The forecast for Monday was warmer—high in the low 60s, low in the mid 40s—and dry. Seemed like a perfect night to check “spend the night on the island” off my list. I already had a sleeping bag and air mattress; George’s garage furnished a military surplus-type folding shovel, hatchet, and a ground tarp. A trip to Hanson’s added a hefty lantern/flashlight combination with an extra battery, a multi-purpose field mess kit (i.e., you could cook in it and eat out of it), groceries, and ice. I’m not really the camping sort, but a couple of years in the Boy Scouts as a kid had given me enough basic know-how to survive in the field.
I knew Sabrina would be disappointed if I didn’t show up Tuesday morning after our hour together on Sunday, so I wrote her a note and dropped it by Peckerwoods’ on the way to the boat ramp.
If I’m not there for breakfast this morning, I’ve successfully spent the night on the island. Wish you were here.
I had worked it over on my PC for fifteen minutes before writing it out by hand. Seemed excessive for a two-line note, but it needed to sound warm enough without being too warm. The toughest part was coming up with the closing. “Luv ya” sounded too much like a teenager, while “Sincerely” wasn’t. In the end I settled on “Fondly” and hoped for the best.
I delayed going until after lunch, so it was mid-afternoon by the time I’d hauled my gear up the hill and set up camp, if you can call blowing up an air mattress and unrolling your sleeping bag on a tarp setting up camp. Spent another hour gathering firewood. There was plenty of loose stuff around, giving even more credence to the theory that nobody had built a real fire here recently.
Then I did what I’d been eager to try since even before Sabrina mentioned it: I walked the wheel while holding the golden-haired woman in my mind. Or at least I tried to, except Sabrina keep stealing into my thoughts.
Sabrina? Hey, wait a minute. Sabrina is an unavailable woman friend who you enjoy flirting with. Chai is who I would have expected to disrupt my reverie. After all, I was walking over the same ground where she and I had spent Saturday engaged in some—what’s the spiritual word for heavy-duty fucking?—merging our bodily essence and our soul energies into a spiritual and passion-filled whole (that would be a great pun if spoken instead of written). But no, it was Sabrina who kept intruding. Not being pushy or anything, just there.
OK, Sabrina. Have it your way. I went back to the center, cleared my thoughts as best a rookie meditator could, and started over, holding the feisty waitress in my mind. She came so easily and willingly, after I’d finished we did it again.
Here’s what my hour of clarity revealed: I was a lot more emotionally involved with Sabrina than with Chai Fox. I liked Chai a lot, don’t get me wrong. We were good together, in bed (in the broader sense of the word) and out, enjoyed each other’s company, didn’t seem to have any places where we caused irritation. So what the hell did that all mean?
But out there on my island, I didn’t fret over it or even try to figure it out. Avalon, S.C. was a place to get out of your head and let your subconscious, creative mind do its thing. So I just let it be.
By that time it was starting to get dark, so I started the fire. As it had the last time, the flames tugged at me, trying to draw me deeply into their embrace. But I resisted. There would be plenty of time for that later; for now, I had to cook dinner.
Yes, I know, I could have brought sandwiches and pre-made potato salad and the like. But I wanted to cook over the fire. Specifically, I wanted to cook meat. There is something primeval about cooking meat over a campfire, something that connects you with your ancestors 50,000 and 250,000 and maybe even a million years ago.
There was time for a little reverie while the fire turned wood into coals. I fueled my musings with a double martini, savoring the bitter sting of the gin against my tongue, the chill of the mug against my hands, the warmth of the fire against my face. Feeling rather than thinking. Then I raked a couple of shovelfuls of glowing embers out of the fire, threaded chunks of steak on a stick I’d sharpened for the purpose, nestled it in the crotch of a forked branch stuck in the ground so I could hold it the proper distance from the coals, and cooked meat.
That’s when I had my first real vision: a group of four men who looked pretty much like I did only not as clean-shaven and dressed a little more rudely, sitting around a fire roasting meat on sticks. After a while vision and reality merged, so I was sitting in the circle with them. Occasionally one of them muttered something unintelligible in a language with a lot of consonants, but mostly they sat quietly, just as I did.
I warmed a can of beans in my mess kit while the steak cooked and added a chunk of relatively fresh bread from Hanson’s. The meat was charred a little on the outside, just like steak cooked over an open fire should be. Dessert was an apple, which I could have roasted but didn’t bother. As far as I can remember, it was the best meal I’d ever eaten. Sharing the brisk November air with my silent companions on a magical evening on a magical island. When their dinner was done they faded away, back to their place and time I suppose. I raised my hand to them as they left, but they didn’t respond. OK, that would have been totally cool, in a hair-raising kind of way. But it was plenty powerful enough as it was.
After I was done eating I just sat there, staring at the flames, and let my mind wander as freely as it would. Pondering everything I’d learned about George and his strange collection of hobbies and interests, or at least strange considering the person he’d appeared to be before moving to White Sands. And the island, both the physical and spiritual reality of the place and as it appeared in his sketches and paintings. The women who were travelling with me on this wild adventure: Adeline, Sabrina, Chai, Lacey, and the golden-haired woman. The brooch and the rune. I added wood to the fire three or four times, then just let it go. When it finally burned down to embers I banked them with dirt, crawled into my sleeping bag, and without much ado (surprisingly) went to sleep.
Sometime in the night she came to me.
I was having one of those maddening dreams where Chai and I were trying to make love there inside the stone circle—the real stone circle, with the standing stones erect—but shit kept getting in the way. Stones poking up from the ground so you had to shift around and start over. An abrupt gust of wind that covered us with leaves and dirt. A small dog appearing out of nowhere and trying to steal my pants, while a raven perched on the altar scolded him in a manner faintly reminiscent of words. Typical dream frustration.
I somehow managed to achieve penetration—finally! And then suddenly the woman was there. Standing behind the altar, watching us with unconcealed amusement. She motioned for me to rise and so I did, naked from the waist down, standing proudly in more ways than one. For some reason it wasn’t particularly embarrassing. The golden-haired woman pursed her lips as she looked me over, then spoke to the robed figure beside her, who scurried over and draped a cloak over my shoulders. Outside of the circle, in exactly the same spot I’d built my fire, a bonfire blazed away. Chai had disappeared, in the manner of dreams.
“Who are you?” I asked when I was covered up.
“Ah, Rick Whittaker. You have everything that a high-powered investigative journalist needs to figure that out. Although I admit that the accounts are somewhat . . . shall we say, muddy?”
“Is George with you?”
The woman just shrugged, in that maddening manner of women throughout history, I suppose. And with that she raised her hands in a vee over her head and the trappings disappeared, leaving me standing on the island as it exists today: no altar, no stones, no robed figures, no fire.
I stood there waiting to see if more would happen until I got cold, and then I woke up. And no wonder. In my sleep I’d gotten out of my sleeping bag, walked over into the circle, and was standing in exactly the same spot where I’d been in my dreams. Wearing a tee shirt, boxers, and socks. And a puzzled expression, had there been anyone to see it.