Chapter 1: Waking Up is Hard to Do

Day One

“You don't find light by avoiding the darkness.”

S. Kelley Harrell


Squatting in the shadows behind the Dunkin Donuts on Washington Boulevard sat a small, dirty man in ill-fitting, unmatched clothes. His hair was long and foul, a salt and pepper riot of matted roots that were thick and wild, knotted and curious. He stank. The sick, sweet tang of urine and the eggy rot of unwashed flesh. The smell diverted late night pedestrian traffic in a wide arc that repelled them out towards the boulevard, away from the thin alley separating the Dunkin Donuts from the adjacent gas station. He ignored them. His eyes sat deep in their sockets like cold, wet, stones. A rash of thin scars covered his arms, zigzagging between jagged, crimson stones that emerged from his forearms and flickered in the headlight glow of passing cars.

Half-lidded he watched the empty space where the sun had set hours before and the sky melted into the flat, black Sarasota Bay. In one brown hand he held a coffee that lost its warmth and in his other hand he flicked a dry, plastic lighter. On the side of his thumb was a callous, fat and hard, from decades of mindlessly worrying at Zippos, Bics and cheap gas station lighters.

Ichtaca was waiting. There was some part of him that is always stretching to get a better view, probing the energetic currents and eddies for the inevitable event that meant it was time to move.

When the pull came it was a hard tug he felt through the stones in his arms. It made him grunt and he almost dropped the coffee. Then a warm creeping sensation tickled his skin traveling upward through his shoulders then cascading down his torso, causing a spasm in his belly.

Excitement and panic boiled through him. He exhaled, closed his eyes to remove distractions, and pushed his will out into the air where he found a thick rope of energy vibrating like a guitar string. He focused on that thread, taking hold of it in his mind and memorized the vibration frequency. He felt it with all of his senses to deepen the recall, drinking it in and rolling the flavor across his tongue then swallowing to make the energy part of himself.

Another visitor had made the leap.

He rose from of his squat, poured his remaining coffee into the dirt and rolled his shoulders to loosen them. The source of the pull was distant but he could make the trip if he moved fast and fed as he traveled. He took a deep breath, shook out his legs and began slowly jogging north, looking for a car to steal.

Billy woke to a chill Autumn breeze on his face and an aching pain in his chest. He kept his eyes shut, sank deeper into his sleeping bag and concentrated on taking slow, shallow breaths to minimize the pain.

His body was stiff from laying overnight on the hardwood floor and the ache in his chest was a surprise. The only sounds came from traffic passing distantly at the head of the driveway. From the direction of the breeze and the sounds he could tell the window on the far side of the room was open. Otherwise the room was silent, which meant Beth was still asleep. If she was awake he’s sure she’d be chatting with the shaman and his assistant or prodding him awake, eager to discuss the experience. He was thankful that he woke first because it gave him time to process his thoughts, which were sluggish and dreamy.

He wondered if the pain in his chest was a side effect of the ceremony, some physical reaction, amplified by lingering hallucinations. Despite the breeze he could feel the warmth of the sun slowly baking the room. He survived the night and he’ll survive the day. He was calm and remained floating in a half-wakened state, disconnected from his body but settling into awareness.

Someone nearby was burning leaves and he inhaled, enjoying the traces of woody smoke as they filled his senses. He was pretty sure burning leaves was illegal and he smiled at the sign of rebellion. It was a minor tragedy that a municipality would make illegal something like burning leaves because a few people have allergies. Should we remove all trees and flowering plants because they induce sniffles? Perhaps dogs shouldn’t be allowed in public? The smell of burning leaves in Autumn was something that shouldn’t be denied a child growing in the Midwest.

A childhood memory surfaced of diving into piles of freshly raked leaves. The babble and laughter of neighborhood children as they ran through the piles, scattering leaves and infuriating his father. The feeling of lying deep in the piles looking up at a pale Autumn sky eviscerated by clouds.

His mouth was dry, his tongue caked and swollen from dehydration. He smacked his lips and yawned, feeling the strain across his chest.

The night was been interminably long and more profoundly challenging than he expected. He was glad it was over and hoped Beth had a better experience than his own. There were no great insights into his life, no deeper sense of connection to the world. He knew she’d be disappointed.

Images surfaced at random in his mind: a massive primordial tree with a tangle of branches that bled color and dissolved into a spinning kaleidoscope of geometry, a naked man with the head of deer, his antlers expanding and weaving into a jungle canopy that constricted and collapsed into a claustrophobic cave filled with enormous black grubs. He poked at the images, trying to connect them to something in his life and he comes up empty. Perhaps that was the connection to his life. An empty promise of unfulfilled potential.

He wanted a tall glass of water, a coffee and something to eat. A shower would wait. He eased his eyes open, letting them slowly acclimate to the light and stared at the ceiling where a fan hung silent and still.