Not sure how this will look on blogger, but I'm giving it a go.
Two figures stood like cameos in the porch light of a house built in another age, their breath visible in the cold air. The house was large and ornate, having been built for one of Baraboo Wisconsin’s most notable citizens as an embodiment of his wealth and prominence. Anyone who once walked past this house would surely have known him, at least through reputation. His name is still to be found about the town, etched upon plaques that attest to his donations of land for parks, additions for buildings, stained glass windows of a local church.
But few in the town now have any memory of the man. Even the imposing structure in which he lived seems to have become so familiar with age that it was barely noticed, and the current owner was able to live there in relative anonymity.[L1] Time had weathered the house, exposing some of its imperfections, but for the better part granting its benediction for its ability to endure.
A decorative iron fence surrounded the property edge, which was lined inside with evergreen shrubs that stood well above the heads of any passerby. The evergreens, neither meticulously trimmed nor altogether abandoned to their own designs, permitted only glimpses of what lay beyond, and even then only to a person brazen enough to make his curiosity obvious. Such a person might have seen the two figures waiting, might have seen the front door open, allowing the visitors entrance.
[L2] A door made of timber cut from virgin forests long vanished opened easily on brass hinges a hundred years old. Whoever had crafted these items did so with the thought that future generations would see and admire their labor. What they made was intended to endure. What they built was built with pride, with a connection to the craftsmen before them whose knowledge had fed theirs. What they made was created with the conviction that their work would outlive them and speak well of them. Their spirits in some way lived on in the works they created, regardless of whose name was etched into the plaque placed upon it.[L3]
Dave Morse and Mindy Virgilio entered at the bidding of Doug Slattery, their employer at the magic shop and now, perhaps, a leader in more important matters.[L4] The November winds sought entrance as well, but Doug slammed the door quickly, forbidding admittance to the winds of change and gusts of the moment that were always seeking entry into this sanctuary of the enduring.[L5]
Passing through an anteroom lit by a chandelier that betrayed a few cobwebs[L6] , they entered a large room that was not unlike Dave and Mindy’s living room, though on a grander scale. But while their apartment was of necessity filled with props and equipment they used in their magic performances, this room was large enough to have collector’s items tastefully spread around the room, magic memorabilia that enhanced the décor rather than dominating it. Amidst the Victorian furniture—the only kind that would not have looked out of place in such a house—were fine details, proofs to those who would know that Doug was a serious collector and connoisseur of all things magic[L7] .
Upon the wall was a large poster of Carter the Great, promoting his vanishing elephant act. [L8] On another wall was a Houdini poster, advertisement for his famous Milk Can Escape.[L9] Below the poster, barely noticed between a settee and a large mahogany table, sat a smaller milk can. Having knowledge of such things, Dave knew it to be one that was used by Houdini’s assistants to fill the oversized milk can that Houdini himself had escaped from.
The items in Doug’s sitting room had a direct connection to the stories that inspired Dave to pursue the craft of magic. Such Items were almost talismans of power to Dave. He would have loved to linger longer in the living room to inspect what was there, but Doug led them on towards a large wooden door, which he opened by sliding it into a wall thick enough to easily accommodate it.
Beyond it was a room Doug evidently used as an office. Here, things were less orderly, with piles of papers, books, and magazines stacked atop props and tables. Large bookshelves built into the walls were stuffed with books, the better part of them as old as the house they inhabited. It was apparent Doug had more money for purchasing rare items than he had time to properly classify and assess them. Such was the cluttered disorder of the room that neither Dave nor Mindy took notice of Johnny, a fellow member of The Beyond Show, seated behind a large desk. Johnny was a fire performer who had shared a stage with them several times now. It was not until Johnny rose to surrender his seat to its rightful owner that Dave noticed him. The various tattoos that entirely covered his face acted as a sort of camouflage, disguising the natural features of his face.[L10] “Welcome,” said Johnny, with an unmistakable British accent.
“Please, have a seat,” said Doug from behind them, closing the door they had walked through as if privacy was needed even here. [L11] “I’ve taken the liberty of inviting Johnny, as well as Russell, who will be joining us via Skype,” he said, gesturing to a television screen with a man that stared awkwardly towards them[L12] . “There are no secrets between us, and it may very well be that your lives may someday depend on the abilities they possess.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mindy greeted the man on the television screen. The man seemed unable to meet her gaze, even through the distance technology provided.[L13] It seemed that a certain youthfulness clung to him, although close scrutiny revealed that he might be older than Dave’s twenty-nine years. Perhaps his boyish shyness made him seem younger than he was.
“Russell is not a part of The Beyond Show,” said Doug, “not a performer. But he is an important part of what we do. I hope you’ll soon have the occasion to get to know one another better.”
Doug walked behind a desk large enough for planning a military campaign and began to fix himself a drink from a mini-bar, offering the same to the others. Mindy declined, but Dave felt a certain obligation to accept the friendly offer.
“Izzy won’t be with us today,” said Doug[L14] , referring to the man who had recently accompanied Dave and Mindy on a journey into the supernatural, accompanying them, they were later told, at the instruction of Doug Slattery. “He’s attending to some…business for me.”
Not waiting for questions, Doug handed Dave a glass that tinkled with ice and said, “I suppose some answers are in order. Of course, you must realize that answers are a rather difficult commodity to come by when dealing with matters such as these. And the answers that most approach the actual truth will be the most difficult to comprehend, let alone believe. Even more than that, the answers that will best explain your questions are ones you will be most resistant to.[L15] They will be the ones that attack some of your most basic assumptions of life. But what answers I can provide for you, I will. So please, ask away.”
Dave was unsure of how to start. He was unwilling to aggravate Doug Slattery, who was both his boss and a man of unknown abilities and knowledge. Yet Dave couldn’t afford to place trust in a man who had kept secrets from him, worked from a covert agenda. Also, Dave was angry at the idea that their lives may have been put at risk without them being made aware of all the facts.
“What do you want with us?”
“You have certain abilities. I have need of people who can see things others do not.”
“But how did you find out about that?” Dave was feeling very exposed.
“You have your abilities, Dave, and we have ours. [L16] Your ability to see things in your dreams, that is something none of us can do. We—each of us—have our unique talents, all of us able to pierce the veil as it were in some way. In your case, discovering you was a bit of an accident. We weren’t searching for you at all. Word had come to me of an amazingly accurate fortune teller, Jennifer Hodgson. I believe you knew her?”
“Yes,” said Dave, remembering the brief meeting with her when she was still alive, remembering also the look and smell of her corpse a few weeks later.
“I sent a dear friend of mine to learn more about her in the hopes that she could be of help to us. Sadly, he never made it back alive.”
Dave shivered at the memory of it. “An older gentleman? Short, thin, bald?”
“You knew Alan?” Said Doug, surprised.
“I saw him…in a dream.” Dave couldn’t suppress the memory, couldn’t keep the images of the old man’s dismemberment from appearing in his mind’s eye. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Yes, that makes sense,” said Doug, the realization playing across his face. “Remarkable. You’ll have to fill me in on the details of what exactly happened. Poor Alan. He had three daughters and several grandchildren.”
Dave sat silent for a moment, not wanting to disrespect the old man’s sacrifice. But his questions were too important to silence for long. And while Mindy had agreed to let him ask the questions, he knew she wouldn’t allow him to be lax at the task.
“And that’s what you want us for? To pick up where he left off? To do your work for you, whatever that is, until we encounter a similar fate?”
“If I’d known the danger involved, I never would have sent him. I would have gone myself. But there are unavoidable risks involved with the ability to perceive what others do not. And whether you choose to join with us or not, you won’t be able to avoid similar situations.”
“I’d just as soon forget the whole thing, if you don’t mind,” admitted Dave. “Not to sound rude or ungrateful, but I have no desire to see things in my dreams. I’d like to go to bed knowing that I’ll be able to sleep without nightmares that don’t go away when I wake up. I don’t know what Jennifer Hodgson did, but she gave me that power, and I’d just as soon be rid of it. Any chance you could help me do that?”
“You misunderstand,” said Doug. “But that’s to be expected. You’re relatively new to this. When I said you see things others don’t I wasn’t talking about your dreams. Your dreams are merely a consequence of your ability to perceive. Ms. Hodgson was able to share with you her capacity for extra sensory perception precisely because you were already ripe for such a thing. You were already seeing beyond the collective paradigm of the society you live in,[L17] so it is only natural that you are able to make use of powers that the existing paradigm does not recognize as possible.”
Dave shot a glance over at Mindy[L18] , who remained uncharacteristically silent. It seemed that she recognized that the problem was his to figure out, he that would have to live with the consequences.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” said Dave. “Furthermore, I don’t want to understand what you’re saying.”[L19]
“Oh, but you do. You want to see, or else you would not see at all and we would not be having this conversation. You have seen beyond the parameters that have been set for you by the culture in which you live, and it has pushed back the limits of what is possible for you. Power follows perception. No one can do something he cannot first conceive.”
“But I don’t get—“
“There is a lot you won’t get right now.” The voice came from the television screen, which had been positioned so that everyone in the room could see the image of Russell, and he, them. “That is the very essence of seeing beyond the collective consciousness, to be made aware of just how much you do not know. The artificial world that surrounds us is filled with answers we believe we possess. [L20] It is important that you hear what is being said now. Understanding will come later.”
Russell continued, his voice sounding thin through the television speaker, “What you need to understand now is this: every era, every culture, suffers under the delusion that it, and it alone, has a correct understanding of the world around it. [L21] They are, all of them—to a great extent—wrong. Generally, a society clings to the simplest narrative it can find to explain the world outside and its relationship to it. [L22] It stumbles upon it rather clumsily, each of its members working more or less blindly, unaware that they are working towards a common purpose, cells oblivious to the organism they are part of. As long as this narrative works, it doesn’t matter how accurate it is. Life went on for those who believed the earth to be flat. Newtonian physics explained the universe quite well for centuries. The problem is that no story adequately explains reality. Eventually, the differences between perception and fact tear apart the perception. Eventually, every society is undone by its inability to correctly grasp life as it truly is. Like a building that sooner or later crumbles due to some weakness in its infrastructure, every society collapses by the sheer weight of its own incomplete understanding of itself.”
As Russell spoke, Dave noticed that Doug was quite willing to let him speak for the group. While Doug was in some way the leader of this group, he deferred to Russell as one who had the greater understanding.
“What you are witnessing now are glimpses of the larger world beyond the smaller dome that encapsulates our current cultural understanding. [L23] The cracks in our imperfect little bubble reveal things we cannot even comprehend, things we have sought to protect ourselves from. We have built for ourselves a little ark where we are safe from the storms of a great ocean, but the ark is not capable of protecting us forever.”
Sensing Russell had said what he wished to say, Doug continued: “When a certain manner of thought is working for a group, those within it are quite willing to see the world through the parameters of the existing narrative.[L24] Thus a successful paradigm tends towards a sameness of thought, for who can argue with success? In the last century or so, our society has achieved unprecedented success. Never in the history of the world has a paradigm led to such advancement of the human race. And success, as it always does, leads to an unwillingness to have a different opinion. We begin to accept as fact what we once realized was only a perspective. Why mess with or question what is working so well?”
“More than an unwillingness for different opinions,” it was Johnny’s[L25] turn to have a say. “An intolerance for opinions that differ is more like it.”
“At any rate,” said Russell, “the very success of our present generation has led to its inability to perceive of different ways of looking at things. In past ages, in other cultures, people that perceived reality differently than the rest were often persecuted, martyred.[L26] ”
“And now?” asked Mindy.
“Now? Now they simply do not exist.”
“What you describe sounds like what could have happened in the Soviet Union,” said Dave. He was not trying to argue, didn’t believe he was in a position to argue. But he did seek to understand, and so was unafraid to question. “Or Europe under the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. But life isn’t like that now. Nobody can control the information we receive, nobody can control the way news is reported. We’re free, in our country, at least. I mean, more free than most.”
“You tend to overestimate the role of force in such matters,” said Doug. “Or will, for that matter, or even awareness. People assume that since there is no dictator that sits over us that we are all free to be individuals. But we’re not. Maybe we don’t realize it, but we’re not.”
“We’re sheep in wolves’ clothing,” laughed Johnny. “All products of a Madison Avenue campaign that makes us think we’re acting in our own best interests when all the while we’re part of the machine.”[L28]
Doug was about to continue, but Johnny was just starting. It seemed as though, while they were all speaking from a shared pool of knowledge, each of them had their own interpretation of things. [L29] Dave was curious what Izzy might have added to the conversation.
“A century ago, all houses were made individually,” Johnny continued, taking his turn at attempting to explain. “Then someone standardized the process in order to make them easier to build, and suddenly we all end up living in cookie cutter houses. And with modern automation came mass-produced goods. To produce such goods, tasks were broken up into simplistic little blocks so that the people who were put into their roles could be interchangeable. Of course, to buy the standardized products made by standardized workers, the system needed standardized consumers. It didn’t do any good to mass-produce an item when you had many people desiring many different things. So you needed to market to the masses, create a common desire for everyone. And since the whole concept was predicated on the idea that mass production called for mass consumption, material goods were sold as the cure for all our ills. Have a headache? Take an aspirin. Insecure about your place in the world? Buy a fancy car. Tired from working too much? Take a pill or buy a comfy chair to relax in.
“And since manufactured goods were what our paradigm did well,” again inserting his own perspective, Johnny added, “questions of spirituality were of little use. What good was meditation or contemplation or prayer when the real problems of the world were halitosis and waxy yellow build up?”[L30]
[L2] While I always write from a restricted point of view, I occasionally like to intermingle author Point of View with character POV. Here I try to give it a cinematic effect, having the camera slowly swoop in from an establishing shot into a more personal view.
[L3]I appreciate work done not just for a paycheck but done with legitimate passion and pride. And ambition. People seemed to make things with an eye to the future back then, now they make things with an eye towards profit. This is me saying I have pride in what I make, I have an obligation to those who have taught me my trade. Of course, it also applies to the characters in the book, who are looking for a connection to truth and not merely trying to fit in to the environment they find themselves in.
[L6]Like the evergreens, we see something that was once in its prime, yet is still impressive in advanced age.
[L11]I’m not sure why I included this but I liked it. I think when writing, one does not have to know why something effects one the way it does.
[L13]Russell is the first casualty shown of what can happen to one who strays too far out from the safety of the herd mentality.
[L14]I’m not a hundred percent sure if Dave and Mindy should trust Doug at this point. Therefore I’m playing his character as a little vague, and yet always having perfectly logical reasons for his vagueness.
[L15]It is so easy for us to find simple answers to complex problems that we don’t want to let go of them even when the answers we hold are not only insufficient but actively harming us.
[L16]Unlike typical books dealing with magic, each of the characters in this book have a power that deals only with perception. Nobody can make a twig turn into a snake, or levitate things with their mind. Rather, it is the power we as human beings acquire as a result of seeing life more perfectly.
[L17]Seeing beyond the times and attitudes that surround you can give you power that others do not comprehend. It is not in their universe. Plato’s allegory of the cave, which shall be discussed.
[L18]Mindy has experienced everything Dave has, but she does not consider the idea that having perceived she too will acquire abilities as a result of perception.
[L20]As soon as we believe we understand a person or an object or an idea, we cease to question it. It has become a static thing rather than a dynamic one. And in reality, there is no such thing as static. Nor is there such a thing as a complete understanding of anything.
[L21]After three books, I see that choosing current day oddity of thought might not be the easiest way to get my point across. In my book, Seven Stones, I deal with the same issue in the year 1913, where it is really easy to point out the absurdities that people of a certain era can ascribe to. Unfortunately, it’s easier to see such things in others than see it in ourselves or our times.
[L22]Consciousness exists on a group level as well as an individual level. We tend not to admit that. So much of who we are depends upon what the group we are in determines we should be.
[L26]How many people have been killed because they happen to perceive the world somewhat differently than the ruling class does? Sometimes those distinctions can be quite tiny.
[L27]Our current world is more homogenous than at any time in our history. The reasons for this are: 1. We are more alienated from the natural world, thereby stripping us of the common sense needed to live in that world. 2. The success of capitalism is unlike anything seen before. Never before in our history has so much changed with so little thought. 3. Mass communication has been able to propagandize us in a way before undreamed of.
[L28]I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the power that advertisement has had on shaping our behaviors. The new field of psychology revolutionized propaganda.
[L29]The old story of the three blind men describing an elephant by the part they were able to feel.