I work up at 3:17 dreaming of the golden haired woman. She was standing on the beach where I’d stood the day before, beckoning frantically to someone out in the ocean. Then that someone became me, floating in my boat, unable to start the motor and go to her. So I madly began to row, but in the manner of dreams, the oars kept slipping or turning and I never got any closer. Then she began to undress, making it clearer that she was only frantic because of how desperately she wanted me. That’s when I woke up, damnit.
If you have a bad dream that wakes you up, when you somehow manage to get back to sleep, you always end up right back in the same dream. But a good dream? Never. Why is that? What sadistic deity designed that stupid system? I tried hard but without any success. I might have drifted back off but never managed the kind of deep sleep where you dream.
Daylight savings time had mercifully ended the weekend before so it got light earlier than it had been. I had my coffee ready and was out walking the wheel as soon as I could see well enough not to hurt myself. Holding the golden-haired woman in my mind, trying to commune with her, wherever she was.
N. Wonder what her name was? N names seem exotic and uncommon to me, with the possible exception of Nancy (I had a girlfriend named Nancy back in high school who hated her name as wimpy and boring, although she definitely was neither). Nadia like the gymnast, Natasha the animated Russian spy, Nicole the sexual adventuress in Eyes Wide Shut? I had an Aunt Nettie, but I wasn’t seeing the gold haired woman as a Nettie.
At the end I stood there in the east and held the dream in my mind; although now a few hours old, it was still quite vivid. And yes I know, I should have been in the west honoring the spirit of water, but east faces the actual water so I hoped she would forgive me.
Then I wolfed down a hearty breakfast of oatmeal—Peckerwoods’, having better taste than I do, doesn’t even serve oatmeal—made a second pot of coffee for the thermos, packed a lunch, and headed back to Avalon.
Back to Avalon. Those words dripped with magic, even though it was just a little offshore island in backwater South Carolina.
The beach looked exactly how I had found it yesterday. The keel scrape and anchor marks from the day before were gone, devoured by the waves and the high tide. I was tempted to dump an empty bottle up on the bank just to see if it stayed, but it seemed like a sacrilege so I didn’t. Instead, I stuck a stick up in the earth.
I had brought hiking boots and, better prepared to venture off into the interior, began exploring the forest behind the beach. The undergrowth was not really thick enough to prevent easy passage. I hadn’t brought a compass, but how lost can you get on an island? So I noted the direction of the sun and headed toward where the center should be.
A half hour into my wandering I discovered a path, although made by who or what I couldn’t guess. If the annual visits by the Halloween Hippies were keeping the underbrush beaten back, they must make a lot of trips from their boats to the fire. It could have been a deer trail, I guess, except I hadn’t seen any wildlife so far. Now that I thought about it, there weren’t any birds singing or squirrels barking either. This distance in, I could no longer hear the waves lapping against the shore any more. Just a total, all-encompassing silence.
People in the 21st Century aren’t used to silence. You can never really get that far away from sound. In the east there aren’t many places out of earshot of a road, although one can find plenty in the wilds of the Western U.S. if you look. But even there, the occasional cry of the raptors soaring above the desert breaks up the stillness. And on top of that, you discover you’ve packed your iPod, might as well listen to a few tunes. Instead, I sat with my back to a substantial oak tree, closed my eyes, and just listened to nothing for a bit. Probably didn’t qualify as meditation to the purists, but it was close enough for my tastes.
Reverie time over, I follow the path wherever it wandered, even when it seemed to be curving back toward the water. I could make out the sound of the waves for a couple of minutes before curving away and beginning to walk gently uphill.
Pretty soon, I found the hill itself.
After finishing seven of George’s novels about King Arthur and his noble knights, I’d switched to a non-fiction book about the search for the historical Arthur. I learned that many believe Glastonbury Tor was the original Avalon because at the time, the area was supposedly under water and the tor would have been an island. I hadn’t bought any of that—the arguments were pretty specious, easy to swallow only if you were desperate to identify something, anything. Certainly not convincing for a professional skeptic as we journalists are supposed to be. But I did learn that Glastonbury Tor towers more than 500 feet above the surrounding countryside. The “tor” on Avalon S.C., wasn’t even taller than the oak trees along the shore. “Piedmont Tor,” I christened it. You couldn’t even see the water except for a couple of narrow passages through the forest.
At the top of the tor was a large clearing—clearing meaning that there was a scattering of knee-high scrub but no trees. I paced it off—73 paces between the closest trees in one direction, 87 in the other. I didn’t see how it could be natural. Unless the soil was naturally poisonous for some reason, trees should have grown over the clearing the same as they did the rest of the island.
I spent a good half hour searching the hilltop for signs of a fire. You would think it would be nearly impossible to hide the traces of a bonfire from only six days ago. Hell, archeologists find traces of fires that are tens of thousands of years old. But there was absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even find a place where the leaves and earth had been disturbed, much less a pit with charred wood and a few half-buried Budweiser cans. If this was the work of a dedicated group of hippie environmentalists who partied on Samhain and then removed every last trace, swept the fire pit clean, and restored leaves over the area, they were some hardcore Sierra Club fanatics. Wouldn’t want them catching me throwing a piece of chewed gum out my car, they’d pull me over and kick my ass.
What I did find was a circle of depressions. I only found them because I was searching for the fire, but once I located two of them, I could follow the arc and place the entire circle. Twelve depressions, seventeen paces across the circle. Each was roughly rectangular, not quite three feet wide, half that thick and deep. About the same size as the area that I could encompass in my arms. Nothing was obvious; no sharp edges or well defined boundaries. But I had no doubt about the circle.
As I squatted by one of the holes, brushing the leaves out of the depression so I could see its definition better, George’s painting of Avalon and the circle of the little undefined objects popped into my mind. Immediately the hair on the back of my neck stood up, although on further reflection I couldn’t think of anything remotely frightening or scary about either the painting or the holes. Just fascinating.
Lunch was like dining in a cathedral. I hadn’t brought an iPod, but nothing short of the golden-haired woman coming down and asking for a little dance music could have enticed me to turn it on if I had.
I gave myself plenty of time to get back to my boat and make it home before the sun went down, especially considering that Daylight Savings time had unfortunately ended the weekend before and it was getting dark much too early. The path actually led back to the right end of the beach (I’d started my exploration on the left).
Fire and ice—a long, hot shower and a crisp martini—capped off a perfect day. Before deciding whether to make supper or eat out, I called Chai Fox.
“Norman, darling. I mean, Rick the Norman, of course. Have you been thinking about me like you promised?”
I hadn’t remembered promising anything of the sort but went with the flow. “Of course. How could anyone—man, woman, or beast—meet you and then not think about you?” I started to add something about my dreams and then thought better of it. “Every day, even twice sometimes.”
“As I recall, we have a tentative date tomorrow if you’ve found anything to report. So, Rick Whittaker, have you found anything worth reporting?”
“I’ve been to the island, and would like to testify that it’s a fascinating place. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do. It has secrets that I shan’t describe over the phone because you need to experience them yourself. And,” I lowered my voice and tried to sound mysterious, “I have a picture of the piece of jewelry that George Foster commissioned and paid $6,000 for. You’ll likely find it as exciting as the island.”
“Then I can hardly wait. What time should I be there? Considering not only that I have to navigate your so-called road from hell, but also that I don’t do early morning.”
We negotiated and settled on 10:30am at the boat ramp.