They were on the road, travelling west in Dave’s van. They weren’t going anywhere in particular, they were just driving, away. Away from the predicament they found themselves in, away from the plans Doug and the others had for them. Doug had asked too much of them, asked them to surrender any idea for a normal life. They were escaping. No matter where the road led to, it only mattered where it led from.
For over an hour it felt good just to flee, to put miles between them and The Beyond Show. It felt like they were accomplishing something, distancing themselves from something too large and frightening for them to deal with. But by the second hour, already, in Iowa, the urgency that had driven them on had begun to fade. They had sat silently for the better part of the ride, witnessing little but the sameness of I90, the interstate looking little different now than it had in Wisconsin. Exit after exit beckoned them, each with advertisements and road signs for the same restaurants and hotels.
Dave had always dreamed of travelling the country, exploring the different towns and areas that composed it. But now it seemed that he had waited too long. Driving along the highway, he saw nothing but dreary sameness. Iowa appeared little different than Wisconsin, little different than the Illinois he had left behind. And when they reached Nebraska, he felt it would be more of the same.
Assuredly, part of it was just him getting older, getting a little more jaded having seen enough the world. As a child, everything was new to him, the world an adventure without limits. As he aged, patterns seemed to emerge, where each new experience could be categorized in one way or another, each new encounter not being entirely new. The old he got, the less truly revelatory experiences came his way. But it was something more than his age that was causing this. It seemed as if the world he lived in, or at least the culture, had aged too, as if it tired of youthful experiment and was now relying on tried and true methods, content to churn out the same stores and restaurants endlessly. It seemed an entire society was sleepwalking through the middle years of its existence, just as he heard co-workers complaining about how their lives were flying by in the midst of working and raising a family.
Wanting to fill the spot within him that was beginning to drain of its urgency, Dave turned on the radio in search of diversion. He turned from the static of a Madison station now out of range to the next one on the dial. The all too familiar acoustic guitar beginning of More Than A Feeling could be heard and Dave reached for the button to discover what else he could find. Even for someone of Dave’s age, who hadn’t been born when it was written, the song had outstayed its welcome. The radio came to rest on a commercial for home re-financing. Dave tested his patience by waiting it out. His mind began to wander until it snapped back to attention with the next commercial message: “We live in a world of NOW! And that’s what Get It Now is all about!” It was advertising for one of those stores where people could get electronics and furniture on a monthly payment. It was a store where people with no money, patience, or common sense could get unneeded things at double the price. Dave fought the impulse to find another station, knew his options were limited in the middle of Iowa.
Before long, a voice came on, announcing another block of uninterrupted rock beginning with a classic from Boston. The voice seemed to come from nowhere rooted neither in time nor space, belonging to nothing. As the acoustic guitar intro of More Than A Feeling played, Dave couldn’t help thinking the DJ’s voice sounded familiar, as if she were the same one he recognized from the Madison station. Come to think of it, he seemed to remember that the last time he turned off the radio was to her announcement of a non-stop rock block, starting with a twofer by Boston.
Mindy turned off the radio in huff. “Who chooses what gets played on the radio, anyway? It is all computers and spreadsheets? Don’t humans do any jobs nowadays without being dictated to by machines?”
Dave said nothing. He wondered if this all played into what Doug and the others had been telling him, then decided he really didn’t want to know. His world had already been torn apart, he wondered just how far things could yet go, how much the surviving pieces could be scattered and reassembled. How many of his basic assumptions could be stripped away? How different was the truth from anything he had dared believe? Would he ever achieve some understanding and, if so, could he rely on whatever new truths he would find? Or would they just be more façade waiting to be torn down?
“There’s nowhere to run to, Mindy,” he said at length.
Mindy was silent for a moment. “I know,” she said at length. “But keep driving, okay? For a little while, at least.”
It was late by the time they returned to Doug’s house. They expected it to be in darkness, but the patio light seemed to beckon them. The gat to the driveway was open and Dave risked driving inside. Before Dave and Mindy reached the front deck, the door was already opening, Doug gesturing for them to enter. Dressed in a red silken smoking jacket, the kind only an affected entertainer would wear, he led them into the living room, sat himself on an oversized Victorian chair with tassels on the bottom. It sat across from a couch which Dave and Mindy were supposed to seat themselves, but the couch seemed almost too precious for anyone of this era to actually sit on.
“You knew we were coming back,” said Dave. Doug still looked as he had when they had left. His hair still looked as though it had just been made ready for him to step on stage. His teeth were so white Dave couldn’t help wonder if they had been capped. And even in the dim lighting, Dave couldn’t help thinking Doug was wearing some subtle amount of eyeliner or something that made his face seem a little mysterious, oriental. Doug was two distinct people, an outer and an inner man. Dave wondered who that inner person really was.
“Yes, I knew you would be back,” said Doug. “I see things. You’re not the only one, you know. We all have our abilities, though none of us see as much as we wish or what we choose to see.”
“See, that’s what frightens me. You have powers I don’t even know about, and you expect me to trust you without telling me everything you know. How do I know you’re not manipulating me? What aren’t you telling me?”
“You have powers too.” Dave couldn’t help thinking he wasn’t just looking him when he said that. “I know a bit about you, but I surely don’t know all. Nor do I know how your powers will unfold themselves as they develop.”
“Develop?” Dave asked, fearfully.
“Most likely,” said Doug. “The more you see, the more you will likely develop your abilities. Power follows perception. To the extent that we overcome fear and are able to see things as they are, we are able to develop whatever abilities we have.”
This wasn’t something Dave wanted to hear. He was still hoping that his dreams might stop, not grow.
“So if truth is power, why the secrecy?”
“It’s not secrecy. I just can’t tell you. You have to see, experience it for yourself. Again, I suggest you read Plato’s Republic, at least the part about the cave. Plato spoke of people living in a cave, watching shadows on the wall and believing them to be reality. He spoke of someone exiting the cave and his eyes initially being blinded by the sun. But eventually, his eyes adapted to the sun, saw things as they truly were for the first time. But when he went back to the cave, told his friends and neighbors what he saw, they called him mad. That’s how it is with us. If I tell you about things you haven’t yet experienced, you will think me mad. And if I tell you about things you have already seen, well, those aren’t the answers you’re looking for. But beware, if you stick with me, you will see things that others who have not stepped into the light might mistake as madness. Of course, you’re already on that road. With or without The Beyond Show, there are some things I expect you will never unsee.”
“True enough,” said Dave. His mind flashed back to William Burke smiling at him as he pulled the trigger he had pointed at his own head. He saw faces in ecstasy glancing from a raging inferno, saw Bill Neyman cutting the heads off of chickens to prove just how far from reality he had progressed.
“Then I invite the two of you to stay with us, where at least you won’t be alone.”
“I must confess our options are limited,” said Dave.
“Good, then it’s settled. I’ll have you go with Johnny on a little project—nothing too scary—just to see if you have any talent in his area of expertise.” Dave shot a glance over at Johnny, saw a smile appear on his face. Mindy, I’m going to need someone to mind the store, as I’ll be out of town for a little while. Personal business.”
As it was getting late, Doug led them towards the door. Before opening it, he said: “There is one other reason for you to experience things for yourself. I need you to see things in your own unique way, and I don’t want to prejudice your experiences. I need to hear your opinions of things, to see things from your perspective so that I do not get too comfortable in my own.”
“Yeah, but—“ Mindy began, but was not allowed to finish.
“You seem to think I know more than I do. Perhaps I have seen a little more, have been on the path a little longer, but my knowledge is in my opinion still quite scant. One must progress through barriers of fear to reach any kind of worthwhile revelation, and I am not the bravest of men. I’ve never been in the position where I’ve had to risk much, never had much to fear. I hesitate to be too free with my answers because I’m not yet sure of them myself. I’m hopeful you can accomplish things I cannot.”
“Then why listen to you at all?” Mindy seemed less interested in an explanation from Doug as she was a certain amount of respect She was getting an insufficient amount of both.
“My answer is as it was before. I offer you employment, companionship, and an opportunity to learn. Perhaps you find it too much a business arrangement, but that is what I am at heart: a businessman. But I like to believe I am a fair and honest one.”