unfinished business. As evening approached, he pulled into the parking lot of Highland Cemetery with its picturesque view of the lighthouse down at Mystic Seaport. Despite Captain Diver’s desire that his wife be laid to rest in Florida, it had been Max’s mother’s wish (explicitly stated in her will) to be buried here. The old cemetery, containing numerous graves dating back to Colonial times, was just up the road from her childhood home. The last time Max had come here, he asked his Aunt Nadine why her little sister had chosen this as her final resting place. “Because she loved it,” was the reply. “As far back as I can remember, she used to get away up here to read, God bless her soul.” The way Aunt Nadine spoke suggested she found his mother’s girlhood fascination with a graveyard eccentric. But Max, forever his mother’s son, had no difficulty seeing the appeal of the place. There were winding paths and wrought-iron benches where one could sit in the sunlight or under the shade of a massive oak. From early spring to mid-autumn, the hilltop was practically bursting with perennials. And always, there was the bird’s-eye view of the harbor below. Speaking of birds, ravens croaked loudly up in the bare branches as Max once again asked Pablo to wait. He retrieved the thunderbird kite from the hatch and carried it into the cemetery by the main gate, crunching dead leaves underfoot.

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He hadn’t attended his mother’s funeral, being less than a week old in the coldest part of the New England winter. But he knew from his aunt that his father had broken down in tears. Max felt fortunate he hadn’t been old enough to see and remember that. The cemetery was empty except for a stray mutt that trotted by as Max followed the cobblestone path leading to the summit. His mother lay buried under a rose-colored gravestone in the Holden family plot near her paternal grandparents. “I brought you this,” he said, placing the kite face-up on the slightly depressed grass and securing the string to the headstone. “I read your article—which was really brilliant—and thought you might enjoy having a thunderbird for company.” Glancing up at the sound of another raven, Max beheld the full moon, cold and bright, just coming up over the ocean. It struck him as yet another serendipity, almost as obvious as the dolphin, given that his mother’s name, Cynthia, originally applied to the Greek goddess of the moon. Max had promised himself he would keep his emotions in check. Yet he couldn’t help weeping a little—not so much from sadness as out of love for an exceptional mother he never met … yet somehow knew. Drying his eyes at last, he turned and left the darkening cemetery. Back at his grandparents’ house, the air was redolent with the scent of wood smoke. When he walked in the door with his duffel and Pablo, he found Grandad and Grandma Holden reading in the living room beside the crackling fireplace. “Look what the cat drug in!” said his grandfather, peering over his spectacles atop the latest issue of Time. “A Maroon University man, unfortunately. Still, as my grandson, you’re welcome here.” His grandmother closed the romance novel she was reading and asked, “How was the rest of your afternoon, Max?” “It was … eventful.” “Care to elaborate?” “Not at the moment. I’m pretty wiped out, actually. And I need a shower.” “Cute teddy.” “Thanks. It belongs to my roommate. It’s … a long story.” “I’m sure it is. Would you like something to eat before you go up? Your grandfather and I just split a ham sandwich.” “A ham and cheddar sandwich,” interjected Grandad Holden while still appearing to read. “Maybe I’ll come down and make myself one later. I’m still digesting those two huge bowls of chowder I couldn’t stop eating.”

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“Well, if we’ve already gone to bed, there’s bread in the cabinet beside the door and plenty of fixings and condiments in the refrigerator. Just use your creativity.” “I will, Grandma. Thanks.” “You remember where the guestroom and bath are?” “Of course.” “Perhaps tomorrow we can play a game of chess,” said Grandad Holden. “I’ll show you the value of a real Ivy League education.” “You’re on.” “Come here and give your old grandmother a kiss, Max. It’s such an unexpected treat to have you here with us.” Having said goodnight, Max climbed the stairs to the guestroom, opened the door, and switched on the light. The room was decorated in the same rustic, Martha’s Vineyard style as the rest of the house, but Max was aware it hadn’t always looked this way. For the better part of two decades, the room had been his mother’s. The feeling he always had when staying in the guestroom—sort of a sixth sense that he wasn’t entirely alone—gave credence to the paranormal notion that people’s energy could remain in places where they had spent a lot of time. Not that the guestroom seemed “haunted” in any way other than by someone else’s memories. But therein lay the rub. Though he might have denied it in the past, Max was now forced to admit he possessed the ability (possibly related to his caul) to pick up on such transpersonal recollections floating in the ethers. The oil portrait of his eighteen-year-old mother on the wall above the bed only added to his sense that there was something from her here in the room for him: some piece of information, some hidden message, if only he could locate it. Setting his duffel and Pablo on the bed, he opened the accordion door to the closet and pulled the string on the bare overhead bulb. The bright light revealed what amounted to a tiny, compact museum of his mother’s girlhood and adolescence. Most of the objects stored in the closet Max had already examined during previous visits. Hanging on the rack were his mother’s prom dresses, her high school graduation gown complete with her valedictorian’s sash, and her letter jacket as captain of the tennis team. Her yearbooks going all the way back to middle school were stacked in chronological order on a shelf alongside some of her favorite novels. Imagining that Tuesday and his mother would have been close, Max sat on the hardwood floor reading excerpts from Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, Flowers for Algernon, A Separate Peace, and Huckleberry Finn. 267


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An hour later, smelling book must on his fingers, Max was about to stand up and turn off the closet light—when an old-timey Lego box (of all things) protruding from under stacked apple crates containing various pieces of his mother’s memorabilia caught his eye. Intuiting that whatever was inside the Lego box was what he had been trying to find, he managed to slide it out without toppling the crates. He carefully removed the taped lid only to discover that the box was filled nearly to overflowing with … sand dollars! There must have been a hundred tests, maybe more, most of which were unblemished. He hadn’t seen this many whole sand dollars in one place since … his twelfth birthday. The day before his father disappeared. Suddenly, Max saw his fascination with sand dollars—which had its origins in the science report he did on them in third grade—in an entirely new light. He had the distinct impression his mother was reaching out from beyond the grave to communicate with him—that she had been reaching out, had been communicating with him, for years. The problem was he had been unable, or unwilling, to hear her. The effect of this realization was as unanticipated as it was cathartic. Having finally accepted the loss of his father merely hours earlier, Max felt his lifelong guilt at being responsible for his mother’s death steam up and away from his cellular memory like rain evaporating off a hot road. Within seconds the guilt, the tremendous heaviness of it he had carried with him always, was simply gone. In its place, he was infused with a totally novel feeling: forgiveness. In his heart, Max forgave himself—and in so doing, he forgave everybody and everything else. “Are you ready now?” Turning at the sound of this question, Max found the room empty. The voice had seemed audible, but no one was there—at least no one he could see. “I’m ready,” he replied. It was the truth. If he hadn’t been ready before, he certainly was now. In the final analysis, his preparation for going in search of his father had less to do with decalcifying his pineal gland than with detoxifying his emotional body. Without further hesitation, Max stood up, retrieved his toiletry kit from his duffel, and walked down the hall to the guest bath. After shaving his beard and mustache, he rinsed the sand and itchy hairs off his body in the shower, then dried off and returned to the guestroom wrapped in his towel. In his absence, Grandma Holden had left a ham and cheddar sandwich, three chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of milk on his

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bedside table with a note in her spidery handwriting saying, “Hope you sleep well. Sweet dreams!” Wondering if she somehow knew more than she let on, he ate the sandwich and cookies and drank the milk while donning the clothes he had worn in his boyhood vision where he disappeared after the Tempus Fugit into the swirling vortex: tennis shoes, faded jeans, and Maroon University sweatshirt. He put his caul in one pocket and his mother’s scarab hairpin in the other. After a trip back to the bathroom to brush his teeth and empty his bladder, leaving in his new contacts while strapping on his sleeping mask, he switched off the light and lay down on the bed with Pablo nestled in the crook of his arm. “Well, here we are, little buddy,” he said. “If I don’t come back, it was nice knowing you.” In a very real sense, Max’s entire life boiled down to this exact moment: the moment where he closed his eyes and consciously invited sleep to come and—quite literally—take him away. He recalled his earliest lucid dreams in which he sailed over various landscapes with gaping astonishment. He remembered the first objects he brought back, the debacle with Ms. Bridgewater and the chinquapins, his fight with Doug Biggins when his Dreambody made its initial appearance. As soon as he thought of his Dreambody, he realized he was asleep. He glanced at his hands, then—as he slowly lifted up—examined himself snoozing peacefully beside Pablo on his mother’s bed. He felt a little rusty, but the basic rules of dream navigation were indelibly imprinted in his psyche. He visualized the Interface, the membrane between space-time and time-space, and, purposely sending his energy in the opposite direction, willed himself to go there. In a flash, he was inside the Interface’s bubble actually stepping into his Dreambody like a spacesuit. The instant he put it on, it seemed to sink down and become part of his own skin, his own flesh and bones. Then he was back in the material sector. Thinking “up,” he immediately shot down the East Coast. He flew across Manhattan and down through Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia all the way to South Florida. He sailed low over Cape Carnival, catching a glimpse of the lighthouse at Dolphin Point in the distance, then continued on over Miami and the Keys straight into the center of the Bermuda Triangle. Projecting forward into the future, he allowed himself to flow back into the past, racing with breathtaking speed through weeks and months in the material sector until he arrived at the morning just after his twelfth birthday.

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What he saw then was a déjà vu of déjà vu. The Tempus Fugit was directly ahead—and so was the enormous vortex like a tie-dyed hurricane spinning open a flickering wormhole between space and time. As in his initial dream, the Skyhawk was accelerating wildly, seemingly pulled by gravitational forces as it approached the eye of the storm. Try as he might, he couldn’t catch up—until, spinning out of control, his father’s plane dematerialized with a nearly blinding flash like a volcano erupting at close range. Realizing he must be close by watching himself with a child’s eyes, Max chose to ignore the circular ramifications of this mind-bending fact as he took a deep breath and steeled himself to do the undone. The giant wormhole’s interdimensional energy—which he could feel tingling like electricity in the very pores of his skin—was approaching its apex. Soon it would start to close. This was it. Time to cross the Rubicon. Time to put up or shut up. Imagining himself as an arrow cocked and ready, Max sprang forward with all his dreaming might and vanished—barb, feather, and shaft—into the yawning unknown of the Otherworld.

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magine being turned to liquid and sucked through a straw, with clicking and lightning all around, until you explode through an icy membrane and turn luminous like a meteorite catching flame at the atmosphere’s edge—and perhaps you can begin to conceptualize Max’s disorienting experience of leaving space-time and entering time-space. Even while he was accomplishing it, moving between the material and cosmic sectors seemed unfathomable, a Herculean task that no mere mortal could hope to complete and remain intact—much less sane. For what stretched to a timeless time, and expanded to a spaceless space, Max could only surrender to the disintegration of his being. Yet somehow, having magically reintegrated, tumbling out of the sky with the vortex roiling overhead like an angry eyeball, he found himself plunging feet-first—silver cord trailing like a ribbon—into a tepid ocean. His toes touched the sandy bottom. Pushing off the seabed with the last of his strength, he broke the water’s gently churning surface. He was blinking, sputtering, and shaking—yet he was very much alive and still, apparently, himself. Fortunately, given his exhaustion, he wasn’t by himself. A pod of bottlenose dolphins encircled him, clicking and whistling enthusiastically in congratulations. There must have been a dozen of them. He was able to make out their general features through double vision. “Thanks,” he managed to gasp, as the dolphins all got behind and took turns skillfully pushing him with their fins in pairs toward the distant shore. 273


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At last, reaching the shallows, Max was able to wobble and stumble onshore just out of reach of the waves—at which point he collapsed in an ostensibly lifeless heap somewhere between realities.

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oming to his senses, Max indeed sensed from the faraway murmur of the surf that the tide had gone out. He also sensed he was still sprawled facedown like a sunbaked jellyfish exactly where he had washed up. While it may be difficult for those dwelling in space-time to comprehend, the Otherworld really is another world—one whose rules, though coherent in their own framework, run exactly opposite to ours. Where denizens of the material sector experience hearing, for instance, as an external, physical sense, those inhabiting the cosmic sector “hear” the world through an internal, intuitive process more like what we might call a “sixth sense.” Conversely, intuition, feelings, forebodings, clairvoyance, hunches and other immaterial phenomena are—from the perspective of the Otherworld—tangible sensations akin to our five senses. Owing to such radical differences between sectors, for the average space-time person, navigating the inverse universe of time-space (where everything seems inside out) is fraught with unimaginable difficulties. Happily, having been born with the blue Max’s caul, and thus “hardwired” for the cosmic sector, Max wasn’t the average material-sector person. Still, in the initial stages of adjusting to time-space, even he was discombobulated. For starters, he had quite a time just figuring out how to get to his feet.

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At length, applying his mind to the problem, he realized that in order to stand up in the cosmic sector, one had to reverse the thought process (as in dreams) and stand down. His hands and neck smarted from sunburn as he struggled upright—or rather, “downright.” After solving this conundrum, the next challenge Max faced involved his eyesight—or lack thereof. His vision was still so blurry he wondered if he had lost his contacts when he splashed down. Panicking like someone who fears his wallet has been stolen, he touched the corners of both eyeballs, where the ultra-thin, extended-wear lenses remained in place. Wondering whether he even needed contacts in time-space, he became aware that his eyesight was gradually improving. Before long the ocean ceased to be merely a uniform turquoise and took on a variety of subtly nuanced hues. To use an Internet analogy Raul would have appreciated, it was as if Max’s brain—particularly, in this case, his visual cortex—was in the process of switching “browsers.” Within minutes he could make out even more colors in the water, the interference patterns between incoming and outgoing waves, the tiny fins of dolphins in the distance, the warped shadows from clouds on the horizon sailing across the ocean’s undulating surface. Turning, he examined the dense jungle lining the shore. Besides taking in the “macro” in the form of gigantic trees and sinuous vines, Max was also keenly aware of the “micro”: the myriad shapes of leaves, the intricate patterns of bark, the shimmering lines of red and black ants working. Everything was vivid to an extreme, surreal even, down to the smell of the ocean, the almost burning scent of salty wind in his nostrils. He had the bizarre impression this world was real—while the one he came from was fake. Be that as it may, the Otherworld, drenched in the intense light of a tangerine sun, was unquestionably hot. Stripping off his mostly dry sweatshirt and tying it around his waist, feeling the sun’s rays on his shoulders, he set out across the sand toward the jungle in search of shade. To his surprise, the experience of walking was the biggest novelty of all. He was definitely processing this new environment differently because the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other was an exercise in traveling through time. Literally. To employ another Internet comparison, time-space appeared to operate via a mechanism akin to scrolling down a webpage. Fascinatingly, each step one took seemed to “upload” the next temporal frame of reality … as needed.

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“That’s weird,” said Max while taking another step into yet another reality frame, only to be further shocked by the resonant, harmonic quality of his voice, which seemed to echo in surround sound. He stopped and took a step back. Sure enough, the frame reverted to the previous one, like an old-timey movie reel playing in reverse. “Forward into the future. Backward into the past,” he murmured, considering the implications. A high-pitched noise like a gorilla screaming somewhere in the jungle interrupted his thoughts. The sound sent shivers down his spine and stood every hair on his body on end. Attempting to put as much distance as possible between himself and whatever had made such a racket, he began moving forward again. With each step, the jungle seemed to change slightly, becoming a little older perhaps. After roughly a quarter of a mile, gaps and clearings could be seen where strange blue coconut palms of vast dimensions dominated and wild yellow grasses grew. In one such clearing, to his tremendous surprise and unspeakable joy, Max beheld the Tempus Fugit! Running forward through time, the wild grasses growing taller and going to seed as the season changed from summer to fall, Max found the red and blue Cessna Skyhawk long deserted. Exotic weeds had grown up around the landing gear; rust had eaten through portions of the lower frame; and creepy orange spiders had built translucent webs under the wings. There was no indication anyone had been near the place in ages. He climbed up and looked inside the cockpit. Nothing. He searched the clearing with his eyes. Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Something was sailing toward him overhead. He first saw only its shadow rippling across the clearing—an enormous, menacing darkness that blotted out the sun. In that same instant, a second animal scream erupted from the jungle. This time, instead of frightening Max directly, it had the effect of alerting him to some other immediate danger—and not a second too soon. Glancing up, he beheld a huge … pterosaur swooping down! Its red and yellow wingspan easily stretched to forty feet; its body, mottled with spiky fur, was the size of a horse; its beak was long and pointed like a spear; and its cry was like that of an eagle … on steroids. Realizing he was under attack from what his mother would have called a thunderbird, Max had just enough time to drop to the ground and roll under the Skyhawk—before the great beast brushed across the cockpit, jostling the entire plane with a frustrated cry. The ground shook as the pterosaur landed and dropped to all fours, folding its bat-like wings behind its forelegs and moving forward like a 277


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quadruped. A blue coxcomb waved atop its head like a flag as it thrust its pointed beak at Max where he lay terrified under the Cessna. That might have been the unceremonious end of Max and his journey to the Otherworld—had something very unexpected indeed not occurred just then. Whack! A large rock sailed out of the jungle and struck the thunderbird powerfully on the flank. The beast gave an infuriated, deafening cry and turned in the direction from which the missile had come. Whack! Another even larger rock ricocheted off its chest under the elongated beak. The thunderbird seemed to experience a moment of indecision. Glancing at a trembling Max with inscrutable black eyes, then at the jungle from which yet another rock missed it just wide, the beast suddenly made up its mind—leaving its prey for another day and taking off across the clearing toward its aggressor at a thunderous gallop. Composing himself, Max quickly assessed the situation. Clearly, his father wasn’t here. And he needed to take cover as fast as possible, which meant braving the jungle. There was nothing to be gained from hanging around just so he could be eaten. The thought of becoming dinner for a flying dinosaur made him realize how hungry he was himself, which somehow brought breadcrumbs to mind. “If you do enter the Otherworld in search of your father,” Professor Icarus had counseled in his final words to Max, “be prepared for anything. Anything. And make sure you drop a lifeline of breadcrumbs as you travel through time so you can find your way back to us again in the here and now.” Max didn’t have any breadcrumbs in his pockets, but he had something that might work even better. Crouching in the grass beside one of the Skyhawk’s deflated tires, he looped his silver cord several times around it. The idea was that the cord would stay fixed at that particular point in time, allowing him to simply follow it back when he was ready, since it should stretch out behind him as he moved forward into the future. After verifying that the clearing was actually clear, Max took a swimmer’s breath and sprinted in the opposite direction the thunderbird had gone. At the edge of the jungle, he made sure his silver cord was still with him. It was—fluttering behind diaphanously in the wind. “This is nuts,” he whispered, before taking another deep breath and plunging headlong into a jungle so leafy and vine-filled it reminded him of a scene out of a Tarzan movie.

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ax had no earthly idea, not even the faintest notion, where he was going. But with the thunderbird fresh on his mind, he thought it best to keep moving. Easier said than done. The jungle, though its canopy provided ample shade and cover, was a serious threat in its own right. Max was careful to avoid spiky plants (of which there were many) as well as ones that looked like close cousins of poison ivy (ditto). He also kept a watchful eye out for predators, snakes, scorpions, and other deadly creatures. The going was slow. “Why couldn’t I have brought something useful, like a machete?” he wondered aloud while karate-chopping his way through the dense undergrowth. “At the very least, I could have put a Swiss army knife in my pocket.” On the subject of pockets, sticking his hands in his, he pulled out his caul and his mother’s scarab hairpin. “Instead, for reasons unknown, or at least unknown to me, I brought these stupid things.” Suddenly, he became aware of how small his voice sounded—and how tiny he himself seemed—compared to the immensity of surrounding flora. There was a great deal of fauna, too, most of it unseen. Occasionally, after replacing the caul and hairpin in his pockets and moving on, he glimpsed a multicolored lizard climbing a tree trunk or a spotted, squirrellike creature high in the branches.

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But for the most part, he only heard the insects, bees, monkeys and other creatures, large and small, for whom the jungle was home. Their voices were so insistent, so omnipresent, it seemed the very air was made of them. Besides the clear and present danger presented by the untamed environment, there was another, more immediate problem Max knew he had to address sooner rather than later: thirst. Yes, he was starving, too. But after lying in the sun for hours, then walking over hot sand and fleeing a prehistoric carnivore, he had to get some liquid in his body soon or face dehydration. “Why didn’t I let my father sign me up for the Boy Scouts?” he wondered aloud, confronting the fact that he was a city boy through and through while examining the jungle as if it were a gigantic book written in an alien tongue. “Could camping out have been that bad?” “Think, Max,” he told himself, looking more closely at the forest floor. “For God’s sake, you’re an Ivy League student.” Ground water wasn’t an option because of the likelihood of parasites. And even if he had a knife to cut them with, he wouldn’t risk drinking from vines that might be poisonous. So that left only— He hadn’t even finished the thought, when he was startled by a loud thud just behind him that caused him to spin around. Half buried in the humid earth so close it had splashed mud up his jeans was an enormous, freshly fallen coconut. “So that leaves coconut!” he exclaimed. That is, if he could figure out how to break open the darn thing. The instant he acknowledged the problem, a potential solution presented itself. Though there weren’t many exposed rocks in the jungle, he happened to have passed a large one not a hundred yards back. Picking up the coconut, which was the size of a pumpkin and weighed more than a bowling ball, he carefully retraced his steps. One by one, the time frames of the cosmic sector’s cinematic reality flashed back into the past, until he stood beside the moss-covered rock jutting up out of the ground like an oversized canine tooth. Summoning his strength, he lifted the coconut high overhead and hurled it down onto the rock’s point. Crack! The coconut split cleanly into halves, both of which luckily landed face-up on the ground still holding most of their liquid. There must have been half a gallon. Max drank all of it in great gulps. The taste was sweet, mineral, and infinitely more refreshing than any beverage he could recall ever consuming in the material sector. When the last drop was gone, he tried digging into the pulp with his fingers, but found it too hard. In the end, yet another in a string of inspired ideas occurred to him. He broke the halves over the rock into

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smaller pieces, with pulp on one side and shell on the other, that he could nibble while journeying on. “I may lose weight, but at least I won’t starve,” he said, munching a wedge of juicy pulp as he stuffed his front and back pockets with coconut shards. “Speaking of strange diets, I wonder how Tuesday is.” His friend’s kind, jovial face appeared like a sunflower in his mind. “Jesus, if only she could see me now. I am where the wild things are.” No sooner had he spoken these words than their extreme truth was brought home in an up-close-and-personal manner he could never have imagined. Just then, he heard a noise as if a colossal animal were moving toward him. Fearing it might be the thunderbird and poised on the verge of flight, he watched in amazement as a childhood memory stepped out behind him—literally—onto the path he had forged through the vegetation. “No. Impossible. It can’t be,” he whispered with widening eyes as the hair on the nape of his neck lifted up in alarm like a hackle. Towering above Max, swaying back and forth ominously, was an exact physical manifestation of his mother’s sketch of Sasquatch in her field journal!

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he creature’s pugged nose, which seemed to be sniffing, was like a gorilla’s but fleshier. Its eyes, recessed under a ridged brow, were reddish—a feature which Max, thanks to his studies in biology, suspected was the result of increased capillary density common to nocturnal creatures with superior night vision. Leathery skin covered the creature’s concave cheeks, jutting chin, sloped forehead, palms, and armpits. The rest of its body—from the top of its feet to the tip of its conical head—was carpeted in ruddy fur. But the great hominoid’s most striking feature was its pendulous breasts, which swayed as it did. The fact it was female made Max feel slightly less frightened … but only slightly. The creature was so huge and powerful he knew he wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight—and he surmised, given her long, muscular legs athletically bent at the knees, that she could run a lot faster than he could. “Look. I don’t know if you can understand me,” he pleaded, holding his hands in the air in a gesture of peace. “But I don’t mean you any harm. In fact, I’m just passing through. If you let me, I swear I’ll be out of your way in no time.” The creature seemed to eye Max pensively, head slightly cocked where it had frozen mid-sway. Then the almost human look of intelligence on her face vanished as she bared her great square teeth and burst into manic gorilla laughter.

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The terrifying echoes pulsated in the jungle. Max realized he had heard a variation of this sound twice before: once when walking on the beach and again just before the thunderbird’s attack. “That was you?” he said. The creature stopped laughing and looked at him again with an air of thoughtfulness while scratching her underarm absentmindedly. Whether she was an animal or a protohuman, a Miocene ape or a Neanderthal, was still—even at close range—anybody’s guess. She took a step forward. Max was so petrified all he could do was stand his ground. Her motion propelled her intensely musky scent into his nostrils. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant—but like everything else about her, it was extraordinarily strong. “I don’t imagine bathing is high on the list of Bigfoot priorities?” he joked in an attempt to diffuse his terror and think more lucidly. The creature seemed not to notice his snide remark. Instead, registering the existence of the pointed rock Max had used to break the coconut, she made a gigantic fist and, with its heel, smashed off the rock’s top in a single blow. This she picked up and chipped into two sizable chunks over what remained of the original rock. With a chunk roughly the size of an iron in each hand, she stood back up straight, baring her teeth again while sniffing and glancing around the jungle with squinted eyes. Suddenly, Max recalled the large rocks that had struck the thunderbird. Though it was a seemingly minor detail he had glossed over in his panic, he distinctly remembered that both rocks he had watched fall to the ground were freshly chipped. “It was you, wasn’t it, out here in the jungle?” He made the next logical connection almost instantly. “You saved my life, didn’t you?” The Bigfoot’s only reaction—if reaction it was—was to emit a loud, toothy yawn like a walrus bellowing. “Why did you risk yourself to save me?” Max received no response to this question. Not that he expected one. At this point, he knew he couldn’t expect anything from the cosmic sector—except, perhaps, the unexpected. Motioning with a shaggy arm for Max to follow, the creature turned and stalked off quickly through the dense vegetation. Hesitating, but only for a nanosecond, Max trotted along after her. “What else am I supposed to do?” he asked no one in particular. Swinging her long arms like twin metronomes, knees perpetually bent, the Bigfoot virtually glided through the jungle with a smooth, effortless gait that—surprisingly for her massive frame—was efficient … and fast. It was all Max could do to catch up. When he finally did, he noticed how immense and muscular the creature’s shoulders were—and that a 284


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long, raised scar visible under her fur ran straight across them just below her tree stump of a neck. With evening approaching and the jungle filling with shadows, it was no small comfort to have an eight-foot, seven-hundred-pound, boulderslinging bodyguard who apparently knew her way around. Max was also relieved to find his perception normalizing. Given his dual “hardwiring” for space-time and time-space, when he focused, he could still perceive the cosmic sector’s incremental time frames blipping by like photo stills. But for the most part, it was less disconcerting to tune out the time frames and experience the cosmic sector from the perspective of one of its natural inhabitants as simply a spatial landscape just like any other. Well, maybe not just like any other. This approach may have been less disorienting, but it made Max no less miserable. Evening had brought with it swarms of mosquitoes the size of fruit flies with matching proboscises that seemed intent on drinking all of his blood before nightfall. The Bigfoot hardly appeared to notice them, but Max was in agony. Eventually, though the jungle felt like a sauna, he was forced to put back on his sweatshirt—at which point, exhausted from jogging to keep up, and parched again, he pulled up short and yelled, “There’s no way I can maintain this pace. If you’re in a really big hurry, Godspeed. Maybe you could point me in the direction of some water before you abandon me.” The creature stopped, turned around, and rejoined Max. Handing him her two chipped rocks, which were so heavy he nearly dropped them on his toes, she squinted and examined the darkening vegetation until she located what she sought. Reaching up a good eleven feet in the air, she grasped a yellowish vine as thick as a boa constrictor and pulled it down taut. She snapped off the end with a powerful twist of her wrist, causing clear liquid to gush out like water from a hose. After downing several gulps with her head thrown back, she positioned the still drizzling vine beside Max for him to do the same. “You’re sure this is fit for human consumption?” he asked, not even waiting for a response before his thirst got the best of him and he guzzled as much of the cool, citrus-tasting nectar as he could hold. “Thanks,” he said, handing back the rocks and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “I don’t suppose we could order a pizza?” He had no way of knowing for certain if the creature understood a word he said (though he suspected she did) and mostly talked just to keep himself from freaking out. In any case, he noticed she slowed her pace considerably from that point on. 285


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Evening was merging with night when the jungle began to thin slightly and a full moon—larger and brighter than the most stunning supermoon in the material sector—made its appearance in a cloudless sky through jagged gaps in the canopy. Before long, making good time with such a moon to see by, they came to a river. Max heard it before he saw it: a wide tropical stream slowly gurgling through the jungle like liquid mercury in the moonlight. The creature squatted beside the riverbank, listening and watching. Squatting beside her, Max could hear a sound that reminded him of the keening of tree frogs, and he could easily discern the river’s sparkling reflection below. Though everything was, nothing in particular struck him as out of the ordinary. Even so, he could sense—intuitively, as it were, yet in an almost physical manner, like sensing the presence of heat—that the creature was nervous … and that made Max most fearful indeed. Finally, still squatting, the creature turned and faced him, her spheroid eyes glowing like hot coals in the twilight. At that moment, in his mind, he heard words spoken with what sounded like a woman’s husky voice: “Climb on.” “Who said that?” he whispered, glancing around in alarm. “Zana,” answered the voice in his mind. “Zana?” he repeated, whether silently or aloud it was hard to say. “Zana helps the Umbodi.” “The what?” “Climb on.” In what was arguably the most surreal moment of his bizarre journey yet, Max realized he was having a telepathic conversation with a female Sasquatch named Zana! “You want me to climb on your shoulders?” “Zana helps the Umbodi cross river.” “How deep is it?” “Not deep. Dangerous. Capu is there.” “Capu? I don’t like the sound of that.” “Climb on while we have moon. Maybe Capu sleeps.” If Max had done anything crazier in his life, he couldn’t recall it just then as he mounted Zana’s hairy shoulders and held on for all he was worth as she stood up to her full height. Again, and not for the last time, he wished Tuesday—and for that matter, Raul and Professor Icarus—could see him. At the very least, if he ever made it back to space-time in one piece, he would have some riveting stories to share. Scanning the river, Zana stepped into the water and made a beeline for the opposite shore. Even ferrying a person through chest-high flowing 286


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water while carrying two large stones, her motion was so fluid Max imagined most ponies would give a bumpier ride—that is, until the ride got well and truly bumpy. They were within twenty yards of the far bank, when Zana stopped, listening intently, and even Max could make out a distinct change in the sound of the water. A massive swell like that preceding a surfacing submarine was racing toward them downstream. The river foamed and frothed—and then in the moonlight could be seen two enormous eyes that quickly gave way to a gaping mouth several feet high bristling with spiky teeth the size of tent stakes. “Jesus H. Christ!” exclaimed Max. He could feel Zana’s tremendous musculature rippling as, in a single motion, she turned and fired a rock at point-blank range. The shot was so perfectly aimed the rock disappeared with a sickening thud into the giant crocodile’s mouth, snapping its snout back as it rolled over and floated lifelessly (so it seemed) on its back with its white belly skyward. Without taking her eyes off the creature, which Max realized must be Capu, Zana slowly and carefully backed her way toward the opposite shore. Regaining consciousness, the crocodile rolled onto its front again and propelled itself forward menacingly with snakelike sweeps of its twentyfoot tail … only to stop at a safe distance when Zana hissed loudly and threatened to hurl her other rock. Max felt frightened, dizzy, weak—but most of all, grateful—when she deposited him on the far bank, safe if not entirely sound, and led him through the trees up and away from the river.

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ver the next hour, walking behind Zana in the moonlight, Max realized the jungle was beginning to thin out and change. The heat and humidity grew less oppressive; the mosquitoes seemed fewer and smaller; and countless fireflies (or something like them) appeared—making kaleidoscopic patterns of aquamarine throughout the woods. Despite his exhaustion, sunburn and continuous itching, Max acknowledged the scene was memorable. He endeavored to log it away for future appreciation as he stumbled on through flashing swarms of fireflies behind his tireless guide. Gradually, the terrain became hilly and the air turned almost cool. As the moon climbed higher, Max found himself no longer in a jungle but in deciduous woods, munching a coconut shard while walking across pine needles with the pleasant scent of resin in the air. Under normal circumstances not subject to temporal dislocation, he knew such drastic alterations in landscape over such short distances were virtually impossible. This meant the change must be caused by the physics of time-space, in which time and space traded places, and where to travel was to journey not so much across distance as through history. The thought that he might be approaching a comparatively modern era closer to his own (as suggested by the landscape) had the effect of grounding him in an otherwise groundless situation in which the earth itself—from a space-time perspective—literally appeared to shift under his feet. 289


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Meanwhile, though he was lost, the fact he had no notion where he was going, and even less of an idea what to do when he got there, wasn’t lost on him. Glancing back, he was comforted to find his silver cord still stretching like a rubber band left and right through the trees and out of sight. At the top of a steep hill, under a copse of pines with a bird’s-eye view under moonlight of dimpled valleys all around, Zana finally, mercifully stopped. Max collapsed like a ragdoll on the pine needles sucking for breath. That last hill had been a backbreaker. He hadn’t been so winded since his tennis days, which seemed lifetimes ago. Zana gazed down at him with a blank expression, then dropped her rock, cupped her enormous hands around her mouth, and let out a highpitched, blood-curdling call that echoed in the valleys for the better part of a minute. After appearing to listen, head cocked, for a reply, she simply shrugged when none was forthcoming and went about her business—which focused on gathering rocks from the nearby woods and piling them in a little pyramid on the ground. By this time, Max had recovered enough to sit up and watch her curiously as, two by two, she started chipping the stones against each other into sharp objects resembling crude, oversized spearheads. On the one hand, the chipped rocks reminded him of photos of Neanderthal tools. But they also looked almost exactly—except for their expanded dimensions—like what gorillas made in zoos when offered stones as playthings. “What are you?” he asked. Zana looked up at him stoically, almost nobly, then suddenly, baring her teeth, burst into idiotic laughter. “Seriously. Are you a human or an ape—or both?” This time there was no response as Zana just kept smashing stones. Nor was there any sense of telepathic communion with her—if there ever really had been. “I’m starved, Zana. This coconut tastes like sawdust. Don’t you ever get hungry? Or are you just a rock-chipping machine?” In answer (if answer it was) to Max’s somewhat rude questions, she put down her rocks and crawled around on all fours sniffing with her expressive nose just above the level of the pine needles. After a few seconds, apparently finding what she was seeking, she dug into the ground with both hands, shoveling out masses of dirt in short order with her great, square-nailed fingers.

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Before Max could get out of the way, she gave a pleased whoop and tossed a glowing creature the size of a garter snake in his lap. It looked like a massive Gummy Worm—except it was alive and squirming! He nearly jumped out of his skin as he hopped to his feet and the glowworm tumbled to the ground. Before it could reenter the earth, Zana snatched it up, threw her head back, and—as if teaching a young Sasquatch—demonstrated how to eat it by lowering it into her cavernous mouth like a linguini noodle and swallowing it whole. “You’ve got to be kidding,” said Max. “There’s no way I’m eating one of those.” Zana shrugged again as if to say, “Suit yourself,” and returned to chipping rocks. Too tired to pursue the subject of food, Max lay back again on the pine needles with his hands behind his head trying not to scratch his mosquito bites while staring up at the moon through the branches. In the combined light from the moon and fireflies, the trees appeared to recede and turn into their own shadows. He experienced himself as a similar shadow, sinking further and further into the night. The last conscious thought he had, listening to Zana chip-chipchipping away, was to imagine her casually reaching up and grabbing the moon with one hand—only to smash it to smithereens with a rock and add the pieces to her little pyramid. In his dream, Max was back at Maroon University flitting like a restless ghost across the gothic, lamp-lit campus under a full moon. He entered Chatterton Hall as a breath of smoke, penetrated his old room as a fog, and found Tuesday and Raul seated on the latter’s bed holding hands and talking about … himself. “I wonder how the old boy’s doing,” said Raul in his humorous accent. “I hate to admit it, but I rather miss the stubborn blighter.” “Me, too,” said Tuesday, glancing at the Bradelring with a faraway look underscored by sadness. “I can’t even see him anymore.” To dream of a parallel universe is one thing; to be in a parallel universe dreaming of one’s reality is quite another. Was Max a butterfly—or a person dreaming he was a butterfly? “Do you think he’s gone over?” asked Raul. “I know he has. I felt it when he did.” “Do you think he’s okay?” “I certainly hope so.” Raul sighed deeply and genuinely. “That makes two of us. Poor chap. If he just makes it back, I swear to God he can borrow any of my clothes he likes without asking in perpetuity.” Though dematerialized in his dream, Max was so moved by his friends’ concern tears escaped his closed eyes and rolled down his cheeks 291


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where he slept. He wanted to tell them that, regardless of what became of him, he loved them very much. He went so far as to attempt to do so, but there was no way to make contact. It was as if he and they were on incompatible wavelengths— which, when he considered it, he realized they were. Space-time faded as he slowly reopened his eyes in time-space. The moon had almost set; the fireflies were gone; the sky was growing lighter; and Zana was snoring like a diesel engine curled up in a fetal position on the other side of her pyramid. I wonder what Bigfoots dream about, Max mused as he wiped his damp cheeks on his leaf-stained sleeve and reached out where he lay until he was almost touching the capstone of Zana’s pyramid. To his astonishment, when he focused on the topmost rock, it suddenly lifted all by itself several inches into the air, where it hovered, slowly spinning, until he withdrew his hand—at which point the rock fell with a pop back on the pile. Zana stirred in her sleep, growling unintelligibly, then grew still again. In the soft, predawn light, Max stared at his hand, which felt vaguely warmer than usual, wondering what could possibly be happening to him.

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ax, aka Snooze, a natural sleepyhead in the material sector, discovered he was quite the early riser in the Otherworld. Feeling restless in the aftermath of his dream and its unsettling aftermath, he stood up stiffly and stretched while gazing out over the rolling valleys below in dawn’s lemon-yellow light. What a strange sensation to be a stranger in an even stranger land, he thought, realizing in the same instant Zana was awake and staring at him. Having just bolted upright on hearing him stir, she was shaking her inscrutable head while yawning vastly. “Good morning, dear,” said Max. “Shall we go out for breakfast today?” She eyed him dispassionately, then scratched her ribs with both hands and nimbly hopped to her feet. Meanwhile, Max ducked behind a pine tree to relieve his swollen bladder. When he reappeared, she was squatting beside her little pyramid of chipped rocks examining it intently. After careful deliberation, she selected two stones—one for each hand—and appeared ready to set out again. “You realize,” said Max, “I’m going to need some water, like, soon.” If Zana registered his statement in any way, she didn’t show it. For the next hour at least, she led him down into a nearby valley, then up into a little gorge flanked by steep walls covered in massive oaks and enormous, leafy bushes that reminded Max of oversized laurel.

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He munched a dry coconut shard as he strolled through what—after the rigors of the jungle behind—felt like a perfectly tame environment. But in time-space, as elsewhere, appearances could be deceiving. Before long Max found himself laboring behind Zana through a thicket so disorienting he would have been a goner had he been on his own. Once or twice, even Zana seemed stumped by what struck Max as a vegetative maze leading nowhere in all directions. Whenever Zana seemed to be in doubt, she stopped, cocked her head, and listened. After Max joined her in this behavior several times, he finally thought he heard what she did: the sound of water. Even as his thirsty being was overjoyed at the trickling sound, Zana burst into manic gorilla laughter and gave her signature whoop to let Max know something positive was transpiring. Growing quiet again and zeroing in on the trickling, the two slowly navigated the thicket, crouching when necessary, until they arrived at a rocky stream hardly three feet wide. This time Max didn’t hesitate; he guzzled the icy water straight out of a little pool until his belly ached. The taste was pristine. If this water harbored harmful parasites, amoebas or bacteria, he would have been shocked—and in any case, beggars couldn’t be choosers. After he finished, Zana followed suit by drinking her fill as well. Then Max washed his hands thoroughly and splashed his face and hair. Refreshed, for some time he dripped as they picked their way painstakingly downstream. Gradually, intersecting a series of tributaries, the stream grew larger. Simultaneously, the thicket thinned out—and slowly, another familiar sound grew louder in their ears: that of a river. Recalling their last river crossing and Capu’s attack, Max had mixed feelings, but Zana seemed excited and quickened her pace. As they moved along, the sun crested the ridge behind and bathed the ferny woods with golden shafts of light. Zana pulled up short with the river in plain sight through the trees where the stream emptied into it. Handing Max her rocks, she motioned for him to stay put before dropping to all fours and stealthily approaching the water’s edge. The river was relatively narrow, no more than thirty yards at its widest, fast-moving, and obviously deep in places. In the morning light, countless hatches of river flies formed a sort of living gauze in continuous vibration all around it. A blue heron, with a wingspan of maybe a dozen feet, perched on a rock fishing, thumped its way into the air and sailed off downstream as Zana tiptoed to the edge of some whitewater rapids. Suddenly, with a motion almost swifter than the eye could see, she stabbed a hand into the 294


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rapids and pulled out a wiggling, brightly painted fish resembling an Alaskan salmon. She knocked its head on a rock and tossed it up on the bank, then repeated the stabbing motion and produced another almost identical fish. “That’s impressive,” whispered Max. Rather than knocking the second fish’s head, Zana carried it still very much alive onto the bank and proceeded to eat it lengthwise—head, guts, and tail—in great cracking bites, spitting out the bones in between. “That’s disgusting,” said Max. Mid-bite, blood dribbling down her chin, Zana nodded toward the first fish lying lifeless on the ground. “You want me to eat it raw?” As soon as Max asked this question, to which he already knew the answer, his stomach growled and he thought of sushi. With a glance at the chipped rocks in his hands, he had an idea. Kneeling beside his fish, he took a deep breath to steady himself. “Come on, Max,” he said. “You wanted to be a doctor—and you can’t even filet a salmon?” With these words, nearly shutting his eyes squeamishly, he set one rock on the ground and sliced into the fish’s belly with the sharp edge of the other. Nauseating as it was, he used his hands to pull out the guts. These he tossed into the bushes before extricating as much of the pink meat from the bones as possible with his rudimentary blade. Having finished her own breakfast, Zana stood watching, fascinated, as Max screwed up his courage to try a bite. But as soon as he did, he realized how silly he was being: the stuff was mouthwatering, better than any sushi he had ever eaten. Seeing the surprised look on Max’s face as he wolfed down another bite, then another and another, Zana laughed and clapped her colossal hands like a little girl in a moment of delight. Though the fish weighed a solid three pounds, Max ate all the meat he could access in a matter of minutes—at which point, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he released a ringing burp, which made Zana laugh and clap even harder. “Life’s simple pleasures, eh?” he said in mild mockery of his guide’s enthusiasm, quickly realizing how much he himself had enjoyed their repast. “Thanks, Zana. That was really quite tasty.” Grunting modestly, she retrieved the fish guts he had discarded in the bushes, eating the pieces one by one like popcorn as she found them. Afterward, she washed everything down with several loud gulps of river water.

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Throwing caution to the winds, after thoroughly scrubbing his hands (which still smelled like fish) in the whitewater, Max did likewise. The water was stingingly cold and absolutely thirst-quenching. Meanwhile, Zana washed off the rock Max had used as a filet knife and picked up the other one. With a cautious look and sniff around, she led him back into the woods headed upstream.

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ll through that morning and into afternoon, they trekked through a hilly terrain of fields and woods in what Max judged by the sun’s position to be a mostly northeasterly direction. But that was only conjecture based on space-time; perhaps, in time-space, they were traveling in a southwesterly direction. As the hours elapsed, the season gradually seemed to shift from what had felt like springtime down at the river, to high summer as they navigated a winding mountain pass, to early fall as the terrain began to level out at elevation. By mid-afternoon, there was evidence of autumn everywhere in largerthan-life, brilliantly pastel versions of wild daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, crowfoot, milkweed, and white asters. In an attempt to make sense of the seasonal shift, Max surmised that the cosmic sector was structured on complementary vectors, something like x and y axes where time was concerned. Maybe it wasn’t quite so simple as “forward into the future, backward into the past,” though this had been a helpful concept. By the look of things, time-space was based on coordinates. The vertical, or “y axis,” appeared to regulate historical time. North, or at least “upward,” on this axis took one into the future; while south, or “downward,” propelled one back into the past. Concurrently, assuming the coordinate hypothesis was correct, one’s position on the horizontal, or “x axis,” determined the season in the larger temporal framework. 297


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With Zana’s trajectory steadily toward the east, or at least the “right,” the seasons had progressed in a natural order—if preternaturally fast. But Max suspected that if they changed course and moved west, or “left,” for a while, the seasons would flow in reverse. In the late afternoon, true to his theory, the leaves on the deciduous trees started to turn: the product of moving farther to the right into fall on the x axis. At the same time, the trees changed dramatically from great oaks and locusts to tremendous cottonwoods and aspen-like specimens with smooth, butter-colored bark and silver leaves reminiscent of water lilies that glinted like tinsel in the wind: the result of moving upward on the y axis into a future landscape. “Don’t you ever get tired of time-traveling with every step?” Max asked Zana as they emerged from an aspen thicket into what looked like the edge of … an apple orchard. The sight elicited opposite emotions in Max. On the one hand, buoying him up, it was the first evidence of habitation by people he had encountered in the cosmic sector. But on the other hand, sinking him down, the orchard was clearly an ancient one that hadn’t been tended in possibly hundreds of years. Nevertheless, there were still apples—gargantuan ones rounded like pomegranates and just as intensely crimson—on many of the wizened trees. Eyeing a particularly juicy-looking one just out of reach, Max realized he was hungry again. As if reading his thoughts, setting down her rocks, Zana picked the apple easily and handed it to him. The apple was massive, nearly as big as a melon. “Thanks,” he said, holding it with two hands and taking a bite. The taste was as delicious as it was exotic—a cross between sweet russet and rhubarb, with a hint of papaya. While Max was otherwise engaged tackling his apple, Zana picked one for herself. Before Max had finished half of his, she popped it in her mouth like a Tater Tot, crushed it in two bites, and swallowed the chunks with a throaty, satisfied gulp. She picked another and offered it to Max. When he politely declined, she proceeded to eat it as well in similar fashion—at which point she wiped her dark, fleshy lips on the fur of her forearm. “I’m beginning to see that Bigfoots live quite well in the wild,” Max commented between bites. No sooner had he finished eating his apple down to the core, feeling stuffed and sleepy, than Zana scooped up her rocks and motioned for him to follow toward the far end of the orchard.

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But immediately, having just discarded his core and started walking, he stopped and picked up a curiously familiar object half embedded in the earth. It was a perfect arrowhead approximately an inch and a half long and an inch wide. Made of black obsidian, it was practically identical to the one he had retrieved from near the Pyramid of the Sun in a childhood dream. The arrowhead was further evidence that people had once lived here, however long ago. If nothing else, that was hopeful since, in all probability, their descendants were to be found somewhere in the vicinity. Max looked up at the sound of Zana grunting for him to get a move on. She stood nearly as tall as some of the more twisted apple trees with her fists on her hips like an impatient schoolmarm. Grinning, Max placed the arrowhead in a rear pocket with the last of his coconut shards, then trotted along behind his new friend into the next phase of their journey through time.

299


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s evening approached, they traveled across a high-desert landscape of crooked arroyos, vast outcroppings of chamisa in orange bloom, and sprawling sage bushes with fragrant blossoms of a violet hue buzzing with swollen honeybees. In terms of wildlife, the desert was hardly deserted—and took some getting used to for this reason. With disconcerting regularity, they happened across enormous tarantulas, oversized scorpions, and even rattlesnakes of sobering proportions sidewinding across the blood-red earth. Once, they witnessed a huge roadrunner with salt-and-pepper feathers seize and devour what looked like an overgrown coral snake. Max felt as if he were watching a National Geographic special. Even Zana seemed impressed by the proliferation of dangerous fauna. Thankfully, in this arid clime, there appeared to be no more mosquitoes, though Max still itched from their puffy bites. Meanwhile, the jungle heat had been replaced by continuous wind that whistled in his ears and chapped his skin, which was already peeling in places from sunburn. Still, without Zana leading him wherever she was leading him, he could easily be dead. The idea of death made him think of his father. He wondered how he would manage to find him before it was too late (if it wasn’t already) in the seemingly endless temporal expanses of this confusing reality.

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With each step across the desert, they neared a range of jagged, alpine mountains that towered ahead like hunchbacked giants under an elfin slice of moon steadily surmounting the horizon. Staring up at the glowing crescent in a partly cloudy sky gradually being drained of color by twilight, Max realized that the moon had shifted phase—from full to waxing—in less than twenty-four hours, by his calculation. Assuming the moon itself wasn’t inconstant, this suggested that one had to either stay put or travel specific distances based on a lunar ratio along the x or y axis for the moon to progress through its natural phases from one night to the next. Bizarre as this phenomenon was, Max’s growing thirst in that landscape of dust overshadowed it. Before long, mercifully, they left the desert and—as nightfall erased the contours of the world—made their way up through sloping juniper woods in the pale moonlight. Not only did the mosquitoes remain absent with night; there were no more fireflies either. Zana, who could see better than a cat in the dark, slowed her pace to baby steps and allowed Max to stumble along behind clutching her pungent fur to keep from falling. Just when he was on the verge of collapsing from thirst and fatigue, he was revived a little by a most peculiar sight. Some of the larger trees up ahead on the mountainside, whose bloated shapes suggested a kind of piñon, were glowing. He rubbed his eyes and did a double take. Sure enough, the elephantine trees gave off a faint luminescence in sinuous lines resembling shining veins just beneath their bark. Zana, with her familiar whoop that indicated something good, set down her rocks and strode straight over to a glowing tree. As if snapping a dry reed, she broke off a branch the size of a walking stick, before ripping off its leafy appendages like so many threads to make it smooth. Unceremoniously, she handed the stick to Max, who grasped it with amazement. Wherever the bark had been broken, including the large end as well as the smaller twig-holes, illuminated sap—shining like molten lava—oozed out. “This is good, Zana. This is very good. Thank you.” In the torch-like glimmer, her eyes flashed as she showed her teeth and burst into peels of thrilled laughter. Meanwhile, the sap—moving slowly and giving off a scent like copal—dripped, glowing, over Max’s fingers. “That takes care of light. So what are we going to do for water?” Zana nodded, her ridged brow furrowing seriously, as if to say, “Yes. Water is our priority now.” It didn’t take long to find some—and believe it or not, Max was the one who discovered it when the light from his stick reflected off a pool in the concave surface of a rock. 302


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On examination the pool was fed by a tiny spring, which meant the water was most likely potable. He threw down his stick, stuck his face in the chilly water, and drank as much as he could—before sprawling on his back like someone who had just finished a marathon. After drinking her fill, Zana stood surveying the woods and sniffing occasionally. She didn’t seem inclined to call it a night. Sure enough, after a few minutes she grunted and nudged Max where he lay with a hairy foot. “Do I have to get up?” he groaned. She growled. Max interpreted this as a yes. He sat up stiffly, downed a few more mouthfuls of water while kneeling, then grabbed his stick and used it to hoist himself back onto his throbbing feet. “Any chance you’d be willing to carry me up the hill?” Ignoring him, Zana set off again and he followed as best he could. Actually, the going wasn’t too difficult, as they soon discovered a wide path—complete with stone steps here and there in various states of disrepair—winding up and up into the dark. As night deepened and their elevation increased, the air grew chillier. Max was wondering how much colder it would get, and whether he was at risk of hypothermia or frostbite, when he felt the air suddenly turn warmer again. The difference was barely noticeable at first. But as they climbed, strangely, the temperature increased by several degrees—until they came to a monumental stone archway beneath which the path traveled blackly. Following Zana under the archway into a sprawling complex of ancient ruins reminiscent of Machu Picchu, whose vast outlines were revealed by the light from Max’s stick, he had the distinct impression that the warmth he felt came from this place. He also sensed that the heat wasn’t chemical, but energetic. It was as if the site were some type of gigantic power plant for subtle energy—which here in time-space, if Reciprocal Theory was correct, must derive from his world, space-time. For a moment, he allowed himself to ignore his dire circumstances and pursue this hypothesis. He surmised that while time was the underlying energy powering the material sector, space was its mirror equivalent flowing into and sustaining the cosmic sector. In both cases, this interchangeable energy—which cohered into waves, atoms, molecules, and physical structures—made life possible. In spacetime, this energy was known as gravity. Perhaps in time-space, it was called … levity. “Hello? Zana?” His musing evaporated the instant he realized he was alone. “Zana? Are you there?!”

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Echoes. Then silence. The wind was no longer even blowing. The whole site—with its crumbling walls and towers casting ominous shadows in the tenuous light from Max’s stick—was as quiet as a church … or a graveyard.

304


“Z

ana, if this is your idea of a joke, it’s not funny!” Max’s voice echoed again off the stone walls into pin-drop silence. He hadn’t felt so exposed, so alone and on the edge, since he first arrived in time-space. To think that was just over two days ago. So much had happened so fast. Tempus fugit? To the contrary. With each minute packed with a month’s worth of experience, time seemed to crawl in the cosmic sector. Max had no way of determining if he had been abandoned on the mountaintop or if Zana would return. She seemed loyal and true, but what did he know about Bigfoots? Thankfully, he still had his light stick—and he used it to have a look around the ruins. A sandy patina covered most of the rocks in the walls and structures, suggesting great age. On a whim, he tapped a cornerstone with his stick—and to his astonishment, the rock rang like a handbell. He tapped several neighboring stones. Sure enough, they rang as well—at different pitches, depending on their size. The effect recalled a pipe organ in an old cathedral. To Max’s surprise, the stones continued to reverberate like tuning forks for several minutes after being struck. Hearing and especially feeling their vibrations reenergized him. Deciding to explore further, he discovered a deep amphitheater, several pyramidal structures above the level of the encircling pine woods, and what looked like an astronomy tower with a spiral staircase twisting around the outside. 305


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He carefully wound his way up the helical stairs, which featured no guardrail, until he was standing high atop the tower. In the glare from his light stick, it was difficult to make out the stars. But with the crescent moon’s help, he managed to descry the mountainside and desert far below. Turning, he noted that the ruins— which stretched for hundreds of yards left, right, and center—were laid out in complex geometric patterns. “What is—or was—this place?” he wondered, amazed to hear his softly spoken question repeated in crystalclear echoes all around. Back on the ground, he followed a cobblestone avenue past a grassy field that appeared to be a ball court complete with stone bleachers, a park-like area with carved benches scattered about, and several rectangular buildings with chipped granite columns and rotting wooden roofs. Shining his light into one of these, he nearly suffered a heart attack when several immense bats, startled by his intrusion, flew past so close he felt the wind from their wings. “Christ!” he shouted, nerves trembling, leaning on his stick to steady himself. In the stillness that ensued, he heard the sound of running water somewhere up ahead. Continuing along the avenue, he strolled beneath a row of what struck him as supersized cherry trees. He crunched across their brittle leaves carpeting the cobblestones as he emerged into a circular plaza enclosed by dilapidated structures facing a round fountain with water flowing audibly from a statue on a pedestal. With a cautious glance around the plaza, which was as empty as the rest of the site, Max approached the stone basin and quenched his thirst with the cool, pristine water that stood approximately three feet deep. Then, and only then, did he examine the statue in the middle. It was a two-sided, high-relief, realistic depiction of a young man—or rather, young men—wearing flowing robes fused into a single entity with twin faces gazing in opposite directions. He was instantly reminded of the Roman god Janus, who was typically shown with two faces. As he had learned while studying mythology in sophomore English, Janus supervised beginnings, endings, turning points, and time—and was so important the month of January was named after him. There was only one problem. The statue wasn’t of Janus; it was of … Max! Both faces, even riddled with notches from the years, were clearly and undeniably identical to Max’s own—down to the curly hair atop the heads and framing the stoic visages. In addition, both figures held an upright hand, fused to its twin just like the heads, open in greeting. Water frothed in two directions out of spiral spigots located at the center of the palms down into the pool below. 306


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Before the extreme weirdness of this discovery could sink in, for the second time in less than ten minutes, Max nearly jumped out of his shoes when Zana grunted behind him. Spinning around, his alarm transforming into relief, he watched as she intersected the glow from his stick carrying the bulky carcass of a horned beast resembling an elk across one shoulder. As soon as she dropped it on the cobblestones, he noticed that its neck, thick though it was, had been savagely twisted and broken. “That’s intense,” he said. “I don’t imagine you picked this fellow up at the local butcher’s shop?” Zana’s only response—which, by now, Max was beginning to interpret as such—was to flash her chalky teeth and laugh insanely. “You don’t happen to know anything about this statue, do you, Zana?” This time she didn’t acknowledge his question. Instead, in a move that was as unexpected as it was disturbing, she powerfully ripped apart the elk’s fur from the neck down and opened its chest cavity with both hands. “Ouch!” winced Max. “I really didn’t need to see that.” With the sound of ribs, cartilage and muscles cracking and popping, Zana dug around inside the carcass until she located and removed a huge heart. This she proudly offered, still steaming and dripping, to Max. “No thanks. I’m considering becoming a vegetarian.” He could have sworn a sad look crossed her otherwise unreadable face—just before she shrugged and devoured the heart with great gusto like a piece of cake. “I think I’m going to be sick.” Feeling lightheaded, Max lowered himself onto the leaf-covered cobblestones where he could lean back against the fountain and breathe. Meanwhile, as if in a surreal movie scene with a sickening soundtrack and horrific visual effects, Zana proceeded to forcefully excavate the elk’s remaining organs one by one: liver, kidneys, testicles, stomach, small and large intestines. Unable to stop watching out of morbid fascination, Max journeyed far beyond merely queezy. He imagined he was the color of seaweed as she repeatedly offered him a blood-drenched organ and—whenever he shook his head no—immediately scarfed it down. Only when she had long since abandoned the carcass and was wandering around the dark site collecting stones for chipping did Max finally admit to himself he was terribly hungry. Coming as it did on the heels of waves of nausea, he was taken aback by the ferocity of his hunger. Zana’s feast hadn’t only disgusted him; it had also, strangely, inspired him.

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The stones she was collecting came from crumbled portions of the walls and rang loudly in two tones whenever they so much as brushed against one another. At length, having gathered a respectable pile, she sat down and commenced to chip away musically, erecting a little pyramid in the process. Max stood up and approached her workplace. Pointing with his stick to a particularly sharp-looking rock on the side of her pyramid, he asked, “Do you mind if I borrow that one?” She grunted affirmatively. Max thanked her and carefully picked up the stone, mindful not to disturb its neighbors. Turning and facing what remained of the elk, he whispered, “I must be crazy.” Before his courage could wane, he dropped to his knees, setting his stick close by on the cobblestones for light, and proceeded to use the rock’s sharp edge to go after a tenderloin. Though he might not have been a boy scout, at least he had studied basic anatomy. The sight of fresh blood had lost most of its shock value, but the tart, mineral smell of it was almost too much. Max was just about to give up and call it a supperless night—when the tenderloin (admittedly, a little jagged around the edges) suddenly popped loose in his hand. Wasting no time, he rinsed the meat thoroughly by scooping water from the fountain over it. Afterward, placing the tenderloin on the stone lip of the basin for safekeeping, he went in search of wood. Just inside the old buildings at the far end of the avenue, being careful to avoid bats, he found numerous chunks of decomposing beams from the caved-in roofs that seemed relatively dry. Over the course of half a dozen trips back to the fountain, he transported as much of the wood as he could manage. Gathering dry leaves and twigs into a pile near the wood chunks, he began to build a fire for cooking the tenderloin—only to realize, in a moment of deflating lucidity, that he didn’t have anything to start a fire with. “Jesus, give me a frigging break!” He felt ill-equipped, unprepared, incapable—but mostly, stupid. Stupid and embarrassed, though nobody except Zana was around to watch him make a fool of himself. And she had been too busy playing her rockchipping organ to notice. His growing embarrassment fueled his rising anger, which in turn stemmed from his frustration at being lost and famished in a ghost town in the middle of a mountainous wilderness somewhere—or sometime—in an alien universe. Such potent emotions unexpectedly boiling over only added steam to Max’s bubbling shame and rage—literally making his palms sweat—until, slamming his left hand down in disgust on his little pile of twigs and leaves, the whole thing inexplicably burst into flames! 308


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“Whoa!” he yelled, jumping back as the fire licked higher. “That’s insane!” Zana paused her chipping to take stock of the situation. She didn’t seem afraid of the fire, but she did sit up straighter out of respect. Recalling the rock he had levitated briefly the night before, and connecting this memory along with what had just happened to the statue of himself showing water flowing out of his palms, he stared dumbfounded at his hands in the flickering firelight. But there was no time for philosophical reflection. Before his kindling could peter out, he placed more leaves and twigs on the fire, building it up to a satisfactory blaze before adding small chunks of wood. Afterward, he used his rock to saw through a cherry branch over the thin end of which he spitted the tenderloin. This he slowly and painstakingly cooked over the fire, turning the meat every so often when it began to sizzle, until it looked and smelled ready to eat. He was so impatient he burned his mouth on the first bite. But this hardly deterred him. The meat, cooked medium rare, was lean and mouthwatering. He devoured it as Zana, chipping away again, looked on with great interest. After consuming the entire tenderloin, drinking some water from the fountain, and relieving himself behind the cherry trees, Max added some larger wood chunks to what gradually became a bonfire. Yawning, he noticed his light stick was starting to lose its glow like a flashlight with fading batteries. He was tempted to toss it on the fire—but considering it might come in handy, changed his mind. Positioning himself at a safe distance where he could still feel the fire’s warmth without being kept awake by its light, he lay on his back on the leaves with his hands behind his head staring up beyond the rising sparks through scattered clouds at the strange constellations. The moon had set and he could see more clearly than earlier atop the astronomy tower. He sleepily thought he recognized the Big Dipper, Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades. The only thing was—they were all backwards, mirror images of their space-time configurations. Begging the question: was he looking at the same stars from the other side of the Interface, or were the stars themselves, like the “earth” he found himself on, really quite different? Speaking of mirror images, what was up with that statue? Did it actually have anything to do with himself—or was its resemblance merely a freak coincidence? On the subject of freaks, how could he explain levitation and spontaneous combustion performed in full waking consciousness with his hand?

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In his dream, Max wandered and wandered around Maroon University. But he couldn’t find Tuesday or Raul, and he didn’t recognize anyone, so he left the campus and drifted across town down the Eastern Seaboard to South Florida. The landscape looked familiar, with Dolphin Point in the distance, but Cape Carnival had changed. The city seemed technologically upgraded, with spherical cars literally flying past and colossal high-rises everywhere. Max searched for Tuesday’s house, then Aunt Nadine’s, but couldn’t find either. When he finally located his old block on Tupelo Street, his house had been replaced by a massive, cube-shaped dwelling made of opaque glass. Desperately spinning in circles, lost in a place that used to be home, he realized he had neglected Professor Icarus’s advice by forgetting to leave a breadcrumb trail—and had returned, having outlived his contemporaries, to an unrecognizable future.

310


H

e was awakened from his disquieting dream by snow weighing down his eyelids. Sitting upright and shaking his head in the faint glow from his fire’s coals, he saw tiny snowflakes scatter left and right in the wind. Shivering, and more than a little stiff from the cold, he got to his feet and threw several chunks of wood on the coals—only to realize Zana was standing nearby in the semidarkness, swaying back and forth while listening intently. Max stood still and listened as well. At first he heard nothing except the howling of the wind—yet he sensed the presence of danger almost physically, like a punch to the gut. No amount of rationalizing could convince him he and Zana weren’t in acute peril. With low clouds above, an inch of powder below, and flakes flying everywhere in between, it was impossible to see far in the distance. Happily, just then the wood caught flame and the firelight extended its quivering halo out a ways like headlights pushing into a snowstorm. Zana cupped her hands around her mouth and gave a high-pitched call that—though ear-splitting at close range—seemed to be swallowed straightaway by the snowy landscape. “I guess it’s just you and me,” said Max. No sooner had these words left his lips than he heard another howling much louder than the wind coming from all directions. It was a sound he had heard before in horror movies, though never in real life. It was the sound of wolves. 311


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Zana was quicker to react than he was, grabbing two stones from her pyramid and slowly rotating where she stood, eyes on a swivel smoldering watchfully. Meanwhile, Max picked up his extinguished light stick and struck it against the ground to remove the snow. Even as he looked back up, a single menacing form the size of a mountain lion appeared at the edge of sight. Soon it was joined by another wolf roughly the same size, then another and another. Before long Max and Zana were encircled by as many as twenty of the gray beasts eyeing them hungrily while growling and pawing the snow. The instant the circle began to tighten, Zana burst into action. Her first rock was so well aimed the wolf whose head it struck, ringing like a bell, crumpled without a sound and never moved again. Her second throw was less fortunate—merely glancing with a dull reverberation off an advancing wolf’s flank. The wolf yelped and sprang forward, as did the rest of the pack—at which point Zana spun around, picked up Max like a child, and hurled him, stick and all, to the top of the statue in the fountain’s middle. Despite his surprise, he managed to plant his feet on the pedestal’s narrow ledge and hold on for dear life to the two-headed figure of himself while not dropping his stick. Uttering a tremendous hiss reminiscent of a giant pressure cooker, Zana turned, knees bent and hands ready like a linebacker, to face the onrushing pack. The first wolf was dead meat—literally—as she sidestepped and snapped its neck with both hands. Max shuddered gratefully at her sheer animal power and quickness, but he underestimated these same qualities in her opponents. Even though the fountain protected her back, the wolves still came at her from three directions. She managed to crack one’s ribs with a sledgehammer punch, then break another’s foreleg by slinging it halfway across the plaza, before ravening mouths closed on her knees and shoulders and she went down flailing. Max watched helplessly as she screamed in agony while being savagely bitten again and again. He was preparing to spring down and attempt to free her, figuring this would be his first—and last—act of heroism in time-space, when something completely unanticipated transpired. “So much for the Hero’s Journey,” he whispered at the exact instant there was a twang from somewhere behind the statue. A slender object rushed whistling past his ear and a wolf dropped dead with a blackfeathered arrow through its heart.

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He heard another twang from a bowstring followed by another dark arrow whirring past through the falling snow—and another wolf collapsed in a heap. Reinvigorated by this unlooked-for assistance, Zana threw off a pair of growling wolves and staggered to her feet. Another twang. Another whir. Another dead wolf. At that instant, Max heard what he could have sworn was a person imitating a wolf’s howl. Zana bellowed ferociously at the remainder of the pack—which suddenly, hearing a second wolf-like call from somewhere in the woods, took off toward it in unison. Max climbed down, drenching himself in the icy fountain, and rushed over to where Zana was now seated, blinking lightheadedly, in the snow. From the blood pooling around her in the firelight, he could tell she was badly injured. It felt as if his stomach had leapt up into his throat when he saw blood spraying out of a punctured artery just above her knee. “Oh, Zana. This is serious. Hang in there, girl!” Pulling off his Maroon University sweatshirt, he ripped it with the strength of adrenaline into two long strips. With trembling hands, he tied the strips into a tourniquet above the wound. Even with a decent tourniquet in place, Zana was still losing so much blood—which came dribbling out between Max’s fingers that were compressing the artery—it was only a matter of time before she was lost. Shirtless and shivering, he thought of cauterizing her flesh with fire to stop the bleeding. But the burning wood chunks were so large and unwieldy there was no way to handle them without severe risk to himself. He gazed on Zana’s typically emotionless face and was surprised to find written in it a combination of pain, fear, and sorrow. “Zana hurts,” he heard her say, loud and clear, in his mind. “The Umbodi helps.” Into Max’s mental theater suddenly came a vision of Zana with two young Bigfoots cradled in her arms. All three were laughing hysterically with huge square teeth and shining eyes. He realized he was glimpsing a memory of Zana with her children. Then he saw a memory of his own: himself cuddled in his father’s arms watching Star Trek over Thanksgiving on the couch in their home on Tupelo Street. This vision was quickly replaced by Dr. Morrow walking in his front door with the news that his father had gone missing and was presumed dead. He viscerally recalled his shock and disbelief, followed by years of suffering … Compassion. That was the name of the feeling glowing brighter and brighter in his heart like an ember fanned by the wind.

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Soon, shining, the ember began to produce heat. With his third eye, Max could see lines of energy forming and swirling inside him—until a portal seemed to open, at the center of his heart, between time and space. Sucking in a deep breath, tears streaming from his eyes, he felt the limitless energy of space flowing into the circumscribed reality of time like a tempest pouring into a teacup—and the teacup was himself. Quivering, with all the fortitude he could muster, he directed the energy down his left arm into his hand and out through his palm where it remained desperately pressed against Zana’s deadly wound. The exterior effect was nothing short of miraculous, as the wound instantly healed without a scar. But the interior sensation was more like being struck by multiple bolts of lightning. Neither here nor there, momentarily bridging the material and cosmic sectors before passing out cold in the snow, Max was like a meteor flaming out rather than fading away.

314


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e wasn’t sure what brought him to: the dappled sunlight on his face, the smell of sizzling venison and woodsmoke, the sound of humming, the pounding in his head, the soreness in his muscles and bones. Wrenching open his eyes, he discovered he was supine in a makeshift shelter with a low, sloping roof of pine boughs through which the mottled sun was shining haphazardly. He was wrapped in a blanket, which smelled faintly of sage incense, made of dark blue wool decorated with concentric circles of swimming dolphins in a lighter blue. The pleasant, melodic humming to which he had awoken continued outside. Lulled by the sound, he closed his eyes again and almost fell back asleep—when suddenly the memory of the wolf attack and Zana’s horrific injury returned to him. He sat up only to find that beneath the blanket, which turned out to be a hooded poncho, he was naked except for knee-high boots made of tan leather and brown animal fur. Someone had piled pine needles under him for a mattress. He slowly pulled the poncho over his throbbing head. His hair actually hurt a little. Allowing the hood to hang behind, squinting and blinking, he crawled like an arthritic out from under the shelter. The sun was overhead in a nearly cloudless sky. The world seemed brighter than usual, by several orders of magnitude, from the sunlight’s myriad reflections off the snow. 315


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Standing up with boots planted on smooth stones, Max gazed down over the complex of ruins and surrounding alpine landscape from what he realized was the top of the astronomy tower. But he was far less intrigued by his location than by his mysterious, hooded companion. A humming figure—crouched facing away in identical leather-and-fur boots and a red poncho with a black raven motif similar to Max’s dolphins—was roasting a cut of meat on a wooden spit over a small fire. As soon as Max took a woozy step forward, the figure fell silent, stood up, turned, and faced him—though there really wasn’t much to tell about his face, which remained in the shadow of his hood. “Greetings, Max,” said the figure in an eerily familiar voice, bowing formally. “I see myself in you.” The voice spoke in perfect (if rather oldfashioned) English. “That’s nice,” replied Max, looking around unsuccessfully for Zana. “Zana will return by sundown. Having fully recovered from her injury, she has gone on an errand and sends you her love and gratitude.” “You know Zana?” “We are old friends. Almost family, you might say.” “And you can … communicate with her?” “In a manner of speaking.” “Who are you?” Though Max had been struck by the uncanny familiarity of the mysterious stranger’s voice, with his head slowly spinning, he couldn’t quite place where he had heard it before. Noting a wooden bow and quiver of black-feathered arrows propped against the wall beside a leather backpack, he recalled the arrows that had struck three of the wolves attacking Zana and the disguised voice with a similar quality leading the pack away. Whoever the stranger was, he wasn’t an enemy. “That was you, wasn’t it, who saved Zana?” “I may have bought her a little space—or rather time. You saved her.” The painful memory of bridging the material and cosmic sectors returned. Suddenly, Max felt extremely tired—so much so that he stumbled, only to be kept from swooning into the fire by the stranger’s firm grip. “Come. Sit with me while I prepare some sustenance. I can only begin to imagine the energy it took to do what you did.” Seated in the warmth of the fire, Max was happy to find that the tower’s stone floor—thanks to an ingenious drainage system combined with a slightly convex shape—was perfectly dry. On the subject of dryness, he remarked that his soaked jeans and socks had been neatly draped over the tower’s ledge in the sunlight and looked ready to put on again. “How long was I out?”

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“Through two sunrises,” said the stranger, sitting down across the fire and slowly turning the spitted meat. “Am I—am I going to be okay? I feel like I’ve been through a sausage grinder.” “Fear not. There is nothing wrong with you that rest combined with nourishment and pleasant company cannot alleviate.” “Speaking of, who is my company? Seriously, who are you?” “You honestly have not divined my identity?” “No. Maybe I hit my head when I passed out. Or maybe I’ve got earlyonset Alzheimer’s.” “What is Alzheimer’s?” “Nothing. It was a joke. Could you just take off the hood please? I’ve always been terrible at guessing games.” “Certainly.” The sensation Max experienced when the stranger pulled back his hood is difficult to describe. Imagine living nearly nineteen years never having met your twin, then suddenly meeting him face to face under survivalist circumstances on top of an ancient tower. Staring at the spitting image of himself with long, curly hair, Max felt his jaw drop. All he managed to say was, “You’re the Hanged Man! Why aren’t you blue?” “Pardon me?” “In my dreams, you were always blue. And you don’t have your bindi either.” The heretofore blue Max laughed, bizarrely, with the sound of Max’s own laughter. No wonder his voice had seemed so familiar: Max had heard it his whole life whenever he opened his mouth. “Ah, I see why you are confused. The blue and bindi are painted on with dye made from jork eggs applied during dreamtime ceremony.” “Jork eggs?” was all Max could think to say. “You might call them thunderbird eggs. I take it from the contraction of your aura you know something about jorks?” “I narrowly escaped becoming dinner for one, if that’s what you mean. You can see my aura?” “Of course. You cannot see mine?” “Maybe. Now that you mention it.” Glimpsing a diaphanous double egg extending approximately eight feet around his companion, he recalled his crash course in metaphysics with Maizy after his fight with Doug Biggins in sixth grade. “Whoa. You have a double aura, too!” “Naturally. The Ombudo and the Umbodi constitute a powerfully twinned pair.” “What are an Ombudo and an Umbodi? Zana mentioned ‘Umbodi’ twice. Telepathically, I mean.” 317


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“Telepathically?” “You know, with her mind.” “I know what it means. I am just impressed you manifested the ability to speak with her so quickly. The Almasty are a highly telepathic species. But we humans, not so much.” “Believe me, it’s been a long time coming.” “I believe you. It was for me as well.” “Yeah, I imagine it was.” “You look pale, Max.” “I’m trying not to faint.” “I apologize. I fear I have overtaxed you with conversation. Here, lie beside me and soak up the sun’s healing energy with your head in my lap.” Strangely, Max had no reservations whatsoever about doing as directed. After all, it wasn’t as if his companion was really a stranger. He stretched out on the stone floor and placed his head on the soft wool of his new friend’s raven poncho. Oddly, he felt as comfortable as he had ever felt around anyone, including Tuesday and his father. The thought of his father immediately propelled him right back out of his comfort zone. He sat up again with what little strength he had left and said, “Tell me about my father. He’s why I came here. Is he still alive?” “Yes, Max. Your father is still alive.” “That’s good news. Is he … okay?” “He is … in good hands.” “When can I see him?” “That depends.” “On what?” “On you.” “Me?” “Rest now, Max. We can discuss whatever needs to be discussed as soon as you are stronger in body and clearer in mind.” Max didn’t actually hear these last words—as just then he swooned with exhaustion and lost consciousness bathed with sunshine in his twin’s welcoming lap.

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aking up this time was a déjà vu. As before, Max opened his eyes and stared at the pine-bough roof of his little shelter. Now, however, there was no sunlight filtering through. Nor was there any humming or smell of sizzling meat coming from outside. Had his encounter with the blue Max been merely a vivid dream? Sitting upright with a bit less effort than before, at first he couldn’t say with certainty. Then he noted a telltale sign: rather than being merely wrapped in it, this time he was actually wearing his dolphin poncho. He crawled out from under the shelter into what appeared to be late afternoon. The fire had completely burned out. Though his twin was nowhere to be seen, his bow, quiver and pack were still against the tower’s ledge where Max had last observed them. Someone had stacked kindling and firewood nearby. Feeling chilly, he removed his fur-lined boots and pulled on his jeans, which were indeed dry. He had no idea what had become of his tennis shoes, but he thought better of putting on cotton socks in the snow. Besides, his new fur-lined boots—which slid back on easily yet fit snugly—seemed warm and waterproof. He made his way weakly down the helical staircase to the ground level. His first item of business was to relieve himself, which he did in the six inches of snow behind the avenue of cherry trees. His second, and equally important, necessity was water. Shuddering at what macabre souvenirs, in the form of giant wolf bodies or dried Sasquatch blood, he might encounter, he approached the plaza. 319


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He heard the croaking of ravens before he saw dozens of them, bloated ones, perched willy-nilly and occasionally flapping their wings atop the decrepit buildings. Max fancied he could almost understand what they were saying. Owing to the plaza’s convex slope and drainage system like those of the tower, there was no snow here either. Nor could he find any trace of gore, wolves, or—for that matter—an elk carcass. But what there was was even more … arresting. Wearing nothing but buckskins decorated with red and black beads, having placed his boots, poncho and what looked like a sword in its scabbard on the cobblestones near Max’s old fire, the blue Max was athletically dancing around the fountain. Perhaps “dancing” isn’t exactly accurate. The way he scissor-kicked from a headstand, then thrust onto his feet and twirled powerfully in midair, only to backflip into a low leg sweep, brought to mind a martial art— tai chi or Brazilian capoeira—thinly disguised as a dance. Whatever it was, it was entrancing to watch. That Max was, in a sense, watching himself was certainly uncanny—yet it took nothing away from his appreciation of his twin’s grace and strength. He was reminded of a dolphin (of all things) swimming on land. Suddenly, with this unexpected association, he realized the two-headed statue in the center of the fountain wasn’t just of him; it was of them. The Ombudo and the Umbodi constitute a powerfully twinned pair, the blue Max had said. “What is this place?” asked Max when his companion had finished leaping and spinning. With no hint of surprise, as if he had been aware of Max’s presence all along, the blue Max—having bowed respectfully to the statue—replied, “Muru-amah, capital city of the great Heywah people, my ancestors.” Not wanting to seem rude but unable to deny his thirst, Max plunged his face in the fountain’s basin and drank deeply. The water was shockingly cold yet satisfying. “It seems really old,” he sputtered. “It is. Perhaps as old as five hundred revolutions of the sun.” “What happened? Where did all the people go?” His twin sighed while strapping on a leather belt attached to the scabbard of a short blade about the size of a machete out of which protruded a hilt of elaborately carved bone. “No one knows. Obviously, there was a diaspora, with remnants of the original population settling elsewhere, such as my village. Some speak of pestilence; others have suggested famine.” “I’m sorry.” “No need to be sorry. Personally, I believe they traveled … elsewhere,” said the blue Max with a glance beyond the statue’s two faces 320


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at the periwinkle sky of early evening, where a planet that may or may not have been Venus twinkled brightly. “That statue. It’s of you and me, isn’t it?” “Yes. It represents the twin aspects of the Ombudo, the Chosen One, and the Umbodi, the Promised One.” “Let me get this straight. I’m the Umbodi, the Promised One?” “Correct.” “And you’re the Ombudo, the Chosen One?” “Exactly.” “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” Rather than being offended by Max’s bluntness, the blue Max laughed loud and hard, slapping his buckskin breeches. “My sentiments precisely!” he chuckled. “So how did your ancestors know about us—down to what we look like—half a millennium before we were even born?” “Good question. The Heywah had access to the space field—what you might call the time field. This energy was used to build Muru-amah. And Muru-amah, as you must have intuited, greatly amplifies the energy, including its applications for such things as psychic communication and physical healing.” “Yeah. I sort of picked up on that.” “Plus, they were devout students of the stars. The Heywah prophesied that the Umbodi would come from the stellar regions. ‘Umbodi,’ in fact, means ‘from the stars comes,’ while ‘Ombudo’ means ‘to the stars goes.’” “Only one problem. Technically, I didn’t come from the stars.” “True. But you fell out of the sky.” “Fair enough.” “As for myself, there were many omens in the skies surrounding my birth, including a red comet and a series of lunar and solar eclipses.” “That’s all well and good. But what are the … Umbodi and Ombudo supposed to do?” “They are to complete the Circle of Life and bring our worlds closer together for everyone’s benefit.” “Oh, is that all?” Max, who was experiencing lapses in concentration owing to his gnawing hunger, didn’t have the slightest idea what his companion meant. “But we can discuss such matters later,” said the blue Max, seeming to peer inside Max’s thoughts much like Tuesday used to do before life switched from simply weird to utterly outlandish. “Right now, you must eat.” The blue Max slipped on his boots and poncho, then motioned for Max to accompany him back down the lane of cherry trees. At the far

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end, he turned down a previously unnoticed alleyway flanked by stone walls. After winding along a mazelike path, they came to an open courtyard with an enormous cherry tree atop a small hill in the middle. Hanging by a rope from one of its sturdy middle branches was what appeared to be the remains of Zana’s elk. Stripped of its hide and rack, it was all meat and bones and stank as soon as they got within twenty feet. Undeterred, the blue Max lowered the carcass with the rope until it hung just off the ground. Pinching his nose, Max noticed that the entire carcass was moving. And not under its own power—it was writhing with maggots! “Oh, Jesus. I think I’m going to throw up.” Breathing normally, not even holding his nose, the blue Max unsheathed his sword (which turned out to be made of black obsidian) and expertly shaved the maggots off a tenderloin. Underneath, oddly enough, the meat appeared pink and fresh. Max watched with what was fast becoming his go-to expression in the cosmic sector—morbid curiosity—as his twin deftly separated the meat from the carcass. “If you’re under the impression I’m going to eat that,” said Max, “you’re even crazier than I think you are.” The blue Max laughed again while hoisting the carcass back up into the tree. “I do not think you are going to eat it. I feel certain you are.” “You do?” “What other choice do you have?” “But it’s rotten. We’re talking death by salmonella.” “Only the outside of the beast’s flesh is spoiled. The inside is merely … tenderized. Nature wastes nothing and recycles all things in a specific order.” “So you’re going to eat some, too?” “Absolutely. I am famished after training.” When Max still looked dubious, his companion, having wiped his blade on the moss at the tree’s base and slid it back in its sheath, said, “Come, Max. Let us get the fire going. I will even take the first bite.”

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tacking wood and kindling on the fire ring atop the astronomy tower while Max—winded and weak in the knees—plopped down to rest, the blue Max commented, “I have tried to imagine what it must feel like to be in your shoes.” Staring at his own bony face and dusky, intense eyes in his twin, Max couldn’t help but laugh despite his hunger and weariness. “Well, if you don’t know, for sure nobody else does. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, I’m actually in your shoes.” “Good one. Yes, I made them for you in anticipation of your arrival.” “Thanks. They certainly fit. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you made them for yourself.” “You are very humorous, Max, even when malnourished and fatigued.” “Mostly, I just laugh to keep from crying. Did you make this poncho, too?” “No. I am no weaver. My teacher made our ponchos with dyed llama wool.” “Your teacher?” “Yes. The one who taught me to do this.” Kneeling in the twilight, the blue Max closed his eyes, smiled with inner emotion, and held his right hand over the firewood. After a few seconds, flames sprang from his palm. The kindling caught almost instantly and soon the fire was roaring. “I’m impressed by your control,” said Max. “I nearly gave myself third-degree burns when I tried that.” 323


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“It is not a matter of control.” “Could’ve fooled me.” “Not all is as it seems. It is actually about relinquishing control and allowing the energy to flow. One must work with the energy, not try to dominate it. That only creates resistance and can be dangerous.” Max watched with a combination of vested interest and revulsion as his companion spitted the “tenderized” elk tenderloin and extended it above the crackling fire. “Is that how I nearly blew myself to smithereens?” he asked. “By trying to control the energy when Zana was injured?” “That would be my guess. I once accidently set my hair on fire when merely attempting to create light.” “What happened?” “My teacher doused me with a bucket of water.” “This teacher of yours. Can he do … what we do?” “She.” “Sorry?” “My teacher is a she. She comes from a long line of medicine teachers going all the way back to, well, this place: Muru-amah.” “Can she set things on fire, too?” “Not like we can. Abilities such as ours require special circumstances or experiences. Her path was to receive the Heywah’s knowledge of how to work with the energy in order to pass it along to me.” “Apparently, her path was also to make these seriously detailed ponchos. What’s with the elaborate raven and dolphin motifs?” “They represent our spirit animals, or primary guidance from the kingdom of fauna. You are clearly of the dolphin clan—” “How do you know?” “It was prophesied that the Umbodi would be. And now that I have met you, I feel certain you are a dolphin.” “I do seem to get along with dolphins, if that’s what you mean.” “I mean that and more. Dolphins are gifted divers who are able to navigate not only the deep seas, but also the depths of space and time. The Promised One had to be a dolphin, or a Diver, you see, because one with that name would naturally be able to come and go between worlds.” “You seem to know more about me than I do myself.” “I am only repeating Artemisia’s words.” “Who’s Artemisia?” “My teacher. She is a seer.” “A seer?” “She sees things.” “I know what it means. So will I get to … see her soon?”

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The blue Max slowly turned the tenderloin, which was beginning to sizzle while giving off an appetizing scent. “I sincerely hope so. Right now the lower spur of the Red Mountains leading to the pass to my village is blocked by the early snow. I barely made it here through the storm.” “Meaning we’ll have to wait for the snow to melt?” “Some of it anyway. Fortunately, the weather appears to be warming up.” “What will we do in the meantime?” “I thought, with your permission, tomorrow I would begin teaching you what I know about energy. It seems we were fated to meet at a place where your learning will be naturally accelerated.” “Sounds like a plan—as long as you keep a bucket of water nearby.” “I can do one better. We will train beside water. That way I can throw you in at the first sign of danger.” “Deal.” “The meat is almost ready. Are you still up for trying some?” “I will if you will.” “Deal.” Even cooked just past rare, the meat was so tender the blue Max— after cooling it with his breath—was able to tear it in two like wet paper. Handing half to Max, he said, “We thank you, Great Spirit, for this gift of nourishment and honor you, great elk, as part of ourselves.” “Amen. Dig in.” “I do not mind if I do.” With this the blue Max took a huge bite, chewed a handful of times with a pleased expression, then swallowed. “Your turn.” Max hesitated—but not for long. Hunger getting the best of his caution, he ventured a nibble. The meat was softer than pot roast—and more delicious than the best steak he had ever tasted. “Do not be afraid, Max. If you die, at least you will not die hungry.” “How comforting,” replied Max, before taking a somewhat bigger bite, then an even bigger one. “How is it?” “Incredible.” “I told you it was only tenderized.” At this point, starved beyond tolerance, Max was all in. He polished off his considerable half of the tenderloin in short order—and though no longer ravenous, he wasn’t exactly stuffed either. “You probably feel somewhat hungry still,” commented his companion. “But I recommend that you have only liquids from now until tomorrow. It has been some time since your stomach last contained an abundance of solid food.”

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Still chewing his last bite, his twin stood up, fetched a leather flask from his backpack, and tossed it to Max. “Drink some of this.” Parched after consuming so much meat, Max unstopped the flask and sniffed its contents. “Do not be concerned, my friend. It is pure water from the fountain.” Max turned up the flask and drank, then capped it and tossed it back. As the blue Max stood and quenched his thirst, Max watched the sparks from the fire rocket up like backward shooting stars into the shimmering canopy of night. “I’ve still got so many questions.” “Only a fool would not.” “For starters, what do I call you?” The blue Max set the flask on top of his pack and sat back down beside the fire. “You may call me Maxwallah. That is what my teacher calls me. Most others call me Max.” “Sounds familiar. So is Maxwallah your given name?” “Yes. It means ‘warrior of the heart.’ What is your given name?” “Maxwell.” “What does it mean?” “It doesn’t mean anything.” “What do you wish me to call you?” “Call me whatever you like.” “Then I will call you Maxwell—and define this name as a maximum source, or well, of energy.” “I like that.” “You said you had other questions?” “Yeah, what happened to my tennis shoes?” “I am afraid wolves ran off with them sometime in the night after I replaced them with boots to keep your feet from freezing.” “Well, they may look medieval, but the boots are certainly a functional improvement in this environment. I take it you and Zana carried me up here for defensive purposes?” “Yes. Zana stood guard at the bottom of the stairs while I wrapped you in your poncho, made a fire, and built this little shelter.” “Thanks for saving my life.” “You would have done the same for me. What other questions do you have?” “I want to know about my father. Where he is, how he is, and what I need to do to help him. And please, don’t pull any punches.” “Pull any … punches?” “Tell me everything.” Maxwallah’s pensive expression in the flickering firelight suggested melancholy. “When I first learned of his landing in the metal thunderbird nearly seven revolutions of the sun ago, I thought perhaps he might be 326


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the Umbodi. Then, when I saw him, I realized he must be your father. ‘Thomas Diver,’ I read on his twin pendants.” “They’re called dog tags.” “Dog tags? That is an odd thing to call human pendants.” “Chalk it up to military slang.” “I see. Well, in any case, seeing him was a shock, both for myself and my teacher. Not long afterward, I first contacted you in a dream. Your father’s arrival was not in the prophesy, yet it played a role in bringing us together.” “Wait a second. The first time I dreamed of you was just before my father disappeared.” “Was it, now? I apologize. Sequencing can be very tricky when translating between sectors.” “So what happened? Where is he now? You said he was in good hands.” “He is sheltered in a cave high in a cliff wall overlooking Blue Lake protected by members of the Almasty tribe.” Max could hardly believe his ears. “You’re telling me he’s being looked after by Bigfoots?” “If that is what you wish to call them. I am not convinced they would approve of this name.” “Sasquatches then.” “Better. Yes. No fewer than two are with him at all times.” “Is this … safe?” “The Almasty are loyal friends to the descendants of the Heywah. I would trust them with my life.” Max reflected on his trials with Zana and remarked that he had, in fact, already trusted his life to the Almasty. “So where’s this cave? Where’s Blue Lake?” “Across the Inland Sea.” “That doesn’t sound good.” “Actually, it isn’t far from my village—just down the opposite coast not even one revolution of the earth toward the Angel’s Eye.” “Angel’s Eye?” “The vortex between worlds from which you fell.” Despite the sobering subject matter, Max had to laugh. “Go figure. In my world, we assign names like ‘Devil’s Graveyard’ to such regions, but here they’re angelic.” “Our realities are opposites in most ways.” “Tell me about it. How did my father get to this cave—and why has he been left there?” “How he traveled so far from the metal thunderbird is a mystery. There is a narrow channel between coasts near the Angel’s Eye that 327


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separates the Outer Sea from the Inland Sea. My teacher thinks he swam across it before traveling to Blue Lake.” “How wide is the channel?” “Less than two miles as the raven flies.” “Your teacher’s probably right.” “Come again?” “My father was in the Navy. He was an amazing swimmer.” “But what could have possessed him to brave such a feat?” “Who knows. I was attacked by a real thunderbird while checking out his plane. Maybe something similar happened to him and he … swam for it.” “Stranger things have happened, I suppose.” “So why is he still in the cave?” “Because we cannot move him.” “Why not?” “Maxwell, your father is in a very precarious state. As I told you before, he is not made for my world. He has … lost ground since coming here.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “He has … changed. You will see. His vital force is slowly leaving as he is gradually being reabsorbed by the ambient energy.” “He’s ‘going silver,’ you mean?” “Correct.” “If he can’t be moved, what are we supposed to do?” “I did not say he cannot be moved. I said we cannot move him. You must be the one to do it.” “Me? Why me?” “Because only you are as yet capable of manipulating the space field sufficiently to get to your father and protect him from the ravages of time while transporting him back to the Angel’s Eye and, thence, to your world.” “Hold on a minute. What did you mean by ‘get to’ my father? I thought he was being guarded in a cave above Blue Lake.” Maxwallah sighed. “Therein lies the problem. He is being guarded, but we can no longer arrive there safely.” “Why not?” “For starters, there is a forest fire that just began raging between my village and Blue Lake. It could burn for weeks—and I fear your father may not have that long.” “And?” “A jander has taken up residence in the lake and endangers anyone— even the Almasty—who attempts to walk along the path to the cave along the water’s edge.” 328


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“What’s a jander?” “A water dragon.” “Great. Let me get this straight: you’re saying I’m going to have to fly in and rescue my father?” “That is precisely what I am saying.” “Why don’t you do it?” “I would. Happily. But I am not ready to attempt flight. I have not yet traveled as far as yourself on the Circle of Life.” “What does that mean?” “This is an in-depth discussion that perhaps would be best to have later.” “How are you going to teach me to fly if you can’t even do it yourself?” “I propose to instruct you in the basic principles for working with, not against, the space field. Ultimately, you will teach yourself to fly.” This dramatic statement hadn’t even sunk in—when Max’s attention was diverted by an almost tangible sensation in his gut that they were no longer alone. Instinctively, with a surge of fear, he hopped to his feet and spun around to face the staircase. But instead of ravening wolves, there stood Zana swaying above him with what he almost fancied was a grin.

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ana!” Max rushed over and, before he could censor his reaction, hugged her thick, wooly midsection while smelling her familiar scent like that of wet dog. “I can’t tell you how happy I am you’re back!” Her response was to cackle in her gorilla manner while ceremoniously presenting Max with one of three items she was carrying: an extremely large and heavy fruit that resembled an oversized pineapple. “Thanks, Zana. What is this exactly?” “A jutjut fruit,” answered Maxwallah, standing up himself. “It will make an excellent breakfast for us.” Max examined Zana’s injured leg in the firelight but could find no trace of her wound—not even the suggestion of a scar. He was so elated to see her alive and well again he thought he would float. Meanwhile, Maxwallah approached Zana and, reaching up with his right hand to touch her shoulder, said, “I see myself in you.” Unexpectedly, Zana reached down with her right hand and touched Maxwallah’s shoulder so that the two formed a circuit. With absolute clarity, to Max’s astonishment, he heard her reply telepathically: “Zana sees herself in the Ombudo.” The other two items she was holding were small leather pouches closed by drawstrings. These she now handed to Maxwallah with a barely discernible bow. “Thank you, Zana,” he said. “For everything.” “What’s in the pouches?” asked Max, placing the jutjut fruit near the fire to keep it from freezing in the night. 331


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“Berries and herbs.” “Berries and herbs?” “The berries come from the holywood tree that grows at the foot of the mountain as one travels toward the Inland Sea.” “That’s a long way to go for berries.” Maxwallah set the pouches on top of his backpack, grabbed his empty water flask, and shouldered his bow and quiver. “These are no ordinary berries.” “What are they for?” “They are for you.” “Me?” “Boiled as a tea, they will provide you with sound sleep and restore your strength. You will need it for training. Let us go fetch some water.” Maxwallah led the way down the stairs as Max followed and Zana brought up the rear. “What’s in the other pouch?” “Tarroh leaves.” “What’s that—something for telling the future?” “I am not sure I follow.” “Forget it.” “Among other things, tarroh leaves can be used to dramatically reduce the time it takes to tan animal hides.” “Does this have anything to do with Zana’s elk?” “Yes. Even if the pass over the Red Mountains becomes navigable, we could still encounter bitter cold or more snow, or both. Since your upper garment was destroyed, I would feel better if you wore a hide shirt beneath your poncho.” “I guess I’d feel better, too. It certainly beats freezing.” They were midway down the avenue of cherry trees approaching the plaza and fountain. Just then there came a deep, rumbling growl—which stood Max’s neck hairs on end—from the direction of the ball court. Without hesitating, Maxwallah nocked an arrow in his bowstring. Zana jumped into action as well, quickly gathering a pair of rocks for throwing from some nearby ruins. “What’s going on?” whispered Max, terrified. “What just growled at us? Whatever it was, it sounded really big.” “It was a cave bear,” replied Maxwallah calmly. “A cave bear?” “You do realize, do you not, that you tend to repeat my statements back to me in the form of questions?” “Sorry. It’s an old habit.” “No need to apologize.”

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All grew silent for a time. The only thing Max could hear was the sound of Zana sniffing. Then, almost palpably, the danger seemed to pass. Maxwallah breathed a sigh of relief and replaced the arrow in its quiver as the ravens started croaking from their roosts on the crumbling rooftops. “We’re not safe here, are we?” said Max. “Not at the moment. Especially at night.” “Does this have anything to do with … me?” “It has to do with the Way of All Things and therefore, yes, with you.” “What’s the Way of All Things?” “To be attracted to the energy of the space field, even as moths are attracted to the flame.” The three companions started moving again as a tight, cautious group toward the fountain. “You’re saying that animals,” said Max, “including dangerous ones, are drawn to this energy?” “Correct. Even though they may be unaware of their own reasons for being attracted, the energy represents the current of evolution. It is the Way of All Things to seek out and attempt to merge with the space field.” “Why?” “Because instilled in all creatures, both sentient and inanimate, whether fauna or flora, is the imperative to evolve into more complex expressions of consciousness by way of the energy.” “Even rocks?” “Even rocks. Nothing in nature is static, Maxwell. Stones have their own developmental phases and lifespans just like us. Everything in the cosmos is in motion … or ceases to be. To embrace this flow of energy is to embrace one’s own becoming.” Max thought of Dewey Larson’s book, Universe of Motion, on loan from Professor Icarus gathering dust on his bookshelf in his dorm room. Suddenly, what Maxwallah was saying made a lot of sense. “So is this why I was attacked by deadly predators three times in as many days—because they were drawn to my energy?” “Absolutely. Coming from the world of space, you are a tremendous source of evolutionary energy.” Having arrived at the fountain, with Zana standing guard nearby, Maxwallah drank his fill and suggested that Max do likewise. When Max finished drinking, he said, “If I understand correctly, the Way of All Things would also explain why there’s a water dragon—whatever that is—camped out in Blue Lake below my father’s location.” “You are a quick study,” replied Maxwallah while refilling his flask. “Your father is also a source of space energy—though not as strong, or as stable, as yourself.”

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Max had another revelation. “This must be why cryptids show up in space-time near vortex points. They just naturally follow the energy whenever there’s an opening.” “What are cryptids?” “Animals from your world.” “Ah, yes. We call visitors from your reality hunzabi, or displaced creatures.” “I suppose I’m one of the hunzabi myself.” “In a manner of speaking.” “Do animals often attack you, too?” “I have been a target all my life. But I am used to it. You are not. And unfortunately, things will only get worse.” “Meaning?” “The Umbodi and the Ombudo are about to begin training in the use of the energy of space here at Muru-amah.” “You mean we’re about to turn this place into a lighthouse for energyseeking creatures?” “That is one way of putting it.” “What kind of creatures are we talking about?” “Cave bears, of course. Jorks. Saber-toothed tigers—” “Saber-toothed tigers?” “You just repeated my statement as a question again.” “Sorry. Are saber-toothed tigers … common?” “They are not uncommon.” “Great.” “Do not fret, Maxwell. Thanks to Zana, help is on the way.” “What kind of help?” “You will see. For now, let us do our business behind the cherry trees and return to the tower as quickly as possible.”

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ell me, what is it like to journey beyond the Interface?” Maxwallah asked as he produced a small object bundled in gray pelts from his backpack and carefully unwrapped it. Max, seated warming his hands over the freshly blazing fire, replied, “It’s sort of like entering your own videogame.” “What is a videogame?” “A simulated reality with lots of obstacles and opponents one must overcome to avoid having to start all over again.” “Sounds like life to me. Does your world present so few challenges these must be manufactured?” Max chuckled while considering how to answer. “Not exactly. My world’s problems are … different. They don’t stem from nature per se.” “Where do your challenges come from?” “They tend to be manmade.” A ceramic pot emerged from Maxwallah’s pelts. He filled it with water from his flask, then emptied the pouch of crimson holywood berries into it, before setting it on a flat stone at the fire’s edge to boil. “Your world seems unnecessarily complicated,” he remarked, sitting down cross-legged beside Max. “Believe me, it is.” With his twin for company on top of the tower, and Zana busy gathering rocks into a pile at the foot of the stairs, Max no longer felt in serious danger. Mostly, he just felt drained. “Do you miss your world?” asked Maxwallah. 335


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“I miss … my friends.” “So I can imagine. Do you have many friends?” “I have two very good ones.” “What are their names?” “Tuesday and Raul. Without their help, I wouldn’t be here.” The water in the ceramic pot started to simmer and Max could smell the tart scent of holywood berries. As soon as the water began to boil, Maxwallah moved the pot to the tower floor to cool and steep. “Sometimes you remind me of Tuesday,” said Max. “How do you know so much about herbal medicine?” “My teacher taught me.” “She taught you many things.” “She did indeed.” The musical tap-tap-tap of Zana chipping rocks below echoed through the complex. Comforted by the sound, Max asked, “How did you say you met Zana?” “I did not say. She was orphaned at a young age and raised by my teacher. I have known her ever since I could walk. She is like a sister to me.” “How was she orphaned?” “Her parents were killed during a river crossing by a capu, which also gave her the scar you may have noticed on her back.” “Wait a second. Her parents were killed by a giant crocodile like the one she defended me against?” “Indeed. She was almost eaten alive herself. But with my teacher’s help, she recovered enough to have—if not exactly a normal childhood as a member of a human household—at least a happy one.” “That was a brave thing she did for me, wasn’t it?” “I would be hard-pressed to think of anything more courageous. But then again, she did not do it for just anyone; she did it for the Umbodi.” “She has a family of her own now, doesn’t she?” “How did you know?” “I saw her children. In my mind.” “She has a mate and two offspring. They inhabit a cave dwelling with others of their species on the other side of the zoaz forest above my village.” The twins grew silent for a while, watching the fire release sparks up into the stars while listening to the ringing sound of rocks chipping. “There’s something I still don’t understand,” said Max at last. “Why was Zana so far away from her family—not to mention in exactly the right place to meet me—when I arrived here?” “Simple. She was on the lookout for you.” “Come again?” 336


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“Ever since your father appeared and I contacted you, the Almasty have taken turns watching the Angel’s Eye in anticipation of your coming.” “Why would they do that?” “Because they, more than most, are devoted to the Way of All Things. The Promised One was foretold not just by human beings, but by the Almasty as well.” “What are the Almasty? I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around them. Are they animals or people?” “You might say they are people who have not suppressed their animal nature.” “So they’re intelligent like humans?” “Not like humans. They are less intelligent than us in some ways, and more intelligent in others.” “More intelligent? Because they can communicate telepathically?” “And because their telepathic ability allows them to interact with the natural world to an extent it is difficult for us to conceptualize.” “You seem pretty in touch with nature yourself.” Maxwallah laughed. “In this regard, let us just say if I were an Almasty, I would be considered … developmentally challenged.” Max joined in the laughter. “So how did you know to come looking for me? Were you in telepathic communion with Zana?” “No. The telepathy used by the Almasty is only for conversing over short distances. I saw the sky open up and spit you out in a dream.” “But you can talk to Zana telepathically, can’t you?” “Of course. With practice you will be able to as well.” Maxwallah felt the pot of berry tea to make sure it was cool enough to drink, then handed it to Max. “The taste should be slightly bitter, but not unpleasant.” “I don’t suppose you have any Sucanat?” “What is Sucanat?” “Forget it.” Max took a small sip. It was still quite warm but drinkable. The taste recalled cranberry juice, with perhaps a note of anise. “How is it?” “Not bad. Should I drink all of it?” “Yes.” “It won’t turn me into a frog or anything?” “There are plants that can be used for shape-shifting, if you are genuinely interested in this type of medicine, but holywood is not one of them.” “Jesus, I was just joking.” Max turned up the pot and drank down the brew. Immediately, he felt his throat and insides tingling. 337


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“Tingling is normal,” said Maxwallah. “It does not mean you are having an allergic reaction. The feeling will soon pass.” Maxwallah stood, took the pot from Max, refilled it with water from his flask, and added the tarroh leaves. After carefully setting the pot back on the flat rock, he began transferring the pine needles from under the shelter into two pallets on either side of the fire. “What are you doing?” asked Max. “Making our beds. The sky is as clear as glass. We should take advantage of the pleasant weather to sleep under the stars.” “But I’m not sleepy now. If anything, the tea reenergized me.” “This effect, like the tingling, will be short-lived. I suggest you ready yourself for sleep.” Maxwallah added several pieces of wood to the fire, pulled his hood over his head, and stretched out on his pallet of pine needles. Reluctantly, more inclined to go for a jog than call it a night, Max followed suit—and not a minute too soon. Suddenly, yawning, he felt extremely drowsy. “You are feeling the tea begin to work,” said Maxwallah. “Just relax and do not struggle against it.” “I’m just curious,” yawned Max. “What percentage of the time would you say you’re reading my mind?” “I apologize. I do not do it on purpose—if that is any comfort. Our connection is so close I cannot always help it.” “I don’t mind really. Tell me something, though. We are speaking English, aren’t we?” “Of course.” “But English isn’t your native language.” “No.” “Is the reason you can speak English because of our connection?” “Yes.” “Does that mean I should be able to speak your language?” “I believe so.” “What’s the name of your language?” “Tay-wo.” “Say something in Tay-wo.” “Gara mincho helu provib-anwah.” “It’s time for me to get some rest?” “Very good.” Max felt drugged and maybe a little altered. The sound of Zana’s chipping, echoing back and forth through the ancient site, took on the quality of a complex musical composition. It was actually rather beautiful. Max wondered if, in fact, she was intentionally making music. “Just one more thing, Maxwallah. Does Zana speak English?” 338


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“No.” “Then why does she seem to understand when I speak? And why did I hear her voice in my head speaking English?” Judging by the acrid smell in the air, the tarroh leaves had started to simmer. Without sitting up, yawning himself, Maxwallah gently set the ceramic pot on the nearby stones to steep until morning. “Zana reads your thoughts,” he said. “That is why she understands you. As for hearing her voice, I do not know why it works this way. But when conversing telepathically, we typically hear everything in our mother tongue.” Max—who had just drifted into a dreamless slumber while gazing at the stars—didn’t hear Maxwallah’s response in any language.

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ise and shine, Maxwell!” Max’s own voice urged him awake. “Get up, sleepyhead! Your breakfast is ready—and your training cannot wait!” Max opened his eyes to find himself staring up into a brilliantly lit mirror. Then he realized it wasn’t a mirror, but Maxwallah staring down at him in the crisp light of early morning. “How do you feel after a night of holywood sleep?” “Like I could just keep sleeping.” “Here, take my hand. Let me help you up so you can shake off the cobwebs.” After sitting up with his twin’s assistance, Max blinked, yawned, and stretched. What remained of the fire was giving off a thin ribbon of smoke coiling skyward. He remembered his silver cord and was relieved to find it still attached. “You are still in one piece,” observed Maxwallah. “Your color is also better. And there are no longer rings under your eyes.” “I do feel somewhat stronger. How’s my aura?” “Quite robust. Are you hungry?” “Starving.” “Then I hope you like jut-jut.” Maxwallah had already peeled the prickly skin off the fruit to reveal its glistening, raspberry-colored flesh. He cut a lengthwise wedge and presented it to Max speared on his obsidian blade.

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“So I just eat this plain?” asked Max, taking the wedge gently between his fingers. “Of course. Jut-jut is a complex food with everything the body requires for optimal functioning.” The fruit’s flavor was completely unexpected—and not altogether pleasant. Neither sweet nor tart, featuring a salty undertone of electrolytes, it was like a mixture of mango, fried egg, and Gatorade. “How is it?” asked Maxwallah. “Different.” “I take it you do not care for jut-jut?” “Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.” Maxwallah sliced a wedge for himself and ate it with enthusiasm while Max forced his down. “I don’t suppose there’s a supermarket in the neighborhood?” “What is a supermarket?” “A big grocery store.” “There is a market in my village, but I do not think it would qualify as a supermarket. Besides, it is a journey of two revolutions of the earth from here in the best of conditions.” Having finished his jut-jut wedge, Maxwallah cut another and offered it to Max. “No thanks. One was quite enough. You enjoy it.” “Thank you. I love jut-jut.” “I’m going down to have a moment of quiet reflection behind the cherry trees.” “Call if you need me.” “I think I can handle this myself.” Except for her rock pyramid, there was no sign of Zana below. Admiring the mist rising above the encircling pines, Max took care of his business and then, whistling, reentered the lane headed back toward the astronomy tower. Near the base of the staircase, Zana stood holding something resembling a grocery bag in one hand. As Max came closer, he did a double take: it wasn’t Zana but another Sasquatch towering above him! An exceedingly tall male (as in, almost ten feet tall) with graying fur, he sniffed with enormous nostrils at Max with no discernible expression in his wrinkled face. Only his eyes, which sparkled as he swayed, suggested higher intelligence. “I am Silverback.” Max heard the words distinctly, in English, in his mind. “You are the Umbodi. Silverback has accepted the Umbodi’s summons …” “My … summons?” interjected Max aloud. “… and offers food and what strength is left in him to protect you.” 342


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“How did you know I was here?” “Silverback has spoken.” The old Sasquatch stepped forward and extended the bag he held— which turned out to be a gigantic leaf folded into a pouch. Carefully, not knowing what else to do, Max took it. “Thank you,” he said. Silverback placed his right hand on Max’s shoulder. “I see myself in you,” he said telepathically. Max stood on his tiptoes and reached as high as he could to touch Silverback’s shoulder, completing the circuit as Zana had done with Maxwallah. “And I see myself in you.” Having stared deeply into Max’s eyes, Silverback appeared satisfied and stepped back, breaking the circuit as Maxwallah came running down the stairs—sporting his leather pack—with a thrilled look on his face. “So you have met Silverback!” he said to Max. “Yeah, we just … introduced ourselves.” “Silverback is the Elder of all the Almasty clans south of the Red Mountains.” Maxwallah and the old Sasquatch made the circuit. Max overheard them greet each other telepathically with the words, “I see myself in you.” “Thank you for coming, Silverback,” Maxwallah added aloud. “Our need is great—and your timing is impeccable.” Silverback grunted and, with a glance and sniff at Max, shuffled off down the lane in the direction of the fountain. “He is probably thirsty after his long journey,” said Maxwallah. Then, noticing Max’s leaf pouch: “I see he brought you a present. Do you not wish to open it?” “Why don’t you do it? I’m not used to vegetable wrapping paper.” Max handed over the pouch and Maxwallah opened it with ease. Inside, tucked in a line along the bottom fold, they found six pink eggs the size of goose eggs. “Bandu eggs!” exclaimed Maxwallah. “What are bandu eggs?” “A delicacy. They are not quite as nutritious as jork eggs, but they are certainly tastier—and easier to obtain.” “I gather a bandu is a bird?” “Yes. Something like”—Maxwallah’s brow furrowed as he searched for a comparison—“a small ostrich.” “That sounds promising.” “Would you like to try one?” “Raw?” “Raw would be best. Otherwise, we must start the fire again and delay training.” When Max hesitated, Maxwallah knelt and cracked an egg on the cobblestones. He held it aloft with his head pitched back and deftly 343


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separated it over his mouth—into which the fluorescent orange contents disappeared without so much as a drop spilling. “Your turn, Maxwell. I suspect this will be much more to your liking than jut-jut.” “What the hell.” Max attempted to imitate his twin, but ended up having to wipe yolk off his cheek. “Wow, that really is tasty. It’s almost like eggnog.” “I thought you would enjoy it. Shall we finish the rest?” “Sure.” “You will need your strength in order to purify yourself and find your innate tone.” “Purify myself? Find my innate tone?” “All in good time.”

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he two companions strolled past the cherry trees and turned into the little alleyway that led past Zana’s elk. It was still there, stinking up the place, high in the lone tree atop the hill. Leaving the stench behind without remark, Maxwallah led Max down another alley that twisted and turned—until it opened up to reveal a steaming pool of water of considerable size carved by the elements out of solid rock. “What is this place?” asked Max. “This was the Sacred Pool of the Heywah. Beautiful, is it not?” “It’s gorgeous. And practical. It’s a hot spring, right?” “Indeed. It is fed by thermal waters from beneath the mountain.” “So can we bathe in it? I haven’t had a shower since I got to timespace.” “Eventually, yes, we will bathe. But first, we must initiate your training with ceremony.” “What kind of ceremony?” “Take off your clothes and you will see.” “You want me to take off my clothes here in broad daylight?” “Trust me, Maxwell. I have seen you naked every time I have seen myself without raiment.” Reluctantly, not without wincing in the morning chill, Max removed his poncho, jeans, and boots. These Maxwallah set on the ground well away from the water alongside his backpack—from which he removed a long, slender object.

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“Why do you carry an extra machete around in your pack?” asked Max. Ignoring this question, Maxwallah offered him the sword in its scabbard by the carved bone hilt. Max accepted and unsheathed the obsidian blade, which glinted and seemed rather sharp. “This is just like your sword.” “Not just like. The carving on your handle is a lunar motif, while that on mine features a solar design.” “My handle? You mean you’re giving me this?” “It is said among my people that a blade selects its wielder. In a sense, I am merely making it possible for you to have what has already chosen you.” “But you made this sword, didn’t you?” “I crafted it, yes. Just as my teacher made my sword for me—and as perhaps someday you will make one for your student.” “Thanks. But I don’t know the first thing about sword making.” “Neither did I.” “What am I supposed to do with it?” “Use it. I will make you a belt with your hide shirt so you can wear it.” “I really appreciate this, Maxwallah. But why are you giving it to me now? I thought we were going to have a ceremony.” Maxwallah smiled and took the sword back from Max. “The ceremony has already begun. You have accepted the blade that I will now use to sever the ties that bind you to who you were and keep you from becoming who you are to be.” “Just don’t cut my silver cord.” “Do not worry.” Max shivered in the bracing air as Maxwallah moved around him in circles symbolically severing his bonds to the past from head to toe. Setting the blade on its sheath on top of Max’s poncho, he produced a hunk of what looked like amber from his backpack and held it in his right hand blowing on it until it began to smoke. Max smelled the familiar, copal-like scent of the resin from the luminous piñon trees down the mountain. He realized his twin was heating the hardened sap in his palm so that it burned like incense. “That’s pretty cool,” said Max. “Are you going to teach me how to do that?” “This is not about parlor tricks, Maxwell. The kali-kalu are not ends in themselves—but only and always means to a greater end.” “What are the kali-kalu?” “Special abilities that derive from manipulating the energy of space— or in your world, the energy of time.”

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“You mean like the Hindu siddhis? Levitation, telekinesis, that sort of thing?” “Exactly.” “Excellent.” “Perhaps, perhaps not.” “I don’t follow you.” “An eager student of the kali-kalu, or inner arts, once pursued them for the wrong reasons. Rather than wanting power to help the world, he desired power for itself.” “What happened?” “The climate where he lived was extremely wet. In order to show the people he had acquired power, and to make everyone revere him, he caused the rain to disappear. But this only brought drought to the land— and soon people everywhere, starving, fell to cursing his name.” “I think I get what you’re driving at.” “Do you?” Maxwallah began walking in circles again while blowing across the resin and smudging Max with incense. The smoke smelled wonderful but stung his eyes. “I believe so,” replied Max, blinking. “You’re saying that in order to properly wield this kind of power, one must be willing to give it up rather than do harm.” “That is precisely the point. You might imagine that I practice physical training such as you saw me doing at the fountain because I desire to defeat my opponents?” “Well, certainly, you don’t want to be beaten by them.” “Of course not. But if you believe embodying power means to have someone to ‘beat’ in the first place, you are already on a slippery slope. The straight path to power is to embrace the Circle of Life to such an extent that one cannot be effectively opposed by anyone or anything. Real power, the genuine variety, carries with it the responsibility to stand up in benevolent defense of all creatures.” Max thought of the physician’s pledge, so often ignored in the medicine of his world, to “first do no harm.” “What about evil beings?” he asked. “If by ‘evil’ you mean those who choose to ignore the Circle of Life for selfish reasons, one with power must endeavor to neutralize their ability to do harm while—if at all possible—not harming them.” “What about the wolves you shot?” “Killing is only a last resort in defense or preservation of oneself or a loved one.” “What about hunting animals for food?” “That falls under preservation of oneself or a loved one.”

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“Fair enough. But what is the Circle of Life, Maxwallah? I get that it’s connected to the Way of All Things—but I’m not sure how.” What remained of the piñon resin was bubbling in Maxwallah’s palm. The heat from the smoldering incense didn’t seem to hurt or even bother him. He blew the last of the smoke over Max, then rubbed his hands together to remove what was left of the ashes. “I am afraid it is difficult to describe the Circle of Life in words. It is more effective to experience it before attempting to discuss it.” “How do I go about experiencing it?” “First, we must finish your purification. Then we can proceed to the Cave of Origins.” “Proceed to what?” “Language is so much fluff at this stage. We must go deeper. Literally!” With this last word, Maxwallah unexpectedly pushed Max into the Sacred Pool. Max barely had time to inhale before he was surrounded by bath-like water and air bubbles. Sputtering while shaking the water out of his hair, he resurfaced and attempted to climb out. He was greeted at the lip of the waterhole by the tip of his own obsidian sword in Maxwallah’s hand. “Quit joking around,” he said. “I’d like to get out and dry off.” “You said you wanted to bathe. Now bathe.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “How am I supposed to do that? I can’t even stand up. The pool’s really deep.” “That should present no obstacle to a dolphin. Just remember: where there is a will, there is a Way.” “Is that ‘Way’ with a capital?” “It is if you can follow it.” Max stared up at his twin, who still brandished the sword menacingly to keep him from climbing out. Rather than getting angry, intuiting this must be part of his training, he reflected on Maxwallah’s last statement while treading water. To follow the Way, or the Way of all Things, was to follow the energy. So where was the energy? Sensing a subtle current of energy rising up from below, Max took a deep breath and allowed himself to sink beneath the water’s steaming surface. As he drifted down and down in the stillness of the Sacred Pool, he imagined he heard a high-pitched note like that of a dolphin whistling. The farther he sank, the louder the note grew—until he realized in an epiphany it emanated from his heart. It wasn’t exactly his heartbeat; rather, the note seemed to be the driving force behind his heartbeat. It 348


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was—he grasped in another profound insight—the sound of his heart speaking. Diver down, it seemed to say. Diver down, diver down, diver down, diver down. Suddenly, a faint, greenish light turned on in the depths of darkness under Max’s feet. At the same time, the upwelling energy grew palpably stronger. Instinctively, before his head could dissuade him from what his heart told him to do, he curled into a fetal position, spun a hundred and eighty degrees vertically, and dived straight toward the light with a series of powerful kicks. The light grew brighter as he plumbed the depths of the Sacred Pool. Just as he was on the verge of running out of breath, he swam through a shimmering membrane—at which point, fantastically, he fell through the air and splashed into a bed of glowing moss. Sucking for breath, he looked up to see the water of the Sacred Pool suspended in swirling patterns atop the translucent membrane half a dozen feet overhead. Max had entered the Cave of Origins, but how he would exit it was anybody’s guess.

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ortunately, he didn’t have to worry long. Within minutes an equally naked Maxwallah passed through the membrane and landed with a flop beside him on the illuminated moss. “Fancy meeting you here,” said Max. “I thought you were going to toss me in water only if I set myself on fire.” Maxwallah, still sopping and breathing hard, stared sideways at his twin with a mischievous grin. “It worked, did it not?” “If you mean it made me find the Cave of Origins, I guess so.” When Maxwallah only laughed, Max said, “What’s so funny?” “It did more than make you find the Cave of Origins.” “You’re speaking in riddles.” “Let us review what just occurred after I pushed you in the water.” “So you can gloat?” “So you can understand better.” “Fair enough.” “What was your first act after you realized I was not going to let you climb out of the Sacred Pool?” “I sort of … surrendered.” “Surrendered to what, exactly?” “To following the energy.” “Did you attempt to control the energy?” “No. I didn’t even think about that. I just … felt it.” “Good. Then what did you do?” “I allowed myself to sink.” 351


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“Were you afraid?” “Not really.” “Why not?” “I immediately heard an odd noise.” “A noise?” “A high-pitched tone. Like a dolphin whistling. That was my innate tone, wasn’t it?” Maxwallah smiled again. “Obviously. What happened next?” Max reflected on the subsequent phase of his descent into the Cave of Origins. “It seemed the tone was coming from my heart. It struck me as a type of language.” “The language of the heart?” “Cheesy, but—yes.” “What did your heart say?” “It kept repeating ‘diver down.’” “Did you?” “Did I what?” “Did you dive down?” “Of course. But first, there was a light. From the moss, I think. The next thing I knew, I swam through the membrane and fell. I sure didn’t see that coming. It’s a good thing I didn’t break my neck.” “It is a good thing I did not bury you alive.” “Bury me … alive?” “Some initiations require it.” “Is that what this is: an initiation?” “Something like that. Call it the initiation of your initiation.” “Great.” “In any case, luck was with you. Upon review, Maxwell, has this experience become clear?” “Clear as mud.” “Then I will tell you a story.” “Another story?” “Humor me. In the beginning, before the birth of stars and planets, and before the first day was followed by the first night, Great Spirit sat alone in contemplation of his loneliness.” “Been there, done that.” “Great Spirit dreamed of not being alone, but he also realized— powerful as he was—that he could not end his loneliness by force of will. To do so would create mere slaves to his will with no will of their own. Thus his first act was to surrender his will in order to follow the energy of creation wherever it wished to go. Sound familiar?” “Maybe a little. Go on.”

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“Great Spirit became a servant of the energy, not its master, and in so doing left a blueprint for all of his children—born of freely flowing energy—to follow.” “You’re talking about the Way of All Things!” “Precisely. The Way of All Things is to follow the energy wherever it takes us. Only by doing so can we retrace the energy all the way back to our origins in Great Spirit.” “So is this where the Cave of Origins comes in?” “Almost. As soon as Great Spirit began to follow the energy, he heard a sound.” “His innate tone?” “You have a sharp mind, Maxwell. His was the original note out of which all other notes grew to form the Circle of Life. The music welling up in Great Spirit’s heart was cyclical—like his heartbeat—and spoke of the oneness at the heart of creation.” “Is that why you once told me that everything is one?” “Yes.” “And is it also why you greet others by saying you see yourself in them?” “Very astute. Greeting others as ourselves reminds us there is really only Great Spirit. For from Great Spirit’s innate tone, uttered in surrender and love, emerged a vast universe like an endless cavern centered on and powered by the energy of his heart.” “The Cave of Origins?” “The Cave of Origins. And into the Cave of Origins flowed the notes of Great Spirit’s heartsong to give life and consciousness to all things.” Max sorted through the pieces of Maxwallah’s puzzle of creation. “Unless I’m missing something,” he said finally, “the Cave of Origins is the universe—which is actually the heart of the creator.” “You did not miss anything.” “But that would mean the Cave of Origins doesn’t really exist—not in a single location like this place, anyway.” “Think of it this way: the Cave of Origins is everywhere and nowhere.” “Everywhere and nowhere?” “It is everywhere the heart is—and nowhere the heart is not.” “That’s mind-blowing.” “The mind cannot begin to grasp it. Only the heart has any chance of coming to terms with the mysteries of creation in which it played a pivotal role.” “How did you learn all this?” “I had an excellent teacher.” Maxwallah smiled again. “Do not attempt to understand what I am saying with your head. That is like trying to 353


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control the energy. Simply feel it with your heart. By surrendering, you create space for the answer to manifest.” “The answer to what?” “The question in your heart.” In fact, there was a question there—as if in a lockbox waiting to be opened—that Max hadn’t dared to ask. He had been so programmed through cultural conditioning to believe God and humans were separate that just asking the question seemed sacrilegious. Seated in glowing moss in a supernatural cave with who knew how many tons of hot water suspended precariously overhead, Max concentrated on just breathing and paying attention to the energy. In his mind’s eye, he watched the energy emanating from his own heart and radiating outward to the cave’s overgrown floor, stone walls, and membranous ceiling. It was as if the Cave of Origins … originated from inside him! “I did this, didn’t I?” he asked in astonishment. “I created the Cave of Origins with my innate tone?” Maxwallah beamed. “Yes. Though if I may say so, I am helping sustain it.” “But I thought Great Spirit made the Cave of Origins.” “Great Spirit lives in and through all things—or he does not live at all.” “You’re saying I’m Great Spirit?” “You are an aspect of Great Spirit, Maxwell. Just as I am. And just as all things are. How could it be otherwise—if all things exist inside his heart?” “Do you have an innate tone?” “Naturally. All things do.” “Is everyone’s innate tone … different?” “Since there are only so many audible notes to go around, no. But the application of one’s note is always individualized. The innate tone is the beginning of personal power. Discovering it represents the first step in our journey back to our larger identity in Great Spirit.” “What does your tone sound like?” Without skipping a beat, relaxing his face and dropping his jaw, Maxwallah produced a bass note oddly reminiscent of a raven’s croaking. The light in the moss suddenly grew brighter—and for the first time Max saw the tattoo over his twin’s heart. “That’s strange. I’ve seen a tattoo just like yours before.” “Where?” “On some guy’s arm in the town where I grew up. It’s a raven with the sun in its beak, isn’t it?” “Yes.” “When did you get it?” 354


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“When I completed my training.” “I imagine there’s a story about giving light to the world associated with it?” “There is indeed. Would you like to hear it?” “Why not.” “I will share it with you. But then we must continue our training.” Maxwallah paused as if remembering some event in the remote past. “Among Great Spirit’s first creations were two brothers: Black Thunderbird and Star Mirror. The two brothers were like oil and water— yet together, they created the universe. Black Thunderbird focused on organic life; Star Mirror was interested in inorganic things. Black Thunderbird loved flight and freedom, while Star Mirror’s temperament was like that of the ocean: treacherous and given to reflecting the world in a distorted fashion.” “I take it the two had a falling out?” “You could say that. Being the younger brother, Star Mirror was jealous of Black Thunderbird and always sought to undermine his plans. When Star Mirror fashioned the earth, on which Black Thunderbird planned to foster life, he intentionally kept our sun for himself in his own solar system far across the stars.” “Didn’t his solar system already have a sun?” “Of course. Now he had two suns. When it came time to initiate life on our planet, this did not sit well with Black Thunderbird, who devised an ingenious scheme to remedy the situation.” “Let me guess: he transformed into a raven.” “That he did. Black Thunderbird could not gain access to his brother’s world in his own form. But aware of Star Mirror’s penchant for ravens, which were known to be great medicine animals conveying magical power, he changed into an enormous raven and was permitted to enter Star Mirror’s world—whereupon he stole one of his brother’s suns and flew back to our solar system with it in his beak.” “Nice story.” “It is not finished. Things did not go exactly according to plan.” “What happened?” “Black Thunderbird mistakenly stole the sun intended to illuminate Star Mirror’s world, leaving behind the sun meant for our world. Thus the worlds of Black Thunderbird and Star Mirror—even though opposites in most ways—will always be connected.” “Sounds like a mythological retelling of Reciprocal Theory.” “What is Reciprocal Theory?” “A scientific explanation of how the realms of time and space interrelate.”

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“Fascinating. But enough chitchat. Our air will run out if we do not hurry. Are you ready to learn to create light like Black Thunderbird?” “I assume this involves using my innate tone?” “You assume correctly.” “Sure. This should be interesting.”

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t took me seven revolutions around the sun, Maxwell, to learn what I hope to teach you in just a few revolutions of the earth.” “You’re not exactly helping my stress levels talking like that.” “Fortunately, you have already experienced the energy in ways most could neither imagine nor survive. And your training should be further enhanced by the venue, Muru-amah itself, which means ‘place of energy currents.’” “Do you really think being here will ease my learning curve?” “It has already done so. You discovered your innate tone and found the Cave of Origins on your first try. It took me half a dozen attempts.” “That’s encouraging” “It certainly is. Now, Maxwell, when working with the energy, it is critical—I cannot emphasize this enough—that you always begin in an attitude of surrender and love.” “Like Great Spirit?” “Like Great Spirit.” “How do I do that exactly? It sounds like being blissed out on command.” “That is precisely what it is. And because this can be difficult, especially during times of stress, you must establish a default memory that elicits feelings of surrender and love whenever you tap into it.” “Could you give me a little more to work with? I’m not sure we’re on the same page.”

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“The default memory should be of a time when your fate was in someone else’s hands, so to speak, yet you simultaneously felt great love in your heart.” “Do you have a default memory?” “Of course.” “What is it?” Maxwallah sighed wistfully with a faraway look. “When I was a toddler, my father would ride me on his horse by setting me in front of him. The steed was so strong and fast, and I was so tiny and weak, all I could do was surrender with the wind in my face and my father’s arm holding me. I surrendered so totally, and loved so completely, that I kicked and screamed whenever the ride finished and my father handed me down to my mother. Does this help?” “Thanks. It helps a lot.” “Have you identified your default memory?” “I think so.” “Would you mind sharing it with me?” “Not at all. There’s just one problem.” “What sort of problem?” “I’m afraid maybe it’s an impossibility.” “A default memory does not have to be factual to be effective, but it must resonate deeply.” “This one resonates … literally. It’s my earliest memory—assuming it actually happened. I was in my mother’s womb.” “Her … womb?” “I realize I’m not supposed to be able to remember that far back. But then again, I’m not supposed to be able to do a lot of things.” “What is the memory?” “A sound. I recall a sound. A mid-range note. It must have been my mother’s innate tone! She was humming it. Its vibrations were everywhere, even in me. I was helpless, of course, being a fetus. But at the same time, I knew I was incredibly loved—and I felt myself returning and amplifying that love.” A single tear wobbled down Max’s cheek. “I never knew my mother,” he said. “Oh, but I think you did.” “Do you believe my memory will work?” “It should work beautifully. Consider how intense emotion has activated your latent abilities just since your arrival here.” Max mentally replayed his fear that led to telepathy during his nearly disastrous river crossing; his elation from his dream of Tuesday and Raul that preceded his levitating a stone; and his profound compassion that allowed him to heal Zana’s wound. 358


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“Emotions exist on an energetic spectrum,” continued Maxwallah. “The more loving the emotion, the more powerful it is—and the more capable you become of utilizing it to access the energy productively and safely.” “So far I’m following you.” “Good. Once you have recalled your default memory to establish the proper attitude of loving surrender, you are ready to introduce your innate tone.” “How do I do that?” “In one of two ways. Either you can vocalize it, as your mother did while carrying you, or you can simply hear it in your mind. Whichever way you choose, be sure to maintain the positive emotion generated by your default memory while introducing your tone.” “Is it better to utter the tone aloud or hear it mentally?” “There is no better. It is simply a matter of preference. Some beginning students find it easier to make the sound while working with the energy. I did not.” “I’m with you. I think the silent approach would be less distracting.” “It is not silent if you hear the tone in your mind.” “True. So what do I do after I introduce my innate tone?” “You allow the Cave of Origins to open inside your heart.” Suddenly, Max recalled the vortex bridging the cosmic and material sectors that formed inside his chest when Zana was dying. “Yes,” commented Maxwallah, reading his twin’s mind. “That was the Cave of Origins.” “Wow. I just made the connection. What went wrong? Why did I nearly melt myself?” “You created it with compassion, which is a high-frequency emotion—but there was fear as well, which lowered your vibration. Also, you did not use your innate tone to generate the Cave of Origins. Without the tone, there was no way to create the internal resonance necessary for directing the energy out of your body without doing yourself harm.” “But you said one must not try to direct the energy.” “I said do not attempt to control it. The innate tone, working with principles of resonance, builds an internal framework over which the energy of space can travel without resistance into the realm of time—or vice versa.” “I get it now. It’s like electrical wiring conducting electricity.” “I am not familiar with your world’s technology. I prefer to think of water flowing through pipes unimpeded and without leaking using the force of levity.” “Did you just say levity?” “Yes. That is our word for the cohering force in nature.” 359


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“That’s hilarious. We call it gravity.” “That makes sense. After all, we are discussing the same energy moving in opposite directions.” “So the water flowing through the pipes is the energy?” “Correct.” “And the pipes lead from the heart, down the arm, and into the palm of the hand?” “Exactly.” “Why do your pipes lead to your right hand, while mine lead to my left hand?” “Because you are gravity and I am levity.” Max couldn’t help but chuckle. “You mean I am the head and you are the heart?” “Only figuratively. The more prosaic explanation is that I am righthanded and you are left-handed.” It suddenly dawned on Max that the statue in the fountain—with its otherwise identical figures fused back-to-back—perfectly depicted this opposite-handed dynamic. “So what do I do once the energy reaches my palm?” “This is where the fun starts, but it can also be tricky. I hope you are good at multitasking.” “You mean like chewing bubblegum and walking at the same time?” “What is bubblegum?” “Forget it. Yes. I’m decent at multitasking.” “Excellent. While maintaining the emotion from your default memory, and still holding your innate tone in your mind, simply imagine the energy flowing from your palm and doing what you want it to do.” “Simply?” “Or not so simply. It actually becomes simple with practice. But in the beginning, I admit, it can feel rather like juggling. Care to give it a try?” “What should I try to do with the energy?” “Start by creating a small light. Like this.” Maxwallah leaned forward and blew across the moss. Instantly, the glow went out and the Cave of Origins turned pitch-black. Seconds later, a reddish light—enough to see by—appeared in his hand. “That seemed easy enough,” said Max. “Why does your light have a slightly red tint?” “Sound and light are closely related. My innate tone corresponds to a shade of red on the color spectrum. Now it is your turn.” “You sure I won’t set myself on fire?” Maxwallah rolled his eyes upward to indicate the Sacred Pool hovering above them. “Do not worry. My bucket of water is ready.” “Okay. What the heck.” 360


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Maxwallah’s light was extinguished and Max found himself in utter darkness again. Having summoned his default memory, with a sense of surrender and love infusing him, he heard the soprano note of his innate tone echoing in his mind. Nothing happened at first. Then, in amazement, he watched as the Cave of Origins unfolded at the center of his heart like a rose blossoming in time-lapse photography. His entire body, to his inner sight, glowed like a magical spider web with pulsing energy—which, as he merely observed without attempting to control it, quickly made its way along the web from his heart down his arm into his palm. “Light,” he thought—at which point a dazzling sphere like a miniature sun began to strobe in his hand. “Turn it down,” instructed Maxwallah, squinting, “before you really do melt yourself.” “Reading light,” specified Max aloud. The strobing sun shrank to a small, steady bulb of sorts with a lavender hue. “Better,” said Maxwallah. “Why is my light purple?” “Because your innate tone corresponds to violet.” “ROYGBIV.” “Come again?” “Basic science. ROYGBIV is a mnemonic for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.” “The colors of the rainbow?” “We’re like bookends. You’re at one end of the visible spectrum with red—and I’m at the other with violet.” “I cannot say I am surprised.” “How did I do?” “Beautifully.” “Do you honestly think I can learn to fly?” “I know you can. I just do not know how quickly. How do you feel?” “Exhausted.” “I told you you would need your strength. I imagine you are hungry as well?” “You got that right. What are we going to have for lunch? I was thinking Mexican food.” “We must see what the afternoon brings. But first, let us have a proper bath. I brought a bar of soap in my pack.” “Are you joking?” “Why would I be joking?” “How do we get back up there from here?”

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“We swim, dolphin. Now would be a good time to turn off your light to conserve your strength.” Max did as directed. “On the count of three,” continued Maxwallah, “join me in allowing the Cave of Origins to collapse on itself. And be sure to take a big breath.” “Okay.” “One, two, three!” Max breathed deeply just in time. The hot water from above crashed down in the darkness all around him—and suddenly he was kicking upward with everything he had. He broke the water’s steaming surface just as Maxwallah did. The two grinned, then giggled, then splashed each other like kids. The morning fog had lifted; the sky was blue over the pines; and the day was already warm and getting warmer.

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till dripping from a much-needed cleanse (complete with lavenderscented soap) in the Sacred Pool, Max’s intuitive sense kicked into high gear as he followed Maxwallah past the stinking elk tree and under the row of cherries into the long avenue. Instinctively, he gripped the hilt of his obsidian sword, which he carried in its scabbard, even though he didn’t have the faintest idea how to use it. Happily, he didn’t need to learn swordsmanship on the fly. Muru-amah was teeming with strange creatures, true enough, but they were all of the friendly variety. Sasquatches were everywhere. There must have been a hundred, all adult males of varying colors, shapes, and sizes. Some were busy chipping and stacking rocks into little pyramids—and more seemed to be arriving. “What’s going on here?” Max asked his grinning twin. “Help has arrived.” “Help?” “Protection … and perhaps other forms of aid.” “How did they know to come here?” “Zana has been busy.” “Busy?” “Rounding them up.” Max walked slowly, taking in this genuinely otherworldly spectacle— only to realize, as his curious gaze was returned by one Sasquatch after another, that for them he was the otherworldly spectacle.

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When the twins arrived back at their camp atop the astronomy tower, an entire section of the wall had been stockpiled with a range of foodstuffs: bandu eggs in leaf envelopes, giant coconuts, enormous apples, jut-jut fruits, bananas, wild carrots, fresh salmon, ring-neck pheasants, a young deer, a wild boar. “For a place with no supermarkets,” said Max, “this is a pretty good imitation. Where did all this stuff come from?” “Where do you think? Our guests.” Max stashed his sword under the shelter, peeled a banana the size of a bicycle seat, and devoured it where he stood. “They must have known we were in dire need of food.” “Perhaps, perhaps not. It is their custom to bring gifts of sustenance when gathering—especially on important occasions.” “What’s the occasion?” “You, my friend. The Umbodi does not arrive in our world every day.” “What do they want from me?” “From you? Nothing. They come simply to be in your presence—and to ensure that you live to fulfill your purpose.” “And what might that be?” “To complete the Circle of Life, of course, and unify our worlds so that others—including the Almasty themselves—may follow in your footsteps.” “You keep talking about the Circle of Life, but I still don’t completely understand it. Care to elaborate on what you mean by unifying our worlds?” Maxwallah, still wearing his backpack, selected a ripe jut-jut fruit and headed for the stairs. “All in good time, Maxwell.” “Where are you going?” “To sit on the sun.” “To sit on the … sun?” “I do not have confidence you will ever break your habit of repeating my statements as questions.” “I don’t have confidence you’ll ever break your habit of speaking in riddles.” “Touché. See you in a few hours.” “Aren’t we going to train this afternoon?” “We will train tonight. You should eat and rest now after the morning’s exertions.” “You’re actually going to leave me here all alone surrounded by Sasquatches?” “Why not? It is your party.” Left to his own devices, still hungry, Max ate a couple of raw bandu eggs and the better part of an apple. Afterward, he lay down on his pallet

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of pine needles. But with so much rock-chipping filling the air with exotic music, he was unable to fall asleep and eventually got back up. Fingering Maxwallah’s bow, he tried pulling back the string but wasn’t strong enough to draw it very far. He examined one of the blackfeathered arrows in his twin’s quiver—only to discover that its obsidian arrowhead was nearly identical to the one from the orchard still in his pocket. For the first time since showing up in the cosmic sector, Max was actually bored. He was also more than a little thirsty after his midday repast, so he descended from the tower and walked in the direction of the fountain. He could feel many eyes on him as he entered the plaza and drank from the basin. Turning around at last, he found himself facing a crowd of swaying Sasquatches that had gathered silently in his wake. Silverback was there, toward the rear, but Zana was once again absent. Max knew he should say something, but he didn’t know what. He had never been comfortable with public speaking—and now was no exception. “The Umbodi should speak what is in his heart.” The voice in his head was Silverback’s. “That is the only thing worth saying.” “Thank you,” began Max, telepathically, to those assembled. “On behalf of myself and my father, I want you to know your assistance and gifts are truly appreciated.” The silence that ensued prompted him to continue. “You know, my mother spent years searching in vain for your kind. She was fascinated by you—and now I realize she was right to be. In many ways, it should be her standing in front of you, not me. I only wish she could see me.” A telepathic murmur of approval traveled through the crowd. Max realized he had struck a chord with his heartfelt sentiment. The Sasquatch nearest him—a comparatively short but broad fellow with auburn fur and pudgy cheeks—stepped forward. Gently reaching down and squeezing Max’s shoulder, he said mentally, “Rolling Boulder sees himself in the Umbodi.” Max completed the circuit by placing his hand on Rolling Boulder’s shoulder. “And I see myself in you.” Satisfied, Rolling Boulder stepped aside as another Sasquatch, then another and another, made the circuit of greeting with Max. Touchwood, Deer Stalker, Stone Pitcher, Firebrand, Kingfisher, Shepherd, Lapis Lazuli, Spelunker, Fox Tracker: their names were as distinctive as their faces, which when viewed at close range, struck Max as remarkably individualized. How many greetings he performed, one after another after another under the cloudless autumn sky, he couldn’t say. By the time the crowd 365


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had mostly dispersed, the afternoon shadows were lengthening and, incredibly, he was hungry again. He glanced up as a latecomer approached for what he hoped would be his last greeting for the day. To his great surprise, and greater joy, it was Zana! “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” he exclaimed aloud. With her signature flash of teeth and burst of laughter, she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Zana sees herself in the Umbodi,” he heard her say. Max completed the circuit. “And the Umbodi definitely sees himself in Zana. I’m lucky to have you for a friend. God knows what I would have done without you.” She stepped back, breaking the circuit, and bowed her head almost modestly. “Not to change the subject,” said Max, “but do you happen to know where Maxwallah went? He made some mysterious comment earlier about sitting on the sun.” Into Max’s mind suddenly flashed an image of his twin on top of one of the distant pyramidal structures that could be seen from the astronomy tower. “Care to pay him a little visit with me?” he asked. “Zana would love to.” “Great. Let’s go now while we still have daylight to climb by.”

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ure enough, they found Maxwallah perched high atop the ninth and final platform of one of two massive step pyramids located approximately a quarter of a mile across Muru-amah. The climb to the flattened top of the apex was up a stone staircase cut with supreme precision at a steep angle up the pyramid’s rocky face. Zana bounded up the stairs two at a time like a gazelle, leaving Max to lumber upward behind wishing there was a guardrail. “I thought you were going to sit on the sun,” he commented, between staccato breaths, on reaching the breezy summit. “I am sitting on the sun,” replied Maxwallah, grinning up from where he sat cross-legged sewing what Max noted was a leather jerkin. “This is the Pyramid of the Sun.” “No kidding?” Still gasping for breath, Max continued, “I once found an obsidian arrowhead in a dream behind the Pyramid of the Sun in my world.” He reached in his pocket, pulled out the arrowhead from the orchard, and handed it to his twin. “It looked a lot like this.” “Where did you find this?” asked Maxwallah, examining the arrowhead as Zana looked on curiously. “In the old apple orchard at the foot of the mountain.” “That makes sense. This is a Heywah arrowhead and that was Heywah land.” “How can you be sure it was made by the Heywah? It looks just like one of yours.”

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“You have a good eye. My arrowheads are indeed replicas of Heywah work. But I have never fired a shot in that orchard.” “I want you to have it. Maybe it will bring you luck.” “Maybe it will.” Maxwallah slipped the arrowhead in a pocket of his buckskin breeches and resumed his sewing. “Thank you, Maxwell.” “Don’t mention it.” “But I just did.” “It’s just an expression. So, you’re working on my hide shirt?” “Yes. I plan to attach the sleeves separately so they can be removed and reattached as needed. That leaves only your belt—and you will be properly attired to journey across the mountains.” “Do you mean those mountains?” From that height, Max could see above the forest to a jagged row of snow-covered peaks rising like knuckles against the pastel sky of late afternoon. “I do. Those are the Red Mountains. The Almasty report that the pass, though still blocked with snow in places, should be navigable again soon—assuming the weather holds.” “What if it doesn’t?” “Then I am open to suggestions.” Scratching her ribs while emitting a toothy yawn, Zana plopped down beside Maxwallah. Max, careful not to tumble off the pyramid, faced in the same direction and sat down on the other side. In the far distance, across hills, desert and jungle, he could make out a large body of water glinting in the angled sunlight. “Is that … the Inland Sea?” he asked. “It is indeed,” replied Maxwallah. “Where’s Blue Lake?” “It is beyond sight—across the water in the forest.” “Is that smoke rising off to the side?” “That is the wildfire I mentioned. It is spreading.” “It all seems terribly faraway.” “To one on two legs, yes. But to one on two wings, no.” “That’s just the problem: I don’t have two wings.” “But you will be able to fly.” “Yeah, you keep saying that.” “I say it because I believe it. It is in the prophecy.” “What else is in this prophecy?” “The prophecy states that I, too, will be able to fly someday.” “Someday?” “When I have journeyed into your world and the Circle of Life is finally complete.” “Journeyed into my world?” Max had a brief, hilarious vision of Maxwallah in buckskins trying to pay for a bus ticket with an arrowhead—at which point he burst out laughing. 368


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“What do you find so humorous, Maxwell?” “I was just … seeing you in my world.” “I imagine I seemed as comically out of place as you first seemed here?” Recalling his unceremonious arrival in time-space and various mishaps that ensued, Max reflected on the truth of his twin’s observation. “That’s one way of putting it.” “Do you think I would enjoy your world?” “Enjoy? Honestly, Maxwallah, I’m not sure I enjoy it.” “To hear you speak of it, it must have many problems.” “You could say that.” “Like what?” “Poverty. Hunger. Corruption. Tyranny.” Max gazed with a sinking feeling at the dark smoke rising on the horizon. “Environmental destruction.” “All the more reason for me to complete the Circle of Life and for us to get busy helping make things better.” “There you go again speaking in riddles. What the heck does it mean to complete the Circle of Life?” “Completing the Circle of Life is the fulfillment of the Way of All Things.” “I do hope you’re going to elaborate because, otherwise, this is starting to get old.” Maxwallah set down his sewing, folding everything inside Max’s hide shirt and inserting the bundle in his backpack. “I will tell you a story, Maxwell.” “Another story?” “Zana has heard this tale many times. Perhaps you will find it instructive in light of your question.” “I don’t suppose you could just explain things without all the narrative?” “What would be the fun in that? In the beginning, when there was only Great Spirit, there were no dimensions of space or time. Then Great Spirit, using his heartsong, created Black Thunderbird. Now there was one dimension of space and time, which became two dimensions with the birth of Star Mirror.” “A standard creation myth. I’m listening.” “With only two dimensions, the world remained flat and uninhabitable. So Great Spirit urged Black Thunderbird to gaze upon his reflection in the mirror of his brother’s heart. What he saw in that dark surface was not his own reflection, however, but that of his twin, Leaping Dolphin, staring back at him from his world on the other side of the mirror.” 369


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“Sounds sort of like you and me.” “Later, even after retrieving the sun from Star Mirror’s solar system, Black Thunderbird remained unable to foster life on our planet because there was no moon to balance the sun and create the tidal rhythms necessary to biological organisms.” Zana yawned loudly again and lay on her back listening while staring up sleepily at the sky. It flashed into Max’s mind that as a nocturnal creature, her own biological rhythms had been disrupted ever since his arrival. Maxwallah went on: “It was at this point that Leaping Dolphin appeared to Black Thunderbird in a dream and told him a story.” “Great. A story inside a story,” groaned Max, who wasn’t willing to admit that Maxwallah’s narrative had piqued his interest. “This was no ordinary story. It changed everything. Leaping Dolphin told Black Thunderbird how the two were once one. At the moment of their creation, he described how they had split into two halves. They were, in essence, the completion of each other.” “The completion of the Circle of Life!” “Exactly. Living apart in opposite worlds, explained Leaping Dolphin, they would never be whole, never bring their dreams to life. When Black Thunderbird, who had no memory of being divided, demanded proof, his twin showed him a moon in his hand. ‘You may have the sun, but I have the moon,’ he said. ‘Without each other, they are worthless. But combined, they are beyond price!’” “What did they do?” “First, Black Thunderbird obeyed the Way of All Things—following the energy while carrying the sun—into Leaping Dolphin’s world, completing half the Circle of Life.” “What about the other half?” “Leaping Dolphin then followed the Way of all Things, carrying the moon, into Black Thunderbird’s world, completing the full Circle of Life—whereupon the twins, reunited as a whole being, could travel freely between their realities sharing the sun and moon with both. Thus life was created in both worlds simultaneously.” Max ruminated on his twin’s words in silence. “Are you trying to say,” he began finally, “that you’re Black Thunderbird—who also took the form of a raven—and I’m Leaping Dolphin?” “I am saying that history moves in cycles—just like the sun and moon. According to the prophecy, all of whose omens have now come to pass, a new cycle is set to begin in both our worlds with the merger of the Raven of the East and the Dolphin of the West.” “Merger?”

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“Conflation. Unification. Think of it as the head being reunited with the heart—or if you prefer, the body being reunited with the soul.” Suddenly, Max recalled one of Professor Icarus’s more enigmatic statements. The shortest distance between two points is to bring them together so there is only one point, he had said. Human beings are a “life unit,” a viable amalgam of more or less tangible matter and etheric antimatter. What the average person can see is a fraction of our totality. We are both a body here in space and a spirit, or soul, there in time. “You’re starting to freak me out a little,” Max confessed. “You’re saying we’re supposed to fuse back into a single person?” “A whole person. There is a huge difference. Right now you are a single person. As a whole person, you will have access to all that you are—and all that I am as well.” “Then what?” “We carry out the work of Great Spirit, using our power to steer both our worlds toward a better future.” “Talk about getting a savior complex.” “It is not about us, Maxwell. If it ever becomes about us, we will have lost the Way of All Things. It is about those who will follow us.” “You’re talking about other humans becoming whole?” “Not just humans. The Almasty. Those inside the earth. And perhaps many others. Black Thunderbird and Leaping Dolphin could freely come and go between worlds, but for the average person this has remained impossible. Once we have established a bridge between our realities, others will be able to cross it with ease.” “But why me? Why you?” “Who knows. It is not given us to understand such things.” “It’s not given me to understand much of anything.” “To the contrary, I intuit that you grasp the situation perfectly well.” Max heard snoring and realized Zana had drifted off. He glanced over at her passed out atop the pyramid from exhaustion—only to have his attention diverted by an even more peculiar sight. In that direction, just across a rock-strewn field, rose the second, somewhat shorter pyramid he had first observed from the astronomy tower. On top, sitting perfectly still with backs touching surrounded by little pyramids of throwing rocks, were two Sasquatches, one of whom Max recognized as Rolling Boulder. “That is the Pyramid of the Moon,” said Maxwallah in answer to his twin’s unspoken question. “I figured as much. But why are there two Sasquatches sitting on top of it?” “To protect us, of course.” “While we’re all the way up here? What are they protecting us from?” 371


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The instant Max said this, Zana, sniffing, sat bolt upright with eyes scanning the horizon. Half a second later, Maxwallah hopped to his feet and slung his backpack over his shoulders. “Get up!” he urged Max. “Why?” Zana was already standing. Grasping Max by the armpits from behind, she pulled him onto his feet and began forcefully guiding him down the steep staircase. “What’s going on?!” he cried. “Jorks,” said Maxwallah, drawing his sword. “We’re under attack!”

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ax heard them before he saw them: a noise like serial shotgun blasts just before twenty or so thunderbirds appeared beating their monstrous, bat-like wings in loose formation above the treetops and over Muru-amah. “Don’t tell me they hunt in packs!” he exclaimed. “They do—but not usually packs this large!” Maxwallah yelled back as, sword in hand, he followed Max and Zana down the pyramid’s face into the winding alleyway that led back toward the astronomy tower. The warning cry, repeated deafeningly and echoing throughout the complex, had gone up among the Almasty. But Sasquatch bellows weren’t the only thing going up: the gauzy evening sky around the hunting jorks was raining upwards with rocks launched with tremendous force from various positions below. Knees bent and head on a swivel, Zana—who had released Max from her iron grip the instant they reached the ground—was leading the way. Maxwallah, bringing up the rear, was on equally high alert. “What do we do now?” yelled Max just as a rock, falling from above with a ringing thud, narrowly missed crushing him. “We get you into the Sacred Pool,” replied Maxwallah. “You will be safe inside the Cave of Origins.” Max stopped, forcing his companions to do the same. “No way.” “This is no time to argue, Maxwell.” “I’m not sitting this out.” “Do not be foolish. Jorks are extremely dangerous.” 373


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“Look. If the Almasty are willing to risk their lives for me, I should be willing to risk mine for them.” “You already have—by coming here.” “That doesn’t count.” Maxwallah looked at Zana, who returned his questioning glance with a shrug. “Let’s get you to your bow and me to my sword,” said Max. “Are you sure about this?” “I’m sure.” Having made up his mind, Maxwallah acted with military efficiency. “Let us move then. The last thing we should do is stand here like scarecrows. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open!” Max would never forget the frenetic sprint that followed. For the first time since reaching Muru-amah, running at full speed, his perceptions reverted temporarily to those of space-time as the cosmic sector’s reality frames blipped by in disorienting photo stills. Silver cord fluttering behind. Sasquatches throwing stones from below the stinking elk tree. Mayhem of battle in the avenue of cherries. Ravens going berserk in their roosts atop the crumbling buildings. A jork, crashlanding, set on by the Almasty near the tower’s base. Zana led the way like a furry bowling ball to the foot of the stairs—at which point she let the twins go ahead and followed, watching over them as they spiraled to the top of the tower. No sooner had Max drawn his sword, and Maxwallah had replaced his pack with his quiver and nocked an arrow in his bow, than an enormous thunderbird—even larger than the one at the Tempus Fugit—swooped down on them seemingly out of nowhere. Even Zana was unable to react quickly enough as the winged beast, blue coxcomb waving, thrust its spear of a beak at Max. Somehow he managed to deflect it with his blade, which flew out of his hand as he was propelled backward against the tower wall and saw stars. Maxwallah fired an arrow into the thunderbird’s midsection, but he only wounded it and made it furious. Screeching, it beat its wings and came at him like a hurricane of flesh and bone. Zana managed to slow its advance by pulling on its tail, allowing Maxwallah to shoulder his bow and draw his sword. Then it was on him. Still dizzy, Max watched as his twin was cornered between the wall of food the Almasty had brought and the pine-bough shelter. The thunderbird thrust its beak at Maxwallah’s midsection. He leaped high and, spinning in a three-sixty, gashed its cheek—but not before its jabbing beak entered his shoulder and his sword clattered to the stone floor.

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Even with his arm dangling, he was able to spout flames from his palm. The nearby shelter instantly caught and burst into a bonfire. Releasing the thunderbird’s tail, Zana backed away from the conflagration, expecting the beast to do likewise. But whether it was the thunderbird’s injury or the energy emanating from Maxwallah, or both, the creature, maddened, closed in instead. Screeching furiously, it was preparing to finish its wounded and disarmed opponent—when Max staggered to his feet. “Hey, cuckoo, leave him alone!” he yelled. The jork paid no attention. In the middle of battle raging all around, above and below, Max closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and summoned his default memory. Filled with surrender and love, his innate tone ringing in his head, he watched with inner vision as the Cave of Origins opened in his heart and the web-like pipeline of resonance sprouted from it. The energy of space pulsed down his arm into his palm. Spontaneously, with no forethought, recalling Star Trek, he directed his palm at the thunderbird and thought, “Photon torpedo!” A searing burst of white flecked with violet shot out of his hand and struck the jork like a tidal wave of light—blasting it up and over the wall. Zana shrieked and clapped as Maxwallah, dragging himself away from the bonfire’s heat, looked at his twin approvingly with a pale, drawn face. “The sign of a good teacher,” he managed to say with gritted teeth, “is to have his student surpass him. Thank you, Maxwell.” Blood was streaming down Maxwallah’s arm, which hung limp as a dead snake. “You’re injured. Let me see.” “It is nothing.” “I’ll be the judge of that. Zana, keep an eye out for jorks, will you?” She nodded and stood over the twins like an elephant guarding her babies. “Here. Take a load off,” said Max, helping Maxwallah—who was clearly in a lot of pain—ease down against the tower wall. “That was a pretty neat trick you just pulled,” said Maxwallah, grimacing as Max removed his bow, quiver, and raven poncho. “‘Pulled’ is the right verb. As in, out of my posterior.” “Need gives birth to innovation.” “We say something like that, too.” Night was setting in. Fortunately, the fire, just beginning to burn down, was still bright enough to see by. Max knelt, unlaced the leather stitches that held in place the sleeve of Maxwallah’s jerkin, and gently slid it down over his arm. Putting on his best medical face, he examined the wound. There was a deep puncture oozing blood just below Maxwallah’s shoulder near his pectoral muscle. 375


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“Is it bad?” “It’s not good.” “Am I going to die?” “Definitely not. But I’m afraid, with a broken wing, you won’t be flying just yet.” Max winked. Maxwallah, laughing painfully, said, “You do not plan to heal it with the energy, do you?” “How else am I supposed to heal it?” “But you must feel weak after what you just did.” “Actually, I feel like … spitting bullets.” “What are bullets?” Max couldn’t help laughing himself. “Boy, my world is going to shock your pants off.” Composing himself under Zana’s watchful eye, Max repeated the protocol for working with the energy—this time directing it with healing intention into his twin’s injured shoulder. Immediately, the bleeding stopped. Seconds later, the wound closed. In less than half a minute, the skin grew back with no scarring. “Voilà. Good as new,” he said. “It still feels rather sore on the inside,” replied Maxwallah, rotating his shoulder gingerly. “That’s to be expected.” “Thank you, my brother, for staying and fighting. I underestimated your ability.” “That’s okay. I’ve always underestimated it.” “I said we would continue our training tonight, but I did not foresee it would be in this manner.” “You’re not the only one.” It was obvious from the preternatural silence in the complex the battle was over. Max, kneeling beside his twin helping him dress, intuited that others were coming to check on them. He stood up just in time to see Silverback and a younger Sasquatch with bright red fur named Sunburst appear on the landing. “Silverback is glad to find the Umbodi and the Ombudo safe,” said the old Sasquatch telepathically. “Thank you. We are equally glad to find you safe,” replied Maxwallah, standing up with a hand from Zana. “Sadly, the Almasty are not all thus,” said Silverback with a mournful intonation. “Many are hurt—and one has undertaken the Great Crossing. Come.” With these words, Silverback and Sunburst turned and descended the staircase. The twins replaced their swords in their scabbards and followed Zana with solemn expressions. Not knowing what to expect, this time Max brought up the rear. 376


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trangely, in the aftermath of the battle, Muru-amah was as peaceful as the candlelit interior of a cathedral. There was hardly enough ambient light to glimpse the nearly silent comings and goings of the Almasty. Most of what Max gathered from his slow walk through the complex came from his nose and ears: the smell of freshly spilled blood, the occasional whimper punctuating the silence from an injured Sasquatch. Gazing at the night sky splattered with stars as the pyramids loomed ahead, he watched a dazzling, multicolored meteor streak across the heavens. Intuitively, it struck him as a sign—but a sign of what? The answer came minutes later when his little group—which had gradually swelled to a large assembly—entered the rocky field between the two pyramids. There, by the soft, reddish glow that began to emanate from his twin’s palm, he beheld Rolling Boulder. The friendly Sasquatch’s thick body— featuring numerous wounds to the chest and head beside his pudgy face—was stretched, supine and motionless, on the hard-packed earth. Max’s initial reaction was shock. Even as he experienced the first stirrings of grief, he heard a mournful bass note echo in his mind. He gathered that the sound, which came from Silverback, must be the old Sasquatch’s innate tone. Soon another innate tone from another Sasquatch was added, then another and another, until all of the Almasty, injured or otherwise, including Zana, were singing telepathically together while swaying as one. 377


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Max had never heard a song so beautiful—or so sad. He was moved alternately from smiles to tears and back again as the symphony of tones, creating a sum greater than its parts, rose and fell in his mind. Gradually, like watching a shape emerge from a cloud, it occurred to him that the seemingly amorphous symphony actually possessed form. Specifically, it told the story of Rolling Boulder’s tragically short life. Max watched, transfixed, as an internal slideshow of sorts flashed scenes from the Sasquatch’s birth, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Apparently, he had no mate or children. The slideshow culminated in Rolling Boulder’s untimely death. A colossal jork had swept him off the Pyramid of the Moon—from where he was launching stones like an antiaircraft gunner—and stabbed him repeatedly with its beak while he lay unconscious. The symphony seemed to induce a time warp. When it finally ended, hours appeared to have elapsed. The temperature had dropped several degrees, enough to frost the breath of those assembled, and new constellations had appeared over the horizon. Using only their square fingers, Sasquatches started unearthing a roughly rectangular hole beside Rolling Boulder. Max and Maxwallah, following Zana’s lead, chipped in as best they could. The ground, hard and crusty near the top, turned softer as the hole grew deeper. Max suddenly pulled up short when he uncovered a glowing object—which turned out to be a writhing, snake-sized worm like the one Zana had tried to convince him to eat. Maxwallah snatched it up before it could disappear back into the earth. “Jube,” he whispered, offering it, still very much alive, to his twin. “What am I supposed to do with it?” wondered Max, accepting the curling glowworm with barely suppressed revulsion. “That remains to be seen. Have you encountered jube before?” “Once. With Zana.” “Interesting.” “Why is it interesting?” Their hushed dialogue was cut short by the next phase of the proceedings. Four Sasquatches gently lowered Rolling Boulder’s body into the hole by his arms and legs—at which point Silverback approached with a chipped rock in each hand. “May the wind be at Rolling Boulder’s back during the Great Crossing,” he said telepathically. “And may his Otherself be like the earth rising up to welcome him.” To hear an Almasty Elder utter what sounded like a version of the Irish blessing during a Sasquatch funeral was the very last thing Max expected. In his concluding statement, the old Sasquatch, dropping his

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rocks on his fallen comrade, said, “Silverback sees himself in Rolling Boulder.” One by one, the others, including the twins, followed suit—tossing rocks on the body and offering sentiments of unity and identification. When his turn came, stuffing the jube in his pocket and dropping a pair of stones Zana handed him on the pile, Max said simply, with a pang of sorrow, “I see myself in you.” As they were filling Rolling Boulder’s grave with dirt, a youthful Sasquatch arrived carrying a luminescent piñon sapling (with earth still bundled around its roots) he had apparently just dug up and transported from down the mountain. Without ceremony but with skilled husbandry, the sapling was planted in the grave’s topsoil—at which point more Sasquatches arrived dragging the bodies of the two thunderbirds that had also perished in the battle. The huge beasts, which seemed from their markings to be a male and female, were arranged beak-to-tail in a yin-yang Ouroboros around the glowing sapling atop the grave. “Why are they decorating the grave with the bodies of their enemies?” Max whispered. “They do not see them as enemies,” replied Maxwallah. “The jorks will help the sapling grow so that Rolling Boulder will be remembered.” Max felt a tap on the shoulder. Turning, he found a thin-faced, almost blond Sasquatch—named Butternut, if memory served—presenting him with a large egg that gave off a faint bluish glow. Max accepted the egg, which was quite heavy and definitely luminous, with a nod of thanks. When Butternut was gone, Maxwallah, examining the egg, commented, “Very interesting indeed.” “What is it?” “A jork egg. From the female there whose life you took to save mine.” “You mean I … killed her?” “Of course.” “I thought maybe I just stunned her.” “I take it you never killed before?” “Nope.” “It is not pleasant to take any creature’s life. But sometimes, it is necessary.” “So why am I standing here with this egg?” “Jork eggs are rare and highly prized.” “Why?” “For different reasons. The Almasty consider them a delicacy. Stealing jork eggs from the nest is a rite of passage for them.” “Do humans eat jork eggs?” “Not typically. We value them for their shells.” “That’s right. You mentioned making dye with them.” 379


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“For dreamtime, yes. The dye enhances the dreamer’s ability to travel far.” “Cool.” “It can also be mixed with jube and ingested.” “Jube? You mean glowworm?” “Correct.” “Why would anybody in their right mind want to eat something like that mixed with eggshell?” “For only one reason: to complete one’s initiation through a visionary experience.” Max glanced at the sapling, framed by the shadows of the pyramids, illuminating the thunderbirds on Rolling Boulder’s grave. “I think I’ve had enough visionary experiences for a while.” “That may be. But regardless of whether you opt to complete your initiation, finding a jube only to be given a jork egg in one evening clearly indicates you are ready.” “Look. We can talk about this later. Right now, I’ve got work to do.” “Work?” “Healing work.” “Just so you know, Maxwell, the Almasty are here of their free will and do not expect you to treat their wounded.” “I know.” Max mentally replayed the horrific scene of Rolling Boulder plummeting to his death off the Pyramid of the Moon. “But it’s the least I can do.” “I understand. Just be mindful not to overtax yourself. If you like, I can take the egg and jube back to the tower and prepare them.” “Prepare them?” “For travel. The process involves boiling and peeling the egg and charring the worm.” “That would be nice,” replied Max, handing over the goods. “Thanks.” “My pleasure. I can also finish your hide shirt while waiting.” “Speaking of overtaxing, Maxwallah, you should take it easy yourself.” “There will come a day to take it easy. But that is not now.” “Fair enough.” “See you shortly.” Max grinned. “Not if I see you first.” Like a protective older sister, Zana accompanied Maxwallah, leaving Max alone in the dark under the stars. Feeling chilly, he pulled up his hood, then created a little light to see by as he strolled through the complex looking to offer assistance. By his rough count, fewer than thirty Sasquatches had actually been wounded—and only a handful had been seriously hurt. For the better part

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of an hour, he stayed busy healing a forearm gash, several puncture wounds, a broken wrist, and a fractured ankle. The most painful situation was that of Spelunker, a wiry fellow with nearly jet-black fur, who had dislocated his shoulder and was still writhing in agony when Max found him near the plaza. Afterward, having drunk from the fountain, Max made his way back to the astronomy tower and dragged his weary feet up the spiral staircase— only to find Maxwallah whistling while sewing beside the fire. “How’s it coming?” asked Max, yawning as he plopped down on his pine-straw pallet. “I am almost finished attaching the second sleeve. That leaves only your belt. How are you?” “Wiped out. Do I smell fresh pine needles?” “Zana kindly remade our pallets. They were consumed by the fire.” “That was thoughtful of her. Where is she now?” “Who knows? Off being Zana.” “What else do I smell? It reminds me of … pork and beans.” “Charred jube with jork eggshell.” Maxwallah tossed Max a small leather pouch secured by drawstrings. “Guard it well.” Max sniffed the pouch, which really did smell like a distant cousin of barbecue, before slipping it in his jeans pocket. “Thanks. Is there anything left to eat?” “Not much, I fear. What food that was not taken by the fire was either crushed by the jork or destroyed by your ‘photon torpedo.’” “Sorry about that.” “I am lucky my bow and pack were unharmed. What is a photon torpedo?” “Just something from a television show.” “What is television?” “A little box people in my world sit and stare it.” “I would think that would become boring.” “Depends on the show.” “To finish answering your question, I did manage to salvage some wild carrots and most of a pheasant for breakfast.” “What about right now? I could eat a jork.” “You will have to make do with half a boiled jork egg. I ate the other half. But I must warn you: jork eggs are not—how do you say?—my cup of tea.” Max didn’t care. He would have eaten a squirming jube just then. What remained of the egg (which was still a lot) was in a ceramic pot beside the fire. He ate it without hesitation, swallowing each pasty, musky bite with a contorted face and washing it down with water from Maxwallah’s flask. “How did you like it?” 381


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“I didn’t.” “Jork eggs are an acquired taste.” “You mean one that’s never acquired,” quipped Max, yawning hugely. “Something like that. But they are sustaining.” “Good to know.” Max didn’t remember falling asleep—but he remembered his dream. He was flying again, much like he used to, across a kaleidoscope of shifting landscapes. A waterfall, a jungle, a gorge cut by a shimmering river, another waterfall—suddenly the world below was lost to sight and he realized he was traveling through smoke. Holding his breath, he sailed through what turned out to be a raging wildfire, with whole sections of forest burning like buildings in a chaos of gray. When he finally emerged from the smoke, he found himself sailing across a long, deep, indigo body of water reminiscent of a Scottish loch. At the far end, he could make out the black entrance to a cave set high in a cliff face. With rescuing his father at the forefront of his thoughts, he sped toward the cave at low altitude—heedless that something truly large and menacing was accelerating toward him just beneath the water. Then he saw the massive swell surging up like that of a hunting capu. This wave seemed even larger and grew even louder as the creature— whatever it was—prepared to surface. Attempting to maintain his focus, he sped like a missile across the lake—and woke up.

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axwallah was seated next to the freshly kindling fire staring pensively at a black feather he was twirling by the quill between his thumb and forefinger. When Max stirred and stretched, his twin said, “Someone is up early.” “Someone else is, too.” Judging by the twilight, dawn was still half an hour away. Seeing his breath while yawning, Max sat up and warmed his hands over the licking flames. “Where did you get that feather?” “It woke me up.” “Come again?” “It landed on my face while I slept. When I opened my eyes, the raven who gave it to me was gone.” “I thought ravens keep to their roosts at night.” “They usually do. That is what I find so intriguing.” “Maybe it’s a sign.” “It is undoubtedly a sign. But how to interpret it?” Max stared at the feather only to realize it was the same type as those used to fletch his twin’s arrows. “Well, ravens fly,” he yawned. “What of it?” “Maybe it’s time for us to fly—the coop, I mean.” “As in, move on?” “Yeah. Like, today.” “I was thinking the same thing. I have taught you everything I had to teach—and you are clearly ready to complete your initiation.” 383


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“If I decide to.” “Of course.” With the fire beginning to blaze, Maxwallah added several large pieces of wood. “What exactly is … to be gained from completing one’s initiation?” “What is to be gained from anything? It is ultimately up to the experiencer to glean benefit from the experience, is it not?” “The love you make matches the love you take.” “Beautiful sentiment.” “It’s not original. It’s from an old Beatles song.” “Beatles?” “A famous group of musicians back in the day.” “They seem very wise. In a similar vein, completing one’s initiation is an ongoing process that does not end—but only begins—with a ceremony. I think of it in paradoxical terms, as I do of life, as a process of completing a never-ending process.” “So what’s the point if the process never completes?” “Your Beatles said it perfectly well.” “To cultivate love?” “Yes. Love is the energy of creation. It accelerates the evolution of our consciousness and the flowering of our potential, allowing us to become creators in our own right in the mold of Great Spirit.” “Wait a second. Are you saying the energy I’ve been using to do all these miraculous things is just … love?” Maxwallah laughed. “Just love? Love is the font of everything: the Cave of Origins, the Way of All Things, the Circle of Life. Love is the primary energy of creation. Great Spirit himself is love in its purest form.” Max recalled the biblical statement, often repeated cryptically by his Aunt Nadine, who seemed to understand it about as well as he did, that God is love. Now, for the first time, he glimpsed what this phrase actually meant. “But why can love be so destructive? I mean, I wiped out a jork with love.” “Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin, Maxwell. Without one, there cannot be the other. We see this teaching throughout nature’s workings: in birth, death, and rebirth. Consider your Reciprocal Theory.” “That’s what I’m doing.” “It is not ours to judge the Way of All Things—but to follow it until we master it.” “Is that what happens when we complete the Circle of Life—we master the Way of All Things?”

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“We acquire a level of mastery. You might say we take a step closer to becoming Great Spirit—and in so doing, become that much more involved in carrying out his work.” “What is Great Spirit’s work?” “To shine a light for all those seeking to return to the wholeness of being that is love.” As if on cue, the sun crested the tops of the pines. Its intense rays shined directly in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Squinting and blinking, they both chuckled at the serendipity. “Great Spirit moves in synchronistic ways,” observed Maxwallah. As his eyes adjusted, Max took in the state of the tower. It looked like a warzone: ash-covered and blackened from the burning of the shelter, with jork and human bloodstains on the paving stones. “Speaking of moving, I think we’d better shake a leg.” “I agree. Let us start by getting you properly attired. Off with your poncho!” “But it’s cold!” “All the more reason for you to remove your poncho. You will be warm again in no time.” Max sighed and did as directed. The morning air was definitely bracing on his exposed skin, but it also made him feel alive and invigorated. Reaching in his pack, Maxwallah handed his twin his new hide shirt. “Thanks. This is very kind of you.” “You are welcome, my brother.” Smelling fresh leather, Max slid the shirt over his head. It fit snugly but well—and the sleeves were just the right length. “Wow. You could be a tailor.” “Thank you. But I do not have the patience to be a tailor.” “Maxwallah, you have more patience than anyone I know. How do I look?” “Get up so I can see.” Max stood up and spun around like a runway model. The shirt felt light yet warm—and very durable. Maxwallah nodded approvingly. “Now put this on,” he said, handing Max his sword in its scabbard attached to a leather belt. Max threaded the belt through the loops in his jeans and tied it in front. “How do I look now?” “Like a dashing young Heywah warrior.” “You mean I look like you?” “Yes.” Maxwallah winked. “Just not as handsome.” “Maybe someday you can teach me how to use this sword. Right now it’s decoration only.” “I would be honored.” 385


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Getting to his feet, Maxwallah placed the raven feather in the inside pocket of his poncho. “When I have the chance, I will use your arrowhead and this feather to make a special arrow to commemorate our meeting.” “Like the Hanged Man.” “Pardon me?” “The Hanged Man card. Where I first saw you just before you appeared in my dream. From the Tarot.” “Tarot?” “Look who’s repeating my statement as a question now.” “Sorry. So much about your world is new to me. What is Tarot?” “A system of divination in the form of a card deck.” Maxwallah let his twin’s words sink in. “My picture is on a Tarot card?” “Yeah. Holding an arrow.” “How very strange.” “You’re preaching to the choir. Some ancient person carved my face on a statue.” “Our face.” “Whatever. Are you ready to blow this popsicle stand?” “You mean leave Muru-amah?” “Yeah.” “Almost. But first, I need to prepare some breakfast. It would be foolish to undertake the crossing of the Red Mountains on an empty stomach.” “Good idea. I’ll leave you to it.” “Where are you going?” “To sit on the moon.” “Keep an eye out for predators.” “Don’t worry.” Max did his business behind the lane of cherry trees. Afterward, he hurried on through the brisk autumn morning, occasionally passing Sasquatches who nodded respectfully, until he arrived at the Pyramid of the Moon. Two young Sasquatches appeared to be guarding Rolling Boulder’s grave from scavengers. Max politely exchanged nods and, with a cautious look around, began climbing the steps. He could feel the pyramid’s energy vibrating his molecules well before he reached the apex. By the time he sat down on the topmost platform gazing out over the Inland Sea at the wall of wildfire smoke in the distance, he was positively buzzing. The lunar energy of the Pyramid of the Moon greatly amplified his own energy. Before he even had time to think about what he was doing,

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surrendering with love to an inner directive, he heard his innate tone in his mind. It came unsummoned, naturally, like a rose blossoming at the appointed moment—and it rang louder and louder as the Cave of Origins appeared and the lines of resonance grew like tree roots inside him. Allowing the energy to pool in his palm, rather than projecting it outward, he was able to “spread” it like lotion—enveloping his body in a shimmering, translucent membrane that reminded him of a caul around a newborn. Fully enclosed by the energy at last and looking out through it as if from inside a rainbow, he thought, “Up.” And up he went. He didn’t exactly get airborne before landing with a gentle thud where he started. Actually, he only levitated a few inches. Still, it was enough to realize this was how to go about flying.

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ack atop the astronomy tower, Maxwallah was standing beside the charred wall in his raven poncho having a conversation with a raven. Literally. An enormous black bird was perched on his twin’s forearm, its talons gripping his leather sleeve and head cocked listening to his croaking raven speech that—at least to Max’s untrained ear—sounded authentic. Having uttered a final croak, Maxwallah extended his arm and the raven flapped its wings and flew up and over the pines toward the Red Mountains. “What was that about?” Max asked as he watched the raven disappear from sight. “I just sent a message to my teacher to expect us tomorrow evening.” “Assuming we make good time.” “Assuming, yes.” “And assuming we make it at all. Those mountains make the Himalayas look like foothills.” “I am unfamiliar with the Himalayas, but I believe we will make it. All we have to do is get to the pass. And for that, we have the Almasty.” Max was thrilled at the news. “Really? You mean they’re coming with us?” “Not all of them. But enough to see us to the pass safely.” “What if the pass is blocked?” “The pass is never blocked.”

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“If you say so.” Noting the plucked and spitted bird cooking over the fire, Max asked, “Is that breakfast?” “It is indeed.” “Is it ready?” “Almost. Give it a turn, will you, while I make sure I have everything in my pack?” After splitting the pheasant along with a bunch of wild carrots, the twins descended from the tower to find a group of twenty Sasquatches— including Zana, Silverback, Sunburst, and Spelunker—waiting for them beside the fountain. While Maxwallah filled his flask, Max greeted first Zana, then Silverback and the others, with a telepathic “Good morning”—a mannerism which, judging by the twinkle in their eyes, they found amusing. As the group left the fountain and Max glimpsed his carved face for the last time, he had the bizarre impression he had just graduated college and was saying goodbye to a favorite university hangout. He imagined he was leaving the ivory tower and entering the real world as, having followed a lane he had never traveled through what turned out to be Muru-amah’s upper gate, he emerged onto a crumbling path ascending through tall trees. There was room for two to walk abreast, which meant they traveled in a line of eleven pairs. Zana walked beside and looked after Maxwallah. Max was accompanied by Spelunker, who was obviously thankful to have his shoulder fixed and, if anything, was overly attentive. The path became more and more dilapidated as it wound on and on up through the forest. For the better part of two hours, they traveled in silence—pausing only occasionally when Silverback, who walked in front with Sunburst, held up a hand and everyone stopped to sniff, listen, and look around. Max did his best to identify what had attracted the attention of the Sasquatches. But try as he might, he never smelled, heard or saw anything to give pause. Either the Almasty were being overly cautious—or they indeed had senses far superior to his own. The air had grown cooler by several degrees the instant they left Muruamah. As they climbed, the temperature continued to drop, slowly but steadily. Meanwhile, the snow left over from the storm went from patchy to a blanket of several inches that covered the path in places. Fingering his hide shirt under his poncho, Max was grateful to be wearing another layer. With a glance at his companions, he realized he was actually grateful for many things—an attitude that didn’t come naturally and that surprised him, especially given how difficult life had been of late.

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Of course, he remained perfectly aware of being in a different world, one whose disorienting time frames he could still observe whenever he wanted. But over the past few days (which, in many ways, might as well have been a few years), the distinction between the material and cosmic sectors had come to seem purely cosmetic, inconsequential even. What really mattered, he grasped in a private epiphany while sucking for breath up a steep slope, was the inside reality, not the outside illusion. Or to put it in Maxwallah’s terms, the experiencer was more important than the experience. Suddenly, Silverback held up his hand and everyone halted again. This time Max saw why: they had reached the edge of the tree line. Above them was a snow-covered ridge leading up to even more snow-covered ridges. Here the Almasty stopped for a little while and allowed the twins to relieve themselves, sip some water, and rest. Max sat on a fallen log beside Maxwallah feeling his leg muscles already throbbing while staring up at the imposing peaks of the Red Mountains. Fortunately, with the sky as blue as a thunderbird’s egg, barring a drastic change in weather, it appeared they had a clear shot to the pass. “How long should it take us to reach the pass?” asked Max. “Five hours, if we are lucky,” replied Maxwallah. “It is just over the second ridge.” “I still don’t see how this pass of yours works. There’s no way it’s high enough to cross the mountains.” “Where one cannot pass over, one must pass under.” “The pass is a tunnel?” “A network of caves, actually.” “Caves, huh? What about cave bears?” “The caves are guarded by the Almasty of the Red Mountains, many of whom live there. No cave bears or other predators are permitted inside.” “That’s good news. Does Silverback live there?” “Yes. The caves are his castle, you might say.” Silverback himself interrupted their conversation, signaling with a forward wave it was time to head out. The going was much slower now. Any vestiges of the old Heywah path were hidden under half a foot of snow. The climb—which to Max felt endless—was utterly exhausting. Slowly but surely, the snow grew deeper, until the twins were wading in crusted snow up to the tops of their knee-high boots.

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The Almasty, by contrast, bounding along energetically, reveled in the subarctic conditions—occasionally scooping up snowballs with their great leathery hands and plastering each other with gorilla guffaws. It was in the middle of one such snowball fight, just after they had crested the first ridge with a view of a miniscule Muru-amah far below, that disaster almost struck. And amazingly, it was Max who helped them avoid it. As the snowball fight raged all around him, he experienced an unmistakable intuitive sense of danger. He had no idea what the danger was, but he could have sworn he felt the earth trembling under his feet. Glancing downwind along the ridgeline, he did a double take as a herd of some fifteen woolly mammoths bigger than African elephants with enormous, curling tusks came thundering into view. “Look out!” he cried. Dropping their snowballs and taking stock of the situation, the Sasquatches immediately scattered left and right to keep from being trampled. Perhaps thinking he was protecting Max, Spelunker took hold of Maxwallah and all but carried him down the slope to safety—leaving Max and Zana, momentarily confused, directly in the mammoths’ path. She looked at him with wide eyes as the great beasts grew nearer. Not knowing what else to do, acting on instinct, Max grabbed her around the midsection with one arm and used his other hand to create an energy membrane around both of them. The stampede was on the brink of trampling them to death as Max thought, “Up! Really, really up! And this time, stay there!” To his surprise, and to the amazement of everyone else, Max and Zana shot straight up into the air and hovered at a height of about eighteen feet as the herd of panicked mammoths steamrolled by below. Meanwhile, still levitating himself along with a visibly traumatized Zana, Max was able to identify what had caused the mammoths to stampede: a pair of monstrous saber-toothed tigers just cresting the ridge in the herd’s wake. “Tigers!” he yelled, pointing them out, only to lose focus and knock the breath out of himself by falling on top of Zana, who had crashed apparently uninjured into the snow. With the mammoths gone, the Almasty and Maxwallah wasted no time forming a defensive wall between their comrades and the giant tigers, which were still approaching threateningly. Zana, rising to her feet, pulled Max onto his. Maxwallah nocked an arrow as the Sasquatches, hissing and bellowing deafeningly, dug throwing rocks up out of the snow. At the very last moment, faced with twenty angry Sasquatches and one armed human committed to standing their ground, the tigers changed 392


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direction and gave a wide berth, before again pursuing the mammoth herd. Replacing the arrow in his quiver and shouldering his bow while verifying that Max and Zana were unhurt, Maxwallah said, “Well, at least one mystery has been solved.” “What might that be?” asked Max, still getting his wind back while brushing snow off his poncho. “Prior to what just happened, it was unclear how you would manage to fly with your father out of the cave. Now we know.”

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ows of clouds twisted above the Red Mountains, casting themselves like paint bombs against the blue sky, as afternoon wore on and the top of the second ridge grew a tiny bit closer with each weary step Max took. Besides being bone-tired, he was also becoming shorter of breath as the altitude increased. And not having eaten so much as a nibble since breakfast, he was starting to get weak in the knees. At the very least, he had the good sense to keep toward the back of the line with Spelunker. This meant the waist-deep snow he otherwise would have had to navigate was already compressed and hardened by dozens of enormous Sasquatch feet. “How are you hanging in back there, Maxwell?” yelled Maxwallah, who barely seemed winded strolling along next to Zana just ahead. “You know me,” Max managed to reply. “What doesn’t kill me leaves me debilitated.” “I am afraid I do not understand.” “I was just,” Max explained, struggling with his breath, “misquoting a writer named Camus. Tuesday and Raul were fans of his.” “Are.” “Come again?” “Your friends are fans of Camus. You will be reunited with them soon enough.” “I hope so.” “So what about you?” 395


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“What about me?” “Are you a fan of Camus?” “Never read him. Speaking of writing, is Tay-wo a written as well as spoken language?” “Yes. It derives from Heywah and uses a similar alphabet.” “Do you write?” “Only poetry.” “That makes one of us.” “I gather you are more scientific?” “Always have been.” A speck of ice, followed by another then another, landed on Max’s cheek. He looked up to find the darkening skirts of the clouds directly overhead. “And the scientist in me says we’re in for precipitation.” Sure enough, even as Max pulled the hood of his poncho over his head, sleet began to fall in sheets. “I believe the scientist in you!” yelled Maxwallah. “This weather doesn’t strike me as something that will pass anytime soon.” “I agree. We must get to the top of the ridge quickly—or we might not at all!” With the storm setting in hard and fast, the Almasty were thinking the same thing. Not even bothering to ask permission, Spelunker hoisted Max onto his shoulders while Zana did likewise with Maxwallah. Once again, Max found himself riding bareback on a Sasquatch—this time through a driving storm in the howling wind up an alpine slope. Spelunker may have been wiry for one of his kind—but he was strong like barbed wire, jogging along at a tremendous pace as if Max were nothing but an afterthought on his bony shoulders. In the meantime, the other Sasquatches, including Zana with Maxwallah, had kicked it into high gear as well. Even moving uphill in snow through sleet against the wind, their speed rivaled that of the fastest human sprinters on a level racetrack. Max thought of the theory that humans descended from Neanderthals. If the Almasty were, in fact, our ancestors, why—from a Darwinian perspective—were they so physically superior? What advantages, besides a bigger ego, had evolution given us? His philosophical musing was interrupted by an abrupt halt. Even in what was turning into a whiteout, Max could see they had come up against a massive snowdrift barring the path. The Almasty were undeterred. They attacked the wall of snow like termites feasting on soft pulp, scooping away gigantic handfuls of hardened drift so furiously it was relocated in a matter of minutes.

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Half an hour later, still riding Spelunker, Max watched through sleet mixing with snow as the dark entrance to a cave hove into view. Several Sasquatches emerged to guide them out of the elements into a cavern that glowed dimly with ruddy light. The twins were set down and allowed to get their bearings as the Sasquatches stood around willy-nilly, their breath fogging as they stomped ice out of their fur. “Welcome,” said Silverback telepathically with an eye on Max. “Thank you,” he replied, pushing back his hood and peering up dubiously at countless pointed stalactites suspended in the shadows above. “Water?” Maxwallah asked, offering his twin his flask. “Definitely,” said Max before drinking his fill. “Come,” said Silverback. “Into the mountain we go.” Outside of his dreams, Max had never even been inside a cave—much less a sprawling network of them punctuated with multicolored speleothems. Strolling with a line of Sasquatches from one echoing cavern to the next, he was surprised to find Silverback’s “castle” relatively warm and dry. Word of the Umbodi’s arrival had apparently spread. The farther they traveled down into the heart of the mountain, the more of the Almasty emerged out of the stonework to have a look at Max. Many were aged Sasquatches, juveniles, and females with babies. A prepubescent male about Max’s own size insisted on touching the curls in his hair. Some came for healing. Max cured several cases of a skin disorder similar to mange, restored the eyesight of an elderly male with cataracts, and healed a female of childbearing age who hadn’t been able to walk ever since suffering a high fever as an adolescent. The fact that, back in the material sector, he had ardently desired to become a doctor wasn’t lost on him. He was no longer even sure he wanted to finish college, but one thing was certain: he was officially abandoning the study of what passed for medicine in his world. Meanwhile, the group slowly but surely traveled onward and downward. It was some time before Max realized the reddish light in the cave system emanated from the walls themselves—much like in his childhood dream when he followed a Sasquatch through a series of glowing tunnels. Max was nearly asleep on his feet, and was so weak from hunger he no longer even felt hungry, when, a couple hours later, they reached a very large cave indeed. Suddenly, it just opened up like a prehistoric church with stalactites and stalagmites for a pipe organ—complete with an illuminated body of aquamarine water shimmering at the lower end. 397


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Here the light coming from the rocks was brighter than elsewhere, and of a slightly more orange-yellow hue. Max followed Silverback down to the edge of the water, which turned out to be a subterranean lake with a freshwater feed trickling in from the wall at the upper extremity. Maxwallah seemed unfazed by the sight, probably because he had seen it before, but Max was hard-pressed to recall anything so exotically eyepopping. “Do you come here often?” he asked his twin. “Not as often as I would like.” “What is this place?” “The Great Hall of the Almasty of the Red Mountains. Listen carefully and you might hear their ancestors.” Max listened. At first, he didn’t pick up on anything but the trickling of water and the footfalls and occasional grunts of the Sasquatches in the Great Hall—but then he imagined he heard something like a song. It wasn’t very loud. Initially, in fact, he thought it was just his imagination. But as it rose and fell melodically, he grasped that it was an ongoing symphony of innate tones similar—though much older and far more extensive than—the one he had heard during Rolling Boulder’s funeral. In parallel fashion, the song that seemed to play all around the Great Hall elicited a series of mental images—this time not of an individual, but of an entire clan of Sasquatches dating back centuries, if not millennia. “Where do the voices come from?” asked Max. “Good question,” replied Maxwallah. “The beings you hear have all undertaken the Great Crossing.” “It’s as if their voices are recorded in the stones.” “Not recorded,” put in Silverback telepathically. “Part of their spirit lives on in the Talking Rock. Sometimes Silverback speaks to them. And sometimes they speak back.” “That’s far out,” replied Max. “Come,” said Silverback. “The Umbodi and the Ombudo must replenish and rest.” The group of Sasquatches who had accompanied the twins from Muru-amah were gathering beside the lake to sit and eat food that was brought by other Sasquatches. Exhausted, Max sat between Zana and Maxwallah, while Silverback reclined in a concave dip in the floor beside the lake facing everyone. Max realized the dip was the lowest point in the cave not actually underwater—and that it was apparently something like a throne. They were served bandu eggs, fresh lake trout, wild carrots, and elongated tubers called fimbers that tasted like a cross between tapioca and sourdough. Everything was raw—and in the case of the fish, still wriggling. 398


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No matter. Max ate whatever was presented to him without questions or complaints, washing everything down with lake water from Maxwallah’s flask. Finally, nature calling, he whispered to his twin, “I don’t suppose there’s a restroom around here?” Maxwallah grinned. “I thought you would never ask. That is one of the best parts.” After thanking their hosts for dinner, the twins excused themselves and—Maxwallah leading the way—wound through a confusing series of narrow passages off the Great Hall. At last, they reached a medium-sized cave lit from below with … jubes. Not just a few glowworms, but thousands were making the cave floor squirm like meat infested with maggots. “What’s going on here?” asked Max. “You said you wanted the restroom.” “This is the restroom? Why doesn’t it smell like one?” “Because of the jubes. They consume biological waste and transform it into light.” Max stared at the cave floor that resembled a nest of incandescent snakes. “How’s that for free energy?” he quipped. “Nature is nothing if not creative.” “You can’t really expect me to eat jube powder for my initiation now, can you?” “Why not? Nothing has changed.” “I suppose you’re right.” “Are you actually considering going through with your initiation?” “I’m actually considering considering it.” “You appear hesitant to use the restroom.” “Maybe just a little.” “I can assure you the jubes will not hurt you. Let us hurry and do our business. After today’s exertions, I am in need of sleep.” “You’re not the only one.” Afterward, they washed their hands under a dripping stalactite and returned to the Great Hall. The Sasquatches were already up and moving about. “So where are the bedrooms?” yawned Max. “There are many private dwellings throughout the mountain,” replied Maxwallah, yawning himself. “We will be shown to a guest room.” As if on cue, Spelunker appeared and guided the twins and Zana to the entrance of a small, softly illuminated chamber just off the Great Hall. Inside on the floor, they discovered three beds—actual beds—of living, foot-thick moss that smelled like seaweed sprinkled with cinnamon. Almost humorously, if anyone had been awake enough to laugh, the companions (including an overworked, droopy-eyed Zana with a full belly) collapsed in unison sound asleep on the welcoming mattresses. 399


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hen Max opened his eyes, he wondered if he had. The darkness was so thick he could have sliced it with his sword. He was on the verge of creating a little light with the energy—when the walls began to glow again diffusively. “Well, at least I’m not blind,” he thought, making out the still slumbering figures of Maxwallah and Zana. He wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep, but he felt rested. As quietly as possible, he sat up on his moss bed, then stood up on the stone floor, before leaving the guest room on tiptoes. The hallway, pitch-black when he entered, soon started to glow—even as the guest room behind faded into obscurity. It was as if the rock of the cave system could sense his presence, or his consciousness, or both. As soon as he entered the expansive blackness of the Great Hall, sure enough, its walls lit up as well. Alone in the cavernous room, he made his way down to the water’s edge—where he took a seat, removed his boots, and dangled his feet in the cool lake. The act was instinctual, like a dolphin needing water. He only became self-conscious about it, and thought he might be doing something disrespectful, when he realized he was no longer alone. A juvenile Sasquatch with dark fur, who turned out to be the young fellow who had insisted on playing with his curls, abruptly sat down beside him and dangled his own wooly feet in the water. “I am Rooty,” he heard his unexpected companion say in his mind. “You are the Umbodi, correct?”

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“So they tell me,” thought Max with a wan smile. “It’s early. Aren’t you supposed to be going to bed?” Rooty looked at him sideways, almost grinning himself, his deep-set eyes sparkling in his long, lively face. “You have the look of someone who knows he must do something but resists doing it,” he commented. “Funny, you just summarized the story of my life.” “Did I?” “Yes. I never knew the Almasty were so perceptive in matters of human psychology.” “Not all of us are. I am considered … different.” “Different? How?” “I am … exceptionally intelligent. I do not mean to sound vain. Intelligence can be a burden. Sometimes I would prefer ignorance.” “Tell me about it. You know what they say: ignorance is bliss.” “I have heard something like that before. But I am not sure it is true.” “Me neither.” “So tell me, Umbodi, what are you resisting?” Max couldn’t help laughing. “I’ll tell you if you’ll tell me.” “I never knew humans were so perceptive in matters of Almasty psychology.” “I can’t speak for the rest of my species, Rooty, but I can read you like a book.” “Perhaps because we are similar.” “Perhaps.” The young Sasquatch splashed his feet in the water and sighed audibly. “I know my words might paint me as a coward,” he said telepathically, “especially given that I am Silverback’s son—” “No kidding? I thought you looked like him. Especially the shape of your eyes.” “I am constantly told that. Being the eldest son of such a respected leader only makes matters worse. Everyone expects me to be courageous like him.” “Sounds a bit like my father and me.” “Really?” “Sort of. He was a hero and I was a … weirdo.” It was Rooty’s turn to laugh. “You do not strike me as a weirdo.” “You haven’t gotten to know me that well.” “Perhaps not.” “So what exactly are you resisting?” “I am terrified of undergoing my initiation.” “You can’t be serious!” “But I am serious.” “Me, too!” 402


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“You are serious?” Max laughed again. “No. I mean, yes. But that’s not the point. I, too, fear my initiation.” Rooty sat up straight with surprise and something akin to delight. “The Umbodi is afraid?” “Scared to death.” “Of what?” “I don’t even know. I’m trying to figure that out. You?” “Jorks. I hate them. I am supposed to steal an egg from one of their nests soon so I can receive my adult name. I don’t even like jork eggs. Do you have any experience with jorks?” “A little.” “Any words of advice?” “Just be fast.” “I am fast.” “Then you should be fine.” “Thank you for the vote of confidence.” “Don’t mention it.” Buoyed up, Rooty hopped to his feet. “I do not know what your initiation entails, Umbodi, but I believe you will undergo it successfully.” “Why do you say that?” “Because you, like your twin, have a warrior’s heart.” No sooner had Rooty left Max to contemplate this intriguing observation, than Maxwallah and Zana showed up rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. “You’re up early,” observed Maxwallah. “I have a lot on my mind.” “Want to talk about it?” “I just did.” “Pardon?” “Nothing. How was your sleep?” “Needed. How was yours?” “Sufficient.” Zana yawned and stretched her long, shaggy arms high in the air. “I practically had to shake Zana to wake her,” said Maxwallah. “I’ve never seen her so exhausted.” “She has been burning the candle at both ends, as we say.” “We say that, too. Are you ready to head out?” “As I’ll ever be. How much longer to the other side of the mountain?” “We should be there by noon—if we hurry. That will leave us the second half of the day to reach Aru-vato.” “What is Aru-vato?” “My village. The name roughly translates as ‘Sun Town.’” “Sounds lovely.” 403


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“It is a pleasant place beside the Inland Sea.” Without further ado, Zana leading the way, the three companions set out again through the network of caverns. Most of the Almasty were asleep now, but before long they encountered Silverback and Spelunker waiting for them at a crossroads. The two Sasquatches presented the new arrivals with three bandu eggs apiece for breakfast. They ate them standing up, discarding the shells and chasing them with water from Maxwallah’s flask. Then, for hours, they marched relentlessly forward and downward behind Silverback. The cave walls lit up mysteriously as they approached, only to fade again into blackness behind. Just when it seemed the cave system would never end, it did— blindingly. They emerged through a vertical crack in the side of the mountain onto the mountainside itself. The blue dome of the sky greeted Max like an old friend. He felt the sun’s warmth and a gentle breeze on his cheeks. He was happy to note the absence of snow—and that the temperature seemed balmy even in comparison to that of Muru-amah. They were still above the tree line—but only just. Barely a hundred yards below, the pine forest rose up again out of the shifting rock and soil of the mountainside. “Here Silverback must leave the Umbodi and the Ombudo to their destiny,” said the old Sasquatch telepathically. “It has been an honor to walk with you.” “The honor has been ours,” replied Maxwallah. “We wouldn’t be here without you,” said Max, adding, “That applies to you, too, Spelunker.” The two Sasquatches waved as the three companions carefully made their way down the slope to the edge of the trees. They were still waving when Max, entering the forest, glanced back one last time. Maxwallah and Zana obviously knew this territory well. They guided Max unerringly down through the trackless woods as afternoon wore on. Slowly, the woods themselves changed, becoming less deciduous and more subtropical with every mile. At length, entering a grove of slender coconut trees, Zana shook down a pair of coconuts and smashed them on a nearby rock so everyone could enjoy a sustaining snack. Soon they were off again. By late afternoon, they were bushwhacking through jungle. The air was so humid the twins had to remove their ponchos and buckskin shirts and stuff them in Maxwallah’s pack—at which point mosquitoes, which had been mercifully absent since before Muru-amah, began feasting on them.

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But not for long. Locating a fern with aromatic fronds, Maxwallah rubbed his hands on its velvety blades, then massaged the oil into his exposed skin and instructed Max to do the same. The mosquitoes didn’t bother them again after that—but the rain did. Less than an hour later, it seemed to come out of nowhere: a warm, drenching downpour that made it difficult to walk or even see. Max was on the verge of giving up and sitting down in the mud until the storm passed—when he could have sworn he heard neighing. Apparently hearing it as well, Maxwallah and Zana stopped in their tracks. The neighing happened again—this time a good deal closer and louder. Max’s fear of being attacked by an unknown predator mimicking a horse was allayed when an actual equine head the color of California poppies poked out from behind the dense vegetation. “Aru-melo!” cried Maxwallah, rushing forward through the downpour and hugging the beast’s thick neck sporting a dripping-wet mane. “I was starting to think you had gotten lost!” “You … know this horse?” asked Max, approaching the great orange beast timidly. “Know him? He is one of my closest friends.” “Why—how—is he here?” “I asked Artemisia to send him to us a day after receiving the raven’s message.” “Fair enough. What was his name again?” “Aru-melo. It means ‘Solar Flare.’” “Sounds about right.” Maxwallah handed Zana his pack and mounted the saddleless horse with practiced skill. “Come, Maxwell. If it is in his power, Aru-melo will not allow harm to befall you.” “You don’t expect me to climb on that thing, do you?” “He is not a thing. Relax. Zana will assist you.” Slinging Maxwallah’s pack like a child’s toy pack over one shoulder, Zana lifted Max off the ground before he could object and set him firmly on Aru-melo’s powerful rump. “Hold onto my waist,” said Maxwallah even as Max held on for dear life. “But not quite so desperately.” “Sorry.” “That is better.” “He certainly smells like a horse.” “That he does. It is one of my favorite smells. Come, Zana. Evening approaches. Let us make haste.” Maxwallah clicked his tongue and Arumelo, snorting steam as he neighed, set off through the soggy jungle at a fast trot, followed easily by Zana. Despite the rain, they put miles behind them in short order.

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Gradually, the rain lessened; the jungle transformed into a forest of oaks and locusts; and before long they were following a beaten path alongside a winding stream through nothing more than a sprinkle. Finally, the rain stopped. The sun emerged from storm and shadow, darkness dreary and wet, and illuminated the sparkling landscape. It lasted long enough to dry them a little, then disappeared behind the low clouds on the horizon. They crossed a wooden bridge over the stream and traveled along a dirt road past the first contemporary human dwellings Max had seen in the cosmic sector: earthen farmhouses, set amid terraced farmlands, featuring plaster in a variety of bold colors and terra cotta tiles on their roofs. As evening approached, lights shone in the windows and cedar smoke rose in lazy spirals from the chimneys, filling the increasingly arid air with a spicy pungency reminiscent of cumin. Nodding along behind his twin on Aru-melo daydreaming of sipping hot cider beside a warm fire, Max realized he was shivering. “I think I need to put my shirt and poncho back on,” he said through chattering teeth. “Me, too,” replied Maxwallah. They dismounted near the entrance to a farmhouse. Maxwallah handed Zana his bow and quiver. Understanding, she presented his pack long enough for the twins to fish out and put on their damp (though thankfully still warm) clothing. From the farmhouse porch, a mastiff caught wind of them and ran forward barking ferociously—only to put its tail between its legs and beat a retreat when Zana bared her teeth and hissed. “Zana does not like dogs—or wolves,” commented Maxwallah while strapping back on his bow and quiver. “So I gathered.” “Shall we?” “Let’s do it.” Once again they mounted Aru-melo and trotted on in the deepening dusk. It wasn’t long before Max noticed there were more and more houses and fewer and fewer farms. Then, smelling sea salt, he realized they were traveling through a small town. “We’re in Aru-vato, aren’t we?” “We are indeed.” “Why didn’t you say so?” “I thought it was obvious.” Initially, Aru-vato seemed dark and deserted. But with night setting in, the streetlamps came on. This, in itself, wasn’t strange; what was weird was the nature of the streetlamps. They were made entirely of polished

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stone—and they were glowing bright yellow. “Whoa,” said Max. “I thought, judging by your weaponry, that your society—” “Lacked technology?” interrupted Maxwallah. “Something like that.” “Our technology is different from yours.” “I can see that.” The light from the streetlamps revealed quite a few normal-looking people (if dressed in medieval fashion) going about their business: shopping, riding horses, chatting, conversing on the sidewalks, smoking long-stemmed pipes. Without stopping, Maxwallah nodded and exchanged formalities with a number of them. To Max’s surprise, nobody so much as batted an eye at Zana’s presence. Oddly enough, it was Max himself who attracted the most attention. He distinctly heard the word “Umbodi” whispered and repeated several times before they left the town and wound along a lamp-lit street up a hillside. Ravens croaked from their roosts high in the coconut trees lining the road. They passed through an open gate made of massive vigas and latillas into a terraced estate with views of Aru-vato and what must have been the Inland Sea stretching into darkness beyond the harbor in the middle of which stood a glowing lighthouse. Beside them extended terraced gardens and orchards that could barely be made out. And ahead, getting closer and closer, was an enormous house made (like the others Max had seen) of earth and tile—only on a much grander scale. The porch light was on and the figure of a woman in a flowing dress was shadowed atop a wide staircase. Maxwallah clicked for Aru-melo to stop and said, “Welcome to my home.” “Some home.” “Let us go greet Artemisia.” Maxwallah dismounted. As Zana set Max gently on the ground, he recognized the scent of sage—only to realize it was the same scent infusing his poncho when he had first put it on. Maxwallah climbed the stairs and embraced the woman. Max followed until he was standing beside her in the porch light. She was, bar none, the strangest creature of all the strange creatures he had beheld in time-space. Shocked by her smiling face with its delicate features, slightly raised nose and mischievous hazel eyes framed with curls of auburn hair, he recalled his vision of his mother during his twelfth birthday party under the New Year’s Eve fireworks on Oceanside Beach.

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If Cynthia Holden-Diver had lived into her forties, this was exactly— exactly—how she would have looked. To make matters more bizarre, she was wearing a sand dollar necklace! “I would like you to meet my teacher,” said Maxwallah. “Maxwell, this is Artemisia. Artemisia, this is Maxwell.”

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rtemisia placed her hand on Max’s shoulder and, smiling while staring deeply into his eyes, said, “I see myself in you.” Not knowing what else to do, feeling on the cusp of losing his moorings in sanity, he completed the circuit and replied with a faraway voice tainted with self-conscious irony, “I see myself in you.” For someone of above average intelligence, Max thought, he had a way of being extremely dumb. Given that Maxwallah was his twin, it should have been screamingly obvious their mothers had to be twins as well. Turning to Maxwallah, Max said in a surprised voice that indicated his level of discombobulation, “I thought you said Artemisia was your teacher.” “She is my teacher.” “But she’s also your mother. Why on earth don’t you call her ‘Mom’ or something of the sort?” Maxwallah grinned and Artemisia laughed. It was the first time Max had ever heard his mother’s laughter—yet, outrageously, it wasn’t even his mother. “I respect the wisdom teachings that have been passed down from the Heywah,” said Maxwallah. “An apprentice always refers to his medicine teacher as such—even if the teacher is his mother.” “But you called her your mother in your story about riding a horse as a child.” “She was not my teacher then.”

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Max simultaneously became aware of two things that made his already dizzy head spin faster. For starters, he had been speaking in perfect Taywo with his hosts without even realizing it. And to make matters more surreal, a large bobcat—complete with a spotted brown coat, long whiskers, and gray-tufted ears—was rubbing up against his leg. “Do not be frightened,” said Artemisia. “Fey-leh is as tame as a lamb.” “What should I do?” asked Max, staring down apprehensively at the oversized housecat that seemed to have found a new friend in him. “Pet her, of course. Between the ears.” Max reached down and, hoping Fey-ley wouldn’t go rogue and bite off one of his fingers, scratched her head gently. She closed her eyes and leaned her full weight against his boot while purring loudly. “She likes you,” observed Maxwallah. “She probably thinks I’m you.” “If only that were true. Fey-leh has never cared for me ever since I accidently stepped on her tail when she was a kitten.” “Come,” said Artemisia. “Both of you could use a hot bath after your long journey—which I am eager to hear all about. In the meantime, I will help Mardah finish preparing dinner.” “What are we having?” asked Maxwallah. “Mesuque.” “Excellent. My favorite.” “What’s mesuque?” asked a hungry Max. “Shellfish stew served over rice,” replied Artemisia. “Sounds fantastic.” Max was dimly aware of other humans busy on the premises. On their arrival, an older man had quietly led Aru-melo off toward what he imagined from its outline was a stable. Another, oddly familiar young man (though not familiar enough to place in the unsettling aftermath of Max’s arrival) with a tan, hardworking face had passed them on the porch with a polite nod before shutting the wooden front gate. Everyone’s clothes, from Artemisia’s long blue dress to the men’s dark woolen jackets and pants, had a decidedly medieval flair at odds with Maxwallah’s (and for that matter, Max’s own) more tribal look. As he was ushered inside, he wondered if his and his twin’s clothes were a throwback, an homage to Heywah culture that was intended to be part of their training. Fey-leh trotted along just ahead—proudly welcoming him to her home—as the door closed behind him and he attempted to take in the warm, bright, aromatic interior.

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He stood gazing around a foyer of sorts interconnecting the primary parts of the vast house with its burnt sienna floor tiles, white plaster walls, glowing stone lamps, and high reciprocal ceilings held up by raw timber framing. To his left, a slightly ajar door led to a hallway. Just ahead, he perceived cooking smells from what must have been the kitchen. And to his right, a high archway granted access to a huge living room with a kiva fireplace, comfortable-looking leather couches and armchairs, and a thick wool rug with elaborate geometric designs. But that wasn’t all. There was also a framed oil painting of considerable size hanging on the wall beside the kiva. On the verge of disbelief, Max was drawn to it like the proverbial moth to the flame. It was a lifelike portrait of his father! Shaking all over in front of it, the light from the fire flickering in his face, he experienced his second emotional dislocation in a matter of minutes. First, his mother had practically come back from the grave. And now, his missing father was suddenly larger than life in front of him. “I … must … be … dreaming,” he stammered. The combined effect of these shocks to his system, like a devastating one-two punch delivered by a prize fighter, was simply too much for Max. Overwhelmed, heart racing and cheeks flushing, he suddenly felt extremely lightheaded—and was only vaguely aware of swooning like a kite with no wind into Artemisia’s sage-scented arms.

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here am I?” wondered Max, slowly coming to with blurred vision as if he had been asleep for ages. “In a safe place,” replied a woman’s soothing voice, “where you are welcome indeed.” Max heard the crackling of a fire and—raising his head from the cushioned arm of a plush leather couch to find Artemisia seated smiling in an armchair beside him—immediately remembered where he was. “I am afraid you fainted.” “Yeah. I do that sometimes. How long was I out?” “Not terribly long. It is still evening.” With a bit of a jolt, Max realized he wasn’t alone on the couch. A heavy ball of fur he recognized as Fey-leh was curled up asleep and purring away on his shins. “I have never seen Fey-leh take to anyone as quickly as she has taken to you.” Recalling Tuesday’s tomcat, Merlin, with whom he had bonded the instant they met, Max said, “I seem to have that effect on cats.” “I wonder why.” “Maybe they can sense I don’t like cats.” Artemisia, appreciating Max’s wry sense of humor, grinned disconcertingly with his mother’s mischievous grin. “Maxwallah was right.” “About what?” “He said you were funny.” 415


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“Speaking of, where is he?” “In the kitchen having a bite after his bath.” “You have an amazing son. I’m sure you know that already. He saved my life—and taught me a lot.” “He said exactly the same of you.” “Really?” “Really.” Max sat up stiffly. Fey-leh, startled awake, looked at him with a dazed expression—only to crawl up into his lap and immediately fall back asleep. “That’s not my father, is it?” he said, meaning the portrait on the wall of a man identical to his father dressed in woolen clothes standing on the prow of a sailboat. “No, Maxwell.” Artemisia smiled painfully, then sighed. “That is not Thomas Diver. That was my husband, Maxwallah’s father, Jonah Ilybintu.” “Was?” “Ten revolutions around the sun ago, he was lost in the Inland Sea while attempting to save a member of his crew who had fallen overboard. His body was never recovered.” “A member of his … crew?” “He was a sailor. A ship’s captain, in fact, who was twice elected governor of Aru-vato Province.” The striking similarities between Jonah’s tragic fate and Captain Diver’s weren’t lost on Max. Artemisia’s words had sliced him like a knife, exposing his own memories of loss and grief. “I’m truly sorry, Artemisia. I had no idea.” “Thank you for saying that.” “It must have been devastating for Maxwallah and you to lose him.” “It was. We were a close-knit family. It took some getting used to indeed when your father appeared barely three revolutions around the sun later.” Max recalled Maxwallah saying that Captain Diver’s unexpected arrival had been a “shock” for him and his teacher. Now he knew why. “You don’t think your husband by any chance—” “Traveled to your world like your father traveled to mine?” “Yeah.” “Sadly, no. I am quite certain he drowned. I saw him in a dream.” “Or a nightmare.” “Actually, having undertaken the Great Crossing, he seemed at peace. The look on his face was one I only saw when he was sailing.”

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“The Great Crossing. I’ve heard that phrase before. What does it actually mean? Somehow, I don’t think it’s as simple as a synonym for dying.” “You are perceptive. No doubt you are aware by now that a person born in our world has a twin in your world, and vice versa?” “I’m starting to grasp that. It would seem the reciprocal relationship between the material and cosmic sectors requires this to be the case.” “We refer to these pairings of a body and its soul as dyads.” “Makes sense. But why would our entire families be paired the way they were?” “Dyads cluster in familial groups to ensure the biological and energetic similarity of the dyads themselves.” “Right. Otherwise, it would be difficult—if not impossible—for twins to actually be twins.” “Exactly.” Gazing into the fire, Max considered this information, which cast the trendy concepts of “soul mates” and “soul groups” in a completely different light. He had always thought such notions were just new age nonsense. “I still don’t understand what is meant by the Great Crossing,” he said finally. “Are you sure you wish to discuss this right now on the heels of your long journey and emotional upheaval?” “I’m sure.” “So be it. When we die, we leave our own world and enter the Otherworld. This voyage is the Great Crossing. Upon its completion, our life essence is reabsorbed by the other half of ourselves.” “By our twin, you mean?” “Yes. By our twin.” It took a moment for the radical implications of this phenomenon to penetrate Max’s swirling consciousness. “That would mean …” he began slowly and thoughtfully. “Go on.” “… that my father reabsorbed your husband.” “And?” “You reabsorbed my mother.” Silence. Only Artemisia’s intense eyes indicated the accuracy of Max’s observations. “That’s crazy,” he said. “Then life is crazy.” “I’m supposed to believe that somewhere inside you is my mother?” “Her consciousness, yes. Her tastes. Her memories.” “You actually remember things from my mother’s life?” “I realize this must be hard for you, Maxwell.” 417


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“It’s certainly not easy.” “What can I do to make it less difficult?” “Tell me something. Something my mother remembers.” “I have only been able to access her memories in fragments.” “So tell me some fragments.” Artemisia sat up straight, closed her eyes, and took a long, slow breath. “I see … a beach. A wide beach. I—I mean, your mother was wearing an orange bathing suit.” Into Max’s mind popped the photograph of his mother with Andrew Icarus on Misquamicut Beach he had seen in the professor’s office. Sure enough, her bathing suit had been orange. “What else?” “I see … a metal thunderbird like the one your father rode into this world.” “An airplane?” “If that is the word for it. Your mother loved to fly inside it.” “That’s incredible. She built her own plane herself.” Artemisia reopened her eyes and smiled. “There you have it. I know it must be hard to believe. But these memories are not my own.” “Does everyone who reabsorbs a twin have such memories?” “Not everyone. At least not consciously. I have studied energy and consciousness most of my life, so I am better equipped than most to remember.” “I wonder if my father has memories that belonged to Jonah.” “It is possible—although even if he does, he may mistake them for daydreams.” Suddenly, though sitting down, Max felt dizzy again. “You are growing pale, Maxwell. I am afraid I have shared too much too fast.” “I’ll be okay. I just need to breathe.” “I am sorry to have pushed you. For so long, I have desired to share these things. And given your father’s precarious status, I felt a sense of urgency.” “Because it’s not just my father, is it? It’s also your husband.” Artemisia’s gaze was somehow both trenchant and compassionate. “You have a way of looking back into me,” she said at last. “I will not deny that in part—although only in part—my interest is self-interest. That said, as someone housing your mother’s soul, I desire nothing more than to see your father returned safe and sound to you and your world.” The two broke the mutual gridlock of their stares and looked up as Maxwallah, freshly shaven with hair still damp, entered the living room wearing a red silk robe and leather slippers. “I am happy to see you awake again, Maxwell. How do you feel?” “Somewhat … overwhelmed.” 418


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“If you were not, I would think something was truly the matter.” Max chuckled. The dizziness, along with the heaviness of the previous moment, seemed to be passing. “That’s one way of putting it. How are you?” “Stuffed with mesuque. Are you hungry?” “Starved.” “Then let us get you a quick bath. Come, I will show you to your room.” Maxwallah extended a hand. Sensing his presence, Fey-leh opened one eye suspiciously. Max set her on the couch (which she protested with a sleepy hiss) before letting his twin help him up. “Enjoy your bath,” said Artemisia.

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axwallah’s silk robe swished as he led his twin back into the foyer, through the slightly ajar door on the other side, and down the hallway Max had glimpsed on entering the house. Fascinatingly, the floor tiles here glowed faintly somewhat like the rock walls of Silverback’s castle. They passed three wooden doors—all closed—before Maxwallah opened a fourth. In the ambient glow from the hall, Max watched as his twin touched the standing lamp beside the entrance. This caused the donut-shaped “bulb” of stone to shine brightly, illuminating a spacious bedroom with a high ceiling and tall windows shuttered against the night. But this wasn’t all the lamplight revealed. There was no doubt this was Max’s bedroom because on the wall above the bed was a stunning fresco of Leaping Dolphin, his tail easily clearing the waves, holding the full moon between his teeth. “Whoa,” said Max, pointing to the fresco. “Has that painting always been here?” “Ever since I can remember. It was done right after my fresco was painted—when I was just a baby.” Left to themselves, the twins had reverted to speaking English, which Max preferred. “Your fresco?” “Come. I will show you.” Maxwallah turned and touched the wall opposite the mural of Leaping Dolphin. To Max’s surprise, a section of the wall slid sideways and a doorway appeared as if by magic.

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“That’s nifty,” thought Max, following his twin through a shadowy bathroom with a toilet, sink and tub through another sliding doorway that opened with Maxwallah’s touch into what appeared in the greater darkness to be another bedroom. “Do you mind if I turn on the lamp in here?” asked Max. “Just in case I need to when you’re not around.” “Be my guest.” “How does it work?” asked Max, feeling for the switch. “Our technology is based not on electricity—but on harmonics.” “Harmonics?” “Vibration.” “Is that why nobody around here seems to have ever heard of metal?” Maxwallah laughed. “You are very observant. Metal in large quantities is incompatible with our technology. Stone, wood and earthen materials work better. They are also more in alignment with the—shall we say?— spiritual qualities my society values.” “My society is made of metal—and it only values material things.” “So I intuited.” “I can’t find the switch anywhere.” “That is because there is no external switch.” “Where is it then?” “In you.” “In me?” “Simply quiet your mind and focus on zeroing out any disharmonious thoughts or feelings in order to allow for proper harmonic resonance.” “Then what?” “Touch the lamp anywhere and invite it to shine.” “Invite it to shine?” “You are repeating my words again, Maxwell.” “Sorry. I just … don’t understand.” “Recall our previous discussion about the Way of All Things.” “Which one?” “The one in which we discussed the consciousness inherent in socalled inanimate objects like stones.” Max thought back to his training at Muru-amah, which seemed eons— not merely days—ago. “Okay. I remember.” “The fact that all things are conscious means that communication with all things is possible. Moreover, all things in the manifest universe are essentially structured light.” “Meaning they’re holographic?” “Yes. I believe that is the word.” “What of it?” “This means that all things are fundamentally energetic.” 422


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Suddenly, a light bulb turned on in Max’s mind. “I think I see what you’re getting at. Since things are just energy, it’s possible to tap into their energy by harmonically encouraging them to perform specific functions.” “Precisely. That is the essence of our technology.” “Far out.” “Just as I taught you at Muru-amah, Maxwell, it is important to work with, not against, universal energy. Forcing it only creates resistance and leads to entropy.” Max’s head was starting to spin again—though in a good way this time. His inner scientist had woken up to the extraordinary possibilities of this radically different approach to technology: decentralization, free energy, sustainable systems, abundance and harmony leading to world peace … “Try it.” Quieting his mind, Max attempted to zero out any disharmonious thoughts or feelings—which meant identifying them first. As soon as he did, he realized he was still terribly disturbed at the prospect of his initiation. “I sense disharmony in you,” commented Maxwallah. “Is it that obvious?” “I can see it in your aura.” “Tell me something. Has anyone ever died during this initiation of yours?” “That is an interesting question. The body does not die, for it is in no actual danger. But initiation is designed to kill off a part of you.” “Which part would that be?” “The part that believes it is separate from everything else.” “What does that accomplish?” “Let us just say it provides … perspective.” “Perspective?” “And perspective leads to greater mastery of your potential.” “You’re speaking in riddles again, my friend.” “All will be made clear in its proper season. Would you like me to turn on the lamp?” “No. Let me try one more time.” Once again, Max silenced his inner chatter and sought the elusive stillness he suspected was somewhere inside him. Just when it appeared he would never find it, there it was—like a still lake in the middle of a raging wildfire. Ignoring the enveloping chaos by contemplating the lake’s placid surface while placing his hand on the lamp’s cold bulb, he intentionally connected with the stone as with another sentient being and politely requested that it offer up a little of its light. To his astonishment, the bulb suddenly flashed on and the dark bedroom sprang into bright relief. 423


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“Congratulations!” cried Maxwallah. “You did it!” Though identical in its dimensions, the room was outfitted differently from Max’s bedroom, with a desk in front of the windows and a high bookshelf stacked with volumes—but one thing was a match. On the wall above the bed was another striking fresco, this time of Black Thunderbird in the form of a giant raven with the sun in his beak. “Lovely painting,” said Max. “Thank you. One of the most famous painters in the history of Aruvato Province painted both our frescoes not long after my birth. Come to think of it, he also painted the portrait in the living room.” “Really? What was his name?” “Jonah Ily-bintu.”

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our father was governor as well as a ship’s captain and a famous painter?” Max’s thoughts were swirling even faster than before with the memory of his own father enrolling— uncharacteristically and, as it turned out, temporarily—in a painting class at UF-Cape Carnival approximately a decade earlier. That would have put it at just after Jonah drowned. Could Captain Diver have been experiencing some sort of unacknowledged personality bleed-through from having reabsorbed his twin? “Yes,” replied Maxwallah. “What of it?” “He was quite the Renaissance man.” “What is a Renaissance man?” “Someone who’s really good at a lot of things.” “Then you are also a Renaissance man.” “Look who’s talking. Mr. Ranger-Shaman-Poet.” Maxwallah chuckled modestly. “Do you like my room?” “It’s lovely. Is this yours?” Max indicated an open journal on Maxwallah’s desk in which a poem in Tay-wo, entitled “See the Big Picture,” looked freshly handwritten with a nearby feather quill pen. The end of the old world Is the small picture The beginning of a new world Is the Big Picture 425


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“I quickly scribbled it down before my bath,” explained Maxwallah. “I composed it in my mind on the way home.” “It’s really deep,” said Max with a hint of sarcasm. Then, more seriously, he added, “And beautiful.” “Thank you. I believe it to be true.” “Look, Maxwallah. I’m sorry about your father. Why didn’t you tell me?” “You have had enough on your mind. Artemisia always insisted the Umbodi would face the greater challenge in being the first to journey into the Otherworld. My role was—and is—to support you.” “Artemisia said that?” “You look surprised.” “I’m just … trying to figure her out.” Maxwallah chuckled again while pulling a wooden box the size of a large shoebox out from under his bed. “Good luck. Artemisia is like an endlessly tiered fountain. Just when you think you have reached the bottom, there is always another level.” “What’s in the box?” “My collection of dream objects. It occurred to me you of all people might appreciate them.” “Dream objects? As in, objects you brought back from your dreams?” “As in.” Inside the box was an odd assortment of souvenirs: a giant shark’s tooth, a piece of chalk, a small black stone that might have been a meteorite, something like an oversized Brazil nut (now quite moldy), an ancient-looking necklace made of pieces of green turquoise, the head of a tomahawk. “I kept my dream objects, too,” said Max. “When did you start bringing them back?” “Early on. You?” “The same.” “We really are twins, aren’t we?” Maxwallah winked. “I am afraid so. Are you ready for your bath?” “I’ve been ready.” Having replaced the box under his bed, Maxwallah led Max back into the bathroom. Max watched as his twin turned on the lamp with a touch, then with another touch caused water to begin flowing through a convex opening at the top of the marble tub. “How hot do you like your bath?” 426


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“After freezing my keesters off in the wild? Somewhere between scalding and comfortable.” “Coming right up.” Maxwallah tapped the side of the tub three times, then indicated a bar of soap in a little niche in the wall. “You can use that for both your hair and skin.” “What about conditioner?” “What is conditioner?” “Forget it.” “Can I get you anything else?” “Yeah. If you don’t mind.” “Name it.” “A razor.” “A … razor?” “You know, something to shave with. I noticed you shaved.” “Of course. You will find a fresh paperstone in the cabinet behind the mirror above the sink.” “I’ll take your word for it.” “Just place your dirty clothes in the basket in the corner. I will take them downstairs and ask Mardah to launder them first thing in the morning.” “How do I turn off the water?” “Just tap the tub three times when the level is to your liking.” Left alone, Max reentered his bedroom. Removing his boots, he set them on the floor beside the bed and placed his belt and sword in its scabbard on the chest of drawers beneath the windows. His poncho and hide shirt went in the wicker basket in the corner and his jeans were about to follow—when he remembered to empty his pockets. In addition to some stale coconut shards, which he replaced with a disgusted look, he discovered first his mother’s gold-and-onyx hairpin, then his caul—before pulling out the small leather pouch containing powdered jube and jork eggshell Maxwallah had given him for his initiation. “I wonder what this stuff tastes like,” he murmured, imagining in the same breath what it might do to him, given its “visionary” qualities. Having stashed the hairpin, caul and pouch in the drawer of his bedside table, he checked on his bathwater—which was steaming impressively and nearly overflowing. Sure enough, three taps on the tub shut off the flow. He selected a beige cotton towel and washrag from an open-face shelf and set them on the wooden chair beside the tub, then eased into the water, which felt slightly hotter than the Sacred Pool at Muru-amah. In other words: perfect. “I could get used to this,” he sighed just before taking a deep breath and slipping under the surface to wet his hair. 427


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Afterward, toweling off on the thick bathmat remarking how clean and moisturized his entire body felt, he realized he had no idea how to drain the tub. Following this thought, he heard a bubbling noise—and, sure enough, the tub began to empty. Feeling parched, he approached the sink, which had a convex stone “faucet” like that of the tub, and tapped it once. Nothing happened. Making sure to quiet his mind and find the peaceful place inside him, he tapped it again while thinking, “Please share some of your water. Some cold water.” Immediately, water came spilling out. Max cupped his hands underneath. It was icy. He drank until his thirst was gone, then thought, “Would you mind making the water hot now?” The water soon began to steam. Max opened the cabinet behind the steam-covered mirror and found several ultra-thin, wedge-shaped stones the color of slate. He picked one up by the blunt end and tested the “blade” with his little finger. Amazingly, it gave him what amounted to a tiny paper cut. “Paperstone indeed!” he laughed. Getting the mirror to work was the last test of his first bathing experience in the civilized part of the cosmic sector. Even after wiping the steam off the surface with his towel, it was more like a rock than a mirror. He couldn’t even see his reflection. “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” he said, “how do I get you to work at all?” Unexpectedly, his words made the rock shimmer—as if changing on a molecular level—before turning into a polished, reflective surface. He stared at his sun- and wind-chapped face with its scraggle of a beard and thought, “I look like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.” Having shaved carefully, he reentered his bedroom—only to find the basket with his dirty clothes gone and a dark blue robe and leather slippers awaiting him on his bed. Max, who had never so much as considered wearing a silk robe, felt self-conscious turning off the bathroom and bedroom lamps and swishing back down the illuminated hallway toward the foyer with his feet in soft slippers.

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ou clean up well,” quipped Maxwallah from where he sat warming himself on the banco beside the kiva as Max entered the living room. “Ha, ha. Where’s Artemisia?” “Setting out your food. Let us get you some nourishment.” Max followed his twin back into the foyer and through the central artery of the house into what he had suspected from the smells to be the kitchen. The room was massive—bigger even than the living room. It featured a glazed ceramic stove with a large crock simmering on top, something resembling an old-timey wooden icebox, a deep stone sink, and an oval table with eight chairs under a hanging stone lamp. “You know, I actually thought you folks lived in a teepee when I first met Maxwallah,” admitted Max. Artemisia, showing her guest to his place at the table, joined Maxwallah in laughing. “And what would be so bad about that?” she asked. “Nothing. As long as it had a bathroom.” There was another round of laughter as Max, mouth watering, sat down in front of a steaming bowl of stew containing oysters and shrimps mixed with something like sweet potatoes and wild rice. “So this is the fabled mesuque,” he said. “Yes,” replied Artemisia. “Mardah’s specialty.”

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Too keen to wait a second longer, Max placed his cloth napkin in his lap, grasped his wooden spoon, and took a piping-hot bite. “Careful,” said Artemisia. “It is still nearly boiling.” “Show … I … can … she,” gasped Max, blowing in quick gusts across the hot stew still in his mouth. “How is it?” asked Maxwallah when Max had finally swallowed and taken a sip of water to cool his throat. “Incredible. I should offer the chef my compliments. Where’s this Mardah?” “Gone home for the night to be with her husband,” said Artemisia. “They have a home in the village. She will be back tomorrow morning.” “Aren’t you guys going to join me?” “We will sit with you,” said Maxwallah, taking a seat at the table as Artemisia did the same. “But we have already eaten.” “Right. I forgot I passed out. I’m sure I cramped your dinner plans.” “Not at all,” said Artemisia. “We do not stand on ceremony in this home. Please. Enjoy your food while we enjoy your company.” Max didn’t need much persuading. The mesuque was fantastic. He finished one bowl and was working on a second Artemsia ladled out from the crock on the stove before he was of a mind to engage in conversation. “When it comes to working with the energy, Maxwallah tells me you are a fast learner,” commented Artemsia while refilling Max’s water glass from a pitcher on the table. “Either that or just lucky.” “I doubt very much luck has anything to do with it.” “You should have seen him, Mother,” said Maxwallah. “It was just like in the prophecy. You would have thought Leaping Dolphin himself had returned.” “Wait a minute,” said Max. “Did you just say Mother? What happened to teacher?” “Now that I have verified he has a successful student of his own,” explained Artemisia, “I am, technically speaking, no longer his teacher.” “So what do you do, Artemisia, when you’re not teaching?” “Mother is a doctor,” said Maxwallah. “What you would call a homeopath.” “Seriously?” “Not always seriously,” put in Artemisia with a mischievous grin. “I prefer levity over gravity.” “I was studying to be a doctor myself—back in my world.” “If I may say so, Maxwell, you are well past becoming a doctor now.” “I’ve been thinking the same thing. So do you have a lot of patients?” “Enough to keep me occupied. Although I mostly work with humans, I have developed numerous protocols for treating the Almasty.” 430


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“The Almasty? They come here to see you?” “Sometimes. While they are physiologically similar to us in many ways, they remain quite distinct—and require species-specific methodologies.” Max’s eyes widened with scientific interest. “You don’t by any chance believe humans are descended from the Almasty, do you?” “I believe it is possible, but not without intervention.” “Intervention?” “Mother believes some of the Almasty were modified long ago to become us by our space brothers,” said Maxwallah. “This would explain both our extraordinary kinship—and our numerous dissimilarities.” “It’s a fascinating theory,” admitted Max. “Clearly, they are basically ... people.” “They are most definitely people,” said Artemisia. “The Almasty are as conscious as we are of the Way of All Things, the Circle of Life, and the Great Crossing.” “Speaking of the Almasty,” said Max, “where’s Zana?” “Probably catching up on her sleep with the horses in the stable,” said Maxwallah. “Why doesn’t she sleep in the house?” “Ever since she was young,” explained Artemisia, “she found it impossible to stay in here very long. I am sure she gets stuffy inside with all that fur.” “You should have seen mother trying to make her wear a dress when she was little,” laughed Maxwallah. “Zana wailed like a wounded jork and tore every single dress she was given to shreds.” “I eventually gave up,” conceded Artemisia. “It was a failed experiment.” For a moment, Max, captivated by his hosts’ stories, was lost imagining growing up with a half-wild Sasquatch playmate who slept in the stable. “Care for some coffee?” asked Artemisia, interrupting Max’s visions of exotic childhood adventure. “Coffee.” The word sounded almost foreign on Max’s lips—like a term from a language he was slowly forgetting. “Some coffee would be great. I’ll have a Venti Latté with an extra shot.” “Sorry?” “I’ll have whatever you’re having.” “Are you certain it will not keep you awake? Maxwallah never drinks coffee before bed.” “I can sleep through practically anything.” “Me, too. Coming right up.” Clearly adept in the kitchen, Artemisia ground some coffee beans by hand with a wooden machine, then added

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them to a long-stemmed, ceramic cezve, which she heated over a tapactivated burner on the stove. “You’re not making Turkish coffee, are you?” inquired Max. “Turkish? Is that what you call it?” “Assuming you add cardamom, yes.” “How did he know you put cardamom in your coffee, Mother?” asked Maxwallah. “I thought you invented it.” “Good question. I am unsure.” “When did you first start drinking it this way?” asked Max. Artemisia thought back while standing beside the stove waiting for the coffee to boil. “Shortly after Maxwallah was born. Why?” “It’s probably another bleed-through from my mother. Before she married my father, she dated a colleague named Andrew Icarus who was crazy about Turkish coffee.” “Fascinating. That would explain it. I have been practically addicted to this curious beverage for years. I even had this strange pot designed to my specifications by a local ceramicist.” After sweetening the brew with honey and adding a pinch of cardamom, she poured the scalding liquid into two small cups and placed them on the table. “The same probably goes for your sand dollar necklace,” observed Max as she sat down again. “My necklace? What do you mean?” “When did you start wearing it?” “Not long …” “… after Maxwallah was born?” “Yes, now that you mention it.” “My mother loved sand dollars. She had a whole box of them.” Artemisia blew across her coffee and took a sip. Max followed suit. Sure enough, the taste was virtually identical to the Turkish coffee Professor Icarus had prepared for him. “Look, Maxwell,” said Artemisia, “I know you want more than anything to connect with your mother through me. But I am not your mother. Undertaking the Great Crossing is not the same as completing the Circle of Life.” “The Great Crossing is when the twin halves of a dyad reconnect through death,” explained Maxwallah. “The Circle of Life happens when two such twins are reunited in life.” “One involves forgetting,” added Artemisia. “The other leads to remembering.” “I get all that,” said Max, staring at her delicate features. “I also know my mother is there, inside you, somewhere. If only I could speak with her—” 432


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“That’s impossible,” said Artemisia. “Nothing is impossible.” “Perhaps for you. You are the Umbodi. I am just … Artemisia.” “Let us not lose sight of why you came here, Maxwell,” said Maxwallah. “Your father—who is still very much alive—needs your help as soon as you can provide it.” “Meaning I’m going to have to fly whether I’m ready or not?” “With any luck,” grinned Artemisia, “you will be ready.” Later, having finished his coffee and said goodnight, Max lay in bed uncharacteristically unable to sleep. The mattress, stuffed with down, was quite comfortable, while the sheets were soft and clean-scented—making his insomnia all the more remarkable. Whether owing to the moonlight seeping through the shutters or the coffee stirring up his mental faculties, his thoughts were racing. It occurred to him that, given the reciprocal relationship constituted by the Great Crossing, since there were Sasquatches in time-space, there had to be others somewhere in space-time. This got him on the subject of Reciprocal Theory. He realized something so oddly profound it prompted him to climb out of bed and tiptoe through the bathroom into his twin’s room. “Hey, Maxwallah. You awake?” “I am now,” said the shadowy form stretched out in bed. “What is the matter?” “Nothing. I just need to ask you a question.” “Please make it quick.” “Were you aware that my room and your room are like space-time and time-space, with the bathroom serving as the Interface?” “Actually, no. I never thought of that.” “Do you think whoever designed this house did?” “How should I know? This house was built by my great-great-greatgrandfather.” “Well, your father certainly seemed to get it, since he painted our murals. If I’m not mistaken, my dolphin is even in the east, while your raven is in the west.” “Go to sleep, Maxwell.” Max tried—but for hours he only tossed and turned and twisted his sheets. He was self-aware enough to know not only that something was bothering him, but to know precisely what that something was. His intuition was quite strong that, in order to be able to fly, truly fly the way he used to in his dreams, he needed to proceed with his initiation. But at the same time, despite Maxwallah’s assertions to the contrary, a small but vocal part of him was petrified that fully embracing the perspective of oneness would result in the loss of his own individuality. 433


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“I need a sign, I need a sign,” he kept whispering to himself, over and over, as the night wore on—until, at long last, he drifted into a fitful slumber.

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udging by the sunlight filtering through the shutters, it was late morning when Max finally awoke. Yawning, he stretched his arms until his knuckles tapped the wooden headboard—at which point he sat up shaking off the cobwebs. All about him, the great house was absolutely peaceful. Not only was no one making noise; there was no sound of electrical appliances or water sluicing through metal pipes. Other than faint birdsong outside, the only thing he could actually hear was his own blood pumping. “It’s like an old adobe church in here,” he thought, recalling a fragmented scene from some forgotten movie while staring up at the tongue-and-groove ceiling crisscrossed with enormous vigas. His bare feet touched the floor tiles expecting them to be cold, but they were slightly warm. Rubbing the crust out of his eyes, he stumbled into the bathroom to relieve himself. There was no sign of his twin nextdoor—but his own clothes were neatly folded on the upturned wicker basket beside the tub. While getting dressed, in lieu of brushing his teeth, he followed Maxwallah’s lead from the night before by again chewing some shredded zoaz peels from a glass jar beside the sink. The spongy, reddish bark, which curled like birch when dry, became stringy in the mouth. The taste was a combination of clove and peppermint—and the overall hygienic effect, after spitting out the spent bark in the toilet, felt superior to brushing.

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Returning to his room, Max opened his shutters and squinted into the bright daylight. When his eyes adjusted, he could make out what looked like the Red Mountains sparkling with snow in the far distance. He sat on his bed pulling on his boots, admiring the view and visualizing Silverback, Spelunker, Rolling Boulder and the other Sasquatches who had risked themselves to come to his aid at Muru-amah. On exploration there was a simple explanation why the house was so utterly quiet: it was deserted. He found no one in the living room or kitchen. Not even Fey-leh was about. Reentering the foyer and passing back into the hall, he thought to knock on the first door—the one to Artemisia’s bedroom—and was surprised when it opened at his touch. “Artemisia?” he said. Nobody answered. Caught between curiosity and not wanting to pry, he took a cautious step inside. It was the master suite, with its own bathroom, walk-in closet, massive bed, chest of drawers, huge windows with open shutters, and kiva fireplace fronted by a leather loveseat. But the most striking aspect of Artemisia’s sanctuary was the enormous oil portrait of her in her twenties, obviously painted by Jonah, on the wall beside the kiva. Wearing a flowing silk gown the color of jade and cornflowers in her auburn hair, she leaned with the hint of a playful smile against a gigantic tree Max recognized from its curling red bark as a zoaz. Her face, for all intents and purposes, was his mother’s face as captured in the photograph that once had graced the mantelpiece of the Diver home on Tupelo Street. Even their hairstyle was the same. Feeling confused and a little disturbed by this lifelike image that seemed like a clever counterfeit of his own past, Max left the room, gently shutting the door, and walked back into the kitchen to rustle up something to eat. Distracted, he didn’t realize someone else was in the kitchen until he was standing directly behind her. A tall woman in a sepia dress with sandy blonde hair cascading down her back was peering into the open “icebox,” which Max noted had a light inside. “Excuse me,” he said. When the woman didn’t reply, he repeated, “Excuse me. I don’t think we’ve met.” Apparently still not having heard him, she closed the refrigerator and turned holding a block of cheese and a plate of ham—only to come within inches of dropping everything when she saw Max. “You … scared … me,” she said, placing the food on the counter. Her awkward, off-pitch voice indicated she was at least partially deaf. But that wasn’t the most confounding thing. Staring at her friendly face

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and unmistakable gray eyes, Max could hardly believe his own. She was … Tuesday! “Mardah?!” he exclaimed. She seemed to read his lips more than hear his words. “You … are … the … Umbodi?” she stammered through her lovely smile. “I am.” “We … have … been … waiting … for … you.” Overcome with emotion at the sound of her voice, simultaneously so familiar and so distorted, like a favorite song marred by a digital glitch, Max surprised himself by placing his hands on her ears. With the inverse intuition of time-space, he could sense her deafness as something almost palpable, like a toxic substance or foreign object obstructing the free flow of sound through her cochleae. “Do you wish to hear again, Mardah?” he asked from his mind directly into hers. Tears sprang from her eyes and rolled down her plump, rosy cheeks as she nodded vigorously. Love Max already felt at his best friend’s memory; surrender took a moment longer. With his innate tone echoing, he watched as the Cave of Origins and lines of resonance unfolded inside him. The energy pooled into his palm and from there spiraled into Mardah’s ears. “Listen to the birds outside,” he urged after removing his hands. Her eyes widened. “Can you hear them?” he asked in a whisper. “Perfectly!” she replied in an almost normal voice, Tuesday’s voice, while crying tears of joy. “Thank you! You are the Umbodi!” She hugged him and kissed his cheek and, before he could respond, ran out the back door shouting, “I must go tell Karul!” Left alone, and feeling rather hungry, Max located a loaf of sourdough in an old-timey breadbox and made himself a ham and cheese sandwich, then sat down at the table with a glass of water. He was halfway through his sandwich before he saw the note on the table (written in English) from Maxwallah. Good morning, Maxwell! Since you had such trouble falling asleep last night, Mother and I thought it best to let you sleep in. I have gone down to the harbor to make the Ily-bintu seaworthy. Should you need Mother, she is seeing patients in her office past the stable. Otherwise, there is sustenance in abundance. Please make yourself at home— and do not hesitate to ask Mardah if you require anything. See you this afternoon, Maxwallah

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Having finished eating and cleaned up after himself, Max wandered out onto the front porch. Only while attempting to approximate the hour by the angle of the sun did he realize he had seen no clocks anywhere in the house. In fact, he hadn’t glimpsed so much as a wristwatch since arriving. It seemed logical that the cosmic sector should be a place without time. Admiring the terraced gardens, reminiscent (on a much larger scale) of the Mondays’ backyard permaculture garden, leading down to the village by the sea, Max thought he would prefer a world where time didn’t matter so much. Musing aside, he could tell it wasn’t yet noon. He figured Artemisia was busy, but decided to pay her a visit anyway. As he strolled past the earthen stable, he wondered if Zana was still hibernating inside. Artemisia’s office, an adobe casita with a tile roof and cinnamon plaster to match the main house, had large windows set deeply in thick walls and double wooden doors painted violet. Flanking the doors, two bancos formed an outdoor waiting area. Peering through a window into the spacious, one-room interior, Max made out a desk, an examination table, several chairs, some cabinets, and a bookshelf lined with books—but no people. Stepping back and gazing around, he identified a cobbled path leading away from the casita through fields of lavender and sage. The path was cut into a series of terraced hills ascending away from the sea toward a dense, ruddy forest just at the edge of sight. His head told him to return to the main house to await his hosts, but his heart urged him to follow the path toward the forest. After a brief hesitation, prompted by his nearly tangible intuition on which he had learned to rely in time-space, he listened to his heart. The smells of lavender and sage, intermixing, were like a mild stimulant. He strolled along whistling, admiring the butterflies and bees going about their business under a crisp blue sky that seemed to shout fall from every molecule. Cresting the first of the hills he had observed from Artemisia’s office, he was surprised to find Artemisia herself in a sapphire dress seated on a bench gazing up at what Max was finally able to identify as a zoaz forest. Russet against the flawless sky, the gigantic trees towered splendidly—like Indian sentinels with headdresses of leaves—above the rolling hills. Max approached the bench, but Artemisia didn’t appear to notice. Realizing she was humming, he stopped to listen. What he heard stunned him. Artemisia was humming his default memory—the melody he somehow remembered from his mother’s womb! “Mom?!”

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Artemisia turned and looked at him with watery eyes. She stood up attempting to compose herself. “No, Maxwell. I am afraid it is just Artemisia.” Max approached until he was standing directly in front of her. “You and I both know you are more than just Artemisia. May I—please?” he asked holding his left hand, palm outward, close to her heart. A solitary tear rolled down her cheek. “Just this once.” “Fair enough.” He didn’t even have to summon his default memory; it was still fresh in his mind. Soon the Cave of Origins reopened, the lines of resonance sprouted, and the energy was flowing through him directly into Artemisia. “Remember,” he said. Her unflinching eyes suddenly blinked and became somewhat softer. Max knew Artemisia had stepped aside and allowed Cynthia to come forward. “Max? Is that you?” she said in English in a searching voice similar to Artemisia’s yet undeniably distinct. “Yes, Mom. It’s me.” “I only have a narrow window, but I want to tell you how much I love you—how much I have always loved you and will always love you.” It had been a tearful morning. Now it was Max’s turn to weep. He didn’t even try to hold back. “You must understand, Max, that I never really left you.” “I do understand. I didn’t used to, but I do now.” “I am glad. In all honesty, it is impossible to leave someone you truly love.” “Then I never left you either.” “How right you are, my precious child.” Using Artemisia’s hands, Cynthia reached up, removed her sand dollar necklace, and clasped it around Max’s neck. It fit just barely, like a choker. “I want you to have this, Max. It is the sign you have been seeking.” “The sign?” “The sign to trust your destiny. The sign to set aside who you have been and accept who you were meant to be.” Tears streaming down his face, Max became aware that his mother had stepped aside and Artemisia had returned. Her strained expression suggested that the experience of channeling Max’s mother, even with his help, had required tremendous strength. Noting his necklace, she asked wearily but not unhappily in Tay-wo, “Well? Did you find what you were looking for?” “I did, thank you.” “Is there anything else you wish to tell me?” “Yes. I’m ready for my initiation.”

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ax’s initiation began late that afternoon in the adobe office with only Maxwallah, dressed once again in his raven poncho and buckskins, in attendance. “Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this, Maxwell?” “Positive.” The twins stood facing each other over the examination table in the middle of the room. “Okay,” said Maxwallah. “Get undressed.” “Pardon me?” “Initiation constitutes a rebirth. It is important to begin this experience in one’s birthday suit.” “Right. Got you.” Max sat down in a nearby chair to remove his boots. He noticed his hands were shaking slightly and wondered if it showed. “There is no reason to be nervous, Maxwell.” “Were you nervous?” “Naturally.” “Just tell me one thing. Does it hurt?” “Only a little bit at the start.” When Max had completely undressed, sand dollar necklace and all, and his belongings were neatly stashed in one of the room’s cabinets, Maxwallah instructed him to lie on his back on the examination table. “Are you comfortable?” he asked, covering his twin with a wool blanket. “I wouldn’t say comfortable. But I’m okay.”

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“Good. I will fetch Artemisia.” Maxwallah knocked on the double doors from inside. Immediately, they opened and in strode Artemisia with her hair down over her shoulders. She was wearing an elaborately beaded buckskin dress and carrying a smoking knot of sage with which she smudged first herself, then her son, then Max three times from head to toe. “Great Spirit, we willingly offer ourselves to serve you in the Way of All Things,” she said while smudging. “We ask that you watch over this initiation and hold young Maxwell in the palm of your hand, now and always.” “So be it,” said Maxwallah. “So be it,” echoed Artemisia. “So be it?” repeated Max when it became clear he was expected to contribute. Artemisia extinguished the sage with a quick, fearless pinch and smiled. “Excellent. Maxwell, did you remember to bring the pouch containing jube and jork eggshell like I asked?” “Yeah. It’s in one of the front pockets of my jeans.” “He means his pants,” whispered Maxwallah when Artemisia looked confused. “Right. Would you please get it out for us, Maxwallah?” Artemisia took a marble tray from the cabinet and set it on her desk. Then she produced a stone mortar and pestle and placed them on the tray, tapping the tray twice, and poured some water from a pitcher into the pestle before adding the contents of Max’s pouch. She ground the ingredients together with the pestle as the tray—like a flameless Bunsen burner—heated up the mixture until a curious, not altogether pleasant scent like chocolate eucalyptus filled the air. Separating out half the concoction into a wooden bowl to cool, she added more water and something like powdered clay to the mortar and instructed Maxwallah to continue mixing. Meanwhile, she approached Max with the bowl and a wooden spoon. “Please sit up.” “Are you really going to make me eat that?” asked Max, sitting up and staring at the indigo paste made of glowworm and the shell from a dinosaur egg. “I am not here to make you do anything.” “I take it this stuff is a pretty potent hallucinogen?” “Toh-pey is whatever the initiate requires it to be. The Heywah referred to it as Great Spirit’s Tears.” “Why?” “It was said that when Great Spirit first beheld the world he had brought into being by way of his sons, Black Thunderbird and Star Mirror, tears of joy rained from his eyes. These tears were drunk by jorks, 442


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whose bodies were eventually broken down and changed into light by jubes.” “Nice story.” “I think so, too. Toh-pey, in the final analysis, is merely a guide to new levels of self-awareness. Do you wish to drink of Great Spirit’s Tears, Maxwell?” “I do.” “Then eat.” Max accepted the spoon and ate. Surprisingly, the taste—distantly related to black truffles—was quite appetizing. Before long the bowl was empty. Instantly, he felt the stirrings of butterflies in his stomach. “How long until this takes effect?” he asked. “That varies,” replied Artemisia, placing the spoon in the bowl and the bowl on the desk. “You should feel something immediately, but it could be hours before your perceptions become significantly altered.” “Is there anything, like, an antidote—just in case things get out of hand?” “No. That would entirely defeat the purpose.” “I’m thirsty.” “This will pass. Consuming liquids is not a good idea at this stage. Try to still your mind, Maxwell, and relax into the experience.” This Artemisia said while assembling a variety of what struck Max as surgical tools and arranging them on a wooden leaf she pulled out from the examination table: gauze, paperstones in different sizes and shapes, vials of strange liquids both clear and opaque. “Are you preparing to do what I think you’re preparing to do?” “What do you think I am preparing to do?” “Give me a tattoo?” Maxwallah laughed. “You should see how enormous your eyes are!” “Is getting a tattoo necessarily part of a Heywah initiation?” asked Max. “Only for young men,” replied Artemisia. “It was considered inappropriate for young women to permanently alter their skin.” “Do I have a say in what kind of tattoo I get?” “Of course. What kind of tattoo would you like?” “I assume you’re good at this—meaning you’ve at least done it before?” “I am—and I have,” smiled Artemisia. “Mother gave me my tattoo during my initiation,” said Maxwallah reassuringly. “No kidding? I like your tattoo.” “Thank you,” said Artemisia.

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Max thought for a moment, biting his lip. “I’ll have its … twin,” he said at last with a forced wink that belied how frightened he was of getting a tattoo—any kind of tattoo. “I hoped you would say that,” said Artemisia. “What other choice do I have?” “None really—when you think about it.” There were some preparatory steps before Artemisia could begin the actual tattoo. First, pulling his blanket down to his waist, she soaped and shaved Max’s chest. “That tickles!” he exclaimed. “Please be still,” she ordered. “I do not want to cut you.” “Not yet anyway,” put in Maxwallah, still mixing the paste in the mortar. “Ha, ha,” said Max. “That was a very kind thing you did for Mardah,” commented Artemisia while patting Max’s skin dry with a cloth. “You know about that?” “The whole village knows by now,” said Maxwallah. “I was at the harbor with Karul when she showed up practically screaming the news.” “Well, it wasn’t out of generosity,” said Max. “I couldn’t help myself.” “I do not understand,” said Artemisia. “Mardah is my best friend’s twin.” “Really? Does your best friend also suffer from congenital deafness?” “No. That’s what was so … traumatizing. I had to do something about it.” With Max’s chest thoroughly dry, Artemisia applied a clear, odorless oil from one of the vials. “What’s that you’re putting on me now?” “Kimbu tree oil. We will let it sink in for a bit. It will sanitize and anaesthetize the area—and also greatly accelerate the healing process.” “I could accelerate it with the energy.” “That will not be necessary. You should conserve your energy. Unless I am mistaken, you will need all your strength tonight for other things.” “What other things?” “Who can say? Whatever they are, they will be revealed.” Max tried to relax while Artemisia prepped her equipment. But he felt restless, a little lightheaded even, possibly owing to the toh-pey, and couldn’t get his mind off the day’s events. “You mentioned in your note you were getting the Ily-bintu seaworthy,” he said, addressing Maxwallah. “I take it you were referring to a ship?” “My father’s ship, yes. It has not been out to sea since … he undertook the Great Crossing. But it is still in fine condition. All it needed was a deep cleaning.”

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“If you don’t mind my asking, why was it so important to get it seaworthy right now?” “Because we are going out to sea.” “When?” “As soon as you are ready.” Maxwallah and his mother looked at each other with sober expressions as if communicating silently. “Tell me what’s going on,” demanded Max. “I am not sure now is the best time to discuss this matter,” said Artemisia. “Maybe not. I still want to know what’s going on.” “Sailors have reported that the wildfire has grown and moved closer to Blue Lake,” said Maxwallah. “How much closer?” “A lot.” “Meaning my father’s in even greater danger?” Maxwallah nodded. “Is that why you were in such a rush to prepare the Ily-bintu?” “It is like this,” said Artemisia. “If we leave before dawn and the wind is with us, we can be at the mouth of the Loud River by early evening.” “That is the closest we can get you to Blue Lake,” added Maxwallah. “This doesn’t change the fact I’m still going to have to fly the last leg, does it?” “No,” said Artemisia. “But at least the last leg is a short one.” “How short?” “Less than three miles as the Leaping Dolphin flies,” she grinned. It occurred to Max that his own fate wasn’t his own anymore. His fate had been braided together with these friends from a mysterious land like the sage Artemisia had used to smudge the three of them. Psychologically, they each had a different reason for desiring to see the man trapped in a cave above Blue Lake saved. Artemisia still wept for her husband who was lost at sea. Maxwallah had been deprived of a role model in his Renaissance man of a father. And Max, for his part, was simply ready to have his father back. “Well,” he sighed, closing his eyes in surrender to his destiny. “We’d better get this tattoo show on the road.”

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hat wasn’t too painful,” was Max’s relieved thought on closing the door to the little bathroom and relieving himself—at which point he activated the mirror over the sink and stared with astonishment at his reflection. The tattoo over his heart—a perfect replica of Jonah’s fresco of Leaping Dolphin holding the moon between his teeth—was the least remarkable thing about the image that greeted him. Possibly, the toh-pey in his system made the moment more surreal than it actually was. Be that as it may, having just been plastered from head to toe with paint made from jork and jube powder, he found himself gazing into the eyes of the blue Max from his dreams! “Whoa,” he watched himself say as if in slow motion. The only thing different was his tattoo, which thanks to the kimbu oil, was already healing around the edges. Otherwise, Max was the blue Max: down to his bindi and the loincloth he had been given to wear. “Is everything okay, Maxwell?” His twin’s disembodied voice, nearly indistinguishable from his own, reverberating through the door, startled him. “Yeah. Everything’s fine.” “When you are ready, we will leave for the zoaz forest.” “I’ll be right there.” Then, in a whisper to himself: “You can do this, Max.” Artemisia and Maxwallah were waiting for him by the double doors. “You look magnificent!” she exclaimed. “Thanks. I wish I felt magnificent.” 447


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“How do you feel?” asked Maxwallah. “A little nauseated.” “No longer thirsty?” wondered Artemisia. “Not anymore.” “Good,” she said. “If you need to purge, do not be concerned—but do not force it.” “How long am I going to feel like puking?” “As long as it takes. But probably not long. Walking will help.” Outside, despite his thick layer of paint, the crepuscular air was nippy enough to raise goose bumps on Max’s exposed skin. But he had very little time to focus on his discomfort. He was immediately distracted by the most outlandish sight he had yet seen in the cosmic sector—and that was saying something. Standing perfectly still like a shaggy tree trunk in the twilight, a beatific look on her face, Zana was clutching a purring Fey-leh to her bosom. “Zana and Fey-leh have always been practically inseparable,” commented Maxwallah with a hint of jealousy on remarking Max’s agape expression. Seeing Max, Fey-leh made it known she wanted to be set down. Zana obliged. The hefty bobcat sprang forward and gently butted her tufted ears against Max’s bare shins. “Nice to see you, too, Fey-leh,” he said, scratching her furry head. Then, approaching Zana, who actually smiled at him: “And really nice to see you. I’m glad you could be here.” “Zana would not miss it,” he heard her say in his mind. “Enough pleasantries,” said Artemisia. “Let us walk.” They followed the path up into the hills toward the zoaz forest. Fey-leh trotted along for a good ways beside Max—until she seemed to tire and Zana scooped her up without missing a beat. It was some time before Max realized he wasn’t even wearing shoes. Strangely, he was no longer the least bit chilly, not even with night setting in. As for the soles of his feet, the cobbled path was smoother than it looked. As they crested the third of five hills, a full moon rose above the shadowy tops of the zoaz trees. By Max’s calculation, barely a week had passed since the full moon that illuminated his perilous river crossing with Zana—a realization that invited amazement (yet again) at how much had happened in so short a while. If anything, this full moon seemed bigger and brighter than the one in the jungle—more like a miniature sun bathing the world with silver light. It occurred to Max, not egoically but matter-of-factly, that this particular moon was shining for him.

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With this thought, he remarked a heightened awareness of the countryside: the cicadas keening away in the tall bushes flanking the path, the rustle of nocturnal creatures in the underbrush, the brief exhalations of wind in the grasses. Walking virtually naked through the autumn night had all the qualities of a lucid dream, he mused as they crested the final hill and entered the forest proper, where spears of moonlight stabbed down through the swaying foliage in blinding shafts. Here the path continued and—except for the occasional root or twig—was as soft as a shag carpet covered with layers of yellowing leaves, the size and shape of which reminded Max of elephant ears. Somewhere off in the woods murmured a creek. Max could hear it plainly, though he never managed to see it. But every now and then, the innumerable limbs overhead suddenly opened up and the moon glowed like a curious eyeball in the seam. Before long they came to a clearing with a casita in the middle similar to Artemisia’s office. Without any trees obstructing the moonlight, everything was so bright it might have been merely a cloudy day. “That was my father’s studio,” whispered Maxwallah, nodding in the direction of the casita. “He claimed he painted better near the trees.” Max recalled Jonah’s portrait of Artemisia with a zoaz in the background, then finding her misty-eyed on the bench gazing at the forest. Clearly, this place had meant a lot to the Ily-bintu family. The strobing twilight returned as the group reentered the woods on the far side of the clearing. Either there was something magical about this zoaz cathedral, or Max was really starting to feel the toh-pey, because he half expected to encounter fairies in the moonshine. The image of fairies reminded him of the Bradelring, then Tuesday by association, and eventually Mardah. From there it was only a hop, skip and a jump to an appreciation of the circularity of existence—how his past and present, like a snake biting its tail in the eternal Now, formed an electrical circuit to empower his evolution. The self-devouring serpent brought to mind Professor Icarus’s Halloween lecture, delivered seemingly years ago. “The Hero’s Journey is ultimately not about strength of arms or courage under fire,” he had emphasized. “It is, far more simply, about creating a circle, not only in space and time, but in consciousness as well. “This is the Great Circle,” he had continued, “the continuity of existence, the Ouroboros that swallows its own tail as it enacts the underlying unity of creation. Upon completing his or her journey, having faced his or her demons, the true hero sees separation for the illusion it is, and embraces the reality of a unified self inhabiting a unified cosmos.”

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As they walked and walked between the great trees in the iridescent moonlight, Max thought and thought about the implications of Professor Icarus’s words. He was describing—it seemed patently obvious now— enlightenment. Light wasn’t merely conscious, as some theories maintained, Max realized. Light was consciousness. To become “enlightened” was as simple— and as challenging—as filling up with light. Despite the night’s chill, he was sweating from so much walking. A bead of perspiration rolled down his forehead and splashed on his tongue. The salty taste made him think of Great Spirit’s Tears. Perhaps there had been a mistranslation and Great Spirit had actually sweated on the world. Max’s laughter echoed through the forest, whose towering trees, like colossal antennae, seemed to amplify the sound. Convulsing with mirth, bending over and clutching his knees, he was happy to note that his nausea had passed. He was generally happy, in fact, happier than he had ever been—and for no good reason. He should have been miserable in nothing but a loincloth in a strange forest in the dead of night. But instead, he felt like dancing. So he did. The faces of his companions spun and spun around him, blurring together with the trunks of the trees, as he whirled like a Sufi, giggling hysterically and sweating profusely. The feeling was less like chemical intoxication than being drunk on life. Spinning round and round, he experienced absolute bliss— unadulterated and unconfined—in which he transcended his own personality and became one with everything he perceived. The air was his mind. The trees were the hairs on his head. His companions were the fingers of his hand. The ground was his feet. He could never leave Max behind—because Max was everywhere. Who he had been would remain part of the ever-expanding universe of the new Max, at his galactic core, the primordial stardust from which he was shaped. Somehow, dancing like a spinning top, he had wobbled his way back into the moonlit clearing. It had been a long, circuitous journey, apparently without end—until it simply ended. Fortunately, his companions were still with him. “So when do we get on with my initiation?” he asked, standing still at last while sucking for breath with his hands on his hips. “You have already gotten on with it,” replied a grinning Artemisia. “Look at your skin.” The sweat was already evaporating off Max’s damp skin, where it had formed little drip lines in his paint. But what really stood out was that his

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skin was glowing—actually glowing—much like that of the blue Max in his dreams. “What’s happening to me?” he asked. “You are unifying your consciousness,” replied Maxwallah. “The paint is a vibrational sensor that begins to shine when you reach a state of oneness. Do you remember what I told you?” “Everything is one?” “Now we are truly brothers. But this next part you must do alone.” “What next part?” “Think of yourself as a young bird being pushed out of the nest by its mother,” said Artemisia. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “The young bird almost certainly feels it is not yet ready to fly, but its mother knows better. Otherwise, she would never push it from the nest.” Recalling his first dreams of flight when he was a small child, Max acknowledged that his entire existence had been building up to this tipping point where he could finally choose to release his self-imposed limitations. In the spirit of the Alpha and the Omega, in the way the Alpha was the Omega, and vice versa, he knew the beginning was also the end—and that the end was just another beginning. “Remember,” said Artemisia, “all you are doing is going with the flow of levity. If you think about it, it is really quite natural to fly.” “You can do this, Maxwell,” said Maxwallah. Maybe they were right. Maybe he could do it. Initiating the protocol for working with the energy, Max intuitively grasped that he wasn’t just working with the energy; he was the energy. That seemed to make a big difference. “Here goes nothing,” he said, echoing his own words from just before he shot through the Angel’s Eye. With the energy forming a membrane around him, he levitated briefly a foot or so off the ground. The sensation was somewhat unwieldy, like riding a unicycle. But like learning to ride, flying seemed to get easier with practice. Soon he felt confident enough to increase his elevation to roughly ten feet, judging by Zana’s height. She, along with the others, was staring up at him with eyes bright with expectation. Going higher still, he felt for a moment as if he were swimming against a current. Flying suddenly seemed difficult. Doubt entered his mind. Realizing he was resisting, he did what Maxwallah had taught him to do: he surrendered. Instantly, he shot up between the trees, his silver cord following like a contrail. Before he could question the wisdom of such a move, he was sailing through the moonlight with the cool wind in his face above the 451


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treetops. He had almost forgotten the beauty of the world at night as seen from above. The experience of flying while awake was everything he had hoped it would be. In fact, it was no different from flying while asleep. He might have still been a little boy in space-time, dreaming he was a young man flying in time-space. Reaching the edge of the forest, he beheld the terraced hills undulating down to the coast, the little town of Aru-vato dotted with lights, the rotating beam of the lighthouse in the harbor, and the moonlit expanse of the Inland Sea beyond. “This would have been a nice place to call home,” he thought, suddenly missing his own home. The lapse in positive emotions made him sputter like a plane running out of gas. With a shout, he steeled himself for a crash landing. Luckily, he had been angling lower and lower as he approached Artemisia’s office. He ended up simply rolling through the sage—at which point he stood up gingerly with only a bruise or two and twigs in his hair. “That wasn’t so bad,” he said, dusting himself off. Utterly exhausted, he retrieved his belongings from the cabinet in the office, carried them to his bedroom in the main house, and collapsed on his bed—where he instantly fell into a comatose sleep in which he had a conversation with what appeared to be Great Spirit himself. “How do you feel now that your initiation is over?” asked Great Spirit, whose face, never still, was like a kaleidoscope of all the faces Max had ever seen. “Like one phase of my life just ended—and another phase began.” “That is how you should feel!” exclaimed Great Spirit. His voice, much like his face, seemed a blend of countless familiar voices. “I suppose by now you have figured it out.” “Figured what out?” “That the toh-pey you ingested was not—” “Hallucinogenic?” “Yes.” “Meaning everything that happened to me was just … me?” “Quite right. Everything was—and is—just you.” Max let Great Spirit’s words sink in for a moment, then said, “What a cruel trick to play on someone.” “It worked, did it not?” “Yeah. I suppose it did.” “Do you have any questions before I leave you to your destiny, Max?” “Only one.” “Fire away.” “I was just wondering: what’s it like to be God?” “Do you really want to know?” 452


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“I asked, didn’t I?” “Fair enough. Actually, after a while I found it rather boring.” “Seriously?” “Seriously. That is why I decided to become you.”

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ake up, Maxwell. We must make haste.” “Great Spirit?” Maxwallah’s resonant laughter filled the shadowy bedroom lit only by the bluish light still emanating from Max’s paint. “I see you also spoke with him.” “I spoke with somebody.” Max yawned and sat up sorely in bed still in his loincloth. His twin was standing beside him already dressed in his buckskins and raven poncho. “Is it common to talk directly with Great Spirit?” “Not that I am aware.” “He told me about the toh-pey.” “He told me, too. You performed splendidly, by the way.” “Thanks.” “It is not like my mother to offer compliments, but I could tell she was proud of you.” “Heck, I was proud of me.” “What was it like to fly?” “It felt like … dreaming.” The twins smiled at each other knowingly. “Of course,” said Maxwallah. “Having flown, are you ready to sail?” “Yes—or I will be after I wash off this god-awful paint.” “I never cared for the feeling of it myself. Just make it quick.” Left alone again, Max stumbled into the bathroom, switched on the light, turned on the bathwater, and activated the mirror. The blue Max, 455


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now with a blue tattoo of Leaping Dolphin, with sage in his hair and runs in his paint, stared back at him. Even though extended-wear contacts could be left in as long as two weeks continuously, Max, being fastidious, and on the heels of so much activity, had the thought to go ahead and clean them. He tried to remove his contacts to do just that—only to discover they were gone! They simply weren’t there—yet he could see perfectly. When (to say nothing of how) they had been lost was a mystery. The last time he had been aware of them was just after he awoke on the beach near the Angel’s Eye. “That’s weird,” he said, double-checking to make sure they weren’t still pressed against his eyeballs. Recalling Tuesday’s otherwise inexplicable vision change from wearing the Bradelring, he wondered if a similar transformation had occurred in him. He also remembered the Hanged Man card from the Tarot and its insistence that, in order to solve his problems, he needed a change of perspective. Apparently, this was meant literally. Thankful, in any case, to have 20/20 vision after a lifetime of myopia, he hurriedly bathed himself—but this only led to another disconcerting revelation. He was just finishing toweling off—when he realized his skin, now clean of paint, was still glowing! Though the effect was barely discernible in the bathroom light, there was no doubt his epidermis was ever so slightly luminous. Transfixed, he stared at his glowing self in the mirror. Clearly, whatever had changed in him was just as much inner as outer. He seemed to glow more brightly in the dim bedroom, where he left the light off to test his vision further. Even in the reduced luminosity, he could see quite normally. As he put on his jeans, sand dollar choker, hide shirt, leather belt with obsidian sword in its scabbard, knee-high boots and dolphin poncho, he had the distinct impression he was girding himself for the last leg of what had been, in truth, a metamorphic journey. Slipping his mother’s scarab hairpin and his caul in his pockets, he glanced one last time at the fresco above his bed—before making his way down the hall and through the foyer. As soon as he entered the living room, Maxwallah and his mother (who was also dressed as the night before, with the addition of her own bone-hilted sword) stood up from where they had been waiting on the couch. Remarking the light coming from Max, Artemisia approached with wide eyes and, bowing her head almost imperceptibly, said, “Greetings, Umbodi.” “It’s still me, Artemisia.” 456


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“Perhaps. But what defines ‘you’ has changed.” Max felt a familiar nudging against his shins and looked down to find Fey-leh rubbing against him. He picked her up and, caressing her head, said, “I assume Fey-leh will not be accompanying us?” “You assume correctly,” said Maxwallah. “Even Zana could not convince her to set out to sea.” “I regret not having more time to spend with you, Fey-ley,” said Max, staring into her unblinking eyes. Her countenance implied she felt the same. “Speaking of, where is Zana?” asked Max, setting the bobcat back down. “She accompanied Karul to the harbor,” replied Maxwallah. “There were many supplies to transport for our voyage.” “Mardah was up half the night in the kitchen cooking for us,” said Artemisia. “We will breakfast onboard. If we are to arrive at the Loud River by evening, we must be off.” On their way out the front door, Maxwallah shouldered his backpack, bow, and quiver. Meanwhile, Max gazed one last time on the warm (in more ways than one) interior of the house. Following his hosts out into the bracing predawn, he discovered that the moon had set beyond the zoaz forest. The night, though drawing close to day, was darker now than ever. He noted his frosty breath and smelled cedar smoke as they exited through the front gate, shut it behind them, and trekked down the winding road lined with coconut palms toward the village. Actually, the walk wasn’t very far—and it got interesting before it could get tiring. Having traversed Aru-vato’s sleepy commercial district, they were greeted by an unexpected sight near the harbor. Hundreds of people, many holding lit candles in a sort of vigil, lined the street. “What’s happening?” asked Max. “They are here for you,” replied Artemisia. “Me? How—and why?” “The how is simple,” said Maxwallah. “Word of a miracle healing such as you performed for Mardah travels fast in a small town.” “And the why should be obvious,” said Artemisia. Indeed, it was. Soon people were crowding in on the three travelers, especially Max, addressing him as the Umbodi and touching him worshipfully. “I feel like a rock star,” he yelled above the noise of the crowd while being jostled. “What is a rock star?” yelled Maxwallah. “Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough.” To his enormous surprise, Max noted that people merely making contact with him were being healed before his eyes—despite the fact he 457


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didn’t once go through the protocol Maxwallah had taught him for working with the energy. A leper’s skin lesions disappeared; a man with palsy stopped shaking; a blind woman suddenly saw again. He wondered if he might be witnessing some sort of “placebo effect” where people were cured by their own belief in him—or if he really had become the energy. Holding a basket of food, Mardah was waiting for him on the wharf in front of a large yacht with sails and “Ily-bintu” painted on its stern. She wasn’t alone. Standing beside her holding her hand, dressed in the vaguely medieval garb typical of the region, with dark skin and darker eyes the size of golf balls, was … Raul! “Karul?” gasped Max. The young man nodded affirmatively while Max shook his head. “I should have known.” “Karul will be sailing with us,” said Artemisia. “Ships are in his blood. His father, Sanchi, was Jonah’s first mate.” “Sanchi helps us now,” said Maxwallah. “You might have seen him, an older man, tending to Aru-melo when we first arrived night before last.” “I did,” said Max. “And I think I saw Karul, too. You closed the gate behind us.” “Yes, Umbodi.” “Please. Call me Maxwell.” “Thank you for healing my wife … Maxwell. I can never repay you for your kindness.” “Actually, you can.” “How?” “Be happy together.” The couple looked at each. It was obvious they were very much in love. “Done,” said Karul. “I brought these for you,” said Mardah, handing Max her basket as a sweet, homey scent like that of warm muffins rose to his nostrils. “Caramel cakes made with coconut flour. I hope you like them.” “Thank you. I’m sure I will.” “We must hurry,” said Artemisia. “I feel the wind beginning to stir.” Max felt it, too. He left Karul and Mardah to say their goodbyes, joined Artemisia and Maxwallah onboard, and turned to face the growing crowd filling the wharf and spilling into the streets of Aru-vato. “Thank you so much for coming to see me off this morning,” he said in his best public-speaking voice. “I want you to know I see myself in you.” A murmur traveled through the crowd. His words were apparently something of a surprise. Max continued, “I know, seeing me … like this”—by which he meant shining—“makes it hard for many of you to see yourselves in me. But I 458


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ask, humbly and sincerely, that you make the effort—for Great Spirit lives in everyone. May you and your lovely town be blessed.” Turning to descend into the ship proper, he found a massive hand, Zana’s, waiting to help him step down. He accepted with a nod of thanks as Karul joined them at the last minute and the Ily-bintu set sail out into the Inland Sea.

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ax knew roughly as much about ships as the Ily-bintus knew about airplanes—yet he immediately recognized that the Ilybintu was no normal (whatever that meant anymore) vessel. Staring back at the ship’s sinuous wake, he became aware of a wooden blade like a shark’s vertical fin, in lieu of a motorized propeller, “swimming” the boat forward at a decent pace past the rotating lighthouse in the harbor. This observation occurred just before the sails were unfurled and Max was guided by Karul to the bridge—where he found Artemisia alone at the wheel confidently steering the Ily-bintu. “You have the look of someone who has never sailed before,” she said after Karul had offered to take Max’s basket of caramel cakes below decks. “Not on the water, at any rate,” replied Max, invigorated by the twilit expanse of waves and the fine spray tapping his cheeks. “My family preferred to sail through the air.” “I imagine that would be extraordinary.” “So is this. How long have you sailed?” “Ever since I can remember—although not since seven revolutions of the sun ago. That was how I met Maxwallah’s father: while sailing.” “Fitting. My parents met while flying.” With the wind up and the “shark fin” in full swing, they were quickly gaining speed. They passed a handful of smaller fishing boats heading out into the open water like a modern jet passing biplanes.

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“Your world strikes me as very exciting, Maxwell. Far from perfect, mind you, but thrilling all the same. I would love to visit someday.” “Maybe you will.” “Maybe I will.” With these words, the radiant edge of the sun inched like a ring of fire above the horizon, pulsing golden light up into the pale sky. “You do realize that regardless of what happens with your father, Maxwallah plans to follow you back through the Angel’s Eye to complete the Circle of Life?” “Of course. Isn’t that what all this is about?” “You will look after him, will you not?” “Maxwallah will be in good hands. He’s … family. So are you.” “Thank you for saying that. My son and I both feel the same where you are concerned.” As if on cue, Maxwallah appeared, followed by Karul and Zana. All three bore large platters of food and drink, which they set on the circular table surrounded by a circular bench beside the wheel. Karul took the wheel and allowed Artemisia to sit down to breakfast with the twins. Zana plopped down on the floorboards nearby soaking up the wind and the morning sunlight with a carefree face like a dog at an open car window. The Ily-bintu was racing now. Contrary to Max’s expectations, the ride got smoother the faster the ship went. It dawned on him they were almost flying—barely skimming along the water’s surface. “Wait a second,” he said. “Doesn’t ‘Ily-bintu’ mean something like Wind Rider?” “Yes,” said Maxwallah, pouring three glasses of water from a pitcher. “Your Tay-wo is really excellent.” “And in the case of this ship, the name literally describes how it operates.” “Technically, I suppose that is true.” “Cool.” “I take it ships in your world do not sail using vibrational energy to lighten their load?” asked Artemisia while distributing food on their plates. Max laughed. “You can say that again. There’s a growing consensus in the material sector that more technology has been hidden away than has ever been shared with the public.” “Why?” “Two words: power and control.” “This must change,” said Maxwallah. “I know.” “You and I must change it.”

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“I was just thinking the same thing. There’s a lot we’re going to change.” Max looked around. “Not to change the subject, but aren’t Zana and Karul going to eat with us?” “I have breakfasted already, thank you,” said Karul while slightly adjusting the ship’s trajectory. “And Zana has never cared for human food,” said Maxwallah. Then, in a whisper: “Anything cooked is frowned upon.” “She will eat when she is hungry,” said Artemisia. “The Inland Sea teems with fish.” Indeed, at just that moment a whirring sound filled the air as a school of flying fish passed close. One fish, impacting the mast, fell, still flopping, on Zana—who scooped it up with no hint of surprise and ate it absentmindedly. “See,” laughed Artemisia. “Now, who would like some Turkish coffee?” Two cups of coffee, three delicious caramel cakes, two boiled eggs, a bunch of red grapes and a bowl of fresh goat yogurt sweetened with honey later, Maxwallah offered to show Max around the ship. The Ily-bintu was even more sophisticated than it at first seemed. To Max’s surprise, there was what amounted to a three-bedroom apartment below decks—complete with a toilet, shower, living room, kitchen, and dining area. “Well,” he said, “I see you folks don’t exactly ‘rough it’ on the high seas.” Maxwallah grinned. “It is rather comfortable, is it not?” “I’d say. I’ve just got one nagging question.” “Ask away.” “How does the Ily-bintu protect itself? Aren’t there pirates in timespace?” “Very few, fortunately.” “But surely there are other dangers associated with sailing? I’ve seen a number of prehistoric monsters myself since I got here. You mentioned a water dragon.” “Yes. A jander.” “If there’s a jander—whatever that is—in Blue Lake, surely there are giant sea creatures one might encounter in the Inland Sea?” “I see what you are getting at. Follow me.” Back on the upper deck, Maxwallah directed Max to a curious contraption situated on the other side of the wheel from the dining table: an ebony globe the size of a beach ball embedded in a slab of white marble like a pit sitting atop half a sliced avocado. “What on earth is that?” asked Max. “Our Pacifier,” replied Maxwallah matter-of-factly. “Your what?” 463


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“A device designed to emit harmonic signals that calm aggressive creatures,” called Artemisia from where she stood back at the wheel. “Including aggressive people,” added Maxwallah. Max compared this approach to self-defense to the proliferation of deadly weapons in space-time and could only sigh. “Does it work?” “Well enough—assuming the targets are not too numerous and are localized in the same vicinity,” said Artemisia. “What else do you guys have onboard?” wondered Max. “Free WiFi?” In the late afternoon, following an alfresco lunch of fresh seafood salad and something akin to Italian bruschetta, courtesy of Mardah, Max found himself alone leaning against the railing of the ship’s port side lost in thought. Not far ahead, though still miniaturized by the horizon, gray cliffs rose straight up out of the sea and became verdant hills beneath a sky roiling with smoke in the distance. Was his father even still alive in his lakeside cave? Could he himself get past the water dragon guarding the entrance? If he somehow managed to do so, would he be able to transport Captain Diver back to the Tempus Fugit—to say nothing of beyond? Gazing down at the water’s foaming surface, he was surprised to find an entire pod of bottlenose dolphins playfully swimming along beside the Ily-bintu, which was just beginning to angle along the approaching coast. As if in answer to his unspoken questions, the dolphins kept repeating a combination of high-pitched sounds that Max realized meant, “Yes.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, they were saying with enthusiasm. “Ravens sometimes cheer me on like that,” commented Maxwallah, leaning against the rail beside his twin. “Does it help?” “It certainly improves my morale. We are nearing the Loud River, you know. You can see it.” Max focused his attention ahead. “You mean that waterfall cutting down through the cliffs?” “Exactly. You must have questions, my friend. Now is the time to voice them—whatever they may be.” Max stared at the massive waterfall cascading from on high down into the Inland Sea. For the first time, during the pause in their conversation, he could hear it: a noise like that of ceaseless thunder faraway. “This … jander,” he said. “Is it really dangerous?” “Let us put it this way: if the Almasty fear it, then it is truly to be respected.” “Have you ever seen one?” “No. Janders are quite rare at this latitude.”

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“How did one get up to Blue Lake? Not by swimming up that waterfall—that’s for sure.” “I imagine it is capable of walking on land—at least for short distances.” “That could explain it.” The Ily-bintu began to slow its pace as it moved closer to shore. “I must help bring down the sails, Maxwell. But my heart tells me you still have something you wish to ask.” “I do. It’s about my father.” “What of him?” “What should I expect?” “Frankly?” “Frankly.” Maxwallah’s expression wasn’t exactly encouraging. “Expect to be shocked. I know I was. Just remember: you have the power to alter not just your own reality, but that of others as well.” Finally, at the deafening mouth of the Loud River, so close he could smell the ozone and feel the spray from the waterfall like rain, Max’s moment of truth arrived. Standing on the foredeck surrounded by his four companions, he said, “Well, this is it.” “Yes,” said Artemisia. “This is it. Just follow the river. It will take you straight there.” “We have faith in you, Maxwell,” said Karul. “You were meant for this,” said Maxwallah. “May the Umbodi be blessed,” said Zana telepathically. “Thank you,” replied Max. “How far is it from here to the Angel’s Eye?” “Forty miles that way,” said Artemisia pointing diagonally across the starboard. “Provided the wind holds, we can be there before nightfall.” “Then I will meet you at the Tempus Fugit—the metal thunderbird— before nightfall.” Max took a deep breath with his eyes closed, then reopened them with a grin while preparing to blast off. “And if I never see any of you again, I hear jander meat is a real delicacy.”

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ax was up and over the waterfall in seconds—heart racing as he left the Ily-bintu and the Inland Sea far behind. From high above the earth, he could track his trajectory through a raging, semicircular wildfire walling off Blue Lake with acres and acres of burning wilderness. Billowing up from the forest in sooty clouds, the smoke would have been, by itself, a nearly insurmountable obstacle to anyone approaching on foot. Meanwhile, the fire—arranged like concentric moats of neon lava flows through the woods—made such passage unthinkable. Max figured it would be wise to stay low and as close as possible to water, so he swooped down and sailed like a heron up the Loud River between the forest’s overhanging, semitropical boughs. Fortunately, the river ran more or less straight, which meant he could max out his speed. Before long, having pierced columns of smoke that made his eyes sting, he shot through an aperture in the trees above a second, smaller waterfall. Suddenly, he was practically skimming along Blue Lake’s rippling surface. The expansive body of indigo water was hemmed in on three sides by fire and smoke. Directly ahead, the fourth side was an imposing cliff with a single dark spot high in its face like the eye of a Cyclops: Captain Diver’s cave. The mixture of emotions Max experienced was almost too much to process. On the one hand, he was overjoyed to have made it—seemingly

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against all odds—this far. But on the other, he knew he might very well be too late. His thoughts were interrupted by a tremendous bubbling and frothing below. Before he could react, an enormous dinosaur head atop a serpentine neck erupted upwards and nearly bit him in half with its gigantic, snapping jaws. “Jesus!” he screamed while trying to pull up short. The effect was similar to slamming on the brakes. Like a car crashing, he spun round and round, only to plunge deep into the chilly water of the lake. To catch a glimpse of a plesiosaurus in a Scottish loch from a comfortable distance was the romantic ideal. To find oneself floundering while being hunted by one was realism at its most ironic. Adding insult to injury, there was so much ash from the wildfire turning the water nearly black Max had no idea which way was up. The panicked breath he had managed to take before going under had already been forcefully expelled. This was a diver’s worst nightmare: to be disoriented underwater while running out of air. He basically had one chance to get to the surface—or he would drown. His own pale glow couldn’t penetrate the darkness, so he made a light in his palm. Even this was unable to clarify his orientation, though it revealed something that did: his sand dollar choker had come unclasped and was sinking into the depths. If he had had the breath, he would have laughed … or cried. Or both. Once again, it seemed that his mother’s watchful spirit was guiding him— this time indicating up by showing him down. The Hanged Man often asks for a sacrifice in exchange for his wisdom. For years Max had pondered this enigmatic line from the Tarot. Little did he realize, until now, that his sacrifice had already been made—almost two decades ago. His mother, like sand through his fingers, was the sacrifice. She had given herself, willingly, to make space for him to become his own explorer while she encouraged his development behind the scenes. Just as the dolphin was his, the sand dollar had been her animal “medicine.” She was a “test.” Literally. For those who could pass it, she offered the life-changing potential of sacrificial beauty. “Thank you,” he mouthed while watching the choker vanish. He could sense the water dragon sensing him and approaching fast, but he was faster. Before it could reach him, he surged up through the surface and splashed water everywhere like a real and true dolphin. The size of a submarine, the plesiosaurus broke the plane of the water seconds later, whipping its sinuous neck upward as its teeth snapped once

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again on thin air. Its prey had eluded it—and reluctantly, it slunk in monstrous coils back into the deep. Two Sasquatches were standing guard, rocks in hands, just outside the cave where Max landed still dripping. There was a narrow path worn into the cliff they must have used to enter and exit—a tricky business in the best of circumstances, but downright perilous when being hounded by a dinosaur. A male and female pair, the Sasquatches introduced themselves telepathically as Creek Jumper and Meadow. “My father,” said Max. “Is he still alive?” “That depends on the Umbodi’s definition,” replied Meadow while stepping aside to allow Max to enter the cave. His light was still shining in his palm. He used it like a flashlight to navigate in the dark. He didn’t have to go very far. The silvery figure staring into nothingness he encountered propped against the cave’s rear wall was indeed shocking. Nearly hairless, Captain Diver had tremendously aged in time-space. Closer to a hundred than forty, he was a shriveled caricature of himself wrapped to the flaccid neck in a wool blanket. “Dad?” Max’s voice trembled in the stillness of the cave. “Can you hear me?” There was no response. Simultaneously thrilled and horrified, Max attempted to touch his father. His hand passed straight through his chest—as if Captain Diver were merely a holographic projection. “Thomas Diver is going silver,” said Creek Jumper. “Soon he will be reabsorbed.” “Not if I can help it.” “What will the Umbodi do?” asked Meadow. “Give me a second. I’m working on it.” Quieting his mind and meticulously following the protocol for directing the energy, Max was finally able, with considerable difficulty, to make contact. He touched the waxy skin of his father’s forehead while imagining himself breathing life into his ancient body. Captain Diver suddenly gasped and blinked. Max smelled the familiar scent of Old Spice and burst into a torrent of tears. His father was back from the void. But whether he could actually be restored was debatable. “Do you know who I am?” asked Max, kneeling and staring through his own into his father’s bleary eyes. “Yes. You are Max,” replied an old man’s shaky voice. “But who am I?” Max had to choke back another round of sobbing. This was the man who had piloted the Space Shuttle—and now he probably couldn’t tie his boots. “You’re my father, Captain Thomas Diver.” 469


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“Never heard of him.” “Let’s get you out of here.” Max picked up his father like a child, blanket and all, and carried him to the cave’s opening. Both father and son squinted into the brightness even as a dense cloud of smoke wafted by. Creek Jumper and Meadow joined them. The water dragon, drawn to the energy, craning its long neck upward, was on all four flippers straddling the path at the bottom of the cliff. “Thanks for looking after my father,” said Max. “The Umbodi is most welcome,” replied Creek Jumper. “It was an honor.” “Fly now,” urged Meadow, sniffing with her sensitive pug-nose. “The wind is changing.” Maybe it was. There was a vaguely different aspect to the air. Max’s heart felt lighter and his father appeared more alert. “This is going to seem … weird,” Max cautioned, enveloping himself and the Captain with a membrane of energy before lifting off. “What’s weird about it?” croaked Captain Diver, wispy hair fluttering in the breeze. “I’ve flown all my life.” “You’re beginning to remember!” This time Max made sure to stay well above the water dragon’s reach. Realizing its prey was eluding it again, the jander bellowed, then flopped and splashed angrily back into the lake. “I always loved to fly,” reminisced a smiling, nearly toothless Captain Diver. “How I’ve missed it.”

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efying the smoke, which had grown considerably thicker, Max flew as fast as he could with his father back down the Loud River. Something weird was indeed happening—yet it had nothing to do with Max per se. With every mile they traveled, Captain Diver appeared to grow younger. On leaving the wildfire behind, Max’s father looked about eighty. When they reached the waterfall, he was closer to seventy. By the time they were out over the Inland Sea and the waterfall was a tiny speck behind, Captain Diver couldn’t have been more than sixty. Max realized that his father, not being designed for the cosmic sector, had aged prematurely by traveling away from his entry point. Had he gone much farther, he would have died of old age. Since time and space were inverted here, now that Captain Diver was no longer going silver, he needed only to be moved backward to become younger again. Thankfully, having been born with Maxwallah’s caul, Max wasn’t subject to such drastic age variations in time-space. In fact, in many ways the cosmic sector had come to feel more like home than his own world. There was still plenty of daylight left as they sailed above the crew of the Ily-bintu just dropping anchor off the coast near where the Angel’s Eye had been. Everyone clapped and cheered as the two continued on to the Tempus Fugit in the grassy clearing.

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Gently setting down his father beside the plane, Max noted that his silver cord remained attached to one of the Skyhawk’s deflated wheels exactly where he had tied it following the jork attack. He had made a gigantic circle in time-space. Yet he didn’t even need a breadcrumb trail to find his way back. This was where the Hero’s Journey had to end: exactly where it had begun. “Where am I?” Max glanced up at the sound of his fathers’ voice—his voice as he remembered it. Incredibly, Captain Diver looked almost exactly the same as the day he disappeared—with the same imperial Roman face as always. This close to the vortex, he hadn’t even aged a year. “You’re almost home—that’s where you are,” said Max, unsuccessfully fighting back tears of joy this time. His father looked at his glowing, grownup son standing before him. “You’ve … changed.” “Oh, Dad. I’m still your Snooze.” His son’s old nickname seemed to shine a light on Captain Diver’s face. “Then come here, Snooze. Your father needs a proper hug from his boy.” Max definitely hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to be held by his father. “I’ve really missed you, Dad.” “Likewise. I was experiencing the strangest dream—as if I had frostbite on the brain. I seemed to be sinking into ice. Then there you were calling me back.” Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Artemisia. Captain Diver looked like he had just seen a ghost when he saw her running toward him, auburn hair flying, through the tall grass. “Cynthia?!” he gasped. “Jonah?!” she cried. With a lump in his throat, Max realized that until this instant she had only beheld his father as an extremely old and withered man. Her initial shock at his unprophesied appearance was now compounded by his uncanny likeness to her dead husband. With the nearly tangible intuition of time-space, it occurred to Max that the real reason his father had risked himself by entering the cosmic sector, trumping any patriotic motivations, had been to find his dead wife. “Cynthia!” “Jonah!” The two embraced tearfully. Forever the realist, Max was painfully aware they couldn’t even speak the same language. “Is this still a dream, Max?” asked Captain Diver with his own tears of joy streaming down his stubbly cheeks. “Yes, Dad. It’s still a dream.” 472


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Staring into Artemisia’s overflowing eyes, his father said, “Then it’s a beautiful dream.” Maxwallah appeared beside Max and stood watching Captain Diver and his mother while drinking in the memory of his own father. “Soon we will both have our parents back because we will be one,” he remarked sagely. “You’re so much wiser than I am, Maxwallah.” Maxwallah winked. “How can that be? I am you.” Despite the moment’s poignancy, Max managed to laugh. “Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is?” “If you mean am I ready to complete the Circle of Life, the answer is yes.” “Then let’s do it.” Unable to understand each other, Captain Diver and Artemisia had maintained a passionately eloquent silence gazing into each other’s eyes. At length, silently acknowledging their shared fantasy must end, they separated. “Dad, this is my twin, Maxwallah. He’s going to be … joining us.” Captain Diver shook Maxwallah’s hand while staring at him in amazement. Just then Zana arrived. “And this is Zana. Don’t worry. She’s a friend.” His father had the thunderstruck look of a kid at Disneyland. “Your mother was right all along,” he said. “Bigfoot really does exist!” “She was right about a lot of things.” “I won’t be seeing her again, will I? Your mother, I mean.” “I’m afraid not.” “So—how do I get home?” “The same way you got here, Dad. By flying.” “With you?” “No. In the Tempus Fugit.” “Why can’t I just fly with you?” “Reentering American airspace in your own plane will be officially documented. The publicity will protect you while we expose and take down Dr. Morrow.” “Dr. Morrow? I don’t understand.” “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you everything on the other side.” Wearing a deflated expression, Captain Diver glanced at the dilapidated Skyhawk crumbling with rust. “I don’t think the Tempus Fugit will ever fly again, Max. She’s seen better days.” “And she will again.” “How?” “Watch.”

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Max enclosed the Tempus Fugit in a membrane of energy, then moved it telekinetically with a flick of his wrist several hundred yards to the edge of the Outer Sea. Like his father, the plane grew younger and repaired itself as it approached its point of entry into time-space. “That’s extraordinary!” exclaimed Captain Diver, his old blanket slipping from his shoulders to reveal his pilot’s gear as he sprinted across the sand toward the Skyhawk. Karul was in a rowboat in the shallow water waiting to transport Maxwallah back to the Ily-bintu. The plan was for Maxwallah to be asleep and dreaming below decks before Max activated the Angel’s Eye. Then, when the vortex opened, Maxwallah would simply pick up his Dreambody left by Max in the Interface and follow his twin’s silver cord all the way to where he lay dreaming in his mother’s girlhood bedroom in Mystic, Connecticut. Ravens were thick on the beach and dolphins frolicked in the water as the twins exchanged last-minute words with the waves lapping against their booted ankles. “I want you to have this back,” said Max, removing the caul from his pocket and placing it in Maxwallah’s palm. “Now you can be born with it.” Maxwallah grinned. “Thanks. I already was.” “Trust me, it will make navigating the material sector much easier.” “See you shortly, Leaping Dolphin.” It was Max’s turn to grin. “Not if I see you first, Black Thunderbird.” When Maxwallah was safely onboard the Ily-bintu, Max approached Artemisia and Zana. They were riveted watching Captain Diver go through a memorized checklist to verify that the Skyhawk was good to go. “You have the look of someone who has never flown before,” Max said to Artemisia while presenting her with his mother’s hairpin. “What is this?” she asked, catching the glint of the scarab’s metal clasp in the evening sunlight. “My mother’s hairpin. I’m not even sure why I brought it—but I want you to have it. Hopefully, the metal won’t interfere with your technology.” “Hardly. It would take much more than this.” She managed to corral the lustrous coils of her hair with the scarab. “But I would wear it proudly nevertheless. How do I look?” “Just like her.” “Thank you, Maxwell. For everything.” “Ditto.” Turning to Zana, Max said telepathically, “I’m afraid I don’t have anything to give you, my friend.” “Not to worry,” she replied while placing her huge hand on his shoulder. “The Almasty do not value objects.” 474


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Max completed the circuit. “Then how about a simple goodbye? Something like—” “The Umbodi sees himself in Zana?” “Yeah. Something like that.” “Zana sees herself in the Umbodi.” Captain Diver was already in the cockpit completing his checklist. “There’s just one problem,” he called down to Max. “How am I supposed to take off in all this sand?” “Leave that to me. You just get her started and ready to go.” “Roger that.” Max strolled back down to the water’s edge where he had a better view of the Ily-bintu. After several minutes, Karul raised a white flag, which was the sign that Maxwallah had fallen asleep. Summoning his strength and courage, Max directed as much energy into his palm as he could hold, then cast it upward like a photon torpedo. There was an explosion of light high overhead—and suddenly the roiling vortex of the Angel’s Eye was staring down at him. He realized the Eye was designed to be adjusted for temporal specificity, so he made sure the wormhole was set to take his father and him back to his present. By the time he returned to the Tempus Fugit, good as new, the plane was purring like a cat. Captain Diver had just smiled and given the thumbs-up—when Max sensed danger. Scanning the horizon in a circle, at first he saw no cause for alarm. Then, all at once, from the jungle up, the sky seemed to fill with jorks! There must have been a hundred of the terrible beasts, irresistibly attracted to so much energy in one spot. Following the Way of All Things, many shot straight for the Angel’s Eye—while others, spying prey on the ground, zeroed in on Max and company. “This is a nightmare!” cried Artemisia, as she watched half a dozen thunderbirds break away and head toward the Ily-bintu. Zana herself seemed to despair at this aerial onslaught that eclipsed even that of the battle at Muru-amah. Nobody had to tell Max things didn’t look promising. “I need you two to get back to the ship!” he yelled over the sound of thunderbird wings growing louder. “How?” yelled Artemisia. “There is no rowboat!” “Can you swim?” “Of course.” “How about you, Zana?” She nodded. “Then start swimming—both of you. As soon as you’re back onboard, sail the heck out of here. I don’t have any idea how long these jorks will stay … pacified. Whatever you do, just don’t wake up Maxwallah!” 475


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Artemisia and Zana sprinted into the waves and started swimming for the Ily-bintu with all their might. Meanwhile, realizing Karul couldn’t hear his voice so far out, Max contacted his mind. “Karul?” “Maxwell? Is that you?” “It’s me.” “This is … strange.” Max saw the young man appear on the foredeck straining to see him on the beach. “I imagine it is. Look, we don’t have much time. Do you know how to work that Pacifier?” “Naturally.” “Fantastic. I want you to fire it at me.” “You want me to … what?” “Hit me with it. Give me everything she’s got.” “Are you sure about this?” “Just do it. Now!” Karul appeared to spin the ebony “pit” on top of the white “avocado” like a ball bearing in his direction. A shimmering beam of energy erupted from the device, making the air dance all around like a heat mirage as it zapped Max with a direct hit. He was ready. Similar to an aikido master channeling and amplifying his opponent’s own energy against him, he absorbed the Pacifier’s beam—only to project it back outward in a rapidly expanding sphere. The effect was like a peace bomb exploding. Wave upon wave of pacifying energy pulsed to the farthest horizons. Disoriented, the thunderbirds simply sailed away on the breeze. His father, somewhere between shock and disbelief, had watched everything from behind the cockpit’s windshield. It was Max’s turn to give him the thumbs-up. “Are you ready, Dad?” he asked Captain Diver telepathically. “Is that you, Max?” “Yeah. Listen, we don’t have a lot of time before that vortex closes. I’m going to lift you into the air and keep you there until you get your speed up. I want you to head straight into the wormhole. I’ll be with you all the way.” “You know, Max, when I was a fighter pilot, I could have used a wingman like you. Thanks for choosing me to be your father.” “How do you know I chose you? Maybe it was just fate.” “Maybe. Then again, maybe fate is just a choice you forgot you made.” Placing this hypothesis in his file of Things to Ponder Later, Max raised the Tempus Fugit high above the beach and propelled it forward toward the Angel’s Eye. As soon as the plane was moving fast enough, he released it. There was an awkward moment in which the Skyhawk seemed unstable; then he 476


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was thrilled to watch his father steering confidently—as if he had flown just yesterday—into the vortex. He was on the verge of joining him, when he heard his name being called. “Diver!” whistled a nearby dolphin. This initiated a chorus of dolphin whistles: Diver! Diver! Diver! Diver! Diver! Diving down, Max leapt up—and soon was on the Skyhawk’s tail journeying from time back into space. The last thing he saw in the cosmic sector was a sopping Zana helping an equally dripping Artemisia climb aboard the Ily-bintu.

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eentering space-time was much easier than leaving it. Captain Diver and Max suffered only a minor hiccup or two, before finding themselves floating high above the Atlantic under a full moon that made the water ripple like a sea of mercury. “How are you doing there, Dad?” asked Max telepathically. “I’m a little disoriented—but I’ll be okay. You?” “Same here.” Max was disoriented—and more than a little, to be perfectly honest. Space-time was blipping by in disconnected photo frames much like timespace when he had first entered it. Several minutes elapsed before he was able to switch his “operating system” back to that designed for the material sector. Even then, his native world appeared strangely foreign—practically unreal—to his eyes. “It’s good to be back,” said Captain Diver. “Even though I suppose it’ll take some getting used to. Have things changed much?” “Not much. But they will soon.” “Come again?” “Let’s just say I have work to do.” “I’m being contacted by radio, Max. What should I tell them?” “Tell them the truth: you’re Captain Thomas Diver in the Tempus Fugit seeking permission to land.” “Roger that.” Unreal or not, it was a gorgeous night for flying. With permission to land the Skyhawk having been granted, Max followed his father up 479


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through the Keys, past Miami glittering with lights, and all the way to Cape Carnival, where the lighthouse beam from Dolphin Point was rotating through the shadows. “So are you good to go, Dad?” “Yeah, I’ve got this. It’s just like riding a bike.” “I’m sure you’ve got a debriefing and some press interviews ahead. It’s probably best if you don’t mention my involvement in your rescue.” “Speaking of, Max, I have a ton of questions.” “Don’t worry, I haven’t spent all your money.” “Seriously.” “I know you do. And I look forward to answering them. I look forward to a lot of things.” “When will I see you again?” “Soon.” “Not soon enough, as far as I’m considered. In the meantime, I just want to say I love you, Snooze.” “I love you, too, Dad.” Fingers crossed, Max watched from above as the Tempus Fugit touched down safely on the tarmac of Cape Carnival Jetport against the setting moon. Breathing a sigh of relief, he deposited his Dreambody in the Interface for Maxwallah—before sailing in his astral body back up the Eastern Seaboard to Connecticut at nearly the speed of light. He awoke with a start, feeling stiff and vaguely uncomfortable in his skin. Stretching and yawning after removing his sleeping mask, he waited for his vision to clear—but it remained cloudy like a rainy day. Realizing his contacts were still in, he sat up, removed them, and flicked them away. Instantly, the world popped into focus. He was with Pablo in his mother’s bed in her old bedroom underneath her portrait in his grandparents’ house. His empty milk glass and plate of chocolate chip cookie crumbs were still on the bedside table. He was dressed just as he had been the night before: in his jeans, tennis shoes, and Tuesday’s Maroon University sweatshirt. Yet something felt different. His skin was no longer glowing, as it had been in his intense dream of time-space, but he intuited that something even more profound than his vision had changed. Pulling up his sweatshirt, he was hardly surprised to find a tattoo of Leaping Dolphin over his heart. Suddenly, there was a tapping against the window. He thought at first it was oak tree branches blown by the wind. But it kept happening. There was a noticeable rhythm to the tap-tap-tapping that seemed practically … human. 480


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Max pulled back the curtains to find an enormous raven perched on the first-floor roof, head cocked and intelligent eyes staring at him almost mischievously. It tapped the window pane again—as if demanding to be let in. If there was any doubt as to the raven’s identity, it was dispelled when the bird turned sideways against the dawn and opened its beak to reveal the rising sun.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The author wishes to express his gratitude for the following highly recommended nonfiction works, which served as inspirations and indispensable technical references during the writing of this book: Intervention Theory Essentials by Lloyd Pye; The Source Field Investigations and The Synchronicity Key by David Wilcock; and The Structure of the Physical Universe, The Universe of Motion and Beyond Space & Time by Dewey Larson. The author is also grateful for the inspiration provided by the Hanged Man card from The World Spirit Tarot by Lauren O’Leary and Jessica Godino.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sol Luckman is an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction and pioneering ink painter whose work has appeared on mainstream book covers. His books include the international bestselling Conscious Healing: Book One on the Regenetics Method and its popular sequel, Potentiate Your DNA: A Practical Guide to Healing & Transformation with the Regenetics Method. His visionary novel, Snooze: A Story of Awakening, won the 2015 National Indie Excellence Award for New Age Fiction. Snooze further proved its literary merit by being selected as a 2016 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Finalist in the Young Adult-Coming of Age category and receiving an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Beach Book Festival Prize Competition in the General Fiction category. Sol’s latest book, The Angel’s Dictionary: A Spirited Glossary for the Little Devil in You, winner of the 2017 National Indie Excellence Award for Humor, reinvigorates satire to prove that—though we might not be able to change the world—we can at least have a good laugh at it. Then again, maybe laughter can transform the world! View Sol’s paintings, read his blog and learn more about his work at www.CrowRising.com.


SNOOZE IT FORWARD! Like Snooze? Love Snooze? Want to share Snooze? Here are some ways you can help … • Post your generous review to the book’s page on Amazon.com, Lulu.com, Goodreads.com, your own blog, and elsewhere; • Tell your friends, family members, colleagues and teachers about Snooze; • Tweet Snooze; • Stumble it; • Tumblr it; • Pin it on Pinterest; • Share it on Facebook; • “Like” Sol Luckman’s Facebook page; • “Like” Snooze on Amazon.com; • Follow Sol Luckman on Twitter; • Donate a copy of Snooze to your local library for others to enjoy; • Recommend that Snooze be carried by your local bookstore; • Refer friends to www.CrowRising.com; • Use your imagination! Thanks—and sweet dreams!


Profile for Sol Luckman

SNOOZE: A STORY OF AWAKENING (Complete Text)  

From acclaimed author Sol Luckman comes SNOOZE, the riveting, coming-of-age tale of one extraordinary boy’s awakening to the world-changing...

SNOOZE: A STORY OF AWAKENING (Complete Text)  

From acclaimed author Sol Luckman comes SNOOZE, the riveting, coming-of-age tale of one extraordinary boy’s awakening to the world-changing...

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