Methven - Day Twenty-one - Part One
Until I picked it up just now to read over the last entry, I didn't realize how long it's been since I last updated this journal.
In part, I guess that has to do with the fact that I still haven't gotten a good handle on what Læ called the "numinous" really implies about where I fit in the whole great scheme of things. I've been so busy lately that it's been easy to avoid thinking about it--and I'm just as happy that's been the case.
See, I've never had much truck with spirituality. I usually describe myself as an agnostic, but the truth is that I'm really more of an atheist who lacks the courage of his convictions. I suppose you could say I'm metaphysically impaired--or, at least, I was up until I took the Elixir of Awakening.
But Seeing is believing--or at least not disbelieving.
Anyhow, my lessons with Mahatna are a real burnout--by noon every day I wind up drained like a keg at a frat party. It's not just me, either--Pith's eyes have bags under them the size of steamer trunks. Combine that with the effects of our afternoon training sessions with the rest of the kids and add in the distraction of nightly visits from that furry little hardbody, Itakami, and her friends and it's no wonder that I've been a little delinquent in the journalism department.
And the fact is, despite all this activity, there hasn't really been anything noteworthy to report.
Until today, that is.
. . .
A little after dawn this morning, we were in the refectory, wolfing down a quick breakfast when Pith, who was sitting across the table from me, started to choke. I wasn't particularly concerned about it--I just assumed a bite had gone down the wrong pipe. Then his eyes got as big as frisbees.
Even Vomisa breakfast food is extremely spicy. It's all too easy to bite into one of those evil, yellow, pistachio-sized things that pack a kick like a habanero pepper--I've sure done it often enough, myself. So, I figured that's what had happened to Pith.
"Hot enough for you?"
Still trying to cough up what he'd swallowed, he shook his head violently, pointed over my head with the hand that wasn't covering his mouth and made a kind of gargling sound that might have been an attempt to say, "Look at that!"
Just then, a hand--or, rather, a paw--the size of a baseball glove came down on my shoulder.
I caught a brief glimpse of retracting razor-edged claws before I twisted around on the bench and looked up--way, way up--into the most horrific visage I've ever seen.
The creature was every bit of seven feet tall. Schwartzenegger muscles coiled beneath the glossy fur of its massive arms and barrel chest. Large, mobile, spearpoint-shaped ears framed a pushed-in, feline face whose most memorable features included enormous, black eyes, a pair of wickedly-pointed, two-inch fangs and clusters of obscenely pink tentacles that writhed like agitated earthworms, sprouting from the sides of its upper lip.
Picture a cross between a professional wrestler, a Persian cat and one of H. P. Lovecraft's ickier squid-faced horrors and you've got a reasonable approximation of the thing I found looming over me.
I actually leaped off of my seat and scrambled across the table--sending crockery and savory victuals crashing to the floor in all directions in the process. Rationality had nothing to do with it--the part of my brain that evolved back when sabertoothed tigers stalked the Pleistocene savanna simply took over and commanded my body to run the hell away as fast as possible.
I slammed into Pith, knocking him over backwards, overbalanced myself and smacked my forehead smartly into the wall behind him.
As I spun back around to face the giant predator, Pith's flailing arms swept my feet out from under me. This time, it was the back of my head that cracked against the wall, as I sat down hard on the floor next to where Pith lay sprawled on his back.
The monster shook its massive head and spoke in a rumbling contra-bass voice so filled with subsonic harmonics that it made Barry White sound like a soprano.
"Tho you are the dirtlingth? I musth thay I'm not imprethed."
It was the lisp that did it. The contrast between the thing's overwhelming physical presence and earthshaking voice and that silly lisp just did me in.
Of course, the fact that I was higher than a space shuttle mission on raw adrenaline had something to do with it, too.
I couldn't help myself. I started to giggle.
So did Pith.
Our titters swiftly turned into full-blown hysterics. We howled like idiots--weeping with laughter, gasping for breath, poking each other in the ribs and pointing at the nonplused cat- critter. It took several minutes and considerable effort before I was able to regain control of myself.
"Oh, lordy! Listen, we're sorry, Mr...?"
"I am Grrawth-h, Ambathador of the Th'lynth. And I mutht tell you that I fail to thee what'th tho humorouth."
That set Pith and me both off again.
I laughed so hard that I thought for a minute I just might die right there on the dining hall floor, whooping and roaring so helplessly that I got a case of the hiccups.
Hilarity and hiccups are a painful combination--and that's what brought me back to sobriety.
"I'm, hic, sorry, Mr. Grrawth-h. We're sorry, aren't, we, Pith?"
With both hands stuffed into his mouth trying to stifle his chuckles, Pith just nodded.
"I..hic..we..were laughing at..that is..our overreaction to seeing you is what's so, hic, funny."
Pith's eyes were closed tight. Tears leaked from under their lids. He made little snuffling noises and his shoulders shook as he strained to contain his mirth.
Thanks, pal. You're not making this any easier on me.
"Well, on our, hic, world--meaning no offense here--something that looks like you would be trying to, hic, eat us."
"And I'm thertain you'd be delithious, too."
I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I decided to treat it as a compliment.
"You're welcome. And whom do I have the pleathure of addrething..?"
"My name is Drew, hic, Wilde. This is my friend, Pith."
Grrawth-h nodded slightly at each of us.
"I tolerate your thenth."
"Er..likewise, I'm sure. Would you care to join us for, hic, breakfast?"
He looked and sounded horrified.
"Eat dead food? Cooked dead food? Thurely you're joking, Mithter Drew!"
"Ah..yeah, that's right, Mr. Grrawth-h, I'm, hic, joking. Pretty good joke, too, eh?"
He rolled his eyes.
"Thpare me any more thuch japeth, pleath."
"So, then, what can we do for you, Mr., hic, Grrawth-h?"
"Mithter Drew, I underthand you are employed by the Thentran, Læ?"
"Pleath inform her that I have arrived--and that I would like to thpeak to her no later than the fifth hour of the thecond thycle."
"And that would be when, exactly, Mr. Grrawth-h?"
"Think of it ath your dinner time, Mithter Drew."
"Okay..sure. I can do that, Mr. Grrawth-h. But, you could just talk to, hic, her yourself any time after noon. She'll be right outside this building, conducting weapons, hic, drills from then until your 'fifth hour'."
Grrawth-h shook his head.
"That'th quite impothible, I athure you, Mithter Drew. I thall be otherwithe occupied."
He frowned, as if the answer was so obvious even I shouldn't have to ask.
"Thleeping, of courthe."
. . .
A couple of days ago, I complained to Mahatna about the snail's pace of our lessons.
"This numinous stuff is all very interesting, Mr. Mahatna--and I have to admit it's changed the way I think about things. But, I'm mostly interested in learning how to climb better. If it's not too much to ask, could we concentrate on practical applications of Seeing?"
Mahatna looked pained.
"You ask that I teach you to climb before you have even learned how to walk, Mr. Drew."
"Well, okay, how about teaching me to walk, then, Mr. Mahatna?"
"First you must learn how to crawl, Mr. Drew. Only then can I teach you to walk."
"All right--teach me to crawl!"
He shook his head, sadly.
"You are not ready, Mr. Drew."
"But I am ready, Mr. Mahatna! I'm more than ready--I'm downright eager!"
His staff flashed like wooden lightning, striking the side of my head.
"Attend my words, Mr. Drew: When an infant is first born, its eyes see the world around it--but it does not comprehend the things it sees. Before it can safely learn how to crawl, it must first teach itself the meaning of the shapes and colors it sees around it. You and Mr. Pith are like infants--you See, but you do not yet comprehend."
I rubbed the welt the blow from Mahatna's staff had raised above my ear.
"I guess I see your point, Mr. Mahatna."
Mahatna reached out to grip my elbow reassuringly.
"Patience, Mr. Drew. When you are ready, understanding will come."
. . .
The hiccups abated well before we got to Mahatna's shack. I was glad they were gone, because they'd have made it nearly impossible for me to attain the inner stillness I needed to See.
It still feels unnatural to find myself using phrases like "inner stillness" without so much as a trace of irony, but I can't for the life of me come up with a better description of the state of mind that Seeing demands. The really funny thing is that, up until today, it's always taken me a good, long time to achieve enough of that interior silence--or serenity or whatever you want to call it--to coax my inner eye open. Sometimes as much as a couple hours will go by before it happens.
Today, that sucker popped open the minute I assumed the Pose.
The world around me took on that solarized, color-negative-on-acid look that's become so familiar to me over the past few days.Bill thinks I might be seeing the same energy that Kirlian photography captures. (What he actually said was, "Your description of the visual manifestation of your experience appears to have elements in common with what is known as 'Kirlian photography'. Are you familiar with the phenomenon?" And, of course, I wasn't, so he had to explain it to me--in excruciating detail.)
What was different about today was that I finally noticed the connection between the color of the light given off by animals I Saw and those animals' actions. It wasn't something I was looking for--it just kind of clicked into place:
The hue of a being's aura expresses its intention.
It was one of those "How the heck did I miss that?" kind of insights. Once I understood the link, it seemed like the most obvious thing in Totality.
And it was Seeing red that gave me my first clue.
The flickering radiance emitted by every predator I Saw stalking its prey was a riot of deep reds, crimsons, maroons and scarlets. At the moment of attack, the lambence surrounding each carnivore flashed the color of drying blood--a red so deep it was almost black--and it stayed that color throughout the struggle. Only after the victim succumbed and its own luminescence subsided into darkness did the victor's vermillion brilliance shade upward toward a contented emerald.
Once I Saw that, I immediately realized that green was the emanation of satiety. Most of the animals I Saw were herbivores of one sort or another, of course. Their luminous forms wavered continually between a kind of sickly chartreuse and a light orange, depending on whether they had their heads down, munching ghostly grasses and shrubs or up, alerted by nearby movement.
And the ones that wound up in hunters' jaws or beaks gave off brilliant sparks of a deep, rusty orange that could only mean mortal terror.
By contrast, Pith was continously surrounded by a cascade of flashing cerulean fire--and Mahatna's aura blazed in tongues of lambent, indigo flame.
And yellow? I was curious about that, too.
As it turns out, yellow is the color of lust. It has to be, because every single pair of creatures I Saw mating was bathed in a buttery halo of golden light. Even some of what Methven uses for flowers--the ones being pollinated, I assume, since they all had tiny fliers crawling around inside them--gave off a wan, amber glimmer.
. . .
The thing is that the actual experience of Seeing is wonderful.
As I've said, it takes a certain internal tranquility just to persuade your inner eye to open in the first place--and, for someone like me, that's a welcome change of pace in and of itself. And what you See is so beautiful in an such otherworldly way that words literally can't convey the experience. Like having sex or doing psychedelics, Seeing is something that you can't explain to someone who hasn't tried it--and don't need to explain to someone who has--and it's as habit-forming as orgasm or Indian food.
The price of a session of Seeing is profound physical and mental exhaustion. The worst of it passes after a time--although I'm always listless all day following one of Mahatna's lessons-- but all I want to do immediately afterward is lie in a heap and pant. And the more time I spend in thrall to that ethereal vision, the more depleted I get.
This morning I put in more time Seeing than I've ever spent in one day before--and the crash I endured when I returned to normal perception was brutal.
My eyes were open--but saw only reddish-black darkness. I know I crumpled to the ground, but I couldn't feel it beneath me. I heard Pith's concerned voice as if from a great distance.
I moaned. At least, I think I moaned.
"Your friend has spent much energy today, Mr. Pith. Much energy."
"Dog's gonna be okay, though?"
"Yes, Mr. Pith. In a little while, he will recover."
As if it was happening to someone else, I felt Mahatna's hand stroke my hair.
"Mr. Drew has made much progress today. You should be proud of him."
. . .
It took so long to get my feet back under me that, by the time we got down the mountain to the practice field, Pith and I had missed the first part of our afternoon drill with the rest of the crew. Læ greeted our appearance with sardonic courtesy.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen. So good of you to join us--at last. Pray tell, to what may we attribute your less-than-punctual arrival?"
Pith cocked a thumb at me.
"Th'doggie done good."
"I figured out what the colors mean--or, at least what some of the colors mean."
Læ's eyebrows shot up.
"Congratulations, Mr. Wilde. You have made remarkable progress for one to whom the Vomisa discipline is so alien."
"Thanks. And, speaking of 'alien', do you know someone named 'Grrawth-h'?"
"Linebacker-sized guy with a fur coat and a Garfield mask? Fangs? Claws? Tentacles?"
"Clearly you are describing a S'lynth."
"You mean, 'Th'linth,' don't you?"
She smiled at that.
"Just so. I'm afraid I do not recognize the name."
"Well he sure knows who you are--and he wants to talk to you, 'before the fifth hour of the second cycle'."
"It is certainly odd that he should employ lowland timekeeping terminology. What else do you know about this individual, Mr. Wilde?"
"Well, he's got a kind of..fussy..way of speaking. Like you, only moreso. And he says he's the ambassador to the Vomisa."
. . .
Over the course of the next few hours, I was by turns slow and awkward with the saber, hesitant and clumsy at hand-to-hand, equally dangerous to my targets and my companions with the crossbow--and deadly accurate with the wicked little Vomisa spring pistol.
In other words, it was a pretty typical practice session.
As usual, we finished our warmdown just about the time that most of the members of Clan Khasim began arriving for dinner. Our band joined the stream of furry bodies passing through the main gathering hall on its way to the refectory beyond.
From the double doorway of the assembly space, I easily spotted the giant bulk of the S'lynth just to one side of the broad entrance to the dining hall. As we drew even with him, L&aaelig; and I--followed by the rest of our party--stepped out of the flow of bodies to face him.
"Good hunting, Mr. Grrawth-h! I'd like to introduce you to my employer, Læ."
"I tolerate your thent, madam."
Without pause or hesitation, Læ responded to his greeting with a burst of coughing, snarling, spitting and purring noises that hurt my throat just to listen to.
Grrawth-h blinked in obvious surprise at her fluency, then replied--at length--in kind.
It was hard for me to concentrate on their discussion, both because I had no idea what its topic was and because I was so absorbed in the sight of Grrawth-h's facial tentacles as they constantly tugged at tufts of his fur, curled and uncurled around his gleaming fangs and continually groomed him with the same kind of restless, nervous energy that a human might express by fidgeting, tapping his fingers or cracking his knuckles. It was at once fascinating and mildly sickening to watch, but somehow I just couldn't look away.
The conversation between them continued for several minutes. The few clues I could gather as to what they were discussing were that Læ's expression got grimmer and grimmer and both parties' posture became progressively stiffer and more tense as their exchange lengthened.
Eventually, Læ launched into a heated harangue, waggling her finger at Grrawth-h and getting right up in his face. When she finally ran down, Grrawth-h responded with a single cough.
For a second, I thought Læ might just hit him.
Instead, she turned on her heel and--without another word--stalked imperiously away from the giant diplomat.
(Copyright© 1997, 1998, 1999 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)