Saturday, October 30, 2010

TG&SS Part VII Chapters 1 to 3 Synopsis 58

Part VII chapter 1

Presidents, messiahs, shamans, popes, saints and lunatics had attempted – over the passage of a millennium – to buy, murder, drug and flagellate themselves into Quiddity. Almost to a one, they'd failed. The dream-sea had been more or less preserved, its existence an exquisite rumor, never proved, and all the more potent for that. The dominant species of the Cosm had kept what little sanity it possessed by visiting the sea in sleep, three times in a life span, and leaving it, always wanting more. That hunger had fuelled it. Made it ache, made it rage. Made it do good in the hope, often unconscious, of being granted more regular access. Made it do evil out of the idiot suspicion that it was conspired against by its enemies, who knew the secret but weren't telling. Made it create gods. Made it destroy gods.

The few who'd taken the journey that Howie, Jo-Beth, Tommy-Ray and twenty-two guests from Buddy Vance's house were taking now had not been accidental travelers. They'd been chosen, for Quiddity's purposes, and gone (for the most part) prepared.

Howie, on the other hand, was no more prepared for this than any stick of furniture hauled into the throat of the schism. He thought he was going through a loop and then through a lightning storm in the middle of a thunderhead. He conjured Jo-Beth's face. He composed words of love to her. The only thing he envied Tommy-Ray for consisted of the time Tommy had spent in the womb with Jo-Beth and the twins had been safe together as one.

Then he was transported to childhood memories of Chicago. He was running along a pier. But he wondered if this was a pier of pure thought. Tens of thousands of incandescent lights moved in the waters ahead. Howie found that he was glowing himself, like a faint echo of Fletcher's light.

Approaching the end of the pier and its barrier, he realized that this was no lake but Quiddity itself, which would close over his head in a moment.. He wasn't afraid. The barrier flew apart when he touched it, proving it wasn't real. And he fell into the dream-sea. He looked back at the pier, and it was flying apart, too. He had left the Cosm and floating in Quiddity.

Jo-Beth and Tommy-Ray were sucked out of the Cosm together, but their mind pictured the journey in different ways.

Jo-Beth was horrified by leaving the Cosm, but the thunderhead calmed her. It was Momma who gripped her arm as they walked in a soothing twilight with grass underfoot. Momma was singing a hymn. Jo-Beth was telling Momma school lessons to show that she was a good girl. Momma disappeared, the grass turned to sand, she saw lighted boats upon the sea, and then the ground vanished as she fell into the sea.

Tommy-Ray's journey was different. He found himself at Topanga. He was getting a sun tan while girls were laughing. He started walking to the surf, knowing the girls were watching him as they always did. He saw phosphorescence in their skin, which frightened him, but he didn't want the girls to see he was afraid. But he was terrified.. Surfers had fallen from their board from radiation poisoning. He could see their silvery skin in places. Their girls were with them, dead as the surfers in tainted foam.

Tommy knew he had to join them. The shame of turning away and returning to the beach was too much. The poison was already in his system and making his body brighter. Then something brushed his side. It was Jo-Beth. He wanted to hide his fear, but his teeth were chattering. He begged for help.
“You're the only one who can help me,” he said. I'm dying.

Jo Beth said if he's dying, she is too.

Tommy wanted to know how he got there and what Jo-Beth, who didn't like the beach, was doing there.

“This isn't the beach. This is Quiddity, Tommy-Ray. Remember? We're on the other side of the hole. You pulled us through.” She asked him to remember.

He began to sob. Then he held on to her. “Hush,” she said. “Hush. There's nothing we can do.”

Howie, however was enjoying the sea. He floated and looked up at the featureless sky. There were waves of color moving through the air, though like an enormous Aurora Borealis. Seeing things in the sky was as much a matter of feeling as of retina. The sixth sense was sympathy.

Contented, he practiced the basic swimming strokes. The lights around him were too indefinite to be used as markers. He wondered if they were dreaming souls, perhaps infants, lovers and the dying. He put his face in the water and saw lights below him. Some were in groups, rising and falling shoals of lights. He thought of Jo-Beth and warned himself not to be stupefied by it so as to forget her.

He raised his face from the sea and avoided, by moments, a collision with a fragment of garishly colored wreckage from the Vance house. Close by was a large blob that stood four feet out of the water. He climbed aboard it and realized that it was alive. It was two furious beings, Sam Sagansky and Doug Frankl. The structure of comedian and pianist was still sprouting further nodules. He saw other things floating. Planks, the head of a carousel horse, apparently horrified by its predicament, but these things didn't sprout any nodules or grow and coral about themselves, only the living achieved that accomplishment. Howie wondered if Quiddity could grow from the horse's head some island named for the horse's maker? Anything was possible.

Jo-Beth herself realized that she wasn't alone. She was finding it hard to pay attention to Tommy-Ray and his whining. Tommy talked about meeting his father, about going to the Mission. She'd never heard him so articulate as when he talked about being the Death-Boy. He babbled about Andy, a surfer with a tattoo who said he'd go out on the crests at Topanga and die. “He was a coward. He made a lot of noise but he was a coward. I'm not, am I? I”m no momma's boy...”

He starting crying harder, babbling about the Death Boy and killing people. He looked straight at her, “It wasn't me. It was the dead people. I went looking for you, and they followed me. I couldn't shake them off. I tried, Jo-Beth, I really tried.”

Her action wasn't that violent, but it churned Quiddity's element out of all proportion to the size of her emotion. She was vaguely aware that her repugnance was the cause of this; that Quiddity was matching her mental agitation with its own.

“It wouldn't have happened if you'd stayed with me” he protested. “You should have stayed, Jo-Beth.”

She kicked away from him, her feelings making Quiddity boil. “”Bastard!” she yelled at him. “You killed her! You killed her!”

He grappled for her. “Don't leave me!” he started to shout. “I won't let you leave me!”

Enough was enough, Jo-Beth thought. This man might be her brother, her twin, but he was guilty of matricide. Momma had survived the Jaff, Pastor John and Palomo Grove, only to be killed in her own house, by her own son. His crime was beyond forgiveness.

He reached for her again, but this time she was ready. She hit hm across the face once, then once again, as hard as she could muster. His shock caused him to loosen his grip on her, and she kicked and churned the sea in his face. She realized her body was not as sleek as it had once been, but was too busy to look and see why. She never wanted him to touch her again. Once clear of him and danger, she raised her hands an see that her fingers were encrusted, as though she'd dipped her hands in oil and oatmeal; her arms were misshapen with some similar filth. She knew that Quiddity was making her fury solid. Forms were springing from her flesh as ugly as the rage which inspired them.

Days, nights, names, towns or dead mothers meant nothing here.  All that made sense to her was Howie. He was all she had left.

It took a while for her to conjure up his image, but then she did,. She sobbed and begged for help. Save me,” she sobbed, hoping against hope that Quiddity's strange waters carried her despair to him. “Save me, or it's over.”

Part VII, chapter 2

Grillo called his editor at six in the morning. His boss was cranky and suspicious about being bothered at such an hour, especially since Grillo hadn't called for days.

Grillo told him he was going to give him the exact correct story of what happened and the the edits fall where they may. His boss found the idea that life is a movie and that reality can be torn open into another dimension to be preposterous. “Is this a resignation letter?” he asked Grillo.

Grillo asked if he were calling to report a resurrection and a stone rolled away, would his editor report that?

The boss said of course, it actually happened.

“So did this, “Grillo replied, offering proof to come soon enough. He told the editor that there was a memorial party the previous night attended by the royalty of Hollywood. A void to another dimension was opened and a lot of them were sucked into the void, including Buddy Vance's widow, Rochelle.

The editor called him nuts.

“You watch the news through the day. You'll see... there's a lot of famous people missing this morning. Studio executives, movie stars, agents...”

The editor wanted Grillo's location and number so he could check some things and call back in five minutes. Then he hung up.

“I did it,” Grillo said to Tesla. But Tesla thought it was unwise to broadcast this news. “It's been a secret for so long.”

“Yeah, for people like your friend Kissoon.”

“He's not my friend.”

“Isn't he?”

“For Christ's sake, Grillo, you heard what he did --”

“So why do you talk about him with this sneaking envy in your voice, huh?”

She looked at him like he'd just slapped her.

“Call me a liar?” he said.

They quarreled furiously. Tesla was worried and thought Grillo irresponsible. Grillo was jealous of Tesla's spiritual power but thought keeping it secret was more dangerous than letting the news out. Tesla countered that letting the news out would create a traffic jam and tourist mecca right into the maw of the wound in time open to Quiddity. “Didn't think of that, did you?” Tesla shrieked. “And while we're talking turkey, you --”

And the phone rang. It was the editor calling back. All kinds of important people were missing. He wanted a draft story from Grillo in an hour.

Tesla was given the gift of a draft that left out the details and the opening in time. She wanted the time to try to find the Jaff. Maybe he could be talked into undoing the opening. Grillo asked her if she thought the hole can be closed.

“I told you, I don't know. Maybe. I don't have any other answers, Grillo.”
“And what happens to the people inside? The McGuire twins. Katz. The rest.”

“They're probably dead already,” she signed. “We can't help them.”

Grillo admitted he wasn't a big hero. He was thankful Tesla saved his life. But he was still the same man, the man who wanted the story to get out.

“It will,” Tesla said quickly. “It will.”

“But you.. you've changed,” he added.

Tesla agreed. She felt resurrected and not freaked out by it. She felt cool. Fine. Able to walk around in a time loop, and “It's like I was born for this, Grillo. Like I could be... you know what a shaman is? He's a mind-healer. Gets inside the collective psyche and explains it. Stirs it around. I think all the major performers in this –Kissoon, the Jaff, Fletcher, they're shamans. And Quiddity... is America's dream-space. The world's, maybe. I've seen these men,” she added, make a mess of it, because they were all on their own trips, even Fletcher.

“So maybe what's needed is a change of shaman,” Grillo said.

“Yeah. Why not?” Tesla replied. “I can't do any worse than they have.”

“That's why you want to keep it to yourself.”

“That's one of the reasons, sure. I can do this, Grillo. I'm weird enough, and most of these shamans, you know, were a little off in some way. Cross-dressers; gender tricksters. All things to all men. Animal, vegetable and mineral. I want to be that. I've always wanted... you know what I've always wanted.”

“Not till now.”

“Well now you do.”

And she told Grillo she wanted to prowl around and try to find the Jaff. Grillo thought the Jaff might have left after the ghastly party.

“I don't think he's capable,” said Tesla. “The circle's closing. Getting tighter and tighter. Coney Eye's suddenly the center of the known universe.” Grillo added that it was also the center of the unknown. Tesla didn't know that for sure. “I think Quiddity's maybe more like home than we think.”

As they left the hotel parking lot as dawn approached, a grimy man stepped out of the murk and spoke to Grillo. “My name's Witt. I used to have offices in the Mall. And friends here at the hotel. They told me about you.” He said that he was at the mansion when hell broke loose. Now there is no Grove left, people have fled the town in terror.

Tesla told him to get out of town. Things were dangerous and likely to get worse.

Witt refused to leave.
“I've got nowhere to go. Besides, this is my town. If it's going to get swallowed up somehow, then I want to be here when it goes. Even if the Jaff --”

“Wait!” said Tesla. “What do you know about the Jaff?”

“I met him. Tommy-Ray McGuire's his son, you know that?” Tesla nodded. “Well, McGuire introduced me to the Jaff.”

Tesla wanted to know where. “In Cherry Tree Glade,” at a house Witt was inspecting.

Grillo asked if Witt thought the Jaff would go back there? Witt said he felt the Jaff would want to retreat to some place familiar, someplace safe.

Dawn showed Grillo and Tesla a nearly deserted town. There was a pack of domestic dogs roving the streets, having turned into a small scavenging band. Witt recognized the dogs, including Mrs. Duffin's poodles. There were two dachshunds belonging to Blaze Hubbard, the pups of the pups of the pups of dogs owned by a Grover who'd died when Witt was a boy, one Edgar Lott, who died and left his money to be used to put of a memorial to the League of Virgins.

There were other signs of hurried exits. Garage doors left open; toys dropped on the front path or in the driveway. “Everybody knew,” Witt said as they drove. “They knew all along but nobody said anything. That's why most of them just slipped away in the middle of the night. They thought they were the only ones who were losing their minds. They all thought they were the only ones."

Grillo and Tesla debated with Witt over whether the Grove had been chosen as the location for this disaster or whether it was all an accident. Then the house loomed nearby. They checked it but no one was there. At the house across the street, someone had left water running, and it ran down the driveway into the street.

Grillo stared at it. “I think I know where he's gone....The place he knows best in the Grove isn't above ground, it's below.”

Tesla realized Grillo was talking about the cave below the crevasse. It made perfect sense to her. Witt suggested Hotchkiss could help clamber down into the caves. The three of them went to the woods and looked at the crevasse. A terata was near the entrance. Tesla felt they should avoid the terata and not touch it or speak to it. They left to find Hotchkiss. “Do you know where he lives? Asked Grillo.

“I know where everybody lives,” Witt replied.

Grillo instructed Witt to take Tesla to Hotchkiss and wait for him there. He was going to make sure that Ellen had left the Grove,. He left them at the car and started off in the direction of the Nguyen house. Witt stayed with Tesla but was hypnotized by the trees around the crevasse, as if they were calling him back into some shared past.

Part VII chapter 3

Howie didn't come to help Jo-Beth. But the tide did the work, carrying her toward the isle of Ephemeris. There was the beginning of a disturbance in the element that bore her up, but she was ignorant of it. Others were not. There was a subtle but undeniable agitation passing among the souls swimming in Quiddity's ether. Their motion was no longer steady. Some stopped advancing and hung in the darkness. Others took themselves deeper, hoping to avoid the cataclysm that was being whispered. Still others, these very few as yet, went out altogether, waking in their beds in the Cosm grateful to be out of danger. The pleasure of Quiddity outweighed the anxiety.

Howie was thinking of Ephemeris also. His father said it was the location of The Great and Secret Show, which raised more questions than it answered. Then he saw it himself, and it was beyond his expectations. It was not a single land-mass but many, perhaps hundreds of masses, joined by arches of rock, the whole archipelago resembling a vast, floating cathedral, the bridges like buttresses, the islands towers which mounted in scale as they approached the central island, from which solid pillars of smoke rose to meet the sky. This image was surely the subconscious inspiration of architects the world over. It was a dream place somewhere in the back of the human mind that was paid homage to by masterworks that were only approximations, compromises with gravity and the limitations of the medium used. The Ephemeris was many miles across, and there was no portion that had not been touched by genius. It was a frenzy of invention. There was towers as fine as reeds with globes the size of houses balanced upon them; there were sheer cliff faces fluted like shells and canyon walls that seemed to billow like curtains at a window; there were spiral hills; boulders like breasts... A fragment where he'd seen a face was part of another likeness upon a second glance, each interpretation subject to change at a moment's notice. The smoke that rose from so many towers created a haze that prevented Howie from seeing the pinnacles of the towers. But using his own strokes and help from the tide, he was able to reach the shore about 15 minutes after first seeing the island. The shoreline was dark, though not as dark as the sea, and instead of a sand beach there were encrustations like coral. Howie wondered if it was possible that the island was made of many years of encrusted voyagers washed here.

He walked along, always choosing a left intersection as was his habit, staying close to the beach in hopes of finding Jo-Beth. Howie was worried about Tommy-Ray and his phantoms, as well. A greater concern, though, was his sense that something was changing in Quiddity. The wave action was changing, the light of the sky was fluctuating. Something was souring the magnificent tranquility of the place.

Howie's hope to find Jo-Beth was encouraged when he saw flotsam from the Vance mansion, and especially encouraged when he found another survivor. She was standing and looking out to sea. “Excuse me,” he said, “are you the only one here?”

She looked around at him and he got a second surprise. He'd seen this face dozens of times on TV, extolling the virtues of shampoo. He didn't know her name. She was simply the Silksheen Woman. She frowned at him, so he repeated his question.

Yes.” She told him to keep on walking to find them. Then she seemed confused, unable to understand what happened. “Oh,” she added “Do you have any coke? Or pills? Anything?”

Sorry,” Howie replied.

Howie continued along the beach, noticing the increased wave action and changes in the sky. He climbed over some boulders to continue his walk, and in doing so noticed some additional survivors. None seemed able to climb more than a few yards from the sea. The same languor that kept the Silksheen Woman staring out of Quiddity had affected these survivors as well, though some were inert for a different reason. Quiddity had changed them. Their bodies were encrusted and misshapen, as though the same process that had turned the warring guests into an island was underway in them, too. Why were they encrusted and some others, including himself, had stepped out of Quiddity unchanged?

There was one man who wasn't mesmerized by the sea. Howie asked him about other survivors, describing Jo-Beth. But this man didn't know, hadn't seen anyone else, but was fascinated by the towers of smoke. He wanted to climb up and see what he could from as high as he could climb. Howie wasn't interested in joining the climb until the man offered having him come part of the way and getting a better view. “Maybe you'll spot your lady-friend.”

Howie agreed, especially with the unrest he felt in the air. The climber turned out to be Garrett Byrne, an entertainment lawyer whose swim in Quiddity had encrusted his left hand badly. But he still wanted to climb. Howie was willing to go part of the way.

Tommy-Ray felt the dream-sea working on him, but he didn't look at the changes, he just let the fury that was fuelling those changes come. Then he thought of the phantoms. Then the wind shifted and he could smell them coming for him. Then he could see wisps of cloud circling around him as the sea worked on him to make him heavier. His face itched furiously. He couldn't deny responsibility in Quiddity. There were no lies or pretenses here. As he swallowed water and sank into the sea, knowledge flooded him. There was an evil coming worse than anything he had ever imagined. It was called the Iad, and it was darker and more murderous than anything in the universe.

He was returned to the surface. The cloud of ghosts was gone because they had become part of him. He took a breath and laughed. He then brought his remade, heavy hands to his face. He had taken on the shape of his own soul.

Howie and Byrne climbed for several minutes, Byrne getting more and more enthusiastic about the towers. Having only one hand available, Byrne repeatedly slipped, but he didn't complain. Howie had no trouble keeping up, because he paused frequently to look down to the beach for signs of Jo-Beth. The journey was increasingly perilous, as the bridges they crossed got narrower and the formations steeper. As they climbed, there were fewer and fewer spirits in the air.. Howie saw a formation of them in a single sinuous line, like a bright snake. Genesis couldn't have been more misguided, or misguiding, he thought, to picture the serpent crushed beneath a human heel. The soul was that serpent, and it could fly. That sight brought him to a halt and to a decision. “I'm not going any further,” he said.

The figures on the shore were barely recognizable at this height, anyway. Byrne asked if Howie wanted to see what's up there, and Howie said he did, but it could wait for another time. Howie knew there would be no other time this side of the death-bed.

I'll leave you, then,” Byrne said, and without a good-bye continued his climb.

Howie scanned the beach. There was the Silksheen Woman. There were the survivors he'd talked to. And there was a new person stumbling ashore. Her hair shone, even at this distance. It could only be Jo-Beth. It looked as though every step she took was an agony.

He immediately started down the way they'd come, the rock marked in several places by splashes of Byrne's blood. After ten minutes of descent, he looked back to see if he could spot the man, but the heights were dark and, as far as he could see empty.

When he turned back downward, there was something to see. The man was standing two or three yards lower down the slope. The multitude of wounds he'd collected on is way up were nothing beside his newest. It ran from the side of his head to his hip, and it had opened him up to his innards. “I fell,” he said simply. He said he'd come down of his own accord. “I'm larvae now,” meaning ghost. Spirit.

It was a long drop, but it ended well. I don't think anybody ever died on the Ephemeris before. That makes me one of one. I can make up my own rules. Play it any way I like,. And I thought I should come help Howie.” He was speaking with calm authority. “You have to be quick. I understand a lot of things suddenly, and the news isn't good.”

Something's happening, isn't it?”

The Iad,” Byrne said. “They're starting across Quiddity.

What are Iad?” Howie asked.

Evil beyond words,” Byrne said, “so I won't even try.”

Going to the Cosm?”

Yes. Maybe you can get there ahead of them.”


Trust to the sea. It wants what you want.”

Which is?”

You, out.” Byrne said. “So go. And quickly.”

I hear.”

Byrne stood aside to let Howie pass. As he did so he took hold of Howie's arm with his good hand. “You should know... what's on the mountain. It's wonderful.”

Worth dying for?”

A hundred times.” He let go of Howie.

I'm glad.”

If Quiddity survives,” Byrne said, “If you survive this, look for me. I'm going to be wanting words with you.”

I will,” Howie replied , and began down the slope as fast as he was able, his descent veering between the ungainly and the suicidal. He ran down to the beach and along the beach. When he thought he was in hailing distance, he called her name. But there was no answer. Running closer, he called her name again. “Jo-Beth! It's me! Jo-Beth!”

This time she did hear, and she looked up. Even with several yards between them he could see clearly the reason for her stumbling. Horrified, he slowed his pace, barely aware he was doing so. Quiddity had been at work on her. The face he'd fallen in love with at Butrick's Steak House, the face from the sight of which he dated his life, was a mass of spiky growths that spread down her neck and disfigured her arms. There was a moment, one he'd never quite forgive himself for, in which he wished she wouldn't know him, and he'd be able to walk on past her. But she did; and the voice that came from behind the mask was the same that had told him she loved him.

Now it said, “Howie... help me...”

He opened his arms and let her come into them. Her body was feverish, racked with shudders.

I thought I'd never see you again,” she said, her hands over her face.

I wouldn't have left you.”

At least we can die together now.”

Where's Tommy-Ray?”

He's gone,” she said.

We've got to do the same,” Howie said. “Get off the island as quickly as possible. Something terrible's coming.”

She dared to look up at him, her eyes clear and blue as ever. He held her tighter, as if to prove to her and to himself that he'd mastered the horror. He hadn't. It was her beauty that had first taken his breath away. Now that was gone. He had to look beyond its absence to the Jo-Beth he'd later come to love. That was going to be hard. He looked away from her toward the sea. The waves were thunderous.

We have to go back into Quiddity,” he said.

We can't!” she said. “I can't!”

She didn't want to go back into the water that disfigured her. He insisted, telling her they would die if they stayed. “Maybe that's for the best,” she said. But Howie argued about that.

The sea'll kill us anyway. It'll twist us all up,” she said.

Not if we trust it. Give ourselves over to it,” he answered.

Howie knew that the sea was no longer tranquil. But there was no choice.

Jo-Beth wanted to stay. She wanted to die on Ephemeris together with Howie. “ – even if we got back I couldn't live like this.”

Stop crying,” he told her. “And stop talking about dying. We're going to get back to the Grove. Both of us. If not for our sakes, then to warn people... There's something coming across Quiddity. An invasion. Heading home. That's why the sea's going wild.”

The commotion in the sky was also violent. There were no spirit-lights. Every last dreamer had forsaken the journey and woken.  He envied them the ease of that passage.  Just to be able to snap out of his horror and find yourself back in your own bed. Sweaty, maybe; scared, certainly. But home. Sweet and easy. Not so for the trespassers like themselves, flesh and blood in a place of spirit. Nor, how he thought of it, for the others here. He owed them a warning, though he suspected his words would be ignored. “Come with me,” he said to Jo-Beth.

Howie warned them but none were roused from their languor. None wanted to risk the angry sea. “It's now or never,” he said to Jo-Beth. There was resistance in her body and her expression. “Trust me,” he said.

She didn't answer him, but she didn't fight to stay on the beach. A distressing docility had come over her. Howie hoped that Quiddity would leave her alone this time,. He was worried about his own trip into Quiddity, since he wasn't as calm and unworried as the previous swim. There was an urgency to this, and he could feel it and sense it in his own past, though the specifics eluded him. It didn't matter.

Whatever the Iad were, they brought pain; relentless, unendurable. A holocaust which every property of death would be explored and celebrated but the virtue of cessation, which would be postponed until the Cosm was a single human sob for release. Somewhere he'd known a hint of this before, in a little corner of Chicago. Perhaps his mind was doing him service, refusing to remember where.

The waves were a yard ahead, rising in slow arcs and booming as they broke.

This is it,” he said to Jo-Beth.

Her only response – one he was mightily grateful for – was to tighten her hold on his hand, and together they stepped back into the transforming sea.

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