Methven - Day Sixteen - Part One
I can See.
And it's nothing like I thought it would be.
. . .
I don't know why, but I slept like a tranquilized baby.
When I awoke, the Western face of the giant dildo-shaped granite spire that thrusts up from the Eastern flank of the Clanhome's valley was ablaze with the light of a dawn that had yet to touch the drowsing vally floor.
I felt surprisingly good. Maybe it was because my hands had stopped trembling sometime during the night. Regardless of the cause, I wasn't the slightest bit tempted to huddle beneath my covers. In fact, I was so full of energy that I actually caught myself whistling while I shaved--and I hate shaving in cold water.
It was still too early to rouse Pith and I doubted if Mahatna would welcome guests before the sun even cleared the rim of the valley, so I was at loose ends for the next hour or thereabouts. I decided I'd fill the time with a stroll down to the meadow where we spend our afternoons training, figuring it would be as good a place as any from which to witness the sunrise.
The hallways I passed through on my way to the main entrance of the Clanhome were all deserted. That didn't surprise me, given the early hour, but the size of the crowd I encountered just beyond those towering double doors did startle me.
Hundreds of Vomisa adults and children knelt in silence on the lawn in front of the Clanhome complex--all of them facing the rising sun and each pair of hands forming the familar inverted steeple I associated with Seeing.
I felt like a trespasser in some foreign temple. I recognized what was going on as some form of religious service, but it wasn't any kind of worship I was familiar with. I'd always had the impression that Seeing--and all the powers that came with it--was strictly a secular discipline. I'd put myself through a fair approximation of Hell in order to learn how it was done and suddenly I was confronted with the realization that Seeing was intimately tied into whatever the Khasim family--and, by extension, the Vomisa as a culture--used for a religion.
I felt somehow betrayed by that revelation--as if I'd been made the unwitting butt of a private joke. It wasn't rational, since the misapprehension was entirely my own fault, but I still felt stung.
I've never been a religious person--that was true this morning and it's still true--and I've distrusted true believers ever since I can remember. I know that I don't have all the answers, and I'm damned sure that nobody else does either--and I resent the hell out of it when anyone tries to pressure me into subscribing to their version of The Truth.
So, I was suspicious and a little angry as I stood by the doorway and watched that ceremony unfold.
As the first flare of light from the top limb of the rising sun crested the top of the surrounding mountains, a female voice from the front of the crowd begin to sing in Vomisa. My ear is becoming accustomed to the harsh Vomisa language, but their music is still just so much caterwauling to me and despite the solemnity of the occasion, what I was hearing reminded me of nothing so much as a lovesick hyena with a head cold.
Make that a tone-deaf, lovesick hyena. With a head cold.
Immediately after the first hymn--or whatever it was--ended, a new female voice took up a second song. I shielded my eyes from the sharp brightness and tried without success to pick out the singers while the yowling ran its course.
Mercifully, the music stopped just as the bottom edge of the sun cleared the rim of the valley.
Without further ceremony, the crowd rose to its feet and began filtering back toward the door I was standing beside.
The first wave of furry figures cheerfully wished me "Good hunting" as I stood aside to let them pass. They were followed by a group of a dozen or more middle-aged and elderly Vomisa women--among them Atanami, Akavasi and the other Khasim Mothers--who mostly delivered the same salutation in tones so frigid, I was afraid they'd give me frostbite. What remained of the congregation trailed a respectful distance behind the Mothers.
The flock was thinning rapidly when I spotted a familiar face among the passersby.
"Itakami! Over here!"
It was the young woman who'd shared my bed during our second night at the Clanhome.
"Good hunting, Mr. Drew!"
Her smile was wide and genuine.
"Good hunting to you, too, Itakami."
She placed her hand on my chest and batted her lovely eyes at me.
"Will you go with me to the Pools of Pleasure?"
I was extremely tempted to say "yes". It had been serveral days since my last visit to the Pools and--fur aside--Itakami is a babe.
"Uh..not just now, Itakami."
Her face fell.
"You do not wish to mate with me?"
My sigh of regret was real--I'd enjoyed the hell out of the night we spent together.
"Perhaps later, Itakami. For now, I'd like to ask you about what you folks were just doing, if you don't mind."
She shook her head.
"I do not mind, Mr. Drew."
"Glad to hear it. Can you explain to me what this gathering was about?"
She frowned prettily.
"Do you mean the Greeting and Thanks, Mr. Drew?"
"I think I do, Itakami. What is the 'Greeting and Thanks'?"
Her eyes widened in astonishment.
"You do not know?"
I shook my head.
"No, Itakami, I don't. But I would like to find out."
She shrugged prettily.
"It is not complicated, Mr. Drew. Each morning, we who are their children gather to sing greetings to the rising Luminary and thanks to his mate, the Great Mother."
"And--forgive my ignorance, Itakami, but--who or what is the Great Mother?"
Her expression wavered between surprise and disbelief.
"Why, She is all around us, Mr. Drew! We live cradled upon her breast!"
She spread her arms in a gesture that encompassed the valley in which the Clanhome sits.
"The Great Mother is the Vomisa Mountains, then? They're the same thing?"
Itakami nodded cautiously.
"I suppose you could say that, Mr. Drew. Our mountains are Her aspect, just as the Luminary is the aspect of Her mate. He showers His seed upon her and quickens Her with Life."
"And the Luminary's seed is what, exactly?"
She laughed and shook her head in wonder.
"You really do not know?"
"I really don't."
"His seed is the rain, of course! How could you not know that?"
"I'm not a Vomisa, Itakami."
"Of course not, Mr. Drew. But, the Great Mother and the Luminary are everywhere, are they not? Surely the Luminary shines on your people as it does on mine--and surely the Great Mother brings forth Life there, just as she does here."
"Yes and no. It's complicated to explain, Itakami. For one thing, where I come from, we have a different Luminary. For another..well..different people believe different things about where life comes from and who's responsible for it."
Her eyes were round as coffee cups.
"But how can that be?"
"As I said, Itakami, it's complicated. On Earth, most people believe there's only one God--although, come to think of it, when you factor in the Hindus, the Shinto, a few thousand shamanist and totemic tribal sects and a billion Chinese atheists, that might not even be true. Anyway, there are thousands--maybe tens of thousands--of different beliefs about who's responsible for creating the world and how it all works. Most of them disagree with each other and they're each convinced that they're right and everyone else has it wrong."
She shook her head.
"Your world must be very confusing, Mr. Drew."
"You've got that right."
"So what is it that you believe in, Mr. Drew?"
"I wish I knew, Itakami."
. . .
As usual, Mahatna wished us good hunting and invited us into his cabin. Inside, he poured us each a full cup of water and Pith and I both managed to drink ours without spilling a drop. Once that ritual display of hospitality was concluded, he got right to the point.
"Do you still wish to learn to See, Mr. Pith?"
"I sure do, Mr. Mahatna."
"Do you wish to learn to See, Mr. Drew?"
"Mr. Mahatna, this morning I witnessed your people's ceremony of Greeting and Thanks."
"I am happy for you, Mr. Drew. Do you wish to learn to See?"
"Well, that's the thing, Mr. Mahatna..until this morning, I didn't realize that Seeing was part of your religion."
Pith's eyebrows went up.
Mahatna shook his head, frowning.
"I do not understand, Mr. Drew. What are you saying?"
"I don't want to offend you, Mr. Mahatna, but..I'd never heard about the Great Mother or the Luminary until this morning and that concerns me, because my own people don't..well..we don't necessarily believe in them."
"Why does that concern you, Mr. Drew?"
"I..that is..I got the impression that you had to believe in the Great Mother before you could learn to See."
He shook his head once, emphatically.
"That is nonsense, Mr. Drew."
"Must you believe in water before you can drink, Mr. Drew? Or in food before you can eat?"
"Well, no..of course not. But Seeing isn't like drinking or eating..is it?"
He shook his head, this time ruefully.
"You are blind, and yet you think you understand sight, Mr. Drew."
He rapped the tabletop with his knuckles.
"Your outer eyes see this table. Seeing it, do you believe that it exists?"
"Well, of course I do, Mr. Mahatna."
"Just so, Mr. Drew. I ask you again--do you wish to learn to See?"
"If you put it like that--yes, Mr. Mahatna, I do. Very much."
"Then come, both of you."
. . .
"All that lives burns with the light of Life itself. That is the light by which your inner eye Sees."
We knelt on our heels--Mahatna called it "Posing"--around the ashes of an old camp fire in the center of a small clearing in the woods a short distance from Mahatna's hut. He'd coached us to place our thumbs and fingertips together to form upside-down steeples, while placing our bodies to mark the points of a rough equilateral triangle centered on the firepit.
Mahatna's voice seemed to come not from where he sat, but from inside my head.
"Close your outer eyes. Forget the world they tell you is real.
"Until now, your inner eye has been closed--blind, as an infant's outer eyes are blind. You must learn to open it before you can learn to See the world of Life.
"I will help you."
Okay. My "inner eye" would be the thing that had been growing in my head for the past two days. Concentrating on it wasn't particularly difficult. With my eyes--my "outer eyes"--closed it was difficult to ignore. The blinding headache that had accompanied its initial growth spurt had passed, but my consciousness of the thing itself remained acute. I felt it as a constant pressure--a presence--directly behind the bridge of my nose, as impossible to ignore as a flap of skin bitten from the inside of my cheek.
Ghostly fingers ran lightly across the surface of my "outer eyes".
I thought about what happens when my eyes open--the physical sensation of eyelids rising over eyeballs and the brief instant between the perception of light and the perception of image, when the eye focuses and the chaos of information resolves into order, raw data is transformed into meaning and sensation becomes sense.
The insubstantial palpation inside my head shifted to the thing growing behind my eyes, lightly stroking it.
Just as it had stroked my "outer eyes"..
Embracing the memory of that sensation, I made a purposeful effort to shift my consciousness from somewhere behind my "outer eyes" to the thing inside my mind--to my inner eye.
Very deliberately, I imagined myself opening that eye.
I tried again, this time concentrating on my internal state, then suddenly switching my focus outward to Pith and Mahatna.
Again, nothing happened.
I tried keeping my attention focused on my inner eye--just waiting for a new sensation to assert itself.
And nothing happened.
Anticipation transmuted into frustration. I was stymied and I simply could not figure out what I was doing wrong.
"This isn't working."
"Be still, Mr. Drew."
. . .
A good, long while later--after I'd had time to try everything I could think of to pry that inner eyelid open without success--Pith gave voice to a long, low whistle.
I had to look. His astonished expression and closed eyes told me everything I needed to know.
"Pith, you lucky bastard, you can See, can't you?"
"Be still, Mr. Drew."
. . .
I'd tried everything twice.
Nothing had happened.
I'd long since gotten discouraged and given up altogether--I was basically just sulking with my eyes closed--when my inner eye started to itch.
Reflexively, I stretched to scratch that itch. I scrubbed the bottom of my brain against it like a cat rubbing itself against a chair leg--or, at least, that's what it felt like at the time.
And--just like that--I could See.
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)