Short Story: “Journeyman Wizard”

“Journeyman Wizard”
(part 1 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[07/09/2014]

Lila Oort may have been staring at the flickering homemade candle on her table, but the dancing yellow flame wasn’t what she saw. Between the mesmerizing image of a filagreed solar flare in her head and the fact that she was idly shuffling her favorite deck of divination cards, the effect was more akin to a Zen trance. She’d been in this state long enough that her black and white cat had changed position on the table three times, and was now busy watching the flick of cards in her hands.

Her fascination wasn’t so much with solar astronomy as it was with metaphysical resonances to the name she had chosen for herself at the Grey School of Wizardry. ‘CoronaWeaver’ had the right feel to it, since her flavor of magick involved energy work, which she’d used informally to temporarily ease some kinds of pain for her friends and family ever since she was in college. But what she was hunting right now were the deeper resonances, and that’s what the cards were for.

Lila’s hands suddenly stopped moving. After a few seconds, Kiyesh rose and gently tapped the exposed edge of the deck, perhaps to set them in motion again. Two cards slipped out and fell face down on the table before Lila emerged from her trance.

She set down the deck and scratched him behind the ears. “Was this reading for you?” she asked him. But before she could turn the errant cards over, her phone sounded: there was a text. The notification on the lock screen was terse. It read, ‘Got time? Need to vc now.’

Kiyesh followed her into the living room, where she opened her laptop and accepted Henri Bequerat’s request for a video chat. He slid into frame from the left, and gazed mutely into the camera for a long moment. He had a frightened look about him that didn’t comport well with the barely-controlled manic energy that he usually projected. She leaned forward and quietly said, “KytheWarden, are you all right?”

He exhaled, and blinked a few times. “I’m, uh… I’m at my night job right now. This is the hotel’s PC. I don’t know how long we can talk before… Look, the manager doesn’t approve of me making personal calls, and he might come by, so I may have to cut you off suddenly.”

Lila smiled. “No worries, Henri. If that happens, I’ll wait until you can get back on. What happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Sort of,” he said, calming a bit. “Or at least she might be by now, but I was kicked out, so who knows?”

“Come again?”

He glanced around before continuing. “You were right, though, I was acting as KytheWarden.”

“Then it has something to do with your volunteer work? A crisis center was it?”

Henri nodded and took a sip of coffee. “Yeah; the suicide prevention hotline. And I know that the point of my Journeyman’s service work is to use the magick I’ve learned to help others, but I don’t think this is the sort of service I‘m cut out for. I may have just harmed the person I was trying to help.” He closed his eyes and hung his head. “It’s crazy, Lila. It’s not supposed to be like this.”

Being a good listener, she knew, meant paying attention to the subtleties in the conversation. Consciously or not, Henri was comparing what had just happened to his expectations about the service work he’d undertaken in order to complete his magickal training at the Grey School. She waited until after his second breath before speaking. “What did you imagine it should have been like, then?”

He looked away. “Well, for one thing,” he said, the ragged edge of submerged anger rising in his voice, “the people you’re doing it for shouldn’t kick you out just when you’ve gotten the person’s trust. Hell, I’d even managed to get an empathic link going, and they pulled me off while both of us were exposed.”

“The people you’re doing it for?” she asked gently. “Do you mean the crisis center or the caller?”

Henri grinned sheepishly. “That’s what I like about you, CoronaWeaver. You have a knack for exposing the nub of problems that I’m too dense to see. You’re right. It’s the caller.”

“Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

“Yes. No. I’m not sure. Calls are supposed to be confidential, after all. They make you sign some legal mumbo jumbo about it before you’re allowed to take any calls.”

“The crisis center did this.”

“Yes.”

“The one that just fired you.”

“Well, yeah.”

“The one you don’t work for any more. Does that agreement still bind you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“All right. Was your conversation with the caller supposed to be private?”

“Of course.”

“And yet you were fired because of something you said?”

“I guess.”

“Then your conversation wasn’t private. Someone there overheard you. Are you protecting the crisis center? Who exactly were you there to help?”

“Leslie,” he said flatly. “I was there to help Leslie.”

Lila thought for a moment while she ran her thumb up the bridge of Kiyesh’s nose. “And she was thinking about killing herself?”

Henri wrinkled his nose. “It’s complicated. First off, I’m not entirely sure Leslie’s a she. And the reason she called was because she was thinking about not doing it.”

“Not doing it? Then why bother calling? I thought that’s the decision the crisis center was supposed to help people reach.”

He nodded, and took another sip of coffee, but before he’d set it back down, the door chime sounded. Someone had entered the lobby, so he excused himself for a few minutes. Lila took the opportunity to make some tea, grab a few almond biscuits, and put down some food for Kiyesh. Henri was waiting for her by the time she was finished. “So you see,” he said, “I had my work cut out for me on this call.”

“What I see, KytheWarden,” she said, carefully dipping the end of a biscuit in her tea, “is that your taking that call was no accident.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Come on, Henri,” she said with a mischievous grin, “we both know that you enjoy a challenge. Sexual ambiguity? A caller who violates the base assumptions of the crisis center? Tell me something. After you took my Anything Box class, didn’t you say the deck you made was the only divination tool you’ve ever seen that was as warped as you were? So, yeah, I think the two of you arranged this beforehand, not to say that either one of you were aware of it, of course.”

He closed his eyes and let his head roll back for a moment. “Okay,” he said, just above a whisper. “Let’s say it was. Why me?”

Lila took a bite of her biscuit. “Well, something must have happened between the two of you before you were fired. I thought that was why you wanted to talk.”

“Oh, something happened, all right. Picking up that phone was like falling into kythe with a long-lost friend, but it was a total stranger.”

“A deep psychic link? Really?”

He nodded, his face a confused mix of elation and anxiety.

*   *   *

“I hope it’s you this time, I really do.”

The caller had spoken before Henri even had a chance to open his mouth. That by itself was unusual, but it was compounded by an ambiguity: he couldn’t tell if the caller was male or female. Setting his curiosity aside, he greeted the caller as he’d been instructed, and asked how he could help.

“What I need,” the caller said flatly, “is clarity. I’ve been having second thoughts about doing this, and I need to talk to someone who understands me.”

The phrase was arresting: someone who understands me. To Henri, it spoke volumes: about a lack of empathy from friends and family in grokking the caller’s predicament, and about prior attempts to discuss it falling short.

In a way, it also mirrored the focus of his magickal work, and the reason he’d chosen the name KytheWarden. The way Madeline L’Engle used the term in her Time Trilogy, kything was the superposition of awarenesses, in which each party saw through the other’s eyes and could hear each other’s thoughts. What Henri could do was far less dramatic, but it did enable him to feel another person’s emotional state, and that made it something that went beyond simple empathy.

As he picked up the phone, he’d also opened himself emotionally to whoever was on the other end. The thing was, this caller was reaching out psychically as well, and so the two of them made contact. More than that: they kythed. By the time the caller completed that thought, they’d already joined, and neither of them said anything for a long moment. He sat quietly, listening to the sound of breathing. When the rhythm changed, he asked what name the caller wanted him to use. Unfortunately, ‘Leslie’ didn’t break his uncertainty over whether he was speaking to a man or a woman, so he settled on assuming the latter.

“Who are you?” she asked at last, her incredulity flowering into giddiness.

To Henri, the question seemed to come from two places at once, because he heard it both through his ears and in his head. He tried to deflect the inquiry by telling her he was just someone who volunteered at the crisis center, but she insisted on only telling truths, so he told her both his real name and his magickal one.

“Then it is you, after all,” she said triumphantly. “You can’t imagine how relieved I am to finally be able to talk to someone who—.”

“—sees the world the way I do.” Henri finished her thought without realizing that he’d spoken aloud. Nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if anyone had heard, he cupped his free hand over the handset and begged her to slow down, to give him a moment to catch his breath, too. His mind raced, furiously gathering bits and pieces of his personal spiritual journey into enough of a narrative to put her mind at rest, but the thoughts burst apart when he heard her draw a long deep breath and hold it. Kythed as they were, he felt the edges of his self unfurling as the high she was already in the midst of soaked into his psyche. “You’re toking,” he said, slower than before, “aren’t we?”

“Mmm-hmm. My doctor prescribed it to dull the effects of the drugs they gave me. But it also helps me reconnect with that deeper part of me that sees through all this drama. I’d lost that connection when I got sick.”

“And the prescription pot was enough to do the trick?”

She laughed. “Hardly. But then I was never one to follow my doctor’s orders exactly. Call it an intentional overdose.”

“So what happened?”

“It was glorious, Henri. But then my family found out, that sour bunch of straight-laced teetotalers. I had to get away from them to use the prescription at all. And then, when they found out I wanted to end this train wreck on my own terms… well, they about had me committed.”

He flinched as anguish fogged the windows of his kythe-linked mind at the mention of her family. “Is that why you’ve called,” he asked, while imaging her the sun-dappled surface of a calm, wooded lake, “to get clear of their way of seeing things?”

*   *   *

“Wait a minute,” Lila said suddenly, “hold on. You don’t seriously mean to tell me that Leslie called the hotline stoned? How could that possibly help get her head on straight?”

“Tell me something, CoronaWeaver,” Henri said, without the oracular lilt of a moment before. “Have you ever had a seriously deep spiritual experience when you were high?”

She frowned. “I wish I could, but I’m allergic to THC.”

“That’s cruel, especially for a seer. Speaking of which, are you familiar with some of the perceptual effects?”

“Like what?”

“Well, for me anyway, when I’m sufficiently high, I stop seeing things in 3D. It’s like I’ve got two sharp images that overlap on where I’m focused.”

“Oh, sure,” Lila said, “I ran into that last year when my doctor prescribed gabapentin.”

“So anyway, that makes it damn hard to drive, but there’s some useful metaphor in it as well. In fact, the dissociative effect is remarkably similar to the state I achieve during kythe.”

She thought for a moment. “Like you’ve got two sets of sensory net and body sense?”

Henri nodded. “Yeah. But for her, that second ‘selfness’ wasn’t from another person, but from her own higher self, her greater being.”

*   *   *

“It was the paranoia,” Leslie told him.

This Henri could understand. Paranoia was a commonly reported experience among potheads. “Well, sure,” he said, “THC activates the amygdala, so you’d have spurious emotional reactions to things.”

“Maybe, but that’s not really what’s happening. It’s definitely not what was happening to me. Look, paranoia is just the fun-house face of a seriously transcendent experience. The pot opens a door to a deeper reality. Sure, you’re being watched. You’re always being watched. But it’s your own higher self doing it, not some bogeyman demon.”

“So that’s what frightened your family? That you rejected their belief that you’d allowed the devil into your life?”

“Exactly. I couldn’t explain what I was experiencing without them getting all preachy about it. The thing I needed the most was the one thing they couldn’t allow. So we argued. Hell, we almost came to blows about it before I grabbed my things, left town, and found this hotel.”

That’s something, he thought, but if I need to send aid, I’m going to need more than that to go on. “What hotel is that?” he asked casually.

“Oh, no,” she said, laughing, “you’re not going down that rat hole, are you? I told you, what I need is clarity, not some b-movie intervention.”

“All right.”

“So tell me one thing,” Leslie said, “why do you understand all this?”

Henri glanced around, fighting back a smile. A crisis center was the last place he expected to have this conversation. “You really want to know.”

“I have to know. I’ve got one chance at this, and I want to get it right.”

“Okay,” he said, and then, more quietly, “I’m Pagan. Well, to be accurate, a spiritual independent.”

She was silent for a long moment, so he sat and listened to her breathing. Finally, with a lot of uncertainty in her voice, she repeated the one word, “Pagan.”

“Like I said, not really, but it gives people a pigeonhole to stuff me in. I guess if they can categorize me, I’m less of a threat. I volunteer here because I’m a Journeyman Wizard.”

“You’re what?”

“It’s the second stage of the journey to being an Adept, what some people might call a Master. When you’re an Apprentice, you learn what it’s all about. The focus of being a Journeyman Wizard is using that knowledge in service to others. When I’ve become an Adept, I’ll spend my time teaching what I’ve learned.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I’m here to help you, and I’ll support you in whatever path you choose to take. I’ve never been in your shoes, but I know it’s an important moment in your life. The way I see the world, it’s also an important moment in your other lives as well, because what you do here will affect them, too. But I don’t want to taint your moment, so we really should be talking about what’s important to you. What was it that you needed clarity about?”

*   *   *

As she listened to Henri’s story, Lila became more and more enmeshed in the immediacy of the experience he was relating. When he repeated Leslie’s words, it was like hearing them in the caller’s own voice, which to Lila was just as sexually ambiguous as he’d suggested. It wasn’t a voice she knew, but the more she heard it, the more familiar it became.

Her vision had darkened as it did when she was deeply in meditation, with only the hypnotic flickering of the candle swimming before her. Her body sense had faded as well; it was as if she were floating in a sensory deprivation tank, somewhere in a guided hallucination. Then the patterns in the dancing flame seemed to open out, and she could vaguely see the hotel room that Leslie had called from – the drawn shades, a grocery bag on the bed.

She was in kythe with Henri, who was relating his own kythed experience with Leslie, and it was breathtaking. She could feel the stress in her lungs as Leslie held a smoke-filled draught of medicinal pot before answering. When Leslie finally exhaled, Lila felt her own sense of self diffuse a bit, and she floated in the dining room chair, filling the room a tad more than she was used to.

“What I need to know,” Leslie said, “is how my doing this will affect that part of me who’s watching what I do. Look, I know it’s not god or some demon. That’s what started me on this search in the first place. But you say there’s more to it than just a higher self, that I somehow have other lives, and that they’ll be affected as well. How would they be affected? Would it hurt them? When I discussed doing this with my doctor, we agreed that it was my choice to make, that it was the last few months of my life to either live out in horrible pain and with the loss of what’s left of my mind, or to end this life at a time of my choosing while I’m still able to make rational decisions. If the only one affected is me, I can take those drugs with no second thoughts, but if…” She trailed off, unable or unwilling to complete the thought.

Even before Henri spoke, Lila could feel a subtle shift in what it felt like to be her. A vague kind of distance grew in her mind, pushing Leslie to one side while another looming selfness took its place.

“Please understand,” Henri told her, and Lila could feel his frustration, “my role here is supposed to be guiding you away from suicide. But I can’t do that, not in good conscience. In this state, it’s your right. What I can do is help you to make this final decision with as much insight as I am able to offer. That is my duty as a Wizard.”

“Thank you.”

“In the world as I understand it, we’ve met because we each have need of the experience. You need something that I can tell you, and there’s something for me in this incident as well, something that I cannot learn in any other way. Some part of us made an appointment to meet in this way, a part of us that’s outside of time, beyond our knowing, and I am certain that we will both be changed by it.”

“But those other lives. What about them?”

As Henri considered his answer, Lila felt the world fall away. It was as if she were floating in a limitless space that was filled with a filigree of living threads connecting innumerable intangible bundles of awareness. And yet, the whole of it seemed to flicker as a candle might, or to breathe like it was some cosmic living thing. The effect was astounding.

“What about us?” he said, turning the question around. “When we dream, is it real? To that higher self who’s watching you, we are the dream: a dream, one among many. And to yet another being, that higher self is the dream.” He paused, and in the silence, she saw a ripple of brilliance cascade through the cosmic candle flame. “If you experience something in a dream, do you learn from it? Is that real? The cosmos is like that, all of it. So when you choose to end this life in full control of your mind, and with a heightened sense of reality from what you’re toking, whatever you experience at the end of it, and that’s an intensely personal thing, will be reflected as some dazzlingly crystal insight in the other dreams of your higher dreamer, and in the being having that dream as well. It’s—“

Lila shuddered as the glistening reality she’d been floating in suddenly collapsed around her, leaving her gasping for breath, staring into the video image of Henri, his mouth agape, struggling against immense anguish.

“That’s when they pulled me off,” he said. “My line went dead, and the manager stood there, glaring at me. I was speechless. He launched into an angry tirade, but I didn’t hear a word of it. I was in shock. I know I tried to protest, to argue against his action, but I can’t remember anything but my kythed vision of the grocery bag sitting on that hotel bed. She never looked in a mirror, so I don’t even know what she looked like, or if she even was—.”

There must have been a noise, because Henri stopped suddenly and turned to look behind him. He shook his head in annoyance at the screen, rose, and left the frame. But the kythe didn’t dissolve entirely. Lila closed her eyes and deepened her state of relaxation, hoping to retain their connection for as long as possible. The experience was sketchy at best. She was easily aware that she was still in her recliner, and not walking into the lobby of a hotel, but there was enough presence to the link with Henri that she could ignore the dark visuals and muddy sound as she might a poorly made movie. As a dream, if not quite a lucid one, she could deal with it. She just hoped she didn’t fall asleep and miss something important.

An irate man was waiting for Henri at the front counter, and from the look on his face, he was itching for a fight. Henri had just started to ask what the problem was, when the man launched into a stream of abusive language aimed at another guest on the same floor with him, the one in room 243. In Lila’s suggestive state, even the air in the room seemed to respond to the man’s vile temper, sprouting the dim shapes of the sort of demons Leslie’s family must have inveighed against. Henri did his best to calm the man down, but the best Lila could figure was that the other guest had ignored the no-smoking signs on the floor, and that this was a life-threatening assault on the man’s health. Henri assured the man that he’d have a talk with his tormentor, and that the charge for violating the rules would certainly be added to that guest’s bill. After a shrill parting remark about finding some smoke-free air, the man stalked through the front door and disappeared into the night.

Lila relaxed as the crackling energy of Henri’s agitation subsided, and the psychic bond between them dissolved, leaving her staring into the same swirling eddy of gems that she’d seen ever since childhood when she shut her eyes tightly. Only instead of mesmerizing her as it usually did, this time she silently railed against it for not only robbing her of her link to Henri, but to Leslie’s contactless high as well. When she caught her breath, she opened her eyes again and gazed expectantly at the screen, to which Henri had still not returned.

Moodily placing her laptop on the ottoman, she stood and returned to the dining room, where she’d left her tea. Kiyesh jumped up on her seat, so she idly stroked his fur for a moment, and then took another bite of biscuit. She was eyeing the two cards that had fallen when her phone rang. It was Henri.

“If I’m going to be interrupted like this,” he said, “then we can at least get in some more of this discussion during the lulls if I use my Bluetooth.”

“Works for me. What are you going to do about the smoker in 243?”

“Hard to say. I tried calling, but there was no answer, so I left a message.”

“If what I heard that man yelling about is any indication,” she said, “you really don’t want him returning before you’ve stopped that smoker and aired out the hallway.”

“I suppose. So I might as well go see for myself.”

While she listened to the sound of footsteps as Henri walked to the second floor, Lila took her cup into the kitchen and refreshed her tea. She stopped pouring when she heard him sniff. “What do you smell?”

“Well it isn’t tobacco,” he said quietly. “The management really ought to reword the signs on this floor. They all say ‘No cigarette smoking’, which this joker seems to have taken as a challenge.”

When the sound of footsteps stopped, Lila said, “Did you look up who’s in that room?”

“Yeah. The register says it’s an out-of-stater. No reservation, though.” He knocked several times and waited, then knocked again.

In the interval between knocks, Lila splayed her hands on the table, gazed at the candle, and reached insubstantially towards wherever Henri was, trying to re-establish the connection they’d had earlier.

“What are you doing?” he whispered.

“You can feel something?” she asked, incredulously.

“Magick-user, remember?”

“Oh. Right. I think we had connected earlier, and I was trying to get it back.”

“Well, can you do it quieter?”

“Not really. This is my first time trying it.”

He exhaled. “We can experiment with that later. Right now I need to deal with this.”

“Sure.”

He knocked a third time. “Dr. Green?” he said, louder than before. “Are you in there? This is Henri, the night clerk. You’re in a non-smoking room. There’s a penalty charge for smoking, and I’m going to have to air out your room. It’s bothering the other guests.” When there was still no answer, he knocked again. “Hmmm,” he murmured after another pause, “I guess we try plan B.”

“What do you see?” Lila said when she heard the door open.

“Light’s on low. Bed’s still made. Green’s stretched out on the bed with his back up against the headboard. Jeans. T-shirt. Looks like he’s asleep, and he’s got a pipe in his hand. Hold on a minute while I grab it. Don’t want to risk a fire.”

“A pothead, then,” she mused aloud, raising her teacup. “What kind of neighborhood is that hotel in, anyway?”

“That’s odd.”

“What is?”

“Why would a pothead have applesauce for a snack? There’s an empty jar with a spoon on the nightstand. Chips and donuts work much better for the munchies.”

“And I suppose you’re an expert at—.” She stopped cold. “Henri, if that apple sauce isn’t for the munchies, what’s it there for?”

“I don’t know. I usually mix raisins and cinnamon into mine.”

“What about drugs?” she asked. “Can you mix drugs in it? Maybe your pothead was after a more refined experience.”

“Hold on, I’ll look around.”

While Henri was busy, she made another attempt at reconnecting the kythe, but quieter than before, as he’d requested. So instead of imagining that she was reaching out and surrounding his energy field with a big net, she pictured it as connecting up to his spiritual Wi-Fi signal.

“Bingo.”

“What’d you find?”

“There’s an empty prescription bottle in the bathroom. Secobarbital sodium.”

“Seconal,” she translated.

“Damn idiot,” he said sharply. “Mixing pot and barbiturates. What’s he trying to do, kill himself?”

“Apple sauce,” she said, trying to remember something.

“Look, Lila, I’m going to have to cut this call off. If I’ve got a druggie on my hands, I’ve got to call in the emergency. Maybe there’s enough time. Maybe they can revive him.”

“Hold it! Wait! Henri, I think that’s your caller.”

“Leslie?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I read that Seconal is bitter, so the doctors tell their suicides to mix it in apple sauce or something else sweet. She said she was calling from a hotel. Yours.” He was silent for a beat, and then she heard a resounding thud. “Henri, are you okay?”

“I think so.” He spoke slowly, uncertainly. “I just sat down a bit too hard. Look, if you’re right, then the last thing we want is for anyone to call emergency. The door’s locked, but someone might walk into the hotel, or call the lobby for something. Or, goddess forbid, my manager might poke his head in for some reason. What am I going to do?”

“What you’re going to do,” she told him sternly, “is to stay with Green until the end. I’ll see about keeping those distractions at bay. It’s what I do, you know.”

“Okay, okay.”

Lila sipped her tea, closed her eyes, and took a deep, cleansing breath. She reached out through the spiritual WiFi connection she’d made to get a sense of how Henri was coping. He felt different this time. It was as if he’d dialed down the intensity of the shape his presence in the world made in her mind, or fuzzed out the boundaries of his energy field. She guessed that it had something to do with trying to re-establish a kythe with Green, whose sense of self was probably dissipating as the coma gradually gave way to the transition we called death. She also got a whiff of floaty disorientation, which she took to be a bit of Green’s drugged state leaking through as well.

Satisfied that Henri had his end under control, he shifted her attention to the hotel. Back in college, when she’d first learned how to ease people’s pain remotely, she needed to have them in the room with her, and later to at least know where they were. At that time, she did her magick by picturing a stream of healing energy flowing from her to them. But then one day she got a call from a friend who had a terrible migraine and no idea where she was.

Lila wanted to help, but without knowing where her friend was, she was powerless to do so. Out of frustration, she took a good hard look at what it was that she did, and realized that she needed to know where her friend was because in her mind, she was streaming that healing energy from her to the friend. But she didn’t need to know where that friend was to call her on the phone, so she changed her imagery. Instead of streaming the energy, she imagined it forming around her friend, wherever she was. And it worked.

This trick turned out to be very handy when she got the odd phone call from a friend or relative in another city who was fighting an intractable pain. That, in turn, led her to other uses for what she could do. She found she could free up a parking space by gently suggesting to the people already parked on the block that one or another of them would suddenly find the need to move their car. What she needed to do right now was similar to that, except the suggestion was for anyone who might be contemplating going to the hotel or calling the desk to suddenly find a reason to put it off for a while. And just as with easing pain or getting a parking space, she could also feel when it was having an effect.

So Lila imagined all of the people who might be contemplating a call or visit to the hotel lobby, including everyone else who worked at the hotel, and broadcast the feeling that it really wasn’t that important to take care of right this minute. There was plenty of time to do it later, after Henri had finished whatever it was that he still needed to do.

With that in place, she refocused on Henri.

“It’s fading,” he said.

“What is?”

“Her aura. I’m losing it.”

“Then Dr. Green’s a woman after all?”

He didn’t answer immediately. “It’ll do. Her hand feels like a woman’s, but…”

She opened her eyes and glanced frantically around the room, looking for words. When she found them, they spilled out in a torrent. “It doesn’t matter. The aura’s an artifact of the body. Hers is shutting down, so the nodal points of her chakras are discharging, and her aura, which is a reflection of her sense of identity, is letting go of this dream we’re in. What remains is her essence, the dreamtime persona that her greater self will remember. Lock onto that. It’s the part of her that might get lost.”

“Lost?” Henri echoed. “How can it get lost?”

“You said it yourself. Her family’s handed her a demonic narrative. They’re convinced she’s going to hell for doing this. In her current state, the reality she experiences is very malleable. What she believes, she’ll experience. She came to you for guidance. This is when she needs it. I can keep interruptions at bay, but you’ve got the hard part. I got a taste of your kythe with her earlier. Make it real for her, and she’ll find her way home.”

“Okay.”

Spent, she leaned back in the chair, grabbed onto the edge of the table, and focused on strengthening the link with Henri that she’d forged earlier. And although she fought a twinge from someone anguishing over whether to ask the desk for another pillow, she managed to recapture the sense of sharing Henri’s kythe, and through it, a bit of Leslie’s world.

Dimly, she saw a rage of demons arrayed around Leslie, barring her way, but then a wave of what felt like Henri’s manic energy swept through. They crackled and transformed into cartoon versions of themselves before vanishing into the surrounding darkness. What remained felt to Lila like Henri’s caller had earlier, but now it floated amid a star-scape. One of the stars glowed brighter than the others, and it felt like she was drawing towards it as well. But as Lila looked around, several of the others had brightened, too.

“Fellow dream selves,” Lila whispered to Henri. “Those lead to other lives that she’s connected to through her dreamer.”

“The ones her choice here affects?” he whispered back.

As he spoke, tendrils of light spun out from the softening nub of Leslie-ness they were traveling with towards those brightened stars, and a ripple of pleasure crossed her mind. Dr. Green, if that was her name, was getting a taste of how the dream-selves living those other lives were empowered by the way she had chosen to end hers.

But in that same moment, the feeling that Lila had of Leslie’s selfness underwent another transformation. In a way, it was like the feeling you get partway through a move, when you stop thinking of your old address as home, and start thinking of the new one that way. Instead of pushing to leave a place that has become dear, you start pulling the old you into a new world. The person that Henri had known as Leslie, and had seen as Dr. Green, had made that change, and was now drawing energy from what was to come, rather than mourning what had been.

In another minute it was over. The kythe she had with Henri settled into a warm psychic cuddle as they wordlessly shared the excitement. Kiyesh was laying on the table, across the two cards he’d drawn from her deck earlier. “Henri,” she asked while stroking her cat, “are you all right?”

“More than,” he said. “Thank you. I don’t know if I could have handled that on my own. Look, I’m going to have to cut it short. A caravan just drove up. I’m going to be busy for a while. Good night.”

“Happy to help,” she said, and turned the phone over on the table. Kiyesh got up and jumped down to one of the chairs, so she slid the cards closer and put her thumb on the corner of the top one. “Now let’s see what that two-card Anything Box reading of yours was all about.” She turned the top card over. “The first card describes the problem that’s arisen,” she told her cat. “The quote is from a Beatles song.

‘I am he as you are he as you are me
and we are all together.’”

She looked a question at Kiyesh, and then turned the other card over. “The second card is the lesson to be learned from solving the problem. This quote is from Illusions, by Richard Bach:

‘The mark of your ignorance
is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,
The master calls a butterfly.’”

Kiyesh sat motionless, studying her. After a few seconds, he turned, jumped off the chair, and ran off to play with something. “I think I’m going to have to try kything with you sometime, kitty. There’s clearly more to you that meets the eye. Who else are you dream-fasted with, I wonder?”

 

The End

(The series continues in “Aunt More Real“)

Copyright 2014 by P. Orin Zack

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