Bedtime Stories*

The moment I turn out the light, exhale the day, the chatter starts, chatter that rattles me wide awake when all I want is to sail off to sleep. So I use a trick: superimpose another conversation, one of my choosing, something sweet natured, healing, a fantasy, to bump the chatter. But one winter night, as the chatter is about to be bumped, something else grabs me and I slip through the crack between the worlds and am gone.

I meet a shaman near a pool in the desert. He looks like a pueblo Indian from the Southwest, but I know this is a mask. The landscape — a Sonoran desert/painted canyonlands combo — is a custom job crafted, no doubt, by rascals. Whoever, whatever, is behind the mask and wherever we are are not at issue. I’m where I’m supposed to be and, thankfully, there’s no chatter here.

The shaman tells me to jump in the pool and swim through a tunnel to another pool where he’ll meet me. I do, and he does.

The shaman points to a lake in the distance and says we’re going to walk there. This time we set out together. I expect the walk to be long because the lake is far away, but our travel goes quickly and all at once we’ve arrived. I think to myself: Either I badly misjudged the distance or we passed through a wrinkle in time.

No space, no time here, the shaman responds to my thought.

At the lake I see a very large fish break the surface of the water with its back, then dive down under again. I say “fish” yet know this is a marine mammal. It’s too large to be a dolphin and too small to be a whale. I wonder what it is.

This is a creature time left behind, the shaman says, again reading my mind. And the lake is an evolutionary museum. Other such creatures are in the lake, he adds. And they’re not all aquatic.

What is this creature called? I ask.

It has a name — everything does — but there is no language for it, the shaman answers. This paradox perplexes me, one of the mounting number of things here that do. I am already out of my depth and don’t pursue it.

I do wonder how many species live here, if “live” is even the right word. And — wondering further — if the museum is an extinction archive, as the shaman indicates, are its exhibits nothing more than otherworldly taxidermy, or do seeds of life lie dormant like sleeper agents, awaiting the signal to reactivate? Can the exhibits — the creatures — be brought back to life as I know it? And if they can be, under what circumstances would they be? Should they be? This time, the shaman doesn’t catch my thoughts or, if he does, ignores them.

We remain at the lake. I watch for a while, whatever that means in a timeless realm. But all that rises is a humbling thought: If we humans don’t get our act together on Earth, we’ll soon end up a museum exhibit too. Assuming we’re worth exhibiting.

A small breeze flutters yet doesn’t break the surface tension of the lake. Another thought rises: The lake may not be water. The lake is not water. Things here, it’s becoming clearer and clearer, are not necessarily what they seem. The shaman too is still: keeping nothing hidden, giving nothing away.

We stand and I stretch. The shaman leads me along a path to a small cave higher up in a forest overlooking the desert and lake. The cave walls are light colored, and big, soft cushions blanket the floor. It’s an appealing place, not damp or smelly or claustrophobic like most caves are or you’d imagine a cave would be. Yet again, things are not what they seem.

This is a dream cave, the shaman says. Help finding dreams is available here. His wording strikes me as off: is that an invitation? I don’t pursue it. He says nothing about sleep. Nevertheless, mentally I add this to my list of bedtime tricks.

We are at the lake — suddenly, again — where along the short I see an oak-like tree decked out with what look like Christmas lights. This tree wasn’t here before, I’m sure of it. Did it just materialize, I ask myself, or have we been gone from the lake longer than I realized? Long enough for a tree to grow? But as soon as I formulate the questions, I know they’re the wrong ones. I am making progress.

Such trees have powerful medicine, the shaman says.

What happened? I ask. I know instinctively that the tree, though next to the lake and not in it, is another museum exhibit.

They were cut down by people who feared what their medicine implied about the nature of the world. And by those who were mindless takers. He is matter-of-fact in his indictment.

But before I can consider his answer, I fall asleep.

>>>   >>>   >>>   >>>   >>>

I have no contact with the shaman for six months. He returns unexpectedly one summer night and takes up where he left off. I wonder — there I am wondering again — what “six months” means to a timeless being in a timeless realm.

We go to a different part of the desert landscape with the lake. This area is volcanic, with lava flowing over hilly ground. But the lava isn’t red, it’s liquid sunshine, molten gold.

The lava isn’t hot, the shaman says. No heat from the ground, none from the sky either. You can’t get sunburned in this desert because there is no sun.

Abruptly he stops to listen.

This is just a story, the shaman says.

We are at the lake. I am getting used to the abrupt disjunctions. I am no longer wondering why.

A special energy is kin to the lake, the shaman says. That energy feeds the creatures in the museum. It also protects them by fencing them in: they can’t stray because the energy beyond the lake doesn’t support them.

Abruptly the lake and surrounding shore glow lemon yellow.

That’s it, the shaman says. The special energy.

I cannot help what happens next, the human need to know basic as breathing.

Is the yellow…is it light from within the planet? From the Earth? I ask. I’ve seen that before but it looked different, like little lightning bolts erupting from the ground.

No, he says slowly, this isn’t Earth Light because this isn’t Earth. A subtle smile ripples his lips. However, he adds, more soberly now, the museum is linked to Earth.

Where we are now — I pause, feeling the enormity of what I’m about to ask — is this…the Twin Earth?

Noooo, he says even more slowly, drawing out the word. He looks surprised, as if I’m getting ahead of the lesson plan.

But I can take you to the Twin Earth, the shaman says. And I will. When it’s time.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

>>>   >>>   >>>   >>>   >>>

I am at the dream cave, dreaming. I am climbing a mountain, already high up; the air is thin and my chest hurts, my breath coming in rasps. As I crest a rock outcropping I see before me in a hidden bowl a small lake the color of emeralds. I walk down to the lake and sit at the shore. It is peaceful here — still, silent — in the way of the wild, the way that humans have, for the most part, lost.

I let go of my edges and everything around me takes me in. I am subsumed, minimized yet enlarged in a space of no-space. And this is how I become aware of movement at the center of the lake: I feel it as if it were a nerve firing in my arm or a blood cell coursing through a vein or a thought zipping along the byways of my temporal lobe, and that feeling signals where to direct my eyes and other sensory equipment. A radiant beam is rising from the center of the lake, linking its depths to the heavens. It glows lemon yellow, like the special energy at and around the evolutionary museum.

Hop aboard, the shaman says. I am not surprised to hear his voice and know just what he means. Einstein was said to have visualized what the world would be like if you rode a beam of light through the universe, and that may be true. But I am not visualizing anything and perhaps neither was he.

I do as the shaman instructs.

Suddenly I wake up but I’m not in bed.

>>>   >>>   >>>   >>>   >>>

It looks nothing like what I imagined: the Twin Earth. I expected a Garden of Eden — an expectation freighted with assumptions. But what I’m perceiving doesn’t fit that frame, not even close. This is not a mask. Now that I’m subsumed, I can see, can experience, directly.

The shaman, my tour guide, is at my side.

Follow me, he says simply. I nod my head in acknowledgment, unable to form thoughts, no less speak them. I am listing to the right, my ground gone; but then there’s no ground here.

I look around. We are in an unbounded realm that first appears featureless. I don’t know how I know it’s unbounded, but it is and I do. Then — aligning — I become aware of a network of filaments shot through the no-space; subtle starbursts of color that flow, throb, pulse, flutter, undulate, in patterns I cannot parse; a luminosity I know is alive — is life — and not just life on Earth.

This is a repository, the shaman explains. Like the evolutionary museum. The museum holds things that once were manifest: what humans call the past. The Twin Earth holds things that may yet be: what humans call the future. He furrows his brow. Yet the museum exhibits can be re-animated and the potential of the Twin Earth may never be realized.

Elements of time in no-time. Elements of space in no-pace. Okay then. I furrow my brow too.

I expect him to elaborate but he does not. The exposition is left hanging as we, in the present, so-called, continue on.

I perceive misty blue-gray forms; some of them morph into humanoid shapes, but I don’t require that mask or any other any longer.

They come from the Realm of Gentle Song, the shaman says. The Song regulates the state of the Sleepers within the Earth through its tones. I know the word “song” here goes beyond ordinary understanding.

I become aware of a strange form difficult to describe: like a spiral on the outside and a honeycomb on the inside. I don’t know how I see the outside and inside all at once, or how my mind grasps the complexity, but I do and it does.

Two very different structures in two very different dimensions, the shaman says. The Realm of Stories, he adds and leaves it at that. I know the word “stories” goes beyond ordinary understanding as well.

I see, next, a golden net. At certain intersections within it there’s a “drop of water” that contains an entire world.

The Realm of the Golden Template. No further commentary. We move on.

Two pale, disc-like shapes catch my attention. I sense a relationship between them, a tidal pull.

What about these? I ask telepathically in the first communication since my arrival here.

The Realm of Two Moons, as you might have guessed from the image, the shaman says. Where polarities are unified and the split between them healed.

I see a snake swallowing its tail — the oroborus — an ancient alchemical symbol. Ah, I think, integration.

The shaman continues recounting bits and pieces about more Realms: of Recomposition, an Underworld forge that transmutes differentiated energy from one form to another, and of the Great Cycle, which manifests undifferentiated energy. Of the Boomerang (instant karmic payback); the Rainbow (interlinked, interpenetrating diversity); the Golden Circuit (a super-rapid flow of connectedness moving through the architecture of the Golden Template). Of Holy Crafts and the Silver Flow, and the even more mysterious sounding Bone Elders and the One-Again, about which no information was given beyond names.

>>>   >>>   >>>   >>>   >>>

I am at the dream cave, dreaming. I see two small children. They are somehow familiar.

Those are your descendants, the shaman says. Well a pair of them. They’re waiting for just the right moment to ride that beam of light…you know, the one Einstein —

Yes, I say, I know. The moment the Sleepers awake.

>>>   >>>   >>>   >>>   >>>

I turn out the light at the end of a long, tiring day. I need no tricks to sail off to sleep tonight. The crack between the worlds is like a revolving door but with a difference: when you go ’round and pop back out, you’ve transcended your starting point, spiraled to another level where there’s yet another revolving door…

Sleeping, waking, dreaming, walking between worlds: one space with myriad doorways and nary a door among them. In my Father’s house are many rooms, many mansions… And in my Mother’s house, the great beating heart of the world.

>>>   >>>

*A proto-version of this story may be found in The Shards.

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