It was 4:00 A.M. I often awakened early but not this early, and never this bewildered. The past 24 hours had been relentless. I knew enough about dreams to know that this one wasn’t ordinary; it felt psychotic, like the dream of someone depressed. I sometimes wrote my dreams down, but a dream like this I didn’t even want to remember, even though, like the vision, I knew I would deliberate about it all day. Walking softly to the kitchen, I started my morning coffee as Lorenzo dashed to the door, reaching up and swatting at the knob. His conduct confirmed that his waking me was not altruistic; he only wanted out. He couldn’t open the door, but he certainly knew how it worked, and if he had an opposing thumb on his paws, he would meander as he pleased. For now, I was the designated doorman.
Upon fulfilling my doorkeeper obligation, I went to my office to I enjoy the first cup of my morning elixir, organizing my thoughts and planning for the day. I looked forward to its flavor, but this morning it was more an effort to find normality amidst the past hours of abnormal experience. The dream haunted my senses completely like a posttraumatic flashback. It was a dream, I told myself; nightmares go away. This one lingered. The stink of the hold, the cold bite of the water, and the cries of those disheartened souls assaulted my reason. I still embodied the disenfranchisement of watching the tanker indifferently slip into the night, acting too important to bother with the imperiled lives strewn in its maelstrom. This dream was too real--it wasn’t going away, and despite my desire to forget, I’d have to reckon with it.
I quickly re-read a magazine article called Dreaming in Real Time: Surviving the Morning after Lucidity, which explained the aftereffects of having a lucid dream, one where you are conscious that you are dreaming and interact with its images. It discussed the difficulty I was having of separating the dream from reality upon waking. Unfortunately, it didn’t explain enough; my dream was so vivid that I felt I really had been there. The article mentioned a website called Dream Working where people did exactly that. Reluctantly I went to the Internet, hesitant to post the nightmare knowing the effect it had had on me. Silly or not, it was worth a shot. If others think I’m cracking up, at least I‘ll have a second opinion. Unlike most of my dreams, I had no trouble recounting every detail. Once I finished posting, I logged off, not knowing what to expect. In my window, the early colors of dawn were showing; this morning, I’d skip my sunrise ritual and try to have a bit more inconsequential day.
Longing for the return of normality, I decided to surprise Andrea with Eggs Benedict and crepes. Incongruous with her commitment to health, it was our treat when we wanted an exception to the rules. Within minutes, the kitchen filled with the aroma of Hollandaise and the sizzle of crepes on the griddle. The fragrant invitation drew a quick response.
“I must have been good last night,” Andrea said in a flirty tone, poking her head through the doorway with a sleepy smile.
I answered by pulling her chair out for her to be seated. Somewhere between the crepes and eggs, our discussion turned to my lack of sleep and I mentioned the nightmarish episode.
“That sounds like me yesterday,” she replied. “If you want to talk about it I can listen.” I didn’t really, but began a vague description of the fog and the rusty metal deck when Andrea’s eyes dilated and her face turned an ashen white.
“Were you on a ship, a broken-down old freighter with Chinese immigrants on board?” she interrupted, clearly anxious.
“Yes, but how did you know?” I said with an astonished gulp when Andrea began telling my dream back to me scene-by-scene, sensation by sensation.
“What’s going on here?” she probed with exasperation.
“My dream was exactly as you recounted,” I replied, a tingle creeping up my spine, wondering how she had held the intense feelings inside.
Stunned silence was the only response either of us could raise. The breakfast I had intended to lighten things up had taken a sadly unexpected turn. The next minutes passed in a solemn hush. In our quandary, the food seemed to lose its savor; eating became just a feeble attempt to undo our shock. The reality that we both experienced the same dream amplified the scare we each felt experiencing it. Having an identical dream, and on successive nights, was unknown to either of us. Whatever it meant, the dream was foreboding, as if we had tread too far into some anomalous paradox. The dream wasn’t paranormal; our synchronous experience of it was, and its inconceivable dark realism spawned disquiet uncommon to our lives, starting the day with a pall.
“I posted the dream on an Internet discussion board. Maybe someone, somewhere, will make sense of it,” I said when she returned ready for work.
“I hope you’re right, so this dream dies today. I never want another day like yesterday; I wanted to crawl right out of my skin, so I hope your day goes better,” she said, changing the topic of conversation to my plans for the day.
The morning was as bright blue as the dream had been dismal. Springtime in Kansas is a fresh burst as the wheat fields awaken to green and early wildflowers bloom. As Andrea drove away, I walked across the yard to the work shed, my place to tinker with a variety of things, enjoying the warm sun. Like me, grapes need lots of sun, and we had lots of it with clear, fresh air, which made it an excellent although unexpected place for a vineyard. No doubt we got plenty of stares from people who were more accustomed to seeing cows and cornfields, but as the vines covered the trellises, others planted too. Mace calls me a “dreamer with calluses” who still dreams big and works harder than most, even for the ones that don’t come true. I certainly have the calluses.
My two-room shed is a bit of a catchall place, generally disorganized, and covered with whatever the project at hand requires, but the back room is my sanctuary from the world, my space to create. In the corner stood an old, round woodstove from another nearby farm auction. It was at least 100 years old and still had its original chrome and nickel adornments. The stove gave off good heat and connected me to the past. Homesteaders settled around here in the mid-1800s and this was undoubtedly a symbol of someone’s hard won success on the land. The early cabins, dugouts, and sod houses offered little comfort and even less separation from the elements, but a stove like this would provide climate control and its ornamentation brightened up the drab environment. I always enjoyed imagining the stories of Conestoga wagon trains, buffalo stampedes, and cold, cold winters it might have had heard in its time.
A large window in the room looked out over our pond, allowing me to watch the wildlife as I worked. One computer inside was for writing and design. The other interfaced with a previous life--recording music. Now these musical instruments sat like littered leftovers of a lost lifestyle, but once they were the tools of my trade. I had been a songwriter, and likely still would be had the trends in music not shifted. The music business was more Mercurial than it was Apollonian, shifting in a constant search for the next big thing, the next muse. You didn’t know you were in until you were on your way out, and once you were out, you were a dinosaur. I was a dinosaur. I have more memories than money, but luckier than most, we were able to move out of the city, well out, and pursue a different life. Now, this room is my only stage.
I am a vintner besides being a writer, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it takes a dreamer. It is hard work and sure rubs calluses inside and out. Honing an idea down to a simple phrase or the poetic lyric of a song brings me clarity and often times healing; but writing about this dream would be daunting. I chose instead, to work out the last details of trellises, today’s project in the vineyard, until I heard the garbled grate of crushed rock brattling a car’s wheel well in the driveway. That would be Mason, I thought. He’ll know where to find me.
“Chief, you out here? What’s our mission for today?” Mason boomed, strolling in and plopping down on the couch by the window.
“You found me, Mace, come on in and I’ll show you. When Jake comes, we’ll go take a look at those tractors,” I answered, hurrying to make the last measurement.
Mason wears his dents on the outside like an old rattletrap pick-up truck that should have died a hundred times but keeps running anyway. In his early fifties, he grew up on a farm nearby and had been fixing farm equipment since he was big enough to hold a wrench. On the other hand, I can work the soil, build and create in a dozen ways, but inevitably, if it has grease and moving parts, I muck it up. Mason is a much needed and appreciated reservoir of skill and knowledge.
After several years in the Army, Mason returned to the area. Enlisting out of high school, he hoped to train in engineering but ended up as a helicopter mechanic instead. Bored that he was still working at the sweat end of a wrench, Mace entered Special Forces training just in time to go to Vietnam. Some months later, deployed deep in the jungle near the supply routes from the North, an enemy division of more than 5,000 soldiers, overran his platoon and killed everyone in a hopeless, blood-spattered mêlée--everyone, that is, but Mason. Left for dead in his foxhole, it was several weeks later before a Marine helicopter pilot spotted him wandering near the Laotian border, delirious and near death. After a long rehabilitation, he was discharged, returning home with scars on his body, trauma in his mind, and a survivor’s guilt scorched through his heart for his lost comrades.
Mason married Maria, a girl he had dated in high school, and worked in an aircraft manufacturing plant but never quite fit in. Angry and defensive much of the time, he frequently got into arguments and started drinking heavily. He told me that every morning he got up early, sat in his truck with pistol loaded, and had a beer for breakfast. He had to “stand watch,” to be sure that the neighborhood was safe before going to work. Mason always carried a weapon when he went out and kept guns loaded in the house that he demanded Maria know how to use. She hated the guns but hated his tormented worry more. Eventually Maria was unable to take it any more and left with their son Jake; she couldn’t watch his slow self-destruction, growing paranoia, and depression, or allow Jake to grow up watching his father sink into alcoholism.
The loss of his marriage pushed Mason over the edge. He drank everything away, hitting bottom on the streets with a bottle of bourbon as his only friend. The hard reality of sleeping on cold cement finally brought him to the VA Hospital for treatment. In recovery, he learned how many Vietnam vets suffered similarly, living isolated lives and never feeling they had returned home. He finally stopped feeling like a sole survivor imprisoned by the past, and though no longer a family, his isolation from Maria and Jake turned into a supportive relationship. Working outdoors in the vineyard helped dispel the demons that vexed Mason’s soul.
“Jake’s here to help,” Mason said, brought to his feet by the beep of a car horn and bounding out.
In contrast to Mason, Jake wears his feelings privately, perhaps a result of the turmoil growing up. He’s a keen observer who weighs people and every side of a situation with a unique perspective that gives his small landscape business design flare and an uncanny ability to create environments exactly suited for his clients.
Following Mace out to the drive, I proposed that we go to the Flycht auction as he had suggested. Two hours later, I was making the twelve-mile drive back home on a small John Deere with them following slowly behind. Once home, we headed out in to the vineyard with tools filling the pickup bed and enough wire to fence off a small city. Not being a native Kansan, I broached the subject of any large birds that might live in the area as we made the slow quarter mile drive out to the new planting. Without going into the full story, I only revealed the unusually large feather I couldn’t identify. Neither of them knew of any native birds larger than a wild turkey but said there was a person a few miles away who raised ostriches and emus.
“It’s more like a giant hawk feather,” I said, responding to their suggestions. “I’ll just have to show you when we take a break. It’s very peculiar...” I said, stopping to notice Jake smirking as Mace prepared to offer another suggestion.
“I think you found a Jayhawk feather, Chief. They’re rare these days, but that’s the biggest bird ever was around here,” he cajoled with a perfectly straight face.
“Nice try, Mace, but even a “Left Coaster” like me knows a Jayhawk is blue and red and dribbles a basketball better than it flies. If you had told me it came from a buffalo’s wing I might have believed it,” I responded, trying to match Mason’s sardonic wit. “Besides stringing yarns today, we need to string wire and get these trellises done,” I said, dropping the subject.
Over previous weeks, we had planted 5,000 grapevines, bringing our vineyard up to about 25 acres, and we would need more help when these began to grow. It felt good to see the young grapes leafing out; but it was great for all of us to know we were nearing the end of what had been long, hard labor. With three of us, the job of stretching wire went quickly; by mid-afternoon, we had finished the section and the three-man crew was ready for rest. Over the course of several trips, I brought some sodas and whatever snacks I could find back to my office where they had already discovered the feather.
“What the hell, that’s gotta be fake,” Mason blurted out while inspecting it closer and passing it to Jake who showed equal amazement.
“I don’t know what bird it’s from, but I found it on the hill yesterday. It’s the one I told you about,” I said, satisfied that they were baffled and somewhat proud of my discovery.
For several minutes, we speculated about its origin but produced no new conclusions. I didn’t mention anything mystical, figuring why bring it up if I couldn’t explain it, and they would want an explanation. There was plenty to conjecture about, but I would see them again on Monday. It was Friday, and everyone was ready for the weekend.
A member of the generation between Mason and Jake, I was at ease with both of them and often served as the “universal translator” between two very different mindsets, especially about weekend plans. In this three-horse town, entertainment choices consisted of a movie at the Bijou, bowling, buffets, or trolling the local bars. Mason delighted in bowling and buffets. Unlike his father, Jake was young enough to still enjoy the nightlife and handsome enough always to have his dance card filled by hopeful young women eager to win his attention. He was like a eucalyptus tree growing in a forest of cottonwoods, and no matter that he was big enough to hold his ground, Jake’s character stood out from the surroundings. A lot like me, he had an artist’s temperament, struggling to survive in a worker’s wilderness. Jake’s talent gleamed through canvas, sculpture, and stained glass. His landscaping focused on design, giving him some outlet for his abilities; still, his genius deserved recognition in the finer arts.
Working outdoors all day kept my mind occupied but how could it not return to the dream? HITAM EMAS, the ship’s name, stuck in my mind so I searched the Internet and surprisingly found several websites that contained the name, ranging from local propane dealers to a pizza parlor called “Hit’em N’Mass.” Then one site for a company called Oil Resources and Transportation Incorporated, (ORTI), showed a picture of their flagship, HITAM EMAS. Right down to the lettering, it looked exactly like the tanker in the dream. The supertanker had a Liberian registry and operated between Southeast Asia and refineries on the West Coast of the United States, but why would I dream of a real ship about which I knew nothing?
I was anxious to see if Andrea recognized this vessel, but she wouldn’t be home for another hour, so I continued my research. There was no record of an accidents or spills for the ship in any maritime database; by all accounts, the ship operated safely within international law. ORTI was a publicly traded U.S. corporation that from Asia to Arizona, Canada to the Caspian Sea, owned oil and mining operations from wellhead to gas pump, mine to manufacturing, and every stage in between. Their holdings were massive. They also owned three large chemical facilities that produced compounds used in production and a host of other products. The corporate energy giant was a supplier focused on international trade and was a model of capitalist acquisition.
The C.E.O. and Chairman of the Board of ORTI was R. Harry Nash. His Vitae contained little personal information but stated that he had served in various positions with energy companies located in the Middle East and South America, interspersed with terms in government foreign service and intelligence. I thought the notable absence of detail in his job history sounded like the chronicle of a former CIA or NSA operative whose activities and whereabouts remain shrouded from public view. Luther Mallory Inc., listed as the “Principal Stockholder,” had no officers on the ORTI board, which seemed noteworthy, as I would think anyone with the controlling interest of a company would have an active hand directing it.
Luther Mallory’s website was sparse with only one page about the company, which seemed odder still for such a powerful company. The information stated that LMI was a financial holding company, a private investment brokerage, and a member of the New York Stock Exchanges. There was no contact information, no location, no information about investors, holdings, or clientele, only this mission statement:
Luther Mallory Inc. engages global economic development through
the implementation of long-term maintenance.
A rather enigmatic summary for a major corporation, I thought, which intensified my curiosity about Luther Mallory and its meaning. I checked with the Securities Exchange Commission to verify that Mallory was a current broker, discovering that he was also a member of the Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, São Paulo, and Johannesburg exchanges. He must wield tremendous wealth, diversifying since his first 1906 stock trades in New York.
Since I had a date and a place, I continued my search in the archives of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, hoping to find more references about his activities. The Journal had a few short articles referring to him as an “Eccentric Youth” or as “Washington’s Wunderkind,” but all mention of Mallory stopped after 1910. Likewise, the Times society pages had a few brief references to him attending the opera and the symphony around that time, one even listing him as New York’s most eligible bachelor. Many disgruntled reporters commented about his idiosyncratic aversion to any interviews or that any pictures taken of him were always candid shots from far away. After 1910, occasional articles speculated on the whereabouts of Mallory. Howard Hughes’ disappearing act, even with a corporate spokesperson to stand the limelight, didn’t match the sudden and absolute invisibility of Mallory. He was a mystery who somehow remained out of sight. Equally confounding was why our dream conjured the doings of this turn-of-the-century Wall Street wizard.
Three short beeps and one long one sounded from a car horn in the driveway. Andrea often used this signal to bring me in from wherever I was “out on the 80.”
“You’ll never guess what I found out today,” I said, noticing she was looking towards the vineyard and surprised that I greeted her from the porch.
“OK, I’ll bite; what?” she replied, looking back with a mulish glance as if she had enough surprises lately.
I didn’t want to lead her to any conclusions so I sat her in my office chair, pulled up the ORTI web page with the picture of the super tanker, and said, “Here, take a look.”
“Well, it just gets weirder and weirder, that’s the ship!” she said in a befuddled sigh.
Pleased that my search had found something, even though it enlarged our surrealistic dilemma instead of resolving it, I pulled up the additional sites, asking if she had any knowledge of ORTI or Luther Mallory Inc. She did not. With no more satisfying solutions, Andrea suggested we needed a fresh air walk in the vines to get this dream-think out of our heads and see some real world progress, something that made sense.
We walked out to a beautifully colored sky with sunlight pouring through holes in the bulging clouds. Looking skyward, we could see thunderheads gleaming like golden towers above us, while in the distance light created magical vistas where rays danced between shadow and mist. The moment felt safe and secure as we peered upward at the power and beauty above us. It felt good to let go of the confounding events of the past days. The clouds were building and a thunderstorm was likely brewing for this evening. The air felt energized before the storm. Lightning, thunder, and nature’s drama were some of the reasons we loved country life, and we enjoyed watching the tempests form. Our walk continued towards the barn where Lorenzo shot past us and pounced on a leaf waving in the breeze. The feline tagalong’s playfulness was often entertaining; that is, when he wasn’t breaking every dish in the kitchen.
Having thoroughly vanquished the leaf, Lorenzo looked around for his next adversary. That twig a few feet away, or perhaps the butterfly flaunting itself slightly above his reach; to which conquest would he commit? The fluttering butterfly turned out to be irresistible. Lorenzo hunkered down, wiggling with anticipation, and drew aim on the colorful creature. Then with a great spring, he lunged upward towards his prey, grasping wildly with his front paws. The butterfly glided peacefully upward as Lorenzo plummeted back to earth. He wouldn’t foil that easily, though; he continued his chase, leaping every few feet at its erratic trajectory. The pursuit continued around the corner of the barn and out of sight when suddenly we heard a loud hiss followed by intense growling.
“Sounds like the butterfly might be winning. I better see if he needs backup,” I told Andrea, hastening my step to his aid.
I saw a turgid tail protrude from the corner as Lorenzo cautiously backed up. His back arched; every hair stood on end. Clearly, the hunter had become the prey. Perhaps the danger was a displaced raccoon or coyote, so I hurried ahead to his rescue. Lorenzo, realizing he had the chance to escape, shot back to the house and most certainly underneath the porch as I darted to the barn’s corner ready to defend. Then I stopped dead. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. If I had a tail, it would have puffed up too. Ten feet in front of me, standing about eight feet tall, was the largest winged animal I’d ever seen. It could easily carry me off or bite a sizable chunk out of me.
“What is it? Are you alright?” Andrea called out, seeing me freeze at the corner.
“It’s a bird… at least I think it’s a bird. You better wait there!” I warned.
A magnificent but frightening creature stood before me. Its head was that of a raptor with a large beak and eyes that faced straight forward. Dark purple crowned the head and blended to lavender farther down its neck. Like a rainbow, one hue merged into the next down its breast and wings until it stood on two stocky crimson talons. This was a formidable fowl. I didn’t know if I should run or study it. Suddenly I realized that this must be the source of my feather. Then the bird’s head turned towards me and fixed its gaze in mine. I surged with adrenaline and felt it was time to run when I heard a gentle voice.
“Sorry I scared your cat.” I looked around to see who spoke; there was only the bird and me. I looked back at the bird, whose gaze had not wavered.
“I’m Sorrano. There’s nothing to fear,” Sorrano said. “Watch this day. Learn and remember!”
My stomach sank. How could he know those words? This daylight deliberation must be a hallucination. What about Lorenzo? He saw something, I assured myself. I heard Andrea running up beside the barn, certain, I’m sure, of my danger. Sorrano made a slight hop, took one flap with his wings, and disappeared completely.
“Honey, what is it?” Andrea said, rounding the corner.
“It was just here,” I said, pointing to where the great bird had been. Andrea, seeing nothing, gave me a worried look and walked in that direction.
“I don’t see any...” she started to say and then, after kneeling to the ground, she stood up and turned around holding another large feather in her hand.