Flipside by Byron Wayne Scott - HTML preview

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By Byron W. Scott

Life is a gift
What do you do with it?
Do you increase your inventory?
Add to your stress and worry?
Accumulate possessions
Along your road?
But it’s so hard to climb the mountain
With such a heavy load
It will weigh you down
And wear you out
And turn you from your goal
--from the Songs from Long Road
By C. L. Walker—

 

1 Flipside

 

Mighty peculiar.

 

He had raised his head from his paperwork and discovered an unusually large

 

number of people milling about the bookstore. Each and every individual was

 

dirty, ragged and unkempt. It looked like a convention for the homeless. He had

 

no idea there were so many destitute people in such a small town.

 

Equally puzzling was the fact that everyone had managed to slip past him without

 

being noticed. His desk faced the entranceway. Had he been that absorbed in his

 

work? He watched for several minutes as they very quietly and unobtrusively perused

 

the stacks and racks of books, and finding no reason to hassle anyone, he soon

 

returned to his deskwork.

 

A moment later a slight commotion caused him to lift his head once again. He

 

was shocked. The number of people had increased tenfold and had become a

 

menagerie of all social classes. Women in expensive fur coats mingled with the

 

poor. Booths, stalls, and tables had been set up in the aisles, causing the bookstore

 

to resemble a flea-market.

 

A sickness developed in his stomach. He had been the one left in charge, and

 

things had gone to hell-in-a-hand-basket in no time at all. How had it been

 

possible?

 

A young couple began to set up a booth next to his desk. The man worked

 

vigorously while the woman tried to contain two restless children.

 

It was the last straw. In one swift motion he pushed himself away from his desk

 

and stood up.

 

“Y’all are gonna have to leave,” he sternly announced, although he knew full well

 

that the situation had already grown out of control. “I’ve got work to do, and I

 

can’t do it with all of this going on!” He waved his arms in frustration. The young man working beside him calmly lifted his head. “Arrangements have

 

already been made,” he said in a slow drawl.

 

“Nobody said anything to me!”

 

“That’s the way it goes. Management.”

 

Credit fumed. Surely the manager would have mentioned something of this

 

magnitude, wouldn’t she? Damn! As much as he hated walking out on the job,

 

one thing was certain—he couldn’t work in the middle of a flaming circus!

 

He nimbly avoided the burgeoning crowd as he stomped through the room and

 

then stepped outside onto the sidewalk. He wasn’t surprised when he discovered

 

that there wasn’t a soul in sight.

 

“Everybody in town is already in the damn bookstore,” he sarcastically asserted to

 

himself as he gazed up and down the lifeless street.

 

He watched with interest as a gust of wind picked up some curb-side litter. It was

 

lifted high into the air in slow, lazy swirls. Suddenly taking note of the

 

background, Credit realized with a sudden jolt that he wasn’t where he had

 

thought he was at. This was not his quiet home town in the East Texas

 

Pineywoods, but a run-down, northern industrial city!

 

He searched for an explanation and like a revelation the answer immediately came

 

to him. It originated from a source that was deep inside himself, and the conclusion was undeniable. This was all a dream. It was the only feasible

 

explanation. Not only did it explain the number of homeless people, but also how

 

they had gathered so quickly. Not to mention the fact that he had never worked at

 

a bookstore before in his life.

 

A sudden urging overcame him and he decided to take advantage of the situation.

 

Spontaneously, he took a few running steps and then leapt high into the air with

 

reckless abandon. Miraculously, instead of dropping back to earth, he defied

 

gravity and continued to rise into the air with increasing velocity. It was as if he

 

was being pulled through the sky like a kite, with strings attached to his pelvic

 

bones and shoulders. He arms and legs dangled behind him as he raced along. His

 

stomach was relentless in its pleas for him to stop.

 

The next moment he was hovering motionless in mid air, observing the city

 

below. The hilly topography reminded him of Syracuse, New York, although he

 

had never before seen it from the air. He wondered if his dream had actually

 

transported himself to that locale. For some reason it did not feel right. His

 

conviction was not absolute like it had been when he had realized that he was

 

dreaming. He suddenly itched to be on the ground once more.

 

He spotted a clearing in the trees below and then pulled himself toward it, landing

 

light as a feather. As he familiarized himself with his new surroundings, he noted

 

that while the field where he had landed was treeless, it was far from being an empty lot. Amongst overgrown weeds were barrels of waste products and stacks

 

of rusty, steel I-beams.

 

A group of men were standing beneath the trees on one edge of the clearing. One

 

of the men noticed Credit watching them and pointed him out to his friends.

 

While they were too far away to be heard, Credit watched with keen interest as

 

they conversed with exaggerated animation before scattering along the tree-line.

 

Their movements did not appear friendly.

 

The gang surrounded him at a distance and then began to advance towards him,

 

silently communicating with hand signals. Some of the men sported knives. Steel

 

blades glistened in the sunlight.

 

With his escape route cut off, Credit decided to make his way for the central slag

 

heap. Under different circumstances, he would have been quite alarmed at such a

 

situation, perhaps even terrified. But he knew he had an ace up his sleeve, and it

 

made him feel confident to the point of becoming smug. He decided to have some

 

fun by taunting his pursuers.

 

“Hey, amigos!” he gleefully shouted. “Are you sure there are enough of you?

 

Perhaps you should bring your sisters to help you, no!?”

 

He cackled loudly as he leapt atop the tallest stack of steel girders. Even then, he

 

was barely out of reach from the ground below. His remarks brought scowls from the young men and caused them to quicken

 

their pace. They gathered below him in a circle, seething with resentment but

 

confident they would soon get their just revenge. The leader of the gang stepped

 

forward with a smirk upon his face.

 

“You have nothing to fear from us, gringo,” he whined. “We even forgive you

 

your insults. All we want is your money. Our fair share. So you come down and

 

we split it up, OK? We even let you keep some. OK?”

 

The gang members shuffled their feet as they gloated.

 

“I don’t believe you are macho enough to take my money,” Credit shouted back.

 

“Even your sisters are no help.” He smiled wickedly as he motioned towards

 

several of the men. “Perhaps you should send your madres to rob me!”

 

The jest made most of the men madder than hell. They lost patience. When he

 

saw a revolver being drawn, Credit quickly leapt into the air, hooting with

 

laughter at their dumbfounded looks of despair when he continued to rise into the

 

sky.

 

He followed a parabolic path of flight until he landed in a residential back yard.

 

His new setting felt exceedingly familiar, although it eluded his actual recall. As

 

he scanned the area for a clue to jar his memory, he spotted Mark and David

 

talking to each other near the back fence. Apparently, they had been tossing

 

horseshoes. The incongruity of the situation did not elude him. While they were two of his

 

best friends, they were from different times and places. They did not know each

 

other. And yet each of them loved to challenge his goal in life—his quest for total

 

freedom. Their contention was that it was both an undesirable and an unattainable

 

goal. His contention was that he would never be able to view the world as it really

 

is unless he freed himself from the strong cultural distortion and bias that was

 

taught to everyone as they grew up. But because total freedom was such an

 

abstract concept; since there were no maps that delineated the way and certainly

 

no lists quantifying the possible rewards, Credit was never able to adequately

 

define his position and rationale. Sometimes not even to himself.

 

But now an opportunity had presented itself. He would give Mark and David a

 

demonstration of what could be accomplished if one did not get caught up in the

 

pursuit of land, money, and material items; what was possible for every man if the

 

constraints of society were loosened. He would perform a grand leap into the sky

 

and then return! They would be impressed.

 

“Hey, guys!” he shouted. “Get a load of this!”

 

When they turned to look he leapt confidently into the air.

 

To his sudden consternation, he rose only fifteen feet before losing his balance.

 

With no physical control over the situation, he watched wide-eyed as his feet

 

swung out in front of him. He turned a backwards somersault and then landed awkwardly, though softly, on his hands and knees. As he struggled to regain his

 

feet, he could hear the snickering coming from his friend’s direction.

 

Silently cursing them, he reassured himself of his ability and then once again

 

attempted to walk the sky.

 

And once again he turned a backwards somersault before returning to earth, this

 

time landing lightly on his back. This time his mounting embarrassment was too

 

much to overcome, and he continued to lie on the ground.

 

Shit, he mused, now these guys are going to think I’m flakier than ever.

 

“What’s he doing?” he heard David ask.

 

“I don’t know. But whatever he’s up to, he’s not hurting himself,” Mark replied.

 

“I noticed that, too. He’s on to something, but I don’t know what.”

 

“He looked like a fish flopping around out of water.”

 

“Hey, Credit, try it one more time!”

 

“Yeah. Once more! You can do it.”

 

“You gotta knock on wood.”

 

“Yeah. Knock on wood!” He heard the knock on wood as he pushed himself up from the ground. He

 

heard it plain as day.

 

There it was again.

 

He decided it would be best to open his eyes and answer the door. 2 Bonnie

 

The loud rapping brought him quickly to his senses. He rubbed his eyes as he sat

 

up.

 

Another loud knocking brought him to his feet. As he peeked through the front

 

door curtains a grin spread across his face.

 

“Let me in, damn you! It’s cold out here.”

 

He opened the door and Bonnie drifted in with the cool, spring breeze.

 

“What’d you do? Fall asleep?” A guilty grin was his only reply.

 

“I wish that’s all I had to do was sleep all day.”

 

“I just had the most amazing dream I’ve ever had.”

 

“All about me, I suppose?”

 

A noncommittal chuckle was his initial answer. “I’ll tell you about it later,” he

 

said.

 

He was well aware that the dream had stamped itself into his memory and could

 

now be recalled at will, as if an actual event in his life had occurred. Two aspects

 

of that dream stood out. The first was very intriguing; the fact that he realized

 

within his dream that he was indeed dreaming. It was an extraordinary and

 

unlooked for development. The second aspect was more troubling; the fact that he

 

felt endangered by a Hispanic gang. He considered himself to be free of prejudice.

 

He certainly harbored no ill will towards any ethnic group, and he wondered

 

about the significance. What would cause a scene like that to creep up in his

 

dreams?

 

“When did you get back in town?” he asked, changing the subject.

 

“This afternoon. If you’d get a telephone, I could have called.” Bonnie glanced

 

around the room. The house was very clean, but essentially empty. Credit owned

 

only the barest of necessities; a few pieces of furniture, a refrigerator, a mattress on the floor in the bedroom. The man had no interest in consumer items. Yet he

 

was the most creative person she had ever met. And in his own way, the most

 

caring. The good looks were extra.

 

“Hey! You’re alone again!”

 

“Mark and De moved into their new house a couple days ago.”

 

“So who’s gonna cook, clean and take care of your other needs, now?”

 

He didn’t even attempt an answer.

 

“I don’t know what you see in Deanna,” she blurted.

 

Understanding, he reflected. Her eyes peer into my soul with recognition.

 

“She ain’t beautiful...”

 

She has sex appeal oozing from every pore of her body.

 

“...has a bitchy personality...”

 

She’s not happy with her marriage, with the direction of her life.

 

“...and she’s fat!”

 

“She’s not fat!” he snapped out loud. Immediately, he caught himself, shrugged his shoulders. “Overweight, a little.

 

If she gets serious about a diet, ol’ Mark will have a fox and a half on his hands.”

 

“She’s married.”

 

Yes, married. And to his best friend, no less. He smiled weakly, well aware of the

 

cliché he had become caught up in.

 

Bonnie was perceptive. It made him wonder exactly what it was he was doing.

 

Why Deanna? Why the strong physical yearnings for a woman he had known for

 

years as a friend?

 

Eighteen years ago, after his divorce, he found himself faced with a dilemma. He

 

could continue living within the cultural surroundings of his day, with all the

 

political processes and societal practices with which he disagreed, or he could

 

seek absolute and total freedom.

 

He opted for freedom, knowing full well that it would be a long, slow process.

 

Simply dropping out and running away from responsibilities, both financial and

 

emotional, was not a road that would lead to his goal. It would have to be a sober

 

and thoughtful process.

 

He was now very close to realizing his goal. His son would soon be graduating

 

college. His financial responsibilities would end. He had taken care of his other debts. He had only to cut his few remaining ties to the government and say

 

good-bye to his editor and friends before he could declare his total freedom.

 

Bonnie was a part time model. She had beautiful red hair and freckles, and a body

 

to boot; luscious breasts and a thin waist. And a wonderful way of making love.

 

When he first met her, she had been no more than a pleasant diversion. But the

 

more he came to know her, the more he realized that her beauty ran much, much

 

deeper than her skin. Bonnie had class and style. She could have any man she

 

wanted. He never dreamed that their relationship would reach the point that it had.

 

He wondered if that was the reason for his sudden infatuation with Deanna. Was

 

he unconsciously searching for an easy, if not messy, way to say good-bye to

 

Bonnie?

 

“You’re jealous of her,” he teased as he hid his feelings and moved closer to

 

Bonnie.

 

“Well, you make me mad! Falling for a married woman.”

 

He grabbed her around the waist and put his mouth to her ear.

 

“And you didn’t come over here to be mad, now did you! You came over here to

 

bounce around on the bed. Admit it!”

 

“I did not!” she said as she playfully struggled against his advances. He held her firmly and nibbled her with kisses until she finally relented. It did

 

not take long. She could sense that he needed her. They needed each other. It had

 

been a long time.

 

Afterwards she lay silently on her side, unusually reflective. Credit had never

 

been that rough with her before, that selfish. Was it because of his feelings for

 

Deanna? Would he feel less threatened if he was involved with a married woman?

 

Saddened and resentful, she pretended to sleep.

 

Credit sat awake, restless and agitated. He was sorry for the way he had just

 

treated Bonnie; ashamed that his thoughts kept drifting towards Deanna.

 

Impulsively, he gave Bonnie a firm shake.

 

“Wake up,” he whispered. “Let’s get dressed. We’re heading for the Hill

 

Country.” 3 Hill Country

 

She was sleeping soundly against the passenger door when he parked the truck at

 

the top of the bluff.

 

“We’re here,” he said as he gave her a gentle nudge.

 

Credit stepped outside and stretched. He glanced up and noticed the cloud cover

 

rolling in. There wasn’t a single star in the western half of the sky. He pulled the

 

flashlight from the knapsack, grabbed the tent and sleeping bags, and then tapped

 

loudly on Bonnie’s window.

 

“C’mon, sleepy head, let’s go. We’re here.” She stumbled out the door, moaning and stomping her feet. “I don’t know how

 

I let you talk me into this,” she grumbled. “What time is it?”

 

“About three-thirty. Hell, you ain’t got anything better to do.”

 

“I just come back from San Antonio!”

 

“Yeah, but this ain’t San Antone—it’s paradise. C’mon, you’ll love it here when

 

you can see it in the morning.”

 

He led her to a rough, steep trail that led down to the river. The darkness was

 

ravenous. It swallowed the glow from the flashlight before the light could point

 

out the dangers; the gnarled juniper roots and thorny branches that reached out to

 

grab and trip them. Unstable rocks broke loose, and scattered down the winding

 

slope.

 

“It’s dark out here, Credit. I’m can’t see.”

 

“We’re almost there.”

 

The wind was gusting hard when they reached a grassy flat and picked out a place

 

to set the tent. Although the night hid the river from view, they could hear its

 

musical gurgle.

 

“It’s gonna rain,” Bonnie said. “Nah, it’ll blow over.”

 

Despite the increasing wind, they managed to set up the tent. Bonnie climbed

 

inside to unroll the sleeping bags while Credit covered the tent with an extra tarp

 

and tied it down securely. The rising humidity was definitely noticeable by the

 

time he crawled inside and zipped the door.

 

“Goodnight,” Bonnie murmured. Her voice was barely audible above the noise of

 

the flapping tarp. She rolled over and dozed off.

 

Worn out from the long drive, it was only a moment before Credit, too, was sound

 

asleep. He did not hear the large, scattered raindrops begin to fall. 4 Flipside

 

He was at the end of a long, narrow lake that he could not identify. The blinding

 

glare from the sun on the water interfered with his total view, but when he

 

squinted his eyes he could see that tall, craggy cliffs bordered one of the

 

shorelines. The rocky fissures were crowded with scrawny oak trees and scrubby,

 

desert vegetation. The opposite shore was a more gradual slope of yellow,

 

withered grass.

 

In stark contrast was the picnic area where he now stood. It was park-like, with a

 

thick, green lawn and deep, cool shade from tall pines and cottonwoods. There was a cove at that end of the lake. From what he could recall, he had been

 

canoeing and having a good time. He thought he remembered seeing his mother

 

and father there, and assumed that he was at a family reunion. As he looked

 

around now, though, he began to pick out people he used to work with.

 

The mounting peculiarities suddenly added up and he concluded that he was

 

dreaming. He sensed that he could keep the sequences coming as long as he didn’t

 

buck the natural flow of events.

 

Mike was approaching him.

 

“I always wanted to ride in that thar k-new you get!”

 

Good grief! A six foot four, three hundred pound Cajun in a twelve-foot canoe.

 

Credit grinned.

 

“Sure. Why not.”

 

Despite the blazing sun, large, scattered raindrops had begun to fall, and he

 

figured that he was bound to get wet sooner or later.

 

He settled into the front of the canoe while Mike squeezed into the rear. They

 

wobbled all the way across the cove and half way back before rolling into the

 

water. As unbalanced as Mike was, it was amazing that they made it as far as they

 

did. Hilarious all the way. It was raining fairly hard by that time. Credit found himself back on shore.

 

Funny. He should have been soaked, but he wasn’t wet at all. But he didn’t have

 

time to ponder the oddities. Someone was speaking.

 

“Take your clothes off. We’ll dry them by the fire.”

 

“No thanks,” he replied. “I’ve got dry clothes in the car. I need to go now,

 

anyway.”

 

But he didn’t have a car. And he wasn’t wet. He rode his bicycle through the

 

streets of town. Although he had no idea where he was, he didn’t feel lost. When

 

he reached the end of one particularly intriguing residential block of homes, the

 

rain had nearly stopped.

 

This is the place, he thought as he stared at the large, white Victorian house on the

 

corner. The ancient structure had a very pleasing, elegant look about it.

 

But for some reason, he decided that the time was not yet right.

 

He leaned his bicycle against the lamppost, crossed the street, and then entered

 

the neighborhood store. It was dimly lit and overly crowded with shelves and

 

foodstuff. All of the aisles were extremely narrow. When he spotted the cigarette

 

rack he was overwhelmed. There must have been over a hundred different brands,

 

and he glanced at the register for help. The clerk had finished waiting on his lone

 

customer and was staring back at him. “Do you have any Marlboro Lights?” he sheepishly asked.

 

“Right here at the counter.”

 

Credit wondered if he had any money.

 

“That’ll be seventy-five cents, please.”

 

Good grief! A bargain.

 

Amazingly enough, he found several dollar bills inside his pants pocket. He

 

tipped the clerk a quarter and walked out.

 

He re-crossed the street and then climbed the steps to the big, white house. He

 

paused for a moment on the porch. The front door was wide open. Several people

 

were inside, conversing lightly and laughing. He stepped into the room and all

 

heads turned his way.

 

Silence.

 

A self-conscious feeling engulfed him. He stuttered, “Is ah, is...?”

 

Damn! He had a vague feeling that he had been looking for someone, but now he

 

couldn’t remember who it might have been. He began to panic. He realized that

 

he didn’t know anybody in the room.

 

A young woman moved from behind the couch and started walking towards him. “Oh! You’ve finally come to see me again! I’m so proud of you!”

 

“Had to,” he automatically replied. Again? Proud? Why proud?

 

His eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness of the room and he was unable to

 

distinguish the features of her face. Still, he could tell that she was no more than

 

five foot tall, slightly built, with long, black hair like Deanna’s. Although her

 

voice sounded vaguely familiar, he could not place it with a face.

 

He thought he knew her, yet he didn’t. In fact, he really didn’t know why he was

 

there to begin with.

 

“You know you’re dreaming, don’t you?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” he absently replied. He had almost forgotten.

 

“Good. You’re finally becoming aware of your situation. Come!” she said as she

 

grabbed him by the arm. “I want to show you something before you have to go.

 

We really don’t have much time.”

 

She was exuberant. Every fiber of her being sparkled with joy, and she transferred

 

that good feeling to him. All of a sudden he felt very much at ease and was more

 

than willing to follow her. She was a comfort to be with. She led him outside the house, down the street, and around a corner. They

 

turned another corner and then entered an expansive but deserted outdoor plaza.

 

They descended some steps and then entered a building through the basement

 

door.

 

Credit found himself in a brightly-lit room. He supposed that it was a university

 

bookstore. There were young people everywhere. And even though the room was

 

spacious, all of the aisles were so very narrow!

 

“Follow me,” the woman chirped.

 

He stared at her backside. A moment ago she had appeared so trim. Now she

 

suddenly looked huge and fat and he knew that she’d never be able to fit down the

 

aisle. It was an impossibility even for him! He turned and left the store.

 

Once outside he stopped and stood upon a drainage grate underneath a street

 

lamp. Nighttime had descended and it had begun to sprinkle once again.

 

He started to grow anxious as he waited, hoping that the woman would come back

 

outside. She had wanted to show him something, and like a dumb ass he had

 

walked out on her. Now he might never see her again. He felt too embarrassed to

 

go back inside.

 

The grate beneath him began to make a dull, roaring sound. He looked down and

 

noticed the water pouring in around his feet. Something else was wrong! He could feel it. He was standing there with his

 

hands in his pockets in a drenching rain, and yet he wasn’t wet!

 

A realization struck him and he awoke with a start. 5 Deanna

 

Deanna awoke with a start. An ominous feeling slipped from her grasp as she

 

fitfully sat up in bed.

 

She wondered what had jolted her into waking. It had not been Mark’s snoring.

 

He was breathing evenly, sleeping silently beside her. Neither had it been her

 

dream, although she couldn’t recall that now at all. Still, like a wispy apparition, a

 

definite sense of impending disaster hung in the air and continued to haunt her.

 

Noting the time, she slipped out of bed and then shuffled into the sitting room.

 

She opened the sliding doors and stepped outside. A cool, steady breeze bathed

 

her with the essence of pine needles and dogwood. Starlight glittered through the quivering pines in the backyard. She knew their glow would not last long.

 

Dawn would soon be upon them.

 

As she sat down, the reason for her sudden waking swept through her without

 

warning. She unconsciously shuddered and then abruptly stood up and began

 

pacing the patio.

 

Something had happened to Credit.

 

Something terrible!

 

There was no doubt about it. Credit was alone and in need of help, and she should

 

be there to help him. 5 Flash Flood

 

He awoke to loud, rumbling thunder. Violent sheets of rain pelted the tent in

 

continuing waves. And although he was disturbed by the undulating rhythm of a

 

raging, turbulent river, the sound that riveted his attention even more was the

 

otherworldly roar that was growing louder as it approached.

 

“What’s wrong?” Bonnie mumbled, still half asleep.

 

“Get up. We need to get the hell out of here! Get your shoes on!”

 

Bonnie needed no convincing. Water had begun to filter in through the tent. It was

 

waist deep by the time they reached the base of the hillside. The roar from the approaching wall of water had become overwhelming. It was deafening. Credit

 

knew it to be the sound of death.

 

Their progress up the slope was agonizingly slow. Each precious, passing moment

 

only amplified the futility of their efforts.

 

And then it was upon them. Credit took the brunt of the force and his feet were

 

swept out from under him. He vainly flailed at the branches of a tree, and then

 

was gone.

 

Bonnie clung tightly to the shrubbery as the water inched its way upward, but the

 

main wall had passed beneath her.

 

With the initial thrust over, she collapsed in grief at the edge of the raging river.

 

*

 

The river deposited Credit in a semi-conscious state on a smooth, almost flat, slab

 

of sandstone. It played with him for a while, tugging at his arms and legs, and

 

then let him be. A melody took root in his mind. At first faint and intermittent, he

 

thought it had been the river playing with his mind, and so he paid little attention to it. But the sound persisted and it wasn’t long before he had the lyrics for a

 

song.

 

Been climbing and crawling

 

from dusk ‘til dawn

 

Got swept down the river

 

In a raging storm

 

My body’s aching

 

wish I’d never been born

 

Verse after verse, it burned itself into his brain. And then the song stopped. He

 

became aware of his situation and opened his eyes.

 

Although the river had receded considerably, it was still very dangerous. He saw

 

his right arm dangling over the side of the rock, blood red from scratches and

 

contusions. He felt like he had bumped and scraped every rock along the way.

 

His shoulder ached, his skin tingled and crawled. He imagined chunks of flesh

 

ripped from his legs. His body ached in so many places that he began to worry

 

about the places that did not hurt, the places that were numb to his feel. And he worried about Bonnie.

 

Painstakingly, he attempted to pull his legs underneath himself in order to rise to

 

his knees. His leg buckled, causing him to lurch sideways.

 

Not the thing to do, he thought bitterly as the current of the Pedernales took firm

 

hold of him, and once again he was swept away.

 

*

 

Completely drained, Bonnie lay back on the side of the steep slope. Her heart had

 

withered when Credit was swept away. The water had risen to her waist, leveled

 

off, and then began to inch its way downward. After in indeterminate amount of

 

time, she finished climbing the hill and then lay down in the bed of the truck.

 

There was nowhere else she could go. Credit had the keys.

 

She suddenly realized that the rain had stopped, and it was daylight. The sun was

 

rising in the east, although it was still blocked on the horizon by the remainder of

 

the clouds. The storm had been swift and savage.

 

She began to wonder if she had underestimated Credit. He was an avid canoeist,

 

at home in whitewater. There could be a chance that he didn’t drown. She sat up and looked around suspiciously. Knowing him, he was liable to show up at any

 

moment and frighten her shitless.

 

She decided to search for him. It was the least she could do. She knew she would

 

hate herself if she didn’t.

 

She could see from the bluff that the river made a giant loop and then came back

 

near the truck. She descended the downriver side and made it to the bank at the

 

exact moment that the sun broke through the clouds.

 

She studied the opposite side of the river where the still strong current pummeled

 

the immovable wall. And then she glanced upstream. There, clinging to a tree

 

along the bank, too weak to pull himself out of the water, was Credit.

 

She cried softly when she cradled his head in her lap. 7 Flipside

 

Only a moment ago his head was nestled in Bonnie’s lap.

 

Now he was standing at an overlook, high on the side of a long, narrow lake.

 

Across the water a craggy, mountain ridge bordered the shoreline. Below him

 

there was a public boat ramp. Next to it was a picnic area. He knew he had been

 

there before. He knew that he was dreaming, and he was grateful for the painless

 

interlude.

 

Below the dam, hidden by lush growth, was the town where the dark haired

 

woman lived. The green canopy of tall shade trees above the town was a truly

 

wonderful sight in the otherwise drab, desert environment. The possibility of seeing the woman again greatly appealed to him. The last

 

time they had been together he had felt very comfortable with her. She exuded

 

confidence, wisdom, and understanding. Thinking that she might even be able to

 

explain the meaning of his dreams, he quickly decided that he needed to find her.

 

But when he attempted to make his way down the slope, he discovered that he

 

couldn’t move a muscle. Total paralysis had set in without him even being aware

 

of it. He began to feel very uneasy about his lack of mobility.

 

In order to quell the unsettled feelings that began festering inside him, he once

 

again fixed his gaze upon the town. The only structure that stood out above the

 

treetops was the church steeple. The large, Victorian house was not in sight and

 

he was unable to remember its exact location in the village. The last time he had

 

gone there it was as if he had been beckoned, and so he hadn’t paid attention to

 

the route he had taken.

 

More than that, he hadn’t paid attention to the woman’s overall appearance.

 

Although he must have had many opportunities, never once did he take a good

 

look at her face. He had seen her mostly from behind, and now he couldn’t picture

 

her at all. It dawned on him that he wouldn’t be able to recognize her even if he

 

did see her again!

 

Not that it mattered anymore. His condition hadn’t changed. He still wasn’t able

 

to move a muscle. He began to realize exactly how self-centered and shallow he must have

 

seemed to the woman. He had been rude, thoughtless and inconsiderate with her.

 

He hadn’t even asked for her name. To top it all off, he had walked out on her,

 

and he glumly decided that he had given her absolutely no reason to ever want to

 

see him again.

 

He continued to dwell on his failures. As his self-esteem plummeted, his

 

despondency continued to escalate until the town, the desert, and the lake all

 

disintegrated into a chaotic mélange of color and confusion. 8 Deanna

 

“So, what do you want to do tonight?”

 

Deanna placed her coffee cup on the end table as she settled into the chair. A

 

popular evening game show was playing unwatched on the television screen.

 

Mark was absorbed in the newspaper. He gave no indication that he heard her

 

utterance, but his mind had begun to race. Could it be a trick question?

 

“I really hadn’t thought about it,” he slowly replied, wondering why this

 

particular evening should be any different from any other. “Well, I just thought we might do something different for a change. Don’t you

 

get bored sitting around every night?”

 

No, that’s what I work all day for, he thought.

 

“You should have rented a movie or something,” he casually offered.

 

Deanna made a disdainful sound with her mouth.

 

“I thought when we moved here we would get out and do things again,” she

 

grumbled. “Visit archaeological sites with Credit, anything! But since his

 

accident, all he wants to do is mope around the house. Even Bonnie got fed up

 

and left, although I don’t see what he sees in her anyway. And you never want to

 

do anything at all.”

 

Seeing that Mark had no answer, she sulked back into her chair. “I’m bored!” she

 

snapped. She stood up and began pacing the room.

 

“Well, get a job or something,” Mark suggested. The conversation was getting

 

old. “You’ve got degrees up the ass, do something with them!”

 

“Well, that isn’t going to do me any good for tonight, now is it,” she haughtily

 

replied.

 

“Look!” Mark exploded, “I don’t even want to be in East Texas to begin with. I

 

moved back here for you. This is what you wanted. Right here! I work every day so you can have this damn house, the dishes, the rugs, the furniture, the

 

paintings. Look at them! The VCR, the TV, the patio, the yard, the woods. You

 

wanted trees, well you got trees. We’ve only been in the house for two months

 

and you’re already sick and damn tired of the damn place. I don’t know what else

 

I can do for you. I really don’t.”

 

He dropped back into his chair. Damn, dingy woman, he bitterly thought. He

 

looked over at her. Tears were in her eyes. Already her face was puffed from

 

crying.

 

His anger quickly subsided. She was still as beautiful as ever. A little heavier

 

perhaps, but that didn’t bother him in the least.

 

He wondered if he was losing her. Nothing he did seemed to satisfy her anymore.

 

And yet, after twelve years of marriage it was hard for him to imagine life without

 

her.

 

Deanna wiped her tears. Mark was right, of course. She needed something to

 

occupy her time. But work wasn’t the answer. She needed something that would

 

grab her by her soul and inject meaning and excitement into her life once again.

 

Whether it included Mark or not, changes were going to be made. 9 Backwater

 

He pushed the canoe away from shore and then carefully picked his way though

 

the thick tangle of tree limbs and vines before entering the main channel of Boggy

 

Slough.

 

He was in the upper reaches of Lake Sam Rayburn, the flooded timber and

 

backwater channels of the Angelina River. Although he knew deeper water would

 

provide better fishing at that time of year, he liked the solitude of that part of the

 

lake. The wildlife abounded there. There were countless beaver and nutria, and an

 

increasing number of otter every year. Birds flitted noisily in the bushes lining the

 

channel, while cranes and egrets lifted themselves lazily from the water.

 

The sky was sunny and the wind non-existent, a perfect day to be on the lake

 

again.

 

And a good day for introspection. He had issues that needed to be resolved.

 

He turned a narrow bend in the channel. A blue heron flew up in front of him, its

 

huge wings creating uproar. Surprisingly, it came to a sudden, abrupt stop in mid

 

flight and then dropped back into the water like a rock. It began to frantically

 

thrash and flap.

 

Credit was startled. He momentarily lost his balance and almost fell out of the

 

canoe. When he once again regained his composure, he went to investigate the

 

still fluttering bird.

 

He discovered that it had inadvertently hooked itself on a trotline. The lake level

 

had fallen so low that hundreds of fishhooks dangled from trees and were hanging

 

in mid air.

 

He cut the cord to free the heron and it flapped up onto a stump. With its mangled

 

wing, he knew it would never be able to fly again. It would be only a matter of

 

time before it became a meal for an alligator. He hadn’t anticipated catching any fish until he reached his favorite fishing

 

hole, but the very first time he cast a silver crank bait into the slow moving

 

current he landed a two pound bass. Within the next half mile he caught over a

 

dozen fish. Catch and release. He was elated.

 

He soon left the confines of the channel and entered Frog Lake, his intended

 

destination. A small, natural lake before impoundment of the river, its wide-open

 

surface now provided excellent casting with very few snags. It was always good

 

for a half dozen fish or more.

 

But over fifty casts lured nothing, and what had started out as exceedingly good

 

entertainment soon turned into a chore. He could not help but note the parallels to

 

his personal life. While he had been concerned with Deanna, the prize fish,

 

Bonnie, was getting away.

 

Finally figuring that it was only common sense to go where the fish were biting,

 

Credit began to work his way back through the trees to the main channel. He

 

could sense that something in his surroundings had changed, but he couldn’t put

 

his finger on it. He stopped his paddling. It took a minute before it registered that

 

there wasn’t any sound at all. Neither birds nor insects. It had become deathly still

 

all around him.

 

And then he noticed the faint whisper of a strong wind in the distance, and when

 

he reached the edge of the open channel, he could see the violent thrashing of the tall pine trees back on shore. It was an eerie sensation. The air around him was

 

absolutely calm.

 

The wind suddenly fled his field of vision, accompanied by a loud change in tone

 

as it dramatically increased in intensity. He could picture the wind racing across

 

the stunted trees of the lake like an enormous tidal wave, intent on obliterating

 

him from the face of the lake.

 

For the first time he felt fear for his safety. He wrapped his arms around the

 

nearest tree trunk, securing himself as tightly as he could. He glanced back at

 

Frog Lake as he waited. The air seemed fuzzier there, much darker. Within

 

seconds a twister appeared over the water and a fountain of spray shot a very

 

impressive sixty feet into the air.

 

He braced himself as the wind hit like a wall. His main fear was that his canoe

 

would be blown out from under him, leaving him stranded. More alligator bait.

 

But the gale died almost instantly. As fast as it came, it went. Just petered out,

 

neat as shit.

 

Although his blood continued to pump, Credit felt a deep sense of relief. More so

 

when he realized that only moments earlier he had been sitting in the middle of

 

Frog Lake—exactly where the twister had set down. His timing had been

 

impeccable. He caught several more fish on the way back to camp, saving three for supper.

 

The fillets turned out to be excellent.

 

Afterwards, he sat near the fire and reflected upon his good fortune. Both the blue

 

heron and the twister had been graphic examples of how Fate could unexpectedly

 

intervene to end one’s life. Twice now, Fate had let him walk away relatively

 

unscathed. Timing was everything.

 

Was he wrong to interpret such phenomena as being input from the Earth? As

 

being omens or messages, or lessons to be learned? Or was it all chance

 

occurrences and wishful thinking? Did the answer reside within Western

 

pragmatism or more in shamanism? Or both? He had hoped to be able to expand

 

his awareness through his intensely realistic dreams, but even they had deserted

 

him. He hadn’t dreamed in a month.

 

Perhaps his friends had been right all along. Perhaps it was time to give up his

 

impossible quest for freedom. At twenty-six years of age freedom had been an

 

easy choice to make. Now it seemed to be a very lonely choice.

 

He decided that it was time to change his ways and end his self-imposed isolation

 

from society. He was not getting any younger. He would forget about Deanna,

 

dispel his sullen moods, and patch things up with Bonnie. She was the best thing

 

going in his life. She was more than worth the compromise. 10 Flipside

 

They were at a stoplight; the three of them together again in his 1960 Ford Falcon

 

convertible. They had grown up in the same neighborhood, were best friends for

 

how many years? Eight? Ten? It had been more than twenty years since he had

 

last seen Tom and Dino, and they didn’t look a day older than the day they

 

graduated high school.

 

He had been giving them a tour of the city; the historic downtown square, the

 

University, the million dollar homes with their beautifully landscaped lawns. But

 

it was the towering pines that impressed his friends the most. They couldn’t get

 

over the fact that Texas had pine trees. “If you guys really want to see some trees, we could take a drive out to the

 

lake. It’s nothing but forest all the way out there.”

 

“Sure!”

 

“What’s the name of the lake?”

 

“Rayburn,” he answered, and then added, “It’s manmade. It ain’t nothing like

 

Ontario.”

 

He studied Tom and Dino more closely. Well, hell! Their hair wasn’t any thicker

 

than his. And they were putting on a little weight, too. Shit. They looked just as

 

old as he did.

 

It dawned on him that he was dreaming.

 

“I need to make a phone call first,” he said.

 

When the signal light changed he turned onto a side street that he no longer

 

recognized. It made him wonder. Before he had realized that he was in a dream,

 

he had assumed that he was in his hometown, and was therefore confident that he

 

knew every street like the back of his hand.

 

Now he was lost! He continued across the next intersection and then pulled over to the curb.

 

There was a video arcade on the corner. The front of the building was open to the

 

elements. Video games and pinball machines lined the walls and ran three rows

 

deep across the room.

 

“I’ll be right back,” he said to his friends.

 

He was thinking about the black haired woman. He would call her and apologize

 

for his past behavior. He had figured there would be a telephone in the room, but

 

after searching the entire arcade, he discovered that his assumption was wrong.

 

He circled back to the front of the store and stepped outside to the sidewalk to

 

ponder his next move.

 

He developed an odd sensation. His perspective had somehow split. At the very

 

same time he had become both a participant and an observer of the scene.

 

He was thirty feet in the air, floating there, watching himself standing in front of

 

the arcade. He saw a woman walk out of the store next door. She was carrying

 

two sacks of groceries. She dropped one of the sacks as she passed in front of

 

him, the contents spilling and scattering on the sidewalk. He received the distinct

 

impression that the scene had been contrived, that he had just witnessed a staged

 

rehearsal by the old lady. He saw himself stooping to help her retrieve her items. At the same time, he was also standing in front of the arcade. An old lady

 

approached him carrying an armful of groceries. She was dressed in layers of

 

rags, and her tattered shoes were unlaced.

 

A bag lady, he thought. How delicious! The perfect stereotype.

 

As he was about to glance at her face, she dropped one of the sacks. On purpose?

 

His suspicions faded when he stooped to help her.

 

His perspectives merged once again, and he became only the actor in the scene.

 

Despite her possible ruse, the woman gave him a good, comfortable feeling and

 

he decided to help her carry her bags.

 

Moving smoothly and rapidly and always a step ahead of him, she led him down

 

the sidewalk. After they had traveled for some distance, and he had grown weary

 

of marveling at her vitality, he became aware of a sensation in his leg. Before he

 

could concentrate on the feeling, he noticed that the trees lining the street were

 

maples. How odd! The setting had become a strange mixture of upstate New York

 

and East Texas. Even the houses looked like those in Buffalo.

 

“Don’t forget your friends.”

 

The voice echoed through his mind. While his attention had been distracted, the bag lady had taken her sacks from

 

him and vanished. He never did see her face.

 

But her warning distressed him. He had left his friends alone in front of the

 

arcade. He had forgotten all about them, and now he couldn’t move a muscle!

 

He began to feel anxious. Up until that moment he had moved without thinking.

 

Now that he wanted to move to a specific destination, he didn’t know how to do

 

it.

 

As his anxiety continued to increase, he began to worry that his dream would

 

dissolve. And then it dawned on him that it was just a dream, and it was the

 

feeling that mattered. He remembered the sensation he had felt in his leg when

 

walking with the bag lady. Intuitively, he knew that if he concentrated on that

 

muscle in his thigh, it would enable him to move at will. By simply diverting his

 

attention, he moved rapidly down the street, gratified by his sense of

 

accomplishment.

 

When he spotted his car from a distance, he saw a stranger sitting on the hood

 

talking to Tom and Dino. They noticed his approach and hollered out.

 

The stranger looked around with a grin and yelled out, “It’s about time you got

 

back!” All right! It was his son, Jason! He was overjoyed to see him. Luck was

 

definitely running his way.

 

They hugged each other tightly. Jason was more solid than he remembered. He

 

was becoming a man. Damn, he loved that boy.

 

“Hop in the car. I want to show you something,” he said to his son.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“A surprise. This won’t take long at all. We’ll be right back, guys.”

 

True to his word, they arrived at their destination in no time.

 

“This is it,” he said as he pulled to the side of the road and parked the car.

 

“What is it?” Jason asked.

 

“It’s an old historical site. Let’s go check out that building.”

 

A tiny, little shack sat beneath some ancient shade trees on the top edge of an

 

escarpment.

 

“It looks like an outhouse,” Jason commented.

 

The building really wasn’t much larger. “I believe it’s a church or a meeting hall,” Credit replied as they strolled up to

 

the door.

 

“Where did all the people go?”

 

The building was approximately six feet deep and not much wider than the door.

 

But when they stepped inside they found themselves in a long, spacious hallway.

 

A sitting room flanked one side while a small museum occupied the other. In

 

front of them was the main gathering room.

 

“This place is huge!” Jason shouted.

 

“Shows you what a little faith will do, doesn’t it?”

 

They by-passed the side rooms and stepped into the main chamber. Credit noted

 

the simple construction; the bare wall beams and rough planking, ordinary glass

 

windows and austere wooden pews, half of them missing.

 

The altar was more ornately decorated. Gold icons of varying sizes flanked the

 

podium, which was etched with intricate gold plating. Heavy velvet curtains hung

 

from the back wall.

 

“There’s a fortune in here,” Credit mumbled in disbelief. “It’s a miracle this stuff

 

hasn’t been stolen.”

 

“There’s nobody here to even watch the place,” Jason added. They browsed a while longer before stepping outside.

 

“There aren’t any windows out here!” Jason exclaimed.

 

“I noticed that before,” Credit replied as he observed the succession of gently

 

rolling hills below the escarpment.

 

His son began to measure the building.

 

“One! Two!” he huffed, taking giant steps around the structure. “Eight. Nine.

 

Ten! Well, almost,” he shouted as he lost his balance and flopped to the ground

 

near his starting point.

 

“This is a neat place,” Jason said as he continued to lie on his back. “You should

 

remember it.”

 

Credit shook his head and smiled. What an odd statement to make, he mused.

 

Why should he forget the place? After all, he was the one who had introduced his

 

son to the spot.

 

“Why do you say that?” he finally asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

 

“This place has power. That building will hold as many people as it needs to

 

hold.”

 

“How do you know that?” “That plaque over there says so,” Jason replied, referring to a marker near the

 

edge of the hill.

 

“Did you read it?”

 

“No. But I’ll bet that’s what it says!” he chuckled as he arched his back off the

 

ground. “There’s more here than meets the eye, that’s for sure,” he added.

 

“Credit?”

 

The surprisingly familiar voice came from behind him. As he turned his head, he

 

opened his eyes. 11 Bonnie

 

“Credit?”

 

He rolled over.

 

“Credit, wake up! It’s time for breakfast.”

 

He sat up and rubbed his eyes.

 

“Bonnie? What are you doing here?” he moaned in disbelief.

 

“I brought breakfast. C’mon. I’ve got a fire going. Why don’t you get dressed?” “I’ll be right out.”

 

The woman was amazing. She was going to give him another chance.

 

He couldn’t believe his eyes when he crawled out of the tent. Bonnie had an entire

 

breakfast set out; bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, hash browns, and juice. Coffee was

 

warming on the fire.

 

“I can’t believe this!” he exclaimed. “How’d you ever find me down here?”

 

“It wasn’t easy. I finally got a hold of your brother. He said there wasn’t much

 

tellin’ where you’d be, but he suggested I try down here and walla, here I am.”

 

“I had another special dream last night,” he said. “Jason was in it.”

 

“Is he coming down this summer?”

 

“As far as I know he’s not coming until next Spring.”

 

“How come you never dream of me?”

 

“I promise I won’t dream of nothing but you from now on. You ready to catch

 

some fish?”

 

“I’ll catch ‘em, but I ain’t eating them.” “So that’s why you brought all this food,” Credit chuckled. “And here I thought

 

you’d done all this for me.”

 

“I ain’t doing nothing for you.”

 

For the first time he realized that Bonnie sparkled for him like no one else ever

 

had. She had always shone for him.

 

He felt like an idiot for having never seen it before. 12 New Orleans

 

It was late in the evening when they finished their dinner at the Creole Cottage.

 

The meal had been exceptional, the atmosphere electric.

 

Bonnie was obviously enjoying herself. She looked utterly radiant, absolutely

 

stunning in a revealing ebony dress, the perfect compliment to her pale skin and

 

glowing red hair.

 

But what had Credit excited was what she wore underneath. Earlier in the

 

evening, just before they had stepped out of the elevator at the Hilton, she had

 

lifted her hem, briefly revealing stockings, garter and exquisitely compelling lace

 

panties. After that exhibition, she knew darn well he’d be looking through her dress all

 

evening long. The little wench could be quite a character. She knew when to be

 

the perfect lady, and when to be the perfect lover.

 

He looked at her. The woman could have any man she wanted. She could be rich

 

beyond measure, and yet she chose to be with him. It just didn’t make sense.

 

He chuckled to himself.

 

“Do you think you’ll still love me when I get old?” he innocently asked.

 

“What are you talking about? You’re already ancient, my dear.”

 

Credit smiled as he reached for his drink.

 

“You know, since we’ve pretty much been staying together the past few weeks, if

 

you’d like to fix the place up some, you know, curtains, rugs, furniture...”

 

“Air-conditioning, micro-wave, jacuzzi...shoot, you don’t even have a clock in the

 

house!”

 

“Well, you know,” he squirmed. “When you’ve been around the clock as many

 

times as I have, you pretty much get a feel for time. Besides...”

 

“Because you don’t want to get all cluttered up with material crap, you live like a

 

damn monk or something.” “I’m trying to change,” he offered weakly.

 

“Are you getting a cell phone, too?”

 

He squirmed.

 

“That’s what I thought.”

 

She knew that while Credit might succeed in making cosmetic changes, nothing

 

superficial would take root. His first marriage had failed because he could not join

 

the mainstream and live the typical middle class lifestyle. He was simply

 

uncomfortable with being comfortable. It was like he felt caged. Besides, it was

 

his love for life and quest for knowledge, qualities that knew no bounds, which

 

drew her to him in the first place.

 

“I’d just rather spend the time with you than with some Japanese plastic crap,” he

 

expounded.

 

“And I want you just the way you are.”

 

He finished his drink. “Are you ready to turn the heads down on Bourbon Street?”

 

“Let’s go! But you’ll turn more heads than I will.”

 

He knew she was feeding his ego, but her compliments were welcome. He had to

 

admit that he felt good about his appearance. It wasn’t often that he dressed in a tuxedo, and he imagined himself to be quite handsome. The perfect escort for

 

such a gorgeous woman.

 

They strolled arm in arm to the corner of Bourbon Street, where a small crowd

 

had gathered to listen to an old man play his saxophone. His stage was a crate in

 

the middle of the street. A sign leaning against the crate read, “I’m a jukebox. I

 

play what you pay.”

 

His music stopped suddenly and then the man assumed a silent, rigid pose. He

 

stood still as a statue. A tourist soon dropped a dollar into his coffee can and, after

 

a short pause, the old man commenced to play another tune.

 

Credit studied the old-timer as he played. The man was black as coal, ancient and

 

aristocratic. His white hair stood out prominently around his ears and temples.

 

Dark sunglasses covered his eyes, giving the impression that he was blind. He had

 

probably been a very good sax player in his younger days, but now too many

 

notes turned sour. Still, the man was entertaining and making the tourists smile.

 

He was New Orleans, and he belonged there. That was his corner, perhaps his

 

home.

 

When the dollar ran its course, the man stopped his song and once again resumed

 

his rigid pose.

 

Credit placed a five dollar bill into the can and then stepped back. He continued to

 

scrutinize the old man. He could actually picture him going through the motions of an old time jukebox. He could see the records spinning in their rack, the

 

selector lever finally choosing a disk and placing it onto the turntable. He saw the

 

stylus arm move over and set down upon the vinyl. He could even imagine the

 

rasp before the song.

 

The old man gathered his tune. It rose from deep inside him, filled his instrument

 

to the brim and then spilled forth his soul; melodious, intense, inspired. From the

 

first note he played like a man transformed, the crispness and clarity a striking

 

improvement from his previous songs. He didn’t miss a beat. Not a nuance.

 

Credit froze, spellbound. Ice ran through his veins. He turned pale and gasped for

 

air.

 

The old man was playing HIS song: the one that had come to him during the flash

 

flood. There was absolutely no way anyone else could know that song. He had

 

shared it with only Bonnie.

 

It took her a moment to realize, but when she did she clutched his arm, squeezing

 

tightly.

 

“Credit! He’s playing your song,” she whispered. “This is weird.”

 

He wondered how he should react to the situation. Was he frightened?

 

Astonished? Damn! The world was a strange place. He glanced around the area. Everything seemed alien. It was as if time had

 

stopped. Although there was movement in the background, the immediate crowd

 

was quietly entranced. The only sound came from the saxophonist.

 

Three verses he played, moving and animated, and then he stopped.

 

Credit’s bubble burst. Once again he was flooded with street noises; talking,

 

music, shouting. He noted the muffled applause from the crowd.

 

The old man continued to play true to his role. Once again he stood still as a

 

statue.

 

Bonnie whispered, “That was eerie.”

 

Credit attempted to gather his wits.

 

“Only three verses, old man?” he asked as he placed another bill into the can.

 

“Won’t you play it for us one more time?”

 

Again Credit could hear the gears clicking, selections being made, but when the

 

old man started in there was a twinge of disappointment. It was a different song.

 

The sax man had reverted to his old ways, playing from memory, missing notes

 

and making up lines, jazzing it up. People began clapping in time. Although initially let down, the new song definitely altered Credit’s mood. He

 

felt a weight lifted. Bonnie also felt lightened. She began to sing along and dance.

 

Together, they joined hands and marched joyfully down the street.

 

Tourists were out in droves, filtering in and out of the side shops and restaurants

 

and bars. As Credit attempted to see through the throng, he unexpectedly spied

 

Deanna. He was shocked. She wasn’t but thirty feet down the street! He caught

 

her eye, smiled, and nodded his head.

 

Without acknowledging his presence, Deanna turned and walked away,

 

disappearing into the crowd.

 

Credit was stupefied. Why had she been so rude? Had that really been her? He

 

took hold of Bonnie’s arm and began pulling her down the street.

 

Wondering about the abrupt change of pace, Bonnie hollered out, “Slow down,

 

will ya?”

 

Suddenly she screamed and then forcefully yanked on Credit’s arm.

 

Immediately he stopped and turned around. A local drunk had Bonnie by her

 

other arm. She looked terrified.

 

Credit quickly measured the man’s appearance; five foot eight, lean and

 

unshaved, with ragged, tattered clothes. He was no doubt weak from too much

 

drink and too little food. “Let go of her arm, mister,” he cautioned. His tone reflected his seriousness.

 

The bum returned his stare. His eyes were intelligent and void of malice. Credit

 

sensed no danger.

 

The man looked at Bonnie and with a Scottish accent muttered, “Me Bonnie lass,

 

what say ye? If ye lose Credit, does Credit lose?”

 

Shit, fumed Credit. He had no time for such cryptic nonsense.

 

“Let go of her now,” he ordered tersely.

 

At that moment a shot rang out at the end of the block. Credit sensed the panic in

 

the air before he turned to look. When he did, he saw the surge of the crowd.

 

Two more shots rang out. There were more screams and shouts and the human

 

wave expanded their way. Without hesitation, he pointed Bonnie in the direction

 

of St. Louis Street. The bum had vanished.

 

More explosions resounded when they reached Jackson Square. But not from

 

gunshot. Fireworks were beginning to explode over the Mississippi River.

 

Although the square was filling rapidly with people, they were able to find an

 

empty park bench where they could watch the sky and try to collect themselves.

 

“Life with you sure ain’t dull, Credit Lews.” He put his arm around her and she melted against him.

 

“I want you to know I’m proud of you,” she murmured. “The way you stood up

 

against that giant! God, he must have been seven feet tall!”

 

“What are you talking about?” Credit was puzzled.

 

“That man back there who grabbed me! What do you think?”

 

He shrugged his shoulders, mystified. He wondered, what was she trying to pull?

 

“I ain’t never seen nobody like him,” she continued. “His hair was as orange as

 

mine. And that eye patch and those boots he was wearing! Credit, his coat buttons

 

were pure gold! I’m sure of it!”

 

That did it. Credit was flabbergasted. He thought she had been pulling his leg

 

until she mentioned the gold buttons. That was too good of a touch. He decided

 

that she must be serious about her description of the scrawny bum.

 

So much had happened in such a short time, events that were unexplainable and

 

mysterious. If he didn’t know better, he would say that it had all been a dream.

 

When the fireworks ended they strolled romantically through Jackson Square and

 

then decided to attempt Bourbon Street one more time. A group of jazz bands were the source of the music on the corner of Orleans.

 

One would have never known there had been a shooting there earlier. The crowd

 

was deep and thick. Deciding that it wasn’t worth fighting, they slipped into Old

 

Toone’s, miraculously found a table, and ordered drinks.

 

“What are you thinking about?” Bonnie asked after the cocktails arrived.

 

“You’ve been awfully quiet lately.”

 

“It’s been a pretty strange evening, don’t you think?”

 

“This is the French Quarter. It’s supposed to be strange here! You know, mystery

 

and intrigue. You’re a writer, Credit. You should be eating this up. That’s what

 

we’re here for, isn’t it?”

 

“Not really. But we sure stumbled into it, didn’t we? That saxophone player sent

 

chills up my spine. What did you make of that episode?”

 

He was trying hard not to think of the odd occurrences as being omens. After all,

 

hadn’t he promised to put all of that behind him?

 

“I have to admit that was weird. But I was more concerned with that giant who

 

grabbed me.”

 

“He may have kept us from being in the line of gunfire,” Credit suggested. “I’ve wondered about that! Why did you begin dragging me down the street in

 

the first place?”

 

“I thought I saw somebody.”

 

“Deanna?”

 

Credit winced. Bonnie’s intuition was uncanny.

 

His silence only tended to confirm her suspicions.

 

What was it with that woman? She believed Credit when he said they had never

 

had sex. What was it about her that compelled him so? Would Deanna always be

 

a part of him?

 

“Don’t worry about Deanna,” Credit said in atonement. “That woman would be

 

poison for me. I think that’s quite obvious. You, on the other hand,” he continued

 

nervously, “are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It would be a tragedy to

 

think I let you get away because I never had the nerve to ask...”

 

He knelt on the floor and took her hand.

 

“Bonnie Hampton, I love you more than anything else in the world. I’d be crazy

 

to let you slip away without ever asking,” he stared deeply into her eyes, “would

 

you honor me by becoming my wife?” “If you’d get up off the floor and lighten up a little, I might consider it,” she

 

dryly replied.

 

And then she was in his arms, kissing him deeply.

 

“I’d love to be your wife, Credit,” she said when their lips parted. “You know

 

that’s what I’ve hoped for all along.”

 

They kissed again.

 

“It won’t be a typical marriage, will it?” she asked with a sparkle in her eye.

 

“Not if tonight’s any indication,” he replied with a smile. “What do say we find

 

the hotel?”

 

They left a generous tip and then made their way down Bourbon. The crowd, the

 

shops, the sounds were all muted. It was as if they no longer existed.

 

As they neared Canal Street, Credit remembered the tradition.

 

“I almost forgot,” he said as he pulled a small box from his pocket. “I hope it fits.

 

And I hope you like it.” He slid the engagement ring onto her finger.

 

Impulsively, she pulled him into a deserted side alley. Pinning his body against

 

the wall, she held her body tightly against his while she kissed him passionately.

 

Damn, she’s soft, he crooned, immediately aroused. She was light as a feather. “Mrs. Bonnie Lews,” she kept saying between breaths. “Mrs. Credit Lews.

 

Mrs. Lews.”

 

He was elated that she was so happy.

 

Suddenly, Bonnie turned around. Keeping her back snug against him, she grabbed

 

his hands and clasped them over her stomach.

 

“Yes,” she said dreamily, as if in answer to an unspoken question. “I’m Bonnie

 

Hampton. How did you know my name?”

 

A woman was standing in front of them. Credit was astounded. Only a moment

 

ago there was nobody there! It was as if the woman hadn’t even existed until

 

Bonnie acknowledged her by speaking.

 

“My name is Lena,” she said to Bonnie. “Originally, I planned to present you with

 

a love potion. But I see that you have already worked your magic on him. I

 

congratulate you both.”

 

Her voice was sweet and lyrical, with a slight hint of a Jamaican accent.

 

Credit gazed stupidly at her. At first glance he had recognized her as being an old

 

woman, probably because of the red scarf tied around her head. But the longer he

 

studied her, the more he realized that she was probably much closer to twenty

 

years of age. She had a pretty face and absolutely huge breasts for such a thin

 

waist. He couldn’t keep from staring at her cleavage. Lena gave him a stern expression. She closed her eyes halfway and moved her

 

lips silently as if in prayer. Or in the casting of a spell. Credit felt uneasy until she

 

reopened her eyes and voiced her words.

 

“You and I walk different roads, Mr. Lews, but we are very much alike. We travel

 

the same direction.”

 

She looked again at Bonnie.

 

“Please, let me give you a different gift, one that may prove very useful in the

 

future.”

 

She led them into a small shop called the House of Voodoo, a cramped six by

 

eight foot room loaded with spices and herbs and assorted root powders. Between

 

the shelves was a door leading into a back room. Saying she would be gone for

 

only a moment, Lena urged them to remain in the shop.

 

When she returned, she dropped a small, glass vial into Bonnie’s hand and then

 

whispered into her ear. As she pulled away, Credit overheard her final

 

instructions.

 

“...remember, it will work its magic only once,” she said. “Use it wisely.”

 

She then ushered them politely out the door and closed up the shop. Credit was curious. He had to consciously refrain from asking Bonnie about the

 

vial. After all, it had been her gift. If she had wanted him to know about it, she

 

would tell him of her own accord. And she offered no explanations.

 

By the time they stepped into the elevator at the Hilton, they were both very much

 

aroused again. Alone at last, Bonnie reached teasingly underneath the hem of her

 

dress and removed her panties. Credit was amazed. It didn’t take but an instant

 

and she had her arms draped around his neck, a most stimulating fragrance in

 

hand.

 

The elevator stopped and an elderly, sophisticated couple stepped in.

 

Bonnie ignored them. She arched onto her toes and snuggled into Credit’s neck.

 

Her dress pulled up, revealing in vivid detail her black garters and a luscious, bare

 

posterior.

 

“This is disgusting,” the old lady sneered.

 

The old man stared with admiration, a glint in his eye. He gave Credit a knowing

 

wink.

 

“Some people have no shame,” the lady commented.

 

Bonnie turned around, still leaning wantonly against Credit. Her eyes were glazed

 

over. “This man can go all night long,” she smirked at the old woman. “And now

 

he’s all mine.”

 

Why, the smug, little wench! Credit mused. He was beside himself.

 

The woman was flabbergasted. She huffed and puffed and turned beet red. In all

 

probability, she was spared a stroke by the opening of the elevator door. Credit

 

ushered Bonnie into the hallway.

 

By the time the door closed, they were rolling on the floor in tears. 13 Flipside

 

He was making his way along the top of the gorge next to the expressway when

 

he began to fret. He knew he had wasted entirely too much time, and was now

 

way behind schedule.

 

He wondered why he had gone into the gorge in the first place. He had

 

accomplished nothing of significance down there. He looked at the river, which

 

was much lower than he had ever seen it, and gazed up at the Peace Bridge that

 

spanned the gorge.

 

And he had studied his map. Yes. He had felt compelled to study the map! Why? He already knew all the main roads inside Canada. He had them committed to

 

memory. In order to reach the Arctic, all he had to do was cross the river and head

 

north to the end of the highway. But now he was late, and he had such a long way

 

to go.

 

Very carefully, he crossed the busy, divided parkway and then cut through the

 

parking lot of the bus station. He crossed Walnut Street, slid down the sidewalk to

 

Waterman, and then turned onto the walkway of a large, red brick house. He

 

climbed the front porch to check the mailbox.

 

Nothing.

 

He back-tracked down the steps, traipsed around to the side entrance, and entered

 

the kitchen. He set his map down on the table and then turned to go to the

 

bathroom. As he crossed the empty dining room it occurred to him that the

 

apartment was much larger than it should have been. There was more room inside

 

the house than seemed possible.

 

What could he say? He thought. These old houses were just neat as shit.

 

Apprehension suddenly overcame him. Something was amiss. He could feel the

 

presence of another person inside the apartment.

 

He checked the bathroom and then tip-toed to the bedroom door. The room

 

appeared much longer and narrower than he remembered, barely five feet wide and nearly thirty feet long. Finding no intruder, he decided that paranoia was

 

getting the better of him, and he returned to the kitchen.

 

He sat down at the table and stared out the window. In the yard outside were two

 

pear trees laden with fruit. Next to them, a hedgerow ran the property line. The

 

neighbor’s house was close by on the other side.

 

Everything seemed so familiar, and yet at the same time, so peculiar, so alien.

 

Perhaps this wasn’t even his apartment! he thought. Had he unintentionally

 

walked into someone else’s home?

 

Of course not! He suddenly understood that he was dreaming.

 

That was the reason nothing seemed to add up. For one thing, he reasoned, the

 

Niagara River did not run through Lockport. And never was it so shallow that one

 

could walk across it without getting his knees wet. Neither did the Peace Bridge

 

span a gorge.

 

He recalled staring at the map when he was in the ravine. No. The roads on the

 

map resembled those in Canada, but it was not Canada. How had he been so

 

mistaken? He had been so certain of himself at the time.

 

When he emerged from his reverie, he realized that someone was sitting next to

 

him at the table. He sensed that it was the woman he had met before in his

 

dreams, and he refrained from looking directly at her. He felt an absolute conviction that his dream would dissipate the very moment he saw her face,

 

and this was a moment he did not want to lose.

 

He heard her speak.

 

“You’re not an easy man to catch up to, Mr. Lews. I thought I was going to have

 

to go all the way to the Arctic and freeze my buns off to talk to you.”

 

Her voice was pure gaiety

 

“I think you’ve finally realized that this is not the Earth,” she continued. “But

 

neither is it an imaginary dream world. This is Tunu.” She spread her arms wide,

 

as if to encompass everything with her statement. “It is a world much like your

 

waking world. It has breadth and depth and substance. It is just as solid as the

 

Earth.” She rapped her knuckles on the table for emphasis. It was just as solid as

 

could be. “Although Tunu is not linear in nature, like the Earth, it has natural laws

 

that must be followed. You have had many experiences here; you have mapped

 

much of Tunu. You just don’t remember.”

 

She picked up the folded map on the table and placed it in his hand.

 

“I want to help you remember what you already know,” she said.

 

She repeated her statement and then paused to let her words sink in. Credit was of the opinion that he had visited the river gorge and surrounding

 

area many times before, but he could not recall the specifics. The only dreams that

 

he could clearly recall were those in which he knew he had been dreaming. In any

 

regard, other matters seemed more important to him at the moment.

 

“I want to apologize for walking out on you the last time we met,” he said, trying

 

hard to visualize her face.

 

“Don’t mention it. You had other matters to attend to. If I could see into the future

 

I would have warned you.”

 

“Are you Deanna’s spirit?” he suddenly asked. The other time they had met, he

 

had gotten only a casual glimpse of her. Now he had the impression that she could

 

be Deanna. This was a dream, after all. She could be Deanna’s spirit.

 

The woman let out an uproarious laugh that was extremely light and came from

 

her heart.

 

“No,” she answered once she had composed herself. “I’m not Deanna. Fate put

 

her in your path, for reasons that I can only guess at.”

 

“Will I ever find true love?”

 

“Do you doubt it? Are you afraid that you made the wrong decision tonight?

 

Afraid that you’ve given up freedom for something that is less than true love?” Credit remained silent.

 

“You have all the love you’ll ever need, Credit. You always have. You beckon it

 

like a magnet.” She giggled before adding, “But since you don’t believe me, I

 

guess I’ll have to show you. C’mon.”

 

He concentrated on the muscle in his thigh as he followed her into the dining

 

room. They passed through a door he had never before noticed and then moved

 

down a narrow hallway.

 

The woman stopped in front of a closed door. She instructed Credit to go inside,

 

sit on the bed, and close his eyes until she returned. Only then would he see his

 

true love.

 

The first thing he noticed when he entered the room was that it was completely

 

out of character from the rest of the house, but he obediently sat down on the bed

 

and closed his eyes. He was glad that he had run into the woman once again,

 

happy that she had forgiven him. He felt that if he could regularly meet with her,

 

there would be much that she could teach him.

 

A strong urge overcame him. Even though the woman had not yet returned, he

 

opened his eyes anyway. Bonnie was laying next to him on the bed. She was

 

cuddled up on her side, pretending to be asleep, as if she had been there all along. Credit wondered how she had climbed into bed without him noticing. Thinking

 

he was very lucky, he smiled. Both of the women in his life were clever as hell.

 

There was much that he could learn from each of them.

 

He leaned down over Bonnie and gently nudged her.

 

“Hey clown,” he whispered. “Wake up!”

 

She grunted, but continued to feign sleep.

 

He rolled her onto her back, making sure that he kept a close eye on her face. He

 

never knew for certain what she was up to. The little wench was always surprising

 

him.

 

“Hey, pretty, little clown, wake up!”

 

He bounced her gently by the shoulders until she opened her eyes. They were

 

glazed over. She mumbled some barely audible words.

 

Credit couldn’t make them out. He shook her again, and again she mumbled.

 

Who is it? Is that what she said? he wondered.

 

“It’s Credit. Wake up!” he urged.

 

Credit, wake up. Credit, wake up! He wondered if he was hearing an echo. Or was that his own voice? Was he

 

repeating himself?

 

“Credit, wake up!” 14 New Orleans

 

He opened his eyes. He was leaning over Bonnie, trying to wake her up.

 

She stared back at him, wide-eyed.

 

“What are you doing?” she moaned. “Will you cut it out?”

 

Awareness overtook him. Hell, he was probably scaring the daylights out of her.

 

He bent lower and kissed her lips.

 

“Give me a break. I’ve had enough for tonight.” She closed her eyes and rolled over.

 

Credit laid back and did the same. 15 Flipside

 

From the moment he opened his eyes he knew that he was late. He jumped out of

 

bed, grabbed the brush from the top of the dresser drawers and gazed into the

 

mirror. He scraped his hair and straightened his tie.

 

He must have lain down again after getting dressed. A stupid thing to do, he

 

reflected. Now he was late and Bonnie would be pissed.

 

He hurried out of the room and down the hallway to the elevator. In no time at all

 

he was on the ground floor. He crossed the lobby, went outside to the street and

 

stood on the curb. Shit.

 

He had meant to go to the parking garage. His memory just wasn’t what it used to

 

be. Either that or he had celebrated too much the night before. He shrugged it off

 

and decided that it would do him good to walk. He needed the exercise and it

 

would surprise Bonnie.

 

Before he knew it, he had passed underneath the Mississippi Bridge. The shrill

 

screeching of sea gulls caught his attention, and when he searched the cloudless

 

sky he noticed the absence of any buildings in the immediate area. Future prime

 

real estate, he concluded. He could see the river in the near distance. The opposite

 

shore formed the horizon.

 

He continued on his way, zigzagging down several side streets before he entered a

 

residential district. Five- and six-story buildings in a bleak, run-down condition

 

towered above him. Inner city decay, he reflected. He noticed a man and a woman

 

sitting on the steps of a tenement building. The man was holding a brown, paper

 

bag high in the air, draining the contents into his mouth. He emptied the bottle

 

and then tossed it into the street. Credit heard the shatter of glass from inside the

 

sack.

 

He suddenly felt very out of place. There he was, dressed in a tuxedo, wandering

 

the slums of New Orleans. A deep sense of paranoia crept in and he hurried down

 

the street. When he reached the corner, he leaned against a lamppost to catch his breath.

 

He glanced up at the traffic signal and saw a maze of electric lines and cables

 

etched against the towering buildings.

 

Without noting the color of the traffic light, he stepped briskly into the street. A

 

blaring horn and screeching tires shook him from his trance. He instantly sprang

 

back and once again hugged the lamppost. The scenery dissolved into a swirling,

 

purple fog.

 

The wires above him were making a tremendous buzzing noise. He looked up. As

 

the fog cleared he saw that it wasn’t a lamppost that he was clinging to. It was a

 

telephone pole. At the top was a cylindrical canister with only one cable running

 

through it. It hummed loudly against a deep blue sky with billowing, white

 

clouds.

 

He let go of the pole and scanned the horizon. Lime-green hills surrounded him,

 

rolling dunes covered with knee-deep, wind blown grass. He was no longer in

 

New Orleans. There wasn’t a building in sight.

 

He walked the dirt road until he topped the next rise. He saw a town nestled in the

 

valley below and then remembered where he was. He had visited this area once

 

before. He was dreaming.

 

He followed the dirt road into the center of town, which was completely devoid of

 

people. The town had also been vacant the last time he was there, and it began to puzzle him. It was obvious that people lived there. The brown, sandstone

 

buildings were old, but they were very clean and well maintained. Rustic houses

 

had curtains hanging in the windows.

 

He turned the corner at the main intersection and headed back out of town without

 

ever seeing a soul. A short distance down the road he spied the trail that he had

 

been looking for. He followed it up and down the dunes.

 

It seemed to be taking longer than he remembered it would, and he began to

 

worry that he might have taken the wrong path. When he topped the next crest his

 

agitation ceased. Below him was his destination; a lovely, underground stream

 

that broke through briefly to the surface.

 

He hopped down to the rocky streambed. The water level was much lower than it

 

had been before, but it flowed crystal clear and cold. It gurgled from an opening

 

in the bedrock, made a short dash through a narrow tunnel and then broke through

 

to sunlight once again in a series of picturesque waterfalls.

 

He crossed the narrow stream and hopped up into a side tunnel that led to the

 

viewing area. There was a room immediately off to his right. Quality

 

workmanship had gone into its making. In the center was a large stone altar,

 

carved from solid rock. Intricate glyphs covered the sides. Stone benches between

 

supporting stone columns lined the walls. While the rest of the room was in

 

shadow, the altar was glowing with a dull gray. He continued to the viewing platform. He knew that under conditions of

 

shallow water, the falls were truly exquisite. Thick growths of ferns and moss

 

adorned the steep, vertical walls as well as the large, weathered, creek boulders.

 

Sunlight danced everywhere.

 

As he admired the pristine setting he recalled his last visit to the area. He had

 

negotiated the streambed all the way through the tunnel that time, hopping from

 

boulder to boulder. The current had been much swifter then, and he remembered

 

the fear he had of being swept over the rugged falls and sucked under the ledge.

 

But he made it without incident.

 

However, as he was taking photographs of the falls from the viewing platform, it

 

began to rain very hard. The stream level began to rise noticeably, and he decided

 

it would be best to leave the area. That was when he discovered the underground

 

room with the stone altar. Intrigued about its function, he set his camera down

 

while he paused to examine the fine detail of the stonework.

 

He suddenly remembered. That had been the first time he had met the woman!

 

She and two of her companions had stepped into the room to warn him that

 

weather conditions were becoming extremely dangerous, and they urged him to

 

leave with haste. He accompanied them to the hill on the other side of town. And

 

then the woman asked if she could borrow his camera to take a picture.

 

As fate would have it, he had left his camera on top of the altar in the

 

underground room. Cursing his forgetfulness, but wishing to impress his new friend, he decided to go back and fetch it. But on his return trip through town

 

he got caught in the flash flood. He became extremely agitated and lost his thread

 

of continuity. His dream disintegrated.

 

As his memory played out, Credit sensed that the woman was standing next to

 

him. Even though he felt that his dream would dissipate, he looked directly at her.

 

Her appearance was surprising. As if she had just stepped off the page of a comic

 

book, she sported a Robin Hood outfit in various shades of green, along with

 

brown boots, belt and a quiver. She wore a green cap with a brown band and her

 

hair was pulled back in a ponytail. However, her crowning stroke of genius was

 

the Lone Ranger’s mask with large, pink stars at the ends. It was the perfect

 

touch. It enabled him to look directly at her without seeing her face. His dream

 

would not disintegrate.

 

“Where’s your camera?” she asked with a snicker.

 

“You know damn well where it is,” he sourly replied. “It was your fault I got

 

caught in that flash flood!”

 

“Don’t blame me! You’re the one with the affinity for water!” she cackled.

 

She looked so cute that Credit felt the urge to touch her. Sensing his desire, the woman turned several quick cartwheels to evade him,

 

and then turned and grinned widely. She studied him for a moment and then

 

clambered thirty feet up the steep dune behind them.

 

“Come on up!” she shouted.

 

He examined the steep angle of the dune as he pawed at the soil. Loosened sand

 

trickled down onto his feet. How the hell did she do that? he wondered. Without

 

any traction, there was no way possible that he could climb that slope.

 

“Try it!” she hollered again.

 

What the hell, he concluded. He figured that the railing would impede his fall

 

when he tumbled back down, and it would give the woman another stiff laugh.

 

He studied the slope once more. She hadn’t even left a track in the sand! How did

 

she do it? He looked for her again but she had moved out of sight.

 

He felt an itch in his leg and when he bent to scratch it he remembered the muscle

 

in his thigh. A smile crossed his lips as he realized what a dummy he had been.

 

No snap at all, he thought. He had forgotten that it was all a dream.

 

He concentrated on the muscle and then scrambled effortlessly up the slope. In an

 

instant he was mesmerized by the new scenery. Spread out before him was the sea. Huge waves lapped at the beach four

 

hundred yards below. To his left, the white sands of the shore ran the gray

 

expanse of the ocean to the distant horizon. To his right, a rocky, eroded

 

peninsula jutted into the sea. The intricately weathered shapes there appealed to

 

him and he felt the urge for further exploration.

 

“A new element entered yours dreams tonight, Mr. Lews,” the woman announced

 

in a serious tone. “That element will have a profound effect upon your life.

 

Tonight you combined realities. All of your previous dreams had taken place on

 

Tunu. But tonight when you dreamed you were in New Orleans, you exhibited the

 

rare ability to dream of the Earth, and when you do that, when you are on Earth in

 

your dream state, then it’s the laws of Tunu that apply.

 

“That is why it is essential that you remember your other experiences on Tunu.

 

You know how to move and to split your awareness, but there are other things

 

that you already know that you need to remember. You have unique and fantastic

 

resources at your disposal here, and you never know when you might find

 

yourself in need of climbing a mountain of sand.”

 

She took his hand and smiled at him.

 

“You took an important step tonight by remembering our previous visit here at the

 

waterfalls, but it was only a small step. Let’s hope that the flow of events does not

 

overcome your accomplishments.” Although he heard her words, his attention continued to be drawn to the rocky

 

peninsula. The intriguing, eroded shapes beckoned him, and her monologue faded

 

slowly into a blur. He dropped down the seaward side of the dune to the beach.

 

The intensity of the brilliant, white sand became blinding. It made him reel. He

 

covered his face with his hands. Why was it so damn bright out all of a sudden?

 

He wondered, totally perplexed by the change in light.

 

He dropped to his knees and buried his head in the sand. It didn’t help. The

 

luminosity seemed to be within his mind. It made him wonder whether it came

 

through his eyes at all.

 

He continued to thrash around in the sand until the sound of the ocean captivated

 

him. Boldly, he sat up and opened his eyes. 16 New Orleans

 

Credit opened his eyes. He discovered that Bonnie was already up and in the

 

shower. He felt alive and energetic. He bounced out of bed singing to himself.

 

He had two fine women in his life: One to nourish his body and one to nourish his

 

soul.

 

He grinned impishly as he looked into the mirror and combed his hair.

 

If the existence of Tunu wasn’t such a preposterous proposition, he ratonalized, he

 

might be able to take his dreams, and the woman he met there, more seriously.

 

Both were uncommonly real and lucid, and exceedingly cohesive. But he also

 

saw people in his dreams who he actually knew. People like Jason, Mark and David. As such, he felt no other option but to conclude that the dreams were

 

nothing more than sparkling entertainment.

 

“Did you have a good dream, sleepy head?” Bonnie asked as she stepped out of

 

the bathroom. She wore nothing but a towel wrapped around her head.

 

“Yes, entertaining,” he answered, suddenly very distracted.

 

“It must have been, the way you were bouncing me around last night.”

 

Credit laughed. “I was looking for my true love, and I found her,” he

 

mysteriously replied. “I’ll tell you about it on the way home. I need to jump in

 

the shower now so we can check out of here.”

 

*

 

He was lost.

 

As Bonnie flipped through the glove compartment for a city map, Credit searched

 

vainly for the entrance ramp to the Mississippi Bridge. When he approached a

 

signal light in a dilapidated section of town he began to slow the car, but the light

 

turned green and he resumed his speed. Without warning, a man in a tuxedo stepped into the street in front of them.

 

Credit slammed on his brakes and came to a screeching halt, but the man jumped

 

away so incredibly fast that Credit almost didn’t even see it. When he turned to

 

look, the man had entirely vanished.

 

Credit was overwhelmed by the feeling of déjà vu and the haunting sense of

 

duality that surged through him.

 

At the very least, he now had a very good reason to reassess the warnings that the

 

woman had given him. He knew he could no longer take his dreams so lightly. 17 Jason

 

It was dark by the time Credit pulled the car into his driveway. A car with New

 

York State license plates was already parked there. A light burned in the living

 

room.

 

Bonnie gave Credit a smug, “I told you so” look.

 

“There’s more to your dreams than you’re willing to admit, hun.”

 

Jason had been asleep on the couch. He jumped up when they walked in. “Hey! It’s about time you got back,” he said. “I was beginning to think you had

 

moved out or something. Hi Bonnie, how are you?” he asked as he gave her a

 

hug.

 

“Your father had a dream that you were coming down,” she said.

 

Credit waved her off.

 

“It was nothing. How long have you been here?” he asked as he hugged his son.

 

“I didn’t think you were coming down this summer.”

 

“Had to take some time before the semester starts. I’m going out to the Big Bend.

 

Want to go?”

 

“Bonnie and I have already made reservations. We’re going up to the Ouachita

 

Mountains tomorrow and then over to Hot Springs. You’re welcome to come

 

along.”

 

“Nah. Got my heart set on the Bend. Black Dike and the Chisos Mountains.”

 

“If you’re going to stay that long, we’ll meet you out there next week.”

 

Bonnie tugged at Credit’s arm and communicated with facial expressions.

 

“I forgot all about that,” he joshed. “Bonnie’s going to be your future

 

stepmother,” he announced to Jason. “We’re getting married this fall.” “Hey, all right! You finally found someone willing to put up with you. Just

 

don’t give the old man a heart attack, OK?” He gave Bonnie a hug.

 

“Don’t worry. He’ll probably get me first,” she grinned.

 

Credit sat down in the swivel chair.

 

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” said Jason. “Mark came by earlier. He was pretty

 

upset. He said that Deanna had run off on him.” He took a deep breath before

 

continuing. “And I hate to say it, because he didn’t say so himself, but I think he

 

suspects that you and Deanna ran off together.”

 

Credit chuckled as he shook his head. Perhaps that had been her in New Orleans

 

after all, he concluded.

 

Bonnie wasn’t nearly as amused. 18 Flipside

 

“I sure wish we had more time to spend together,” Credit lamented as he turned

 

the key in the slot. “But Rob should be back with the supplies any time now. Like

 

I said, we’ve got people waiting for us out in the desert.”

 

He pushed the door open and stepped inside.

 

“This is it,” he said. “My little studio apartment.”

 

It was a one-room loft, ten-by-twenty feet of space that occupied the entire top

 

floor of the building. Windows ran the length of the longer walls. They showed a

 

busy street scene out one side and a harbor panorama through the other. The windows were open at both the top and bottom and a sweet sea breeze wafted

 

through the room.

 

“I’ve been here about two years now. The place has a real good feeling to it. Great

 

view. Decent rent. And it’s ancient. Good, solid oak.” He tapped against the

 

window frame.

 

It didn’t take David long to scope out the apartment. The kitchen was at the far

 

wall. There was a table, chair and typewriter, and a couch that opened into a bed.

 

A few books littered the floor. Otherwise, the place was clean.

 

“I’ve always wondered how you could afford to travel so much,” David stated.

 

“You really don’t own anything of any consequence, do you?”

 

“No. This is everything. The pick-up is downstairs.”

 

Credit noted his friend’s look of disappointment and felt that he should further

 

explain.

 

“I move around too much. I don’t want to have to tote a bunch of crap around

 

with me,” he said. He knew that it was an extremely weak explanation. David

 

deserved a viable, cohesive answer, but he just didn’t have time to explain. There

 

were people waiting on him.

 

“What I own is inside me,” he quietly offered. “I share my experiences with my

 

friends.” They returned to the sidewalk to wait for Rob. Several businesses occupied

 

the ground floor. There was a barbershop, a tavern, a drugstore and more. Credit

 

circled the building and noticed there were more doors than there could possibly

 

be rooms for. As he puzzled over the fact, he received the distinct impression that

 

he was overlooking an important element, that he was completely missing a vital

 

clue that would enhance his understanding. He stepped back into the street to get

 

a different perspective on the building.

 

“It’s about time you got here. Let’s go! They’re waiting on us.”

 

Credit opened the door and climbed inside. In no time they were swooping low

 

over the landscape in the old barnstorming plane, two seats, open cockpit, the

 

wind whipping by. Credit felt the pull from his stomach and wondered if it was

 

possible to fall out of the plane. Not that he was worried. He had complete

 

confidence in Rob as a pilot. The man’s abilities were masterful.

 

It was still early in the day as they observed the brown, desolate landscape below

 

them. The mountains and ravines were highlighted with dark, mid-morning

 

shadow.

 

And then they were over Medusal Canyon. It was huge and magnificent, with a

 

lush, green color that contrasted sharply with the stark bareness of the

 

surrounding wasteland. It was a fabulous oasis in the middle of nowhere, totally

 

wild, surrounded by sheer cliffs and small, but rugged mountains. Rob made a tight, swooping turn and then landed on the bumpy, rolling plain.

 

Their group of friends rushed to meet them. Among them were his brother Paul

 

and friend Richard, and three couples, including Mark and Deanna. It was more

 

people than they had counted upon showing up, and the reason that he and Rob

 

had returned to town in the Jeep in order to get more supplies. They had hoped to

 

save time by flying back.

 

“We’re all set now!” Rob informed the group. “Got fruit and vegetables, ribs and

 

steaks. Plenty of water and other goodies to drink...” He pulled out a bottle of

 

Cuervo and held it aloft.

 

Everyone seemed restlessly silent. Deanna finally broke the pause.

 

“When ya’ll were gone,” she stated, “We decided to forget about all this and go

 

home. So we’re leaving.”

 

Credit was stunned, incredulous.

 

“We’re all the way out here in the boonies and we’ve got everything we need

 

now. What’s the sense in going back?”

 

Deanna’s expression was firm. She was going to be stubborn.

 

“Why have we got to walk fifteen fucking miles to get there?” she demanded. “Because this is where the road ends. Medusal Canyon is just on the other side

 

of that range.”

 

“Why can’t we fly there?”

 

“There ain’t no place to land, for Christ’s sakes.”

 

“Well, it’s hotter than hell out here. This has been a piss poor adventure from the

 

start. No organization. You two didn’t have to sit around out here in bum-fuck

 

nowhere waiting for ya’ll to return. I still say we leave.”

 

Credit looked everybody in the eye. One of them mumbled, “It would probably be

 

best to do this another time.” They all nodded their agreement.

 

Credit felt disgusted. He threw his cap on the ground and then stomped on it.

 

Triumphantly, Deanna picked up her pack and started to walk past him on the

 

way to her truck.

 

Credit lifted his arm and pushed her solidly on her chest with the flat of his hand.

 

She stumbled backwards a couple of steps but retained her balance. More than

 

anything else, his action had taken her by surprise.

 

“You always do this to me!” he bitterly yelled. He was furious. Anger spewed

 

from him. “As soon as I turn my back, you’re off scheming with everyone else. But you

 

never tell ME what you goddamn think! Do you? You never try this shit when

 

I’M here!”

 

He glared at her. Her lips trembled as her eyes darted to and fro. She was very

 

careful to avoid making eye contact with him.

 

Damn!

 

It all happened so fast! Whatever possessed him to act like that, he wondered. He

 

suddenly felt very sorry that he had shoved Deanna and spoken those harsh

 

words. He had made a total ass out of himself in front of all his friends.

 

Everyone stood silent as he glanced over at Mark, who merely gave Credit a

 

supportive smile and a shrug of his shoulders.

 

Curious, Credit thought. Mark made no attempt whatsoever to aid Deanna.

 

Disgraced, Credit turned and walked away from the group. He wove his way

 

through the sparse desert shrubbery until he topped a low ridge, where he began

 

to follow a small boy across the green lawn of a sprawling, ranch-style house.

 

Deanna followed closely behind.

 

“I don’t know why we’re following this little kid,” she whined. “Because fate put him in our way,” he answered. “I’m sure he has something

 

of value to show us.”

 

“I think we’re wasting our time.”

 

“Well, I don’t. The kid looks pretty sharp. Maybe we can learn something from

 

him.”

 

The boy was approximately seven years old. He stood just over four feet tall, and

 

had medium length brown hair and brown eyes.

 

He darted into the house.

 

Deanna held Credit back.

 

“This is stupid,” she said. “I’m going to wait here.”

 

“Knock yourself out.”

 

She snaked her way through a maze of metal and rubber and sat down amidst a

 

cluster of bicycles. Credit suddenly took note of the immediate backyard, which

 

reminded him more of a playground or sporting goods store. There were dozens

 

of bicycles, scooters, skateboards, three-wheelers, barbecue pits and no telling

 

what else. The clutter of it overwhelmed him. Shrugging it off, he entered the house and then silently stood inside the

 

doorway. A voice called to him from down a flight of steps.

 

“Come on down!”

 

The cellar was one room. It ran the length and width of the house, although it

 

appeared much longer. And it was literally stuffed with ping-pong tables, pool

 

tables, and weight sets. There were video games, pinball machines, stereo

 

equipment, TV’s, and DVD’s. At least a half dozen of everything. There were

 

games galore.

 

God, the amount of money that must have been spent on all of this shit, Credit

 

proclaimed to himself.

 

The boy was sitting in front of a computer terminal. Mathematical formulae

 

glowed on three of a dozen screens, reinforcing Credit’s opinion that the boy was

 

smart for his age.

 

Credit edged closer and teasingly tugged at the boy’s ear lobe.

 

The boy questioningly stared back at him.

 

Feeling that his friendly gesture had been taken in the wrong vein, Credit felt that

 

he should explain himself. “Just making sure that I’m not dreaming,” he idiotically stuttered. “Have you

 

got something to show me?” he quickly added, hoping to change the subject.

 

The boys’ fingers darted deftly across the keyboard and the computer screens shut

 

down.

 

“Sure,” he replied. “Let’s go.”

 

They climbed the stairs and entered the living room.

 

“Mom, dad, this is Credit.”

 

The boy’s parents smiled pleasantly. They seemed genuinely pleased to meet him.

 

The father was sitting in an armchair while his wife was standing beside him, her

 

arm draped over his shoulder. Surrounding them were fifteen children of various

 

ages, apparently posing for a photograph. Typically middle class, they all wore

 

their Pepsodent smiles.

 

“Going to town,” the boy announced. “Gotta go.”

 

They took a moped to town. The boy drove while Credit sat in the sidecar and

 

enjoyed the scenery. When they arrived at the town square, the boy stopped.

 

The grass in the park-like square was well watered and manicured. Shade trees

 

and hedgerows interspersed the acreage. Flanking three sides of the square were infinitely old, two story houses with immaculately landscaped lawns.

 

Although of similar design, the houses managed to maintain their individuality.

 

“This is it,” the boy said.

 

Credit turned his attention to the fourth side of the square, where a fantastically

 

huge, Gothic style cathedral loomed over them. It was stupendous. It hurt his neck

 

to look up. The spires towered into the heavens.

 

As Credit marveled at the magnificent architecture he began to wonder. Was this

 

what the boy had to show him? A church?

 

He gazed around the square some more and noted a definite European flavor to

 

the place, making him wonder what town he was in.

 

Damn. It came to him.

 

All this time he had been dreaming and had completely failed to recognize it! He

 

knew that it was totally meaningless if he couldn’t determine his state of

 

awareness, and he became peeved with himself for having wasted a valuable

 

opportunity. Now he was becoming tired, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to

 

hold his continuity for much longer.

 

Credit looked at the boy again. His perception changed dramatically, like a wave

 

coming over him. The boy was smart all right, but the endless stream of

 

sophisticated gadgets had mesmerized him into seeing only one perspective. It had trapped the boy in materialism, blinding him to the fact that there were

 

other levels of awareness to pursue. His spirituality had been reduced to

 

purchasing the Lord’s favors with tokens. Credit thought it a shame, for otherwise

 

the boy was very sharp.

 

“They don’t build them like this anymore,” the boy proudly said. “Costs too

 

much.”

 

No, I don’t imagine they do, Credit sarcastically asserted. There surely wasn’t any

 

reason to.

 

“You want to go inside?”

 

“Why not.” Since he would be getting married soon, he thought it might do him

 

good to see the inside of a church again.

 

They strolled across the grounds of the cathedral and then entered a door in the

 

back wing. A narrow hallway took them to the main congregational hall, which

 

was impressively immense and ornately decorated. Several people were on their

 

knees in front of the altar, silently praying. Otherwise, the chamber was empty.

 

One of those in prayer suddenly stood, spread his arms toward the heavens, and

 

began to chant, his voice echoing throughout the church.

 

Credit listened attentively but couldn’t understand a word. It sounded like

 

incomprehensible, alien nonsense. “What is he saying?” he asked the boy.

 

“I don’t know,” the boy reverently whispered. “He speaks in tongues!”

 

A blithering idiot was more like it, Credit derisively countered to himself. Even if

 

it was an ancient language, the man certainly wasn’t communicating or revealing

 

any mystical knowledge.

 

Disappointed, Credit turned and strode from the cathedral. Upon stepping outside,

 

the brightness of the day caught him by surprise. While trying to adjust to the

 

light, he noticed a purple fog materialize out of thin air. The subtle shade of the

 

mist appealed to him. He stepped into it and was gone. 19 The Ouachita Mountains

 

“This is the finest camping spot in the area,” Credit proclaimed when he turned

 

off the truck. “I can’t believe there’s nobody here.

 

The site was located below a cliff where the Cossatot River curved around the

 

mountain. Shallow rapids emptied into a long, deep pool of clear water. Old

 

hickory trees shaded the campsite while cherry laurel, dogwood and assorted

 

hardwoods lined the riverbank. Pine and cedar trees crowded the mountain slope.

 

“There’s no picnic table,” Bonnie commented.

 

“Uh-oh. Where are we going to put the microwave?” “There are tables at the other campsites,” she complained.

 

“Yeah, but it’s nicer here,” he said as he began pulling the gear from the pick-up.

 

“We can build a fire under the cliff over there, and there’s a level spot to place the

 

tent. Shoot, we’re only going to be here for a day or two. If you want to, we can

 

go up to the other site to eat.”

 

“I’m only teasing, dear. Jeez, if I wanted comfort, I sure wouldn’t be with you!”

 

“I feel sorry for Mark,” Bonnie said as she readied the grill for cooking. “He

 

seemed so depressed. He really hoped that you and Deanna had run off together.

 

At least then he’d know where she was and could begin to deal with it. As it is

 

now, the poor guy is completely lost.”

 

“He’s probably down in New Orleans right now, pacing up and down Bourbon

 

Street,” Credit chuckled. “I probably never should have mentioned that I thought I

 

saw her there.”

 

“Well, until your dream last night, I would have said she was there, too. Now, I’m

 

not so certain. She’s probably somewhere out in the desert.”

 

“It was just a stupid dream that didn’t mean anything,” Credit solemnly said.

 

“Mark and Paul and Richard were also in it...”

 

“Everyone but me!” “...and they aren’t out in the desert. What makes me mad is that I didn’t even

 

know it was a dream until it was too late.”

 

“Maybe that’s your way of dealing with the problem. By ignoring it.”

 

“What else can I do?” Credit said with an edge to his voice. He was

 

uncomfortable with the fact that he had been unable to come to terms with his

 

dreams. “This is all new territory, you know? It’s not like I have a map or a book

 

to define what steps to take. Besides, sometimes it’s best to back off from a

 

subject until you can get a grip on the situation and begin to feel comfortable with

 

it.”

 

“All I know is that you dreamed of Jason and he showed up. I’m also worried

 

about him,” she said, trying to change the subject. “I hope he’ll be all right by

 

himself. He might be growing up, but he’s still a young boy.”

 

“He’ll be all right. He’s been out to the Big Bend every year now for the past ten.

 

He’ll probably find that it’s hotter than hell on the river and head up into the

 

Chisos Mountains to stay cool. He ain’t never too eager to work up a sweat. You

 

know that. What did he say in his sleep last night? ‘I can’t help it. I know I’m a

 

lazy bum.’ Said it plain as day!” The smile had returned to Credit’s face.

 

They both chuckled at the memory. As Bonnie flipped the steaks, a pick-up truck pulled into the campsite. It was

 

Credit’s brother Paul and their friend Richard.

 

“Well, I’ll be damned!” Credit exclaimed. “I drive two hundred miles just to run

 

into you guys. What are you doing here?”

 

“Shoot. We’ve been driving these dirt roads for three hours looking for you,” Paul

 

said. “I heard you were getting married. Wanted to drink a beer with you two to

 

celebrate!”

 

“Sounds good to me.”

 

“Bonnie?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Congratulations.”

 

“I see we’re just in time for dinner,” Richard said as he glanced around the

 

campsite. “Where’s the picnic table?”

 

Bonnie saw her chance to gloat. “It’s up at the next campsite! Shit-head here

 

don’t believe in those modern inventions, you know?”

 

Richard quickly sized up the situation. “If you’ll feed us, Paul and I will drag the picnic table down here. It can’t be

 

more than fifty yards.”

 

“Shit, yeah,” Paul agreed. “Let’s go!”

 

They staggered off, only to return empty handed. No picnic table.

 

“Just put it anywhere,” Credit improvised with a smile. “It won’t get in the way.”

 

“No shit,” Paul laughed. “They must have filled the metal frame with cement or

 

something. That table ain’t going nowhere.”

 

“You’d need a crane to move the damned thing,” Richard confirmed.

 

It began to get dark as they finished eating. Crickets and tree frogs chirped loudly,

 

adding to the gurgling symphony of the Cossatot River.

 

“What are y’all planning on doing tomorrow?” Paul asked as he handed out

 

another round of beers.

 

“I’m gonna sit right here in the water,” Richard butted in.

 

“Who asked you?”

 

“We’re going to take a little hike,” Credit shrugged. “There’s a little side canyon I

 

want to explore. Get some setting for a story. It’ll take maybe half a day or so.” He added some wood to the fire and sat back. “We’re going to Hot Springs the

 

day after tomorrow to luxuriate. Give Bonnie a break from her wifely duties.”

 

“Well,” Paul said with a grin, “I think I’ll just sit here and enjoy the nice, cool

 

water.”

 

“Me too!” Bonnie emphasized.

 

Credit feigned anguish. “What! Are you going to poop out on me?”

 

“That’s right! I’m going to work on my tan. With these two hunks here, I won’t

 

be alone now.”

 

“All right!” Richard chimed in. “You might be marrying Credit, but you’ve still

 

got some sense left. I know it’ll improve our scenery a hundred percent. Might

 

even provide some entertainment,” he added, keeping the jest going.

 

Credit ignored them. He was beginning to get drunk. Bonnie was in the same fix

 

and decided to crawl off to bed. As she zipped herself in and laid down, the wind

 

picked up and a corner of the tarp tore loose, creating an irritating, flapping noise.

 

She moaned, “Credit, fix the tent!”

 

He walked over and tied down the tarp. When he looked back at the campfire, he

 

saw that Paul had all but passed out and Richard was more or less in a stupor. He

 

decided to lie down next to Bonnie. No sooner had he zipped the tent than the tarp tore loose once again. He had no desire to go back outside, but the aggravating

 

noise soon compelled him to do so.

 

He relieved himself while he was up. He noticed that Paul was in his tent and

 

Richard had crawled into the bed of the truck. The campfire had turned into a

 

smoldering coal bed.

 

Credit crawled back into the tent and fell asleep 20 Flipside

 

He stood outside the tent, fully intending to urinate. Nothing was happening, and

 

he decided to give it more time. Overall, he felt physically strange, light and light

 

headed, and he passed it off to having imbibed more than his share.

 

The night was very still except for the sound of a faint, but howling, wind further

 

down the valley. It was coming his way, approaching slowly for something that

 

sounded so forceful. When it finally arrived, it hit with short, strong gusts that

 

increased to a steady, hard blow before passing quickly. The chirping of crickets

 

and the barking of tree frogs once again became the dominate sounds. He gazed around the campsite. His vision had adjusted remarkably to the

 

night and he could see everything clearly. Paul was rolled up inside his tent.

 

Richard was sleeping soundly in the back of the pick-up. He was either very

 

drunk or the intermittent wind was keeping the mosquitoes at bay.

 

He thought about his own tent and realized that he hadn’t zipped it shut. The

 

mosquitoes would eat Bonnie alive! He put his penis back inside his pants and

 

then knelt to zip the tent. To his surprise, it was already tightly closed. He looked

 

inside to check on her.

 

He was aghast. There he was lying beside Bonnie! Sound asleep!

 

The observation overwhelmed his sense of reason. He fell backwards, shocked by

 

the duality that confronted him. Up until that moment he had assumed that his

 

thoughts were originating from within his “dreaming” body. But he was obviously

 

sleeping next to Bonnie. As he struggled with the anomalies, he found himself

 

beginning to panic.

 

Don’t think! Deal with it later!

 

Who said that? he wondered.

 

Deal with it later!

 

The command seemed to come from an outside source within him. But it was

 

sound advice. He knew that if he became overly agitated he would soon lose the continuity of his dream. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder. Seeing himself

 

sleeping was a shocking way to realize that he was in fact dreaming. But

 

everything seemed so real! He rubbed his hands together. They sure felt solid to

 

him!

 

The wind gusted once again and then moved on. Upon its’ tail came the hoot of

 

an owl, brilliantly melodious. The magical sound resonated within him. When he

 

heard it again, he knew that the owl’s call was meant for him alone.

 

He moved to the next campsite and sat down on top of the picnic table. He waited

 

to hear from the owl once again. The wind had changed to a light, steady breeze,

 

and he listened to the rustling branches as he watched their shadowy motion

 

against the star lit sky. Time passed. An armadillo came close, rooting and

 

snorting. He forgot about the owl and jumped down from the picnic table.

 

The picnic table!

 

Thinking of Paul and Richard, he grabbed hold of the end of the table and pulled.

 

It moved easily.

 

“Why those lazy shitheads,” he said out loud. “Too heavy to move. What a poor,

 

fucking excuse!”

 

He turned his back to the table, reached back with both hands, and proceeded to

 

drag the table behind him. He soon noticed a loud, rumbling sound, and the first thought that came to

 

mind was “avalanche”.

 

He stopped to listen more intently, but the thunder had passed. He heard nothing

 

but tree frogs and crickets, the wind and the river. He was perplexed. Surely he

 

hadn’t imagined that sound.

 

He started forward with the table once again. And once again the mountains

 

rumbled.

 

Shit! It struck him. The sound he heard was the dragging of the table!

 

Outrageous! He was probably waking every camper along the river. Feeling very

 

self-conscious, he glanced over at the campsite.

 

Richard was sitting up in the back of the truck, looking around. Daylight was

 

beginning to creep into the darkness and a foggy haze covered the ground.

 

Not wanting to be seen by Richard, Credit decided to climb the bluff and enter the

 

campsite from the opposite direction. But after entering the woods, he began

 

moving through the trees much faster than intended, much too fast for safety.

 

There was nothing he could do to prevent it. He had lost control over his muscles.

 

He bounced off a tree.

 

Damn, that hurt! He grabbed at his left arm but then bounced off another tree.

 

Incapable of stopping his momentum, he lost his balance and fell. 21 Morning

 

“Credit!” Did you hear that!?”

 

Bonnie shook him forcefully.

 

“Wake up!” She gave him a sharp punch.

 

He opened his eyes to momentary confusion. Where was he? What was

 

happening? His head and his left arm ached something awful. Had he really

 

smacked into a tree and passed out? Bonnie punched him again and he knew exactly where he was at. And why his

 

armed ached.

 

“Something is out there, Credit! I’m scared.”

 

He got to his knees and looked through the screen door. Although daylight was

 

breaking, everything appeared foggy. He heard footsteps approach and then saw

 

Richard saunter past the tent.

 

“It’s just Richard out there,” he said, trying to suppress a yawn.

 

“I heard something besides Richard, damn it. It was loud! It woke me up.”

 

Credit laid back down and covered his eyes with his arm.

 

Bonnie glared out the tent through the thinning mist. She heard Paul turn over in

 

his tent, and then Richard walked back towards the pick-up. Nobody seemed to be

 

alarmed. Reluctantly, she lay back down.

 

Fuck him, she thought bitterly. I know damn well I heard something.

 

“Anybody awake in there?”

 

Richard’s face poked into view.

 

“Ya’ll need to come out here and look at this,” he announced. Bonnie scurried out the tent in anticipation. Credit emerged hesitantly, almost

 

fearfully. He saw the picnic table in the middle of the road, exactly where he had

 

left it in his dream.

 

His jaw dropped to his chest. 22 Memories

 

His thoughts were in a state of turmoil as he made his way along the gravel bank

 

of the Cossatot River. Together, the four of them had been barely able to budge

 

the table. Although he had diffused the wonderment of the situation by suggesting

 

that they use the truck to pull the table the rest of the way, Bonnie remained

 

overly suspicious. And there was simply no way that he could logically explain

 

the events that had transpired that night. How could it be possible to acquire

 

strange, magical powers through one’s dreams? Despite all that had happened, he

 

simply could not accept the premise. There had to be another explanation. At the mouth of Short Creek he turned away from the main river and entered

 

the narrow side canyon. When he rounded the gooseneck, he strained to see the

 

top of the cliff through the trees. From studying the map, he had speculated upon

 

the possibility of finding a cliff shelter at that location, and from what he could

 

now see, conditions were extremely favorable. He took a sip of water before

 

beginning his upward struggle.

 

What he discovered at the top mildly surprised him. Instead of a mere overhang,

 

there was a naturally formed room. It was an almost perfect cube with rounded

 

corners and a door. The only manmade alteration that he could readily discern

 

was that the floor had been chipped away for the purpose of leveling the room.

 

Also, painted on one of the walls was the stick figure of a hunch-backed flute

 

player alongside a migration symbol, a pictograph more common to the

 

southwestern States and northern Mexico.

 

He set his pack on the floor and stepped back outside to the ledge. When he

 

explored around the corner he discovered and indenture in the rock wall that was

 

almost certainly manmade. It was the perfect size to sit in and was situated in an

 

ideal position for viewing the splendid scenery, if not for scouting the valley

 

floor, which consisted of little more than tree tops.

 

He leaned against the wall and stared out over the tight, green valley and thought

 

about the woman whom he had met in his dreams. She had tried to warn him of

 

his present predicament, but he hadn’t taken her seriously. Why should he have? How could he possibly give credibility to her when she was only a fantasy, a

 

dream? She was himself! Wasn’t that the reason he couldn’t see her face? It was

 

all such a paradox.

 

He boosted himself up into the viewing position in the wall and sat back cross

 

legged. Explosively, a wealth of memories surged through him. Dreams that had

 

been totally locked away in his subconscious were suddenly and vividly released,

 

and he realized that the woman had been right all along. Tunu was a whole,

 

separate world!

 

He could selectively recall the underground stream with the waterfalls, Medusal

 

Canyon, the Aqua ruins, the Historical site, and the town below the lake where the

 

woman lived. He had visited those places and others many times before.

 

He remembered studying various maps of Tunu on many occasions, and one such

 

occasion jumped out at him with persistence and clarity. He had been hitch-hiking

 

on the southernmost highway that crossed the country when his ride had taken

 

him as far as it could. He was let out at a junction, and there he stood on the side

 

of the road and studied his map.

 

The north road led to the Aqua ruins, his original destination. But in the opposite

 

direction was the one and only road that led further south. For four hundred miles

 

the road angled off to the southwest until it ended in the middle of nowhere. One

 

way in; same way out. And at the end of the road was the only name printed on

 

that section of the map—Qattarah. At that moment a car slowed at the cross section and braked to a halt. Inside

 

was an elderly couple. The woman was in the driver’s seat.

 

“Are you going to Qattarah?” he asked when she rolled down her window.

 

“Yes,” she answered. “To Qattarah, where all things are known.” At that, she and

 

her husband began to giggle.

 

Although he thought they were acting a bit strangely, he had to agree with her

 

statement. Every school kid knew the myth. Qattarah, where all things were

 

known.

 

“Hop in.”

 

Thinking that he may never have another chance, he gratefully climbed into the

 

back seat. The car rounded the corner and headed south. No one spoke, and he

 

was content to watch through the window while they traversed several distinct

 

ecological zones. Flat pasture turned hilly, overgrown with mesquite trees, which

 

then faded to creosote covered wasteland, which in turn was overtaken by cactus.

 

Finally, there was sand. At three hundred and fifty miles there was nothing but

 

endless dunes of drifted, white sand. In places, the road was completely

 

concealed. The very moment that they began to question whether they should

 

continue with their journey, the scenery began to change again in the reverse

 

order. In no time, they found themselves in moist, forested foothills. When the elderly woman was forced to slow the car at a ninety degree bend in the road,

 

Credit asked to be let out.

 

The scenery was truly impressive. A clear mountain stream lay before him. It was

 

fifty feet wide and gurgled lightly as it flowed over an extremely colorful bed of

 

gravel. It originated from a canyon to his right. Giant conifers growing at river

 

level provided proper perspective to the immensity of the canyon walls, which

 

had to be thousands of feet high. They were shaded brilliantly in hues of purple,

 

brown, and auburn. He could see the road as a narrow ribbon that clung

 

precariously to the side of the cliff, twisting its way into the gorge.

 

Immediately downstream, the river made a picture perfect exit through a pair of

 

tall, stone pillars. Beyond them, yellow poplar lined the river banks.

 

Although a dirt road led into the woods on his left, he decided to follow the main

 

road to the end. When he came upon a fork in the road, he had trouble deciding

 

which route to follow, and his indecision began to irk him. There he was in

 

Qattarah, where all things were known, and he didn’t have the slightest idea what

 

to do with the opportunity.

 

Simply for the sake of making a decision, he chose the fork that led into the

 

canyon, and within half a mile he came to a parking lot at the end of the road. A

 

reception center hung from the cliff side, the Qattarah Cavern Excursion. When he entered the building he learned that the tour consisted of two parts; a

 

boat ride up the river to the cave entrance, and a walk back through the cavern to

 

where the elevator would lift one back to the reception center.

 

He bought a ticket and took the cable car down into the ravine. Once again he met

 

up with the old couple. He learned that the Excursion was the main tourist

 

attraction, the others being hiking and camping. Qattarah was nothing more than

 

an isolated, mountain oasis within the confines of a vast, oppressive desert. There

 

was nothing magical about it.

 

With the myth shattered, he was unable to contain his disappointment, and his

 

dream soon ended.

 

But that was not the end of Qattarah. He soon had a second, related dream that

 

proved to be even more intriguing.

 

In that one he had stepped out of the purple mist to find himself in the stream near

 

the twin pillars. The poplar trees beyond were swaying in the breeze, beckoning

 

him, while the cool, refreshing water spoke to him in riddles. He felt that if he

 

listened closely enough he would understand, but he also knew that he didn’t have

 

time. The river was not his intended destination. His mind was made up to take

 

the other fork in the road and hike up into the high country.

 

After filling his canteens in the stream he walked to the trailhead at the end of the

 

road. From that vantage point he could see the river snaking through the canyon past the River Excursion headquarters, winding steeply into the mountains,

 

where it broke into several branches. A definite greenway highlighted the path

 

against the stark, rocky ridges. It was a setting that appealed to him greatly. He

 

could imagine magnificent, cascading waterfalls and exquisite, luxuriant plant

 

growth.

 

But he decided to remain true to his original purpose. He began his trek towards

 

the highest peaks. He would come back and explore the waterfalls another day.

 

After what seemed like hours of uphill trudging he decided to take a rest. He

 

chose a spot to sit near a massive wall of pink magma which afforded him a

 

panoramic view of the south desert floor. As he admired the beauty of the

 

scenery, he heard a hiker making his way down the mountain. When he came into

 

view, his appearance suggested that he was a local citizen rather than a tourist.

 

Credit nodded at the man as he passed, but was then overcome with the strangest

 

impulse.

 

“Is this Qattarah?” he yelled out.

 

The man stopped abruptly and stared back at him in silence, apparently judging

 

him.

 

“No, this is not Qattarah,” he finally answered. He pointed down onto the desert

 

floor. “Qattarah is at the end of that road.” Credit squinted into the distance. He could barely make out a vague line of

 

double tracks that zigzagged across the desert badlands and disappeared over the

 

horizon.

 

So, he mused. Only the pavement ends here. The myth still lives! Calling this

 

mountain range Qattarah merely draws in the tourists. The real Qattarah was not

 

on the map. When he turned to ask about the distance, the man was gone.

 

There was no telling how long the journey would take, he thought. Qattarah could

 

be just over the horizon or hundreds of miles away, and he had already begun to

 

tire. And as he watched the heat rise from the desert floor, his dream ended.

 

By the time Credit had finished reviewing his vivid memories of Tunu, he

 

realized that it had grown dark outside. He had been absorbed for hours and had

 

remembered much, especially the fact that, no matter what he might have thought

 

at the time, none of his dreams had ever taken place on Earth. Except for the last

 

one and the one he had had in New Orleans.

 

But he still had no explanation for his main, overriding concern. Had he really

 

moved the picnic table in his dream? Was it possible that dreams could really

 

affect reality? He felt that only the woman in his dreams could satisfactorily

 

resolve his dilemma.

 

Meanwhile, he gradually realized that he had created another pressing problem. It

 

had grown too dark to safely return to camp. He had failed to bring along a flashlight. Bonnie was already suspicious about the picnic table incident. Now

 

she would be totally peeved. Angry, disappointed, and worried. But at least she

 

wasn’t by herself. Paul and Richard would let nothing happen to her.

 

Feeling his way along the ledge, Credit entered the cave and, using his knapsack

 

for a pillow, laid down and closed his eyes. 23 Flipside

 

He was high up on a mountainside, staring down at the desert floor, trying hard to

 

remember what it was he had been searching for. His mind had gone mysteriously

 

blank. It wasn’t until he noticed the familiar pink magma walls that he realized he

 

was in the mountain area called Qattarah. He was dreaming.

 

He felt fresh and energetic when he realized that the chance to discover the real

 

Qattarah had presented itself to him. It was much too good an opportunity to pass

 

up. Perhaps he would even find the woman there.

 

He descended the rugged mountain slopes and filled his canteens in the stream.

 

The leaves of the poplar trees beyond the pillars had turned a rich yellow. They were exceptionally inviting. Especially in lieu of what laid ahead—a long trek

 

through the scorching desert heat.

 

He headed down the dirt road that disappeared beneath tall, shady trees, and was

 

soon following double tracks through desert scrub of prickly pear, silver-leaf and

 

lechugilla. The sun was overbearingly hot and the hills were steeper than they

 

appeared from the mountainside. Mile after mile as he topped each crest he was

 

met with an endless sea of successive ridges, an oppressive sameness that soon

 

came to weigh upon him. Although he continued to hope for an oasis along the

 

way, he found only endless repetition in a bleak, barren landscape.

 

At last he topped the final crest and looked down upon a vast, sandy desert. The

 

road edged down the face of the cliff and then ran a straight line through

 

boundless dunes that stretched to the horizon. It was not an encouraging sight, but

 

he knew that it was the only way. Forlornly, Credit continued his journey.

 

The heat from the sand was more intense and the glare from the sun more

 

blinding as the ridge behind him slowly receded from view, leaving him without a

 

landmark in the featureless sea of white sand. He trudged forward through

 

timelessness. Even the sun failed to move through the sky. Positioned for the

 

hottest part of the day, it was determined to beat him down and drain his strength

 

until he could go no further. And then the road dead-ended abruptly at the foot of

 

a huge dune. In front of him was a cement bunker partially buried in the sand. A long,

 

horizontal slit framed with wood molding provided a spy hole. Credit peered to

 

his left and right and saw identical bunkers flanking him. He felt the heat bearing

 

down and decided to seek shade.

 

He entered the bunker to his left, and except for a table and chair, found it empty.

 

But it was much cooler there and he sat down and put his feet up on the table.

 

Although he had reached the end of the road, he was not at all certain that he had

 

reached Qattarah. He had come all this way because of the promise of a stranger,

 

and he was beginning to think his search had been in vain. Did Qattarah truly

 

exist or was it nothing more than a myth?

 

When he decided that he should have tried to find the woman instead, he noticed a

 

small door low in the corner of the back wall. Curious, he went over and opened

 

it. A dark tunnel, barely large enough for a man to crawl through, led out of the

 

bunker. Credit figured that since he had come this far, there was no sense in

 

stopping now. No one ever said the road to Qattarah would be easy.

 

Pushing aside thoughts of spiders and scorpions waiting in the dark, he crawled

 

head first into the tunnel and spent an eternity in darkness. He could discern only

 

the sensation of moving forward.

 

The sunlight blinded him temporarily when he finally emerged from the darkness.

 

The day was still oppressively hot. He was still in the desert. Steep walls of sand and gravel, void of any vegetation, sloped up on either side of him. A well

 

worn path ran the bottom of the wash leading away from the door.

 

The turning, twisting trail eventually led to a huge bluff that had loomed in the

 

distance for some time. As he made his way along the base of the cliff, the gravel

 

slope on his left began to recede and clumps of chino grass began to appear along

 

its base. And then the Cliffside on his right abruptly ended and he found himself

 

before a shockingly green patch of river cane, thick and abundant.

 

He was at the corner of a vast mesa that ran all the way to the western horizon. As

 

he scanned the tremendous escarpment, he noticed that forty feet up the wall were

 

two men with rifles. They had been watching him. They smiled and waved. He

 

waved back and they motioned him to continue on his way.

 

Feeling uncomfortable, he glanced back down the path he had just traveled and

 

saw another man standing there behind him. He was leaning against the wall,

 

lighting a cigarette. Like the other two men, he had the appearance of a South

 

American guerrilla. Bullets were strapped across his chest and a gun was slung

 

over his back. The man’s eyes glistened as he smiled, and then he, too, motioned

 

for him to continue his journey. Credit decided it would be best to get at it.

 

The path cut a tunnel through the lush river cane. It led to a swampy area where

 

the water was ankle deep and clear. It had a current and tasted sweet. Spring flow,

 

no doubt. He decided that he would fill his canteens there on the way out. He soon came to a small clearing in the undergrowth. Huisache and willow

 

trees provided poor shade for a blistered, wood frame hut that was set up on

 

blocks. The well worn path led straight to the screen door. A neon sign on the

 

wall flashed “Beer”.

 

Sounded good! Credit entered the hut and stood inside the doorway. Three men

 

sat conversing at a table. They were animated and serious, but their discussion

 

came to an abrupt halt when he entered. Heads turned his way.

 

“Buenas dias,” he greeted.

 

“Buenas dias,” they replied in unison.

 

He felt very self-conscious. His initial impression had been “conspiracy”, for like

 

the armed guards that he had seen outside; these men looked like they had only

 

just now returned from a raid with Pancho Villa. The demeanor of these particular

 

men, however, suggested that they were the leaders. He figured that they had been

 

discussing strategies for sabotage or a preemptive strike when he had walked in

 

on them, interrupting something that was none of his business.

 

The men noticed his discomfort, and one of them arose immediately and began to

 

approach him. The man had not had a shave for several days and his face

 

glistened from the heat, but otherwise he had a friendly way about him.

 

“Please, sit down. Rest. Welcome to Qattarah.” “Thank-you.” Credit wondered if he had truly reached Qattarah. This was not

 

what he had expected at all.

 

“You must excuse me, por favor,” the man intoned.

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

The man rejoined his friends. They leaned their heads together and resumed their

 

conversation in a whisper.

 

Feeling it prudent to be polite, Credit ignored their whispers and instead studied

 

the room. It contained ten or more round tables with four chairs each, arranged in

 

dining room fashion. Rows of opened, screened windows lined two of the walls,

 

while the wall behind him was wood planking that was painted beige. There was a

 

door at the far end. Presumably, the kitchen and storage were behind that wall.

 

Two ceiling fans kept the hot air from stagnation.

 

“Would you care for a beer?” asked the man who had greeted him.

 

“Yes, please. That would be nice.”

 

The man hollered into the back room and then returned to his conversation. This

 

time Credit could not help but overhear. Their arguing had grown quite loud. He

 

heard the words “drug running”, “poison”, and “greed”. Their differing opinions

 

reinforced his impression that they were rebels fighting for a political cause. A woman appeared from the back room carrying a glass and a bottle of beer.

 

She was wearing a peasant blouse with a knee length skirt. She had long, black

 

hair and a lovely complexion. A very pretty girl. The men stopped their argument

 

to stare at her as she walked. They whistled and made lewd, but good natured

 

remarks. The waitress ignored them as she served him, and then answered the

 

men in explicit terms before leaving the room.

 

Credit looked at the men and smiled.

 

“Me llamo es Credit,” he said, introducing himself.

 

“Raphael,” answered the one with the drooping mustache.

 

“Ramon.” The one who had welcomed him.

 

“Rueben.”

 

They nodded at him.

 

“So, this is Qattarah,” Credit said, fishing for information.

 

“Si, si.”

 

“Where everything is known?” Credit added.

 

Everyone nodded some more. “I traveled a long road,” Credit said after a moment of silence. “I’m a bit tired.

 

If I’m interrupting something here, I could sit outside. I really didn’t mean to

 

barge in on you.”

 

Ramon stood up swiftly.

 

“No, no. We have been expecting you. Please, you are our guest! We humbly

 

apologize for ignoring you and beg your forgiveness.” He lowered his head and

 

shuffled his feet. “Unfortunately, we have received some particularly bad news

 

today. It has caused us much distress.”

 

“Yes, I caught part of your conversation,” Credit readily admitted. He suddenly

 

felt that it was time to put his cards on the table. “I don’t mean to belittle your

 

own problems, Ramon, but I came here looking for a woman.”

 

Shit! Credit suddenly realized that he didn’t know her name! Could he describe

 

her without even knowing what she looked like? He felt he had to try. “She lives

 

in this world. Has long, very dark hair…” Foolish! How utterly foolish he

 

sounded! “She is a very clever woman. Very pretty, I think. You feel good when

 

she is in your presence…” He felt a flicker of hope. “Perhaps she has been here

 

before?” He looked at each of them with pleading eyes.

 

“Si,” Ramon answered kindly. “We know whom you mean. She has been here

 

before.” “A very fine woman,” Raphael added.

 

“Magnifico!” Rueben exclaimed.

 

“A finer woman I have never met. She is a special one, that one.”

 

“Splendid character.”

 

“The best!”

 

“Impeccable.”

 

Credit wondered. Were they putting him on? No. He knew without a doubt that

 

they were talking about the same woman.

 

“Do you know where she is now?” He was at the edge of his chair.

 

Raphael threw up his hands. “Quien sabe?”

 

“She could be anywhere.”

 

“She is like the wind.”

 

“And we do not interfere with freedom.”

 

“She is a bird in flight.”

 

“A sparrow!” “Yes, a sparrow in flight.”

 

As they continued their superlatives, Credit sat back in his chair and pondered the

 

situation. He felt certain that they knew her location, but would not or could not

 

tell him. They acted as if they would be betraying a confidence if they revealed

 

her whereabouts.

 

As he listened to their simple statements it occurred to him that they were not

 

speaking English, and he was unable to speak conversational Spanish. At best, he

 

could only pick out a phrase or two, and yet he clearly understood every word

 

spoken.

 

The memory of a blithering idiot in a cathedral passed through him like a

 

revelation, and he thought he understood the true meaning of speaking in tongues.

 

The perceiver understands the precise meaning at a profound level without the

 

encumbrances and confusion of language. Speaking in tongues cuts through the

 

clutter, it doesn’t add to it. It is communication and understanding, not deception

 

and ambiguity.

 

He listened again to the men. Although they had returned to their previous topic,

 

they were more relaxed and spoke openly.

 

“Besides the woman and boy, I feel sorry for the local people. They have lived

 

there all their lives, generation after generation. They ask only for life to be a little easier, a little kinder. They live in the middle of nowhere and it is sad when

 

these problems reach even to them.” Ramon sat back and sighed.

 

“Fate put them in that place at that time. They must deal with it, as must the

 

gringo woman and boy.” Raphael explained.

 

“Yes, but even without the kidnappings, the locals did not ask for outsiders to

 

come in spreading threats and easy money, instilling fear and mistrust.”

 

“Insidious,” Ramon agreed. “But there is money to be made by selling poison to

 

the gringos.”

 

“The gringos demand it. They are addicted to everything.”

 

“And now the locals have both the smugglers and the American authorities to

 

fear. It is a strange game being played.”

 

“Strange? Shit. Estupido! The gringo gluttons consume everything. They touch

 

nothing lightly. It was her own fault that the gringo woman was snatched. She

 

deserves whatever they do to her.”

 

“How can you say that, Raphael? She was innocent.”

 

“She was where she shouldn’t have been. She doesn’t belong there. The gringos

 

belong in the United States.” “She’s a member of the human race!”

 

“She’s married! She should have been at home with her husband.”

 

“She seeks her road to freedom. It could go either way with her. You know that.

 

She wasn’t there to spy on drug smuggling.”

 

“I can accept that,” Rueben said.

 

“No! She brought it on herself. Like most selfish gringos, she acted upon her

 

desires without considering the consequences.”

 

“You are too hard on her and her countrymen. The bottom line is that nobody

 

deserves to be tortured, especially the boy. There was no reason to do what they

 

did to him. He was merely fishing at Black Dike.” Ramon gave Credit a long,

 

hard stare as he spoke. “He didn’t know what he was stumbling into.”

 

“I agree with that,” Rueben said. “But they took him all the same, and it will go

 

bad for him.”

 

“Yes. Purely circumstantial that he knew the woman, but it will go against him.”

 

“It may all work out for the best.”

 

“The best? After what they did to the boy? How can you be so callous?’

 

All three men stared at Credit. “Life is to learn,” Ramon offered. “They should never have kidnapped the

 

woman and boy. They should never have smuggled drugs. And the gringos should

 

not be such pigs. They should not be consuming the Earth. But life goes on. You

 

deal with it. I see good days in the boy’s future. Perhaps both captives will be

 

rescued without too much pain and torture.”

 

They continued to stare at Credit, evidently expecting a reaction from him.

 

“Our friend takes the hard road, Ramon. You may be wrong in your vision for the

 

boy.”

 

Credit stared down at his empty glass. He suddenly knew what the men were

 

referring to. He felt that he had to leave right away. Jason and Deanna were in

 

deep trouble, and he was a long way from the Big Bend.

 

“You gentlemen have been very helpful,” he said as her pushed himself away

 

from the table. “I am very glad to have made your acquaintance. But as you

 

suggest, I really must be going now.”

 

The men seemed very pleased. They shook hands all around and then Ramon

 

escorted Credit to the door.

 

“Antonio!” he hollered.

 

A man stepped into view from just outside the screen door. His rifle was slung

 

over his back and he was lighting a cigarette. “Antonio will make sure you get back safely,” Ramon said. “I hope you know

 

that you are our friend. Un buen amigo. You must come back again soon. It would

 

please us to see you often.”

 

And with that Credit was out the door and down the path, bending over the spring

 

water to fill his canteens. Antonio thought it was funny and couldn’t keep from

 

snickering.

 

“Do you really think you’ll need that?” he asked giddily.

 

Credit had no answer for him. When they reached the base of the mesa Antonio

 

hesitated, as if he was unsure of which direction to take. A purple mist had

 

enshrouded the panoramic view down the length of the escarpment.

 

Credit pointed to the path that lay straight ahead. “I came from that direction,” he

 

said. It was really the only way to go.

 

Antonio looked at him with puzzlement. “You really do take the long road, don’t

 

you?”

 

“It’s the only way I know,” he answered truthfully.

 

Antonio followed silently as they made their way along the snaking chasm to the

 

tunnel door. “Good luck!” Antonio smiled. “I look forward to your return. And hey! Don’t

 

drink too much water!” He walked away cackling his fool head off.

 

Credit was bewildered, but let it pass.

 

Before he could enter the tunnel, he was assailed by the sound of singing birds.

 

He couldn’t believe his ears. There must have been thousands of them!

 

As he lifted his head to scan the sky, he opened his eyes. 24 Jason

 

Jason finished baiting the trotline and then returned lethargically to the campsite.

 

He plopped down onto the ground in front of his tent and stared up at the salt

 

cedars. He would have no trouble getting to sleep that night.

 

It had turned out to be a very long day. Because a recent flash flood had eroded

 

every drainage that crossed the road, it had taken strenuous repair work just to

 

reach Black Dike. Even then he had to park his car a half mile from the campsite

 

because of high water in the Rio Grande. It had been an awful lot of trouble to go

 

through just to catch a catfish. He probably should have turned around at the very first bad spot in the road and gone up into the mountains. At least it would be

 

cooler there.

 

He stood up and gathered some twigs with which to start a fire. As he groped

 

through his knapsack for his beef stew, he remembered that he had left his can

 

opener on the seat of his car, which meant another mile round trip. The sun was

 

already beginning to set.

 

He fetched his bottle of sotol, started the fire, and then took a good swig. His eyes

 

watered as he reflected back on his day.

 

He had crossed the river into Mexico during the morning and was making his way

 

towards the hot springs when he was joined by a ten year old boy, chattering in

 

Spanish, who insisted on tagging along. The boy could speak very good English,

 

however, and Jason asked about Roberto.

 

“Roberto? Si. En Boquillas.”

 

All right! He was hoping that he, Roberto and Eusebio could all get together and

 

get drunk that night. Party down! He needed the chance to blow off steam before

 

school started back up.

 

When he arrived at the hot springs to bathe, a group of children surrounded him

 

with the hope of selling him some rocks. They showed him pyrite, quartz crystal, and amethyst. He perused their collection politely before offering a dollar for

 

two of the specimens.

 

After he finished bathing, a group of teen-agers approached him. They wanted to

 

know if he was interested in buying some pot or cocaine.

 

That had never before happened to him in Boquillas, and he was a bit shaken by

 

it. He declined their offer and then hurried on towards the village, his little guide

 

following obediently.

 

The teen-agers had called him gringo, and he reflected upon that. He had heard

 

more “gringos” that morning than in all his previous visits to Boquillas. And it

 

had been mouthed with a certain amount of disdain.

 

When he arrived at the restaurant in Boquillas, the hostess served him politely and

 

then sat down next to the door. Jason was the only customer on the patio. He had

 

expected to see Roberto there, but he was nowhere in sight.

 

He ate his burritos and sipped on his Coke.

 

“Muy bueno,” he said, complimenting the food.

 

“Gracias,” the woman replied.

 

“Esta Roberto aqui?” he asked. His Spanish was very limited, and he hoped that

 

he had voiced the appropriate words. “Roberto?”

 

“Si. Roberto. El trabaja aqui.”

 

“Roberto?” she asked again.

 

He felt that he never should have asked. He didn’t know Roberto’s last name, and

 

he began to feel paranoid.

 

“Roberto esta en Musquiz,” she finally said.

 

He nodded his head. Roberto went often to Musquiz for supplies. “Y Eusebio?”

 

“Si. En Musquiz.” She nodded her head and then raised two fingers. “For two

 

days,” she added in English.

 

Jason felt discouraged. “Not many tourists,” he uttered, more or less just to be

 

polite.

 

“No. Too hot. Mucho caliente.”

 

“Yes.”

 

After browsing through the souvenir shop, he paid his bill. He then ambled over

 

to the store and entered the dark interior. He guide dutifully followed him. Several men sat in the narrow aisle of the old, adobe building, passing the

 

time of day with the old man behind the counter.

 

“Buenas dias,” Jason greeted.

 

The old man nodded his head.

 

“What can I do for you?” he asked kindly.

 

“Sotol, por favor.”

 

The old man stared silently at Jason as he considered his request. He then lowered

 

his head and shook it in denial.

 

Jason realized that he hadn’t been recognized.

 

“Me padre es un buen amigo de Pablo y Juan. Senor Credit Lews.”

 

The old man blushed in recognition. “Ah,” he smiled. “Jason?”

 

“Si!”

 

“Cuantos anos tiene usted?”

 

“Veinte,” Jason replied, standing erect. The old man grinned broadly. He mad an almost imperceptible motion with

 

his head and another man got up and left the store, but then quickly returned with

 

a bottle of stool. Jason paid for the bottle, thanked them all graciously, and then

 

left the store. His young guide seemed overly eager to get him back to the boat

 

crossing.

 

The flat bottom was on the American side when they arrived at the river. He heard

 

more shouts. “The gringo wants to cross. The gringo wants to cross!”

 

As he threw more sticks onto the fire, Jason decided that it had been a

 

disappointing morning. His friends had not been in Boquillas and he had been

 

made to feel exceedingly foreign. Having to repair the road in the hot afternoon

 

had been no better. A rotten day. He took another swig of stool. At least the brew

 

was from a good batch. It had a good bite to it. He would be able to get drunk and

 

forget all about the day.

 

But he also knew that he needed something more substantial in his stomach. He

 

tossed some more wood into the fire, stuck his flashlight into his pocket, and

 

headed off down the road.

 

When he stepped from beneath the salt cedars, he gazed up at the sky. Venus was

 

in the west while the Scorpion slithered through the south, but it was not yet dark

 

enough for the lower stars to shine brightly. He walked the road in the growing darkness. A gradual rise soon brought him

 

to the bluff overlooking the river. Being the halfway point to his car, he paused

 

there to rest. He scanned the sky once again, relishing the much broader view.

 

A nearby movement startled him. He jumped.

 

“Hey,” he shouted nervously. “Who’s there?”

 

Footsteps shuffled in the opposite direction and he began to panic. As he fumbled

 

frantically for his flashlight, he was grabbed brutally from behind. 25 Deanna

 

The moment she turned off of the paved Castolon road and onto the rough, gravel

 

surface of the river road, she knew that her pace would be slowed to a crawl. She

 

turned off the air conditioner and rolled down the windows. Stifling heat and the

 

unique aroma of the Chihuahuan Desert wafted through the car. Ocotillo, prickly

 

pear and yucca flanked the road amid the rugged, eroded hills. When she topped

 

the hill with the gate, she knew that she had truly entered the backcountry of the

 

Big Bend.

 

Damn that Teresa! She railed to herself. Why did she have to live in the middle of

 

nowhere? It certainly didn’t make things easy. Judging by the time it took to reach Smuggler’s Gap, Deanna anticipated

 

darkness before she could reach Sierra Chino, if, in fact, she could make it that far

 

in her car. She had already discovered that higher clearance was definitely

 

recommended.

 

But she was prepared to hike if necessary. There was nothing else she could do.

 

She simply had to see Teresa. Her problem was one of the spirit, not the body,

 

and the Curandera was one of the few people whom she trusted who could help.

 

She had never intended to leave Mark when she did. It simply happened. She had

 

been out sight-seeing to relieve her boredom when she found herself too far west

 

to get back home that night. Instead of calling and trying to explain the situation,

 

she had simply kept on driving.

 

She let out a nervous laugh. Except for Pablo, who happened to be in Terlingua

 

when she stopped for gas, nobody knew that she was there. After having nagged

 

Mark silly to move back to East Texas, he’d never in a million years think to look

 

for her out west. At least not until her credit card trail caught up to her. Man,

 

would he be mad!

 

With mounting trepidation, she inched the car down the slope to Smokey Creek,

 

the largest drainage in the area. A flash flood had come through a day or two

 

earlier, tearing up the creek beds and although all of the crossings had been

 

passable, the slow pace was swallowing her precious time. The sun was seeking the horizon when she finally approached the river. She

 

discovered that the Rio Grande had overflowed its banks, and for three-hundred

 

yards the road ran under water. An automobile with New York State license plates

 

was parked to the side of the road. Figuring that the road was impassable, she

 

decided to park her car. She took out her knapsack and locked the doors.

 

Skirting the flood plain along the steep, rocky slope, she dropped down to rejoin

 

the road where it emerged from the muddy water. She followed it as it crossed a

 

dry wash and then climbed the bluff overlooking the river. She paused there to

 

take in the view.

 

Black, magma dikes crossed the Rio Grande just downstream, and smoke rising

 

from a campfire pinpointed the Black Dike campsite. Sierra Chino was the next

 

river access, five or six miles further down the road. Lengthening shadows had all

 

but faded, and the thought of having to walk in the dark began to weigh on her.

 

The chance that people at Black Dike would have company for the night was

 

beginning to look very promising.

 

Before departing the bluff, an upriver movement caught her attention. She flipped

 

up her binoculars and found several men on the Mexican side of the river. They

 

were loading garbage bags into a flat-bottom boat. Two more boats were tied up

 

on the American side not far from where her car was parked. The scene gave every appearance of drug-running and she wondered what she

 

should do. Would her car be safe? Should she go back? And what could she do

 

about it if they did decide to steal her car?

 

The twilight was beginning to diminish. Once more Deanna peered through her

 

binoculars as she fretted. The last boat had been loaded and was on its way to join

 

the others. She also noted two men making their way down the Mexican side of

 

the river. Several times they glanced her way, making her feel uneasy. She

 

decided that it would be best to get off the bluff and out of sight. As she turned to

 

go she heard a sound in the near distance, an unnatural sound, as if someone had

 

kicked a rock. A sense of urgency engulfed her.

 

As quickly and quietly as possible, she clambered thirty feet up the nearby slope.

 

It was much steeper than she would have wished; the rocks that covered it much

 

looser. Several of them dislodged, but none of them rolled far or made much

 

noise, for which she was grateful. She crouched behind a large sotol plant and

 

tried to calm her breathing as she listened intently.

 

The muffled sounds of footsteps were growing clearer and she decided that at

 

least two people were approaching her; maybe three. She held her breath as they

 

came to a halt directly beneath her. Although she could hear them whispering,

 

darkness had crept in and she could see only shadows. She prayed that she would

 

not be noticed. The shadows below her finally separated and she patiently let out her breath.

 

The night became still and utterly quiet.

 

She noticed more footsteps. Another person was approaching from the opposite

 

direction.

 

She waited breathlessly as a shadow came to rest beneath her once again. The

 

uncomfortably long pause was soon shattered violently by sudden movement and

 

a shout.

 

“Hey! Who’s there!?”

 

She heard a scuffle filled with more shouts and the thud of punches. Groans

 

became intermixed with a low, defiant sobbing, but all of the noise suddenly

 

faded into the background for Deanna. She had become fixated by the sound of

 

the shout. She knew that voice! But from where? As she frantically searched her

 

memory, the sound of a gunshot brought her to a sudden stop, and she

 

involuntarily jumped.

 

The night turned deathly still as a rock dislodged from beneath her foot and

 

bounced conspicuously down the hillside.

 

Horrified, Deanna froze. She could imagine all eyes looking her way, and when

 

she heard the sound of footsteps scrambling up the hill, she wished she could

 

wake up from a bad dream. 26 The Ouachita Mountains

 

From the moment he awoke to a chorus of chirping birds, he figured that he was

 

in trouble. When at last he topped the short bank to the campsite, his suspicions

 

were confirmed. Although Paul and Richard were not yet awake, Bonnie was

 

sitting at the picnic table with her head between her hands. Her icy stare passed

 

straight through him as he approached.

 

“Pissed off, huh?” he remarked, trying hard to suppress a grin. He couldn’t help

 

himself. He felt giddy because of his guilt.

 

Ignoring him, Bonnie turned away coldly. It was evident to Credit that she was in

 

no mood for his shit. He knew it would not be easy to smooth things over and convince her to leave for the Big Bend as soon as possible. But that was

 

exactly what he had to do.

 

“Look, Bun,” he explained hastily. “You know that I’ve been having some pretty

 

crazy dreams lately. The past couple of nights it’s gotten to the point where I’m

 

having a hard time identifying what’s real. Maybe I am going crazy. I dreamt that

 

I put the picnic table in the road the other night, and that’s where we found it in

 

the morning. And then last night I dreamt that Jason was in bad trouble out in the

 

Big Bend. I know that you’re pretty disgusted with me right now, but I’d like for

 

us to leave for West Texas as soon as possible. Like right now, you know?”

 

Bonnie got up from the table and began to gather up the camping gear.

 

“I don’t like the way you walked out on me last night,” she said as she rolled up

 

her sleeping bag. “So until we straighten this out, don’t expect a very pleasant

 

attitude.”

 

Credit was perplexed. While he had hoped to appeal to Bonnie’s intense interest

 

in his dreams, as well as her own queasy feeling about Jason, persuading her had

 

been entirely too easy. He felt that she was up to something. And as soon as she

 

finished punishing him, he intended to find out what. 27 Flipside

 

They were on a straight and narrow road that was flanked on each side by a

 

mosaic of square and rectangular shaped bodies of water, some of them of

 

substantial acreage. Old shade trees lined the narrow, earthen banks that separated

 

the water, creating the perception of lakes within the forest.

 

“How deep are all these lakes?” Mark inquired.

 

“Couldn’t tell you,” Credit answered.

 

“Do you think there’s any fish in them?” “Could be. I’ve never tried fishing here.” He scrutinized the passing lakes

 

more thoroughly. “Do they look natural to you?”

 

“I’ve been wondering about that. Quarries, maybe?”

 

“They could be old fish hatcheries. Just chock full of big old bass right now.”

 

“Have you got your fishing pole with you?” Mark was getting excited.

 

“I don’t know. Check in the back. Do you see it?”

 

“In the back seat? Hell, no!”

 

Credit smacked himself in the forehead. “That’s right!” he exclaimed. “We’re in

 

Bonnie’s car! Hell, I don’t even know here I’m at. It’s a good thing you’ve got

 

your seat belt buckled.”

 

He looked at Mark and grinned. It felt good to be with him again. The underlying

 

tension was entirely gone, and Credit assumed that they had either resolved their

 

problems or the passage of time had made them inconsequential. He couldn’t

 

quite recollect at the moment and was reluctant to mention it. He didn’t want to

 

break the mood.

 

The lakes area ended abruptly. The road soon dropped out of the woods and into a

 

broad, delta valley. An old wooden bridge spanned the mouth of the main

 

tributary. “They don’t make them like this anymore,” Credit said as they crossed the

 

solid planks. “There’s not a nail in this bridge. It’ll hold together forever.”

 

“I’ll bet. Hey, we’re still going to the Aqua Ruins, aren’t we?”

 

“Yeah,” Credit answered. But a seed of doubt had been planted by the question.

 

Since the ruins were in Tunu, he reasoned, that meant that he was dreaming. And

 

yet, Mark was sitting next to him. If he couldn’t accept Mark as being real right

 

now, how could he accept Tunu as being real?

 

“Did Bonnie ever tell you what she learned about them?”

 

“No,” Credit answered. He wondered. Did Bonnie know something about the

 

Aqua Ruins? She knew more than she was letting onto lately, that much was

 

certain.

 

“I need to stop at the house, first,” he informed Mark. He needed to find out

 

exactly what it was that Bonnie knew.

 

He pulled up at the curb and stepped out of the car. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

 

“This won’t take long.”

 

He followed the gentle slope of the pavement through the amusement park. Game

 

booths filled with stuffed animals lined the midway. Music was playing and

 

carnival lights were flashing, but the crowd was sparse due to the afternoon

 

showers, which they had just missed. The fresh scent of rain still lingered in the air, subtly mixed with that of cotton candy, candy apples, and sausage and

 

peppers.

 

Credit turned next to the tilt-a-whirl and then walked briskly alongside the roller

 

coaster. He could see his destination through the infrastructure; a yellow, two

 

story wooden house. Although consistent in its appearance on the outside, the

 

inside was always being remodeled, and he wondered what changes were

 

awaiting him.

 

He climbed the porch and tried the front door. Finding it locked, he hopped

 

around to the side of the house. The side door opened up and he stepped into a

 

small, square hallway. On either side was a closed door. A window in front of him

 

showed that the main body of the house was to his right.

 

He opened the door to the left and climbed a flight of steps. Another door opened

 

into an efficiency apartment. It was small and cluttered, but very neat, and he

 

decided that it must be a woman’s apartment. It certainly wasn’t his. The kitchen

 

area was spotlessly clean. To his right was a bed beneath a large picture window.

 

The view overlooked green pasture land. The fields were severed into sections by

 

tree-lined ditches. A herd of cattle grazed lazily in two of the partitions. Credit

 

noted with interest that every cow was facing in the same direction. As he began

 

to ponder the oddity, he suddenly remembered that he wasn’t in his own

 

apartment, and paranoia began to creep in. He returned downstairs to the hallway and opened the door to the main part of

 

the house.

 

It turned out to be an ordinary broom closet.

 

Shit! He ranted to himself. How was he going to get in to see Bonnie?

 

He reviewed the closet once again. It was two feet deep, made of solid wood

 

planks. Two brooms and a mop hung from the back wall. He glanced up at the

 

ceiling and then down at…well, shit! He saw that there wasn’t any floor. Wooden

 

rungs were nailed to the wall beams, making a ladder into the cellar.

 

He climbed down.

 

The basement was dank and musty. A dimly lit bulb hung from the center of the

 

room, casing eerie shadows and accenting the thick cobwebs among the canned

 

goods and stacked boxes where he stood. He moved down under the light.

 

A model train was set up on a table. It had a very elaborate setting of mountains,

 

tunnels, trees and buildings. There were automobiles and little people, all of it

 

exceptionally realistic.

 

An old shower stall stood in the corner of the room. It was a simple metal frame

 

with a shower head and a stiff, cloth curtain. A groove in the cement floor would

 

have channeled the water to a drain underneath the train table. Credit stepped through double doors into the other half of the cellar. It was

 

much brighter there due to the windows that lined the top of the outer wall. The

 

room was filled with old, dusty furniture; antique oak tables, bed frames, desks,

 

dresser drawers and more. It was stacked everywhere. He could barely see the

 

back of the room.

 

Suddenly, he realized that he was staring at the room from the opposite end, and

 

he couldn’t remember having walked the distance. How had he managed to

 

negotiate around all that furniture? He wondered. He could discern no clear path

 

through the room.

 

He turned around and studied the back wall. Instead of stone, like the rest of the

 

cellar walls, it was made of horizontal wood planks. The top plank was missing.

 

He climbed up and slithered through the opening.

 

He emerged into a hallway that had a very pleasant aura. At once he felt at home.

 

The room was painted beige with blue trim and was very clean and well lit. A

 

vase with flowers and a bag of groceries sat on the table. Credit picked up the

 

sack and entered the apartment.

 

“I’m home, Bun!” he called out as he set down the sack of food. He glanced

 

through the library to the sitting room. The apartment was set on three levels, each

 

room two steps lower than the previous one. “Mark and I are going over to the Ruins. Is there something you wanted to tell

 

me about them?”

 

“I’m not going to tell you until you give me a kiss.”

 

Credit smiled as he stepped down into the sitting room. Bonnie had pulled the big

 

chair over to the window and was sitting there watching the busy street scene

 

below. Only the tip of her head was visible as he tip-toed up behind her. He

 

stretched his arms around the chair, reached up under her sweater, and cupped her

 

breasts in his hands.

 

Damn nice, he moaned to himself as he massaged her warm titties. And yet

 

something was different, he thought. They were much bigger than they should

 

have been. Could it be that Bonnie was pregnant?

 

“Pretty nice stuff you here, lady.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you like them, Mr. Lews.”

 

She stood up, rounded the chair, and embraced him.

 

Credit gasped. That wasn’t Bonnie at all, but a woman he had never seen before.

 

A total stranger!

 

“You’re not Bonnie,” he managed to whimper. “Must be your lucky day,” she replied huskily. She rubbed her hips against

 

him as her lips arose to meet his. “What do you need her for, anyway? I’m here

 

now and she ain’t got nothing I ain’t got.”

 

Lady, you don’t even come close, Credit reflected spitefully as he moved his head

 

to the side. Bonnie sure as shit didn’t have to wear all that damn make-up.

 

He broke free from her grasp and stepped backwards. Bonnie had the answers, he

 

thought, while this woman had nothing but surface appeal. And then not much of

 

that.

 

He backed up against the ledge that divided the room, tripped and fell backwards.

 

His head began to spin and his world darkened quickly.

 

He found himself crawling through a converted Chevrolet Suburban. Through the

 

rear doors and out the front, over and over again.

 

Each time he emerged from the drivers’ door he congratulated himself for having

 

broken the cycle, only to find himself entering the back doors once again. And

 

even though the interior was more varied and complex than he could have

 

dreamed possible, he felt as if he had scrutinized every last detail over and over

 

again. Monotonous boredom.

 

And it perturbed him that he couldn’t break the cycle. He knew that he was

 

wasting his time. 28 Boquillas

 

Bonnie sat back and gazed up at the Sierra del Carmen. The color and texture of

 

the mountain changed hues gradually with the passing of the day, providing

 

Boquillas with spectacular scenery. At sunset the unique escarpment was

 

absolutely marvelous.

 

She looked back at the adobe houses that were clustered about the mesa and

 

concluded that it had to be the location of the village that gave her such a pleasant

 

feeling. The town itself was near poverty stricken. There was little work for the

 

men, and the women stayed mostly out of sight. Her overall impression of life

 

there was one of hardship, boredom and depression. Pablo popped the top from a Corona and handed it to Credit. They both

 

stretched back in their chairs and sipped on the warm beer. The veranda was a

 

new addition, open on three sides, with ocotillo stalks comprising the roof. The

 

design provided both shade and passage for the wind, although at the moment

 

there wasn’t even a trace of a breeze. It was pure hot even in the shade.

 

“When me padre mention Jason, I look for you,” Pablo said. “It’s been a long

 

time since you come here.”

 

“Yes, almost a year,” Credit answered. “You’re looking good. Are you doing

 

alright?”

 

He lied. Pablo didn’t look good at all. His face was drawn and he appeared

 

extremely tired, as if he had aged several years in the span of one.

 

“Ahhh.” Pablo signaled with his hand—not so good. “Summer is a hard time,” he

 

explained. “Not many tourists.”

 

“It’s too damn hot,” Bonnie said.

 

“Si. Mucho caliente. Everyone goes to the mountains.”

 

“Yes. It’s too hot on the river, now. We were even considering going to the Sierra

 

Fronteriza,” Credit said as he motioned off to the south. “Can you arrange that?” Pablo perked up noticeably. “Si, si. I can arrange everything. I do not know

 

those mountains myself. I always stay here. Pero El Viejo, maybe he can be your

 

guide. He knows. Juan o Eusebio can drive you. When you want to go?”

 

Credit shook he head. “I don’t know. We have to find Jason first. When did he

 

come to Boquillas?”

 

“Si. Jason come to Boquillas.”

 

“Cuando? When?”

 

“Oh, tres dias ago, I think. I was in Terlingua at the time, and did not see him. Are

 

you two not together?” Pablo asked politely.

 

“No. He drove out here before we did. Tell me, do you remember Deanna, and

 

American woman? When you and I first met, she and her husband were with me.”

 

“Si. I remember.”

 

Pablo nodded his head agreeably, but he seemed suddenly wary.

 

“Has she been here in the past few days?” Credit asked.

 

“En Boquillas?” Pablo dropped his head and shuffled his feet. “No,” he replied

 

slowly. “She has not been in Boquillas. Credit glanced at Bonnie to see if she also sensed a sudden reluctance in

 

Pablo’s manner.

 

“Hey, man!” Credit suddenly exclaimed. “I forgot to tell you! Bonnie and I are

 

getting married this fall.”

 

Pablo brightened considerably. He stood and gave them both a hug. “You wait

 

here,” he grinned before rushing into the house. Within moments he returned with

 

a bottle of Tequila, and they all took a drink. The sparkle had returned to Pablo’s

 

eyes. He seemed much younger again, as did Credit.

 

Bonnie marveled at her fiancé. He blended in with all people, from the richest to

 

the poorest. No one was beneath him, no one above him. He could escort her to

 

the finest places in New Orleans and be totally at ease, or take her to the poorest

 

of Mexican villages and still be in perfect harmony.

 

Crazy? No, Credit wasn’t crazy. Beginning to lose his sense of reality? That was a

 

different matter. If it hadn’t been for her encounter with Lena in New Orleans, she

 

would be having serious doubts.

 

They settled back into their chairs.

 

“We must inform Juan of the wedding,” Pablo said. “Was he down at the river

 

crossing?” “No, Manuel was the only one I knew. Do you want to walk down with us?

 

We need to get back and start looking for Jason. Maybe Juan is there now.”

 

As they approached the Rio Grande, Credit pointed out a group of teen-agers.

 

“When we came across earlier, they wanted to sell us some cocaine. What’s

 

happening, Pablo? That’s never happened here before.”

 

Pablo became sullen and once again looked old and burdened.

 

“What can I say?” he asked, throwing his arms into the air. “I don’t like it. No

 

bueno. But the tourists expect it. If not drugs, then Indio artifacts, Spanish relics,

 

animal furs. It’s always something you want. We have no money for these

 

things.”

 

When they reached the river bank, the little children gathered around them and

 

shouted across the river. “The gringos are here! Bring the boat! The gringos want

 

to cross!”

 

Pablo tried to shush them. “These two no are gringos,” he admonished.

 

“The Intifada,” Credit whispered to Bonnie.

 

She understood the allusion well, and wondered what it was that so soured the

 

opinions of these Mexican children. Was it because of rude tourists, or the mere

 

fact that the people north of the border had so much, while those south of the

 

arbitrary line had so little? As the flat bottom ferry arrived, Pablo pulled Credit to the side.

 

“That woman you mention, Deanna. I saw her in Terlingua. She mentioned going

 

to Sierra Chino to see the Curandera. That is all I know.” He said it quickly, as if

 

confessing a sin.

 

Credit grasped his hand firmly. “Gracias, Pablo. Buen amigo.”

 

“She asked me not to tell,” he explained uncomfortably.

 

“I understand. I won’t let on.”

 

Pablo smiled appreciably. “Gracias, gracias. You come back soon. The three of

 

you. You have a drink with Juan and me, and I arrange for your trip to the

 

mountains. You will come back?”

 

“Yes. We’ll see you in a few days. Tell Juan we are sorry we missed him. You

 

need money up front for the trip?”

 

“No. Not now. After.”

 

The boatmen were anxious to leave.

 

“Thanks, Pablo.” 29 Black Dike

 

Credit simmered with disillusionment as he stood beneath the salt cedars. The

 

men from Qattarah had said that Jason was at Black Dike, but there was no sign

 

that he or anyone else had recently camped there. His car had not been at any of

 

the campgrounds, which meant that he had to be somewhere in the back country.

 

But where? There were hundreds of miles of back roads to cover.

 

The river road had not been in great condition, but they had made pretty good

 

time on it. He smiled as he thought back on how he had horrified Bonnie by

 

plowing straight through the muddy water that covered the last stretch of road. He

 

knew from experience that it only looked deep. “We’ll pitch the tent over here,” he said as he walked toward a clearing in the

 

trees.

 

“Do you think it’s safe?” Bonnie asked.

 

“Hell, no. But this is where I want to spend the night. We’ll set the tent up here,

 

but we’ll sleep over there.” He pointed to a spot against the base of the cliff. A

 

thick growth of vegetation hid the position from normal view.

 

“Hopefully, if anybody comes snooping around we’ll hear them before they can

 

see us. I’ll put up the mosquito netting so we don’t get eaten alive.”

 

As he walked toward the pick-up to get the gear, ne noticed an owl perched on a

 

branch of a salt cedar ten feet above the truck. Credit watched the bird observe

 

him warily, and when he met its gaze head on, it became evident that the owl

 

possessed keen intelligence.

 

“Bonnie, look at this,” he excitedly whispered.

 

“I know.” She had watched the scene unfold.

 

As Credit continued to inch toward the truck, the owl continued to watch him

 

without appearing to be alarmed. It then gave Bonnie a momentary glance before

 

spreading its wings and gliding away. Credit and Bonnie scrambled from beneath the trees to observe the owl’s

 

flight. They saw it land on a high ridge toward the northeast. It appeared very

 

small silhouetted against the deep blue sky.

 

“Keep your eyes on him,” Credit said as he rushed to grab the binoculars. He

 

returned quickly and focused on the owl.

 

“Just as I suspected,” he murmured. “That damn owl is staring right back at me.

 

Let’s go!”

 

“Go where?”

 

“Follow the owl.”

 

“Why, for Christ’s sakes!?”

 

“You got something better to do? This is the omen we’ve been waiting for. There

 

was an owl in my dream the other night, and now this one. I’ve got the feeling

 

that if we pass up this opportunity, we’ll miss a vital clue about Jason’s location.”

 

Bonnie held her questions as they trotted down the road. When they reached the

 

base of the hillside, they stopped to catch their breath.

 

“I’m beginning to wonder about you, Credit. Don’t you think this is pretty silly

 

chasing an owl across the desert? I mean, he’s just going to fly off again. He’s not

 

going to tell us anything. Hon, are you sure you’re all right?” “Yeah, I’m all right, Bun.” He knew that her concern was sincere. “But I’ll

 

tell ya, I’m getting too old to run like this.” He was standing with his hands on his

 

knees, breathing hard. “The Earth will always point out the path to take, but it’s

 

up to us to pay attention and interpret the signs. Just climb to the top with me. It

 

isn’t much farther, now.”

 

It was a hard climb to the top. The hill was much steeper than it appeared and was

 

crowded with strategically placed clumps of lechugilla and prickly pear. Of

 

course, the owl was gone when they reached the top. Credit selected a rock on the

 

point of the spur to sit upon and rest.

 

The Sierra Ponce escarpment in Mexico dominated the view to the west. Beneath

 

it, the Rio Grande snaked like a green ribbon against the parched badlands. Credit

 

put the binoculars to his eyes in order to scan the immediate river valley. He soon

 

spotted a twister whipping the river cane.

 

“Dust devil,” he whispered as he watched it move across the river into Mexico. It

 

appeared to possess volition of its own as it hopped up the desert steppes and then

 

held its place above a brilliant green spot in the otherwise gray landscape. It took

 

Credit a moment to realize that he was looking at the tops of cottonwood trees

 

hidden behind a ridge. The presence of the trees indicated standing water at that

 

location.

 

“Let me see,” Bonnie squirmed. He took note that the spring was across the river from the Sierra Chino

 

campsite, and then handed over the binoculars to Bonnie.

 

“Dust devil still there?”

 

“Yes,” she said, absorbed by the sight.

 

“The deep green splotch near it is the tops of cottonwood trees. There’s a spring

 

there and probably houses nearby. Maybe that’s where Jason’s at,” he suggested.

 

“Pure speculation. More like the Curandera’s place. Hey! It’s gone! It just fizzled

 

out. Disappeared.”

 

He took the binoculars and studied the area. Nothing but badlands. If there was a

 

house nearby, it was hidden from view. He scanned up and down the river once

 

again.

 

“Let’s go,” he said as he stood up. “I’m hungry.”

 

“So, what are you planning to do?” Bonnie asked as they sat around the campfire

 

after supper. “Shouldn’t we notify the Park Rangers or DEA or someone?”

 

“We don’t know for sure that anything has happened. You’ve been really kind to

 

me by going along with all this, but the Rangers or DEA would laugh themselves

 

silly. We don’t have any evidence that anything has happened to either Jason or

 

Deanna. Only a stupid dream, and I’m not sure I can rely on that.” “You moved the picnic table.”

 

“Did I?”

 

“Well, at least you confirmed that drug running is going on, and that Deanna’s out

 

here somewhere. And as much as I hate to admit it, Jason is probably right where

 

that little twister thing pointed out. I trust the way you read the Earth, Credit. And

 

I trust your dreams, even if you don’t.”

 

Credit smiled. “I sure am glad you’re with me. I appreciate your confidence more

 

than you think. I only hope that Jason’s all right, wherever he is.”

 

A donkey brayed in the distance while javelina moved and snorted through the

 

underbrush of the flood plain. The fire was almost out.

 

“You never did answer me,” Bonnie said with a yawn. “What’s your master plan,

 

Mister Lews?”

 

“I don’t know, Mrs. Lews. I guess we’ll go to Sierra Chino tomorrow and try to

 

find the Curandera. It’s funny that no one could tell us exactly where she lived.”

 

“I know! Everybody knew, but nobody knew for sure. Strange.”

 

“You ready for bed? You look awfully tired.”

 

“I think so. It’s been a long day. Are you coming?” “No. I’m gonna sit up and watch for a while. Make sure that nothings

 

stirring.”

 

Bonnie was only slightly disappointed. She had hoped to snuggle, but was really

 

too tired to argue. Besides, she felt safer knowing that Credit was keeping guard.

 

Credit helped her into the mosquito netting and then climbed the cliff above them.

 

Finding a comfortable place to sit, he leaned back and gazed up at the Milky Way,

 

grateful for the time alone. It was becoming harder to keep up an optimistic front

 

for Bonnie. His last dream had been an exercise in futility, and even though he

 

liked to hoot about following the signs of the Earth, he had to admit that he didn’t

 

have the slightest clue about what he was doing. He could only rely on luck. 30 Flipside

 

He took note of the rustling of the leaves as he crawled along on his hands and

 

knees. Curious, he sat up on his haunches and looked around. In every direction

 

there was nothing but river cane, thick and green, as far as the eye could see—

 

which wasn’t very far. A sudden, claustrophobic surge made him wonder what he

 

was doing there in the middle of the cane break. While he felt certain that he had

 

been searching for something, he had no recollection of what that something

 

could have been.

 

Baffled by his loss of memory, he shrewdly theorized that he could be dreaming.

 

If so, he knew that he would be able to divide his awareness and observe himself in his dream. He would be able to rise above the cane to determine his

 

location. Perhaps then he could remember his purpose in being there.

 

He gazed straight up. Even though the cane was unusually tall and leafy, he

 

seemed very close to the top of it, which puzzled him. Even if he had been

 

standing, the cane should have been far over his head.

 

As he wondered how he had obtained such a perspective, he suddenly realized

 

that he was gazing across the top of the cane patch. He was floating in the air! As

 

he continued to rise higher, he noted the dike across the river and remembered

 

that he was at Black Dike. He was dreaming of his waking world!

 

As he continued to rise, he glanced upriver. Even though it was night time, he

 

could see clearly the rich, green cane breaks that dotted the bends of the Rio

 

Grande. A chrome or metallic reflection from the moon’s light emanated from

 

one of the breaks on the American side of the river. He immediately understood

 

the implications. Jason’s car had been temporarily hidden until the river receded

 

and could once again be crossed.

 

Credit felt a ticklish, pulling sensation in his mid-section, and when he looked

 

downward, he was surprised by the distance he had risen. Black Dike looked very

 

small, and other prominent features in the landscape grabbed his attention. He

 

could pick out a spring in Mexico with a small hut nearby, while up the drainage

 

and across the steppes was a cluster of adobe buildings sitting below the steep rise

 

of the Sierra Ponce. He was also struck by another oddity. While he was looking earthward he

 

noticed that his arms and legs were dangling below him. He was in the air bodily,

 

and yet at the same time he was also still sitting in the cane break!

 

The sensation in his stomach crept to the bottom of his ribcage. Feeling that it was

 

time to return to the ground, he instinctively concentrated on the cluster of

 

buildings below the Sierra Ponce. Three of the main houses formed a triangle, and

 

the ground between them appeared to glow. A bright splotch near one of the

 

buildings especially attracted his interest. His perception magnified as he zoomed

 

in on it.

 

He found himself viewing the scene as if he was floating ten feet above the

 

ground in the middle of the three houses, although his field of vision had

 

narrowed to take in only the house in front of him and the bright aura that was his

 

initial attraction. He saw that the aura was actually a man sleeping in a chair,

 

snoring loudly. A rifle lay across his lap. Credit felt a clear foreboding as to what

 

the man was guarding.

 

Credit was suddenly surprised by the creaking sound of a door being opened. He

 

remembered that the house to his left had had a light glowing within it, but when

 

he attempted to look he was unable to turn his head. His tunnel vision was stuck

 

on the house in front of him. He immediately understood that if he wanted to see

 

who was stepping out of the door, he would have to turn his entire body. However, before he could attempt the maneuver, he was struck by another odd

 

sensation. He was actually experiencing two totally different perceptions! At the

 

same time that the door was opening, he was also back in the cane break, and

 

something there was approaching him in a menacing fashion, thrashing and

 

beating down stalks.

 

Instinctively, he knew that the choice was his to make. Feeling more threatened in

 

the cane, he decided that his undivided attention was most needed there.

 

He found himself stumbling head first through the reeds, one step ahead of the

 

approaching terror, until he was rudely blocked by a sheer rock wall. Cornered

 

and frightened, he scrambled straight upward until he reached a narrow ledge.

 

Breathing hard, he looked down and noticed cattle grazing along the river and in

 

the cane break. He also noted that the ledge gave way on either side of him, which

 

meant that there was no way to go but up.

 

He passed through a pervasive purple mist on his way to the next ledge, which

 

was long and wide and covered with hardwood and cedar trees. That fact struck

 

him as being odd. When he gazed back at the ground, he saw that the cane break

 

was gone. A shallow, clear stream gurgled below him while a lesser canyon wall

 

rimmed the opposite shore. Concluding that he was no longer in the Big Bend, he

 

decided to climb to the top of the ridge with the hope of discerning his new

 

location. When he turned to face the Cliffside he noticed well worn foot holes in the

 

rock. The entire wall was a well traveled path, and he commenced his climb to the

 

next level.

 

After four more tiresome levels, he finally pulled himself over the top edge.

 

“Damn!” he railed as he looked around. He had expected to find a natural

 

wilderness. What greeted him was a paved parking lot. He felt disgusted.

 

But what disgruntled him even more was his reaction. It was entirely out of

 

proportion to what it should have been. There was another factor that was adding

 

fuel to his intense anger. It was a feeling that he couldn’t shake, that he had

 

somehow crossed over to Tunu when he should have been trying to locate Jason.

 

He turned irritably from the ledge.

 

“Get in, dummy!”

 

It was his helper. Without looking at her face, he opened the door of the 1968

 

Ford station wagon and sat down.

 

She drove off.

 

“You blew it,” she told him casually. “You realize that, don’t you?”

 

“I have a feeling that I should be somewhere else,” he admitted as he stared out

 

the passenger door window. He felt incredibly stupid and embarrassed. “You should be back where you came from. The choice was yours to make

 

and you blew it.”

 

Her words triggered his full memory.

 

He had had the choice of merging his full awareness at the adobe houses or at the

 

cane break, and he chose the cane break. In all probability, Jason and Deanna

 

were in one of those houses below the Sierra Ponce. Damn!

 

The woman began speaking as if she could read his thoughts.

 

“If you would have chosen to see the person coming out of the house, your full

 

attention would have focused there, and your perception of being in danger in the

 

reeds would have vanished. No longer would you have been there.” Kindly, she

 

added, “There’s a boy and a woman who need you at that house, Credit. That is

 

where you belong.”

 

“How do you know all this?” he asked.

 

“I read your memories from your aura.”

 

“Can you take me back there?”

 

“No. You have squandered too much energy. You would be too weak and

 

confused now to help them. I am doing what I can to help you.” “Is any of this real?” he asked out of frustration.

 

She let out a robust laugh. “How can you doubt it? It’s what you experience, isn’t

 

it?”

 

When he made no reply, she giggled softly.

 

“I know the confusion you face, but now is not the time to think about it. The

 

moment will arrive when it will all become clear.”

 

“But how can I put my trust in this kind of information? People from my waking

 

world constantly appear on Tunu. Are they real or are they phantoms? Are you

 

real?” he asked pointedly.

 

The woman breathed a sigh as she shook her head.

 

“You’re going to persist in this, aren’t you?”

 

“I need to know.”

 

She stared at him. In all this time he had yet to glance her way.

 

“You have not yet reached the point where my explanations will make sense, but I

 

guess I’ll have to try.

 

“Of course I’m real. And anyone in Tunu will tell you that this world is real. And

 

Bonnie or anyone in your waking world will tell you that the Earth is real. You can agree with that alright. Your trouble is that you seek corroboration

 

between the worlds, and that is hard to find.

 

“As for people from your waking world appearing in Tunu, anyone you have ever

 

known or paid attention to is retained by you in your aura. Or perhaps I should

 

say, in your memory. The people you randomly see here are either beckoned by

 

you or by fate. They are phantoms, as you say, because they are your reflection,

 

but you must treat them as if they are real. The knowledge they impart can be

 

beneficial. You must pay attention to everything. Whatever you experience is real

 

for you.”

 

“I’ve always felt different from other people. Now I feel like a freak. Am I

 

walking the right road?”

 

“You amaze me. You refute all authority, and yet you persist in looking for a map

 

to show you the way. Tell me, would you recognize such a map if you saw it?

 

And would you accept it if you recognized it?”

 

Credit remained silent.

 

“The fact is, you are not an aberration,” she said in consolation. “There is ample

 

precedent for the things that you do, only it has been centuries since it was

 

common practice. People of the present generation see nothing but the physical

 

world, and from that they seek profit. They see no profit in developing awareness. “You, on the other hand, seek knowledge, and so you are rewarded with

 

knowledge. If you remain on your present course, the mysteries you unravel will

 

be limitless.

 

“We are nearing our destination now. We have wasted enough time talking. There

 

is someone I want you to meet.”

 

She turned the car from the main highway onto a rough, unpaved lane. Credit

 

rolled down the window and hung his head outside. It was an unusually warm

 

autumn day and the sunlight played in the red and yellow leaves of the thick

 

roadside vegetation. The presence of a large body of water was evident from the

 

smell in the air.

 

When the road split they took the fork to the left. A row of cottages lined the right

 

side of the lane across from an empty field. He surmised their destination when he

 

saw a statue of an owl in a front yard.

 

Sure enough, the woman pulled into the driveway there and turned off the engine.

 

He automatically stepped out of the car and approached the front door. An old

 

woman stepped out onto the porch. Expecting to be introduced, he turned to see if

 

his helper was following.

 

But she was gone, car and all, and he suddenly felt very self-conscious. He looked

 

in the front yard for the statue of the owl, intending to use it as an opening to his

 

conversation, and found that it, too, was gone. Sheepishly, he looked at the lady and smiled. She seemed a kindly old

 

woman, with sparkling eyes that brimmed with life. He felt very comfortable with

 

her and his nervousness evaporated.

 

“It is an honor to finally meet you, senor Lews. My name is Teresa.”

 

Credit nodded a silent greeting. Her youthful voice belied her appearance.

 

“You don’t mind if I sit, do you? An old woman’s bones grow tired quickly in a

 

world such as this,” she explained as she sat down on the steps.

 

“I’ve heard much about you from your friend here. You are a clever man, senor

 

Lews, but there is still much that you do not understand. Perhaps there are ways

 

an old woman can help. At the very least, you must bring you fiancée to meet me

 

tomorrow. My boat will be there for your crossing.”

 

Somewhat baffled, Credit hesitated. He wasn’t exactly sure what the old woman

 

was talking about, and certainly didn’t want to make any promises. Even if it were

 

possible to get Bonnie to Tunu, he knew that tomorrow would not be a good time

 

to take her visiting.

 

Teresa studied his expressions.

 

“This is not where I live,” she explained. “Your friend fetched me here. This is

 

not even my world. “I am known as the Curandera, and live near the Sierra Chino in Mexico. I am

 

well aware of the plight of your son and our mutual friend, Deanna. They are both

 

in grave danger. I hope we can help them.”

 

“Do we have time?”

 

Teresa dropped her gaze.

 

“I can assure you of only one thing; as of this moment they are still alive.”

 

“But it’s so far from here!” he exclaimed in agitation. “Do you know how to get

 

there? Can you take me?”

 

It was the Curandera’s turn to act bewildered. She seemed stunned by his

 

questions.

 

“Of course I can take you there,” she responded. “Just wake up.”

 

Wake up? Why of course! It was his turn to be stunned. It was just too damned

 

easy to get caught up in the flow of events on Tunu. He had forgotten that he was,

 

in reality, asleep at Black Dike, only a few miles from the Sierra Chino.

 

“Wake up, Credit!”

 

Just wake up. 31 Sierra Chino

 

She became alert the instant she awoke.

 

“Credit, wake up!” she whispered nervously. “Somebody’s in camp.”

 

He opened his eyes.

 

“Something’s moving around out there,” she said.

 

Credit listened carefully to the sounds. He determined that whatever was out

 

there, there was certainly more than one. And then it dawned on him. He crawled out of the mosquito netting and chased off the cows. Bonnie

 

followed behind, stomping her feet and yelling, “Get, get!”

 

“So, what’s on the agenda for today, boss?” she asked after the campsite was

 

clear.

 

“It’s liable to be a long day,” he yawned. “The first thing is to get some food.

 

Eggs sound good?”

 

“Sure. But then what?”

 

“Then we take down camp.” Hoping to build suspense, he paused and smiled at

 

her mysteriously. “You ready for this?”

 

She shrugged her shoulders.

 

“Jason and Deanna are near here. Over in Mexico. Their cars are hidden in a cane

 

break a mile or two up the river. We could go there and confirm it if you want, but

 

we might run into somebody, and I’d rather not give ourselves away if we don’t

 

have to.

 

“Instead, we’ll drive on down to Sierra Chino like we planned. There’s a house on

 

the other side of the river near the spring. As you surmised, it’s the home of the

 

Curandera, Teresa. She’s expecting us.” Bonnie was surprised. Yesterday, Credit had been so sullen and despondent.

 

Today he was brimming with confidence.

 

“What did you dream last night?”

 

“Quite a bit actually. I didn’t see Jason or Deanna, but I’m most certain that I

 

know where they are. I was actually there, and may have been able to do

 

something, but I blew it. I still have a hard time accepting that I can affect reality

 

with my dreams.

 

“Let’s fry up those eggs and get out of here. It’s already getting damn hot out.”

 

He recounted his dream as they packed up the tent and ate. By the time they

 

reached the Sierra Chino campsite, Bonnie’s stomach was awash in butterflies.

 

There were several openings in the cane break lining the Rio Grande. Credit chose

 

to go to the one furthest upriver, and there they discovered a flat-bottom boat tied

 

to the bank.

 

“Get in,” he ordered as he untied the rope.

 

Bonnie hesitated.

 

“Are you sure we should be doing this? This boat must belong to somebody.”

 

“This boat is here for us,” he assured her. “I told you, we’re expected.” After crossing the river they located the trail that led from the floodplain into

 

the dry desert. It was a little over two miles to the spring, which was a welcome

 

sight upon arrival. Four very tall cottonwoods grew near the water, and their

 

shade was well appreciated.

 

The spring itself was one of the better sources in the area. It poured vigorously out

 

of the cliff rock and pooled in several places along the drainage. Shoreline and

 

aquatic vegetation was thick, and the water flowed clear. Best of all, it was cool

 

and had a very good taste.

 

“Where’s the Curandera’s house?”

 

Credit pointed down the wash. “A trail goes around the base of the bluff to the

 

right. Her house is maybe two spurs over. It’s not far, really.”

 

“And where is Jason?”

 

“I’m not positive,” he admitted. “But if I follow this arroyo for two or three miles,

 

it should lead me real close to the place.”

 

“You mean if ‘we’ follow the arroyo.”

 

“No, I mean me. You’re staying with Teresa. She’s expecting you.”

 

Bonnie protested and pouted. “I won’t be gone long,” he promised, trying his best to soothe her. “I’m just

 

going to scout things out. If I can do something, I will. If I can’t, I’ll come back

 

here and we’ll notify the authorities or something. OK?”

 

An owl swooped low overhead. Credit took that as his cue to leave. He gave

 

Bonnie a quick peck on the cheek.

 

“If I ain’t back by noon tomorrow, notify the Park Rangers. But don’t follow me.

 

Please? I don’t want to have to worry about you, too. I won’t be gone long.”

 

Before she could make any further protest, Credit swiftly climbed the cliff next to

 

the spring and was gone.

 

She stomped her foot angrily.

 

“Damn that son-of-a-bitch!” she wailed. 32 Prisoners

 

The squeamish sensation penetrated his dream as he neared consciousness, and

 

for the third morning in a row he awoke with a start. He tossed aside the blanket

 

and hopped up from the floor, rubbing his body feverishly. He absolutely hated to

 

have insects crawling on him as he slept. He had a phobia about it. It was just his

 

luck to be trapped in cockroach heaven. Yesterday, they had even found a

 

scorpion.

 

Once free from his torment, he shuffled over to Deanna and lightly brushed the

 

roaches from her face and arm. She rolled over groggily and opened her eyes.

 

“Sorry,” he whispered. “I can’t stand to see roaches crawling on anyone.” Deanna stood promptly; stamping her feet and flapping her blouse and slacks.

 

Finally confident that she was alone in her clothes, she leaned against the wall and

 

watched Jason as he moved about the room and stretched. There wasn’t a single

 

piece of furniture in the make-shift prison. They had been given only a blanket to

 

sleep upon.

 

“You’re looking much better this morning. Your bruises are beginning to fade,”

 

she observed.

 

“I feel a bit better physically. I’m not as sore as I was.”

 

“I’m really glad they didn’t shoot you. I was afraid they had.”

 

“You and me both,” he said, trying to remain upbeat.

 

He reflected upon their condition as he continued to exercise. All things

 

considered, they had been treated quite humanely. Although they both could do

 

with a bath, they had been adequately fed, with no further physical abuse. Yet

 

their fate remained uncertain. Their captors seemed to be waiting upon the

 

ringleader, a man called El Mano.

 

In the meantime, the man in charge was a hothead called Enrique. He had a

 

hardened, hateful look; was ill-tempered and unpredictable. He obviously hated

 

Americans more than anything else in life, which was frightening. If it had not been for Romo, the calming influence of the group, there would be no telling

 

what might have already happened.

 

Deanna slumped down in the corner. Her eyes were watery.

 

“I really am sorry about all of this. It’s all my fault,” she blubbered.

 

Jason stared out the window. The morning sun had topped the mesquite trees and

 

was shining brightly into the room. The air was already beginning to heat up. By

 

noon it would be unbearable.

 

“It’s not your fault,” he replied as he stared down at her sadly. They had been

 

through this conversation before. She was deliberately whipping herself with

 

guilt.

 

“This is just the way things turned out,” he consoled. “There was nothing you

 

could have done to prevent it. Dad would call it fate. He really believes in that

 

shit. Who knows, maybe he’s right. Anyway, you shouldn’t feel bad. What

 

happened, happened.”

 

He crossed the room and sat down beside her. “Dad’ll be here soon. He’ll get us

 

out of this mess.”

 

He wasn’t expecting his father to arrive in the Big Bend for several more days, yet

 

it was all that he had left to pin his hopes on. “I hope you’re right,” Deanna said. She was aware that her tone betrayed her

 

defeat. She knew that she should remain strong for Jason. He was still such a

 

young boy. How could she tell him that it didn’t matter whether Credit came or

 

not? There was no way for him to know where they were, and it would be too late

 

by the time he arrived anyway.

 

“I imagine he’ll think this is pretty ironic when he gets here.” Jason continued.

 

“You know, he thought he had seen you in New Orleans a week or so ago. You

 

didn’t go there, did you?”

 

“No. What was he doing in New Orleans?”

 

“I think he went there to propose to Bonnie. They’re planning to get married this

 

fall.”

 

“Oh.” More distressing news, she thought.

 

“Mark thought that you and dad had run off together.”

 

“It was never like that between us,” Deanna replied. “We became really close

 

when we stayed with him for those few months while our house was being built.

 

Credit and I were in sync for a spell, and I guess Mark became jealous.”

 

A creaking door interrupted her account. They watched passively as the guard

 

stepped into the room. “Buenas dias!” he shouted with a toothless grin.

 

The man eyed the room purposefully until he spotted a huge black cockroach on

 

the wall. With surprising speed, he snatched the insect with his hand and popped

 

it into his mouth, chewing his crunchy snack with relish, knowing full well that it

 

turned the stomachs of his captives. He loved to watch their expressions.

 

Americans were so soft and antiseptic.

 

Jason and Deanna had seen it before. It had become a morning routine. The man

 

was mad as a hatter, with an IQ the size of the bug he had just eaten. Yet, he had

 

not intimidated them in any manner. They did not feel threatened or menaced by

 

him as they did from the others.

 

Still, they had little doubt that he would shoot them if they tried to escape.

 

Because of his mental handicap the smugglers took good care of him, and he was

 

fiercely loyal in return. He took his job seriously. Night and day he sat guard

 

outside their unlocked door.

 

“Buenas dias,” they uttered in unison.

 

The man wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he grinned broadly.

 

“Bueno! Frankie muy hungry.”

 

He glared at them for a moment longer and then withdrew from the room,

 

laughing impishly as he closed the door behind him. Around ten o’clock in the morning a short but heavyset Mexican woman

 

brought beans and tortillas, their sole diet for the past three days. She and Frankie

 

stooped in the corner and glared silently at them as they ate, although the woman

 

would avoid eye contact whenever they looked her way. She had a sad look, tired

 

and defeated. When they finished their meal, the woman gathered the pots and

 

plates and left with Frankie.

 

As the afternoon wore on, they figured that the episode would be repeated, as it

 

had been the past two days. But today was different. It was Enrique who brought

 

them their dinner after siesta.

 

He set down the pot of food and then hovered over them ominously, purposefully

 

making them nervous. He was obviously enjoying it. His attention was especially

 

locked on Deanna.

 

“El Mano returns tonight,” he informed them when they finished their burritos.

 

“Tomorrow we leave for the interior.”

 

Jason and Deanna listened attentively.

 

“Roma suggested that we release both of you, since there will be nothing you can

 

do when we are gone. We do not plan on using this crossing point again.”

 

He stepped menacingly in front of Deanna, placed his hand under her chin, and

 

lifted her gaze to meet his. “But you are such a pretty gringo woman; I believe I will take you with me.”

 

A look of terror crossed her face and she jerked her head away. Enrique slapped

 

her hard.

 

Enraged, Jason jumped at the man. With an almost effortless motion, Enrique

 

flung him violently against the wall, and Jason slumped to the floor in pain.

 

“A very brave act, a very stupid act!” Enrique shouted venomously. “Try that

 

again, little one, and you will have a very short life.”

 

He returned his attention to Deanna by crudely fondling her breasts while she

 

cringed in the corner.

 

“El Mano will give you to ME, gringo bitch. And if you don’t please me, I will

 

give you to my men. A cow! If you don’t want that to happen, pretty woman, I

 

suggest you treat me with enthusiasm, yes?”

 

Deanna wept silently.

 

“All gringo women are whores. It will be a treat for you to finally have a real

 

man. Un macho!”

 

He was about to rip open her blouse when voices from the outside interrupted

 

him. He turned to listen. One of his men shouted and Enrique stiffened. “One sound from either of you,” he warned sharply, “and you’re both dead!

 

Comprende?”

 

When he moved towards the door, Jason and Deanna glanced at each other with a

 

flicker of hope.

 

Had that really been Credit’s voice they just heard? 33 Bonnie

 

Alone and deserted, Bonnie dropped to the ground, exasperated. Tears began to

 

fill her eyes as the realities set in.

 

How could he leave me all alone in the middle of nowhere? She demanded

 

silently. Just dumped me off! How the hell could he do that to me? Expects me to

 

walk right up to a total stranger and introduce myself!

 

“Hi,” she uttered sarcastically. “I’m here! Can I come in and make myself at

 

home? Damn him!” She pounded the ground with her fist. The abundance of flies and insects that were buzzing the spring began to

 

irritate her. As she flailed away at the air with her arms, she became aware of a

 

new presence. She looked down the wash and discovered an old woman rounding

 

the bend, approaching hurriedly. She was out of breath by the time she arrived.

 

“I was afraid of this,” she muttered after casting quick glances around the spring.

 

“But I figured as much. He’s gone off by himself, hasn’t he? He didn’t want to

 

have to worry about you, so he left you here to worry about him.”

 

Bonnie nodded her head affirmatively. How did she know? She wondered.

 

“I wish it didn’t have to be this way,” the old woman whispered, as if to herself.

 

And then she looked at Bonnie with a pleasant grin. “Men are such morons, such

 

stubborn creatures. At least he had sense enough to bring you here. My name is

 

Teresa,” she said as she held out her hand. “I am very pleased to make your

 

acquaintance.”

 

“Bonnie.”

 

“Well, he has left you with nothing to do now but wait. You are more than

 

welcome to spend as much time with me as it takes. It will be a pleasant change to

 

have someone to talk with. You will accept my invitation, won’t you?”

 

Although her anger at Credit had cooled considerably, Bonnie still wasn’t quite

 

sure what to make of Teresa. The old woman seemed very well informed and genuinely concerned, and more than a little mysterious. Still, Bonnie knew she

 

had very few options left open to her.

 

“Thank-you. I’d like that very much,” she replied.

 

A thick grove of mesquite trees flanked the trail to the house, and Bonnie couldn’t

 

help but notice the owl that twice swooped down near them.

 

“Credit and I saw an owl yesterday,” she commented.

 

“The same owl,” Teresa replied. “I call him Lucheza. He is my friend. Sometimes

 

he talks to me. Sometimes he warns me of danger.”

 

The Curandera’s house was situated against the hillside, half dug-out, half adobe.

 

A veranda ran the length of the front wall.

 

“Come into the kitchen,” Teresa said as she led Bonnie into the house. It was very

 

neat and clean and surprisingly well lit.

 

“I will teach you how to make a proper tortilla. You can surprise Credit. A way to

 

a man’s heart is through his stomach, you know.” She glanced at Bonnie and then

 

frowned. “You smile and think that I joke, but it is still a valid premise, even in

 

these times.”

 

“Have you known Credit for very long, Teresa?” The Curandera stopped kneading her dough as she formulated a reply. “We

 

have never really met,” she said, “but I have known of him for many years now.

 

He has made many friends in this area. The people speak highly of him. I also

 

know Deanna fairly well, and she has also mentioned him.” She studied Bonnie

 

more closely.

 

“The first time I met Credit was this morning,” she confessed. “A friend of his

 

snatched me from my own ambiguous dream and took me into his. It was very

 

difficult for me to maintain my focus there. That is not my direction. I am a

 

healer, and his dream drained my strength. Otherwise, I would have been on time

 

to greet you both at the spring when you arrived.”

 

“What was his dream like? Was it scary?”

 

“I was taken to a world much like this world, although we were not in the desert.

 

It was very green. I think we were at a cottage on the edge of a lake, although I

 

did not see the water. The humidity was very high, almost unbearable.

 

“His friend, an Indian woman, informed me of the abduction of Deanna and

 

Jason. Although I was aware of the incident, I did not know the names of those

 

involved. At first, his friend thought that Credit might succeed without our help,

 

but then he faltered and she went to fetch him. When we finally met, he appeared

 

tired and confused by the whole episode. His friend says he has been struck by the

 

wanderlust.” “He IS the wanderlust!”

 

Teresa smiled. “Perhaps so. Dreams are influenced by what one does in everyday

 

life. Credit is not an evil or a violent man. If that were true, he never would have

 

uncovered the secrets that he has. His dreams are not terrifying. Surely he has told

 

you about them.”

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

“But you have never been in them?”

 

“No. Is his friend pretty? He tells me that he has never seen her face.”

 

“Yes, she is.” Teresa smiled. A chuckle was in her eyes.

 

“You make a very good tortilla,” the old lady added, changing the subject. “You

 

have a knack for it. Would you like to sit on the veranda and sip some tea?”

 

“That would be nice.”

 

“I spoke harshly of Credit earlier,” Teresa apologized as they settled into their

 

chairs. “Men are stubborn creatures for sure, but he is a very smart man. He sees

 

what every person has the opportunity to see, and yet very few make the effort or

 

take the time to do so. He must be very close to the Earth, very much in touch

 

with the world and able to sense the rhythms. He has done much to solve the

 

mysteries of awareness.” She paused and wrinkled her brow with mock worry. “His friend in Tunu says

 

that he is only at the beginning, like a baby learning to walk. That is what she

 

worries about.”

 

“Well, I’m worried that he’s going to get himself killed,” Bonnie admitted. “He

 

can’t make a decision to save his life, and then he goes and does something like

 

this.”

 

Teresa sipped her tea thoughtfully. “His son is a prisoner, and that gives him

 

strong motivation,” she said. “Perhaps it will be enough to pull him through.”

 

“I hope so. I know the important thing is to get Jason and Deanna away from the

 

smugglers. That’s what matters most, whether it’s tonight or tomorrow, as long as

 

it takes, just so they all come back safely. I just can’t help but worry.”

 

The Curandera took her hand comfortingly and stared deeply into her eyes. As she

 

took in Bonnie’s hopes and fears, the fog in her visions lifted, and Teresa saw

 

clearly.

 

“I don’t mean to pry, dear, but I sense indecision and conflict smoldering beneath

 

your petty concerns; your jealousy over Deanna and the fact that you have never

 

appeared in Credits dreams. Would you like to talk about what’s really bothering

 

you?” Bonnie was surprised by the bluntness of Teresa’s assessment, and by the fact

 

that she was not able to hide her secret from the old woman. It was a struggle that

 

had been uppermost in her mind for the past two days. She knew that she was

 

acting as indecisively as Credit.

 

“I’m sorry,” she replied coolly. “But conditions have been set, and I’m not

 

allowed to talk about it.”

 

Teresa nodded her head in acceptance. “Let’s get something to eat,” she offered.

 

“It’s hell waiting on a man. Perhaps that’s one reason I never got married.”

 

Dinner was a simple meal of rabbit stew and tortillas. After washing the dishes,

 

they walked to the spring for water. It was late in the evening and the day was

 

beginning to cool. Upon returning to the house, Bonnie sat out on the veranda.

 

Teresa joined her as the first stars lit the night sky.

 

“Credit won’t be back tonight,” Bonnie murmured. She could feel it in her bones.

 

“If he’s not back by noon tomorrow, I’ll have to cross the river and notify the

 

Park Rangers. Do you think you could go with me?”

 

“It’s not necessary to go anywhere,” Teresa assured. “I have a CB radio. Mexico

 

is not the end of the end of the Earth, dear. Even I have use for technology,

 

outdated as it may be.” “You’re pretty wonderful,” Bonnie replied with a smile, her first in quite some

 

time. “I hope we get a chance to spend some time together when this is all over

 

with.”

 

“It may be that you could help speed things up,” Teresa challenged. She watched

 

perceptively as Bonnie once again grew agitated and withdrawn.

 

At that moment the owl fluttered noisily in the air, turning their attention. As the

 

woman stared at the silhouette of the flapping, spread-winged bird, they noticed a

 

shooting star. They watched breathlessly as it fell halfway down the sky and then

 

exploded into a ball of light, like a star going nova. It momentarily shattered the

 

darkness.

 

“Wow,” Bonnie whispered, at ease with herself at last. The struggle within her

 

had dissipated witin a moment. She had received her omen, and was now certain

 

that the time was right.

 

“Would it be all right if I laid down now?” Bonnie asked. “I’m really rather

 

tired.”

 

“Of course, dear. Let me show you your room.”

 

Teresa lit a candle and then led Bonnie to a small room that was spotlessly clean.

 

The furniture was limited to a set of dresser drawers and a simple wooden bed with a down filled cushion for a mattress. The Spartan nature of the room

 

reminded her of Credit.

 

Teresa began to speak as she turned down the bedspread and fluffed the pillow.

 

“I was taken into Credit’s dream so that he could corroborate the reality of his

 

dream world. I believe that you are also capable of doing that. You can be the

 

catalyst that gets him over the hump, the difference between success and failure.

 

But your purpose must be pure, your intentions absolutely clear.”

 

Bonnie stiffened. She had not thought that far ahead.

 

“How can I help him?” she asked.

 

“In all probability, you will find him in his dream world, Tunu. Your task is to

 

remind him of Jason and Deanna. In order for you both to get back here in your

 

dream, you must climb the hill. Remember that. You must climb the hill to get

 

here. Credit will take care of the rest. You must allow him to guide you after that.

 

He knows the pitfalls to avoid.”

 

Bonnie hugged Teresa in gratitude.

 

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said.

 

“Sweet dreams, dear. Credit found a good woman when he found you. Maybe one

 

day Deanna will learn what comes naturally to you.” Teresa closed the door when she left and Bonnie sat down on the edge of the

 

bed. She reached into her purse and took out a vial of powder, the engagement

 

present she had received from Lena in New Orleans. As she had done numerous

 

times before, she tapped on the side of the glass jar with her finger and then

 

examined the contents closely. She opened it and smelled the fragrance.

 

Forgive me Credit, she prayed. I never meant to intrude into your private dreams,

 

but it is the only way I know to help.

 

She emptied the contents into a cup of water and without further hesitation, drank

 

it down. As she lay back on the bed, one sentence ran over and over again in her

 

thoughts: “Jason’s in trouble; we must climb the hill.” 34 Captured

 

He hustled along the shallow, dry wash above the spring. Because there was

 

nothing but sparse desert shrubbery to shield him from view, he felt nervous and

 

vulnerable. More than that, the blistering desert heat was quickly draining his

 

strength, and he realized that he would have to slow his pace.

 

When he reached the canyon entrance he located a shady spot and sat down to

 

rest. He watched carefully to make sure that Bonnie wasn’t following. He hated

 

leaving her the way he had, but he knew it was the best thing for both of them.

 

She would be safe with the Curandera, and he would have one less head to worry

 

about. Undoubtedly, she had ranted and raved, but he couldn’t risk exposing her to danger, especially since he didn’t have the slightest idea about what he was

 

planning to do.

 

He sipped on his water and wondered if she had yet met up with the Curandera.

 

He had the strangest feeling that the owl was the old woman’s eyes; that she

 

would be close behind. Hell, the owl may even be the Curandera herself! He had

 

certainly encountered stranger things lately.

 

In any event, he was relieved that he had avoided the old woman. He had been

 

afraid that when she and Bonnie got together they would have attempted to talk

 

him out of his present escapade. They would have sensed his lack of focus and

 

urged him to attempt a rescue in his dreams.

 

But he knew that he had to act while awake. Although his last dream had been

 

helpful, there was no telling what his next dream would bring. No certainty

 

whatsoever. And there was no time to wait. The situation demanded immediate

 

action.

 

Feeling somewhat refreshed, and pleasantly surprised that Bonnie wasn’t

 

following, he turned up the rocky canyon floor. He knew there would be three

 

branching chasms to his right. The first was inconsequential. The second led to

 

the road that passed through the cluster of houses, and the third led directly to one

 

of the houses. There were still several miles to go, maybe more, since the canyon

 

bottom was twisted severely. Erosion had done its job well. He passed the first two canyons and turned up the third. Halfway up the

 

narrowing drainage, he came into view of the house, and he stopped to listen. He

 

could hear several voices. While they were nothing more than incoherent

 

mumblings, it managed to snap him back to reality. He needed to gather his wits

 

about him.

 

Up until then he had envisioned himself sneaking in under cover of some inspired

 

diversion and simply freeing Jason and Deanna, neat as shit. The problem was, he

 

wasn’t James Bond. He could think of no diversion.

 

He retraced his steps and took the second branching chasm nearly to the road,

 

where he found a comfortable perch in the shade from which to sit and observe.

 

The compound was several hundred feet away, but open terrain between them left

 

him with a clear view of the three whitewashed adobes. Behind them a thick

 

growth of mesquite and willow clustered about a windmill. Goats wandered about

 

the yard.

 

As expected, a guard sat outside the middle building. Credit watched the man

 

drink periodically from a bottle and swat at flies. Once, he moved his chair to a

 

better place in the shade. Other than that there was very little activity. Judging by

 

the position of the sun, he figured it to be four o’clock, maybe later, and he

 

realized that he had damn near wasted the entire afternoon with nothing to show

 

for it. As he continued to chide his own paralysis, he noticed two men emerge from

 

the house on the left. One of them carried a basket and a pot of food. He entered

 

the middle hut while the other man and the guard stood outside and talked.

 

In all probability, Credit thought, Jason and Deanna were being held captive in

 

that hut, and there he was sitting on his ass in the shade, dawdling and thinking up

 

excuses for his inaction.

 

When the two men turned their backs, he hopped out of the ravine and scooted

 

over to the road. He wasn’t Indiana Jones, but he sure as shit could walk into town

 

like Dr. Who. He had to trust his luck.

 

His approach went unnoticed until he neared the compound.

 

“Buenas tardes!” he shouted amicably.

 

The two men greeted him with low rumblings.

 

Not exactly a friendly gesture, Credit noted as he continued his approach.

 

“Habla usted las Ingles?” he inquired.

 

The guard was toothless, with a distorted face that made him appear to be autistic,

 

although Credit knew that looks could be deceiving. The other man appeared hard

 

and humorless, but intelligent. This man called out the name “Enrique” before

 

introducing himself. “Me llamo es Romo,” he said as he offered his hand.

 

The man who had entered the hut with the food stepped outside.

 

“Frankie!” he barked as he made a motion with his head. Obediently, the autistic

 

looking man picked up the rifle leaning against the wall and prepared to enter the

 

hut. Enrique whispered orders into his ear, slapped him on the back good

 

naturedly, and then strode towards Credit with a wide smile on his face.

 

“My name is Enrique. How may I help you?” he asked, extending his hand. “Did

 

you run out of water on your hike?”

 

Credit smiled as he shook Enriques hand. “El gusto es mio. Me llamo es Credit.”

 

“And what can we do for you, Credit?”

 

“I am afraid that I have lost two of my friends, and was hoping that one of you

 

may have seen them. One is a young boy, viente, blonde hair, tall, lanky. The

 

other is a woman, trienta or so, Americano, very pretty.”

 

Enrique’s eyes blazed for an instant. Romo shuffled his feet. Credit felt absolutely

 

certain that Jason and Deanna were behind the door in front of him. He felt just as

 

certain that he had stepped out of his league. These men were serious.

 

“We have seen no one,” Enrique said with finality, as if that statement would put

 

an end to the entire conversation. But after a short pause, his mood lightened perceptibly, and he added in a polite tone, “They are probably on your side of

 

the river, in the Park, hiking. Why would they come here? There is nothing in

 

Mexico.”

 

“I found their cars on the other side of the river,” Credit admitted. “They were

 

hidden in the cane, camouflaged. There was not sign of their camp anywhere.”

 

“And what makes you think they have come here?”

 

“I thought that there might have been trouble, or a misunderstanding. I feared that

 

they may have offended the local people in some manner.”

 

“And you accuse us?”

 

“I accuse no one,” Credit evaded. The conversation was not proceeding as he had

 

hoped. “I simply crossed the river and followed the road. If none of you have seen

 

them, I’ll go on my way. There are more houses down the road, are there not?”

 

The question enraged Enrique.

 

“I told you,” he said, pausing to let his temper simmer. “They are not here. They

 

are not in Mexico! There is no place here for gringos.”

 

Two more men approached. The four Mexicans gathered off to the side and

 

argued in subdued whispers. Credit kicked himself for having never learned fluent

 

Spanish. They were speaking so fast that he couldn’t pick out a word, but he still didn’t like the tone. Counting the guard inside the house, the odds were at

 

least five to one, and he concluded that it would be best to simply leave. It was

 

insane of him to have relied on pure luck to rescue Jason and De.

 

“Enrique!” he shouted. “Gracias! I will go look for Jason and Deanna elsewhere.

 

Adios!”

 

He began to walk away at a brisk pace.

 

“Stop!” Enrique demanded sharply.

 

Credit turned around and was surrounded by the Mexicans.

 

“Before you go, I just want to tell you what a pushy, condescending gringo

 

bastard you are!” Enrique spat. “What do you say to that?”

 

Before he could utter a reply, Credit saw that Enrique was about to strike. He

 

moved quickly to dodge the blow, but a sharp force smashed the back of his head.

 

He dropped to his knees in biting pain, and then fell forward into the dirt, barely

 

aware of the situation.

 

He heard voices speaking excitedly in Spanish. He was lifted by his armpits and

 

dragged across the ground. It seemed to last forever. At last they dropped him on

 

his face. Someone kicked him in his gut while his hands were being tied behind

 

his back. For a long while he lay motionless in the sun, struggling to remain awake. His

 

forehead throbbed and the back of his head stung bitterly. It took all of his effort

 

just to remain lucid.

 

It was nearly dusk when he finally regained enough strength to sit up. His hands

 

were bound tightly behind his back, and he was attached to the fence by a five

 

foot length of cord. His situation did not look promising.

 

He heard a vehicle rumbling down the road from the interior. It kicked up a cloud

 

of dust as it passed, and then stopped at the compound.

 

Within minutes he heard people approaching. A man dressed in a finely tailored

 

suit stopped at the far end of the corral, flanked by Enrique and Romo. They

 

stared silently at him for a brief moment and then turned and walked away.

 

Due to his physical condition, trying to keep his eyes open any longer had become

 

a losing proposition. With the fading of twilight, Credit finally surrendered to

 

sleep. 35 Flipside

 

A grin spread across his face as he came to a stop in the driveway. He stepped out

 

of the car and shut the door.

 

“It’s about time you go back!” Credit said. “How’d it go, man?”

 

Rob stood in the front yard watering the grass.

 

“All right,” he answered. “Pretty good. In fact, pretty damn good.”

 

“But the lawn doesn’t look so good, does it? I guess I should have come over to

 

water it while you were gone. You just get back?” “Last night. I figured I’d need a bush hog to cut the damn thing. Instead,” he

 

shrugged his shoulders, “I get burn city.”

 

The entire lawn was a crisp, uniform, golden brown.

 

“I came across the river on the way…”

 

“Any water?” Rob inquired.

 

“Shit, no. The fish are growing legs. Guess what I happened to notice, though.

 

Right across the road from where we last camped are the best campsites on the

 

whole river. You can drive right down to them.”

 

“Yeah. You didn’t know that?” Rob replied with a smirk.

 

“No, and neither did you. Don’t tell me that crap! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have

 

toted all the gear for a god-damned mile through the woods!”

 

Rob grinned as he shrugged it off. “Oh, well. Hey! Come here and look at this.”

 

He threw down the water hose and led Credit to the front corner of the yard.

 

Barely three feet from the shoulder of the road stood an eight foot tall marijuana

 

plant. Its branches drooped from the weight of the flowering sensimilla buds.

 

“Look at the damn thing!” Rob exclaimed proudly. “This is amazing,” Credit muttered, stupefied. “I can’t believe this is growing

 

here. The damn grass in the yard is burnt to a crisp, and this is just as green and

 

healthy as can be.”

 

Rob pointed down at the ground. “It’s growing in those ruts. Runoff from the road

 

must have given it enough water.”

 

“Shit. There ain’t been any runoff. We haven’t had a drop of rain for over two

 

months now!” Credit was stumped. It didn’t make a lick of sense, and yet there it

 

was.

 

“What I really can’t believe is that no one stopped and grabbed it. I mean, it must

 

have been growing here for several months now, right out in the open.”

 

“Really,” Credit agreed as he scanned the featureless plain. “It’s the only damn

 

thing out here to notice. Hell, I passed it by myself and never saw it. Did you

 

plant it here?” he asked giddily.

 

“Shoot no. I’m not that smart. I plant mine thirty miles out in the wilderness,

 

down chasms, up cliffs, and behind hedges. And then somebody else finds them.

 

They’re gone by harvest time.

 

“Nope,” he lamented. “I imagine somebody just threw a seed out the window and

 

got lucky.” “Well, you need to move it before someone does see it.” Credit was serious.

 

He was beginning to feel nervous standing out in the open next to a marijuana

 

plant, especially along a major highway.

 

“I’m gonna get a shovel, dig it up, and fill in these ruts,” Rob said as he set out for

 

the garage.

 

Credit gazed down the road apprehensively. Within moments he saw his worst

 

fears coming true. A car was approaching in the distance.

 

Damn the irony, he thought bitterly. It was a miracle the plant had grown there to

 

begin with. Absolutely incredible that it hadn’t been stolen. And the moment they

 

discover it, they get busted for the damn thing. With him standing there drawing

 

attention to the spot, it was sure to be noticed.

 

His first impulse had been to run for the garage, but he then thought better of it.

 

Don’t run, he reasoned, just act cool, be natural.

 

He dropped to his knees and began tossing clods of dirt into the ruts. The hard

 

clumps broke easily, exploding into finely textured soil. The car sped past as Rob

 

returned with the shovel.

 

“Man, I sure am glad they didn’t spot this,” Credit exclaimed as he got to his feet.

 

He was noticeably relieved. But the fear returned quickly when they saw the car slow down and pull to the

 

side of the road. It was a light blue Ford sedan with markings on the door. The

 

occupant appeared to be looking back at them, but it was hard to tell from the

 

distance.

 

While watching the car intently, Rob pulled the plant out of the ground and

 

handed it to Credit.

 

“I think I know who that is,” he said, “and I don’t want him to see this. Why don’t

 

you get it out of sight?”

 

At that moment the car pulled away. It turned down a side road and disappeared

 

out of sight.

 

At ease again, Credit moseyed towards the garage, dragging the plant behind him.

 

As he reached the edge of the house, voices coming from the back yard renewed

 

his paranoia.

 

Damn, he thought to himself, must be a conspiracy. The one time you really want

 

some privacy and people come crawling out of the woodwork.

 

He arched his neck and saw a woman with two children wearing bathing suits

 

emerge from a narrow strip of woods in the neighbor’s back yard. They were

 

laughing and playing as they walked and took no notice of him.

 

“Put the plant in here.” Rob was standing at the back of his car with the trunk wide open.

 

“I thought you were going to hang it in the woods to dry,” Credit stated.

 

“Got a better place to take it,” Rob replied with an enigmatic smile.

 

“I want to see where those people came from,” Credit said as he handed over the

 

weed. He turned and walked away.

 

He passed through the narrow but thick stand of grapevine covered trees and

 

found an abandoned field that was in the process of returning to a natural state. It

 

was overgrown with small trees, blackberry briars, and milkweed. Pollen was

 

pungent in the air.

 

He followed the trail to a creek than ran straight as an arrow. It was three feet

 

deep and four feet across, much like an irrigation ditch. A shallow ribbon of water

 

trickled along the bottom. Wild quince trees, thick and stunted, lined both sides of

 

the drainage. Credit reached out and touched one of the yellow, leathery fruits. It

 

was gnarled and wormy looking. Not very appealing.

 

As he stepped across the ditch, he glanced upstream and saw that the creek had

 

been dammed. Three or four wooden railroad ties had been stacked together on

 

top of each other. The water seeped slowly over and through the rotting beams.

 

The trail took him to a parking lot. A station wagon full of children was about to

 

leave, but he was more interested in the impoundment of the creek, which was ten feet wide and thirty feet long above the dam. It couldn’t have been more than

 

three feet deep. A sandy beach led into the water.

 

The whole scene struck him as being very odd. Surely people didn’t swim in that

 

ratty hole, did they? He knew for a fact that there were much nicer places to swim

 

in the area, although he couldn’t remember exactly where they were located.

 

A speedboat suddenly shot out from the upstream creek opening and made a

 

quick turn through the pond. A bikini clad girl, posed on the brow of the boat,

 

smiled and waved at him. Ne nodded in acknowledgement, bewildered as the boat

 

sped back up the creek. There was definitely something peculiar going on. He just

 

couldn’t put his finger on it.

 

He heard the revving sound of another engine and looked in time to see the station

 

wagon pull away. To his surprise, Bonnie was standing there.

 

She was dressed in a potato sack that had puffed up like a balloon around her,

 

allowing only her head, hands, and feet to protrude. He erupted into gleeful

 

laughter as he pinched her cheek.

 

“Cutest ‘tater I ever saw,” he teased.

 

She was clearly embarrassed. “I can’t help it,” she pouted. “This is YOUR dream!

 

Not only do I feel ridiculous, but I feel like I’m going to float away.” My dream? Credit deliberated. My dream? Of course! Suddenly everything

 

made sense.

 

“Do you want to go swimming?”

 

“In there?” Bonnie objected. “Good grief, no.”

 

“I agree. Apparently, a bunch of kids were swimming here. The just drove off as

 

you arrived.”

 

Kids? The word jabbed her, and she shuddered and wondered why.

 

Credit noticed a buzzing noise and pointed upstream. “Watch there.”

 

Once again, the speedboat shot out from between the quince trees and made an

 

abrupt u-turn in the pond, flinging droplets of water at them. Bonnie was both

 

fascinated and puzzled as she attempted to dodge the oncoming water.

 

“Where are we?” she asked, wondering why she hadn’t gotten wet.

 

“Well, originally I thought I was at Rob’s house, but now I know we’re

 

somewhere in Tunu. I’ve been to this place before, but it’s been a long time. Not

 

since I was a kid.” That word again! It jolted Bonnie and she suddenly remembered. She saw

 

how easy it was to get caught up in the flow of the moment and lose track of one’s

 

sense of purpose.

 

“Jason’s in trouble, Credit. Remember? The Big Bend? Now’s our chance to

 

help.”

 

Credit was dumbstruck. Jason? In trouble? Was that happening now? Of course!

 

Bonnie knew. She had the answers! But they were so far away from the Big

 

Bend! He groaned inwardly as he started to grow despondent.

 

“We must climb the hill to get there,” Bonnie stated slowly and methodically, as

 

if reading from a script.

 

Of course! How simple! Just climb the hill, he thought jubilantly. Hell, any door

 

would do! He hugged Bonnie tightly.

 

“What would I do without you?”

 

He led her back across the creek and through the woods to the back yard, where

 

two apple trees heavily laden with fruit converged near an old garage. The ground

 

was littered with fallen apples.

 

“Look at all these damn apples!” Credit exclaimed. He stopped to examine the

 

huge fruit. Although many were wormy, between the two trees there were plenty

 

of perfectly delicious looking apples. “Come on,” urged Bonnie. “We’re needed.”

 

Across the street was a steep, grass covered hill. Moments after beginning the

 

ascent, Bonnie began to lag behind as if the strain was too much for her. By the

 

time they reached the halfway point, Credit was pulling her along. A purple fog

 

had appeared in front of them.

 

“I can’t go no further,” she complained. She knew that Credit was counting on

 

her. She didn’t want to disappoint him, but she felt completely drained, exhausted.

 

“Come on. Try,” he urged.

 

“I can’t! Go without me.”

 

“No! Come on!” He pulled harder, but she wouldn’t budge.

 

“You’re gonna yank my arm out!” she hollered.

 

Credit relaxed. Bonnie was not used to being there, and he realized that he would

 

have to be more patient. He would have to guide her.

 

“This is a dream, Bun, and looks are deceiving. You’re trying to walk, but you

 

really have no legs with which to walk. Remember, in Tunu you’re nothing but a

 

feeling.” He knelt down beside her, brushed aside the potato sack, and touched her right

 

thigh.

 

“Put you hand down here.” He took her fingers and outlined an area on her leg.

 

“Do you feel that muscle?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“If you concentrate on that muscle it will enable you to move at will. I can’t

 

explain how or why, but it generates the proper feeling. I need you, Bonnie. Will

 

you climb to the top with me?”

 

She smiled. Although the suggestion sounded rather silly, she could indeed feel

 

the muscle. The next thing she knew, they had passed through the ubiquitous mist

 

and were standing at the top of the hill.

 

The scenery had changed radically. It was night time and a quarter moon sat

 

above the horizon. The Sierra Ponce loomed ominously over them.

 

Credit stared at her. No longer was Bonnie wearing a potato sack, but was instead

 

dressed stylishly in camouflage fatigues and a beret, a sexy guerilla warrior

 

straight off a Hollywood set.

 

“Are you ready to walk the sky?” he asked casually.

 

“No.” “Too bad. This is where I blew it the last time.”

 

They found a comfortable place to sit, and then Credit took her hand and extended

 

his perspective upward.

 

Bonnie looked down and saw herself sitting on the ground next to Credit. At the

 

same time, he was beside her in the air. Although he was talking and motioning at

 

the terrain below them, the ticklish, pulling sensation in her stomach made it

 

difficult for her to concentrate. Even though she could not make sense of his

 

words, she watched as he pointed along a ravine to a place where there was an

 

assemblage of houses. He continued to talk, and his words came suddenly into

 

focus.

 

“…the bright area between the houses. That’s where we want to be. Imagine

 

looking at the middle house from the ground in front of it. Do you see the door?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What does the doorknob look like?”

 

“There is no doorknob! A simple latch.” Her perception had magnified, making it

 

seem as if she was right there on the spot.

 

“Do you see the guard?”

 

“Yes. He’s sleeping.” “Turn to your left. Are there lights on inside the building?”

 

Credit turned to his right at the same moment that Bonnie turned to the left. They

 

suddenly found themselves standing back to back in the yard.

 

“There’s no light on,” Bonnie said as she turned back. “But the guard is awake!”

 

The guard was sitting on the edge of his chair, staring in their direction with a

 

puzzled expression.

 

“Can he see us?” she queried.

 

“He sees something, that’s for sure.”

 

The guard stood up hesitantly. He fidgeted with his rifle as he took a few

 

uncertain steps towards them. He was definitely perplexed by the situation that

 

confronted him.

 

“Don’t look directly at him,” Credit suggested. “Wave your arms and hop around,

 

but be ready to run.”

 

Simultaneously, they both went spastic, jumping around and flapping their arms.

 

The guard let out a scream, dropped his rifle and ran off, terrified. Bonnie and

 

Credit broke into laughter. They danced in circles and hugged each other.

 

“That was hilarious!” she shrieked. “Did you see the look on his face?” Confusion, hopelessness, terror. Absolutely priceless, Credit thought.

 

“Come on,” he urged. “Let’s see why they needed a guard here in the first place.”

 

Slowly, he pushed open the front door. Jason and Deanna were huddled together

 

on the floor in the corner. Credit cringed when he saw that Jason’s face was

 

bruised and puffy, but he was relieved that they were both alive and well.

 

“Dad?”

 

“Credit? Bonnie?”

 

“Dad, is that you?”

 

“Mark?”

 

Credit stepped into the room and advanced towards them.

 

“Come on. Let’s get out of here!” he said.

 

Jason and Deanna pulled back in fear.

 

Credit stopped when he noticed his voice bounce off the walls and echo back

 

through the room as an abhorrent growl. Experiencing a moment of

 

understanding, he glanced at Bonnie. “There’s no telling how they perceive us right now, but we need to lure them

 

outside, get them into the ravine and headed towards the Curandera’s.”

 

Bonnie stepped outside.

 

“Uh, Credit. I think you’d better come look at this.”

 

Almost a dozen people had gathered outside the hut. Enrique, Romo, and Frankie

 

amongst them. They were bickering between themselves, waving their guns and

 

questioning each other’s perceptions, while at the same time keeping their eyes

 

riveted to the front of the hut. They were all very careful to keep their distance.

 

“Scare them off,” Credit suggested. “Just be careful, and keep them away from

 

the corral,” he added intuitively.

 

Bonnie tip-toed toward the men as if she was sneaking up on them, her hands

 

flexed in front of her like cat claws, a lioness on the prowl.

 

Instantly, the men became agitated and animated. Stepping nimbly in front of the

 

bravest one, Bonnie met him eye to eye and shouted, “Boo!”

 

The men scattered like rabbits.

 

Standing in the doorway, Credit looked back at Jason and Deanna. Meeting their

 

gaze eye to eye, he motioned for them to follow. “That is dad! Come on! Now’s our chance!”

 

When Credit stepped into the yard, Bonnie came bounding into view like a

 

kangaroo, with six foot high leaps. From the smile upon her face, it was apparent

 

that she was enjoying herself thoroughly.

 

“Senor!” she shouted. She was ecstatic. “Hey, senor! I t’ink I chase them all the

 

way to Ciudad Chihuahua, senor.”

 

She was a precious senorita, all right. He took her hand and as they skipped

 

towards the ravine, he noticed that the purple mist had returned and was

 

shadowing them closely.

 

Jason and Deanna stepped outside the hut and glanced around nervously, and then

 

Deanna grabbed Jason and pointed in Credit’s direction.

 

Credit was well aware that the fog near them had grown thick and rich, but

 

Bonnie was busy waving and hooting at Jason and De, enjoying herself too much

 

to notice.

 

“I need you to wake up at the Curandera’s now,” he said quickly. Without giving

 

her time to respond, he pushed her firmly into the purple mist. Both Bonnie and

 

the mist disappeared in the wink of an eye. Credit put his attention at the bottom of the ravine, where the vegetation was

 

much thicker. He glanced up and saw the owl perched on a limb above his

 

shoulder. It gave him a melodious greeting.

 

He smiled when he saw Jason and Deanna step into view at the top of the bluff.

 

They pointed at him and then began their descent.

 

He moved further down the gully. When Jay and De reached the bottom, the owl

 

hooted and flew towards Credit. They followed the owl, moving slowly and

 

clumsily along the bottom of the ravine. Credit remembered that it was night time,

 

and though he could see perfectly well in the dark, they were no doubt having

 

trouble.

 

He arose to the top of the chasm and then came down behind them. He wanted to

 

make sure that they were well on their way. They followed the owl for some time

 

and then stopped to rest.

 

When Credit stopped behind them, he thought that he heard voices, although he

 

couldn’t be certain. An annoying roar had built up in his ears.

 

He picked up a rock and tossed it in Jason’s direction. He and Deanna jumped

 

nervously, glanced at each other, and then quickly scampered down the ravine.

 

Credit knew that it was necessary to make his own escape, to go back to the corral

 

and untie himself before he woke up. But before he could make a move, he felt a sudden, sharp pain in his side, and he buckled over in agony. What could

 

possibly have caused…?

 

Once again the sharp pain struck, and he slumped to the ground in a sitting

 

position.

 

The third time caused him to lose consciousness.

 

At the same time, he opened his eyes. 36 Escape

 

Taking care not to awaken Deanna, Jason arose slowly to his feet and stepped to

 

the side window. With the way his thoughts were racing, he was surprised that he

 

had slept at all.

 

His father had been there earlier. He was almost sure of it. Even though Frankie

 

had kept them on the floor in the corner, they had heard him plainly call out their

 

names. Hadn’t they? Even with Deanna’s agreement, he couldn’t shake his

 

lingering doubts.

 

Shortly after sunset, he had stood at the very same window and watched a

 

meteorite cross the sky. It flared brilliantly before it burned out, like a lightning bolt lighting up the sky. He had seen it. There was no doubt in his mind that it

 

had happened.

 

Why couldn’t he be just as certain with his sense of hearing? After all, he

 

reasoned, the falling star had been just as fleeting as his father’s voice.

 

Perhaps he simply didn’t want to believe. Something very bad had happened to

 

whoever had been outside. He could vividly remember Enrique’s enraged,

 

taunting shouts, and his own bruises were testament to what the smugglers were

 

capable of doing.

 

He peered through the window into the darkness. Except for the braying of the

 

donkeys, the night was very still. He noted the moon about to dip behind the

 

Sierra Ponce, and realized that it was much later than he had supposed. It sent a

 

pang of apprehension through him. He was not eagerly waiting the new day.

 

Just before sunset, Enrique and Romo had brought a man to see them. He wore an

 

expensive, finely tailored suit and his eyes were cold steel. Enrique seemed meek

 

in comparison. Jason had little doubt that he was the leader, the Columbian, El

 

Mano. Their moment of reckoning would come due in the morning.

 

Would they be taken to the interior? Would they take only Deanna and leave him

 

behind? Kill them both or let them both go? Surely El Mano would see the

 

mistake of kidnapping Americans and ultimately set them free. Realizing that there was no end to his rumblings and suppositions, and that he

 

was doing himself little good by dwelling upon them, Jason sat down on his

 

blanket, hoping to get more sleep. The rest would do him good if he could avoid

 

the nightmares. It was bad enough having to live a bad dream.

 

His chin dropped slowly to his chest and then jerked up instinctively. And then it

 

lowered once again.

 

And then his eyes popped wide open and he was nervously alert, listening

 

attentively to a whimpering noise outside the door. It sounded like Frankie in

 

distress; like the devil himself had appeared suddenly in front of him, reducing

 

him to a quivering mass of blubber, and he wondered if Enrique had returned to

 

terrorize Deanna.

 

His musings were shattered by a piercing scream that sent chills down his spine.

 

He heard steps running away, melting into the distance.

 

“What’s going on?” Deanna inquired anxiously, suddenly awake and clinging

 

tightly to his arm.

 

Before he could answer, the door opened slowly, revealing a silhouetted figure.

 

Jason expected Enrique, but the posture wasn’t right. El Mano? No, something

 

was amiss. There was a surreal dimension to the scene. A fog obscured his vision

 

and clouded this thinking. And then the mist lifted and he saw clearly. It was his father’s face staring

 

back at him!

 

“Dad?”

 

“Credit? Bonnie?” Deanna muttered at the same time.

 

Bonnie? Of course! Now he saw it. It was Bonnie and dad! Or was it? What the

 

hell was going on? Had he fallen asleep? Was it all a dream?

 

“Dad? Is that you?”

 

“Mark?”

 

Deanna’s confusion was as great as Jason’s. They simply could not come to grips

 

with what they were seeing. The images changed constantly. Sometimes they

 

weren’t even solid, but a pink and auburn glow that lit nothing; a contained,

 

swirling luminescence; an energy field of some nature.

 

A loud, growling noise suddenly emanated from the wispy presence, and Jason

 

and Deanna cowered into the corner, hugging each other tightly. As the

 

frightening sound dissipated, it was replaced by human sounds from outside,

 

muffled, agitated voices, and Jason realized that the Mexicans had gathered. At

 

the same time, the swirling luminescence faded and a solid figure stood in the

 

doorway. It was his dad! He was motioning at them, beckoning. What the hell had they

 

done to him? Cut his tongue out?

 

Outside the hut, excited, desperate shouts that had been rising in intensity faded

 

abruptly, and footsteps raced away into the distance.

 

“Now’s our chance. Let’s get out of here!” Jason urged.

 

“I’m scared,” Deanna protested. “Is that really Credit?”

 

“I think so. You know what a warped sense of humor he’s got. It doesn’t matter

 

anyway. Whoever it is has chased away the smugglers and given us a chance to

 

get out of here. Come on, we need to take advantage of this.”

 

The figure had faded from the doorway and everything appeared normal. They

 

stepped outside cautiously and found the yard deserted except for Credit and

 

Bonnie, who were standing at the edge of the ravine.

 

“Look at them!” Deanna pointed. “What the hell are they up to?”

 

Jason looked up and saw his father give Bonnie a sharp shove, and she dropped

 

dramatically out of sight. Had he pushed her over the cliff?

 

When they reached the edge of the ravine, they spied Credit at the bottom. Bonnie

 

was nowhere to be seen. “They cut his tongue out,” Jason reasoned. “That has to be it. That’s why he

 

doesn’t say anything. He just wants us to follow him.”

 

As expected, Credit had disappeared by the time they reached the dark floor of the

 

gully, with its black shadows and shades of gray. An owl spooked them by

 

unfolding its wings and gliding closely by, hooting at them as it passed. They

 

followed the path of flight and once again momentarily spotted Credit.

 

“This gully has to lead to the Rio Grande. Even if we can’t catch him, at least we

 

can get across the river and hide.”

 

They learned to rely on the hooting of the owl as they made their way down the

 

ravine. When they reached a larger chasm, they stopped to rest.

 

“Are you all right?” Jason asked after they had sat for a moment.

 

“I think so. My arm is bleeding, but I don’t think it’s too bad. You?”

 

“About the same. I twisted my ankle, but I’ll be all right. Have you seen dad,

 

lately?”

 

“No.”

 

“What do you make of all this?” “I don’t know. I’m trying not to think about it. I feel like I’m hallucinating or

 

something. Basically, I’m just glad to get out of there.”

 

“I know what you mean. Do you think dad was really here?”

 

Deanna remained silent. She wished more than anything that she could comfort

 

Jason. He had kept his head together and helped her through an impossible

 

situation, but she was just as baffled as he.

 

“Well, at least you won’t have to worry about Enrique anymore.”

 

Before she could reply, a falling rock startled them into action. They had no idea

 

whether it was Credit or Enrique bearing down on them, and they had no desire to

 

wait around and find out. The larger canyon was much more open, and being

 

better able to see, they made good time. When the canyon gave way to open

 

desert wash, they stopped once again to catch their breath. The drone of a

 

helicopter could be heard in the distance.

 

“Probably the cops coming to our rescue,” Jason offered. “Always a step late,

 

huh?”

 

“You could be right. It’s hard to tell from which direction it’s coming from,” she

 

said as she looked around uncertainly. “Do you hear something else? Voices?” As he separated the night sounds from the din of the helicopter, he realized

 

that there were, indeed, periodic shouts. They were muffled and distant, but

 

growing louder.

 

And then there was a long moment of silence.

 

“It sounded like it was coming from down the wash,” he said with hesitation.

 

“Maybe we should hide or something.”

 

“Ja…son. Dean….na,” came the shouts again.

 

“Why that’s Bonnie!” he exclaimed in revelation. “I’d know that voice anywhere.

 

That was her and dad after all!”

 

When they saw shadowy figures approaching, Jason ran enthusiastically to greet

 

them, with Deanna right behind. He gave Bonnie a running hug when they met,

 

but was somewhat disappointed to find that her companion was a hobbling, old

 

woman instead of his father.

 

“Where’s dad?”

 

“I don’t know,” Bonnie brooded. “You didn’t see him?”

 

“Not for some time now,” Jason replied. “We were never really sure that he was there,” Deanna added. “Sometimes he

 

was in front of us, and sometimes behind us, but never with us. You were there,

 

too, weren’t you?”

 

Ignoring Deanna’s question, Bonnie glanced anxiously at Teresa.

 

“I wish I could say something to comfort you, dear,” the old woman said, “but I

 

don’t feel good about this.”

 

“Neither do I,” Bonnie uttered in total distress.

 

Without another word, she took off on a run up the wash.

 

“What the hell is going on?!” Jason hollered.

 

Totally bedeviled and infuriated, he uttered a sharp obscenity before turning to

 

follow. 37 Pain

 

Awakened by the intermittent pain in his side, he opened his eyes to find the owl

 

standing next to him. It stared back with huge, blinking eyes, hooted once, and

 

then flew off.

 

The damn bird had awakened him too early, he silently fumed. He had not had

 

enough time in his flipside to untie himself!

 

As he struggled to gain his feet, he discovered that the cord to the fence had been

 

severed. Although his hands were still bound behind his back, thanks to the owl

 

he was free to move about. Awkwardly, he began to make his way through the corral towards the

 

compound when he noticed a movement in the mesquite trees. He dropped to his

 

knees and rolled under the fence beneath some branches, and then watched

 

breathlessly as a figure entered the corral. He saw that it was Enrique, carrying a

 

rifle. Finding the corral empty, Enrique angled off towards the road, running

 

recklessly through the underbrush. The sound of a helicopter was growing louder.

 

Credit struggled to his feet once again and then crept to the hut where Jason and

 

Deanna had been kept prisoner. He glanced through the side window, saw the

 

door wide open, and then edged to the front corner of the building.

 

In order to reach the ravine, he saw that he would have to cross the open clearing,

 

a task that he was not looking forward to. Especially with his hands tied behind

 

his back. The approaching helicopters had evidently scattered the smugglers, but

 

Enrique had been carrying a gun, and others could still be lingering nearby.

 

Seeing no other obvious choice, Credit took a deep breath, and with a knot in his

 

stomach, made a mad dash into the clearing. The closer he came to the edge of the

 

ravine, the more his reservations eroded, and by the time he reached the edge he

 

was feeling quite smug about himself.

 

As he was about to start down the slope, he was lit up by a spotlight from the

 

helicopter. When he hesitated, he heard the muffled sound of gunfire and then a

 

sharp force tore open his right leg. He lost his balance and fell backward into the

 

chasm, rolling over jagged rocks and needle-sharp cactus as he tumbled down the steep hill. He came to rest at the bottom, semi-conscious. Pain rippled through

 

his entire body. He coughed up blood.

 

Well, Lews, he thought to himself as he wheezed, you sure blew it this time.

 

Bonnie’s really gonna be pissed when she sees this mess.

 

He coughed again, flinching from the incredible pain.

 

At least Jason got away. He’ll be safe now. And Deanna. I hope she finds her

 

peace.

 

He didn’t have the strength to move; was afraid of what he would discover if he

 

could. Pangs screamed from his chest and legs, and his head throbbed. Even the

 

breeze against his face stung bitterly.

 

Again he coughed and spit up blood.

 

Bonnie? I’m sorry, Bun. I blew it. I should have wakened earlier. I’m gonna miss

 

you more than anyone, woman.

 

His eyes flooded with tears as his body shuddered involuntarily. The pain finally

 

too great to bear, he lapsed into unconsciousness. 38 Flipside

 

He pushed himself away from the table, stood up, and then glanced around the

 

room. It was a simple twelve by twelve foot cubicle that was carved out of ice.

 

The only furnishings were a lamp, a bed, the table and a chair. It would do. It

 

reminded him of the bunker on the way to Qattarah, although this place was

 

nowhere near Qattarah. He didn’t need Qattarah now. He didn’t need advice. He

 

needed isolation.

 

He wrapped himself with the wool blanket from the bed and then opened the

 

door. An icy swirl gusted into the room. He stepped gingerly into the outside

 

darkness and closed the door tightly behind him. A fierce, howling wind assaulted his ears with a mixture of deep bass tones

 

and high, shrill whistles. Blowing snow whipped past him horizontally even

 

though shoulder high banks on either side of the walk, along with the dwelling

 

behind him, blocked the main thrust of the wind.

 

A glaring, artificial light in the distance silhouetted the snowdrifts in successive

 

waves, a perpetual white capped sea as the gale whipped the white powder from

 

the crests, sending streamers into the darkness.

 

The light implied that there were other people in the vicinity and he felt betrayed.

 

He had assumed that he would be all alone. It was what he deserved; self-imposed

 

exile in the frigid northland of Tunu. To spend the rest of his days there would be

 

worthy punishment for being such a failure.

 

He climbed up onto the hardened crust of the snow bank, and with his back taking

 

the full force of the wind, he attempted to stand erect. The strength of the gale was

 

incredible. It made him feel so minor and insignificant. He loved it.

 

Cre…dit.

 

He cocked his head. He had imagined that he heard the wind whisper his name

 

and he envisioned himself being beckoned to the furthest reaches of the Arctic,

 

using his remaining time in exploration. Certainly he would encounter more of the

 

same conditions; darkness, frigid wind, ice and snow. But perhaps there would

 

also be something more, something worthy of discovery. Magnificent mountains shrouded in mystery. Or an uncharted sea, cluttered with glimmering icebergs,

 

leading to fascinating new lands.

 

“Cre…dit.”

 

The wind WAS calling his name. It wasn’t his imagination! The words were clear

 

that time, distinct, and he probed into the distant darkness. The visibility had been

 

reduced to nothing, and he took several steps down the snow bank, further into the

 

night.

 

“Cre…dit!”

 

He stopped and looked back. Although his vision was blurred by the blowing

 

snow, he could detect a figure standing in front of his door. He did not have to see

 

clearly to know that it was his helper. She was wearing a heavy, fur lined coat, her

 

hands cupped to her mouth as she shouted to be heard over the roar of the wind.

 

“Credit. Come back, Credit!”

 

He hesitated. His preference was to turn around and disappear into the black,

 

frozen tundra. But she had cared enough to help him. She was his friend and

 

deserved a chance to be heard. Fighting the blinding wind, he trudged back to his

 

door.

 

Even though he was standing next to her, she still had to shout to be heard.

 

“Where are you going?” He shrugged. “Out there.”

 

“Why? What are you doing here?”

 

“This is where I belong!” he shouted back, suddenly very angry. “I blew it. I’m all

 

messed up back there, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own!”

 

The woman put her hands on her hips. “You’re a fucking moron, you know that?

 

Can we go inside and talk about this like two rational beings?”

 

He could imagine that there was a smug look on her face, whatever her face

 

looked like. Fitfully, he kicked at the snow. “All right! Have it your way!” He

 

motioned towards the door and they stepped inside.

 

“I still don’t understand why you picked this place,” she said as she sat down on

 

the bed.

 

“I like it here,” he replied dryly.

 

“But you should be preparing yourself for when you awaken.”

 

“I like it here,” he repeated. “In this place there is no pain. The cold has numbed

 

every fiber of my being. If I awaken, my leg will be torn apart, my lung

 

punctured. There is blood literally dripping from my body. I’m not stupid. Why

 

would I want to go back?” “I can give you many reasons,” she whispered solemnly. “Bonnie; Jason.

 

Your love for the Earth. Your love for life.”

 

“I can stay here. I can grow old exploring this world.”

 

“Yes, I’m sure you could. But you would be throwing away everything you’ve

 

accomplished. Man is a duel creature. You need the balance. Body and spirit.

 

Waking world, dream world. Most people live their whole lives and never pay

 

attention to their dreams. They ignore half of their potential, and never attain true

 

balance. They die without ever realizing that they had a chance to be complete, a

 

chance to experience the total gift of life.

 

“But you have discovered the way to exercise your spiritual side. You have taken

 

it from the realm of mere faith, which is useless, and turned it into a practicing art.

 

You have begun to meld your two sides of awareness, and you should be proud of

 

yourself. You have accomplished something that is very rare for this period of

 

time.

 

“And you still have so much to learn. There are seven worlds a person can

 

maintain, and you have only touched on two of them. It would be disappointing to

 

limit yourself to only Tunu. It would be a waste of a life.”

 

Yes. But it is my life to waste, he silently fumed. The woman was a sweet talker.

 

He would have to be careful. “How is it that I can affect reality with my dreams? This is all in my

 

imagination. It’s all in my bloody little head, isn’t it? All of this only appears to

 

be solid,” he said as he spread his arms to encompass everything in the room.

 

He thought he had her, but instead she erupted into spontaneous, musical laughter.

 

He hated to admit it, but it felt good to hear her laugh like that. It drastically

 

lightened his mood. She seemed to have a healing effect upon him.

 

“That should be no mystery to you! Don’t your scientists tell you that mass and

 

energy are equal?” There was a glint of mischievousness in her tone.

 

“Yes.”

 

“So, what’s your problem, then?” She was bouncing up and down on his bed like

 

a child.

 

Stumped for an answer, he stared numbly at his hands folded across his lap.

 

“Perhaps it’s your perception of reality that needs adjusting,” she suggested

 

calmly. “You cling illogically to the notion that the only ‘real’ world is your solid,

 

continuous, waking world, the Earth. I admit, it is a hard notion to break. Its’

 

history and chronology are undeniable, and continuity is a natural manifestation in

 

that state of awareness.

 

“What it all comes down to is this; reality is nothing but energy, stimuli, whether

 

you are waking or dreaming. You form the images. Solidity and dimension manifest themselves to you, the perceiver, not to the energy object being

 

perceived. Continuity lets you adapt a pattern, and you decipher the meaning.”

 

“Then all worlds are nothing but energy?”

 

“Exactly. Only the natural laws differ. You give it substance. When you dream of

 

the Earth, a knack that very few people have ever had, you affect it in that time

 

and location, according to the laws of your dream. Energy can affect energy.

 

When a person melds his two sides of awareness, he can accomplish

 

extraordinary deeds. And that is reality.”

 

“Then events happened as I dreamed? Jason and Deanna are safe now?”

 

“They were able to get away, and are doing as well as can be expected.”

 

“And Bonnie? Is she all right?”

 

“She is well. After you pushed her into the purple mist, she awoke at the

 

Curandera’s. They called the authorities and then went to meet Jason and Deanna

 

above the spring. When you didn’t return, she went looking for you, and she’s

 

with you now. And Jason, too. They are all there.”

 

Credit realized that he was observing the scene as she spoke. It was being

 

projected on the icy wall above the bed as if it were a movie. He was lying face

 

down on the rocky ground of the ravine. Bonnie was slumped over him, weeping profusely, mumbling incoherently. She was busy trying to keep flies from

 

him. Blood was everywhere.

 

“It’s a shame that you don’t want to return to her.”

 

“She deserves better than my broken body.”

 

Jason entered the picture. Bonnie lifted her head and stared hopelessly up at him.

 

Credit turned his face from the screen.

 

“Was she really in my dream last night? Or was that only a phantom?”

 

“That was really her!” The woman sounded truly impressed. “Fate is on your side.

 

Bonnie can now provide the corroboration that all this has been real. That had

 

been my intended purpose in introducing you to Teresa. But like a numbskull, you

 

never went to see her while you were awake.”

 

Credit shrugged his shoulders.

 

“I really can’t believe that you never want to feel Bonnie’s warm body against

 

yours again, to have her on top of you, loving you. What will you do without

 

her?”

 

He was surprised by her bluntness, but the question touched him deeply. He knew

 

that if he remained in Tunu he would never again experience that type of love. “But my body is such a mess,” he protested.

 

“You’ll break her heart if you don’t wake up. And Jason’s. Look at him.”

 

But he couldn’t look. He flung his arms in anguish.

 

“And Deanna has been your friend for so long now. It was in looking for her that

 

you found me. If you stay here, you will have only your reflection of them, not

 

their true selves.”

 

He looked at her in frustration. “I’m afraid that if I return, I’ll die. All right? You

 

don’t know what it was like.”

 

She shook her head sadly. “Your condition is not as bad as it looks. The

 

Curandera can help. She can see what your body needs to balance itself. And

 

there are medical doctors in your country. You’re not living in the dark ages, you

 

know.

 

“Of course, the most important thing is what you can do for yourself in this world.

 

While you cannot magically alter your condition, you can enhance your natural

 

healing processes. Exponentially. But this is not the proper place, and you don’t

 

have a whole lot of time. The choice is yours to make.”

 

He looked again at the screen. Bonnie and the Curandera were perched above

 

him. Jason and Deanna were in the background, shading their eyes as they peered

 

into the sky. “Where is the proper place to be?” he asked wistfully.

 

“Where do you think? You’ve been there before.”

 

“Qattarah?”

 

He knew his answer was wrong the moment he voiced it. No, the proper place

 

was the underground stream near the south seashore. The room in the tunnel had

 

been specially constructed for the purpose of healing.

 

But it was so far away! It would take so long to get there.

 

His helper rescued him from his doubts. “This is not the Earth, dummy. Different

 

laws here, remember?”

 

He smiled at her. “What would I do without you? If I want to keep two good

 

women in my life, I think I’d better go back soon.”

 

He crossed the room and pulled the bed away from the wall, revealing a small,

 

square door. “Are you coming?” he asked with a huge grin.

 

“Do you know where you are going?” she asked, giggling.

 

“This is a direct door to the seashore!”

 

“Then let’s go!” He pulled himself through the opening and then found himself standing atop

 

the last major dune overlooking the sea. A sharp breeze blew from off shore,

 

bringing with it a heavy fog. He could barely see the outline of the rocky

 

peninsula that jutted into the sea.

 

“Hey! What’s the hold up? Let’s go!”

 

He looked down the back side of the dune and saw the woman standing in front of

 

the tunnel above the stream, which was running very swiftly. In fact, the falls

 

were beginning to flatten out and there was a powerful suction where the water

 

disappeared beneath the ledge.

 

When he dropped down the dune and entered the tunnel, he realized that the

 

stream was more than on the rise. It was already beginning to flood the hallway.

 

Time was running out in more ways than one.

 

The rectangular, stone altar inside the room glowed with a low, eerie

 

luminescence, while the rest of the room was bathed in shadow. The stone seats

 

lining the walls were empty, and the woman was nowhere in sight, although the

 

deepest part of the room was draped in total darkness.

 

Water was creeping over his ankles as he climbed up onto the altar. He laid back.

 

His body was a perfect fit for the sudden contours of the stone slab. It felt soft and

 

comforting. He immediately noticed three beams of light emanating from the ceiling. They

 

came at him from different angles, touching different segments of his body. They

 

were of various hues and intensities and resembled laser beams. When one beam

 

ceased, another would take its place, warming and rejuvenating him. When one of

 

the beams touched his head, he closed his eyes.

 

His attention turned to the soothing sound of the running water. But it went

 

deeper than that. There were other sounds inside the room, humming, melodic.

 

Their harmonies penetrated deep inside him, a medieval choir rising and falling in

 

time with the lights, in tune with the rushing water. He imagined that robed

 

figures were occupying the seats lining the walls, and were the source of the

 

chants and a vital link in the healing process.

 

He lifted his head and opened his eyes.

 

The room was empty except for the water, which was now only inches from the

 

top of the altar.

 

He began to panic. How long had he lain there?

 

He stood up in the waste deep water and waded to the door. The current was

 

rushing through the hallway with a terrific force.

 

Shit! He knew that if he stepped through the doorway he’d be swept away. He’d

 

never get out of there alive. He was going to lose everything! He stood frozen in the doorway, gripped by indecision as the swift current

 

tugged at his legs.

 

“Credit?”

 

He glanced over his shoulder and saw the woman standing behind the altar. She

 

was holding her hand to her mouth as if she was about to blow him a kiss.

 

But she wasn’t blowing him a kiss at all. He saw the bubble in her hand that

 

reflected a rainbow of colors. He stared at it, hypnotized, as it rolled off her palm

 

in slow motion. It dipped to just above the water line and then floated towards

 

him. As it approached, it grew rapidly in size until it matched his own height.

 

For some reason he was terrified of the bubble. He felt trapped, cornered. His

 

only escape was through the tunnel, and that meant being swept underground to

 

certain death.

 

Before he could make his choice, the bubble burst and he was bathed in a purple

 

mist. 39 Purple Mist

 

The room and the water faded as he became cloaked by the purple mist. Over the

 

course of time he had come to acknowledge the mist as being the bridge between

 

the Earth and Tunu, but never before had he actually paid attention; in fact, most

 

of the time he hadn’t even noticed it.

 

He now realized that what he had perceived as a mist or fog was in reality an

 

energy source, a throbbing, luminescent glow. It was also much more than a

 

bridge between two worlds. It was a transition point of awareness, the waiting

 

room where all seven worlds could be entered. He could see those portals as

 

different colored patches in the fog. Tunu was imbued with an auburn hue while the Earth was white. If he had ever visited any of the other five worlds, he

 

could not remember it, although he presently felt an undeniable attraction for the

 

blue patch in the fog.

 

He decided that one day, when he was strong and adventurous he would enter that

 

blue world. But actual time in the purple light was fleeting; choices were made

 

instantly. He had already decided to return to Earth. By paying attention to the

 

mist, he had merely managed to slow the flow of time and grasp a moment of

 

understanding.

 

The thought came to him: As long as one is willing to make the effort to pay

 

attention, conscious awareness never ends.

 

The intensity of the purple mist lightened dramatically and he knew that he was

 

back on Earth. His spiritual energy had rejoined his physical side.

 

But the mist did not entirely evaporate, and his senses were slow to return. The

 

presence of the malingering fog was keeping him confused, clouding his sense of

 

purpose. Was he awake or dreaming? He wasn’t really sure. He felt incredibly

 

weak and did not try to move, even to open his eyes.

 

And then he realized that the pain was not nearly as intense as he had envisioned

 

it would be. He could hear the sound of a helicopter along with soft, muffled

 

voices nearby. As he singled them out, they came into sharper focus. The

 

Curandera was speaking. “He should be coming around soon. I see no reason for his continuing coma.”

 

“I hope the medics get here soon. Where are they, for Christ’s sake?”

 

That was Bonnie’s voice! She was weeping.

 

“They’re almost here,” said the Curandera. “Please, you must calm down, be

 

patient. He will be all right. He has reversed his trend and is healing remarkably

 

fast now. I have never seen anything like it.”

 

After a subtle red shift, the lingering purple mist lifted in its entirety. He knew

 

that Bonnie and Teresa were kneeling beside him and that Jason and Deanna were

 

nearby. There was no sense in prolonging the suspense. It was time to open his

 

eyes.

 

Bonnie’s face was covered by her hands. Jason and the Curandera were staring at

 

him. Deanna noticed when he gave them a wink. It pleased him to see their grief

 

turn to joy.

 

Bonnie’s sobbing came to an abrupt halt as she opened her eyes wide in

 

astonishment.

 

Utterly precious, he thought. The woman was a gem.

 

He smiled, and then managed a hoarse whisper. “Are you ready to nurse me back

 

to health again, Mrs. Lews?” Bonnie’s face turned to joy.

 

“You bet I am, Mr. Lews!”

 

She hugged him tightly, but carefully, as the medics dropped over the canyon rim.

 

As they gently lifted him onto the stretcher, a sharp pain pierced his chest. He

 

broke into a sweat and shuddered when a strong, cold wind began to blow. Before

 

he could close his eyes, he was once again swept into the purple mist.

 

Life is a gift
And you’ve only one chance
Time becomes your enemy
As time has been your friend
Will he grant you time to make it
All the way to the top?
Will you revel in the view of life
Before you must stop?
When will death catch you
And give you his tap?
Or can you gather your awareness
To evade that trap?
--from the Songs from Long Road
By C. L. Walker—

 

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