Part 1--A Call for Help
Drifting high on the swirling currents, I felt the chest muscles rippling as sweeping wings carried me aloft. Blood pumping through massive arteries bore oxygen gleaned from the rarified air by powerful lungs. A furnace…an engine of infinite power and complexity, a man, a mount, and strangely something much more than all, the great black dragon soared effortlessly through the night.
Minor alterations, muscles tensed, sinews relaxed. A glance, subtle movements…and the flight changed. Almost randomly or at a whim, entire worlds slide by. Realities distort as the beast plummets nearly to its destruction, only to scream in joyous ecstasy and climb back to the heights—simply to do it all over again. It is chaos unleashed to any observing, but actually tightly, precisely controlled—a dance of intricate design, influenced only by the dancers, the flowing passion, and the stars above.
And then there’s the music…
The dance is accompanied by deep, glorious, intricate harmony that emanates from the power of the universe itself…or perhaps it comes from deep in the soul. There is very little difference between them at the moment.
Overwhelmed with the beauty and passion of it, so caught up in the gestalt, so absorbed by the music, I didn’t understand when the first ice-cold flash of pain threatened to spin me into unconsciousness. It happened so fast I wasn’t sure it was really even there.
The second slashing white-hot agony left absolutely no doubt.
I was dreaming, and I knew it. I’ve done it before. In point of fact, I do it all the time. They are inevitably…interesting. This time something was different.
Some believe dreams are the subconscious’s way to organize extra sensory input that cannot be processed during waking hours. Basically the five senses, and a few extra ones for good measure, are taking in far more information than can be comprehended in real-time. Rather than losing the extra data, the brain shuttles it off to a buffer and then as time permits, processes the information. It discards meaningless data, but should it find a pattern or meaning, shunts the processed bits of information back to the conscious mind.
They may come as strong feelings, or perhaps intuition or vague unease. Extreme cases may hear voices, suddenly “remember” something, or maybe even experience a vision. If we are asleep, we call it dreaming. If we are awake, we call it madness...
Flying and free. The clean air clearing my head of old pains. A down-sweep of wings. Heady joy found simply soaring and diving. The taste of the air…the texture of the currents. Oh the POWER!
Lost in the purity of the experience, completely absorbed, it was some time before I realized that I was not the one in control. Uneasily I recalled the pain felt earlier. What could that mean?
A minor jolt; some small pain; a desired correction that I couldn’t make happen; All added up to make me realize the truth. Although enticingly familiar, this was not my dream. This was somebody else’s flight…I was simply along for the ride. At once I was fearful and fascinated. Why was I here? Whose experience was I sharing? How? Where would it take me? Nothing was clear.
Movement above us. A threat? Failure to react. “I” could see it, why couldn’t “we”? A feeling of impending doom. My warnings unheeded. I cried out in vain, finally understanding that in this place, in this other person’s dream, I had absolutely no influence.
A flash. A noise. I screamed as intense pain tore across my soul. Blinded by the agony, ripped apart, the dragon fell into the chaos. No longer able to distinguish myself as a separate entity, I fell with it. Waves of pain overwhelmed our senses. Angry colors played across our vision. Death reached for us. Tortured beyond endurance, we welcomed it.
“Wait!” My small voice cried out. “It’s not time!” Still, we fell, no longer even struggling.
My tortured mind began to comprehend that if I perished in this place, it would somehow mean death in my own world as well.
“Fight, damn you!” I screamed, but there was no consciousness left to answer me. That actually made it easier. The dragon was nearly destroyed and that gave me some measure of control.
A Herculean effort, a twist, and abruptly I ripped away from the death and pain. Plummeting away from the sundered beast, paralyzed by the loss, I could only fall…and weep. What had happened here?
I cried out as I fell from the high bed, smashing my head on the bedside table as I crashed to the floor. A lamp fell on me and I heard glass breaking. Throwing off the blankets and stray pillows that had fallen with me, I lurched for the bathroom, half crawling, half running, barely making it before skidding to my knees and retching. Minutes went by before I could catch my breath. Of its own accord my head was flailing around and I realized I was looking in vain for the great dragon, but all I could see was red with black patches swimming across my vision. That only spawned another round of retching and I forced my eyes closed.
By feel I stumbled into the shower and spun the faucet handles, sloppily adjusting the water as hot and as hard as I could stand it. I was sobbing uncontrollably from the pain and loss of the dream and I had to concentrate to get a full breath in between the racking sobs. The hot jets and soothing steam slowly returned me to the real world and calmed my spasms. Finally, mostly in control of myself, I was able to gasp, “Oh my god!” and slowly open my eyes.
The light and normality of the bathroom were strangely reasurring.
“What the hell was that about?” I shouted to the walls. I wasn’t expecting any answers. I certainly didn’t know and only the two cats were in the house. The wife had gone on a vacation to see her parents and I wasn’t expecting her back for at least another week. That was a relief, because as much as I desperately needed to hold somebody...anybody...I couldn't explain this to myself. What would I have said to her?
The stinging on my scalp and the traces of red washing down the drain with the shower water brought me the rest of the way into reality. I put my hand to my head and felt around. The cut was small, but bleeding profusely, and there was already a large bump. I pulled a washcloth from the rack and pressed it hard against the wound. I’d get some ice for it later.
All too soon the hot water began to run out. I had been thinking hard and long about the dream and what I had carried away from it. For once, my intuition was failing me completely. I had a strong sense of foreboding and loss, yet no hint of why or what I should do. I shut off the shower and as I looked at the chaos in the bedroom, resolved to make some phone calls.
The mess was cleaned up and I was tucked into my warm bed trying to sleep. The cats had been cowering under the couch, but once I cleaned the blood up and coaxed them out, they had contentedly curled up beside me on the bed. Both were asleep and purring gently and I found I envied them.
Several phone calls had assured me that close friends and family were all accounted for, yet still I could not shake the atmosphere of loss and foreboding. Something was wrong. As I fell into an uneasy sleep I wondered how long I would have to wait to find out what.
Five nights would pass by before I had my answer.
I knew when the phone rang that it was bad news. Nothing good ever comes from a 2am phone call.
I answered on the third ring. “Hello?”
There was no reply, but there was a connection. I could hear a breath, almost a sigh. I have a strong sense about these things and waited patiently. Somebody was deciding something.
Finally. Hesitatingly. “Daniel?”
I recognized the voice. I could think of no reason she would ever call me. I could think of several reasons why she wouldn’t though. “She hates me” would be high on that list.
I blinked a couple times before answering, trying to collect my thoughts. “Yeah?”
“Daniel, I’m not…well…you know I wouldn’t call you.”
That was an understatement but there was no point in antagonizing her. I kept my voice cool and even. “Yes, I know.” I took a breath. “Yet here we are.”
“He needs your help.”
There are lots of people in this world I’ll help out. Friends and family…and even strangers can ask for help and usually get it. Depending on the urgency, it may be on my schedule or terms…or I may ask all sorts of embarrassing questions, but I’ll help if I can.
That said, there is another category of “help”. There are people in this world that I will lay down my life for. People that can call and I’ll give them anything, anywhere, anytime…help them with anything…without comment or question. Bonds forged so tightly that time, distance, or arguments simply cannot break them. Bonds forged clawing our way out of several hells. Bonds sealed with blood. Lives saved, sacrifices made, and debts repaid so many times that it was no longer possible to make an accounting. With these people, so deep is the bond, that there is no need...or desire to understand the complicated web of experiences that bind us. Those people are few. There are maybe two of them on the planet. She was not one of them, even by extension. He was.
I took a deep breath and kept my voice even, “Then he’d better ask me for it.” I harbored no animosity for her at all. She hated me, yes, but I didn’t hate her. She simply didn’t have the right to ask and I couldn’t picture the circumstances where she would.
“I…well…you,” she stopped and took a breath. My foreboding from the nightmare I’d had days before clicked into place. I knew what she was going to say before she said it, but waited for it just the same. Her voice wavered, “He can’t ask you. He’s dead.”
Yah. That’d about do it.
She said it in a rush; “He was killed in an accident five nights ago.” I could hear anger in her voice.
Of course he was. Damn.
I closed my eyes and held the phone receiver against my forehead, the cool plastic soothing to the touch despite the crunching and crackling noises it was somehow making. I knew she was telling the truth. I had probably known it when I first heard her voice.
Those people are few. There used to be more. And now there was only one. Damn.
“I’m coming.” I hung up the phone. The crushed plastic handset fell apart in the cradle and I looked dully at the blood streaming from the cuts in my hand.
I looked at the empty place in the bed beside me and for once I was glad I was sleeping alone. The women in my life have always been happier to believe that there was no…before. My past before them has always been best left unexplored. Questions are answered, I’ve little to hide, but for the most part, they’ve been content not to know. Uncomfortable subjects, if they even come up, are met with a not-so-subtle subject change and never revisited. They prefer it if strong past influences simply don’t exist. This one was complicated, with portions of it deep and dark. Old lovers, old loyalties, dark moments, and joy beyond reckoning. Parts I would expose, but others I couldn't talk about...even with my wife. They could only be discussed with one other...and now he was dead. Secrets to the grave...pain far beyond.
I had to go, and was relieved not to have to try to explain why to the woman I love. That would take time I couldn't spare. Besides, I've been here before. It had cost me dearly then.
Ten minutes later I was northbound on The Dragon, and fast. The big machine was rumbling and warm beneath me, yet the cold night air was chilling me despite my heavy leather jacket. The discomfort was a welcome distraction. Right now I needed to ride more than I needed to think. My grief, if it ever came, would have to wait. Right now all I had was wonder. What could he want of me from beyond the grave, and just how was he asking? I snarled and twisted the throttle to its stop. The big bike wailed its lonely scream as we sailed into the night.
Twelve hours in the saddle. Nearly 900 miles traveled. I got off the big Valkyrie cruiser and entered the house uninvited, shaking with cold and exhaustion. They were waiting for me in the living room when I arrived.
She was there, of course, as well as an older man I did not recognize. Another, younger man stood by her side and although I did not recognize him personally, I knew his type. His look and bearing labeled him a security man, or perhaps a cop. Either way, in this circumstance, he was hired muscle. I suppressed a grin. Even with our history, even after all this time of being with him, she still did not know me…either my integrity, or what I am capable of under the right circumstances. Had she known the first, she would not have bothered with the muscle. Had she known the second, she would have brought a lot more.
The older man had the answers. Turned out he was a lawyer. He was almost smiling when he said, “I have the will…and some papers.” There was nothing mean spirited or deceitful in his eyes. He seemed relieved to see me.
I kept my eyes focused on his as I pointed at the hired muscle. “Is he relevant?”
“No.” There was just the trace of a grin, only for a moment.
I turned to the person in question. “You, leave. Now.”
“Now just a minute…” she had started to object but stopped when she saw my face.
I ignored her, watching the goon carefully. If he was going to do something stupid, now was when he’d do it. He was looking at each of us in turn—the girl, the lawyer, and then me. His gaze lingered longest on mine, his arms poised for action. I narrowed my eyes and barely shook my head, just once. I would give no other warning. Something had hardened in me during the long ride and I was spoiling for a fight. It would not be pretty or nice if it got started, and I would not lose. He was smarter than he looked. He relaxed perceptibly, shrugged, and walked out of the room.
Since nobody was offering, I stomped off to the kitchen to find the makings for some coffee, hoping to shake the off chill from the long ride. In a few minutes I had a steaming pot ready and I brought enough back for everybody, as well as cups and trimmings. I unceremoniously deposited it on the coffee table, selected a comfortable chair, sat down, and waited, sipping my coffee and munching some cookies I’d found. I said nothing. They had been waiting on me.
They’d get started when they were damn good and ready.
Index Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6