Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Sleep Of Reason Chapter 8

A lot of the writing I've done on this book has been without a conscious filter. I'll be curious to reread it and discover if it has any value. I'm sure it will have to be substantially edited, but I'm convinced that the most interesting writing is not done by the critical mind. At any rate, the title, The Sleep of Reason seems appropriate:

Chapter 8

Unable to fight the desire for company, the temptation to contact Dave again struck her. To resist the idea, she decided to check Doug’s office to see if she could locate any information on Russell. That was the answer to her worry and doubt: distraction and possible knowledge to be gained. Doug seemed to hold Russell in high regard, despite Russell’s humble, even meek demeanor. And there was a quiet confidence in Russell, she had seen that.
Mindy had access to Doug’s office but knew it wasn’t good form to go snooping around on the boss’s business. It wasn’t proper to go sneaking through drawers and file cabinets, but she needed more answers than she was getting. She trusted Doug because she had to, not because she wanted to. If Doug was not happy with her digging for information she would be willing to take the consequences. She and Dave’s decision to stay with Doug had been a tentative one, one that hung on a fine balance (?).
She entered the office located behind the display counter. She was allowed access there, but the way she intended to search the place was not something she wanted to be discovered. She opened drawers in Doug’s desk and found each of them to be stuffed with various papers, business cards, and other items. If ever a man needed a secretary, thought Mindy. Izzy’s description of an absent-minded professor came back to her and the state of Doug’s desk supported the idea. It seemed that Doug was always in pursuit of something, books, magic equipment and collectibles if not ideas. But it was Doug’s approach to life, to follow his inspirations faster than he could assemble them into a neat whole. She’d read somewhere that a messy desk was a sign of intelligence. If this was true, Doug was the next Einstein.
There were several times she thought she saw the name Russell written, but Doug’s hastily scribbled writing was open to interpretation. It was only when she found a list that she knew she had what she was looking for. On it were names of people, some she recognized, some she did not. Among the names was an Alan Clifton, which had been crossed out. Also listed was Jonathon Sinclair, Isadore Collins, and Russel Slater. And listed on the bottom were the names Dave Morse and Mindy Virgilio. Next to the names were the persons abilities. By Izzy’s name was the comment: ability to weave a narrative from incomplete information. Next to Johnny’s was the ability to interact with psychic residue. Next to Russell’s was a list: scryving, astral travel, rudimentary telekenesis, etc. Next to Dave’s name were the words “dream visions”, while next to Mindy’s name was a question mark.
What was she doing on the list? She didn’t have any abilities. Did she? No. At least, she hadn’t exhibited any signs of any yet. But she thought of the discussion they had had with Russell and Doug. They had said the very fact that they saw things others didn’t was the reason for Dave acquiring the ability to see things in his dreams. If that were true, and Mindy had seen things that others don’t, then it would only stand to reason that she too would have some ability as a result. But what? She really didn’t care to know. Now that she had found Russell’s name, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to ask him questions. But she realized it didn’t really matter what she wanted, she needed answers.

Returning to the sales counter, she sat herself in front of the computer monitor. Without experience of locating people online, she typed Russell Slater into Facebook just to see what would turn up. There was exactly many matches, but she recognized his face among the crowd. Mindy took a chance and sent a friend request. She was surprised when a moment later she heard her computer sound loudly, letting her know her request had been accepted. She saw a familiar image on her screen.
Checking his page before deciding to initiate a conversation, she noticed 5,000 friends.
“Russell?” Mindy typed.
“Mindy. How are you doing?”
“Fine. I was just alone and thought if you weren’t busy you might be able to answer some questions.”
Mindy received a request for a video chat, which she accepted. A familiar face appeared, friendly but awkward, almost childish yet obviously intelligent. She couldn’t tell what it was behind him, she almost thought it was a mirror.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you and Dave,” said a voice that reminded her of a (Promising child) young man who sought to sound older than his years. “Russell likes to keep his new recruits to himself.”
Mindy couldn’t help thinking there was something missing in Russell. He seemed to be the stereotypical egghead who possessed vast amounts of knowledge while lacking basic social skills. There was a certain amount of awkwardness to him that he strived to ignore.
“I was thinking the same thing about you,” said Mindy. “I’ve only ever seen you through a television or computer screen. It’s like Doug keeps you in a box.” Mindy laughed, but humor did not appear to be one of Russell’s strong suits.
“I don’t get out that way much,” said Russell, avoiding looking directly at the screen. “There’s really no need to, not when technology can provide all the communication necessary.”
“Well that should be good enough for the questions I have. It’s not just you Doug keeps things from.
“And what is it you wish to know?”
“Well, I feel awkward even talking about such things. It’s like something you’re not supposed to talk about, something you keep secret. I can only talk to Dave and Izzy about it because they experienced it too. They’re in on it. But to talk to someone like you, someone I don’t really know…”
“Let me assure you that there is nothing you can tell me that will surprise me. You had your first encounter in April? What is that, like six months now? I have more than two decades worth of research into aspects of reality that most people never encounter.”
More than two decades, Mindy couldn’t help thinking. Either Russell looked incredibly young for his age or his experiences began when he was quite young.
“Well, back when all this began, Dave began to have dreams. I was quite willing to believe that they were just that, that maybe my friend I’d known most of my life was beginning to unravel. Hell, Dave was willing to believe that too. It wasn’t until we both saw things we couldn’t deny with our own eyes that we had to admit it wasn’t just madness. We were seeing things that others don’t—we were seeing things that others would call crazy.”
“If one person sees something unusual it is not to be believed,” said Russell. “If two people see it, it begins to appear true. If everyone sees it, it is undeniable. That is the way the human psyche is constructed. And now you have others, people like Doug, and Johnny and Izzy and myself who agree with your story. Now it’s even harder to deny what you have seen. And you would like to, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah. I guess I would. But failing that, I’d like to understand it. It seems like we are in the middle, not being able to doubt it, but not being able to understand it.”
“I’ll help you as best I can, although ultimately it is up to you to perceive the truth in whatever I say. Your ability to see, to understand, makes you more able to move your way through the world. And when I say you, I mean anybody. Knowledge is power. The more clearly you perceive the world you live in, the greater your ability to affect change in that world. Because Dave was able to see things beyond the accepted paradigms he acquired powers that did not exist within that paradigm. He catches glimpses in his dreams of things he couldn’t possibly know. That is a power, but it is one of perception. Izzy has an ability to gain knowledge through creating stories. He takes isolated facts, perceptions, and from them he has the ability not only to weave a narrative, but to a certain degree shape that narrative. Johnny has an ability to see the remaining spiritual echoes of perished souls. In this way he is able to alter the emotional atmosphere of a given area.
“Yes, but ghosts and demons…” Mindy realized she had cut him off before he got around to Doug. She wanted to know what abilities he had, but was already committed to another line of thought. “It’s like we’ve entered a different universe where all the laws are changed.”
“Watch this video,” said Russell, sending her this message on her Facebook page:
“It’s something I share with new recruits. It will help you understand. A little.”
Mindy clicked on the link. It was a video titled Test Your Awareness: Do The Test. It showed two teams of 4, one team in black, the other in white. She was asked to count the amount of passes the team in white made, and she was quite happy when the video confirmed her count of 13. Her feeling of pride faded, though, when the narrator asked if she had also seen the moonwalking bear. There was no way something like that avoided her sight, she thought. The video was then rewound and, her mind now no longer busy counting passes, she clearly saw a man dressed in a bear suit walk into frame, walk into the middle, turn around and walked backwards off screen. She couldn’t believe that this was the same video, could not believe she had missed something so obvious. It was a trick, nothing more. She returned the video to the beginning, watch the part she had originally watched. Again, a man dressed as a bear walked into frame, again moonwalked his way off it.
There was no way she did not notice it, there must be some kind of trick.
“That can’t be real,” she said.
“It’s just a simple case of misdirection,” said Russell, exhibiting a degree of satisfaction with the result. “You as a magician’s assistant must be familiar with the concept.”
“Okay,” said Mindy, retreating from the specific example but not the overall concept. “But that is a lonnng way from what we are talking about. It’s a big difference from a simple case of misdirection and a colossal prank by God. How is it that people can not only be fooled once but consistently by some sort of misdirection?”
“Because human consciousness is not what we like to think it is, at least for the most part. We have some dim awareness, some small degree of something we like to call intellect, and we arrogantly presume it is the deciding factor in how we see, what we do. We amuse ourselves in playing a trick on a dog, searching for a ball that we have not thrown, all the time feeling ourselves intellectual superiors. But the truth is our intellectual superiority is of a fractional degree, and our amount of interaction with the universe exponential. The vast amount of dealings with the outside world is actually done on primitive levels. A scent, a color, a person’s relative height all influence our behavior much more than we ever permit ourselves to see.
“The psychological term for it is the illusion of knowledge, the belief that we know more than we know. The thought that the simple model we created of the universe is the universe. Because it works, because it keeps us moving, we accept its reality. And when things that do not fit into our model pop up, we rationalize them, dismiss them because it would be too much of a bother to incorporate them into our unsophisticated model.”
“So what the hell does this have to do with ghosts? And devils? And God knows what else?”
“I’ve got another video for you to watch.” Again, he sent a link to her Facebook page: Feeling the frustration rising in her, Mindy nevertheless clicked on it. It was a video of a mass of ants swarming in a circle.
“What is it?”
“Ants have the ability to follow the scent of the one in front of them. In such a way they are able to send out scout ants in order to find a source of food. Once the food is found, the others follow the scent in order to find the food. It’s an ingenious system. And it works. That is, until something throws a wrench in the system. That’s what happened here. The ants all followed one another but somehow ended up circling back upon themselves. Now stuck in the loop, a circular mill, it is called, they will continue to follow each other blindly until they drop dead from exhaustion.
“Their system was a complex one,” Russell continued, “but imperfect. Humans are smarter, but not by as much as we would like to think, not when compared to any vast span. We have little more understanding than ants in the grand scheme of things. What we see—or think we see—are mere glimpses of what truly is. We see the world in a way that works for us, it is functional vision, at least as long as we need to know how many times the basketball was passed. Ghosts, demons, they’re like moonwalking bears that most of us don’t see. Do you get it?”
“I think you do, actually. You begin to understand, at least.”
“But the bear wasn’t actually a bear but a man in a bear suit. Does that mean what we mistake for ghosts or demons, while being something beyond the basketball game we normally are involved in, it is not ‘really’ a ghost but some manifestation of human energy?”
“That’s not really where I was going, but I think the analogy holds.”
“I don’t even know what it was I said.”
“I think you understand, in some manner. Ghosts, demons, tulpa, they are all products of human psychic energy. They are products of the human subconscious, manifesting themselves in a way humans can understand. You see, most of what we think of as psychic energy takes place not only in the sub-conscious but outside of the individual. We think of ourselves as separate and distinct, but much of the time our minds work like computers that are working on the problems of other computers. (clarify) We are synapses in a vast brain that does the thinking for us all.”
In his excitement with the ideas he was communicating, he momentarily forgot his discomfort with direct eye contact. He stared at Mindy, and in that moment realized how completely lost she looked. He cast his eyes away and muttered, “Sorry, I got a little carried away. But you have broken through the walls that society, that fear has placed upon you. You will grow to understand the misconceptions that most of us suffer under. Don’t worry if you don’t understand some of the concepts, it will come. It’s a far more complex paradigm than your mind is used to using, it’s only natural that it will be a little unbalancing.”
“Should I be taking notes?” said Mindy, attempting a little humor in order to lighten the conversation.
“No need. These are the sort of things that you won’t forget. They are abilities, like riding a bike, not bits of data like a locker combination.”
Mindy realized that whatever conversation she had with Russell, whatever he could learn from him, would not be the simple answers she had hope to gain in order give her peace about her and Dave’s position. The answers Russell had were so large that they would totally reshape her perspective, take years for her to feel some sense of balance again. She was beginning a journey that she knew would not be lightly completed. The seeds that had been planted in her mind were not (easy flowers) but oak trees.
Enough of concepts, for today at least,” Russell said in a manner that showed he was not completely devoid of humor. “Perhaps there are other answers I can give you that aren’t so involved.”
Mindy thought it over for a moment, unwilling to be sucked in again to explanations that were beyond her. “Tell me about Doug. What do you know about him.
“He’s a hobbyist,” said Russell, “playing with forces far beyond him. He was fortunate to have a degree of insight and enough money to follow his interests, but that means little in the big picture.
Mindy was alarmed. This was not something she wanted to hear.
“That’s not to say he’s a bad guy or anything. “And to be fair, such forces are beyond any of us. He’s well intentioned, I believe, but he has no idea what he’s involved in.”
“And what makes you so much more knowledgeable that Doug?” asked Mindy, almost defensive of Doug because of her need to believe he was someone who might be able to take care of them.
“Because this has been all mapped out long before Doug took in interest in such things.”
“By who?”
“By the government, among others. By advertisers and marketing firms. By anyone who has an interest in determining how you think and feel, in what you believe. Billions are paid each year to get your mind to see the many choices of bottled water you have rather than seeing the lakes and rivers that are being polluted.”
“Is it really that bad?” asked Mindy. She was beginning to sense the amount her perceptions were shaped by others’ perceptions, but perhaps she didn’t want to admit how little in control of her own life she was.
“Those who rule have always been interested in shaping the perceptions of those who are ruled. But never in the history of humanity has their reach been so great. Advances in technology and psychology have enabled the messages of the rulers to permeate our consciousness that no other society could have imagined.”
There was a lot more Mindy wanted to ask, but she found herself delving in too deep again. It was best that she stick to the shallower water, at least for now.
“And what about you, Russell? Where did all of your information and insight come from?”
“I worked for various governments. Oh no, not as an agent, more of a guinea pig. I had certain talents that attracted attention. But this is one field of study where the guinea pig is apt to learn as much or more than those who study him. I wasn’t a mere test case like Ted Kaczynsky, a man without innate talent that they simply experimented on. I had more value, was fortunate to be left more or left intact.”
“Ted Kaczynsky? The Unibomber was the subject of government testing?”
“Yeah. I’ll send you some links about it. Don’t go sticking your head down too far into that rabbit hole,” Russell laughed, showing a capacity for humor for a second time, “the truth is so tangled in the fantasies of those that survived it you’ll end up driving yourself insane.”
“But back to me. When our government discovered that the Soviets were conducting scientific experiments into psychic phenomena, we decided we should look into such matters as well. Again, always with a military angle. And when the Soviet Union fell and there was no money left for them to pay for such programs, we permitted some of their scientists to emigrate to the U.S. and continue their experiments. I had certain innate talents that were recognized—how I’m not quite sure—and I was recruited into their programs. You may laugh to think of your government spending your tax dollars on such studies as telekenesis and astral projection, but the people in control are always looking for any way to expand that control. The U.S., U.S.S.R., even the Nazis were looking for supernatural means of obtaining military victory. That’s why I say Doug is a hobbyist. By the time an idea makes its way into a newspaper or some mass media film, it’s already been thoroughly explored by the military.”
Mindy heard voices outside the shop door. She wasn’t sure if they were about to enter, but she took the moment to end the conversation with Russell. He had already given her more information than she could possibly digest. She had wanted answers, as well as a diversion from worrying about Dave. She had gotten neither.
“I think I hear people coming,” she said. “I’ll let you go, now. Thanks for the information. When I can stomach it, I’ll be back for more.”
“Sorry I overwhelmed you,” said Russell.
“Not at all.”

Mindy returned home later that evening, receiving a text from Dave that they had arrived at their destination and were so far both alive. Alone for the evening, she threw a pizza in the oven and sat herself in front of the television. TV had always given her a feeling that she was somehow connected to a vast world out there somewhere, but now she wondered exactly what it was she was connected to. What once bathed itself over her subconscious, uncritical mind now seemed to her a less than innocent diversion. She couldn’t block out the idea that as she was staring into the screen that something was staring back at her. It left her with such an unnerving feeling that the television was off before the oven timer sounded.
While eating she stared instead into her laptop. She went to check Facebook but got out when she noticed Russell was still on. She really had no desire to bite off more of the information he was willing to provide when she already had so much to digest. She went to bed early, her thoughts busy with assembling ideas Russell had provided, her cell phone next to her in case Dave reported back.

She awoke in the middle of the night to a message from Dave that told her they had encountered and survived a ghost. He would see her after the show the next night, perhaps driving all the way back.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Sleep of Reason Chapter 7

My writing has for a time been inevitably detained, but I am now back on track. Here we are being re-introduced to a character who played a prominent part in Perchance To Dream:

Chapter 7


Mindy looked at her cell phone absentmindedly, her attention being constantly distracted by the dozens of monster masks displayed across from the counter she was leaning on. The masks were of the vintage variety: Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and others she did not recognize. Mindy knew they hadn’t sold a single one since she started working there, but Doug liked to have them staring at him when he was in his store. Doug was a man with the resources to create whatever environment he chose to inhabit—no matter how strange—and was not afraid to do so. He was an overgrown child, Mindy couldn’t help thinking, wasting money that could have gone to more worthwhile goals. Still, it was people like him who made the world a little more colorful. As far as Mindy knew, Doug didn’t spend his wealth on scholarships for poor children or other charitable deeds. But every child that walked into his store—whether or not they had a cent to spend—was treated to the elaborate displays that had to cost far more money than they brought in.

And flock to the store kids did, always looking for a little amusement. At least in the summer months. This was the Wisconsin Dells, Water Park Capital of the World! But while there were plenty of indoor water parks and other sources of amusement available in November, there hadn’t been a customer for the better part of an hour now. Mindy was needed here—that’s what Doug said—but she couldn’t help thinking she could have gone with Johnny and Dave. She really wasn’t sure of Doug’s priorities, but in the final analysis Doug was the one who signed the checks. Dave and Mindy could work there or quit (which was a possibility never far from her mind), those were the options. And, for now at least, staying seemed the path of least resistance. While Doug was resistant to questioning, there was still the chance of learning a little more from him or one of the others. Presumably that’s what Dave was doing now as he travelled to…what was the name of that town again? Manitowic?

Of course although there was no large throngs of vacationers, there was other business to tend to. Doug’s business went beyond the little store selling cheap tricks to tourists. Doug knew all the important players in performing and collecting magic. He was always on the lookout for rarities and investment opportunities. And so Mindy minded the store.

She stared at her phone while thoughtlessly rolling a coin across her knuckles. It was a skill magicians prided themselves on, something that demonstrated their manual dexterity. She could always do it more smoothly than Dave and it had always annoyed him. There wasn’t much that provoked annoyance in him, but he took magic very seriously and was competitive when it came to skills related to the trade. So Mindy had kept in constant practice in order to have that thorn to press in his side whenever he got to feeling too smart for his own good.

She resisted the urge to text him, didn’t want him to know she worried about him. He was with Johnny, who knew a hell of a lot more than she did concerning such matters as they were now caught up in, but she was not one to delegate tasks when the safety of loved ones was concerned.

She was stuck somewhere between wanting to contact Dave and not wanting to lay bare her concern when she was startled by the opening of the door. She turned to face it and saw Izzy, the man who had introduced her and Dave into what lay beyond The Beyond Show. They had shared a frightening adventure, trying to prevent a replay of a mass suicide that had occurred some thirty years before. And while Izzy accompanied them on their quest, he did not reveal he accompanied them at the request of Doug, did not reveal that he had orders to keep an eye on them. He was a spinner of stories, weaving the most absurd plots and passing them off as truths.

And yet she liked him. At least part of her did. There was some truth to him that transcended her normal criteria, got him past her barriers that kept many others out.

Izzy was a middle-aged man of Native American ancestry, though of what tribe Mindy never got around to discovering. There was a lot that Izzy was never really clear about, a lot of things unspoken despite the fact that he was never at a loss for words. For Izzy, it was always about stories and the details didn’t matter much. There are bigger facts than the truth, she’d heard him say. To trust Izzy, you had to believe the stories he told, had to want to believe them. Or at least you had to find meaning in them. And Mindy did. Well, more or less. Maybe. She wasn’t really sure. But it felt good to believe him, felt good to think that every unanswerable question in life could be explained with a story.

But if it felt good to go along with his stories, she would never let him know that. There were still too many answers her intellect required regarding him. And the others as well. Still, it was good to see him again, good to get her mind off of worrying about Dave or at least have someone to talk to about it. Putting aside whatever instinctual urge she had to be combative, she said “Where have you been?”

“Didn’t Doug tell you? I’ve been on an important mission for him.” He was carrying what appeared to be two hat boxes and lifted them up for her to see. Setting them on the glass counter that separated them, he opened one and lifted from it something that Mindy for the briefest of moments nearly mistook for a severed head. After the initial jolt of surprise, she recognized it for what it was, yet another mask for the collection on the opposite wall. While its appearance was entirely human, it was as frightening as any of those that were on display.

“What is that?” Mindy asked, revolted by the fleshy face that stared at her like an executioner’s trophy.

“That, my dear young girl, is a Tor Johnson mask” said Izzy, rather pleased with himself, “star of such fabulous masterpieces as Beast of Yucca Flats and Plan 9 From Outer Space.” There was a certain amount of satisfaction he seemed to get from his triumph, as if he himself had a childhood tie to whatever black and white B-movies spawned such creatures.

“But wait…there’s more,” he said, and produced from the other box an even more revolting acquisition. “Behold, the Moleman!”

“That looks nothing like a mole,” said Mindy. “It looks like…a meal worm with leprosy.”

“It’s a mole man,” said Izzy. “And look—“ he reached back into the box and retrieved a pair of rubber hands. “The whole set. And in mint condition!”

“That was your big important secret mission you were on for Doug?” And here I was worried about worrying about him, she thought. She had imagined him facing something on the order of what they had faced on Devil’s Island, facing something along the lines of what Dave and Johnny were likely facing at that moment.

“Well, more or less,” replied Izzy. “You see, that was the missing piece. This Tor Johnson mask is the rarest of them all. Now Doug has the complete set.”

Izzy carried the masks over to the far wall and reverently placed them on the shelves. Mindy watched him, becoming disgusted with the whole situation.

“How am I supposed to trust someone who has nothing better to do with his time and money than acquire hunks of rubber from his childhood fantasies? Asked Mindy.

“Oh, you misunderstand,” said Izzy, turning to her with the look on his face turning quite serious. “These masks are more than mere curiosities. They are imbued with the desire for the mysterious of a million young boys now men, their sense of what is possible lost to them but remaining in curios such as these. Each of them separately have an acquired power of perception into realms most of us could never access without an object of power such as these. But together they can open vast portals into worlds most humans could never imagine. Let go of your conscious mind for a moment and see if you can sense the potency that resides in these cultural artifacts.”

Mindy tried to relax her mind, let go her thoughts and preconceptions in order to grasp some sort of sense of what Izzy was saying. But as she did so, she noticed a familiar glimmer in Izzy’s eye.

“You Bastard! You’re just having fun with me, aren’t you?”

A smile spread wide across Izzy’s face, amused at having put one over on Mindy.

“That’s not funny,” said Mindy, never at a loss for ways of expressing her displeasure. “Dave’s off God knows where, dealing with God knows what, and here you are screwing around. How am I supposed to trust any of you when you don’t treat things seriously?”

Izzy had a few laughs to get in before he could respond. “Gallows humor, Mindy. You can’t stay sane when dealing with things so far beyond comprehension without blowing off a little steam. And besides, who’s to say there’s not a degree of truth in what I said? Those masks, the fact that it’s a complete set, it’s important to Doug for some reason. If it makes him happy, makes his mind a little lighter, who knows what positive outcomes that might effect (?)”

“You know, your time might be better served helping me understand things a little better rather than having fun at my expense.”

“I tell stories, Mindy, it’s what I do. Hopefully you can learn something from them, but that’s not really up to me. At any rate, I’m not really the one to ask. I was the newest of the group until you and Dave came along.”

“Yeah, but the rest aren’t here, and I doubt Doug would tell me anything even if I asked him.”

“Yeah, Doug treats things on a need to know level, pretty much. It’s not so much that he’s keeping things to himself, at least I don’t think so. It’s like he’s afraid of sharing what he does know, afraid that his interpretation might not be the right one. Or he needs to hear your interpretation in order to know if it agrees with his. It’s not so much he’s hiding something as that he’s just more concerned about seeing things correctly. He uses everyone else as his feelers and he doesn’t want to bias our feedback with his own. And I don’t think it’s being a spoiled rich kid, although from what I’ve heard he’s got plenty. No, he’s reminds me more of one of those absent-minded intellectuals always in search of answers to the point of forgetting to eat or sleep.”

“And you’re willing to bet your life on your impressions of Doug?”

“I’ve got a healthy sense of self-preservation. And I’m not much of a gambler. Doug pays the bills, so I’m willing to play along. But I don’t think he’d be too willing to sacrifice any of us. He took it hard when Alan died. Stopped all work for a couple of weeks, supernatural and otherwise.”

“And what about Johnny? Is he okay?”

“You don’t have to worry about him. He knows what he’s doing, or so I’ve heard. And he’s a lover, not a fighter.”

“A lover?”

“Yeah. A religious man. And he’s got a girl. A real looker, I’ve seen a picture of her. But he happened to fall for a wild one. She wasn’t the kind to settle down, and he wasn’t the type to stop loving her. Had every reason to, too. She had a bit of an addiction to…well, dangerous living, mostly. I don’t know if you can blame somebody like that, it seems to be the way they’re wired or something. But she would leave him, go on a bender for a week, a month, a year. Then she’d show up on his doorstep when she’d run out of other options and he’d always take her back. See, he had an addiction to, an addiction to her. Some people are like that, some people love completely and never consider leaving no matter how much it cost them. So he’d always take her back. And she’d be good for a while until domestic living got to be too much and she’d be off again.”

“Mind you, I’m just telling you what I’ve been able to piece together from Johnny and Doug and Al, but I’m rather talented at piecing together a story if I don’t mind saying so.”

“Do go on,” said Mindy. She wasn’t sure how close to reality Izzy’s stories got, but they were always of interest. And she was always able to get insight from them. It occurred to her at that moment that what he had was an ability comparable to Dave’s. As Dave was able to gleam truth from dreams, Izzy seemed to gather truth from stories. Mindy was willing to gather information in whatever way was available.

“She was an artist. Raychel, that’s her name. Truly gifted, as you have seen.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, Johnny, of course. That’s all her work.”

“She did that?”

“At Johnny’s insistence. Never had a tattoo in his life until he met her. And I don’t know his full intention, but that never stopped me from giving my own spin on things,” he gave her a smile. “I believe he wanted to encourage her talent, to allow her to find a constructive outlet for the urges of freedom she could not contain. Or perhaps he wanted to show his commitment to her, to demonstrate that he was hers completely. I believe on some level that by his choice of subject matter he sought to keep Raychel’s thoughts fixed upon spiritual themes. They’re all Bible related tattoos, you know. I’ve seen them all, more than I wanted, actually. Ask him and he’ll show you too, if you’re not the squeamish type.”

Mindy hadn’t pegged Johnny as the religious type. Nor the one woman type either. She had misjudged him, but she forgave herself for it.

“And did he win her over? Did she ever settle down.”

“Oh, she settled down, alright, but if it was Johnny’s doing, I couldn’t tell you. She got sick, so sick that bad behavior was no longer an option. For a while Johnny took care of her, but she got so bad he couldn’t do it by himself. He still visits her. She’s in a hospital in Marshfield. Johnny still regularly visits her. She’s still the only woman in his life. I’ll have to pay her a visit with him sometime. I’ve been meaning to.”

The story Izzy told her made her stop worrying for a while about Dave, made her worry for Johnny instead. She couldn’t imagine allowing herself to be treated like that, but part of her respected the sacrifice Johnny was capable of.

She wanted to get Johnny and Dave out of her thoughts for a while, wanted to do something constructive rather than worry about others. So before Izzy decided it was time to go, she thought she’d pepper him with some more questions.

“You weren’t there when Doug asked us to join you guys. He said we society is undergoing a sort of paradigm shift, that our way of seeing life is no longer a sufficient tool for the reality of our current situation. Is this true?”

“That’s Doug’s story, which I think is more or less true. But the more opinions you get on the matter the closer to the truth you’re going to get. Here’s my take: Every story starts out simple, but if it is a good one, people add to it, make it more complicated. If too many stories are told around the central story, it’s hard to keep the message consistent. People lose track of the many little details. So the old gets swept away. The story starts fresh, with the essential elements remaining, the ones that deal with the reality at hand.”

“A reboot,” said Mindy.

“Yeah, like that. Like an animal that sheds its skin, humanity is carrying around a big shell of dead stories.”


“But if you’re looking for a better understanding of what’s going on,” said Izzy, as if in answer to her thoughts, “you should try talking to Russell, then. It seems he’s available anytime Doug calls him.”

“Do you know how I could reach him?”

“No, but you could probably find him doing a little searching. Nobody stays hidden from those amazing little devices attached to all-seeing satellites that constantly roam the sky,” he said, staring at Mindy’s cell phone that still sat on the counter.

“So you suggest that I search the internet for a guy name Russell?”

“There’s got to be something around here that might give you a little information. Somewhere in Doug’s office, perhaps. I’ve got to be going. I just got back from Philadelphia with those masks and I’m off to Denver tomorrow on another piece of important business. I’m earning my paycheck this week, let me tell you.”

Izzy was already heading towards the door when Mindy stopped him. “Why? Why send you to conduct a business deal when he could just do a deal over the phone and have the items shipped here? Why send you all over the place?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a story teller. I can be rather persuasive with the right sort of people…and there was a little more involved with the Philly trip than just a couple of masks. I’ll fill you in on it when I get back from Denver.”

He turned his back on her and walked through the door. She could perceive in his posture and in his gait that there seemed to be more to his travels than the purchase of collectibles. His shoulders appeared hunched as though he had been carrying a great weight, and Mindy found herself forgiving him for his rather mean joke at her expense. If he was too tired for talking then he was tired indeed. She wished he would stay longer, wished he would share more of what he knew, but she didn’t want to keep him from whatever rest he required. Perhaps Dave and she had yet to see the worst of what this line of business had to offer.