10 Billion Beats

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10 Billion Beats

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Chapter 2
Between the Dreamtime



Memories of yesterday and dreams of tomorrow shape the course we plod here and now, between the dreamtime. Crossing through a gateway from one world into another seemed more dreamlike and never a course I had imagined. The world of Owl, Coyoté, and Little Oak still felt palpable, as if it were around me, but temporarily hidden from view. I expected the animals and rocks to greet me, but where there had been dialogue and repartee, there were nature’s usual sounds. The journey back to normal life seemed difficult; I needed an explanation but didn’t have one. Walking back to the house, replaying the images and events, I decided it must have been a dream, but I held this odd feather like a trophy that proved otherwise. If I weren’t crazy, I was in for more questions than answers; an alien abduction would be easier to believe. Still, there was the feather evincing the veracity of something, but what?

The buds were breaking in the vineyard and the fresh green leaves glistened in the early morning light. I needed to feel my feet firmly on the ground, so I sauntered slowly back to the house, taking the long way with a new appreciation for ordinary existence. I love morning among the vines, and the walk brought my thoughts to home and family. “OK, I guess I’m ready,” I said to myself. I turned through the orchard toward the house, taking time to inhale the sweet perfume of the apple blossoms. This time the trees returned no comments; I was both relieved and disappointed.

I climbed three steps to the back porch, walked through the door, and was surprised to see Andrea awake and standing naked in the middle of the kitchen with her back to me, lecturing our cat Lorenzo. Trash covered the floor, successfully distributed around the room from the overturned wastebasket. Well scattered amid the trash were the contents of a cereal box and countless shards of glass, the remnants of a stack of dishes that normally sat on the upper shelf where Lorenzo now rested with devilish pride. Andrea could not move from her spot in her bare feet. All she could do was vociferously vent her anger at the tabby gray feline. Lorenzo, who had clearly won this battle and taken her hostage, twitched his tail with little concern.

“You’re expendable! You’re nothing but a coddled drifter!” Andrea threatened.

This would be a great time to hear what Lorenzo had to say for himself, I thought. Across the porch and through one doorway, I had completed the transition from the magical to the mundane. Inside, Andrea stood like a maiden in distress, beautifully vulnerable, waiting for her deliverer.

“Greetings, Madam. May I be of service?” I asked as I bowed and swooped in glibly to lighten her predicament.

“Remove that beast, Good Sir! Save me from this desolation and I am forever in your debt,” Andrea replied playfully, relieved that her ordeal was about to end.

Crossing the room was noisy business. I crunched, crackled, and popped with each step, finally reaching Lorenzo, who was now willing to surrender his preeminent post. I plucked him from the shelf, crunched to the door, and deposited him on the back porch.

“I can accept your gratitude now, Fair Maiden,” I posited, returning to Andrea. With one easy motion I scooped her up, carried her down the hall into the bedroom, and placed her gently down on the bed; my mind and body had already embarked on another flight of fantasy.

“I’m already late, thanks to Lorenzo’s rubbishing,” she protested, dropping her playful character. Her feet back on the ground, Andrea headed for the shower, giving me an enticing backward glance just as the phone rang. Assured that she would return my affections later, I went to the kitchen to answer it.

“Hey Chief,” the voice said, which I recognized as my friend and employee Mace. “There’s a farm auction Friday out at the old Flycht place on Wyman Road,” he continued. “There’s supposed to be a couple of small tractors for sale that are ‘butter sweet.’ Think we can schedule it?”

“Maybe, but I’m not sure about buying a tractor this week; we’ll see on Friday,” I said, knowing he thought me a well-intentioned although slightly obsessive planner. Mason always knew the auction score, and if he said they were worth a look, he was probably right.

Hanging up the phone, I turned to see the phenomenal plume standing upright in a vase on the table. The source of that feather preoccupied my mind, not tractor shopping. Bidding against plowshare pragmatists at a farm auction might bring me back to a normal routine, but kitchen restoration required immediate attention. Stopping occasionally to reassure myself the feather was actually there, I began the cleanup.

“You couldn’t have orchestrated it better,” Andrea announced as she came into the room. “The wastebasket falling over woke me up, but when I tried to get Lorenzo away, he scrambled across the floor and up onto the counter, hitting the cereal box. He finally made a desperate leap to the shelf, knocking everything to the floor. I watched the stack of dishes tip and slide off one by one like a deck of cards. Shattered glass surrounded me in seconds and I couldn’t do a damn...”

Andrea stopped cold. Her eyes widened as she stared towards the table with the sizeable feather jutting upward from the vase.

“It’s a feather,” I replied before she could ask, continuing to collect the slivers of glass from the floor and not quite ready to explain it.

“It’s not like any feather I’ve ever seen. Where did…?” she inquired hesitantly.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later,” I said, stopping the reclamation and knowing I had no ready answer.

“Well, I want to hear ALL about it this evening,” she replied, staring at the feather and then at me with bewilderment. “I had… well… a really weird dream last night. Maybe we can talk about that, too.” She blew me a kiss good-bye and then, able to cross the shard free floor, she zipped out the door. I picked up the feather, felt its hefty spine, and watched its colors stream in the incandescent light, then placed it on the desk in my office.

My wife Andrea had a holistic fitness center in town called “Perfect Form.” The name came from her days as an athlete; her coaches said she had perfect form when she ran. The name not only described the mission of the gym; it still described her. Inside and out, Andrea had remarkable strength, forged in the hard work and steely determination she learned on the track. She taught several classes each day, alongside other instructors, and worked fervently to make the unorthodox business a small town success. “Perfect Form” was a personal victory in her life that had taken years to achieve, although her private struggle had gone on even longer.

Andrea’s path to wellness was a resurrection. The passion to run captured her before she held her first Teddy Bear tea party, and as she grew, she spent hours training and striving to improve. Her exacting skill drew more attention than she expected, and gaining confidence, she achieved speed, execution and grace. She had perfect form in hurdles and high jump, always pushing beyond the ideal towards her ardent ambition to be an Olympian. In her first year in college, she was the first alternate on the Olympic team, and in the following four years, she won national and international competitions, entering the trials as a contender for Olympic gold. She had almost tasted the fruit of her labors when tragedy struck.

Running a back road she’d trained on hundreds of times, a car which had lost control rounding a curve hit her head-on. It was no small accident. Although she tried to leap to safety, she ricocheted from the windshield into a guardrail, breaking her collarbone and left tibia, and seriously injured her spleen, liver, and kidneys. In a fraction of a second, the goal she felt born to achieve was relegated to a shelf of tarnished mementos and banished to the tropheys of those who almost ran. After a long hospitalization, with physical rehabilitation and years of recovery ahead, Andrea shuddered that her Olympic glory could never come true.

Over the next couple of years, Andrea slipped into a deep depression. While her bones mended, her spirit did not. With her sense of purpose torn from her soul, doctors could not restore her will, and her liver functions continued to fail. Sheer desperation finally led her to a hospital in Beijing specializing in Qigong. The Chinese approach refreshed her spirit and brought health to her organs. She learned Tai Chi to complement her healing. Then, her body revitalized, she studied meditation and yoga with exiled Tibetan monks in India. Through exposure to these ancient arts, she found a new perspective, a purpose in her perfect form, and her pilgrimage was complete. In the end, the injury that devastated her dreams was the gateway to her new awareness.

When Andrea caught my attention, my attraction to her was immediate; I first saw her sprinting like a gazelle through Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. As graceful off the track as on, when this beautiful blond woman sat next to me on the flight, I felt like a lucky man whose life was about to change. For the first several minutes I tried nervously to think of something to start a conversation beyond the usual courtesies needed to endure a long flight together. Finally, she blurted, “Well, someone as thoughtful as you ought to be good boyfriend material.” Andrea was uninhibited but still turned beet red, realizing how forward that sounded. She didn’t realize how attractive she was or how she affected me, but with the levity, I relaxed. In the remaining hours of that connecting flight, we soared in conversation. If parallel lines never meet, how fortunate it is that parallel hearts often do.

After I had cleaned up the mess from Lorenzo’s fiasco, I went back into my office determined to recollect and record my morning vision. I typed The Legend of Coyoté Oak at the top of the page. Should that be the title? Yes. The words flowed onto the page easily in detail, feeling as natural as the events when I had experienced them. It felt like visiting old friends as I wrote about Coyoté, Owl, and Little Oak. Describing the shaman, though, felt disjointed, even a bit preposterous when I said that he turned into a raven and vanished. Dream or delusion, rational or absurd, I held nothing back, anxious that eventually it would make sense. No matter how well I told the tale, the feather beside me begged for a sensible explanation, so I also turned my attention to researching its origin.

Hoping to identify the feather’s source, I logged on the Internet, exploring the ornithology departments at major universities, but produced no results. Several zoos have large aviaries, I thought; maybe one of their birds has this kind of feathering. I looked at hundreds of pictures, examining various species. Some had similar coloring but not the right shape. Others had the correct shape but the wrong color. Most of all, nothing came close to the right size. I checked from ostrich to osprey, eagle to egret, heron to hawk; nothing met all the criteria.

Finally, I searched for a classification key for the biological “Class” Aves. Following through the key’s decision tree, the feather seemed to have come from a member of the “Order” Falconiformes, in either the “Family” group Accipitridae, the hawks and eagles, or Falconidae, the falcons, but the feather was much bigger than those of the California Condor (Family Cathartidae). I even compared the ratio of the condor’s size to the size of its feathers. By that formula, the creature that bore this feather must weigh hundreds of pounds and stand more than seven feet tall with a wingspan exceeding twenty feet. A bird like that on the wing couldn’t hide; why couldn’t I find anything?

If no information existed about a living species, I thought, then perhaps it’s extinct. Maybe I found the feathered version of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster. I turned to paleornithology journal studies. Hoping some record existed, I found two fossils. Estimated to be about 10,000 years old, they showed a bird’s footprint and a feather the shape and size of the one on the desk. The journal listed the specimen as unidentified, but someone else’s evidence of this bird partially validated my find. Yet one huge question remained--this feather was from a live bird, so where had it been for 10,000 years?

I leaned back in my chair, staring at the quill in question atop the desk. Like the feather, the old roll-top was a relic out of its time. The nooks and crannies which were once useful and its roll-top that granted privacy now prevented the desk from moving into the digital age. Computers relegated it to a thing of collected beauty. The feather likewise failed to fit the surroundings. A bird this big could hardly survive in a world of airplanes, automobiles, and shrinking habitats. I heard Andrea’s car turn in the drive. By this time I had run out of ideas and was surprised that the day had gone by so quickly. I anxiously went out to the yard to meet her.

Andrea parked, slumped out of the car, and walked hesitantly towards me looking exhausted, which was unusual. Generally, her work invigorated her and she was the healthiest person I knew. We retreated to our cloister on the porch, and I asked what was wrong as Lorenzo emerged from the steps, waggling with privileged pomp to join us.

“The dream last night was so vivid, like it was almost real; it kept creeping into my thoughts,” Andrea explained. “I couldn’t get the dark images out of my head. Then the phone rang all day long; real-estate agents, lawyers, and bankers all trying to buy my property. Saying NO didn’t matter to them; they kept offering more money and made some not so subtle threats.”

“If they threatened you, shouldn’t you talk to the police?” I asked.

“No, not yet, it’s just a feeling; there’s nothing concrete to tell them,” she replied. When it came to problem solving, Andrea was determined and very capable. She liked being the answer-person every bit as much as I did, and I knew from experience that she wanted to solve this alone. Still, I felt her frustration and could help by letting her vent.

“You’ve mentioned the dream twice. What was it that bothered you?” I asked, noting the dark coincidence of the dream and the calls.

“I just want it off my mind,” Andrea answered emphatically. “Talking about it will only stir it up again.” I could see it coming--when she didn’t want to talk about something, she changed the subject.

“Tell me what happened to you this morning,” she said. Her ploy worked, and before I knew it, I had retrieved the feather and was handing her my written encounter.

“The Legend of Coyoté Oak, a title and everything ay...this ought to be interesting,” she teased.

I acknowledged her remark and sat quietly in the porch swing to let her read, with feather in hand, I deliberated our meeting in the Paris airport. How curious that another life event connected to flight. What was beginning here? The sun was setting as color splashed across the sky; it seemed fitting to end the day as it began, enjoying the sky, the earth, and open space. Coyotés begin their wake-up yelps out in the hills and I thought how it almost seemed scripted, a sound effect to enhance the story. The whole day had been magical for me but apparently very different for her.

“Great story, it’s very imaginative; now where did you really find this?” Andrea asked while leaning over beside me to get a better look at the feather.

“That story IS what happened and this feather is no figment. Also, it doesn’t come from any known living bird,” I said, telling her about my methodical research.

“Maybe it’s an apport. You know, when a yogi or someone with psychic ability produces a physical object out of nowhere. It’s physical mediumship,” she explained.

“I don’t think I have that ability,” I replied.

“It sounds like you had a vision,” she continued. “Perhaps you were in an unusually deep state of consciousness and produced the feather.”

Neither of us had a better explanation, so for now, we decided that I had produced an apport of a 10,000-year-old feather while in my vision state. I wouldn’t try to convince anyone else of that, but the explanation put the subject to rest and ended a day of extremes. While Andrea took a relaxing bath, I brought the feather to its new home, a large vase in my office, where it would stand in the corner with a few sprigs of Pampas Grass, as if it were a designer’s touch.

An hour or so had passed when I looked up from my computer to find Andrea standing in the doorway to my office. Wearing a delicate, flowing negligee, she held a bottle of wine and two glasses in her hands. She enjoyed playing dress-up, and still a perfectionist, even as a seductress, she looked good. With a come-hither glint in her eye, Andrea disappeared gracefully down the hall to the bedroom without a word--I followed. We talked together in loving repose to the flicker of candles and the flavor of our first vintage wine. The fruits of our labor in this unlikely setting rewarded our pocketbooks as well as our palates. As it does with fine wine, time enriches love, and the embers of our desire fanned into a deeper encounter when we touched.

... to sleep: perchance to dream: ay. there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come...

The air was moist with a heavy fog and I could but vaguely see the rust and chipped paint beneath my prone pose. I found myself crawling on my hands and knees. The texture of dilapidated steel abraded my palms as I inched my way along some unknown terrain. The clangor and groan of trepid metal deluged my senses as I realized that wherever I was, it was no place to be. I scrambled in horror, looking for some change in my environment, some avenue of escape or refuge that felt the least bit safe. Everywhere I turned, I collided with corroded bulwarks barricading me from safety. Finally, I found an open pathway and clambered frantically towards freedom. Within a few feet, my hand slipped into nothingness and I nearly fell forward into some unknown abyss. Sprawled fearfully half over the edge, I clung to any incrustation I could sense upon the surface of my seeming stockade. Lying there, I could hear water far below me in the darkness. I could hear the sound of waves breaking against a surface beneath my view. It sounded as if I were on a ship. I turned away from the edge, feeling slightly more at ease to know my surroundings, still unable to reconcile my presence there. If this was a dream, it was far too real.

I was lucid, aware of all my senses. The sound of the engines caught my attention as if I were hearing them for the first time. The odor of diesel fumes and spilled oil filled my nose and mixed with the smell of the ocean. I could see a little farther now through the dense fog, so I slowly stood up and began to explore what appeared to be a ship’s deck. Whatever this vessel was, it was in a critical state of disrepair and I knew why the deck was shaking. I cautiously worked my way down the bulkhead toward what seemed to be an open cargo bay until I peered over the edge of the ship’s hold. The stench of rotting fish, human feces, and diesel fumes wafting up from the hold knocked me back gagging for air. Coming from the depths of the hold, I heard the murmer of voices. Surely, no one could be in there. I drew a breath of air away from the open hold and leaned down over the edge, staring into the murky chasm. Sixty feet down in the hold, I saw a small kerosene lamp and, in its dim radiance, the faces of several dozen people gazing up at me in despair. How, I wondered, could anyone survive in these conditions? These poor beings were soaking wet, heaped atop a shipping container for protection. Bilge water sloshed about the hold, splashing up on them each time the bow swayed in the heavy seas. Wretched squalor surrounded this island of discarded humanity.

“You come food?” One old man asked in broken English as he motioned to me. My answer that I had none caused the group to clamor among themselves in what sounded like Chinese, their body language clearly showing disappointment.

“How long have you been here?” I asked, inquiring about their plight.

“Leave port seven days ago,” a teenage looking girl replied. “Give us no food, no help.”

“We pay go San Francisco,” one said. Another answered, “They promise job, better life.”

Most of them, I imagined, had spent everything they had and would still be in debt to their patrons when they arrived in the States. It sounded as if their transporter had sold them into the underground lives that face many illegal immigrants, who unwittingly sell their souls for a chance at freedom. My heart broke, knowing the hard fate likely to befall them. The rank fumes coming up from the hold mixed with the diesel exhaust, searing my nose and filling my eyes with tears. However, the gravity of their situation had overtaken me; I no longer noticed or cared. I felt helpless and hopelessly inadequate. At the sound of another ship approaching, I stood up, hoping help had arrived, only to see the bow of a massive ship lunging out of the dark mist and heading directly toward the middle of this decrepit vessel.

Towering many stories above the small freighter, the supertanker rode up over the side, splitting the freighter apart and driving pieces of the broken hull beneath the rolling seas. The suction of the sinking hull dragged me down and then swept me outward into the powerful currents of the passing tanker. I was breathless, meters below the water’s surface, and I swam frantically upward towards air and life. Debris began floating to the surface, along with a few survivors who were screaming in terror amid the devastation. I could see the ship’s name, HITAM EMAS, showing in large white letters through the gloomy fog as it powered away into the darkness. It cruised away without even noticing the wreckage left in its wake; how could they just leave? Could any of us survive in the chilly waters? Another wave swept over me and, gasping for air, choking unmercifully, I sank beneath the turbulence down into the dark, cold tomb of the sea.

The black depths enveloped me. I was drowning. My body limp and useless, I used my last mental faculties to make peace with my maker. Visions of my life flashed through my last beams of consciousness as the blackness crawled inside. My awareness faded to one last opening of light. This must be death, I thought. Here is the tunnel leading to the light. My last prayers uttered, I surrendered to my fate. Then something landed on my chest. I jerked with a start to discover familiar surroundings and Lorenzo standing on top of me. I felt like kissing him, as if he had saved my life. Awakened, my celestial beacon turned out to be the yard light shimmering through the bedroom blinds. Hamlet’s soliloquy came to my mind: “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” What a dream, I thought; what dreams indeed. Happily awake, I quietly got out of bed, thankful to be between the dreamtime.

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