Ada’s face and the front of her legs began to tingle and fizz. The muscles at the base of her spine contracted sensuously, wantingly, as though she were lifting into Christopher’s touch. Yet she could sense him nowhere near her.
“Something’s happening,” she thought.
“Yes, now breathe- breathe deeply, from the roots of your soul,” a voice said. It was Patrick’s.
“How are you…?” She did as he asked and felt an ecstatic lifting. The base of her spine became warm and liquid, and then dropped away.
It was her awareness which was lifting; a watery, pulsing current, rising out of her body.
“Like Peter Pan, peeling off his shadow,” she thought, inches above her physical self, which now looked dark and empty on the bed beneath her. She was a rootless, shivery ecstasy. Tidal and greedy, only a shuddering of energy: “I’m floating!”
“More,” Patrick said. “Still more. Breathe in, and let go- there!”
She rushed up through the ceiling, over the houses and into a pure whiteness where Patrick stood waiting, his hands in his pockets. He rocked back on his heels, a slight smile on his stiff face.
“Very, very good,” he said. He came towards her, shadowless; younger than in waking life.
Ada looked down and saw her own naked feet, the hem of her smock dress. She looked at the creamy palms of her hands. “Where are we?”
“We’ve come into the next plane, Ada. This is your first lesson in projection.” He walked past her, and after a moment she followed. “You’ve done it before, of course, but in your sleep.”
“I’m not sleeping now?”
“No, my dear, you were just about to wake- the moments before waking are when the veils are at their thinnest. You are at your most receptive, and I want to teach you how to protect yourself. By bringing yourself here, you are safe from all intrusions, even the boy- unless you invite him to you.”
“But how are you here, then?”
“Ah. We are in my mind, now. This is my house of protection. It is where I sleep, where I keep my mind to protect it from those who would hurt me. It is a house of mirrors; Ada. It looks blank right now, doesn't it?”
“Look again,” he said.
A column soared up beside her. It was the color of illuminated sand, and blood warm to the touch. The sun shone on her outstretched hand against it; she looked up and saw a pale, Mediterranean sky with an electric orange sun. They stood in the garden of an empty golden temple, surrounded by high, craggy rocks. In the distance, she heard the rushing of the sea.
“You built all this?” she said. Small, feathery shadows came over the grounds, a brief, flickering eclipse of the light. Luna moths.
“Everything on this plane has its corollary in the real. I merely gathered it together. As my spiritual guard, if you will. And I’ll teach you to do the same.”
Now they were in his temple’s interior, rich with the scent of sandalwood and cool, filtered light. Somewhere in the distance, water trickled, echoing over the roseate stone. “The items in your house need not come from the same time. On this level, past, present and future exist as simultaneous event. Everything that is, was, or ever will be- you need only know where to look and it will find you.”
She was still touching the same column, but now it had become an interior one, cool from the shade. Ada pulled back hastily and walked around it, looking up to where it joined the arched ceiling, which was shadowy, and dusty with webs. The ceiling was pieced together from huge slabs of polished stone, each of which was marked with depositional patterns and delicate grains. As a whole, the stones became a Japanese painting.
“So I can tell the future?”
“In a sense. There are many futures and many pasts. Ada, sometimes the fate of all mankind has wheeled on the single decision of a powerful leader; indeed; there are pasts in which we have ceased to exist at all.” He smiled. “Wondrous, is it not?”
Ada went up a brief set of wide stairs which led to a doorway flanked on either side by massive, grinning totems and peered into a hallway. There, the ceiling was tiled to appear like the watery surface of the ocean seen from beneath. It was masterfully made so light seemed to seep through it, although the hall was dim. At the far end, which opened into another vast space, she could see ghostly, monolithic roots stretching down the wall, pooling onto the floor.
“It looks almost like a giant squid, doesn't it?” Ada said. “You almost expect it to start to move.”
“Thou breakest the head of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness,” Patrick said. “King James. I brought him here for company, though, not to be cut into pieces. What you’re looking at is the ceiling of a temple in Rameswaram, India. The tree comes from the Ta Prohm of Cambodia.”
“So… there are some futures where we become extinct, and others where we go on, develop colonies on other planets, stuff like that?”
“Stuff like that.” He looked amused. “Most certainly.”
She paused. “There must be other versions of me, then, and you, and Christopher...”
Patrick folded his arms. “Let us concentrate on the topic at hand. You must learn how to rest from the Fetch and all other creatures, including me, until you are strong.”
“The Fetch- I still don’t understand why are you doing this. Why take the time to show me all this, to make yourself vulnerable? You are more vulnerable now that I’ve been here, now that I’ve seen this place...”
“Because someone helped me once. Because you have a rare gift, Ada. If exploited, it could change the path of the world. And naturally, I am simply curious about the limits of your abilities. Now. Your instructions. This evening, when you are alone, you will project yourself once more.” He held up his hand. “Stop, just listen. You will go alone, and build your temple with things precious to you. Let it be simple at first, merely a place to rest; and then call your defenses. These are things which you can call upon to protect you when you need them.
Do not let the boy see you go or let him know where you are going; you must never let anyone see the place where your mind sleeps. You have invited monsters, Ada; now they will invite you. You must take care not to become one. You must not ever be overcome.”
How could Christopher be a monster, her mind cried; he’d been murdered, how was that his fault? “Are there no innocent monsters?”...
P.Z. West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
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