Thursday, April 15, 2004

Chapter 3. To use Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey," this is Act II on the journey: "The Road of Trials," "The Meeting with the Goddess," and the "Apotheosis." (or deification).

Excerpts from a War in Progress by Elad Haber (part 3 of 4)

Work to be done, work to be done…
In any war, there are the spies, the soldiers, the dead and the living dead; the Generals, the victims, the bystanders, the good guys, the bad guys - and the peacemakers. In human affairs, the peacemaker is usually an idealist, a dreamer. He has to be, because he knows once he crosses enemy lines, he’s probably going to die.
Back in humanity’s medieval time, Kings sent their daughters or wives on these suicide missions because, at the time, a woman’s life was worth less than a man’s. Today, military negotiators are psychologists with guns. No wonder you’ve never heard of them.
In my world of demons and devils and things beyond the human realm, peacemakers are long-dead Angels, resurrected to play the part. In this war, peacemakers come in the form of ghosts.
A white homeless man began walking through a darkened section of buildings in Upper Manhattan. The GW Projects; a newly deemed “curfew” zone, after two nights of my soldiers murdering and stabbing innocents and not-so-innocents, while in the form of gang members. Police in two-car parties patrolled the area.
The two-block area was a major launch point for the Resurrection. My soldiers had started chaos in this area before any other. Tonight, all the soldiers are resting and regenerating. My spies are out, though, and altered me to the white man’s presence. They insisted on investigating themselves, but I told them to Hold. This was my responsibility.
I started walking my human body to the nearest subway entrance. Underground, through the turnstiles, at the end of the long station platform. The midtown station was crowded full on this Thursday night. I made myself invisible to human eyes and jumped onto the track. If you were standing nearby, you may have heard something strange, nothing more. In the comfort of invisibly, I ran through the train tracks in a blinding speed. My demon-vision allowed me to see trains a hundred feet in front of me and I moved accordingly. At one point, enjoying the ride too much, I stopped suddenly. I felt the white man’s “aura” directly above me. I looked up with my demon eyes through the tunnel ceiling, the ground itself, covered by cement, and saw a very powerful, very red, ghost.
I felt the familiar taste of blood on human lips. An exhilarating feeling. My heart pumped and my veins appeared to move around my hands and arms. I smelled human sweat. I smelled myself. I growled (just a little), and then leapt up with powerful demon-legs, through the brick and concrete, and up into air.
If you were nearby you’d, feel a small earthquake then see a large explosion of air and little chunks of former street. An eruption of sorts would appear as if out nowhere and a massive flush of heat like out of a jet engine would shake the air. You may have heard a growl or two, and then, walking from nothing to something, a human man, very much normal, standing beside the hole in the ground as if it was a harmless post.
I spotted the homeless man, sifting through garbage at the end of the block. I walked to him in my full human form but leaving behind claw-shape footsteps in the street: signs of my lingering “high.”
I approached the vagabond noisily but he did not turn or give any indication he sensed me. I tapped on his shoulder. He turned, half a piece of turkey stuck in his shaggy gray beard. He looked at me with mad, moonlit eyes, not processing anything. Not at first. Soon, he either felt my supernatural energy or discovered his own. His face morphed to resemble a cherub mask, (badly) mimicking a real-life human baby. The only thing that moved was the mouth, the bright blue eyes and rosy cheeks were locked in place.
“I know you,” he said in a deranged whisper.
“And I know you.”
His eyes were cold and lifeless but his body betrayed his trust. He took a step towards me. He mouthed a word, silently, then said, “Matthew.” A pause. “My son.”
For the record, I am no man’s son, but the human name stirred something inside this body I occupied. Recognition, a spark of life. Eyes not my own remembered the body frame of his distant father. He had died when this body was only eleven years old.
Oh, Heaven, how clever you can be.
The cherub mask went opaque and the man’s human visage returned. Sunken eyes and veiny flesh. It was definitely this body’s father. I felt another new emotion: sadness.
A voice not my own spoke, “But you died, father.” A child-like alto.
“No, son. That’s just what your mother told you. I lived, for many years, like this. A vagabond, a leech on society. I couldn’t bear anyone see me as I was, only now, I come to you in truth; with a message: Not all life is worth preserving.”
“What do you mean, father? What should I do?”
“You must end your own life, son, for there is a Devil living inside you!”
“You must, son! You must. The two of us are already dead, the rest of humanity is at stake now. Listen to me! Sacrifices must be made.”
I got my voice back: “I’m done listening to you, old man.”
And my body: I balled my fist until it morphed to become a spike. I plunged my spike-arm into the homeless man’s chest. He screamed and spat blood. I pulled my arm back and then tilted it horizontally, a blood-stained knife, slicing the man’s head off. The body crumpled to the floor. I spat on it and spoke to the Heavens.
“Nice try.”
An answer: “End this.”
The voice came from the ground. The severed head, back to the cherub mask form, spoke in a deep baritone, only a few words at a time.
“End… the war.”
“No!” I shouted at it. “Not until all the humans are gone and the Gods can inherit the earth. Once again.”
“You… must not…"
I laughed. “You’re wrong, fool. I will, because I must. Humanity doesn’t deserve a messiah. They’ve made a mess of their world and it’s not getting any better.”
“Hope. They… have … hope. And a will to…to, live. They can be… saved.”
I smiled a devilish grin. “Don’t hate me, I’m just the Messenger.” Tucked behind my back, underneath my black undershirt, I had a gun. A short black automatic. I pulled it out and aimed it at the cherub head. I could have just left it to wither and die on its own, but I was trying to help it.
Really I was.
“You’ll excuse me,” I said, “I don’t have much time left. And you just wasted enough of it.” I fired, twice, so that the blood splattered on my pants, shoes, and the bottom of my shirt. I felt extremely satisfied.
Work to be done, work to be done…

So I definitely deserved a break.
My night in jail, complete with cramped walls, rough inmates, and angry stares, was very, very unpleasant. The incident in the bathroom bonded the cops and I in sheer inexplicability. It was as if the three of us had seen a UFO and decided never to talk about it. One of them stayed by my side through the long, dreary, “booking” process but didn’t say much. In fact, the whole police station had felt “zombie-like”, like the cops forgot how to do their jobs. There was a lot tense whispering and every time a phone would ring, someone would cringe. I heard someone say, “The whole city’s gone crazy.”
Ah. But that was all behind me. I was free now and I tried to burn the memories away with the hot rays of the sun. It worked, for the most part. I spent the day roaming the city, not doing drugs, appreciating the simple things in life. Parks, couples, dogs, babies, little pieces of art for sale on the street. The smell of fresh-baked pizza, reminding you of childhood. The smell of fresh horse manure making you want throw up your newly eaten pizza.
Oh, what a glorious life. What a wonderful thing, this freedom. No one watched me or handcuffed me and, free of illegal substances, I felt a strange, new, sense of security. It was nice.
So, “high” on life itself, I developed a slight bit of what you might call a ‘backbone.’ Passing a little Italian bistro in Chelsea, I noticed a gorgeous, tall, waitress moving between the tables like a dancer. She smiled and exchanged laughs with customers. A song by Portishead was coming out of the bistro: downbeat and sexy. The girl looked like a performer in an opera, silky movements accentuating the music. She looked like she belonged on some stage, somewhere. I stepped into the restaurant.
She was a female of exquisite design. Straw-like blond hair tied back in a ponytail exposed her charming face. Curving pool-ball cheeks and round, wide, eyes gave her a very doe-eyed-look. Behind the counter, she barked orders in the high, teeny, Italian language. I stared at her for long minutes while she was, thankfully, distracted across the room. I was fascinated by her body: rounded hips and large breasts were the first thing I noticed, but there was more elsewhere, if you cared to look.
Finally, she came to my table. She wore a nametag that said, ‘Hey, I’m Liz.’ She smiled at me.
“Hi there,” she said. “Can I help you with something?”
I felt like I wanted to be completely honest with this girl. I opened my heart. I said, “I need a way out. Out of this mess, this pit of a life I’m in.”
Confused, she said, “Um… excuse me?”
“I was a solider.. or, I am a solider. In a silent war. A very dangerous war.” She probably thought I was crazy by this point. A dose of reality was needed: “I was arrested last night.”
She nodded a little, understanding. “First time?” she asked. I nodded, ashamed. She said, “Something with vodka in it, perhaps?”
I smiled at her and she returned it with a wide smile and a wink of her own. “Surprise me,” I said.
This girl, Liz, had found my answer. At least for now.

I didn’t lose my backbone. I stayed in the bistro till long past closing, talking to her. We went to her house, talked some more, and then slept together.
It wasn’t a horny jump-into-bed and attack each other type of thing. Neither of us had a one-night-stand in our minds. It just felt natural and ‘right.’ Whatever that means.

I was never good at the morning after’ Too awkward and too often full of guilt. What was this girl’s name again? I just met her, what if she’s got a boyfriend ready to kick my ass when he comes home in an hour? With my recent streak of bad luck, maybe I should have just stayed at home.
But then she turned, stirring in her sleep. Her wild hair covered some of her face. I pushed aside the strands of silk and felt my heart swell with … allright; with love. I forgot the questions I had and now debated whether to wake her up or let her sleep, maybe go find a Dunkin Donuts, surprise her with the sweet smell of fresh coffee and bagels.
I released one leg out of her very comfortable bed, instantly regretting it. I reached for my pants, somewhere on the floor. I picked them and realized they were vibrating. With a heavy sigh, I reached for my cellphone. 15 Missed Calls, emblazoned on the LCD screen, not including the call coming in right now. I took a few large steps to the bathroom, naked from the waist down, and put a towel over my private parts, only then did I answer the phone.
“YO? Fuck MC. Where ya been?” One of my oldschool hommies, Nate.
“Lay off my back. I found a little lady friend and was ‘occupied.’ I don’t answer to your punk ass anyway!” That last part was said with a smile heard on both sides.
“True, true, boy, but you do answer to J-man, and he wanted to see you last night. You know he don’t like being fronted on by anyone. He probably left you one or two pissed-off voicemails.”
“I haven’t checked.”
“Oh, I would. And then I would take my dick out of whatever pussy it’s in and go down to see the Boss, and play nice and apologize a lot. If you wanna keep those balls, that is.” Nate laughed like a schoolboy.
I said, “Maybe he’ll fire me.”
More laughter, Arsenio-style this time. “Shit, MC, what do you think this is, McDonalds?” He laughed a whole bunch more, called me a “stupid motherfucker,” and then hung up.
I almost went back to Liz then. Almost. I dialed a cellphone number. J-man’s.
“Sup,” he said, calmly.
“Yo. It’s MC.”
Suddenly angry: “Where the fuck you been since you got out of lock-up?”
“J. Chill. I wasn’t with no cops or detectives or nothing like that. I hooked up with a girl at a bar and we just, I guess, hit it off. She’s a great gir-“
“Fuck that,” J-man said. “You need to get your ass here, A-SAP, nigga. Your bags are already packed and a room in Atlantic City booked.”
“Da fuck, man!” He sounded angry. “You dumb or deaf, or both? This isn’t a suggestion. This is a fucking order. It’s too hot in this city for you at the moment. I doubt that gangsta attack last night was random. We need to get you to some safety.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I want out.”
“Out? Out of what, nigga?”
“The whole thing: The Game. I’m finished, I’m done, I beat it.”
He laughed for a full minute. “Son, there ain’t no winning or losing in this game. Just crying and dying.”
I said, “Then consider me dead.”
“I may have too.”
A brief silence.
I said, “Just tell the Big Man I’m out, aiight? I’ll come visit today. We’ll talk.”
“Come alone.” Click.

We went to coffee after, me and the blonde. I didn’t think of her as a bitch anymore. We got to talking before the auditions and then were among the five girls asked to stay for the second round of judging. She was a cool person to be around. She had little sayings and weird ways of rolling her eyes to show her emotions.
During the second round, Maria and I were brought in at the same time. The panel of judges was mostly men. They had us put on fancy tight clothes and walk up and down a fake catwalk. Over cappuccinos, later, we didn’t speak of it.
I asked her about her heritage. It turns out her Latin name comes from her Cuban mother, the blonde locks from her white, American, father.
“And I was raised by gypsies,” she said.
She smiled, whispered, “Of course not, but it sounds real cool when you say it. What about you? Any work in you?” She was wondering if I’d had plastic surgery, and where.
“Nothing,” I said, “except for my nose.” Which, in ‘industry’ code, means my nose and my breasts.
“That’s it?” she prodded. “You sure?”
I got mock-angry. “Does it look like I’ve had anything done, bitch?”
She smiled back at me and then sized me up, a quick glance above the side of the table. “No, of course not,” she said, “but I wanted to show you a little bit of the treatment I get.”
I was intrigued. “Why?”
She shrugged, like a little girl dismissing one of life’s Big questions. “Maybe to make you pity me, or maybe just out of habit.” She changed moods quickly. I wondered if she was on drugs. She said, suddenly, “So tell me all about your world. Am I wrong in assuming you’re a stripper?”
I nodded. I felt like I could be honest and sincere with this woman and she wouldn’t judge me. “Yes. Only two nights a week, though.”
She closed her eyes. “And you have other careers, nude modeling, acting. You’ve published some poems. Not even two hundred dollars combined, but it was worth it just for the experience.”
The little tiny hairs on my arms pricked up. “How do you know that?”
“I can read you like a poem.”
“But, my thoughts…”
“Are open to the public, if you know how to listen to them. But not everyone can hear everyone else. Only certain people, to certain people. There’s no explanation. It just takes practice.” Easy-going shrug, again.
There was a pause. I looked her in the eye. “Are you playing a Halloween trick on me, Maria?”
She smiled. “I would never lower myself to something like that. Halloween or not, what I’ve told you is totally true.”
Little kid in a chocolate store: That’s me. “Tell me more,” I begged her. “Tell me everything.”
She laughed. “That may take awhile.”
I ordered two glasses of wine. An hour and a half later, a few glasses of various alcohols put away between us, we were still talking. The ashtray on the table was filled up with thin white stalks, the ends painted auburn (me) or dark pink (her). A quick nasty glance from me to our waitress and the ashtray was removed, replaced by another one very quickly. I was pleased. Whenever two women sit at a table and their server is a woman, the customers become like Mom, or Mom’s two pissed-off sisters. We had her bringing us new drinks because we didn’t like the saltiness of the margaritas. Every time she was out of earshot of our table, we laughed or giggled a bit, as if in her expense. We were evil; I had fun.
And we talked of interesting things. She told me about a world I didn’t know existed. A supernatural one, of mind, thought, and real evil. She proved it.
“I see a secret, in the back of your mind. You want to tell me but you’ve never told anyone and you don’t know the words. You were in Rehab. Your parents found a stash of drugs and threw you across country to a clinic.”
I was already crying at this early stage, little gumdrops of bad memories washing away. “More like a prison,” I said.
“I see that. Uniforms and bars. Bad meals and broken hearts.”
Tears fell; my voice was scratchy. “It was a new experiment in rehabilitation, a sort of prison/military approach. My parents thought it was just what I needed.”
“But it was all wrong. You needed real human connections, from your friends and family. Not strangers and prison guards.”
“Yes! It was awful. I was stripped of everything. My whole life, sitting there being unlived on the other side of the bars, while I watched hours become days.”
I had a feeling she knew what that was like. There was a comfortable silence for a minute.
Maria said, “Your brain shuts itself down, if you let it, you know?”
I thought she was joking. “I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Suurre, it’s one of the many puzzles of the brain. You gotta keep it moving, keep it occupied with something. There’s a reason people in prison go insane: lack of input.” She started to laugh but I wasn’t in the mood. My tears had ceased for the moment, but I sniffled a little still.
Maria said, “I know what it was like in there for you. I can live your memories. I can go inside your brain and become you, of the past.”
Amazed again, I said, “You did that?”
She nodded. “I know you counted the days in your memory. It’s a number you’ll never forget.”
Together, we said, “Six Thirty One.”
I started to cry again. Maria got up out of her chair and knelt beside me; a knee planted on the floor and hugged me. I squeezed back. I felt like I was five years old, sick and scared, and being comforted by my mother.
I got the back of Maria’s blouse quite wet and when I was done sobbing, I promised her I’d buy her a new one or at least wash it for her. She just laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “tears are like stains, they wash away, and then you forget about them.” She stood up. “Come now, Miss H, I want to show you my secrets.”

The dark section of the city-state held one major structure, a Mansion, carved of brick and granite and a kind of shining black substance I couldn't recognize. This mansion was my destination. The Hitmen led me to it, but I would have walked on my own.
Inside the first room of the Mansion, in a hallway-like foray, was The Man Himself. He was obvious in his expensive clothing, sparkling jewelry, and clique of important-looking people surrounding him. The whole room’s attention was focused on him, dozens of pairs of eyes always aware of his presence and location. The hall was packed full of enough people to worship more than just one holy man: servants, friends of his, mistresses and their children (babysitters for the children), a few advisor-like “hanger-on’s”, and two large statue-like Gargoyle creatures, standing guard (fully alive), in front of the doors to the rest of the Mansion.
When the remaining Hitmen and I entered the room, four, large, dark, fatigued shapes exerting a force, many of the children and bystanders began to clear out of the room. The Man himself, though, rose from a plush couch and walked towards us. He looked at each of his men in the eye for a moment. When those eyes fell upon me, I stared back, bewildered.
He was a dozen men in one. Different colored eyes, various-colored patches of skin, arms and legs that didn’t match. He looked … constructed, by some retarded child. He was nothing like I expected. His bald, black scalp reflected lamp light and gave the top of his head a halo-effect. He looked a little like an Angel, his eyes oddly cherub-like. White eyes and white teeth like shining diamonds in a cave. His smile scared me; and impressed me by its subtlety. I didn’t know if he meant to kill me or befriend me in the next minute.
The Man nodded at his each of his men once and, at that they turned and left. I watched them go, envious. I had come to think of the group of us as “all in this together,” but I guess that was just a delusion. I felt suddenly lonely, like someone had kidnapped all my best friends on my birthday.
He spoke to me: “Hayden,” he said in a deep but not overwhelming baritone of a voice.
“That’s me,” I said, nervous. “And you are…”
“The Man who called for you. I won’t bother with a list of credentials, since I know you’ve read a lot about me. All lies or half-truths, bullshit built by governments to hide the truth. Don’t believe all the bullshit you hear, read, or see.”
As he spoke more, he adapted a slang-filled ‘street’ dialect and tone. “See, Hayden, I know who sent your holier-than-thou-ass to find me. My God-like powers allow me to see through time and motherfuckin’ space and find people who seek to hurt me and my family. Even now, I’m tempted to send you off to visit your namesake at the beginning of the 19th century.” He sucked in a breathe, released it slowly. “You like classical music?”
I was thrown by the question and so answered truthfully. “No. Never have the time to look into it.”
The villain walked towards another side of the room, admiring his fine polished walls and furniture as he did. “I’m surprised. Especially since Hayden, the original, did a lot of music for the Church. Your church.”
I was surprised. “I am not a catholic,” I insisted.
“Sure you’re not,” he said. He pulled another one of those long white stalks from his jacket packet. “Care to join me? This would be like breaking bread together back in Jesus’ time.”
I shook my head. “I don’t do drugs.”
“You sure? You may need them right now.”
“I don’t want to indulge in your sins.”
“Sins!” he shouted. The room erupted in laughter.
I didn’t let them phase me. “You deal drugs to children to earn money to blackmail politicians in giving you more money for stuff like this. You’re the Devil, come down to Earth. This is a war and you are the ultimate villain.” I was proud of myself for standing up to him. “I won’t participate in your games.”
He came very close to me, not in anger, but intensity. When he looked just about ready to scream and yell, he paused and just shook his head slowly. “How wrong you are, little man. True, I am a drug dealer, but I have a “higher” purpose, if you’ll excuse the pun. I am a religious man. My followers and I do not want to pollute humanity, but to save it from itself.”
I pointed with a shaking finger at the Gargoyle-creatures. “Satanism. Your God is blasphemy.”
“No. Wrong again, Hayden. Your superiors lied to you. That’s what they do best: Lie. The truth about the gargoyles is they are almost exactly what they appear to be, just as I told the geneticists to make them.”
I couldn’t hide the shock in my face.
“Yes!” The Man shouted. “I see the look of amazement on your face. Your eyes are finally opening, brother; stepping out of the darkness into the light. ” He pointed a waving hand at the creatures at the far side of the room. “They were constructed in a lab, in the basement of this castle, many years ago. Once, they were men. Now they are soldiers.”
“So you’re building an army?”
The Man grinned at my cunning. “I prefer to think of them as a defense force. For all I know you’re the first in a group of an army to come to attack my home.”
“I can guarantee you I am not part of any invasion force.”
Some of the others in the room snickered at that, but The Man shushed them with a glance. “I like you, Hayden, you’re direct.” He smiled, said, “I want to show you something.”
He simply looked at the gargoyle creatures by the large door and they opened it into the next room. “Things are almost never what they are appear to be, the first time.” The Man indicated I walk through first.
I did, feeling curious. There was a bright white light coming from the room and I couldn’t make out any shapes until I was inside the room, feeling cold air like in a cave. A familiar smell of wood greeted me and, around the long hall, I recognized more things: pews, fake-glass-mosaics, and altars. At the center of the huge dome-like church was a massive cross. Dried blood was visible in points reminiscent of the holy trinity.
What I had thought was a mansion was not, it was a gothic-style Catholic Church.
The family moved in to the pews for an afternoon prayer session. The Man whispered in my ear, “We’re more like each other than you ever imagined, Hayden.”
I felt pinpricks of doubt stabbing my heart, their ends covered in questions.

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