Sunday, November 7, 2010

TG&SS Part VII Ch 8 Synopsis 66

Part VII chapter 8

Howie, Jo-Beth and Grillo made it out of the Loop right at the detonation. A light blossomed behind them, but they didn't look back. They kept going as long as they could and then collapsed. When they feared being burned by the desert, they got up and walked out to the nearest outpost of civilization. Grillo left the two young lovers at a deserted garage along the highway. He found a ride himself, and after a considerable time, find a small town where he bought a beaten-up truck with the entire contents of his wallet, including his credit cards. He headed back to the deserted garage and picked up Jo-Beth and Howie. Then he drove them to Ventura County as they slept in the back in utter exhaustion.

They got back to the Grove at dawn the following day, but gaining access was impossible. The authorities who had been so slow negligent (or, as Grillo suspected, complicit) in not defending the Grove against the forces erupting in its midst had now, with the collapse of those forces, become obsessively cautious. Grillo didn't argue, he turned around when he saw barriers, heading along the highway until he found a place to park, and slept. When he awoke, the bed of the pickup was empty. The lovers were on an incline, resting and basking in the sun.

The transformations made upon Howie and Jo-Beth by Quiddity were already in retreat. Their hands were no longer fused, the bizarre forms that had remade their faces had burned away in the sunlight, until they were no more than marks on once flawless skin. With time they too would probably disappear. What he doubted would ever fade was the look in their eyes when they met this gaze: the stare of two people who had shared an experience nobody else I the world had shared; and had become, in that sharing, possessed by each other. More than a minute spent in their presence and he felt like an intruder. The three of them talked briefly of what was wisest to do now, and concluded that staying in the vicinity of the Grove was best. They made no mention of events in the Loop, or in Quiddity, though Grillo burned to ask what it had been like to float in the dream-sea. With rough plans laid, Grillo went back to the truck and waiting for them to come down. They came after a few minutes, hand in hand.

Many had observed Tesla's relocation of a part of the Vance mansion. Observers and photographers parked on the hill and hovering above in helicopters saw the facade grow smoke, become transparent and finally vanish entirely. With part of the house gone, the rest succumbed to gravity. There were twenty-two witnesses.

The weirdest of the witnesses even claimed to have caught a glimpse of the destination, a white horizon and a bright sky where dust blew around. Nevada, maybe, or Utah. For a few of the witnesses, the haunting thought occurred that the country was too big, too full of open spaces that could swallow part of a mansion.

The steady destruction of Palomo Grove by opening sink holes and crevasses continued. Whole neighborhoods were made inaccessible and were flattened by shock waves from the wood of the pond-making crevasse, which itself disappeared in its entirety, leaving smoking earth in its place. One hill moved south two hundred yards, the houses shifting also. The other hills were similarly effected, ruining houses and flattening the geography. The entire area was deemed unstable for six days. No one got in and fires raged unattended, destroying a large part of the property which the ground had not overturned or swallowed. A relatively untouched neighborhood was half destroyed one night by fire; the other half was destroyed the following day.

The day after the fires went out, Grillo came back. He'd been resting and sleeping. His sleep was not peaceful. Scenes replayed themselves continually – Ellen Nguyen featured strongly as did her son, sitting on his bed playing with Balloon Men. Rochelle Vance, the good man Fletcher, the Jaff and Witt made guest appearances. So did Witt's dead body, face down in the water.

But starring in Grillo's restless dreams was Tesla, who had smiled without even saying good-bye. They'd not been lovers; not even close. In a sense he'd never quite understood what he felt for her. Love certainly, but of a kind difficult to express; perhaps impossible, making mourning her loss equally problematic.

The sense of unfinished business between Tesla and himself kept him from returning the many calls his editor left on his answering machine. The story itched and itched to be told. Tesla in the end had acceded to letting the story out, but that was only because she knew the world was coming to an end. It hadn't and she herself had died instead. He felt honor-bound to keep his silence. In spite of this commitment, he returned to view the continued destruction of the Grove out of profound morbid curiosity.

After the fires and continued earth slides, few had sought to return, so it was easy for Grillo to slip through the sloppy barriers and look around. The taste of smoke was almost sweet in Grillo's mouth. He knew too much about the Grove to be sentimental, though. It's worst sin had been hypocrisy. It had gone on its blithe, sunny way willfully concealing its secret self. That self had sweated out fears, and made reams real for a while, and it had been those fear and dreams, not Jaffe and Fletcher, which had finally torn the Grove apart. The Nunciates had used the town for their arena, but they'd invented nothing in their war that the Grove had not already nurtured and fed in its heart.

Grillo found himself wondering if he could tell the story of the Grove without violating Tesla's edict. Tell the story in a poetic mode. But he knew he'd come to the Grove a literalist and nothing it had shown him dissuaded him from the cult of the reportable fact.

He made a circuit of the town, making mental notes of the sights he saw even though he knew he couldn't use them. Then he slipped out again, unchallenged, and returned to L.A., and to more nights filled with replayed memories.

Jo-Beth and Howie did not have the same experience. After the dark night of the soul on Quiddity's tide, they spent their nights that followed, back in the Cosm, without dreams; at least, they were remembering nothing afterward.

Howie wanted to go back to Chicago immediately. But Jo-Beth insisted on staying until her mother was identified or given up and, if possible, a Christian burial was offered her. The two of them were able to heal each other quietly at a motel in Thousand Oaks. The marks that Quiddity had left upon them soon receded into memory. A distance grew between them that neither encouraged or intended but neither could prevent. They were haunted by the cataclysms their love had spawned. Guilt began to weigh on them as they waited in Thousand Oaks, its influence growing as they healed, and came to realize that unlike dozens, perhaps hundreds, of innocent Grovers they'd emerged physically unscathed.

The seventh day after returning from Kissoon's Loop, the morning news reported that search parties were going into the Grove. It had been a big story, especially since the rest of the Valley had suffered only a few tremors and some cracks in the freeway. There was no news mentioning the weird evaporation of part of a mansion, and the witnesses had kept quiet under government pressure.

By the end of the day, a large number of survivors were back in town, looking to salvage keepsakes and souvenirs from the wreckage. A few were lucky, but most weren't. For every Grover who came back to an intact house, there were six who returned to splintered rubble. The Mall and its immediate area was the least damaged. This allowed the murder investigation of two bodies in the pet shop to begin immediately, though it was never solved. Many other shops could have opened with little more than a dusting off.

The grim business of recovering bodies began in earnest. Dogs and sound-sensitive equipment were brought in to establish whether anybody was left alive. Both efforts drew a blank. Retrieval was a grisly task, and may who'd lost his lift was not found. After a week's search, forty-one of the town's members were unaccounted for. The earth had claimed them, then closed over their corpses. Or else the individuals in question had slipped away into the night, taking this opportunity to re-invent themselves and start afresh. One of the latter group, so rumor went, was William Witt, whose body was never recovered but whose house, upon investigation, was found to contain enough pornography to keep the Combat Zones of several cities supplied for months. He'd had a secret life, had William Witt, and the general suspicion was that he'd chosen to go and live it elsewhere.

On the second day of the search Joyce McGuire's body was found in the ruins of her house, which had sustained considerably worse damage than any of the surrounding property. It was taken for identification, as were the bulk of the bodies, to a makeshift mortuary in Thousand Oaks. That onerous duty fell to Jo-Beth, whose brother would be numbered amog the missing forty-one. Identification made, arrangements were begun for her burial. Pastor John survived the leveling, having left the Grove the night of the Jaff's attack on the McGuire house. He hadn't come back till the dust had settled. It was he who organized Momma's funeral. Only once in that time did he and Howie cross paths, and Howie was quick to remind the pastor of the night he'd blubbered beside the refrigerator. The Pastor insisted he remembered no such incident.

“Pity I haven't got a photo,” Howie said, “to jog your memory. But I've got one up here.” He pointed to his temples, on which the last traces of Quiddity's reconfiguration of his flesh was fading. “Just in case I ever get tempted.”

“Tempted to what?” the Pastor asked.

“To be a believer.”

Momma McGuire was consigned into the embrace of her chosen God two days after that exchange. Howie didn't attend the ceremony, but was waiting for JO-Beth when it was all over. They left for Chicago twenty-four hours later.

Their first hint that the adventure of Cosm and Quiddity wasn't over came to them half a week after they got to Chicago. At their doorstep was a tall, handsome-gone-to-harrowed stranger who introduced himself as D'Amour. He told Howie he'd like to talk to him about what happened in Palomo Grove.

Howie wanted to know how they had been found. “It's my job, finding people,” he replied. “You may have heard Tesla Bombeck mention me?” Howie didn't think so.

“Well, you can check with her.”

Howie reminded D'Amour that Tesla was dead. “So she is,” he remarked.

Jo-Beth joined the group and listened to the conversation.

“It's like a full moon every night,” D'Amour said. “A lot of people are acting very strange. The suicide rate's doubled since the Grove Breakout. There's riots in asylums across the country. And I'd lay money we're only seeing a little part of the whole picture. There's a lot being kept under wraps.”

“Who by?”

“The government. The church,. Am I the first one to find you?”

“Yes,” said Howie. “”Why? Do you think there's going to be others?”

D'Amour assured him that others would come looking for Howie and for Jo-Beth. “I haven't come here to accuse you of anything. And I'm sure you deserve to be left in peace to get on with living. But it's not going to happen. That's the truth. You're too important. You've seen too much. Our people know it, and s tho theirs.”

“Theirs?” Jo-Beth said.

“The Iad's people. The infiltrators who kept the army at bay when it looked like the Iad were about to break out.”

“How do you know so much about all this?” Howie wanted to know.

“I have to be a little careful about my sources just at the moment, but I hope I can reveal them to you eventually.”

“You make it sound like we're in this with you,” Howie said. “We're not. You're right we do want to get on with living our lives, together. And we'll go wherever we have to – Europe, Australia, wherever – to do that.”

“They'll find you,” D'Amour said. “The Grove brought them too close to succeeding for them to give up now. They know they've got us spooked. Quiddity's tainted. Nobody's going to have many sweet dreams from now on. We're easy meat, and they know it. You might want to live ordinary lives but you can't. Not with fathers like yours.”

It was Jo-Beth's turn to express shock at his words.
“What do you know about our fathers?” she asked.

They're not in heaven, I know that,” D'Amour said. “Sorry. Bad taste. Like I said, “I've got my sources, and very soon I hope I can reveal them. In the meantime, I need to understand what happened at the Grove better, so that we can learn by it.”

“”I should have done that,” Howie said softly. “I had a chance to learn from Fletcher, but I never took it.”

“You're Fletcher's son,” D'Amour said. “His spirit's in you. It's just a question of listening to it.”

“He was a genius,” Howie told him. “I really believe that. I'm sure he was out of his mind on mescaline half the time, but he was still a genius.”

“I want to hear,” said D'Amour. “Do you want to tell me?”

Howie stared at him for a long moment. They he sighed, and with a tone very like surprise said, “Yes. I think I do.”

= = = = = = = = = =

Grillo sat in the 50's Cafe on Van Nuys Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. He was trying to remember what enjoying food felt like. Somebody came in and sat down opposite of him. He raised his head to request privacy, but instead, he said, “Tesla?”
She was dressed as usual, in a flock of ceramic swans pinned to a midnight-blue blouse with a red bandanna and dark glasses. Her pale face had glitzy lipstick.. Her eyeshadow, when she slipped her glasses down her nose, was the same riotous shade. “How are things?” she asked.

Grillo admitted he'd gone back to the Grove a couple of times. Ellen Nguyen hadn't been found nor her son. Grillo had gone through the rubble personally to look.

“Want us to look for her? We've got contacts now,” Tesla answered. Then she said there was a mess back at her apartment including a body to deal with. A lot of difficult questions. “But we've got some influence now, and I'm using it.”

“What is this we business?” Grillo wanted to know.

Tesla explained that she had acquired Raul's spirit in the hut on her way out of the Loop. Was he freaked out by that?

He shook his head. “Weird, but no. I'm cool.”

Tesla was pleased and said, “...I've still got you. I'm the great imponderable in your life.”

“It's a plot.”

“You don't like it?”

Grillo smiled. ”It's not bad,” he said.

“Don't be coy,” she said. She took hold of his hand. “We've got some times ahead, and I need to know you're with me.”

“You know I am.”

“Good. Like I said, the ride's not over.”

“Good. Where'd you get that from? That was my headline.”

“Synchronicity,” Tesla said. “Where was I? D'Amour thinks they'll try New York next. They've got footholds there. Had them for years. So I'm gathering half the team together, he's gathering the other half.”

“What can I do?” Grillo said.

Tesla started talking about Omaha, Nebraska. The Omaha post office. It's where the Jaff got his half-witted idea of the Art. But he only got a piece, not the whole solution. “Even Kissoon didn't know what the Art was. He had clues, but only clues. It's vast. It collapses time and space. It makes everything one again. The past, the future and the dreaming moment between... one immortal day...“

“That's where we start,” she said to Grillo. “That's where all the lost mail of America ends up and it may have some clues for us. People know stuff, Grillo. Even without realizing it, they know. That's what makes us wonderful.” They write it down and send letters out and some end up in Omaha. She said she'd wait outside for him as he paid the bill.

He did and she was.

= = = = = = = = = =

D'Amour didn't leave until late in the evening, and when he did he left two exhausted storytellers behind him. He took copious notes, flipping the pages of his pad back and forth as he tried to make sense of the way fragments of information related to one another.

When Howie and Jo-Beth were talked out, he gave them his card with a New York address and number on it, scrawling another, private number on the back.

“Move as soon as you can,:” he advised. “Tell nobody where you're going. Nobody at all. And when you get there –wherever it is – change your names. Pretend you're married.”

Jo-Beth laughed.

“...People don't gossip about married folks. And as soon as you've arrived, call me and tell me where I'll be able to find you. I'll be in contact from then on. I can't promise guardian angels, but there are forces that can watch out for you. I've got a friend called Norma I'd like you to meet. She's good at finding watchdogs.”

D'Amour left to drive back to New York. He disliked to fly.

The small apartment reeked of D'Amour's cigarettes and Howie wanted a walk. Jo-Beth went with him. The fresh air lifted their spirits. “There was a lot you told D'Amour that I didn't know,” Jo-Beth said.

She meant the things on Ephemeris, Berne and what he saw in the tower. Jo-Beth would like to see for herself. The route they were walking took them down to the Lake. It was windy.

“Aren't you afraid of what Quiddity could do to us if we ever go back?” Howie asked.

“Not really. Not if we're together.” They were both sweating, as they did when they first met at the steak house in the Grove.

“We're both desperados now,” Howie murmured..

She reminded him that Quiddity had joined the two of them together. “We have to be true to that.”

“Marry me?” he said.

“Too late. I already did.”

It wasn't Lake Michigan they saw as they looked out into the night, it was Quiddity. It hurt, thinking of that place. The same kind of hurt that touched any living soul when a whisper of the dream-sea touched the edge of consciousness. But so much sharper for them, who couldn't dismiss the longing, but knew Quiddity was real; a place where love might found continents.

It would not be long before dawn, and at the first sign of the sun they'd have to go to sleep. But until the light came – until the real insisted upon their imaginations – they stood watching the darkness, waiting, half in hope and half in fear, for that other sea to rise from dreams and claim them from the shore.

The End

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