Archive for July, 2011
And now, the conclusion from last week’s cut scene.
Brian’s eyes didn’t move, nor did he flinch. Nathan was fairly certain that Brian’s 6’1” stature and typical SoCal demeanor meant he didn’t back down, but he was also fairly certain this didn’t happen to him too often. Brian’s next words, however much he had dialed up the intensity between them, were serious.
“So do you sacrifice animals?”
Sharon grabbed her purse while Nathan responded. “No, my tradition is against it. While I understand the mystical importance of sacrifice, I find most people today put more value in objects than living beings: the better sacrifices are something that you would care to lose. I’m also not going to ask anyone else to do something I’m not willing to do myself, and since an animal wouldn’t understand…”
Sharon was pushing at Brian, since she was on the inside of the booth. Brian finally looked at her, and Nathan drank down the remainder of his sake. “What?”
“I would like to use the restroom if you don’t mind; you boys play nice while I’m gone.” Sharon got up after Brian did; Nathan was pouring another shot of sake for himself.
Brian spoke first. “I’m sorry if I’m being an ass.”
“Don’t worry; I like my guys with spunk.” Nathan cracked a half-smile.
Brian chuckled again. “So, what exactly does it mean, being a Shaman?”
“What does it mean being a Catholic? Not trying to be obtuse, but… What you’re asking for is a context that isn’t easy to explain. When someone says they’re Catholic people have certain preconceived and hard to explain notions that go along with that. I can’t bundle up and give you those same preconceived notions for Shamanism. At its most basic it means that at some point, when I am ready, whatever Divine force that set the Universe in motion will send me people that need guidance, and I will have to do my best to guide them in whatever way I can, eventually, the people who listen to me will constitute a community of their own. It means a life of spiritual service, same as being a priest, or a community leader.”
Brian took another sip. “So why do it?”
Nathan shrugged. “I don’t have an answer for that. I wanted my life to have meaning, and this was the meaning I found. I embrace it, and everything that comes with it.” Brian nodded.
Sharon returned from the bathroom shortly after the food had arrived. The two had been sitting in relative silence. Brian had broken off conversation to answer a text, and Nathan was trying to surreptitiously stare at Brian’s physique. “What’d I miss?”
Brian turned to her. “What? Oh… nothing, food just got here. Danny was texting me to see what we were doing. They bought two twelve-packs of Corona and have pulled out the beer pong table.”
“Oh no, last time we went Danny puked in my car while we were taking him home. I am not going anywhere near that beer-pong table.”
“Chill, I told him I’d ask you what we were doing anyways.”
Sharon hmphed as the waiter came back with the masago. Brian looked at it, then up at Nathan. “Is that…?”
“Yup. It’s kinda like caviar, only a lot less expensive, and slightly less flavorful. It tastes a lot like egg yolk and salt, with a different texture. I’m actually really bad at explaining this.”
Brian smiled, “You can explain a religion that I imagine is rather rare to people that know nothing about it, but food is out of the question?”
Nathan smiled back, one side larger than the other, crinkling that eye as he answered “Yup,” just before popping the piece of sushi in his mouth.
The following scene was cut from the original copy because of word counts, but in case you were curious as to what happened between Brian, Sharon and Nathan during that first date, here it is. Keep in mind, this is effectively still a rough draft, since it was never developed beyond that.
“I was born when I was 16. Not literally of course.”
Brian chuckles. Sharon looks confused. The two of them, and Nathan, are at a sushi restaurant.
Brian interrupts, “Before we get too deep into this, I just wanted to say thanks for having dinner with us. We know it’s a little awkward to be invited out by a couple, but we talked and we think you’re pretty cool.”
“Well, sexy, to be specific, but cool as well,” Sharon says.
“Now, what were you saying?”
“No worries, I welcome the opportunity to get to know anyone down here. Living as far north as I do, well, it’s hard to keep friendships when you’re unwilling to travel and hang out, mainly because of being strapped for cash. Where was I?”
Sharon answers, “Being born at 16, which I don’t get.”
“Oh yeah, when I was 16, I dedicated myself to being a Shaman. I had been studying Neo-Paganism since I was 10, but hadn’t really done anything about it. During the summer after I turned 16, my Dad and step-family went down to Mexico. We were in Alcapulco.”
“Why?” Brian asks.
“We went several places: Mexico City, the ruins at Teotihuacan, and Alcapulco. My step-mother is from Mexico, we were visiting her family so that my step-siblings could see their grandparents. In short, the trip had absolutely nothing to do with me and I thought it was pointless.”
“So, you speak Spanish because you’re Mexican?” says Sharon as the waiter puts down the sake order for the table.
“No.” Nathan shakes his head as he pours a shot of sake. Rather unceremoniously he quickly dips the pad of his finger into the sake to test the temperature. “My father and I are Puerto Rican, my step-family is Mexican.”
Brian, while pouring himself a shot of sake: “What’s the difference?” He laughs at his own joke. Nathan smiles, and takes a sip.
“Anyways… I was practicing meditating and Journey-work while I was there—“
“What’s Journey-work?” Sharon asked, interrupting.
“Journey-work is what a Shaman does, at its very essence. Neo-Pagans and Wiccans have spells, a Shaman has Journeys. They both work according to similar principals, but using different processes. A spell or ritual requires outside motions and mnemonic cues for the sub-conscious; a Journey takes place within the sub-conscious, in what is called the Otherworlds.” Ever pedantic, Nathan pauses to take a sip and allow questions.
Brian eyebrow arches, as his tongue moves under his lips as though he has a piece of meat stuck there, he looks intently at Nathan, and as he goes to speak the waiter appears to ask for their orders. Instead of asking his question, he turns to the waiter, “I’ll have the beef teriyaki bowl.”
Sharon goes next, “California roll and miso soup.”
“I’ll have an order of masago nigiri, miso soup, and a dragon roll.”
With the waiter gone, Brian turns back to Nathan. “Two questions, now. What is masago-whatever, and, so are you like, a Harry Potter wannabe?”
Sharon turns slowly to look at Brian, eyes wide, when she is finally facing him her left hand moves to her right shoulder, rubbing lightly. “Could you be less of a dick, babe? ‘Kay thanks.”
Nathan watches the two, aware the Brian hasn’t bothered to look at her. “Masago is Smelt roe, nigiri is the presentation… you’ll see. And no, Harry Potter is a fictionalized representation borrowing on elements of fairy-tale traditions of the British Isles. Shamanism is a valid religious practice, my religious practice, to be precise.” Nathan locked eyes with Brian and held them there. “You get one warning that I am serious about my religion and what I do. Treat it frivolously and I’ll think you ignorant and not worth talking to. Serious questions however, I will answer without hesitation.”
He would forget all of this. He would return to his Tribe and report that he had found a Barrow, that he was triumphant. His family’s status would be restored… In privacy he would tell the Rain-Keepers of the dead hermit, of the unholy blasphemies that were waiting inside the new-found Barrow. He would say that the man spouted off unspeakable things, that he was turning feral from time in the Forest, and that Roob had killed him in the name of the Rain when he had begged for his life. He would say that he found the canyon when he followed the… Beast, from the Forest, watched it walk down the canyon and into this crevice. Yes, he would say all these things, and any other lies that would return the world to what it was.
He could see light: first the walls glowed faintly from the sigils, then true light from the outside. It would seem that he had not wedged the screen tightly enough in his haste. He processed this only faintly, continuing towards the exit; never mind his things, never mind his goggles. Roob needed one thing right now, and that was to step out into the light and look.
When he did, he was blinded briefly. The canyon was still present, although more rubble lined the floor of it from overhangs that had slid down. The light was diffuse through the clouds, as it always way, seemingly coming from all angles. The floor of the canyon had taken on the rust-colored tinge that indicated the critical material was close to being finished, and some places within the walls, new and recently revealed, seemed to indicate that they too were close to being finished. For the first time, Roob had a chance to take stock of this place, and he realized just how rich, how fertile in critical material this place had the potential to be. With its proximity to the Forest… yes, it would be perfect.
Roob would return, and telling them of the abundance of critical material, of the rubble of the canyon, of what he thought could have been a Barrow-mound, of the area itself, his family would be returned to more than their previous status. He would be eligible to marry anyone, and he would take for his first spouse someone from the military families. He would gather with his friends who were Scouts, with those who were Raiders of other Barrows; he would request the Magi who knew the Words. He would build a family of his friends and allies, with his spouse hopefully; a new family with status and respect, and they would come and live in this Barrow. They would come and do what the Rain-Keepers had always said should be done: they would fight the blasphemous Forest.
Roob thought this, knew all of this with certainty, as he stood in the floor of the canyon. The Rain, plop-HSSSSSSSSS, onto his armor, onto his neck as he stood tall; he felt the agony on his skin, burning with the mistakes of our ancestors, as he turned back into the crevice. He stripped his chest armor off, gritting his teeth, refusing to scream, refusing to give in. The Rain was a blessing, and though he would let it be nothing else, the words still made him afraid.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the story. For now that’s everything. If I come back to this it will be because people asked me to, and it will probably occur before the narrative’s current-time; I feel the society I have presented is rich enough to deserve its own explorations.
The old man watched him go. He had misjudged the youth’s tenacity for the lie, and that was unfortunate. He got up and moved quickly between the youth and the door. To let him go would mean losing this store-house of knowledge, and that the old man could not bear.
“Wait please, young-one. You cannot leave; there are many things, precious things here: recipes for our weapons that can help us win against our enemies!”
“There is no ‘we’, Heretic,” the words fell out of Roob’s mouth as though dripping from a serpent’s fang. The old man recoiled, moving back towards the door. He fell to his knees before Roob.
“Please then! I beg of you! Tell no one of this place! They will rape its knowledge, forbid it from the public. There are others who would use it for the betterment of all! Please young one!”
The weight of the knife felt heavy in Roob’s hands, and he was preoccupied with its presence, more so than with what the old man was saying. No suitable Rain-Keeper would beg. They would be taken outside, chained to the ground, and left for the Rain; and they would suffer it all with dignity. Hatred filled him, hatred without reason, hatred without boundaries. How dare this being beg. How dare he promise him absolution and deliver him only heresy. How dare he promise truth and deliver only lies. The force of Roob’s heritage dictated the only thing that could be done in this situation. In a flash of movement driven by reflexes that were honed by years of avoiding the Rain, Roob’s arm drove forward, knife coruscating in the lame light of the fire. The old man’s eye popped quietly, blood drooling down his face as the knife slid quickly into his skull. The former Rain-Keeper died instantly.
Roob stepped back. It was not murder that weighed on his soul. All his life, Roob had been familiar with murder. But something weighed on his soul, and it was something Roob could not identify. It was an emptiness of the self, and once again Roob felt disoriented. He stumbled towards the door, sheathing his knife without cleaning it, and opened it. He stepped out into the larger Barrow, forgetting the door, seeing only the passageway ahead of him. He forced himself to walk, to take step after step, to climb up towards the roof of this place; towards the exit to the cavern. He realized when he got to the lightning passage that he had forgotten his lantern. It was of no matter. The path did not branch, it did not deviate. Roob crawled into the narrow, crimson passage. He navigated the corners, felt along the uncut, glassy walls. Always pushing forward, struggling through the narrowed sections, pressing himself against the wall as though he could draw strength from it, draw in comfort. But the wall remained cold, congealed remnants of a lost age… the words came without prompting into his mind and he struggled forward harder. Drowning out his thoughts by focusing on the passage, burying what he had learned under the toils of the flesh and the scraping of the rock.
From the first time I looked in his eyes, I saw Death; piercing, penetrating through the sylvan depths. I saw other things though, the usual things that a soul reveals when you know what you’re looking at. Joy, sorrow, hope… most of all though, I saw the brilliance of a short life that will have been lived well.
I will not say that I didn’t hesitate. When Death waits so close to a person that their very soul speaks its name, everyone hesitates; that’s the point when people make the choice, whether they know it or not. They have to decide if letting go of something great is worth more than suffering the death of a loved one.
But man is a creature born in screams and hounded by terror. Too often we make the choice to avoid pain, after all, life is full of it already, why choose more? I didn’t though. I saw Death, I said hello, and then like a scared teenager meeting his date’s father, I politely stepped inside.
“Hi, sir. I’m here to date your child. I promise I’m a good man with pure intentions and I will have her back to you before you notice she’s gone. And yes, I see that shotgun and know that you won’t hesitate to use it to make my life terrible should I break my word, but my word is my bond because… well, because I am a good man. And you can threaten me as much as you want, but sir, I promise I will love your daughter with all my might, and I might bitch and complain when I have to bring her home, ‘cause I know that it won’t be pleasant, but by God, I will honor my word.”
And we did. I threw myself deep down into the depths of a never-ending well. I knew I would fall for the rest of my days, but I didn’t care. I wanted all the time I could get to bask in the radiance of that presence. To embrace and comfort, to share burdens and responsibilities. More than knowing the impending Death, I wanted to be with him.
I know he is gone now.
I hope that he isn’t; that fear has overpowered intuition.
Now I revisit the memories that I have of us. Memories of us being around each other, hanging out, being intimate, relaxing or being active, drinking, drunk, watching television, sleeping and watching each other sleep, waking up together in time for work, or in time to lock the door after the other, dancing, dreaming, talking, whispering, kisses, making out, making love.
I think of holding you, dancing in the kitchen while you sang softly in my ear… Only, it’s the you that’s injured, the you covered in blood that may or may not be yours, the you that I have to let go of. I pull you close, I hold you, I put my lips up to your too-red ears; I tell you that we will always have our memories of each other… I lean into the embrace, bearing your weight, and whisper: