“Come Exnzpat, come.” But it wasn’t Lilith’s voice I heard. Nor was it Becky’s. Something or someone else was calling me…
“Did you say something?” Becky asked.
“No, it wasn’t me. But I did hear someone calling my name… did you hear something too?”
“Yes. But… but I also heard someone crying…”
I looked at her, surprised. “Crying… that’s weird.”
“Weirder than any of all of this!” she exclaimed. Becky stopped and swept her arm back in the direction we had come.
The view… Whoa!
I turned, and looking, followed her arm. From our position on the ridge I could see a patchwork of sand dunes, forest, beach, scrub, and ocean. But the ocean dominated; cutting the horizon with its hard black edge. In fact, from our height, the water looked dead-black, dead-cold, and especially uninviting. “Beware of the water, exnzpat!” Lilith had warned. Her words made me shiver as I looked at the dark undulating shape stretching away into nothingness. I looked away; back inland. Incredibly, nestled amongst the dunes I could easily make out a square splash of white; it was the pine-board that marked the entrance back into the rental. It felt like we had walked for miles… and yet… there it was. As I stared, I noticed a strange thing; my view of the different terrain types was skewed, at least as far as the delineation points were concerned. With my eyes, I followed the skeleton road from the rental, back along the path to where we now stood. I saw the corps of trees inside which hid the two altar’s bearing the woman and the child, and then closer to where we stood I could see the interred earth and broken skins of the pomegranates where we had eaten and dropped them. What was strange about the scene was how it all appeared partitioned: dunes, woods, ocean. Almost as if it were a quilted division of deliberately contrasting colors cut and laid out in neat clearly demarcated squares. Its layout was not natural. It was too ordered and too structured. If it were a painting it would have been painted by an engineer and not an artist; it was a canvas by design, and not one of nature.
Becky, beside me asked, “–what is this place? What is it – what is it really? Where are we?” she said this last almost as if it were a plea and I wondered if she might become hysterical.
I spread my arms in defeat, “I don’t know,” I admitted. “Lilith tried explaining it. But it didn’t help. I don’t know where we are. Also,” I stopped here and looked her full in the face, and said, “–I’m not who you think I am.”
To my surprise she just nodded. I was about to explain but just then Lincoln’s barking heightened, sharpening to a pitch that surprised us both. We turned to look.
Lincoln stood at the top of the path; his tail wagging back and forth vigorously. He spun a couple of times, urging us forward.
Becky said, “Come on then, let’s see what’s up ahead.”
“Probably more madness.” I muttered under my breath.
“Nothing.” It was then I noticed that Becky was holding my hand. That was odd because I don’t remember reaching for hers.
As we emerged over the ridge-top the electricity in the air became more intense and the pungency of the ozone richer. An overwhelming presence of being filled us. The air was coarse and without mercy. It roved over us and under us. It wrapped its arms about us and hugged us tightly. The strength of it was solid, unbreakable, and like a hard blowing wind, impenetrable.
Becky’s hair fanned out about her head in a dark halo. My own, or rather executionerofthewill’s shorter hair, stuck up like the bristles in a brush. My skin crawled with the magnetism of place — and it was everywhere.
All about us: the stones, the dirt, the rocks, the sand, the scrub, the grass (what scant grass there was); just everything! It was all alive and shifting. Dancing to some unvocalized primordial rhythm – even the air seemed alive. The vibrant hues of the vista before us were blurred and bent; light obscuring light. It was as if we were seeing the world through the bleary eyes of a drunkard who, after a serious night of drinking, was now waking from a heavy stupor. The light was clear, but as if seen distended through a glass half full .
Lilith stood some distance from us. Her gorgeous body pinpricked the scene, but highlighted it also. It was as if it were made for her. The white-capped peaks of the mountains were plainly visible now. They were of a staggering size and reach. It looked as if the very ground itself had been lifted into the air and floated above the surface of the earth. Both Becky and I gasped at the enormity of it all. Lilith turned and looked at us. Her naked nut-brown colored body helped refocus our eyes on our close-in surroundings. She seemed unaffected by the weird music-like vibration of static and energy that was everywhere.
Not too far from Lilith was Lincoln. He stood on his hind legs, as if dancing. He barked wildly; barking to the song of the place. For there was a song: with a theme and a rhythm that came from the earth beneath our feet; but the song – strong in tone and bold in timber — was not content to remain below; and so it exploded upwards, filling the air about us with its melody. In us, the music radiated. It wove its way into our very bodies: our flesh, our belly’s – upward and outward again – it heaved at our throats and shook at our tongues to escape. It was the song of the Sprites! Its rhyme was sensuous in tone, serious in pitch; its theme: MIGHTY AND GRAND! It filled us, and then spilled out of us, only to fill us again! I looked at Becky and saw she was crying. Tears, in huge droplets, rolled down her cheeks. She clung tightly to my hand, sobbing heavily. A great sweat had broken out across my body, fully soaking my dark suit and skin – but even so – I felt dry to the touch. An emotion of joy overtook me. A feeling I did not at first recognize – for so very long I had been without it. I too began to weep.
* * *
Using Lilith and Lincoln as focal points I was able to draw my eyes away from the grand vista beyond and take in our closer surroundings.
The top of the ridgeline was a rough dirt plain that stretched for only a few hundred yards in all directions. It fell away on all sides, giving way to a heavily wooded forest. It was actually a hilltop with its top cleared and flattened. The forest fringed the hillside as if it were a crawling host of beetle’s intent on some malevolent purpose of its own making. I liked the look of the forest about as much as I liked the look of the ocean.
Sitting squat and center in the flattened plain was a wide stone dais. The symmetrical shape of the dais was in stark contrast to the wildness of the world presented before us; it seemed to have more in common with the patchwork world that we had just left behind. There was nothing engineered or manmade about the massive mountain range that appeared to hang, anvil-like, so far above our heads, or the untended and roguish forest that wrapped around us, and neither the cruel brittle ocean behind us. The dais was a center-point and a counter-point to all of it. It fitted neatly between the wild and the tame: a resting place, a safe place, a haven.
The dais was three steps in height and looked very much like a shortened miniature model of a flattened Mayan temple; atop this dais stood a man.
* * *
He was shortish, five-five perhaps. But at this distance it was hard to tell. He wore no hat and had long white hair which was slicked back and combed tightly to his head; a coarse stubbed beard graced his jowls; the cut was deliberate, but in no way professional. His clothing consisted of a faded red tunic that ran from his shoulders to his ankles; so faded in fact, the color was almost pink. In his right hand he held a staff. “Made from the trunk of the Rose bush.” It was Lilith mind-speaking, breaking into my head.
I felt Becky’s grip on my hand tighten and she pulled me towards the man. We were still on the path, for it led directly towards the stone dais but disappeared beneath it, as if tunneling into the earth, no doubt reappearing on the other side of the dais, just as straight and as unbroken as before.
“Come exnzpat, the apothecary waits.” Lilith said again in my mind.
* * *
“Did you feel that?” Becky sobbed, wiping at her tears.
“Yeah, that was weird.” I managed to say through my own sobs. I felt the odd sensation again. It was as if hot sandpaper was being rubbed against my skin, a sharp pinch, almost.
“Ow!” Becky shouted loudly, letting go of my hand.
“Son-of-a…” I began, slapping at my left shoulder where I had been “touched.” Becky did the same, only slapping at the back of her legs.
There were things moving about us — and between us even!
The two of us slapped at the invisible touching things. It was as if we had walked into a swarm of mosquitoes or the infamous “noseeum” bugs of Alaska. We slapped, spun, and danced our own dance towards the man on the dais. This explained Lincoln’s behavior. He must be experiencing the same thing. While wildly slapping, twisting, weeping, and punching at the air about me I watched Lincoln jumping, standing, leaping, and biting at the empty air about him — same tune — different theme. The invisible touching and pinching was affecting us all – well – all of us except Lilith. Lilith, impervious, regal, and statuesque now stood on the stone dais next to the man and watched us with amusement. Her lips upturned slightly in a smile. And then, in what I think was the most extraordinary thing I ever saw Lilith do, she looked at me, and seeing I was looking at her, turned her left wrist towards her face and tapped at it with her right index finger. The “modern” universal signal for “hurry it up.” I say this was extraordinary because by her very nature, human but un-human, such a modern every day, symbolic and nonverbal gesture, from such a creature as She was truly at odds with my experiences with her so far. Hurry-it-up, she was saying. Hurry-it-up; and even through my tears and my emoting, vibrating body — with a pinch and then a SLAP! I found myself smiling too, though it probably came out as a grimace. With twists and turns and flying hands, Becky and I made our way towards the stone dais, as did Lincoln. And all the while, in my head, I could hear Lilith speaking to someone. Not to me, or the man beside her either, but someone or something else. The conversation was one-sided, — like listening to someone talking on the telephone; and I could only hear Lilith’s side of the conversation. To this day I’m not sure whether I was supposed to hear any of it at all. I don’t think so… I think Lilith simply forgot to tune me out.
“Leave them be!” Lilith said, “–they are not of your business.” A short silence followed while Lilith, presumably, listened and then replied, “–they are here because I bring them here. We are in search of the sacred texts of Wormwood’s creator, Scudamour. This is not your business — take your host and be gone. We have business with the apothecary.”
“I care nothing of you or your business. It is not mine.” Lilith said this last hotly. And again, “…your business can wait! Do you not see the child that our Master has chosen as companion to the Seeker?”
“Yes, you see now. Take your host Michael, and be gone! We will leave the apothecary well.” And just like that the conversation ended; and just as suddenly, the “noseeum” bugs stopped biting as well. We three: Becky, Lincoln, and I, found ourselves at the base of the stone dais. Becky, tear-stained and grubby-faced, grinned at me and we both burst into laughter. We surely must have been a sight! Lincoln bounded up to me and happily put his giant paws on my chest, almost pushing me over. I wrestled playfully with him, as I had done in happier times. He licked at my face and then almost immediately jumped on Becky. Becky knelt back heavily in the dirt to accommodate his weight. Lincoln must have weighed at least 130lbs, so it can’t have been easy for her. Lincoln licked at her face but her smile was draining fast. It was too soon. She was not ready for this yet. She had only been conscious for an hour or so. She was certainly in no position for this kind of rough-housing. Her eyes momentarily rolled back into her head, showing the whites.
“Becky…?” I asked, suddenly concerned.
I went to her. Her face paled, and then faded to white. Weakly she tried to push Lincoln aside. He was hurting her, but he didn’t mean to hurt her. I pushed him down and admonished him. He growled uneasily at me, and stared, first towards me, then back towards Becky. Dogs can sense human pain; of this I’m sure – but Becky’s malaise had overwhelmed her so quickly and so completely that Lincoln did not recognize it soon enough. I lifted Becky up and sat her on the first step of the stone dais. Lincoln kept close to her side, supporting her. I petted him and told him I was sorry for yelling. He was a good dog; he always had been.
The dais consisted of three massive stone slabs, one atop the other. They were smooth cut, but light chisel marks were evident on close inspection. It was the first sign of intelligent construction in this world that I had seen so far. And then I thought of the altars upon which the mother and her child slept. Obviously there were intelligent peoples living here, or at least, once upon a time, otherwise who or what could have carved such perfect shapes? My imagination took a little side-trip, thinking of Mayan Temples. Human sacrifice! Hastily I looked about, but only the old man was in sight. He stepped carefully down from the top step and came toward us. If Lilith had spoken with him I had not seen it. Lilith herself had disappeared over the top of the dais and to Lincoln’s credit he remained with us and did not follow her. As the old man approached, Lincoln bounded up to him; stopped, put his tail and ears down in submission, allowing the old man to pet him; then trotting lightly at his heal, accompanied the man the rest of the way down to us.
Becky looked as if she were about to faint again, I held her upright as gently as I could.
“Are you Okay?” I asked softly.
“I think so… I’m not sure.”
“I guess this guy is the apothecary. Which I hope means doctor.”
Becky nodded, as if she understood and leaned heavily against me; her eyes fluttering weakly.
The air and earth had lost its magical rhythm. No longer did the dirt and little stones dance about us. The electricity and ozone that had recently filled the ridge had now completely dissipated. Becky’s hair subsided from its octopus gape and I felt the prickle of static drop away from my body. Lincoln walked about us and then sat beside Becky on the first step; he licked at his nose sheepishly.
“Hello, can I be of help?” the man asked, behind me.
“Are you a doctor?” I asked, looking up at him. His eyes were kind, but set into a face that was far older up-close than had been apparent from a distance. He looked to be in his late eighties, but he carried himself well. Obviously he was a man who valued physical fitness and bodily strength. He was, surprising for his age, quite fit and hearty. In his face I saw an honest and good man.
Gently he took my place at Becky’s side and bid me to bring him water. Stupidly I stood there not knowing where to look and after a few seconds of examining Becky’s bruises and the matt of blood which had dried to her hair — he realized I was still standing there, “up there,” he said, indicating to the top of the dais with his hand.
I left them and walked up the two steps to the top of the dais. It was wide and smooth. Not granite but more of a smoothed sandstone to the touch, its color was grey. In its center was a pool of glistening water. At its edge, Lilith sat, her legs dangling in the pool. She waved girlishly at me when she saw me.
Lincoln followed me up. But I stopped him, indicating that he should stay with Becky and the apothecary. Happily he trotted back down the steps towards the two and I turned and walked over to Lilith and the pool of water.
It was odd looking pool with deep streaks of dark green emanated from its depths at the far end. It was rectangular in shape and was intricately tiled. The motive on the tile was a red butterfly with skinny wings. Lilith sat to my left, her naked back soaking up the last rays of that damnable slowly setting Sun. Her naked legs were sunk, knee deep, in the water. Her bad right leg was completely black now; from her foot all the way to her thigh, it looked like badly hung meat: oily-black and filthy rotten, the tissue clung loosely to the living bone of her leg. Lilith was splashing water over her thigh — I guessed to sooth it. Purple-green tendrils of the gangrenous rot snaked towards her abdomen.
From where I was standing the water was only a few inches deep. I sat and removed my shoes and socks, and then rolled my pants leggings above my knees. I walked towards Lilith, gauging the water depth as I went.
“Your leg looks worse?” I told her.
Lilith cocked her head to the side and answered with her mind, “The water helps.” Then changing the subject asked, “How is your little friend?
“I’m right here, Lilith.” I said out loud, annoyed, “–she needs some water. But I don’t have anything to put it in.” I looked about the dais and saw no container of any sort.
“Really exnzpat, you surely must be one of the dullest and unimaginative of creatures I have yet to meet.” She said, speaking with her voice. I was standing almost on top of her. The water was up to my knees. The pool deepened at the place she sat. I ignored her and looked up. Towards the East, the darkness of the ocean overwhelmed me – and I supposed that the direction of the ocean was East — assuming the Sun was actually setting in the West, as it does back on Earth. But then I realized that these reference points were in name only, and so meant nothing in such a foreign land. So it did not hurt to use them then! So this being the case: the giant mountain range that scrapped the very ceiling of the space above me lay in the South. The corpse of trees that hid the altar’s bearing the woman and her child lay to the North. The trapdoor, as with the setting Sun, lay in the West.
Oddly, I felt better. By giving cardinal points of reference to the things about me gave me a sense of place and ownership. I knew where I had been, and if I ever leave this place I know in which direction I will travel. Child-like, Lilith splashed her feet in the water.
I looked up at the sky above me; directly up. It did not appear to look as a sky should. It was dark and without color. It wasn’t that it was just dark either – it was, but there was more to it – it was empty; completely empty. Hollow is a better word; void of sky, moon, and stars. I found it unnerving to look at, and so looked down and away. From this vantage, at the top of the dais, I could see that the forest that fringed the hilltop was simply the edge of a much greater and denser thing. It was so thick and tangled it was more jungle than forest. It stretched downwards, away from the dais and the hilltop becoming a deep valley. At the valley’s base I caught the glint of water. There was a river down there. On the other side of the river the valley shot upwards into series huge canyon-like cliff face’s that knitted seamlessly into the foothills of the mountain range beyond. The distortion of distance: three of Time, and one of Space, Lilith had said; were most evident when looking at large things across large distances. I felt as if I was in one of those curved mirror rooms at an amusement park. Only, I was on the other side of the mirror, looking out. I shivered, chilled, even though the early evening air was surprisingly comfortable.
At that moment an idea came to me. I stripped off executionerofthewill’s Armani jacket and tossed it into the water at my feet. I knelt and pushed it below the surface. Beside me Lilith smiled. I smiled back. In all the time I knew Lilith, then and later, this was possibly the most genuine human moment she and I ever spent together.
“Not all is lost then!” she said at last.
I hauled the water-sodden jacket from the pool and hurried back to Becky and the apothecary.
* * *
I sat one step up, and watched as the man carefully laid Becky on her side, and using the jacket; squeeze water from it onto the side of her head. Becky was quite pale. The earlier healthy hue that had filled her cheeks after eating the pomegranate was gone. Her eyes fluttered, she managed a weak smile when she saw me looking down anxiously at her.
The man looked up from his work. “I am John, Prisoner of Rome. How are you called?” He was speaking to me; and as he did so he cleaned Becky’s wound. From beneath his tunic he produced a dagger-like knife, and with it, cut gently at the hair about the wound.
“I am exnzpat… of… the …of the rental.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and smiled at my joke. John. A prisoner of Rome, eh, I thought. Well, I guess I wouldn’t have been surprised if he told me he was the Cat-in-the-Hat or the Man-in-the-Moon. Everything about this world was somewhat familiar, and yet so alien. Rome?
“Tell me John; is this place Rome?”
“No. I am a stranger here.” He seemed surprised by my question, and paused for a moment. Something caught his attention on Becky’s scalp; he took a moment to concentrate. After a short minute he resumed the conversation.
“I was about to ask you if this was your land. Your garments are layered and unusual; they are strange to me, and the fabric is of such an unusual texture and quality; I do not recognize it.” Again, he turned back to Becky. He shifted his position slightly to better cradle Becky’s head and to better look at me as he spoke. Becky’s eyes were closed now, and her breast heaved gently; she was asleep. With his free hand he set executionerofthewill’s jacket in his lap, and with the soaking wet sleeve, cooled Becky’s brow. She stirred uneasily.
Softly, the man said, “But nay friend. To answer your question, the Emperor Vespasian considers me an enemy of his people. So I must warn you, I am dangerous company to keep.”
I started at that, surprised. I realized that he was only trying to warn me — to protect me from him – and in this – I saw he was a frank and honest man. Instead of querying him further I told him a little of my own story. “I too am a criminal. I am the most wretched of men – I am a murderer.”
He took me in for a long moment, staring thoughtfully. Gently he stroked at Becky’s head and hair.
“You do not look dangerous – but then… you seem at odds with yourself — as if some part of you were missing or corrupted.”
I thought the old man quite perceptive but held my tongue. Doubtless, if I told him I was wearing another man’s body as well as the man’s Armani jacket and pants, then I suppose I could forgive him if he were to run from me screaming for the police.
I cleared my throat and asked him, “How is it you came to be here, Sir?”
He answered slowly and carefully, “I saw this land in a dream. I fell, as if through a door into this world. I am not a learned man by any means, but never in my life have I seen such a place as this. Is this China? Perhaps you are a Chinaman? It is written that Chinaman are garbed in strange clothe and carry about their daily lives in a strange manner.” Clearly the old man was not from around here. He was as alien to this place as I was.
“Sir, you say you are from Rome. Which part? I have visited there and know it a little.” I asked this, hoping to change the subject, because frankly the subject of entry into this world frightened me. Could it really be that this place truly exists beyond my own mind? Lilith, Becky, and Lincoln, could easily be figments of my imagination. But this creepy other-worldly place of my mind, transposed somehow, into the mind of another man, may make it real! Perhaps what I really wanted was for all of this to be some crazy nightmare that started out the Monday morning Lincoln and I had left for the Rental. Secretly, I had hoped we had been in car accident that morning and both Lincoln and I were really dead – just like in that disturbing C.S. Lewis novel — and none of what you have read to date has been true. My wife and children live! And live well, because I had excellent life insurance. These secrets: I tell myself to fool myself. And yet, here I am, watching another man wrestle with his presence here, in what I had hoped was a world of my own making. I tell you, it truly frightens me – because if this place is exposed to others, and access allowable — then all of it may actually be true!
The man broke my train of thought by saying, “I am not from Rome per se but rather from the Roman province of Judea. Bethsaida, in Galilee was my home. But I have not lived there for many years now.” The man spoke quietly while he continued to stroke at the side of Becky’s head, her hair was wet now from the water from the pool. There was something odd about John’s procedure too. Where the hair had been cut I swear I had seen the angry red gash that Becky received from the chair when she fell in the rental slowly disappear. John had cut the inner hair about it, exposing the wound to the air. Also, with the sleeve of the jacket he had washed it with the water from the pool above. And now, as he stroked at the affected area, the broken skin looked to be healed and sealed up. I stared, probably rudely, looking past John, at his hands as he moved them across Becky’s head.
Lincoln lay on the other side, next to Becky, ignoring us all; staring into nothing, his dog whiskers twitching now and then. He had the glazed dopy look of satisfaction, coupled with the setting Sun of late evening, –and that made me feel that we had had an exhausting day. And we had!
I asked John, “What crime are you convicted of.” At this he smiled broadly, “Ha!” he laughed. “Crime is such a subjective topic when it comes to me, friend.” John paused, and then suddenly became serious. “Many years ago, at least forty past now, I befriended a man — a great Teacher — who was a political enemy of the Caesar then – and so – by association I suppose I am too…”
I bit my lip. It’s one thing to refer to Israel as a Roman province, but a whole other thing to refer to a Prime Minister as “Caesar.” I interrupted him and asked, “Caesar?”
“Why… Tiberius,” he replied, startled by my one word question, “… but I see you are a younger man and do not remember that deplorable creature. Perhaps in your native China they do not keep track of Rome’s descent towards chaos. Vespasian is Caesar now.” Sighing, he added, “One Caesar is like all the rest – dictators, conquerors, and monsters. Which Caesar did you suppose ruled forty years past?”
Lilith had spoken of time. Scudamour had come from my future – the far far future, she had said. Could his man John, be from my past? And what was going on with Becky’s injury – it was slowly fading at John’s touch! What had once been a horribly opened gash — had become only a scar – the skin puckering up along the length of the seam; and now, even that was fading fast. How was he doing it?
I chose my next words carefully. “Yes, Tiberius. That’s who I meant. I just wanted to be clear.”
John looked doubtful, but continued. “My comrades and I travel the civilized world. We wrote and spoke in favor of a united Judea, free from Rome. We sought sponsorship – fortunately, in my case, because of my past association, I have been tolerated – shall we say.” He smiled at this, and shaking his head as if in amazement. “Vespasian does not wish to see me as a martyr, and so has exiled me the Greek isle of Patmos.” A shadow crossed his face and he added, “Others have not been so lucky.”
John turned away from me to peer more closely at Becky’s wound. “This child will be well now, but she must rest.”
John reached over top of Becky and pushed at Lincoln’s haunches. He moved Lincoln’s lower half so it made a kind of crook; then carefully lowered Becky into a sleeping position on Lincoln’s body. Lincoln growled at him, but when he saw what John aimed to do, he licked Becky’s face with a hearty slurp. “Good dog,” John said. Lincoln’s tail thumped the step several times and his body flashed a quick black and white tattoo which faded as he himself returned to his doze.
Relieved of his burden John looked me squarely in the eye and said. “You have skillfully avoided my question: are you a Chinaman?”
“No Sir, I am not; and this is not China.” I paused; then loosened my tie, “I too am a prisoner here, and like you, am confused at my purpose in this place.”
John grinned. “I did not say I was confused as to my purpose here, friend – where ever here may be. But you,” he said pointing a bony finger in my direction “– seem to be but half-a-man and so it is little wonder that you are confused.”
“Yes.” I said, in a manner that was matter of fact. “I appear to have lost my shadow,” I added unnecessarily. Instinctively, I found it was difficult not to like this man, and returned his grin.
But John only looked confused by my statement and was about to say something when Becky opened her eyes and sat up. She stared about her wide-eyed, and then focused in on John. She opened her mouth in what appeared to be awe and said softly, “Thank you, Sir.” She touched the side of her head where the wound had once been and then just as suddenly as she woke, lay back down on Lincoln’s body and began snoring softly. Her face was one of contented bliss.
“Is she going to be alright?”
“Yes. She will be fine. The external wound was deep, but the shock inside her brain was far deeper. It was right that you should come to me.”
“What did you do to her?” I asked, looking over his shoulder at the bare spot on the side of Becky’s head where the wound had once been. Her right eye and cheek, which only minutes ago, had been deeply bruised and puffy was now fresh looking and clear too. “Was it magic?”
“Magic!” he hooted with laughter and slapped his thigh in delight and said, “My Teacher once told me that many who will witness a miracle will most likely believe it to be magic!” He shook his head as if in wonder, “how right he was. How right he was…” he said this last more to himself than to me.
“Well,” I added quickly, embarrassed that he think me uncivilized and unsophisticated to the ways of modern medicine, “what I meant was that in my world, — the place I come from — we have high medicine but nothing as sophisticated as what I have just witnessed here…” I indicated lamely towards Becky. “High medicine,” what a dumb thing to say, I thought, mentally kicking myself.
The man who called himself John smiled graciously, he handed me my damp jacket and said, “–could you fetch some more water, exnzpat-of-the-rental. She will need a little more of it, and your hound will probably want some too.”
“Sure.” I stood, and leaned in and took the jacket from John. As I turned to go I asked him who this “Teacher” was that taught him such medicine. He told me, and as he did, I felt a strange wind blow from all four directions towards me. The wind was cold but its breeze warmed me, it frightened me also. I shivered and walked up the steps towards to pool and Lilith, I did not look back.
* * *
Lilith was still seated in the same spot where I had seen her earlier. She watched me lazily over her shoulder, her long blond hair reaching all the way down to the small of her back. Her legs still hung slack beneath the water.
“Lilith,” I said kneeling to soak the jacket for the second time. “You should get John to look at your leg. I think he might be able to help.”
She turned and looked at me, a wicked wave of anger crossed her face and then, before it exploded, it passed. Some suggestion, some muse came to her and she let her anger go.
Almost absentmindedly Lilith said, “Who do you think did this to me to begin with?” A smile so sad and totally unrequited impaled that beautiful face of hers – so sad in fact, that it almost broke my heart to see.
As I doused the jacket I was startled away from our conversation by something moving beneath the water. The water was clean and clear; refreshing to touch and taste. But the moving object had moved far too fast and was swimming far too deeply to make out clearly. But all the same, I felt its shape was human.
Letting the jacket float, I moved my head around, angling away from the sun, so as to get a better vantage.
“Lilith, did you see that?”
“See what, exnzpat?”
“There, in the water, just now, I thought I saw a man.” I jumped up, excited.
“Better a man than a shark,” she answered slyly.
“Look! There! Do you see it?” I shouted. The creature was definitely human in form but darted from left to right, away from my view at tremendous speed.
Lilith looked over at me and said disinterestedly, “why don’t you go for a swim?”
Could I? I thought to myself. The idea seemed somehow delicious after the long walk carrying Becky across the dunes, and the hard short sleep in the rental before. Right then and there I decided I would. I took the wet jacket back to John. He thanked me, and saying nothing more, turned back to Becky.
I hurried back to the pool.
I didn’t ask permission nor did I wait for a reaction from Lilith. I stripped off my clothing and dived into the water. The wet cold shock of it on my naked skin felt good.
I dove deep; almost to ten feet. I felt the heaviness of the water pressure push in on the sides of my head. At that point I exhaled the air from my lungs, equalizing my mass for that depth; and floated, waiting. I didn’t need to wait long. Almost immediately I was rewarded by an extraordinary sight of two humans, a man and a woman, hurtling at high speed beneath me. When they saw me they turned, and swimming on their backs, looked right at me. Abruptly, they changed course and swam upwards towards me.
Somewhere, in the recesses of my memory, I remembered hearing Lilith say: “beware of the water, exnzpat!” But already, as the two humanoid creatures reached for me, I realized that it was too late.