Will opened his eyes to the ground shooting upwards at him. Face first he tumbles, his wrist cackles. Shoelace looped around the ankle. Hm… I landed on the grass this time, he admires. Halfway around the Earth a young man – aged 16, born in Daejon – falls on his face at the same time with a hole in his head, after the Budo League finally deems him an enemy of the state. Execution style. Will immediately looks down, unties the loop around his ankle. Here it comes. A school bus rumbles past the house slowly, slams on its breaks two doors down. The wind cries out; morning paper rustles on the front step. It reads: “Caltech Man Defends Weinbaum”. Subtitled: “Dr. Linus Pauling Shocked by Arrest of the Scientist”. Child pitched shouts, angry shouts, filter through the bus windows. Yellow and black. Game of Death. Doors kick open. Will’s still lying in the grass. Nausea sets in.
The bus driver comes out the door gripping the collar of a small black boy, yelling and cussing at him. He throws the boy to the pavement face first, spits towards the child, slams his door shut and motors off almost hitting the milk man; the boy begins to cry. Never gets any easier to watch. Will picks himself up and helps the boy to his front door, still opened. “Jus’… aggh.. Just get inside, Ter-.. I mean, son. I’ll be in in a minute”. The boy – scraped, cut, bleeding, and drenched in tears – explains his name is Terrence, and that his momma made him do it and he didn’t mean nothin’ by it. Will believes him, though it’s hard to hear through his violent vomiting into the perfectly sculpted driveway side shrubbery. Pull. Breathe. Push. Heave. Neighbors who haven’t yet left for work stand on their front steps, gawking at the ordeal; some shake their heads in disgust. Drown out the sympathies. The next-door – James F. Blake: slimy, liar, local meat packer, closet sexual deviant – bellows his way over the property line, yells at Will for what he’s done, what he’s doing. “Go home and fuck off, Blake.”
Inside Will cleans Terrence’s wounds with a fresh sponge over the kitchen sink. The blood is bright, it swirls symmetrically down the falling water, round the sink and through the drain. The boy closes his eyes to shield the sting, it isn’t helping. Will tells him he’s going to go pack a bag, that he’ll be right back, and to look out the window. The boy, helpless and puzzled, nods. “Out the window??” Keep your chin up, kid. Terrence pulls his head up and opens his eyes. Seconds later a small blue bird, majestic really, slowly perches on the sill. It stares through the glass at the boy motionless, Terrence stares right back. Tears stop. It taps its beak twice, head cocks side to side. It leaps into the thick air and flaps away.
Meanwhile Will enters the bedroom, wife Janis sleeping quietly, sheltering an unborn boy. He kisses her forehead, brushes her curly hair back. She rolls to her side, he kisses her stomach. He instinctively grabs an old photo of his deceased father – dated 1932 – from his dresser and two changes of clothes. He stuffs them into an old duffel, puts on a hat, and rushes back to Terrence who’s since finished cleaning his wounds. White fences outside cold shoulder red fences. If not worse. Brigadier General Ralph W. Zwicker is summoned for questioning by the subcommittee. Badgered and hurried. Will’s fence looks almost pink in the morning sunlight.
“I’m taking you home to your momma, Terrence”, as they step out and lock the door. Blood and bus driver spit reflect off the pavement. And they say these streets are clean? Will opens the door for the boy, helps him inside his new, cream Ford Consul.
During the drive to Terrence’s folks’ house – out east past Mathiston – Will would tell the boy how much he appreciates being able to help him like this to the sounds of “Rocket 88”. Delta cats smile somewhere. Terrence, once again puzzled, nods. Will would explain how his Dad died when he was very young, and he hardly remembers him. But he’s trying to “change all that”. As they pull up the dirt path and get out of the car, he asks Terrence if he likes his father; “I don’t know my daddy”, the boy mumbles.
********** ********** **********
Will hitched a ride from a west Texas man named Rex. He was to drive his pick-up no farther than Vegas; Will took it. Near Quemado on Interstate 60, Rex slams on his breaks. A sleeping Will awakes. A procession marches across the road at dawn, some sort of holy ritual for the Sun Father. Has it beens weeks? Months? Years? Entranced, Rex and Will pull the truck to the side of the road, get out. They follow the group into the morning desert. Mountains to the west, sunrise to the east. They walk for miles, never thinking of turning back. Through valleys, up hills, all the way to a lake floating satisfied somewhere on the western border of New Mexico. A group of masked people stand on shore, waiting for the group to arrive. When they do, Rex and Will stop atop a hill far away. Darkened figures on the horizon.
The drum hits become a part of the aural landscape. The group circles slowly. Blue twists to amber. 500 years of experience. Without warning, one of them walks in the direction of Will and Rex. He steps onto a boulder and raises his arms at the pair, motioning to come down the hill to the shore. Wide eyed and speechless, they follow.
The man who summoned them wears a large brown, white, and blue mask that resembles some unnameable animal face. Si Wa Wata. The shaman, the elder, the one. A green moss beard connects ear to ear around his chin. He has horns, black and pointed, with feathers calm in the morning air. Just don’t look into the sunlight.
The drums change rhythm: more upbeat, louder. The shaman dances inside the circle. He makes his way to Will and Rex, stops. He stares into the men’s faces through his mask, they cannot look away. He begins reciting a prayer as he grabs Rex’s hand and leads him to the middle of the circle. Rex’s eyes turn opaque, a darkened gray. “Łuptsinna Łashik’i m’inl ik’ Ya’dok’ya!!”, the shaman’s chant fills the lake. Vultures cock their heads to the sound, entrails dripping from their beaks. The lake opens, as it begins to sparkle from the rising Sun. The Father. Rex breaths in the burning. Body stiffening, twitchy. “Łuptsinna Łashik’i m’inl ik’ Ya’dok’ya!!!”, the elder repeats. The Sun peaks over the hill, hits Rex in the face. Eyes wide and pupil-less, he collapses. Shaking and drooling. The drums stop as four men carry him to the water; the lake swallows Rex with a gulp. Si Wa Wata turns attention to Will.
The circle encloses, tightening. Remember what happens, trust yourself. Si Wa Wata dances towards Will. Same ritual: the elder grabs him by the hand, leads him to the middle chanting his prayer over and over. “Łuptsinna Łashik’i m’inl ik’ Ya’dok’ya!”, he exclaims, “Łuptsinna Łashik’i m’inl ik’ Ya’dok’ya!!!” Will’s eyes begin to turn. He envisions himself on a terrace built into the side of a mountain hovering among the clouds with a man dressed in black and black sunglasses. The man in black squats down to a knee, grabs one of Will’s wingtips. Stay conscious. Over the balcony an army of centipedes and snakes struggle to scale the mountain side, many losing grip and flailing to the Earth below. The man in black removes his glasses and looks up at Will, “They can’t touch you. You’re safe here.” At the lake shore Will rolls his eyes into his head as the shaman slaps back his forehead to face the Sun Father. Drums stop. A single blood stream trickles out of Will’s nose, he leans over and coughs. His eyes grow back to normal, pupils, hazel and all. The Zunis cheer with delight, and one by one congratulate the alum.
As the song and dance – Rex’s healing process – begins, the one called Si Wa Wata pulls Will aside in the slanted light. “Come”, he says. Will, aghast by the sudden English, walks with him halfway up the hillside. They sit together speechless, admiring the lake and the group below, the low Sun hitting their backs. Only looks more and more beautiful. “I didn’t know y’all spoke English”, Will admits. “Only some”, explains the elder, “In 1848 government made Rez here. Traders soon come, encourage my people to trade sheep, cattle, corn, for many things. They had to learn English, survive. You see? We are better out Español.” He asks what Will saw in his vision, Will tells him. Si Wa Wata warns of a future crisis hitting Will’s family. The shaman lifts his hands to see: the Great Disease, a frozen cadaver, an eldest son, and a medical conference. He senses a journey never ending. He offers his advice. “Trust instincts. Follow the soul light. The Gods watch you, heal you. Never look back, always forward. After today you are one of us. Good luck, my son.”
********** ********** **********
Will sat cross legged on a bench reading the May issue of the MedTech Journal. Page 18 offers a multi page interview with virologist Jonas Salk on his progress with a polio vaccine. “We are getting awfully close to a safe and effective vaccination…” At the Convention Center across the street the fraternity of medical researchers gathers for the 8th straight year. Yes, yes. This is right. A good looking Englishman – James Lovelock – breaks the gaze: “Excuse me, sir. May I sit?” Will’s exhausted and disheveled. Lost in his own tapestry of memories, each thread weaving into another over and over and over again, he nods. Dr. Lovelock sits. A public bus stop at the end of the block triggers Terrence and his mother. Alluring brown eyes stare dead ahead, “I know who your father is. And he’s alive Will.”
At the Bevonshire Lodge, south, a man in a brown suit with brown gloves and a brown hat slips a sharpened blade into his coat pocket. He flattens out the plastic wrap on the floor with his boot. First aid tools lay out neatly on a white cloth. Motel room shades pulled shut. Silver tooth, scarred face. The man locks the door behind him.
Dr. Lovelock’s engaging Will in honest and real conversation, Will doesn’t give a shit. What am I doing here again? “Well I’d assume you’re part of the medical community, sir.” How did you hear that?? Afternoon light shifts to evening light. After introductions, Lovelock goes on about his work; Will only hears background noise until Lovelock mentions his experimental Gaia Hypothesis. Just the sound of that word, “Gaia”, peaks Will’s interest, though he has no idea why.
Man in brown plucks a manila envelope off a cafe table from a PhD named Carrick who’s sipping on coffee. Waiting for a light, man in brown reads the parameters: White male. 5’8” – 5’11”. Medium build, up to 190. Hair: Brown, curly/wavy… on and on. Pages worth.
Back on Figueroa St. Will queries on the specifics of this so-called “Gaia Hypothesis”. “It’s almost more a philosophy than a hypothesis,” Lovelock explains, “put simply, it proposes that the Earth, physical and non-physical components alike, interact seamlessly just as a complex single organism does.” Will is suddenly fixated, hanging on every word. Even the buildings behind Lovelock contort to frame him neatly as he continues. “Remember Will, evolution is a tightly coupled dance, with life and the material environment as partners. From the dance emerges the entity Gaia.”
Man in brown is panicking at the prospect of letting his employer, Carrick, down for the second time in a month. He trailed a lone tourist for blocks, never made a move, eventually the target hopped into a cab. He’s walking back to his hotel room, head low. He spots a man in a white robe filling a bucket at the ice machine. It’s Will, staying in room 121 at the Bevonshire Lodge. In his head, man in brown scans the parameters from the envelope he’d since memorized. Ding-ding. He continues past and moves around the corner. A small, unlabeled bottle of clear solution comes out of one pocket, a medium sized syringe out the other. Sweat beads collect on his upper lip. He fills it three quarters full, flicks it quickly and again pockets it. He comes back around the corner and approaches Will, ice bucket just about filled.
“Excuse me, sir. Eh, what room are you in?”, man in brown asks with a familiar accent. “Oh yeah. I’m jus-”, with one quick up-stroke the man whips out a sharpened blade from under his coat and slices upwards, splitting open Will’s stomach horizontally. Will drops into a pile of fresh ice on the tile. Man in brown immediately covers Will’s screaming mouth with his left hand, swaps the knife for the syringe with the other, and injects Will with all of it. Within seconds he’s out cold: partially from shock, mostly from the shot. Man in brown drags Will back to his room leaving dark red steaks on the tile. He patches up the gut just as efficiently as a doctor would.
Within hours an unconscious Will is sitting nude in a folding chair, hands bound, at the whims of the good doctor Carrick. The room is freezing. Large stainless steel drawers line the walls. It is dark save for a few scattered lamps spotlighting a mess of notes and data.
Dr. Carrick studied under the Cryonics Society of New York before transferring to the California chapter. He received an official PhD from the Society for Cryogenics, specializing in “cryopreservation and applications”. Seven months ago he abruptly withdrew, hired Bromst – man in brown – , and began work on his new project: living and deceased subjects of all kinds cryopreserved for study, specifically for both prevention and treatment of infectious disease. Will’s features happen to fit the requirements for Carrick’s next subject. He’ll be subjected to preservation alive, though the process will surely kill him.
Bromst lifts Will into a drawer labeled “L 17”. In that row, one through sixteen are labeled identically, but with an X’ed out “L” and a written in “D”. Every last one. Will’s mind, suspended in limbo, replays past and future experiences melded together as one. At his college graduation ceremony he sees Rex’s face giving a routine commencement speech. At the house he grew up in he’s reaching for a glass of milk his adult son poured him. Inside the drawer all is dark at almost negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Within 2 hours blood vessels contract significantly. 7 hours: cellular metabolic processes shut down. 14 hours: major organs fail. 15 hours: clinical death occurs. 15.2 hours: brain death occurs.
********** ********** **********
Will is standing somewhere familiar. A social situation. A cocktail party, on a balcony or terrace high off the ground. Bonsai plants all around. There’s a jazz band – stand up bass, grand piano, drummer, and trumpet/sax – playing out of the corner. Instrument cases overfilled with years’ worth of coins and bills. A variety of faces constantly come and go; Will recognizes some, others he does not. He spots himself in a mirror behind the bar and breathes a sigh of relief while touching his own face. He searches his pockets to find nothing. He orders a drink, whiskey on ice, and strolls carelessly through the crowd. He imagines his wife’s round face on a woman in a sexy red dress. She’s obscured by the shoulders of a tall man; he moves, and that face he loves, he loved, is gone.
“Just can’t seem to figure it out, can ya’ Will?” A gentle, polite hand lands on Will’s shoulder. Will turns to see the handsome face of a grinning young man, with an eyebrow raised behind a pair of black sunglasses. No… no, I… This place though. I… Who are you? “A relative, Will. HAahahaha!! Now listen. You’re here because you tried to save your son. Again. And it didn’t work.” My son? But, my son hasn’t even been born yet… “He has here. Everyone’s been born, lived, and died here. Time’s a phenomenon that eventually becomes obsolete, Will. But I start getting into metaphysics witch’u we’ll be here all night. Day. Whatever.” Will’s squinting at the man, mind moving at the speed of light. Connect the dots.
“Hey man, I used to play that game!”, man in black’s face turns serious in an instant, “sources say your first born son will acquire the Great Disease of man. As of now, the way things play out, there’s never a cure or even preventative measures, only grueling treatment. You’ll go to a medical conference in Los Angeles. A whacked out loony named Carrick will find you. Oddly enough, he’s showing the greatest possible percentage of developing a cure or prevention technique.”, he lights up a cigarette and offers Will one, “Your memory of me, the band, ALL this, will fade soon enough. It starts with a school bus-” A school bus? “Yes Will! A school bus, you know what a school bus looks like don’cha? It’s gonna stop near your house, this always varies by about 500 feet and we’re not sure why. The driver will throw out a black boy named Terrence for not moving to the back of the bus, or possibly for being on the bus in the first place. Regardless, you need to help this boy. Help him, and drive him back home to his mother. This is the very first step.” I don’t understand though. A boy… Terrence? Los Angeles?
Man in black squats down onto a knee and grabs Will’s shoe, begins untying it. “You failed, Will. Okay? It didn’t work. We’re gonna do it again until it does. You yourself agreed to this, don’t make me show you the paperwork again. Now, I’m gonna tie your shoe funny. It will give you a reason for falling, and it’ll spark your subconscious of the task at hand. I’m getting real tired of explaining this, so hopefully you’ll remember next time. Then again, hopefully there won’t have to be a next time. Good luck, Will.” No, but… Wait! Who-
The floor evaporates from underneath him. Will tumbles wildly through the clouds, arms and legs flailing. But he does not scream. Around 500 feet he closes his eyes, at 16 feet he opens them.