Hermes Beckons: Seeking the Portal to the Immortals
Chapter 17
© 2006 John Caris

A heaviness pervaded the studio. Ralph had thoroughly searched the room for his stone bear. He had an idea for a routine using it in the alchemy light show. The strong desire to shout “Where are you bear?” he suppressed. His heart beat had increased, and the fibrillation was palpable. As he broke into a sweat, an inner voice chanted soothingly: “Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le.” He breathed in and out slowly, deepening each inhalation until a steady, quieting rhythm ensued.

When his heart was calm, he carefully examined the studio again for the small stone bear carved by a Zuni artist. During their first trip together exploring the southwestern part of the United States, Shasta and he had visited several Indian reservations. At Zuni, located in western New Mexico, some mystic force had attracted his attention to the greenish colored bear, 2½ inches long and 1½ inches tall, that had an arrow-shaped line incised in its side from the mouth to the center. The woman at the gallery had told them that the incision referred to the heartline, which suggests breath and life. The gracefully shaped stone had become an important symbol for him. When he was in the IC ward on the edge of life and death, hooked to the IV and heart monitor, Shasta had brought him the green stone bear, which he had kept beside him. The memory was still quite vivid. She stood by his bed and handed him the bear. “Here’s your good luck fetish, my love. Keep it close. You’re my bear and I don’t want to lose you.” Taking the sacred charm, he placed it under his pillow, and then she kissed him gently on the lips, an affectionate blessing.

The bear had vanished from view. Distraught, he sat down in the rocking chair and allowed his mind to unwind. Was this some sort of test? Or a deception performed by someone from the spirit realm? Harold Magian, was he involved?

An unnerving thought touched his heart. What if Shasta died before he did? He pictured his abandonment and panicked. He would be lost without her. What was that? It sounded like laughter. He glanced uncertainly around the studio. There it was again. Someone was laughing at him. He jumped up and scampered over to the stage and drew back the curtains. Looking into the mirror, he called out, “Who’s there?” The laughter continued and seemed to emanated from all the ceiling corners. He wondered, was it the goddess or god?

He felt small and ridiculed. The laughter rolled through the studio like thunder, and then it abruptly stopped. He looked into the mirror and saw an intense and frightened visage. His hand unconsciously touched the side of his face. He was pitiful—and empty. Turning from what he did not want to acknowledge, he walked over to the posters. He searched the images of the famous masters of his craft, seeking an illuminating sign.

A sudden panic struck him. His basket necklace—that also held special meaning. It was upstairs in the bedroom, wasn’t it? He felt a dread that maybe it had joined the green bear. Hurrying, he left the studio and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Entering the bedroom, he quickly went over to his dresser and opened the top drawer containing jewelry and other precious objects. He was relieved when he uncovered a small box and saw the necklace inside. Only now, he realized that he had been shaking, a slight nervous twitch. He sat down on the bed and breathed deeply. “Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le.” Once he had put the necklace on, his gloom dissolved like the fog dissipates from the warmth of the sun.

After leaving the bedroom and before going downstairs, Ralph peeked into Shasta’s study. The room was empty. A sudden lurch—the black hole emerged again, but he prevented himself from falling into it. At breakfast she was exuberant and had mentioned about having lunch with her agent Della Borden at the Sunrise Grill on West Portal Avenue. At this moment she was sharing her good news with Della: the manuscript of her new novel was finished. No doubt they were indulging in a delightful gabfest. He felt his ears heat up as if they had mentioned him.

He walked over to the window and stared into the garden. With the rainy season underway the oxalis was spreading throughout the backyard. Her study was peaceful, and he desired to absorb as much serenity as he could. He sat in her reading chair, composing his thoughts. His thinking halted, and he became silent. A lucid awareness flowered. Her creativity was again on fire, and she had been inspired by the magical theme.

His craft had power that could be utilized for healing and other benefits, such as helping people regain their sense of awe. The strength of her love was keeping him afloat, and he needed to return the life force back to her without loss of vitality. A recycling process—a transmission of the living fire from one to the other endlessly. The image of the phoenix manifested in his mind. The alchemy of daily living was real and attainable.

Getting up, he glanced about the room and, then nodding to himself as if affirming a primal decision, returned to the studio. He was too much involved with his own pitiful mental state. He needed to step out onto the stage of existence and perform without hesitation. Any doubt of his destiny must be dissolved.

Wearing the basket necklace had a soothing effect, and he was filled with a calm and blissful feeling. An inner voice spoke, reminding him that the necklace lost power while it was stored in the drawer. The decision was immediate: he would wear the necklace every day. Then another thought leaped at him. What if the bear had left because he was not giving it enough attention? He had not looked at it for awhile and had only thought of it now because it might be useful in the new show. The image of a hungry bear appeared in his mind. He remembered reading that traditional people always fed their sacred objects. What was the food? Pollen or tobacco, he recalled. Perhaps he could substitute a food that was available to him. Corn meal they had in the house, so why not that in place of corn pollen? But first he must find the bear.

Glancing toward the stage as he entered the studio, he stared into the mirror scrutinizing the image confronting him. Then he laughed, and the shadow face laughed with him.

Pivoting, he walked over to the small workshop area installed against the wall opposite the stage. He picked up a prop which needed fixing but paused, thinking of Rafé and her sacred peyote possessions. She had told him about the cedar box her grandfather had made to hold them. It was a special box and, once constructed, was given a ceremony to infuse it with spiritual powers. He would do the same for his necklace, and for the bear when it reappeared. Putting down the prop, he walked over to the cabinet and shelves where his magical apparatus was stored. Somewhere here he would make a nest for the necklace, a special place where it would gain spiritual power, and feed it corn meal.

As he was searching for a suitable place, he became aware of an odd presence. Probing the studio, he glanced at the mirror and noticed a shadow cast by the utility table. Scrutinizing the table, he saw that its shadow extended into the curtains.

Walking over to the lighting control panel, he dimmed the overhead light and switched on one of the two spotlights that focused on the stage. Several more shadows appeared. Each one he studied carefully. Retrieving from a desk drawer the light meter he had recently purchased, he walked to the stage, thrust the meter into each shadow, and measured the amount of brightness. Some shadows contained more luminescence than others. Stepping back from the stage and examining the shadows again, he discovered that each shadow was colored and that none was a flat black. The color was influenced by the surrounding material, for example, the table’s shadow on the brown rug was a similar hue.

Karma kitty, tail raised high, sauntered over to him and rubbed against his leg. Reaching down, he scratched behind her ears. “What do you know about shadows, little one?” She purred and then looked toward the velvet curtains. He stared at them. His eyes twinkling, he spoke to her, “Shadows are for hiding, aren’t they? You can stay in the darkness and wait for the mouse to crawl out from its nest. From the mouse’s view point you are invisible.” As if to prove his point, she strolled into the curtains’ folds and disappeared.

He called after her, “If you find my bear, let me know.”

Laughing, he went to his desk and began typing on the keyboard. Yes, darkness was not emptiness, but a veiled space. If he reached into the darkness, he would touch whatever was hidden there. Here was an essential truth of black art and its allied routines. His bear charm was only residing in the unmanifested realm; it was probably being recharged with spiritual energy. Knowing that he had not been abandoned, he felt secure and comforted.

Filled with resolve he decided to work on the storyline for the alchemical light show. He opened the file “script” where the major events in the drama were plotted and the specific routines were described. Still, several important decisions had to be made. Were two characters sufficient or were more required? He had asked Merle to construct the scenery and Dale to compose the music, but before they could begin their tasks, he must decide what he wanted—give them specifics to work with.

Since he had signed the contract with Healdsburg Magic Company, his conception of the show had undergone several transformations. He had designed two new props and faxed the plans to Ray Villota. As his ideas coalesced, new ones sprouted. The original pattern had not changed but unfolded, permitting him to envision its beauty.

At first he had worried about the cost, and when he discussed the matter with Shasta, she charmed away his anxiety and doubt. Her inheritance from her mother’s estate would support them through this time of creativity. And if the dire necessity arose when their savings had vanished, they could sell their house in Ingleside Terraces and retire to a smaller abode. She emphasized that he should only be concerned with creating a show of awe and wonder, of magic and miracle. They were entering their golden years, the time to achieve their fulfillment.

A nagging thought crept into his awareness: Harold—what was his role in their life? How could he ever explain Harold’s strange arrival to Shasta or anyone else? They would believe he was mad or, more forgivingly, had developed some chemical malfunction in his brain. A strong certainty told him that Harold would return and, in fact, play an important part in his destiny.

He paused, quieting the ideas buzzing about in his consciousness. He felt a presence in the studio. Glancing around the room and then at the doorway, he saw Lucy sitting and washing her paws.

Relaxing back into the chair, he heard the front door open and Shasta’s voice ring out, “Hi, I’m home.” She walked into the studio, beaming with delight. Her exuberance dissolved all the black holes in his soul. ***

Rafé put down the book she had been reading, an anthology of Native American stories involving rabbit, and gazed across the room at the watercolor of Manabozho that her sister Nellie had painted. Hanging on the wall over the couch, it added a touch of homeyness to the apartment. She had brought several other artifacts with her that maintained the memory bond with her people.

Since starting to work at Ocean Delights and performing magical acts for the customers, she soon realized that she needed to offer a diversity of effects, including different stories for the same routine. Many of the patrons were regulars and would soon tire of a narrative repeated over and over. She had decided to present a variety of rabbit tales and began researching what Native Americans possessed in their oral tradition. As she thought through each story, she noticed that the manipulation and plot should work together. One story suggested a specific handling of rabbit and another a different one. The multiplying rabbit routine had become one of several effects using her friend.

Rafé selected a story about ktiti, otter, and mzhwe’, rabbit, and transformed it into a tale for a magical routine. She would need to cut more figures from sponge, which was available at the hobby shop on Ocean Avenue. First, she wrote a summary of the storyline. Rabbit steals a string of fish from otter. When otter discovers that the fish are gone, he notices rabbit’s footprints nearby and realizes what has happened. Off otter scurries, following the trail, and when he enters a small clearing, he sees a wigwam with an old woman sitting next to a tiny fire. Otter hurries over to grandmother and asks her if she has seen rabbit. Looking uncertain, she asks what rabbit looks like, and otter picks up a stick and draws an image in the dirt. Yes, she has and points at the trail leaving the clearing, remarking that rabbit is headed for the river. “But before you go after him, will you please gather some firewood for me? I’m cold and the fire is dying,” she pleads. Otter is happy to help grandmother and off he scampers. When he returns, grandmother is gone and only ashes are left in the fire pit. Suddenly, ktiti remembers that mzhwe’ is able to change into someone else and fool people.

Rafé now wrote an outline for the sleights in the routine. Her characters will be rabbit, otter, a string of fish, firewood, and grandmother. At the beginning of the act, she shows rabbit and then the string of fish, both of which she vanishes. Otter is presented next, and he goes in search of the fish. Grandmother appears from her empty hand and speaks to otter. When otter leaves to find firewood, the magician causes him to disappear and then reappear carrying firewood, but grandmother has vanished. In the finale otter disappears into the forest. The mage is left with her hands empty, and all the characters have returned to their spirit home.

A second story that could become a magical feat involved rabbit and man-in-the-moon. Rabbit has set many traps for snaring small mammals and birds. One day when he walks his trapline, he is upset to discover that all his snares have been emptied by someone. Noticing footprints along the trail, he wonders who the robber is. The footprints are long and narrow and suggest moonbeams to him. So he decides to rig a special snare to catch the robber. He constructs the trap with a loop of bowstring and hides it on the path. Taking the long end of the bowstring, he waits in the bushes. He watches the snare, staying up all night without anything happening.

On the second night, a huge tug on the bowstring alerts him. He pulls hard against the tug and ties the thong around a tree trunk. Then he cautiously approaches the creature who has been caught. He is surprised to see a bright light shining from the snare. He calls out to the struggling figure, who answers him in a gruff and angry voice. “I’m man-in-the-moon,” the bright light announces, “and if you don’t release me now, I’ll kill you and all your people.” Rabbit is frightened, but covers his fear with false courage. He knows that he must extract a promise from moon before releasing him. “I’ll only let you go if you promise not to harm me or my people and never to return to earth. Otherwise, you’ll stay here for eternity.” Man-in-the-moon rants and raves, but finally relents and gives his word that rabbit and his people will be safe and he will never return to earth. After releasing moon, rabbit watches him fly back into the sky and take his place with the stars. Rabbit, however, is left with a memento of the event, a shining piece of moon.

She now began planning the effect. For moon she would need something bright and shiny. Then she remembered one of Ralph’s props which could make a small glowing light appear and vanish. That would be man-in-the-moon. She could construct a snare from a piece of string. For the game that was stolen, she would cut small pieces of sponge to resemble mice and birds. And, of course, she already had rabbit.

Thinking about the sequence of sleights, she visualized the plot. She will show each of the trapped animals and then vanish it. Next the snare will be laid, and then moon will appear mysteriously caught. Rabbit, of course, has disappeared into the thickets and then reappears after moon is caught. When moon is released, he will levitate into the sky, and rabbit will be left with a small shining piece.

Tomorrow she would gather her material and begin construction of the new characters. Smiling inwardly, she realized that more stories were available to fire her imagination. ***

The fog, dense and moist, veils Shasta walking along Urbano Drive. Small droplets fall glittering onto the sidewalk. Aware that secrets are hidden in the fog, she follows the street to learn these secrets, which are dark, twisted paths. The tall lamp at the corner of Borica Street illumines the darkness, and so she turns onto Borica and walks to Entrada Court, which curves back upon itself, forming a loop, and reconnecting further along with Borica. At the center of the loop is a tiny park where a giant sundial stands. Because most of the dial is hidden in the fog, she cannot mark the time and is frustrated, even though she knows it is after midnight. Wisps of fog curl around the street lamp, which illuminates a small part of the park and sundial. Moisture clings to her coat, and the smell of the ocean invigorates her soul.

The darkness does not frighten her but is a comforting cloak. Its secrets are sweets and nuts for her hungry curiosity. Her eyes sweep around the park, penetrating through the fog into another reality. Her quest, fed by her creative source, forces her to abandon the ordinary world. Because the holy grail will not be found there, she seeks the portal to the immortals.

The soft clopping of horse’s hooves permeates the fog, breaking the silence. She is not surprised when the figure of horse and rider appears in the road and trots slowly around the circular street bordering the little park. The fog is thinning, and she discerns that both horse and rider are skeletons. The rider has broad shoulders and thick bones. An awareness catches her attention without intruding upon the vision. She is dreaming and can continue if she does not panic. She has had several lucid dreams before, but they were short fragments. The shock of the dream’s weirdness had always broken her focus. An encouraging feeling envelops her, its web quieting her foreboding.

The horse veers into the park and walks toward her. The sounds of its hooves change as they step onto the sidewalk and then the earth. The horse and rider stop five feet in front of her. Silence ensues. Moisture, sparkling in the street light, dribbles down the skeletal pair.

When the human skeleton salutes her, a hat with a feather plume appears in its hand. She responds with a partial curtsy. Placing the hat upon its head, the rider says, “ I am Sir Green Knight and have ridden for many years to arrive at your time. I wish to speak with you, my Lady Shasta, about many things: of ladybugs and rosemary, of diamonds in the sky and desolation row, and of fire and ice colluding.”

“I am honored that you have traveled for so long to visit me, Sir Green Knight. I welcome your words.”

As the fog clears and sun light shines upon them, Shasta watches in amazement as Sir Green Knight transforms into a solid, fleshy physique. A giant of a man all dressed in elegant green clothes tailored in the courtly fashion of the fourteenth century. His thick and curly dark brown beard hangs down to his elbows and as does his hair, both cut the same length. His reddish face bears a long nose, twinkling black eyes, and a grinning mouth. The horse, too, has become a heavy framed and robust creature that snorts and then neighs.

She realizes that she is attired in courtly white clothes of the fourteenth century. A lacy, pink sash is fastened around her waist, and her brown hair, now reaching to her waist, is braided with a gold ribbon.

Dismounting, the knight ties the horse’s reins to the sundial. “Ah, lovely lady,” he says, “You outshine Queen Guinevere and the fabled Helen of Troy.” Taking her hand, he kisses it and with a gallant flourish beckons her to be seated on one of the nearby concrete benches, which now are cushioned. She glances about and sees four hummingbirds fluttering in the air. Seating himself upon a bench across from her, he begins his discourse.

When he had finished speaking, she felt coarse, wet licking on her cheek and then on her ear. Alerted, she opened her eyes. A purring Lucy was staring at her. After kissing Lucy on the head, she switched on the small lamp on the bedside table and retrieved the dream journal lying there, careful not to wake Ralph snoring beside her, and recorded the lucid vision of Sir Green Knight. This was one to tell him about at happy hour and, of course, report at this month’s dream group.

When she had finished writing the dream entry into her journal, she slipped quietly out of bed, put on her robe and slippers, and descended to the first floor. She walked into the kitchen and began heating water for a cup of tea, a blend of mint and other herbs. It was 4 A.M. and she was wide awake. After the tea was steeped, she took the cup and went back upstairs to her study.

As the computer booted, she sipped the hot liquid, a savory flavor. She noticed that Karma had joined her and was settling herself in the reading chair. Sitting in front of the monitor, she started typing a new document—a stream of consciousness wordplay. Later, she would edit the writing.

Hermes Beckons Chapters Transformation Is Alchemy’s Central Principle Play Is the Great Secret of Illusion