I am the product of my pain. Pain has been my constant and most faithful companion. Pain that never leaves me has been the spur to my lifelong independent research.
I belong to just about every book club going and I haunt the local bookstores. It was on one of my visits to a small, mildew plagued shop in the Mission District that I picked up a thin, dog-eared volume that was filled with handwritten margin notes. "Now Traveler" started with the words, "Learn to live without the pain". I read on.
You see, I've never really been what you might call "attached" to my body. A lot of people think in physical terms; about strength, about beauty, about making their bodies do the things they want it to do. My body doesn't work that way. It sort of does whatever it wants and I kind of go along for the ride. I've been looking for a way out.
Medical solutions have always failed me. Drugs, prescribed or street, have limited and temporary value and they dull my brain, the one thing I have that works well. I've looked for solace in any number of traditional and fringe religions. They all tell me to accept my lot and to wait for the "better life to come". No can do.
"Now, Traveler" was a book about out of body traveling. The aut hor claimed to be able to leave his body at will and explore the world. Although awkwardly written, the subject was interesting enough to get me to seek out more information.
Let me tell you, there are a lot of books out there on the topic and I've read them all. Some of the matchbook quasi-religions call it "Astral Projection". They tell you what it is, how to do it, what you should look for and what you should look out for. Most of it is absolute nonsense, but not all of it.
I experimented. In fact I made a number of trips. I visited some of the places that I've heard about and always wanted to see. No, I did not visit the dressing room of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. The only reason for doing that would be for physical satisfaction and nothing physical has ever satisfied me.
Niagara Falls is very pretty and a real waste of potential hydroelectric energy. The power company there isn't even scratching the surface. I found the Grand Canyon a bore.
I did visit the Mayo Clinic and tried to see if there might be a cure for what ails me. All I learned was that by projecting there, I saved myself both airfare and the patronizing insincerity of another gaggle of clucking doctors.
Traveling by mind power has its advantages over "in body" travel: it's free, I can go whenever I want and, best of all, it's the only time that I am truly free of pain. Do I really need another reason to do it?
None of the books on Traveling ever talk about meeting other Travelers. They tell you that you can see other people but they don't talk about being able to interact with them. Because I didn't seem to be able to get any reaction from the people I could see around me, I surmised that, since I was traveling by mind, I must be invisible to them. Or that they weren't real, just scenic creations of my mind to make things seem real.
Then, one day last July I was wandering through the Louvre, checking out the Old Masters. A young woman, small and thin, wearing gold wire rims and a Bing cherry red sweater over a denim skirt, walked over and stood next to me. Her brownish hair was tucked up under a large floppy felt hat and she smelled of baby shampoo. She was looking at the same Titian as me. After a minute or so she turned, pushed back the brim of her hat, and spoke.
"I think he's overrated, don't you"?
I must have jumped because she reached out and grabbed my arm.
"Oh, I'm sorry, she said. "I didn't mean to startle you".
"You can see me?” I said . I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
"Of course I can see you. You don't think I go around talking to thin air do you"?
"It's just that no one has ever…. Are you... here or are you just… visiting"? I asked.
"Both. Just like you. I'm Astral Projecting. My body is in Cleveland but "I" am here. What about you"?
"I'm from San Francisco."
"Nice town, a little cold though. I went there with my folks one time."
"Your whole family Projects"?
"No, we drove. Well, actually, my brother also Astral Projects. He taught me. He’s been doing it since high school. I’m sorry, I’m babbling. My name is Ellen."
She reached out, took my hand and shook it.
I knew that there must be other people doing Astral Projection or Traveling, but I never thought that I could actually meet them. I figured that each trip was a personal journey - a solo. I really thought Traveling was all in the mind. I didn't believe that it was an objective experience. Evidently I was wrong.
At her insistence, we wandered through the halls of the museum. She kept up a running commentary. I didn't say much. I've never been very comfortable with strangers. She explained to me that while Projecting was done through the power of the mind you actually were transported to your destination in a way as real as if you took a plane or car.
I asked, if that was so, why were we invisible to other people but could be seen by Travelers? Her theory was that, in Projecting, our "real" body stayed at home but our "inner" body (read consciousness, will, soul, whatever) stretched out like a rubber band and we were transported. In this process we became pulled so thin that we became transparent to "in situ" people. We could see other travelers and ourselves because we shared a similar elastic density. Sort of like how passengers on a speeding train can see each other and people outside the train, but people standing beside the tracks really can't see the passengers on the train all that well because they are passing by too fast to register.
"Well, it's sort of like that, but different", she said with a thin shrug.
She told me that Travelers could spot one another by the barely visible wispy silver strand of "something" coming from the back of the head. I’d never noticed it before. She seemed sure that this is the elastic that keeps us connected to our bodies in the "real" world. She lifted the back of her hat to show me her thread. I reached out to touch it and she pulled away sharply.
"I'm sorry", I said.
"It's very forward to try to touch someone else's thread!” she said, pulling her hat brim down snugly.
"I'm sorry", I said again. "I didn't know."
"I hope I didn't overreact, but it's a very personal thing.” She paused for just a second, her smile returned. “Forget it. Let's go see the Impressionists".
We walked and talked some more and when we saw the guards beginning to shoo the tourists toward the door we went outside and sat on a bench. The sun was going down. The sky was pink and orange and chimney swifts were darting through the air in every direction.
"If you'd like, we can meet again", she said, brushing a wayward strand of hair away from her face and picking a piece of lint off my shirt.
"OK". I reasoned that having a guide might not be a bad idea. "Where"?
"Well, the Olympics are starting in a week or so. How about if we meet under the torch at five on opening day? I'll wear a red flower in my hair."
"OK. I'll... I'll... see you there."
"Ok. It's a date!” she said, and then she vanished right before my eyes. I heard a faint twang and the air where she had stood sparkled like the tinsel on a Christmas tree.
A date? I hadn't had a "date" in my life. Girls just never took to me. They always liked the tall athletic types. I was the kind of boy they always referred to as "sweet" (read "ugly, but harmless").
CNN told me that the Olympics were opening on Sunday so at about 4:30 Olympic Local Time I went into my bedroom, lay down on the bed and started my journey.
In short order I felt myself detaching from my body and when I thought about moving to the base of the torch I sensed the movement, the elongation of my self across the sea to the Olympic stadium.
I saw around me the light fog that always accompanies a Projection. It cleared as I neared my destination. There was a large crowd in the stadium even though the ceremonies weren't scheduled to begin for another two hours. I walked around looking for Ellen. Several people nodded to me and said "hello". Every Traveler in the world must have been there. I could see their silver threads blowing in the soft summer breeze.
"Yoo-hoo, over here. Robert, I'm over here!"
I turned and saw her waving her arms over her head and smiling. The sun glinted off her glasses. She had a tea rose tucked behind her left ear.
"Hi. I'm not late am I"?
"No", she said. "You're right on time. I got here early to check out the cathedral in town. How do you like the rose? Isn’t it just too much? You look nice."
"Thanks. It's a new shirt. You look nice too." I don't have a lot of experience tossing around small talk with women.
We spent an hour or so strolling about looking at the crowd and chatting with some of the other Travelers. I learned a lot from them: new books to read, places to visit, and most importantly - their personal experiences. It was like taking a cram course on out-of-body travel.
One fellow from Singapore got me really excited as I asked, and he answered, question after question for me. At some point, I don't remember when, (I tend to get focused when I'm on to something) Ellen must have taken my hand, because when I gestured to make a point I found our fingers intertwined. I made my point left-handed.
When the ceremonies began we found a spot in the President's box. Ellen just brazenly led us in. There was plenty of room. Trumpets blared, colorful banners waved and thousands of children danced on the carpeted playing field below us. It was all rather moving in a nationalistic/folkloric kind of way.
After the torch lighting a group of us met again and talked about why we were Travelers. It was quite a while before I got up the nerve to speak my thoughts.
"Well, I have a lot of pain. It stops me from doing most things and denies me pleasure in the things that I can do.
I'd heard about Traveling and, after reading some books on the subject, I decided to try it. It's given me the only pain-free hours I can remember. Plus, I've seen sights I probably never would have seen. I wish I could make it permanent. Be a full-time Traveler." There were nods of agreement from some of the others.
Then Ellen quietly and matter-of-factly told us her story.
She had read many of the same books I had and had first turned to Traveling to escape the unpleasant realities of radiation and chemotherapy. A rare bone cancer was mining its way through her body and all that could be offered by the doctors were delaying tactics.
"It would be good, wouldn't it, to be able to leave our bodies behind and just Travel? If somebody could show me how I'd do it. I mean that, and I'm sure that a lot of you would too. Many of us are in similar situations." More nods of agreement.
It made me feel like such a whine-ass.
After that day at the Olympics, learning of Ellen's condition, I began to re-read my books on Traveling. I started looking for something that might help me discover a way to make the break into a permanent traveling state.
I have noted a number of dire caveats about what could happen if one got "trapped" in the traveling state. Some books said, simply, that you would die. Others said that you would go insane. One thin book printed in Ireland warned that Satan would drag you down into a very real, living, breathing Hell. I put that version down to Jesuit hyperbole.
I found only one book that seemed to be more open to exploring the possibilities. Written by a Chinese fellow named Ma Tsiang-Chi.
I have his book sitting on my desk at home. It's called "Being As The Smoke".
Ma Tsiang-Chi, according to the editor's notes, was some sort of Philosopher/Mystic/Magician and a favorite at the court of the Dowager Empress Tzu-hsi in the late 19th century.
The book itself was actually a translation done in the early days of World War I by a Methodist missionary who had survived the violence of the Boxer Rebellion by taking refuge in a Buddhist monastery. He stayed there, even after the danger had passed, for the better part of two years and spent the time reading his way through the monk's library.
When he returned to Britain he brought with him a hand-drawn copy of Master Ma's notebooks. A limited edition of the translation circulated among spiritualists, music hall magicians and the pain-filled elite. An inscription on the flyleaf told me that my copy had come to America after W.W. II with a GI who got it from a nurse while he was convalescing from an encounter with several pieces of German shrapnel. I bought the book for $2.98 in a used bookstore not far from the University of California Medical Center.
My initial reading of Ma's book confused more than it enlightened. There was a lot of philosophy mixed in with the talk about technique. The translation also added to my problems. The good Reverend never met an adjective he didn't like.
"The regretful return to the tortured temple is made to the sweet singing of the golden lyre that echoes across the grassy meadows of the wailing worlds, seen and unseen."
It took me a fifth reading to grasp that that sentence refers to the twang I hear when a Traveler jumps back into his or her real body.
I finally learned, after a while, to read past the translation down to the meanings of the words and to compare them with my own experiences. The "Shifting Veil of Prayers" I came to recognize as the foggy sensation that I encounter as I arrive at my out-of body destination and hear the muffled speech of people on the scene.
The thread coming from the back of the head was called "The Silkworm's Whisper".
It was very slow reading and I felt that Ma was saying a lot more than I was able to decipher. It was going to take time; something that I sensed was becoming a precious commodity.
Ellen and I began to meet more often and our friendship grew and we became close. She trusted me and I felt a trust in her that was... new.
I know that I can trust myself, its other people who give me trouble. They tend to be trustworthy only as long as you give them what they want - money, obedience, ego strokes. Ellen wasn't like that. Her trust in me was unreserved, with no conditions, no horse trading. Quite new. I realized this when she asked me to project myself to her home in Cleveland.
It was an innocuous little house in the suburbs where she lived with her Mother and Father. Her brother, Mike, was married and lived not far away. She showed me her trophies from high school. She'd played tennis. She showed me her parents sitting together on the sofa watching TV and holding hands. Above them on the wall was a large painting of an empty sunlit room by a lake. The breeze off the water billowed the curtains. It was all very comfortable and inviting.
She showed me herself, asleep on her bed.
"I hope this doesn't make you uncomfortable", she said to me as she looked down at herself laying there.
"No, not at all." But it did. She looked dead.
As we stood there, in her room, the door opened quietly and a man walked in.
“That’s my brother, Mike.”
He walked over to the bed and looked down at his sister.
“Ellie, I wish I could do something for you to make this all go away.” He spoke barely above a whisper. Then he reached down and pulled the light blue blanket up to cover her legs to her waist, and then he, just as quietly, walked back out of the room, closing the door behind him.
This was serious. I knew that I had to get cracking.
I went back to Master Ma's book. Slow going. There had to be more to "Being As The Smoke" than just a "how-to book" on a rather unusual pastime. He wouldn't have wasted his time on anything that trivial. There had to be more in those pages. More that I wasn't seeing. I reread chapter after chapter. "Outside the Wall" was about the technique of travelling to distant locations just by thinking about going there. "Riding the Silkworm" talked about the thread as a guide back to the body.
It all seemed too arcane, too foreign... too useless. I began to think that finding a solution was just wishful thinking, and then a chapter near the back of the book that I had dismissed as just more impenetrable poetry came back into my mind. Ma had said something about "Dancing with the Dragon" and "Becoming the Smoke". Not "Being As" the smoke, as in the title of the book, but "Becoming" the smoke. I found the chapter and began to read it again, and again, and again.
This relationship that was growing between Ellen and I was something quite new to me. I've never had anyone express an affection toward me that was not couched in the terms of some familial obligation or commercial transaction. Ellen liked me for me.
We decided to go to Venice. She really wanted to see the canals and St. Mark’s Cathedral and I wanted to be with her. It was in Venice that everything changed.
It was in Venice that I discovered that I was in love with Ellen. It was in Venice that Ellen kissed me.
I had arrived first, for a change. I sat on a bench watching the tourists being shepherded about by their leaders and waited for Ellen to pop into view. A group of American students carrying backpacks, being led by a scruffy looking man in a tie-dye T-shirt, was crossing the square. They looked like a strange herd of humpbacked beasts blindly following their beplumed leader. As I watched them pass by, snaking in a herky-jerky column toward the main entrance of the cathedral, the light in their vicinity began to shimmer and twinkle. And then Ellen appeared, in the middle of the pack, looking a bit dazed and disoriented. She slowly walked over to where I was seated. Up close she her face was waxen. She had tombstones in her eyes.
“Ellen, are you alright? What happened? You don’t look good.”
“I feel like I look Robert. I spent most of this morning in chemo. Actually I’m starting to feel better now. I always feel better while I’m Projecting.”
That day we spent most of our time together just sitting quietly in the Plaza. She relaxed her body into mine and I held her, supported her, as she closed her eyes and rested.
This was the most intimate moment I had ever spent with anyone. It was not sexual at all, yet it could not have brought us closer together if it had been.
At one point we didn’t speak for fifteen minutes, then Ellen turned her head to the left, her cheek against the fabric of my shirt.
“I can feel your heart beating. It’s very… comforting. Thank you, Robert.”
“Thank you, Ellen”
“For being so nice to me and including me. I’ve learned a lot from being with you.”
“You’re welcome”, she said and then, in a move that really surprised me she stretched herself up and kissed me on the lips. I must have jumped a bit because she laughed, tilted her head to one side and said to me, “First kiss, Robert?”
I could feel my face reddening.
“Well, here’s your second!”, and she quickly gave me another kiss. Her lips lingered this time, for just a moment.
Places - always going places. Always doing things. But not doing things. Only doing the specter of things. More than a dream but not quite reality. Seeing people, talking with them, yet recalling the conversations the way one remembers a dream come mid-afternoon.
I knew Ellen, yet we had never met. I had become enamored with someone whom I had never seen face to face.
The scent of a million flowers, gardenias mostly, made the air thick and sweet. We glided over the water in a small painted boat with, but invisible to, another couple. Moving slowly along waterways sheltered by overhanging trees and flowering vines. Color spilled from everywhere. It was like drifting along on the palette of a giant artist.
The floating gardens of Xochimilco, in Mexico City, were a spot that Ellen had always wanted to visit. She thought they were as romantic as Paris ever was. We were carried along, lounging in a quiet embrace for almost an hour before I brought up what I thought that I had discovered.
"Of course it's all smothered in the language, like the last berry on the bush, but I think I've found it. A permanent breakaway can be done. Ma seems to be very reluctant about it all. I gather he thinks it means a death of a sort."
"Of a sort?"
"Yes. I think he's really just guessing and he as much as admits that. He calls it "The Unseen Side of the Curtain". What it is, when you make the break, is a different level of existence, like this one is from our real bodies. It's invisible to us, like we are from these people in the boat with us here. It's permanent. There’s no going back and the 'you' in Cleveland...”
"They'll think I'm dead, won't they?"
She closed her eyes, relaxed back into my arms, her head resting on my chest. I could smell her hair: Gardenias, matching the gardens around us. We glided slowly past an island where a birthday party was starting. Gifts were piled up on a picnic table and a little girl in a yellow dress stood stiffly at the end of the table, fighting the urge to jump up onto the table and begin tearing at the brightly wrapped boxes.
"Well, they're expecting it anyway", said Ellen
"My death. It's hardly a secret that I haven't got long to go."
"Are you sure?"
"You saw me when you came to my house. I looked like Hell and it's not going to get any better."
She lifted her eyes and looked straight into mine.
"I want to do it", she said. "As soon as possible. I have nothing to lose."
"Wait a minute!” I said. "There's a lot I haven't told you yet. It's not that simple. There are things to consider."
"What's to consider? I'm dying. It will stop the pain, my family will be able to get on with their lives and we can be together."
"Ellen, listen to me. I think I know how to do this. I'm not sure. But I do know that I can't go with you."
"What? Why? You must know that I love you!"
"Yes, and I love you and that's why I can't do it."
"I don't understand."
"The way it looks is that, according to Ma, a person can't break his or her own thread. I might be able to break yours, or you mine, but we can't break them both together. We aren’t strong enough. The energy needed is more than the two of us could ever generate. One of us would be left behind.”
“No, Robert, I won’t do that.”
She put the palm of her hand over my heart. I could feel my heart beating against her skin.
“It’s both of us or forget it.”
I knew that there would be no stopping her once I told her about this.
“We would need a third person”, I continued. “Someone to act as a sort of a transformer. Our elastic densities resonate with our own peculiar frequencies, our twang, like our fingerprints. They are similar enough that we can see each other and interact, but they aren’t the same. That’s where the third person comes in. Working together, along with this third person, we can get our frequencies synchronized, in tune with the special resonance that has been created by our emotional connection. Get it all right and I think that we can break the threads and make the jump to the next level.”
"Pretty sure, but there are no guarantees, Ellen."
"My parents would help!"
"Would they really help their daughter to, in their eyes, die?
“Mike! Mike would do it for me, no doubt. Yes, Mike.
She lightly rubbed her eyes with her fingertips and looked away, back at the birthday party disappearing around the bend.
This was happening too fast for me.
Mexico was one of Ellen’s favorite places. We’d come back again and again. This time we came out of the fog onto the sparkling shoreline of Mismaloya Beach, outside of Puerto Vallarta.
We held hands and walked barefoot along the moist sand at the waterline letting the last push of the surf expend itself over our feet.
“It all boils down to this, Ellen: We can try to do this if you wish, but I can’t be sure that it will work. If it does, who knows what will happen, where we will be? We may die in the trying. If it doesn’t work we will probably stay as we are, in our bodies… or we may die in the trying.”
“Well… this much is certain, Sweetie: if it works, we both may die and if it fails, then I will die, no doubt. So… you are the only one who is risking a life. I can’t and won’t force this on you. It has to be your decision. I will understand, either way. Honestly, I will.”
She walked away and pretended to go and smell the flowers that overflowed from planters surrounding the restaurant a few yards up from the warm waters of the bay. She stooped to smell a hibiscus and stole a glance at me standing there staring at her as she walked. The only person who had ever made me anticipate tomorrow. As I stood there my brain was racing faster than ever before to analyze, evaluate, discover and to decide.
“Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. Of what though? Of death? Kind of, yes… but not a lot. I’m concerned with the uncertainty more than any darkness or judgement. It would end my physical problems, I know that for sure, but so would a successful cord break.
Would I miss my family? Yes, but me not being there would finally free them from a twenty-five year long obligation. I can’t give them anything comparable to what they’ve given to me. If I stay it is just more of the same for all of us, and then nobody has any life of their own. Doing this would, in reality, release us all.”
I sat down on the sand and held my head in my hands.
“My fear is something else. I’m afraid of not seeing Ellen anymore. I’m afraid that if we don’t do this that she’ll be dead and very soon and that’s the end of that. If we try this and she dies, we’ll both die – end of story.
This fear is very new to me. I have become a part of something outside myself. I have become part of a ‘we’. I had given up on that one years ago.
‘We’… that’s what’s important here. Not me, not her, but us… the ‘We’. Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into?”
I got up and walked up behind Ellen who was now fifty yards away down the beach gazing out at a large catamaran taking tourists on excursions to the hidden coves and islands that make this place so popular.
“I have just one question, Ellen.”
“What’s that?” she said, not turning around.
“Who are you doing this for… this cord breaking business?”
Her eyes left the boat on the water. She turned around and, taking hold of both of my hands, looked me square in the eyes.
“I asked myself that same question last night. I wondered if I was being selfish and just using you. I’m not.
Robert, you’re a good man. Don’t ever doubt yourself – I don’t. You’re the kind of guy a lot of women wish they could find.”
She sighed and tightened her grip on my hands.
“I’m doing it for us. ‘We’ are the only reason I would ever take this gamble, Robert. I do love you and I hope that you love me. I feel that you do. You have given me hope. I had really given up and was just killing time, waiting to die. I won’t do that anymore because I want to be with you for a long time and I pray that you want to be with me.”
After a pause that seemed like forever to me, I spoke.
“I needed to hear that. My doubts are gone. Let’s do this. We need to get your brother up to speed.”
“I’ll talk to him tonight. I know that he’ll help us.”
“Ellen, I do love you. You have no need to ever question that. I love you.”
We all met together at the North end of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the vantage point that gives you a sweeping, panoramic view of San Francisco. The city looked like an ivory carving, gleaming white and delicate, in the sunlight over the bay. We sat on the stone fence and watched the city, the gulls and each other. I explained the technical part of what we were trying to accomplish. Ellen made the emotional pitch. Hers was the harder job: to convince her brother to help her, for all intents and purposes, to die.
After Ellen finished speaking there was a long silence. It was excruciating for me. I jumped into it.
“OK, Mike, that’s it. As I read Ma’s book it will take perfect timing and a harmony to successfully snap the cords.”
“A ‘harmony’… what’s that mean?”
I looked at Mike and at Ellen and said to them both, “I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure.”
Mike’s eyes grew wide and his voice grew loud.
“You’re not sure? Ellen….”
Ellen put her hand on Mike’s arm.
“The man wrote most of the book in really dense poetry, Mike. It’s hard to understand sometimes. We don’t know for sure that this will work, but I trust Robert. We’ve got to try, Mike. Please don’t back out on me now.”
“Ellen, I’m going to help you with this. Robert, you seem to me to be a good man. My sister has told me a lot about you and she trusts you implicitly. I do have my fears but if it can help Ellen out of her predicament, I’ll do it. No doubts, I’ll do it.”
“I would never hurt her, Mike.”
“I know that, Robert. She is trusting you with her life.”
“Thanks, Mike. Are you ready Ellen?”
“I’m ready. I’ve been ready. Mike?”
“For your sake, Ellen, yes, I’m ready.”
I had rehearsed them on what to do. Or, at least what I thought we should do.
“OK, let’s all Project to Mismaloya.”
In the poetry of “Being As The Smoke”, Master Ma had described the cord breaking act as “The Silkworm’s Song”. We would have to break the cords simultaneously. Be out of synch at all and all bets were off. He said that the cords were “as tough as a rope of steel a hundred miles wide” and to break them would take all the strength we could summon. “A sword from the Heart to the Brain to the Hand that a child can easily wield, but that a Khan could never lift”.
We stood on the beach at Mismaloya, golden pink in the late afternoon sun. We formed a rough triangle, Ellen, and I facing each other with Mike as our base, our junction, our transformer.
We each extended a hand into the middle of our triangle, grasping each other, connecting us together, completing our circuit.
Ellen said nothing but reached out with her other hand and took hold of the wispy silken cord dangling from the back of my head. As her fingers closed around the cord I felt a small shock. An icy feeling electric shock began at the base of my skull and moved up and over my face and down the length of my body, growing in intensity as it spread. I felt as if we were turning, spinning around our own three-sided axis. My brain told me that this must be what Ma called “Dancing with the Dragon”.
The beach, sea and sky began to blur as the spinning got faster and faster. I could still focus on Ellen and Mike but they were beginning to distort and glow as my field of vision started to close in from the sides.
I saw Ellen stiffen as Mike clenched his fist tightly around her cord. Her shoulders arched back and her eyes widened in a look of surprise anticipation and fear.
The electric sensation grew quickly to the point of pain as Ellen exerted more pressure on my cord.
I could see that Mike was feeling the pain surging into his body as well. Everything was passing through him. The energy from Ellen as well as my own was pouring into Mike, being added onto his own love for his sister. He looked at the two of us.
The muscles in his cheek were twitching in a fierce spasm. He managed a small, fearful smile to Ellen and then threw his head back and screamed like he had liquid fire racing through his veins. In the middle of his scream there were words - “Oh my God, Ellen, Ellen!” over and over again.
As the power of the energies peaked in Mike a backflash sent everything flooding back into Ellen and into me. My senses exploded. Small lights began to blink on and off in my eyes and in the air around us.
Ellen and I both screamed as our eyes locked on each other.
“I love you Ellen.”
“I love you Robert.”
Our screams slid into place behind Mike’s and it was almost musical. The words distorted but were still there.
My peripheral vision began to gyrate and everything in the world seemed to fold in upon itself.
Swirling faster still I felt a cracking sensation in my head. My head was coming apart at the seams. I could feel that the sutures of my skull were separating and that my brain was being torn away.
As I felt my vertebrae begin to snake from my body a bolt of lightning and a double thunderclap exploded in my face. The force of it lifted me up and away from Ellen and Mike. They receded and the disappeared from my view like leaves in a windstorm.
My hands were thrown high above my head and I was alone, spinning around. It was like I was lying face up on a merry-go-round that was whirling at the speed of light. I was inside a kaleidoscope, alone. Colored lights that resembled shards of stained glass flew around and through me. I was alone but the echo of three terrified voices was still inside of me.
Then, in a heartbeat, it all stopped and I was inside a cloud.
The thatched roof of the restaurant sheltered the late afternoon diners from the still warm tropical sun. There were few people walking along the stretch of beach and the sand was open and undisturbed as it swept along the Mismaloya cove.
The restaurant was half full of tourists enjoying fresh seafood and cold Mexican beer.
“Look at that, William”, said a British tourist, pointing with her fork toward the shore.
“What?. What are you pointing at, Luv? I don’t see anything.”
“Look at the way the light is being reflected off the sand, there, just to the left of the palapa. See it?”
The light was twisting and shimmering. As the British couple, and then the other diners took note, a small burst of lights flickered and twinkled. Out of seemingly nowhere a fog formed and enveloped the area around the strange lights. It looked like small flashbulbs were going off inside the fog. Some of the people in the open-air cafe stood and stared in amazement at what was happening in front of them.
Slowly, almost imperceptible at first, a high pitched chord began to rise inside the fog. It sounded almost human. Three notes that harmonized into an exciting and familiar sound – or so said the onlookers in their reports to authorities.
The sound rose to a deafening level and as the fog thickened into a wall of white a bright burst of ivory light flew out of the fog and illuminated the beach up toward the cafe. The people covered their eyes and turned away.
When they looked back toward the beach the lights were gone and the fog was starting to dissipate.
“What’s that on the sand”?
A dark shape, lying on the beach, was coming into view as the scene cleared.
Tourists and restaurant staff began to run toward the shoreline.
“Oh, my God.”
“What is it”?
“Are they alright”?
The shape had resolved itself into two forms. The inert and lifeless bodies of two people, a plain looking young man and a thin young woman with gold wire rims and long brown hair peeking out from under a floppy brimmed hat were huddled on the sand. They were holding hands, gripping each other tightly. Holding on for dear life it seemed.
“They must have been hit by the lightning.”
“They look dead, somebody call the police.”
“I don’t remember seeing them on the beach.”
Well, they must have been. They just didn’t pop out of thin air.”
“Remarkable, utterly remarkable.”
It was going to be a red sunset - a sailor’s delight.
The fog was thicker than anything I’d ever seen in San Francisco. I was standing there alone. Ellen was gone. Mike was gone. Just this fog. I felt as if I had just run a marathon. Where was Ellen?
“Ellen!” I yelled. My voice seemed to be swallowed up in the fog.
It was off in the fog.... to my right.
“Ellen, over here! Over here!”
“Robert! Keep talking so I can find you!”
“Ellen! You’re getting louder. I still can’t see you, though.”
The fog began to swirl and eddy a bit and I saw Ellen coming toward me.
“I can see you, keep coming.”
We ran toward each other and hugged each other like two people who’ve been reunited after fifty years apart.
“Robert, I think we did it. I think we’re free.”
“Don’t talk yet. Just let me hold you.”
She kissed me and I kissed her with long, unselfconscious kisses. I felt my energy level recovering. It was like jumper cables on my soul.
“Robert, I thought I’d lost you. I felt my cord snap and you and Mike vanished and the next thing I know I’m here in this fog, alone. Did you hear that sound, like a high pitched... I don’t know what?”
“That was us, Ellen. We, all three of us, were screaming. Then you disappeared. It was like a big flashbulb right in my eyes, when my cord broke. It was pretty much like you described. The fog, being alone. I felt more exhausted than I’ve ever felt before. But now I feel fine, you?”
“Yes, I feel great. I feel energized. I... Mike! Where’s Mike?”
She looked around into the fog and yelled, “Mike, Mike!”
“His cord didn’t break Ellen, He’s probably back home by now. But where are we?”
“Your brother is fine, young lady”.
The voice came from inside the fog behind us. We turned to see small lights, like fireflies, dancing toward us in the thinning mist. A figure was beginning to take on substance.
“And to answer your question, young man - you are… here.”
As these last words were spoken the form of a man stepped into clarity in front of us. He was very old, dressed in an ornate brocaded robe. It was covered with golden images of dragons and boats.
“Where are we, said Ellen? Are we dead? What’s happening? This fog? Who are you?”
“I understand your confusion, your fears, your dread, perhaps? You are not in Hell. Let me assure you of that. Actually, you have passed by this place many times in your travels together; you just never saw it before.”
“I don’t remember seeing any fog like this before.”
“The fog will be gone soon, young sir, and everything will be crystal clear to you as never before. There is no need to be afraid. It was like this when I first arrived too. So it was for all of us here.
There are many things I must explain to you. I am sure that you will have countless questions more as we move along. Ah, you see, things are becoming clearer already.”
He was right. As he spoke the fog was melting away and a warm sun was climbing.
We all started walking toward the warmth of the rising sun. After a few steps Ellen, still holding onto my arm with a viselike grip, stopped and asked the question that was still in my mind as well, “You haven’t told us yet who you are, sir.”
He was a few paces ahead of us, leading us like a mother duck with her chicks to the water. When Ellen asked her question he paused, turned toward us, bowed slightly, and answered, “Oh, I apologize. My name is Tsiang Chi, Ma Tsiang Chi. Please call me Master Ma. Now, follow me please. It is just a short walk.”