Contemplating the little dead thing on the bedspread before him, Rusty did what his dream Granny denied him. He reached out a finger and poked the dead shrew. Its fur was soft and fine, its body a tiny limp beanbag slowly cooling under his fingertip.
“Catalyst,” he thought. “What does that mean?”
Absently rolling the tiny carcass under his finger, Rusty’s mind wandered to a panoply of images printed upon on his brain over the last few days: Granny’s back porch, the plain all of Red, the owl women, the shrew, a statue recessed in stone before the opening of a temple, a tower that wound up into the stars and blood and fire and…
“MOMMEEEE!!” came Dawn’s scream from the living room. Across the rumpled bedspread from Rusty, Carri became an explosion of feathers and took to the air. As she soared over his head Rusty leapt from the bed, threw on his sweat pants and ran to where the owl women now clustered on the sofa.
The Razor Baby limped through the spaces between spaces. Rather, it felt as though it were limping. Moving was painful, even in the spaces between spaces. It regularly moved from place to place in a blinking. Now the traversing was agonizingly long. It saw the destination in its lizard-like mind, but felt a pang of anxiety rise the longer it took the place in his head to become the place beneath his feet.
Clay Street was dark and the streetlamps cast dappled shadows through the bows of the old black walnut tree masking the long-snout creature when it suddenly popped into existence. The tree and the Razor Baby were old, old acquaintances.
Panting with head hung, low the Razor Baby glanced about the street and saw all was quiet. Blissfully quiet. It then rotated its black, black eyes to the little bungalow just up the street. The place had been repainted an off-white with a stale peach trim and the rough little shrubs that once lined the short cement path to the door had been replaced with nondescript beds of graying bark dust, but it was the same place the creature visited ten years ago.
The Razor Baby found them, back then. It had found them and killed them and ate their fear and now it would do it again but it needed to wait and rest. The Razor Baby was so tired and in such deep pain. It would wait in the shadows high up in the tree and it would watch and it would catch the owl women when they least expected it and that meal would be very, very delicious.
Leaning against the knobby boll of the old black walnut tree, the Razor Baby watched as a light in the bungalow front room sparked to life. A blind the color and consistency of animal hide allowed the Razor Baby to see only vague forms moving behind the veil. Three shapes: a man, a woman and a child.
Another man, the Razor Baby thought. This would be a problem. But first the Razor Baby had to rest. It slowly, painfully mounted the tree trunk and made for the highest branches. Settling onto a thick upper branch, it tucked its head under its elongated arm and became still.
A hush rolled across the Little Gray Town and all those asleep, save for the little makeshift family in the bungalow just up Clay Street, slept dreams black and jagged with edges sharper than knives.
Former Coroner Ron lifted the wad of paper towels and glanced down at the shallow wound in his side. Even in the gloom of the rocking kitchenette he could tell the slash was not too serious. A country doctor might recommend a brace of stitches but a triage surgeon would tape him up and send him back to the front line.
Placing a palm on the pressboard cupboards to steady himself Former Coroner Ron made for the prow of the motorhome and his god-ling companions.
Clamping a hand on the fiberglass frame that made up the cab’s overhead bunk, Goltry looked out onto the dark highway before them. The hour was very late and oncoming headlights were few. Their great metal beast had been eating the miles since Minnesota and he had no clue just where they were in their run for the Pacific Northwest.
“Explain what you said. How are we the Mind of God?” he asked.
“Read your Joseph Campbell, Doctor,” Paulus grinned.
“Or your Marshall McLuhan,” his brother countered. “Both men had most of the bits about right,” said Castro.
“The myth is the message and the message is the myth,” Paulus barked and began to chuckle all over again.”
“I don’t understand,” Goltry sighed.
“You agree, Doctor, that humans are myth-making creatures do you not?” Castro rasped.
“Yes, I suppose that I do…but myth denotes a lack of the tangible. What I experienced was real. This rip in my hide is real—that fucking razor clawed monster is real!”
“Yes, yes it is…” Castro’s voice dropped to a whispered hush of a well-oiled hasp.
“But even in your World of Hurt, where pain and violence are random you’ve come to conclude things do happen for a reason?” asked Paulus.
“Yes, yes I suppose that I do.”
“And would you not agree that reason denotes a purpose and purpose implies a scheme or plot?”
“Now…of that I’m not so sure…”
“Be sure, Doctor,” Castro cut in, “your life might very well depend on it.”
“Campbell told us all human beings share a common mythical core. They share notions of faith and hope—heroes, that manifest in archetypal stories,” said Paulus.
“The mono-myth,” said Former Coroner Ron. “Yes, I’ve read about it.”
“McLuhan said that human communication was a self-perpetuating notion. The medium was the message,” said Castro. “The mode begets the means and vice versa.”
“Take those notions together and you start to see something of a continuum,” said Paulus.
“Think of the great worm Ouroboros,” Castro smirked. “It dines on its own tail representing a constant rhythm of consumption and rebirth; it perpetuates itself.”
“That was real?” asked Former Coroner Ron.
“No, that was an utter myth,” said Castro.
“I don’t understand—what perpetuates itself?” Former Coroner Ron began to feel that familiar grip of irritation.
“Should we pull over?” Castor asked his brother.
“No, we don’t need to pull over,” Paulus snapped back. “Human beings strive to be individuals, but they are not. No living thing really is,” Paulus continued. “All life is linked. Indeed, each creature is but the equivalent mitochondrial strand in the make up of a greater body—a greater mind.”
“All one,” said Castro.
“I and I,” said Paulus his face splitting into a grin.
“Bullshit,” said Former Coroner Ron.
“Yes, and more,” said Castro. “But you said it yourself, Doctor, the Red Plain was quite real. The wound on your side is quite real…”
“And the little dead girl, the owl girl—Dawn Cromwell. Was she real?” Former Coroner Ron rumbled. “It felt like it should have been a dream. Arriving there, coming back, it all had that sort of dream logic…if you discount this,” he said lifting up the bloody paper towels once more.
“And what does this have to do with the World of Hurt?” Former Coroner Ron found himself asking, his voice climbing an octave and his tone washing into something almost childlike and fearful.
“You adopted that perspective from childhood, did you not?” asked Paulus.
“You’re upbringing was stern, but not necessarily cruel,” Paulus continued.
“And yet you were born with an almost inherent wisdom that the world—the universe was not kind…”
“It doesn’t take a Gnostic philosopher to tell one that. Neither does one have to cop to the notion of a cosmic hive mind…” Former Coroner Ron mumbled.
“Perhaps not…but you have seen things most rational mortals would deny, things that would leave their minds shattered,” said Paulus. “It changed you. You’re not remotely the same man you were ten years ago.”
“You were shattered when Ms. Cromwell’s bird soul burst out and penetrated your brain…” Castro added.
“You began to question the very tenets of this World of Hurt,” said Paulus.
“You knew there was more…” Castro mused.
“It may not be a kind World, but it is a world that finally began to make a certain amount of twisted sense…”
“You’re asking me to buy the hippie manifesto of some sort of cosmic unity?” Former Coroner Ron barked.
“We’re not asking you to buy anything, Doctor,” Paulus sighed, “but it will help you cope as we move to write the final chapter of this story.”
Former Coroner Ron peered into the oncoming darkness beyond the motorhome headlights.
“My encountering that little girl and the Thelema Child on the Red Plain was not simply happenstance,” said Former Coroner Ron. “I’ve never dreamed of that place, I’ve never dreamed of the girl or the monster.”
“No, not to your recollection,” said Paulus.
“Elements are coming together, Doctor. You arrived on the Red Plain, tussled with the Thelema Child and encountered the little Cromwell girl for a reason,” said Castro.
“She was an owl,” said Former Coroner Ron. “Why was she an owl?”
“She’s always been an owl. She and her mother both,” said Paulus. “The two are kindred to my brother in a certain way.”
“Nearly older than recorded time and all that crap,” Castro parried. His brother let loose more peals of laughter that once more nearly steered them into oncoming traffic.
Entering the living room, Rusty saw Carri crouching before her weeping daughter as the thin streams of blood streaked down her chest, belly and thighs.
Rusty felt a lighting bolt strike his heart and without hesitation spun on his heel and ran back through the bedroom to the bathroom. Throwing open the medicine cabinet he snagged a roll of gauze and an opaque brown plastic bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Thank God his mother was as diligent about stocking his medicine cabinet, as she was his kitchen. Filling his hands, he made a speedy about face and ran for living room.
Racing back into the living room with his medical supplies clutched firmly in his sweaty grip, Rusty rounded the sofa and crouched beside Carri.
“It doesn’t look too bad, the cuts are shallow,” she said, her lips a straight and solemn line.
“What happened to her?” Rusty cried.
“The monster, Mommy,” Dawn whispered. “The monster that killed us, I saw it. I was flying in the red place and it knocked me out of the sky and it cut me.”
“That means it knows we’re here and will be coming for us,” Carri said twisting the white cap off the bottle of hydrogen peroxide. “If it’s not here already.”
Rusty’s eyes swelled into saucers as he recalled his own visit to the red plain and the image of the hunched beast scrabbling over the surface of the great tower.
“That thing killed us in this house over ten years ago,” Carri said, calmly tearing open the package of rolled cotton gauze, “it was only a matter of time before it would return.”
Soaking a hank of gauze with a trickle of the clear liquid, Carri gently pressed the compress to her daughter’s bare and bloody chest. A tiny whimper leaked from between Dawn’s teeth. Her mother glanced up with concern but continued to clean the wounds.
“Dawnie and I had forgotten ourselves—forgotten who we were for a long, long time… but not any more,” she said, smiling into her little girl’s eyes. Struggling to ignore the sting and gentle hiss as the bubbly formula went to work on her wounds, Dawn simply smiled back into the eyes of her mother.
Rusty crouched quietly beside the two, noting the gentle connection between, them all the while wondering just what he needed to do to keep the three of them alive.
And the Razor Baby, cradled in the crotch of the old black walnut tree, slept.
Once Carri was satisfied she had staunched the bleeding she applied a fresh patch of gauze. Leaning her daughter forward, she slowly wound an additional hank around the little girl’s chest and then tied it into a snug little knot.
“Having been a healer in a former life comes in handy,” she smirked.
Rusty let go a little snort and shook his head.
Climbing behind Dawn, Carri settled herself between her daughter and the arm of the sofa. Adjusting the bright green afghan about the little girl, she pulled Dawn in close. “I think that’s about all I can do for now.”
“What about that thing that attacked her?” Rusty stuttered.
“It was hurt,” said Dawn. “It was bleeding already when it hit me and then the fat man beat it up some more.”
“Fat man,” Rusty pondered.
“Yeah, he was there too. He protected me. He looked at me like he knew me and then he tried to protect me,” said the little girl.
“So it’s likely to be running scared,” said Carri. “It’s probably dug in somewhere licking its wounds.”
Rusty nodded and contemplated his hands for a moment.
“You think I can help you somehow, but I have no clue how to go about doing that. You keep talking in mysteries—this whole thing is a mystery. If I hadn’t been to that red place a few times, I’d think this here was a dream but it’s not. I know it’s not.”
“Things are coming together, Rusty. Your magic and our magic. It’s coming together,” Carri smiled.
“How? I don’t understand—how is it coming together?”
“Have faith, Rusty.”
Rusty’s face went flat and all but blank. “I don’t know that I can. I mean, I’ve never had to.”
“You can. It’s the easiest challenge you’ll ever face, placing your faith in something,” she said and pressed her lips into the back of her daughter’s head.
Again Rusty could only nod and contemplate his hands.
“You need something to do with your hands young man and I think the three of us could do with some of your particular medicine,” she said, and gestured to Rusty’s guitar.
Lifting the guitar from where it leaned against the wall, Rusty once more felt that pang of anxiety over what he’d play…and if it would be worthy of another person’s ears?
Re-seating himself on the floor beside the old sofa he rested his guitar across his thigh and tested the strings. Twisting the tuning pegs he let his mind roam a little beyond his patch of floor, the battered old couch, the woman and the little girl, to that place in his brain where he stored his songs. But he found his brain just a little too tired to retrieve some song in its entirety—he didn’t want to try. He was certain he’d forget the words.
He contemplated one song and thought better of it.
He contemplated another and thought, no, too somber.
Finally he decided to just play—play and see what happens.
The tune came to him in drifting fragments. Words and images collected in his mind like cottonwood fluff on a spider’s web. The song wended its way through his hands and over the strings and grew in patterns soft and reassuring as a lover’s breath in your ear through the night, rhythmic as a swallow’s call through the rising dawn, bright as sunlight sparkling through morning dew.
Some mountains are high
Some mountains are low
Some have stood longer than
We’ll ever know…
Some waves crest high
Some waves crest low
Some waves stretch farther than
We’ll ever know…
Rusty’s music rose up and filled little front room.
Unnoticed by the trio below, a cool drift of air collected near the ceiling’s northernmost corner and then took upon itself to whorl and range in a tiny zephyr from just above the bedroom door, down and about the front entry, eventually rounding back over kitchen.
But it’s our timeless heart
That beats through it all
That’s within you, dear
And beats without stall
Unseen by the three at the room’s center the benign gust took on an umber cast as granules of red sifted in from somewhere else and took up a dance about the room, drifting and rising with the flow of Rusty’s music.
It beats within me
It beats within you
It beats for all time
It beats for all time
The song closed and the tiny zephyr came to rest, leaving it’s payload pinch of red sand on the windowsill just below the hide colored blind that hid the room’s detail from the malignant creature slumped in the tree branches just down the block.
Looking up, Rusty noted Dawn had drifted off to sleep once more and he smiled. Rusty’s smile was met by that of the little girl’s mother, her lips lifting from just behind the crown of her daughter’s small head. She smiled but her eyes were somber. She inhaled and the smile drifted away. Then she nodded as if someone had finally answered a question she’d been waiting a very long time to hear.
And the Razor Baby, cradled in the crotch of the old black walnut tree, shuddered and came nearly awake but did not dream.