Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TG&SS Part V Synopsis 48

TG&SS Part V Synopsis 48

Part V chapter 1

The residents of the Grove acted hungover the next morning. Everyone was excruciatingly polite and cheerful to each other to hide the pain and shock. The Mall, however, remained a mess. Some claimed the damage was from bikers, with a few claiming to have seen them. Glass was swept up, boards placed over the panes, new glass ordered and installed by two in the afternoon. Equilibrium was paramount.

But behind closed doors there was pacing, weeping, chugging down pills, confession, and the intent desire to remember the stories they were told as children in the hope of blotting out present fears. Some ate or drank. Some contemplated the priesthood. A few were certain there were monsters and divinities in the Grove; they sought to understand what that meant.

William Witt shrugged in surrender. He had come late to the Mall and went home dazed. He reverted to his porno collection, but it did not thrill him. He spent hours perusing it without any satisfaction at all. This made him profoundly sorrowful. Then it occurred to him to bring them to him by the sheer heat of his desire for them. Make a dream real.

Though less skunky and erotic, every member of the crowd gathered at the Mall the previous night had the same idea of bringing forth from their dreams their heroes, including TV stars, lost relations, missing children, comic-book characters or whatever. By dawn the following day there were already clots in the corners of their rooms where the air had thickened in preparation for the miracle. And by noon all of the crowd had received some intimation, though often dismissed or ignored, that an unexpected visitor was coming.

In the hotel room, Grillo and Tesla argued. Grillo didn't like the errand that Tesla had been sent on by Fletcher just before his death. Tesla denied that it was an errand and wanted to keep her promise. “I need you here, Grillo. Watching. It's not over, by a long way,” she told him. She didn't tell him that he represented a risky inclusion were he to go with her or instead of her. She felt oddly relaxed at being the dead man's agent on earth in spite of the danger she faced. She no longer needed to cloak her cynicism. She now knew that truth was stranger than her own screenplays. She left in mid-morning for the border and the Mision de Santa Catrina.

Tommy-Ray followed his father's instructions and crept back to the Mall later the night of the showdown, long after the crowd had dispersed. He retrieved the terata he attacked to Howard's flesh. Back in the hands of Jaff, its creator, it regurgitated all it had seen and heard. Then the Jaff killed the messenger. The Jaff told Tommy Ray he was needed to that important errand right away. Tommy wanted to retrieve Jo-Beth first, but his father argued with him. Tommy was defiant, so the Jaff hurt him with a piercing squeeze of his shoulders. Tommy fell to the floor and the Jaff released him. “There's a place I want you to go for me, the Jaff said. “It's called the Mision de Santa Catrina...”

Part V, chapter 2

With Fletcher gone, Howie realized how many questions he had left unanswered. He would have to piece together what he could with help from Jo-Beth and her mother, Joyce McGuire.

Joyce had changed because of the invasion and the events at the Mall. She had faced evil. God's agency in the form of the Pastor had been useless. It was Howie who brought her daughter back home to her. She weldomedhim in and insisted he stay the night. The next morning she acted like a woman who had been told that her tumor was benign and could expect to live a few more years.
In the afternoon, she told Howie about the past and answered his questions. She cried when she spoke of Arleen, Carolyn and Trudi, but she kept talking and answering. She even said she'd often thought about leaving the Grove, as Trudi had done.

Howie noticed that he didn't think it saved her any pain. “She was always unhappy.”
Joyce remembered that Trudi had always seemed to be in love with someone. Howie asked who she was in love with before she had him. “Are you asking me do I know who your father is?”


Joyce guessed that the Lutheran Church gardener, Ralph Contreras, was the father, especially since Howard's middle name was Ralph. This gardener didn't talk much. He stammered.

Howie said this convinced him that this was his father. Perhaps he'd inherited that stammer. Joyce said she didn't hear it. Howie responded that it appeared to vanish once he located Fletcher.

The conversation drifted to Tommy-Ray. Joyce felt he'd been lost to the Jaff or the Devil or whatever you wanted to call it. Jo-Beth thought he was just mistakenly influenced by the Jaff but was really the same underneath. Howie sided with Joyce.

“Then there's evil in me, too,” Jo-Beth replied. “Three days ago you loved him. Now you say he's gone. You've let the Jaff have him. I won't give up on him that way.” She left the room.

“Maybe she's right,” Joyce said softly.

“Tommy-Ray can be saved?” Howie said.

“No. Maybe the Devil's in her, too.”

Howie went to the yard to talk to Jo-Beth. He agreed to help bring Tommy-Ray back if that was what Jo-Beth wanted. “Just don't ask me to like him,” he added. She turned to him. “I never thought I'd be standing in your momma's backyard with my arms around you.”

“Miracles happen,” Jo-Beth replied.

“No, they don't. They're made. You're one, and I'm one, and the sun's one, and the three of us being out here together is the biggest of the lot.”

Part V chapter 3

After Tesla left, Grillo called his editor. He was worried about how to tell this story. His hero wasn't a journalist, but Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels. He remembered that Swift read his stories aloud to his servants to make sure the satire was plain and understandable – and Grillo remembered this as a touchstone. Which was useful in reporting on the homeless in Los Angeles or on the drug problem. But the story of Fletcher, from the caves to immolation, was a problem. How could he report what he'd seen without also reporting what he felt?

He was vague about this on the telephone with her editor, who had already heard the vandalism reports. “Were you there, Grillo?” the editor barked.

“Only afterwards,” Grillo lied. The editor wanted a sordid story about bikers and violence, perhaps injuries.

Grillo said he did have something no one had reported – the upcoming memorial at Buddy Vance's mansion. “OK. So you get inside the place. I want the works on him and his friends. The man was a no-good. No-goods have no-good friends. I want names and details.”
Grillo felt that events had somehow marginalized him. Others, Tesla in particular, had taken the starring roles. He got dressed to go see Ellen Nguyen.

He was led inside by Ellen. Her boy was looking and feeling better. The child was still talking about the Balloon Man. He left to go play and leave the two of them alone.

Ellen was sorry the boy had given Grillo a cold. She said that yes, she and the boy were at the Mall but she didn't see anything. Grillo reminded her of the boy seeing the lights. ”He said the same to me. You know I don't remember any of that. Is it important?”

“What's important is that you're both well,” he said, using the platitude to cover his confusion.

Grillo felt that Ellen was coming on to him. She talked about the upcoming memorial at the mansion. It was private. No press passes. It would be hard to get Grillo in because Rochelle would know him on sight. The party was for Buddy's friends, heavy-duty players. Mafia, Ellen thought. Perhaps is there were sufficient guests Grillo could melt into the crowd?

“I'd appreciate the help,” Grillo said.

“You're not going to go,” she said as a statement, not a question.

“No. Not if you prefer I stay,” he answered.

She looked to the boy's bedroom. “Don't worry,”she said. “He'll play for hours.” She then led him to her bedroom.

Grillo was ready and able to have a good time, but what Ellen wanted was some intense and rough sex. Grillo was taken aback and reluctant, but he went along with the request.

The boy did leave the bedroom, because his imaginary friend said he was hungry. But the boy went to the kitchen and got three cookies for his friend and left his mother and Grillo alone I the bedroom.

Part V chapter 4

Jokemeister Lamar got out of the limo at the front of Buddy Vance's house and tried to wipe the smile off his face. It was hard for him to do. Buddy had acted a fool, and Lamar had been his comic partner; it was Lamar's opinion, and that of his friends, that he had acted the fool but that Buddy actually was a fool. They had fourteen years of success together before the breach between them, and Lamar thus felt poorer for his ex-partner's death.

Parting ways meant that Lamar had met the sumptuous Rochelle only once, at a charity dinner. Lamar had spoken to Rochelle while Buddy was off emptying his bladder of champagne. He must have made an impression, because Rochelle called him personally herself to invite him to the mansion for the memorial. So he'd decided to come a day early and speak to her alone.

They had a chat. After a while, she told him that the party in Buddy's honor was Buddy's idea himself.

“You mean he knew he was going to die?” Lamar asked.

“No. I mean he came back to me.”

Lamar noticed she was wearing a cross and asked her if she was afraid. “Maybe, a little,” she answered.

Later, Lamar took a trip to the bathroom. After taking care of himself and snorting some cocaine, he heard noises in the adjacent bedroom. “Rochelle, is that you?” he asked. He pushed the door open.

“No light, please,” was the answer. It was Buddy's ghost talking to him. At first the ghost didn't recognize his own long-term partner. But then they got to talking. Buddy was happy Lamar was there. Happy Lamar would be at the party. Happy for the times they spent together. Buddy wanted Lamar to get friendly with Rochelle, really friendly. Lamar was thankful.

Lamar rejoined Rochelle downstairs. He told her that he also spoke with Buddy. “He wants us to be friends. Him and me. And you and me. Close friends.”

“Then we will be,” Rochelle answered.

Upstairs, the Jaff turned this new and unexpected element in the game over. He'd come to Rochelle for two nights, pretending to be Buddy. What Jaff was thinking about was the destruction of Fletcher. He'd placed a sliver of his hallucigenia-producing soul into a hundred or two hundred minds. Those recipients were dreaming up their personal divinities and making them solid. But the past fights told the Jaff that they would not be the equals of his terata. He might need the creatures he could summon from the hearts of Hollywood to prevent Fletcher's last testament from interfering.

Soon, the journey that had begun with the first time he'd heard of the Art – so long ago he couldn't even remember from whom – would end with his entering Quiddity. After so many years of preparation it would be like coming home. He'd be a thief in Heaven, and therefore King of Heaven, given that he'd be the only presence there qualified to steal the throne. He would own the dreamlife of the world; be all things to all men, and never be judged.

There were two days left, then. The first, the twenty-four hours it would take him to realize that ambition. The second, the day of the Art, when he would reach the place where dawn and dusk, noon and night, occurred at the same perpetual moment.

Thereafter, there was only forever.

Part V chapter 5

Leaving Palomo Grove made Tesla feel she'd been dreaming all her life and was now awake. She had lost her arrogant assumptions about what experiences were real and which were not. Maybe she was living in a movie, she thought as she drove.

The drive was easy to Tijuana. Driving further south, as she had never done before, she was surprised to find it deserted. She wondered if the Mission ruins would be eroded or swept away into the Pacific, which grew louder as she drove further.

But when she got there it was immediately apparent that the Mission was still there. Turned for use in an heretical purpose by Jaffe, it had blown up yet subsequently been returned to its original purpose. There were flowers laid in wreaths and bunches. There were small bundles of domestic items bound up with scraps of scrawled-upon paper and laid among the blossoms in such profusion she could scarcely take a step without treading on something. The sun was setting, but the golden light made the place look even more haunted. She stepped through a gap in one of the walls into a crowd of portraits, dozens of photographs and sketches. She felt like an intruder. It reminded her of a feeling she had going home to her family for Christmas after five years of separation, the senses that one she had believed. Her first tears were of gratitude for the bliss of knowing belief again; the sister tears were for sadness that it passed as quickly as it had come, like a spirit moving through her and away.

This time, it didn't go. It deepened in her, as the sun deepened in color, sinking towards the sea.

Then she heard something. “Who's there?” she asked.

She saw what she thought was a masked figure. “My name's Tesla,” she said. “I was sent here by Doctor Richard Fletcher.” The man gave a slow upward motion of the head. Then he sighed.

“Fletcher?” he said.

“Yes, do you know who he is?”

The answer had a heavy Hispanic accent: “Do I know you?” He moved closer. “Could he not come himself?”

The sight of the man's heavy brow and lumpen nose had thrown her thoughts into a spin. Quite simply she'd never seen in the flesh a face so ugly. “Fletcher isn't alive any more,” she replied after a moment, her thoughts half on repugnance, half on how instinctively she'd avoided using the word dead.

The wretched features in front of her became sorrowful, something in their plasticity almost making a caricature of that emotion. “I was here when he left,” the man said. “I've been waiting for him to come back.”

“Raul?” she said.

“You do know him,” he answered.

What followed was a tender and memorable conversation about Raul's survival and dedication [which I cannot faithfully summarize – this has to be read carefully and slowly in its entirety.] He was not familiar with Quiddity. He understood that he was not human but simply Fletcher's experiment. He understood that Fletcher's instructions to Tesla were to destroy the Nuncio. He was trying to coax Tesla away from the main mission building after showing her a drawing of Fletcher and another one of Jaffe. He said he was thirsty; they can look at the others later. Tesla said it will be too dark.

Raul responded, “No. They'll come up and light candles when the sun goes. Come and talk with me for a while. Tell me how my father died.”

Tommy-Ray was also racing toward the Mission, but there was a delay along the route. He stopped to get a cold drink and was offered something too tasty to refuse. He put his money down, bought a beer and was allowed entrance to a smoke-filled tiny room with an audience of maybe ten men, sprawled on creaking chairs. They were watching a woman having sex with a large black dog. He wasn't aroused and neither was anyone else. The interesting element was the woman's face, wasted and past caring and dead after years as an addict.

It was only much later, when he was almost at the Mission, that he realized his pockets had been picked. He didn't have time to go back. Besides, it was worth the money, as he now had a new definition of death.

Tommy arrived at the mission long after dark. He felt a sense of deja vu as if he was seeing the place with the Jaff's eyes. He knew his opponent had beaten him to the spot, so he parked the car down the hill, brought his hand gun with him, and walked carefully up to the mission.

Raul's hut was fifty yards from the mission, tiny and primitive. He and Tesla were talking and then sharing a ceremonial cigarette in honor of Fletcher. Tesla wondered what she'd tell any children she might have or grandchildren about the night she spent talking with a monkey.

“When when you tell them, what will you say about yourself?” Raul asked.

She didn't know what she' become.

Raul said everything is becoming. Even sitting is becoming. Older. Closer to death. No choice.

Tesla said she wanted to understand everything.

Raul laughed, and his laughter sounded like bells. She was about to tell him that was a good trick, but he was standing and at the door. She heard him say someone was at the Mission. “....come to light candles,” she offered.

“No, They don't step where the bells are...”

Both set off for the Mission. As they approached the wall he told her to stay back, but she ignored him. She should have listened to Fletcher more closely and destroyed the Nuncio upon arrival, she told herself. When they got to the ruined laboratory, a smoky fire had been lit and a man was rummaging through everything. The fire revealed his features. It was Tommy-Ray, and Tesla was surprised this was someone she knew.

She argued with Tommy about the Nuncio. She told him to throw it away because it was dangerous, lethal.

Tommy pocketed the Nuncio and brought the gun out of his other pocket. Tesla continued talking calmly to him as she approached. As she drew close, she realized she'd entirely miscalculated this scene. If she'd written it, he'd have held her at gunpoint till he made his escape. But he had his own scenario.

“I'm the Death-Boy,” he said, and pulled the trigger.

Part V chapter 6

Grillo was unnerved by the episode at Ellen's house. He recovered by writing up his notes in a complete manner worthy of Jonathan Swift. He could extract what he wanted to send to his editor later. In the middle of his writing he got a call from Hotchkiss, who suggested they have a drink and a talk. They met at a bar and Hotchkiss talked, though barely above a whisper.

Hotchkiss said Grillo barely knew him. He wanted to talk about his daughter, Carolyn. Then he gave brief portraits of Arleen Farrell, Trudi Katz and Joyce McGuire and how they had fared. He said the answers were underground, that he believed that Fletcher and the Jaff, whoever or whatever they were, were responsible for what happened to his daughter and to the other girls. He had decided to go down into the caves.

Grillo wanted to know what for. Maybe they left clues. Maybe the key to destroying them is down here. “Fletcher's already gone,” Grillo reminded him.

Hotchkiss wasn't sure. Things linger. You climb down a little way and you're in the past. Every step a thousand years.

Grillo didn't want to go down there in the crevasse.

“Let me tell you, my friend, that's where the story is. The only story. Right beneath our feet.”

Grillo warned him that he was claustrophobic. “We'll soon sweat that out of you,” was the reply.

- - - - - - - - - -

Howie fought off sleep for most of the afternoon, but by early evening he was exhausted. He wanted to return to his motel. Joyce intervened, telling him she'd fell more comfortable if he remained in the house. He could stay in the spare room instead of on the sofa.

Jo-Beth was fidgeting and nervous. She wanted to go somewhere. She realized she had almost signed on with the enemy. Tommy-Ray was her twin and she wanted to get along with him. Only when Howie appeared and reminded her that she should have reasons, not just feelings, had she understood.

Joyce was concerned about the look on her daughter's face. What was she thinking?

“Just about last night,” she said to Joyce. Then she suggested to her mother that she drive over and see Lois, the bookshop manager, just for a change of pace. Jo-Beth wanted a hearty dose of normality to calm herself. Her mother agreed.

There was noise and laughter at Lois's house when Jo-Beth got out of the car. She went up to the door and Lois answered. “Surprise,” said Lois,.

Jo-Beth said she thought she would just visit, but excused herself because Lois has company. Lois herself glanced back into the house where it seemed a costume party was in session. Jo-Beth thought it was odd that such a party could be planned without her being invited to it. She heard Lois say to her, “I don't suppose it matters. You're a friend after all. You should be a part of it, right?” And she ushered Jo-Beth into her house.

Had Jo-Beth had the Visitors come to her house? Why, next door the Kirtzlers had Visitors from Masquerade – you know, that television series about the sisters. And my Mel, why, you know how much he loves the old westerns... “Me? I'm the luckiest one,” Lois burbled. All the people from Day by Day came over. The whole family.”

“Where did they come from, Lois?” Jo-Beth asked.

“They just appeared in the kitchen, and of course they've been telling me all the gossip about the family.”

Only the book store obsessed Lois as much as Day by Day, the story of America's favorite family. She would regularly sit and tell Jo-Beth every detail of the previous night's episode as thought it were part of her own life. Now it seemed the delusion had taken hold of her. She was talking about the Pattersons as though they were actually guests in her house.

Jo-Beth wanted Lois to stop this, but Lois insisted that everything was fine. “The Visitors are here and I couldn't be happier.” Characters from other television shows were also present at the party. Jo-Beth thought it was a look-alike costume party, but that wasn't correct.

“You'll see,” said Lois. “And don't worry, you'll have somebody come to you if you want them badly enough. It's happening all over town. Not just TV people. People from billboards and magazines. Beautiful people; wonderful people. There's no need to be frightened. They belong to us. I never really understood that, until last night. Only they need us just as much, don't they? Maybe more. So they won't do us any harm...”

Lois pushed a door open and there they were. The lights that had first dazzled her in the hallway were brighter here, though there was no source apparent. It was as if the people in the room came already lit, their hair gleaming, their eyes and teeth the same. Mel was standing at the mantelpiece, portly, bald and proud, surveying a room filled with famous faces.

They greeted Jo-Beth heartily and pressed a drink upon her. Others, neighbors, people from the church, were present to tell her what a good time everyone was having. Jo-Beth took a sip of the vodka.

Back at Joyce's house, Howie woke around ten. Jo-Beth wasn't home yet. Momma was worried about her daughter. “She's late now,” Joyce said. Howie wanted to know if he should go look for her? He was urged on and offered Tommy-Ray's car. Howie found out it wasn't far and figured he should walk.

Howie thought about things as he walked through the neighborhood. The calamaties that had come to the Grove since meeting Jo-Beth were enormous. Was it possible that beyond the enmity between the Jaff and Fletcher – beyond Quiddity and the struggle for its possession – lay an even vaster plot? The responsibility, at least in part, devolved upon him; upon them both. How much he wished it didn't. How much he longed to have time to court Jo-Beth like any small-town suitor. To lay plans for the future without the weight of an inexplicable past pressing upon them. But that couldn't be, any more than a written thing could be unwritten, or a wished-for thing unwished. If he'd wanted any more concrete proof of that, none could have bee had but the scene that awaited him beyond the door of Lois Knapp's home.

Jo-Beth was told someone had come to see her. She went to the door and met Howie. Howie wanted to know who all these people were. All these actors. Where did they come from? Re these Lois's friends?

“They sure are,” she said.

Benny, one of the Patterson children, came over and said hello to Howie. Benny wanted to go outside and play ball. Howie said it was dark out there but Benny didn't agree. Howie asked Benny what his real name was, but Benny said, “Benny. Always was.” He headed for the bright night with his mutt that was always at his side on television.

Then Howie was offered a drink. He told Jo-Beth he had no clue as to what was happening. Did she?

“Yes. This is because of last night. What your father did... All these people... all of them were at the Mall last night. Whatever came from your father --”

“Keeyour voice down, will you? They're staring at us,” Howie replied.

Jo-Beth denied that they were staring. She told Howie not to be paranoid. But Howie insisted. He could feel the intensity of their gazes: faces he'd only ever seen in glossy magazines or on the television screen, staring at him with strange, almost troubled, looks.

“What are you trying to do, Howie? Keep all these people to yourself?” Howie denied this, but Jo-Beth went on. “I don't want to be a part of the Jaff --” Howie cautioned her, but she continued, “He may be my father. Doesn't mean I like it that way.”

The room had fallen entirely silentat the mention of the Jaff. Now everyone in the room – cowboys, soap-opera stars, sitcom folks, beauties and all – were looking their way.

“Oh, shit,” said Howie, softly. “You shouldn't have said that.” He scanned the faces surrounding them. “That was a mistake. She didn't mean it. She's not... she doesn't belong.. what I mean is, we're together. She and me. We're, together, see? My father was Fletcher, and hers... hers wasn't.” It was like being I sinking sand. The more he struggled, the deeper he sank.

One of the cowboys spoke first. He had eyes the press would call ice-blue. “You're Fletcher's son?”

“Yes, I am,” Howie said.

“So you know what we're to do.”

Howie suddenly understood the significance of the stares hed been garnering since he'd entered. These creatures – hallucigenia, Fletcher had called them – knew him; or at least thought they did. Now he'd identified himself, and the need in their faces couldn't have been plainer.

“Tell us what to do,” one of the women said.

“We're here for Fletcher,” said another.

“Fletcher's gone,” said Howie.

“Then for you. You're his son,. What are we here to do?”

“Do you want the child of the Jaff destroyed?” said the cowboy, turning his blue eyes on Jo-Beth.

“Jesus Christ, no!”he reached out to take hold of Jio'Beth's arm but she'd already retreated from him, slow steps towards the door. “Come back,” he said, “They're not going to hurt you.”

From the look on her face his words were scant comfort in such company.

He started toward her, but his father's cr4eatures weren't about to let their only hope for guidance go. Before he could reach her he felt a hand snatch at his shirt, and then another and another, until he was entirely surrounded by pleading, adoring faces.

“I can't help you,” he yelled, “Let me alone!”

But they gathered more and more tightly around him. Though they were dreams, they were solid enough and forceful enough to hem him in. He cursed at them and demanded that they give him room. The only trick that worked was to duck down and tunnel his way through his admirers,. They followed him out into the hallway. The front door stood open. He sprinted for it like a star besieged by fans, and was out into the night before they caught up with him. Some instinct kept them from coming after him into the open, though one or two, Benny and the dog Morgan leading, followed, the boy's shout – “Come back and see us some time soon!” pursuing him like a threat down the street.

Part V chapter 7

Tesla was thrown backward by the bullet and knocked down, looking up at the stars. She heard a commotion, and a shot, followed by shrieks from women Raul had told her would be gathering about this time. But what interested her was an ugly spectacle above her: a sick and brimming sky about to drown her in tainted light. She wondered if this was death. Then she lost consciousness.

The second shot had been fired at Raul. It missed and he had to throw himself aside to avoid another, giving Tommy-Ray time to dart out of the door he'd entered through into a crowd of women. He parted them with a third shot aimed over their veiled heads. Nuncio in hand, he headed off down the hill to where he'd left the car. The woman's companion was not giving chase.

Raul took off his shirt and clamped the bundle to her wound, called women to help take care of her, then took off after Tommy-Ray.

Tommy-Ray was in sight of his car when his foot slid from beneath him. “My face!” he said, hoping to God he'd not damaged his looks. He could hear the sound of the ugly man following him down the hill.

He scrabbled for the gun but it had skidded some distance from him. The vial was there beneath his hand, however. He picked it up. It was warm in his bloodied palm. There was motion behind the glass. He grasped it more tightly, and the fluid glowed between his fingers. It pushed against the walls of the vial then broke between his fingers and raced up his arm.

He wanted to be the Death Boy and it was granted to him. His very tissue rotted off his frame, leaving a skeleton. But this was a mere vision. When it was gone, he stared down at his bloody palms. The man pursuing him had stopped at a distance to stare at him. There were a few drops of Nuncio left, not enough to return to the Jaff. But he could return as transformed by it.

Raul reached the broken vial and placed a finger in a broken shard. Nuncio crept up his arm to the elbow. He realized that if he tried to gather it then it would all go to him. He wanted to use it to help Tesla recover, but to do that he'd have to bring her down here to the Nuncio rather than gather it up and bring it to the Mission.

He returned to the Mission. The women had set their candles all around Tesla. She looked like a corpse already. He told them to wrap her and help him carry her down the road a little way. She wasn't heavy. It was a slow process, stumbling in the darkness, but having been twice touched by the Nuncio, Raul had no difficulty finding the spot again. He took her and set her down next to the Nuncio shards. He turned her head towards the vial. At her proximity the fluid inside had begun a firefly dance

- - - - - - - - - -

Tesla found herself in a gray, featureless place where she aw without any sense of how she'd come to be there. Even her own name was beyond her. But she heard scratching. Her name came back to her first, heard in the hum from outside. Then she remembered the bullet and its pain, the grin of Tommy-Ray, Raul, the Mission and Nuncio.

What might it make of her?

At the last possible moment, Raul doubted the wisdom of this medicine, and reached to take Tesla out of the way of the Nuncio's touch, but it was already leaping from the shattered vial towards her face. She inhaled it like a liquid breath. Around her head the other drops flew towards her scalp and neck. She trembled and then stopped.

“Don't die. Don't die,” murmured Raul.

He saw that her eyes were roving wildly and thus she was still alive.

- - - - - - - - - -

She expected to awaken with the walls of the Mission in rubble around her. Instead she was laid before a desert. She was being carried over the ground at terrifying speed. She appeared to be pure thought without any body to care for nor slow her down.

A town appeared but she went thought it without slowing. The town had no people and no signs. She was alone, perhaps in hell. Then she saw a tower of steel with wires tethering it. Then, in the distance, a small stone hut. There was a human female in the distance clothed in rags. Her speed as she approached the hut moved from two hundred miles an hour to zero instantly. A serpentine whip appeared and pushed the door open to the hut.

There was an old man in the hut. He ordered her to close the door. She had no strength to do so. He told her to imagine the act. She asked if she were dead. He answered, no.

“The Nuncio preserved you. You're alive and kicking, but your body's still back at the Mission. I want ti here. We've got business to do.”

She was able to imagine and conjure her body. It appeared before her, naked. She was able to turn and close the door.

“So,” he said. “I'm Kissoon. You're Tesla. Sit. Talk with me.” He explained that they were in New Mexico. He explained that he knew about the Art and Quiddity. He told her that the Jaff was once sitting where she was sitting. He admitted he had spied a little on Grillo, but regarded him as unimportant. “You are. You're very important.” He said that Randolph, his name for the Jaff, had come here to this loop out of time, which he had made for himself. He asked if she knew about the Shoal. She didn't.

“It is, or was, one of the oldest orders in world religion. A tiny sect – seventeen of us at any one time – who had one dogma, the Art, one heaven, Quiddity, and one purpose, to keep both pure. This is its sign.” It was a small cross, with a man in its center, spreadeagled. On each of the four arms of the symbol other forms were inscribed, which seemed to be corruption of, or developments from, the central figure.

Quiddity must be preserved at any cost.” Kissoon explained that Fletcher didn't know much and was lucky to achieve the Nuncio, itself merely a shortcut. Kisson stated that he was all alone.

Tesla told him of the woman in the desert. “If you see her again, keep your distance, Kissoon told her. “On no account approach her.”

The conversation continued. Kissoon offered Tesla a compliment about her looks, but she was slightly offended, so he apologized for being clumsy and out of practice. Tesla told him he could go back out of the loop to ordinary reality. Kissoon said he could but can't. She wanted to know why.

“I'm the last of the Shoal. The last living preserver of Quiddity. The rest have been murdered, and all attempts to replace them brought to nothing. Do you blame me for keeping out of sight? For watching from a safe distance? If I die without somehow re-establishing the tradition of the Shoal, Quiddity will be left unguarded, and I think you understand enough to know who cataclysmic that could be. The only possible way I can get out into the world and being that vital work is in another shape. Another... body.”

Tesla asked for the murderers' names, but Kissoon evaded the issue by saying he had suspicions. She asked if any of this was written down.

“You mean, can you research it? No. But you can red between the lines of other histories, and you'll find the Shoal everywhere. It's the secret behind all other secrets. Entire religions were seeded and nurtured to distract attention from it, to direct spiritual seekers away from the Shoal, the Art and what the Art opened onto. It wasn't difficult. People are easily thrown off track if the right scent is laid down. Promises of Revelation, Resurrection of the Body, that sort of thing.”

Tesla thought this was like a pitch, like Kissoon was trying to sell her this whole extraordinary story.

“You can find the Shoal everywhere, if you know how to look. And some people did. There were several men and women down the years, like Jaffe, who managed to look through the shams and the smoke screens, and just keep on digging up the clues, breaking the codes, and the codes within the codes, until they got close to the Art. Then of course, the Shoal would be obliged to step in and act as we thought fit on a case-by-case basis. Some of these seekers, Gurdjieff, Melville, Emily Dickinson; an interesting cross-section, we simply initiated into a most sacred and secret adepthood, to train them to take over in our stead when death depleted our numbers. Others we judged unfit.”

“What did you do with them?” asked Tesla.

“Used our skills to blank all memory of their discovery from their heads. Which often proved fatal of course. You can't take a man's search for meaning away one day and expect him to survive it, especially if he's come close to finding an answer. It's my suspicion one of our rejects had remembered himself, or herself --”
“And murdered the Shoal,” Tesla said, finishing the sentence.

“It seems the likeliest theory. IT has to be somebody who knows about the Shoal and its workings. Which brings me to Randolph Jaffe.”

“It's hard for me to think of him as Randolph,” Tesla said. “Even as human.”

“Believe me, he is. He's also the greatest error of judgment I ever made. I told him too much.”

“More than you're telling me?”

“The situation's desperate now. If I don't tell you, and get help from you, we're all lost. But with Jaffe... it was my stupidity. I wanted someone to share my loneliness with, and I choose badly. Had the others been alive they would have stepped in, stopped me making such a crass decision. They would have seen the corruption in him. I didn't. I was pleased he'd found me. I wanted the company. Wanted somebody to help me carry the burden of the Art. What I created was a worse burden. Someone with the power to get access to Quiddity but without the least spiritual refinement.”

Tesla pointed out that the Jaff has an army. Kissoon said he knew. “Where do they come from?”

“The mind,” Kissoon answered. Tesla quarreled about that, saying it was impossible that everything comes from the mind.

“I didn't say the human mind,” Kissoon amended. He admitted that he was asking a sacrifice from her. She wanted specifics. Kissoon wanted to borrow her body to go out into the world in disguise. Tesla offered to act for him, be his agent. “You brief me, I'll do what it takes.”

Kissoon wasn't satisfied with that. There was too much she didn't know. He doubted her imagination could cope with it. She said she was up to the challenge. “Well, the issue here isn't simply the Jaff. He may taint Quiddity, but it'll survive.”

“So what's the big problem?” Tesla said. “You give me all this about needing sacrifice. What for? If Quiddity can look after itself, what for?”

Kissoon asked for trust.

Tesla reviewed her adult life learning the danger of various men, agents, studio executives and others whom she'd trusted and been used by. It has made her cynical. “No. I'm sorry. I can't trust you. Don't take it personally. I'd be the same whoever you were. I want to know the bottom line.” She accused him of hiding something from her.

Tesla was ready to leave but Kissoon was apologetic. That made her more suspicious. Kissoon admitted he didn't have all the facts. “But I have enough, I hope, to convince you of the danger we're in.”

“Who's we?” asked Tesla.

“The inhabitants of the Cosm.”


“Think of Quiddity as a sea. On one side of that sea is the reality we inhabit. A continent of being, if you life the perimeters of which are sleep and death. Now... suppose there's another continent, on the other side of the sea. As vast and complex as our own. As full of energies and species and appetites. But dominated, as the Cosm is, by one species in particular, with strange appetites. The other place is the Metacosm. That species is the Iad Uroboros. They exist.”

And the appetites?” she said.

“For purity. For singularity. For madness. You were right when you accused me of not telling the truth. I told a part of it only. The Shoal did stand guard at the shores of Quiddity to prevent the Art from being misused by human ambition; bit it also stood to watch the sea...”

“For an invasion?”

“That's what we feared,” Kissoon answered. “Maybe even expected. It wasn't simply our paranoia. The profoundest dreams of evil are those in which we scent the Iad across Quiddity. The deepest terrors, the foulest imaginings that haunt human heads are the echoe3s of their echoes. I am giving you more reason to be afraid, Tesla, than you could hear from any other lips. I'm telling you what only the strongest psyches can bear.”

“Is there any good news?” Tesla said.

“Who ever promised that? Who ever said there'd be good news?”

“Jesus,” she replied. “And Buddha. Mohammed.”

“Fragments of stories, massaged into cults by the Shoal. Distractions.”

“I can't believe that.”

“Why not? Are you a Christian?”


“Buddhist? Muslim? Hindu?”

“No. No. No.”

“But you insist on believing the good news anyway,” Kissoon said. “Convenient.”

She felt she'd been struck, very hard, across the face, by a teacher who'd been three or four steps ahead of her throughout the entire argument, leading her steadily and stealthily to a place where she could not help but mouth absurdities. And absurd it was, to cling to hopes for Heaven when she poured piss on every religion that passed beneath her window. But she reeled not because Kkissoon had scored a solid debating point. She'd taken her lumps in countless arguments, and come back to give worse. What made her sick to her stomach was that her defense against so much else he'd said was forfeit at the same moment. If even a part of what he'd told her was true, and the world she lived in – the Cosm – was in jeopardy, then what right did she have to value her little life over his desperate need for assistance? Even assuming she could find her way out of this time out of time she couldn't return to the world without wondering every moment if in leaving him she'd lost the Cosm's one chance for survival. She had to stay; had to give herself over to him, not because she entirely believed him, but because she couldn't risk being wrong.

“I need to occupy your body,” he said. “Which means, I'm afraid, that you must vacate it.” He sounded like an anesthetist – “This won't hurt. If you just stand still, and keep you eyes on the ground '' It'll be over quickly --”

She wanted to push against the weight of smoke and look directly at him. But it was difficult. At least she was able to catch a glimpsee of him, crooked in every place but one, each joint and juncture a little askew, a zig-zag...

“I can't do this,” she said.

“You must. Give up your body. I have to have the body or the Iad wins. You want that?”


“Then stop resisting. Your spirt'll be safe in Trinity.”

“Where? Trinity? What's Trinity?” Asking this question reduced his power and she was able to break free. Kissoon appeared covered in blood. And a shock wave struck at the door. She saw Kissoon again, but the force at the door got a hold of her and dragged her out. She was reeled back across the landscape at ten times the speed, from an unknown force of great power. But this time she wasn't alone. “Tesla? Tesla! Tesla!”

She knew the voice. It was Raul. She was almost there.

She opened her eyes to see Raul more clearly. There was a wide smile on his face as we went down on his haunches to greet her.

“You came back,” he said. She reached up to touch Raul's face, as much as to be certain she was indeed back in the solid world as for the contact. His cheeks were wet.

“You've been working hard,” she said, thinking ti was sweat. Then she realized her error. Not sweat at all; tears.

She could not figure out if she was healed by becoming the body of herself that she imagined or by the Nuncio. Raul told her that he got a fraction of it also, but the Death Boy got most of it.

“So its us against them,” she said. Raul was profoundly reluctant to leave the mission. Tesla persuaded him because he'd saved her life and because the Mission existed to house and guard the Nuncio which was now gone. Raul argued that the Mission had memories, too. She said there were other memories, new memories. “Now, if you've got people to say goodbye to, say it, because we're rolling --”

Strengthened by Kissoon's lessons and the Nuncio, she was ready for the next day.

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