Category Archives: Romance

Come Find Me, Come!

[a poem by   ~burning woman~ ]

The wind howled in the night,
The long shadowed night.
It was the Chinook wind,
I had smelled it earlier
As clouds greyed and darkened,
Disappearing sun and moon.

An owl barked, hooted, laughed
Down in the gully’s copses
And I thought, I hear the owl
And it’s calling my name –
Only it wasn’t me he was calling,
It was a mate and I had no wings.

These two things I mention,
They happened a long time ago.
I wasn’t thinking of death then,
Not by a long shot. I was young,
Barely old enough to feel
That troubling sense in my heart
Which I learned was the call to love.

It is said around here (or was said)
That when the owl calls your name
Your number’s up-death is riding.
Well, I heard the owl again
Last night in the woods
Bordering the little Hope river.

My guess is, as it was long ago
That this short eared owl,
For that was the nature of his call
Was once again calling a mate,
Then I heard her laugh
Deeper in the foggy woods:
“Come and find me, Come!”

Like that they were gone.
The wind died down then
And the ever rain came again
And that is as it should be
Or so the Shaman told me:

When none of it matters to you,
Life or death or some in-between,
Then will choice wisdom find you
For all of it will then be yours,
Even the parts you do not want,
That is the life of the Avatar,
It is the gift of your owl soul.

You must understand now
It is you, it always was you,
The mate he was calling, seeking
And you always had the wings
Though you dared not believe.

He will call you again soon
Together you will depart
And neither will be heard again
For a long, long time.

Spread your wings, invite the wind
To fill those feathers, get ready,
Your long night of the soul
Is coming to its end. Soon
You will look down upon the trees
And you will see the forest.

Come find me! Come find me…
Come!

 

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #92

So yes, I’ve become a manipulator.  But in my heart I know I’m motivated by compassion, there being no hope here of personal gain.  It is not easy to give Tiki up.  She has been my companion for some years now and I have motherly feelings for her.  I’m sending her into a new life, a dangerous unknown.  It seems a truism that whenever you want to help others improve their lives you will suffer loss and pain.  This has been true for me in hundreds of remembered incarnations.  If I wanted to break that pattern I should certainly have avoided this little trip through the crushing labyrinthine pressures within the confines of Malefactus… and specifically within the stone walls of Hyrete.
End blog post #91


Begin blog post #92

Chapter 37 – Tiki’s First Arena Contest – Love Speaks

There was no scene when Tiki found out I’d let her go to be with the Concubine.  If anything it was a relief for her because she was under the impression I was angry at her.  She understood intuitively that my decision was for her benefit, not because I was angry.  She had grown up and needed a real partner and lover now, not a mother, which mostly I had been to her.  She had enough of the Teaching also to develop her own mindset regarding what is right and what is wrong.  There was time for that.  With the Concubine she would be able to hone her professional fighting sense.  She would be better matched with a peer and teach even as she learned more.  This venture should even them out a bit, taking the more dangerous edge from both of them.

She smiles more now and treats me as more of an equal.  This is good, although I worry about her still.  Especially today: it’s her first match and she’s already been taken from the cages to eat the traditional chakr-laden food of the fighter, alone.  Her opponent challenger I’m not too concerned about.  He is no professional fighter and to prove it, chose the obvious: the two-handed sword, thinking as is their wont that it would give him the advantage as a physically stronger male.  When he came to observe Tiki fight with the various weapons I made sure that she was doing it with me and demonstrated a very poor understanding of the long sword.  I made her look even worse by forcing it out of her hands and sending it flying, then tripping her with my sword pointed directly at her heart.  Even Tiki was fooled by the move and thought I was getting my revenge for that week-ago fighter trance idiocy.  I did not explain.  Just withdrew the sword and let her stand to retrieve her lost weapon, her face deeply flushed.

It was enough to convince the male challenger he had found her weakness and jump at the chance to choose the sword.  Well, it would be his last mistake, no doubt of that.

Two other fighters were prepared for the arena when we were let out of our cages to relieve ourselves, wash and eat, ready for the routine of training.  An hour or so later Tiki returned escorted by two handlers.  She was neither smiling nor scowling, just her usual plainly serious self.  I saw not one scratch on her as she drank, ate a light ‘lunch’ alone that all returning fighters not badly wounded earn.  After which she joined the training line-up, finding her partner.  Then she smiled – no, she beamed!  They certainly have something going those two and it’s good for as long as it lasts.

Near the end of our session I begin to inspect the cleaning and storing of the ‘weapons’ – I’ve instituted the unbreakable rule that all weapons, however poor, old or worn-out, be treated as if they were the best ever made and fresh from the forge.  I inspect them for dirt, blood, sweat.  Blades must shine with oil.  Handles must be clean.  If they show signs of handle wrapping unravelling they must be re-wound, tightened and knotted.  Only if tools are required for the repairs do I put them aside for kitchen staff to sew or forge to repair. 

While I’m doing this two young men approach me and make as if they want sex with me.  Surprised surely, but having no choice I follow them to an empty hut.  Once inside, one of the men, a trainer, puts his hand out and takes mine very gently. 

“I be Tieka man Hudu…” he begins with understandable hesitation.  The handler takes my other hand and says,

“I too be loving woman fighter and I friend of Hudu.  I be Huntu.  We be needing to escape from Hyrete soon.  Tieka no fight.  Say love stop her hurting man.  I afraid for Hudu and girl woman.  Need to help, maybe I too escape, take woman.  Go south, deep desert there, hide in storms from great eye.”

I shudder when he mentions the ‘great eye’ and ask, “What is great eye?”  He points into the sky,

“Albaral.  It sees.  It knows when things not right.  If people run, reports to Council.  When your lover escape, news come from Albaral.  No alarms given, yes, but they know.  They see something strange in desert, like fire shooting into sky – maybe sky boat.  We told by leader; cannot chase sky boat.  Need terrible storm to block great eye.  Not just cloud, need Desert Beast Fire in sky.”

I gather he means the kind of lightning generated by great sand storms.  Ah well, didn’t I know that about Albaral!  It is an observation post, an active satellite – but who really controls it?  No matter now.  I have to digest this new information and see how many more astral rabbits I can pull out of my hat and have hidden up my non-existent sleeves.

“You right to tell me.  But what I do?  I slave woman, old, tired.  Die soon maybe.  How I help?”

“Not know, we do.  But know you very wise.  Have many tricks.  Have friends.  You they say daughter of Great Desert Beast.  You they say is Teacher.  You they say will know.  We just ask.  We trust you as man.”

Well, that is quite an admission and confession.  The words, ‘We trust you as man’ coming from a man to a woman slave may not have been uttered on this world for hundreds of years.  Am I making an impression here?  No time to explore this further as I must return to the line-ups or we become suspicious.  I wave my hand, “I think.  Speak to trusting women.  Pray to goddess.  Find way, always we find way, friends of goddess.  What be Huntu woman name?”

Huntu replies, “I not know name.  She say secret woman name, for goddess only.  She be 1336-14-09.”

“Listen Huntu.  I call her ‘Zel’ so she has name to call, yes?”

“Zel is name, yes.  Thank you sir.”

Before we emerge I insist they make fun of me as if they’d had a good old time with the crone.  I look angry to convince handlers that I did not enjoy myself.  They are pleased at the cruelty and indicate so with lewd finger gestures at the two young men who must pretend they enjoyed themselves too.  While I eat I ponder my role in this new drama and certain crisis.  I can’t always go running to the doctor and Cydroids with every problem.  How do we, women, tackle this with any possibility of success if I do not involve my friends?  But what right do I have to compromise their work here?  None.  That I will not do.  If we are to ever succeed we must find it within ourselves.  If others choose to become involved later, that will be their choice.  Maybe I’m being stubborn; maybe, who knows, I’m becoming senile.  But I see much farther than I did when I came here.  Not so far that these people cannot share my vision, just farther than they yet realize they can see.

Well first I must identify the slave 1336-14-09 I call ‘Zel.’  She is three years older than Tiki (1339-32-19) so around eighteen to twenty.  A fighter in her prime.  Tieka is a thirteen year old kitchen gorok, just arrived this year in Hyrete.  Her brand would read, line one #1328-04 – born 1328, class 4 – bred fighter; line two 1341-15-07 for admission year, batch, number in batch. 

I better explain this strange record keeping of female slaves.  It’s quite simple actually.  The important brand dates refer to admission to Hyrete keep and batch numbers.  That is how females are auctioned off, not by birth date.  This could seem confusing to some.  Batch numbers are important to buyers as they are used to trace the crèche where the slave was raised and the kind of ‘product’ it is reputed to contain.  Every ‘batch’ comes from a particular crèche in Elbre and sometimes even beyond.  They are all official birth places. 

“Wild” slaves such as myself, rarely found, even rarer they manage to survive the rapes and tortures suffered in the orgies, are branded by admission year plus a #-1, meaning number of ‘wilds’ and non-crèche raised.  These brands are usually found only on the black women captured beyond the desert.  For whatever reason, although they are physically taller, stronger and superior in weapons handling, the men of Malefactus have not seen fit to breed them.  Or perhaps they have and the breeding program failed.  They are moody and very dangerous.  They seem to be missing an essential element of the ‘normal’ ISSA mental make-up due to breeding or evolutionary branching.

End blog post #92

Antierra Manifesto-blog post #89

(In which an unexpected but hoped-for development changes the way the game is played.)

The difference between I and them is obvious to me in this moment.  They are more intelligent than I, being in their own element.  They are better equipped to understand.  They are more aware of the obvious.  And certainly they have more experience.  So what do they need of me?  They need the catalyst, that which forces change.  That’s all I am.  I have to put myself in the center of this latent force to create the explosion.  I am the mine that causes the avalanche; the detonator that causes the charge to blow.
End blog post #88
_________________________
Begin blog post #89

So I say, “Good, we talk.  Now I tell you truth.  You women, you know answers to question already.  Is all in heart, I say true.  This I know.  What you say is only little bit what each one know deep in heart.  Afraid you are say stupid thing, other women make fun, get angry, think stupid.  So now I stupid speak for all.  I speak heart stupid for all women.  Listen.

“Is possible love all men.  Is possible be only good, not do evil to men like men ask.  Is possible everything.  But not safe to do, not always wise to do.  If women refuse obey men, women all killed, yes?”  They grunt agreement. 

“Agree.  Not good thing.  But if evil in man come from hidden beast, how to fight evil?  Must find other way.  Satisfy men, satisfy women.  How Anti beat evil Warmo?”

“Fight Warmo.  Kill Warmo.  This we know.  This we do always.  No good.  More Warmo men come.  Same thing happen.”

“If Warmo say, ‘Sorry, I do this no more.’  What Antierra do now?”

“Kill.  Warmo lie to save life.  Anyone lie to save life.”

“If Warmo say truth and I kill, who wrong now?”

“Warmo do wrong, die.  Cannot live.  Do more evil.  Truth not important.  Kill Warmo important.”

“Wrong.  Truth important.  If Warmo tell truth, Anti let live, Anti die.  Warmo different now.  Spirit of Anti in Warmo.  Try to help women.  Change many things.  See King, see good doctor.  Powerful man make life better for all women.  Is possible.”

“This stupid speak, Anti?”  The question comes from a very young, newly arrived trainee, a gorok.

I reply emphatically seeing a real opportunity to reveal the ‘humble’ and totally honest/innocent side of the Teaching:  “Yes this stupid speak – my stupid speak.  Say what many afraid to say.  Say that maybe woman can hear man talk in heart; understand man.  Love man.  Not for favour from man, but make man feel good.  Say that maybe man good too.  Say push evil out into shadow, speak with man as speak with woman.  Kind.  Stupid speak say even if man hit woman, not understand, woman still love man; not hate; not fear.  This stupid speak from old, stupid Anti.  I know no more.  You – all you – decide how you live.  As always same… or try stupid speak.”

The young trainee gorok speaks again.  “I be #1341-15-07.  Tieka is name I give goddess to know by.  I not want be fighter.  I thinking maybe I die, not kill man.  See too many evil things.  I no want do bad to man.  Now I stupid speak too, to all women,”  She indicates all the cages with her arms, “kill me if no like.  I be having love with man.  Special good feeling.  He be having love with me.  He no take other women, only me.  He touch me, I feel good.  I touch him, he say he feel good too.  He look at me, I feel good.  I have love for man.  He have love for Tieka.  I keep this now.  If I kill man, I kill love feeling too.  So must die to keep.  This he know.  He very sad for me.  Cry.  I see water on face.  He good man; he very good man.  I too very sad for him.”

I hear gasps and grumblings all over the cages at this revelation.  But this is an omen, much more powerful than anything I could have said or done, more powerful than any storm that could bring this keep down.  This is the key to our victory.  After all the years I spent here, this is the first public expression of a woman’s love for a man, or a man’s for a woman (taking her words for it and I entertain not a moment’s doubt that this child is telling the whole truth – she has put her life on the line for it among her peers.)

Now it’s my turn.  To be perfectly understood I choose pidgin talk again.  “Gorok Tieka doing stupid speak for all us.  Listen from heart now, women.  Listen to girl-woman Tieka with love in heart.  This I say is great gift from goddess now.  This Tieka strong woman, stronger than all us.  Ready to die for love of man.  Die terrible death you all know – flogging for not obeying.  And maybe if man found, he too die terrible death.  Evil now ready to destroy this love.  Is like little green thing grow by stone wall near wash trough.  Do we pull little green thing and give to trainers to destroy?  Do we hide, protect?  What we do now?”

Silence greets my question.  Then from farther in the cages a woman speaks: “Kill gorok.  She make big trouble for all.  Stupid.  Make gorok tell of man, report man to handlers.  Then I say kill gorok.  This big, big trouble.”

Hate.  Fear.  Jealousy.  Reactions to something new, challenging, dangerous, and the basic pseudo-human selfishness that resents something that could benefit another but not the self.  I must counter this thought with logical reasoning, not emotion.

“Listen women.  This from toughest fighter you see ever.  I say we take gorok in heart.  She be new change for us, this place.  I say we find power to keep Tieka from arena.  I say we protect love, all us, do what can to save from evil.  I say we make vow.  We protect, hide Tieka and man.  Say we find heart way for escape from here, take man with her, go into desert, into south far, far away from men, from evil eye. 

“Now must know.  Must hear from fighter who say ‘kill gorok’ – need know how woman feel now.  Must know deep heart truth from woman; if fighter talk to trainers, if  have Tieka and man killed.  Must all know.”

I hear guttural noises deep in the cages.  Angry talking.  I wait, trying not to listen to the arguments.  I hold Tiki close to me, wondering what she is thinking.  She hasn’t said a word, yet this was the same argument we had had long ago.  How do you love in such a place?

The same condemning voice is raised above the wind and sound of whipped rain on the tiled roof far above.  “I be woman who say ‘kill gorok.’  Friend and I talk.  We think this change dangerous but maybe good like Teacher say.  I be Gonda.  On name I promise protect gorok Tieka.  Promise to help if can.  Understand why must do this now.  I think time for change come for us all. I think Desert Beast coming awake for us.”

The effect is electric.  General agreement is voiced throughout the compound and all those near Tieka put their hands on her.  In their hearts they are intoning a protection chant over her.  We have unity of spirit.  I squeeze Tiki’s hand and whisper to her, “Things changing Tiki.  Much sorrow yet to have but things changing for good now.”   She wraps her arms around me and squeezes hard, holding on and sharing her joy at being part of this, not, I sense, understanding it all and a bit lost in the process.  After all, she is one of those  purebred fighters, the result of the breeding of certain lines for qualities desired.  In some ways she is much like the Cholradil with little latitude for choice.  How could she understand Tieka’s abhorrence of killing?  In the worlds of compromised morality… well, I have to admit, there be different levels of ‘love’ evidently.   Antierra old girl, there’s hope for you to learn new tricks yet.

Now the truly difficult part: to detach from these momentous events so as not to get devastated if disaster strikes ‘tomorrow’ – if someone recants and sells out Tieka or if the lovers do something truly stupid.  Win, lose or draw, I must carry on.  Other matters to attend to.

End blog post #89

A Rhetorical Question

Short story by Sha’Tara

“Don’t mean to pry but that’s three buses you let go by. You look at them, stare inside then you sit down again.”

“Yes, you’re right. I wanted to ride around town but I really have no clue about these buses. I don’t even know how to pay to ride.”

“Oh! My name is Amelia. How come you know nothing about city bus transit?”

“My name is Ben, pleased to meet you. I just came in on a train down from Slago.”

“Slago? What’s a Slago?”

“It’s actually a place no one’s heard of unless they live in Slago, with the possible exception of some lowly clerk in the revenue service.”

“Slago… that’s some name for a town.”

“Slago’s not a town Mel. It’s an abandoned gopher hole in the middle of a forest, half of which is dead due to a wild fire two summers ago.”

“You called me Mel. Why is it that everybody when they hear my name, they have to call me Mel?”

“You don’t like it?”

“I don’t give a damn, really. It was a rhetorical question. You do know about those?”

“Rhetorical question? I’ll ask you one: can you introduce me to these labyrinthine buses if I buy you dinner, or are you working today, or otherwise engaged?”

“That is not a rhetorical question; it begs a few answers.”

“So I don’t know what a rhetorical question is. Do you have any answers for me?”
“Sure, OK. No, I’m not working today, I was going to do some shopping. I can explain some bus basics, get you started. It’s not rocket science. Think: if the bozos you bump into on the sidewalks can do it, hey! And yes, I’ll accept your dinner invitation. Do I get to pick the restaurant?”

“You’ll have to, I don’t know anything about this city.”

How was I to know that a simple conversation in a bus stop would deliver a fun day, a great dinner, a whirlwind romance, two children, a house with an unaffordable mortgage, a philandering, abusive drinking husband and a bitter divorce eleven years later? How’s that for a rhetorical question.

Is it worth it?

 [a short story by Sha’Tara]
(I’ve probably posted this story in the past but I feel like it’s time to run it again since I’m having some discussions on the subject of empathy…)
________________________

        Lanky Andy, Andrew Larkin, walked into “The Odyssey” restaurant at exactly 1800 hours.  He allowed his transitioning photochromic lenses to clear enough so he could scan the seats.  Eddie, Edward Aberhart, his friend, was seated in a booth halfway down the window aisle, facing the entrance door.  He waved at Andy.

        “Jees… Jesus Eddie, you look like shit. What’s up?  What’s with the ‘I need to see you right away, like today!’ call?”

        “It’s like this Andy.  I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve been thinking about things for years now and it’s turned into a bloody nightmare.  I keep asking myself, ‘Is is worth it?  What am I doing here?  What’s the point of anything, anything at all.’ and nothing seems right, feels right, tastes right.”

        “What does Linda have to say about your, um, nightmare?”
        “Linda’s gone.  She packed up, went back to her family down south.  I haven’t spoken to her since she left, that’d be about two months ago.  Just packed up while I went uptown, loaded up the car, took Jessie with her and left me a note on the kitchen table: ‘I’m going to stay with mom for a bit until I can get a job at the hospital down there.  I know a doctor, I’ve got excellent references as an ER nurse, I’ll get a job.  Please, don’t call me, don’t call mom, just vanish from our lives.  If you follow, I’ll get an injunction based on emotional abuse.  I don’t care what you do Eddie, just disappear from my life; from our lives.  You’ve become creepy, sick, but not something I can do anything about.  I won’t let you drag us into your nightmare.  Goodbye Eddie.’ and that’s it.”
        “Well, nothing like a cheery get together to get things rolling.”
        A busty, dark “Greek” looking waitress came by, took their orders and said their drinks would be right up. 
        ‘I sure hope so’ thought Andy.  ‘I need a drink, the kind that helps you put your thoughts together, then wipes them out so you can enjoy life again, if only for a day.’
        Although the place was three quarters full, it being Saturday evening after all, the drinks miraculously showed up within three minutes.  Eddie fingered the cold condensation on the outside of his glass.  He didn’t pick it up, didn’t drink, just stared as if he was reading a message.  Andy sipped on his, smacked his lips then swallowed the entire glass, waving at a waitress for a refill.
        “All right, goddamn it Eddie, you got me here.  Don’t tell me you’re just going through another of your emotional bullshit phases.  I had enough of that shit with you in college.  Let’s cut to the chase, what’s eating you?”
        “I’m really sorry Andy but my life sucks.  I hate teaching and I don’t believe anything the curriculum makes me teach the kids so I can’t really motivate them.  Well, how could I?  I can’t motivate myself any longer.
        “You know I used to attend the Pentecostal church.  I thought I had some sort of relationship with God.  It felt good, right, proper and my life made sense.  I joined the Lions’ Club to be of service in the community and that reinforced my belief that life had purpose.  I married Linda and I was sure I really loved her.  Jessie’s birth, now that was some celebration after all the scare that she would be abnormal – nothing wrong with that kid.  I had it all and then it all went away.  I mean it, Andy: it just evaporated.  Like I fell in some big black bottomless hole.  That’s where I’m talking to you from: a black pit of despair, falling with nothing to hang on to.  Can you accept that?  I’m not asking you to understand, just accept this is how it is.”
        “Do you want me to lie to you?”
        “No.”
        “OK then, I can’t – no, let me put it more clearly for you: I won’t accept it.  I’m a rational person, Eddie.  If something fucks up upstairs, it’s up to me to go up there and straighten it up.  There’s no Chimera up there that’s going to take over and fuck up my life – not before now, not now, and not ever in the future.  I wouldn’t let it happen.  That’s my answer to your asking me to accept your current state of mind: I don’t because if I did, then I’d have to try to understand it next – and I’m simply not going there.  I don’t play mind games Eddie.  My own life is controlled; some people say I’m as hard as a rock, well fine, that to me is high praise.  That’s why you stuck with me through college too, you needed that hardness to put grit into your own mush, Eddie.
        “What the fuck, man.  You are the one who got Linda, you whiny wimp of an excuse for a man.  She went for you because she felt sorry for you most of the time.  But I was the one who loved her Eddie.  How often I imagined what we could have done as a couple, as a team.  A doctor and a nurse, and I would have pushed her to get her medical degree too.  We would have been all over the world, helping people, I mean really helping.  A team on fire.  Fuck you Eddie, you miserable excuse for a human being.  I feel so sorry for you right now I want to punch in that baby face of yours.  Goddam it, I don’t believe this.”
        “Why have you never told me of your feelings for Linda until now?  I didn’t know, honest.”
        “Of course you didn’t know, you self-absorbed little shit.  All that’s ever really mattered to you was you and your precious feelings.  ‘I joined the Lions’ club to be of service to the community.’  Such a crock.  You joined to find support for your insecurities – tell me honestly that isn’t true.”
        “Ah hell Andy, I didn’t call you here for you to beat up on me.  I’m down, Andy.  I can’t take this.  Is this fun for you, crushing what’s left of a total loser?”
        “OK, OK, I’ll back off if you’ll level with me and tell me what’s really the problem.  What’s the cause of your black pit of despair, Eddie?  What’s this Gremlin you’ve got on your back that you can’t shake off this time?”
        “The honest truth, Andy: the world, and my life in it.  Have you followed the news lately?  With all the crap that’s going on and that keeps arising all over, is it really worth it?  Is there some point to it?  The world’s in a shambles, what am I supposed to do?  Ignore it?  Carry on like what’s her name, Pollyanna?
        “I wake up in the middle of the night and I have visions, terrible visions, of things happening to thousands of people, horrible things.  And I feel guilty about it all, I can’t help myself, and the guilt won’t go away.  It’s like everything bad that happens is my fault.  I’m responsible somehow, as if I were a puppet and I was being played, forced to watch; forced to link my lifestyle to the problems of other people.  If I enjoy something, they go without.  If I eat, they starve.  If I have a house to live in, they are homeless.  If I have rights, they are enslaved.  If I’m free, they are in prison.  I’m cursed, Andy; I’m the other side of the coin.”
        As their food was being served, Andy didn’t answer.  He moved some plates around, ordered another drink, looked up at Eddie and said, “Ed, drink your fucking drink, right now.”
        The waitress looked up, a shocked look on her face.  “Sorry, that’s between my friend and I here.  Please bring him another drink, he’s going to need it.”
        The waitress almost scampered away.  Andy started eating and felt ravenous.  He swallowed, then started to laugh.  Not so loud as to cause embarrassment but so Eddie would hear it and stare at him.
        “You find something amusing, Andy?” Eddie put his empty glass down, looked into Andy’s eyes.
        “Yeah, you.”
        “My problems are amusing to you?  I thought doctors were supposed to be empathetic.”
        “Some are but it’s definitely not a trade requirement.  If it was most of us would be out of work tomorrow.  But this has nothing to do with me being a doctor, or you a high school teacher.  We’ve been dancing around a much more serious business called life.  You asked me, is it worth it?  Before I answer that, give me a rational alternative to what you call life.”
     “That’s a nuts question.  How can there be a rational alternative to life?”
        “Ah, got you there haven’t I?”
        “I don’t have any answer for you.  Are you talking about an alternative to life?  How can there be such a thing?”
        “Have you heard of NDE’s or near death experiences that some people claim to have had?”
        “Vaguely.  Here and there.  There’s no proof of such a thing actually happening. Just the brain reacting in a crisis when life is on the line.”
        “Exactly!”  Andy drank some more and it seemed his drinks were tasting better each time.  So did the food.  “Got to congratulate you, Eddie, this is one hell of a fine restaurant.  Not fancy, but you can’t beat this food, or the drinks either.  Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed myself more at a meal.  Go ahead, dig in, dig in.  This is fantastic!”
        “What do you mean, ‘Exactly’?”
        “Mmmm… what?”
        “I said there was no proof that NDE’s are real experiences and you said, ‘Exactly.'”
        “And I meant every word!”  Andy laughed at the puzzled expression in his friend’s face and noticed that outside, the world had gone dark except for street lights and the lampshades over the booths made new shadows.
        “Ease up on the drinks, Andy, you’re losing it.”
        “Actually I’m getting it, Eddie.”
        “Care to explain?”  He took a serious drink and suddenly felt himself unwind.  As if something good was going to happen.  Imagine that: nothing good had seemed to happen for ages.  He knew it wasn’t the drink, nor the food.  Anticipation. He actually felt it.
        “I never realized it until now,” said Andy.  “About you, I mean.  I always thought you were somewhat of a sissy, a wimp you know, going around feeling sorry for yourself, bringing people into your circle to empathize with you.  But that wasn’t it at all.  You were just confused, selling yourself short, unaware of your own nature, thus unable to take advantage of it.”  He seemed to look at Eddie with some sort of awe.  “I never knew; never suspected even.”
        “Would you tell me what you’re going on about, Andy?  You’re confusing me and I think you’ve had too much to drink.”
        “Oh just wait.  I haven’t had half enough.  I’ve been a fool, Eddie, a complete idiot.  I’m the one who’s been totally self-centered and blind.  You know what you are, buddy?”
        “Hey, this is getting scary.  What am I?  Some sort of Reptilian alien?”  Eddie smiled, ate some, enjoyed it.  “You going to keep me in suspense?”
        “No.  I’ve got it.  You, my very dear friend and pain in the ass, are an empath.  A real, honest to God empath.  That’s what explains your angst, you visions, your despair; your deep questioning of the purpose of life. You feel it man, you feel it all and you have never learned how to deal with it.  You’re supposed the “channel” this stuff, not keep it bottled up.  It’s not about you, it’s about this world, and how life evolves or adapts itself within.  That life needs to communicate; to give itself messages and in human terms, those messages are carried by empaths.
        “When I said, “exactly” I meant it: it’s all based on empathy.  There’s no need of proof once you pass a certain point, or reach a certain level of evolution – it just is.  I’m a surgeon and I know a bit about NDE’s.  I’ve had talks with quite a few patients who, after thanking me for saving their life, went on to describe their experiences under anaesthesia when they experienced clinical death.  I was interested but never convinced beyond what you said: brain reaction.
        “But it wasn’t that, don’t you see?  These NDE people are empaths!  They crossed over and came back because their nature provided the bridge between the physical world of their body and the spirit, or mental, world inhabited by their consciousness.  I remember talking about this with Linda.  She didn’t make the connection between NDE’ers and empathy, but she accepted the experience as very real.  Goddam Eddie, she was right!  I just needed to see the connecting thread and you just showed it to me.  Your angst is your connection to others, Eddie.  You’re not cursed, you are blessed, old friend.”
        “If that’s the case, shouldn’t it have made me selfless and compassionate instead of the loser wimp you see before you?”
        “No, I see it now, that’s not how it works.  You needed teachers and you didn’t get them – luck of the draw I suppose.  You needed to be taught self-empowerment and self-reliance.  That’s where the rubber hits the road I bet.  That’s where it comes together and changes you completely.  Think about it, Eddie.  Think about it long and seriously.  While you’re on top of that, teach yourself about channelling – pass it on, don’t keep it in.  You’re watching the movie, you’re not in the story being chased by those demons, though they are real.  You can sense them but they don’t know you exist.  That’s your key and your power.  You can exert influence upon the stories in your mind if you learn how to transmute the information then upload it in its changed form.  I read about this stuff; it’s amazing I never got it until now.  You: you’re the key.  You’re the Avatar.  You’re the one making it happen now, right now, while you’re outside of yourself.
        “Is that my alternative to life?”
        “Yes.  You see, there isn’t just one form of life, there are infinite types of life.  People like yourself, well, they can slip in and out of any form they choose.  You have the power to do that and that’s how you survive in worlds given over to violence like this one.  You don’t stay in the line of fire, you duck, you live to fight another day.  But you’re always on the front lines regardless of where you go in your mind.”
        “You missed your calling, you should have been a preacher.  I’m sold.  Just hoping it isn’t the drinks talking, or feeling.”
        “It isn’t the drinks.  This is like a revelation.  I’m sold too.  I’m no empath, I know that, but you know who else is?”
        “Linda!”
        “You bet, Linda.  And I’m going after her.  I love her; I’ve always loved her and I’m going to make it up to her for not pushing my way between the two of you.  Got that?”
        “Yes, I got that.  It’s how it’s got to be.”  He hesitated for a moment, then added,   “I know you’ll be good for her, and you’ll take good care of Jessie.  Let me know when you guys are married, or settled.  I’d like to visit.”
        “I’ll do that.  No, I mean we’ll do that.”