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The Archipelago of DreamsThe Island of the Dream Healer
By R.J. Cole
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 R.J. Cole
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Star below the Horizon
I WILL LOVE THE LIGHT FOR IT SHOWS ME THE WAY, YET I WILL ENDURE THE DARKNESS BECAUSE IT SHOWS ME THE STARS.
—Og Mandino, twentieth-century American essayist and psychologist
The story began innocently enough. But all too quickly it morphed into an adventure beyond my wildest of dreams. It was to be a summer vacation. It began when my wife Franny and I and our two youngest daughters of four children packed up the Vanagon with the intention of leaving the stresses and travails of our busy lives temporarily behind us.
We headed east and to the north along the Interstate 80 to spend a few weeks at a reunion of my wife's extended family in Wisconsin.
After several hot days of travel, we pulled into Madison and found a small campground in a park near the edge of town, rented a space for the next week, and then drove off to meet the family.
A couple of Franny's great-aunts drove us around town showing us the family homesteads both past and present and even one that had been commissioned to Frank Lloyd Wright, that famous architect who seemed to define the building of his era.
On one of the days, everyone gathered at a park near the edge of town for a barbeque. The sun was shining, though there were a few clouds and a light breeze to keep it all from heating up too much. There must have been a big game at Randall Stadium where the University of Wisconsin Badgers were playing because there was a Goodyear blimp cruising around with its advertising panels all lit up. This delighted the kids who thought that this might be especially for them. "Is it for our beunion, Daddy?" cried Zandra excitedly as she and her younger, cherubic sister Brit looked up at the whirring sound of the blimp's engines as it passed overhead.
A group of kids and adults chose teams to play a friendly game of touch football while some others played more sedate games such as dominoes or cards.
While I was eying the others running about, an older aunt with long graying hair that hung just past her shoulders emptied a bag of small stones with odd markings painted on them onto the table. She cast her rune stones this way for many of the guests, using the markings on the stones to tell their fortunes or the meaning of an event they might ask her about. It was all great fun! For a moment, our eyes met, and I experienced a strange and urgent calling to have my own fortune read.
Unable to resist, though quite sure there was nothing to her divinations, I asked her to look into my future, and she threw the stones. After what seemed like a much longer time than she had given the others, she looked up at me gravely. Again her intense light blue eyes made contact with mine and held them firmly.
"A transformation lies ahead for you, Robert." She pointed to a rune with a vertical line with another line crossing it at a slant. "This indicates that there will also be trouble and some danger." Pointing at two other stones, she went on. "These two stones indicate an imbalance and instability. There will be some sacrifice required before all is done." She continued to hold my gaze after she'd finished, and I could have sworn that I could see in her eyes rooms with darkened recesses and black swamps through which a cloaked figure stumbled among the roots of ominous-looking trees. Was I hallucinating? With a shiver, I had to force myself to turn away so as to break the trance I seemed to have fallen into.
I didn't like these visions, and I suddenly felt tired. Should I just go home and avoid the conflict she divined? I forced an insincere and lighthearted chuckle and suggested, "You're probably talking about my impending return to work. Not to worry—I've plenty of time before that." I again chuckled unconvincingly. The aunt nodded, but without agreeing. I was most grateful when a group of kids ran up yelling to their auntie. "You gotta see it!" cried one of them. "Come on!" Several of them tugged on their auntie's sleeve to show her the bird's nest they'd found. Off she went, scattering the runes across the table as she rose to her feet.
Relieved and feeling buoyed by the sun and the laughter of the kids running across the meadow to share their important find, I tried to shake off the encounter, shivering as I did so. Slowly, I turned to look for Zandra. I spied her at a nearby playground and noted Brit with Franny sitting on a low wall at the edge of the play area. There were a number of kids at this gathering, although our two were the youngest by far. Though she was only a year old, our youngest had charmed everyone, much to the chagrin of her sister who was much more mature what with being a rather precocious three-year-old, yet she too found kids to play with.
In fact, everyone seemed to be quite compatible, which was a bit of a contrast from the family I grew up in. My uncle disliked my mom and my mom disliked my grandmother, and, after a time, didn't seem to care much for my dad either. In fact, the only thing that they all seemed to agree on was that I was their favorite. But then, I was the only child. All right, enough of negative reminiscing, I mused, and then scanned the field for the football game and considered getting into it.
* * *
Eventually, alas, the week came to an end, and we had to say our good-byes with promises to keep in touch and not let so much time go by until our next visit. It wasn't the end of family time, however, because we were to follow my wife's parents up to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to a vacation cabin where Franny's mother had spent much of her childhood. Later in the week, favored cousins would host us at their tree farm that bordered yet another nearby lake. The area seemed riddled with pristine lagoons!
As we drove along the central highway heading north, I marveled at the stands of fir and pine, ash and maple and birch. But it was the birch that seemed to be everywhere, especially near our destination in Rhinelander.
To me, it was all quite enchanting, but, with one notable exception, all was not as it seemed. Though there were trees lining the highway that gave the impression of a lush forest, I could just see beyond their cover great swaths of clear-cut land. Where a forest of green had been the month before, there now stood nothing save a forest of stumps. "You would think that mankind could manage his greed a little better," I said to my wife. I looked briefly at her as she sat in the passenger seat, her arm resting on the open window, the wind blowing her hair back, then across her face. Franny was a dark-haired beauty whose wit and wisdom had charmed me from the first moment I laid eyes on her. Over the years, I had grown accustomed to her gentle and insightful comments about so many things. She nodded. "Remember Oregon? All those acres and acres of trees cut down, but hidden by a row of healthy ones? We thought then it might have been a way to cover up what had been done," she said gently and, as always, without the rancor with which I usually pronounced my judgments. She was, of course, referring to a trip we had taken during our courtship.
But this time the revelation felt more ominous and sinister—an omen maybe? A forest, a symbol of the unconscious—my inner world—and in this case the symbol of death hung over this woods-that-used-to-be. Was Franny's spooky aunt's rune reading following me? I shuddered and refocused on the road.
Coming back to reality, I also had the thought that I might even have been the recipient of some of that lumber that had been sheered from those hillsides. As an avid woodworker, I had never thought twice about where my wood came from as long as it was clear, dry, and cheap.
I had lots of opinions about the follies of others, but rarely held a mirror to my own contributions. I, just like so many others, was asleep to much of my own impact on the world. I had no idea then how that was to change significantly over the course of the next few days.
Eventually we pulled off the main highway onto a narrow, yet still-paved path that headed into the woods. We came to a clearing near a barred entrance to a short dirt road that headed toward what I assumed to be the cabin. I stopped the van and got out to help my father-in-law, whose car we had been following, with the gate.
When I stepped down from the van and walked around the open door, my foot slid into what I thought was a gully. A second later, I heard a loud and menacing buzzing sound and whirled around quickly to see two rather irritated badgers come out of their sett hissing and standing on their hind legs baring some nasty-looking teeth and rapier claws. "Damn!" I yelled out reflexively as I jumped back so as to not be chomped on by one of these irascible little fellows.
"Shoo! Get away!" I yelled while waving my hands at them. But they didn't scare easily and continued to hiss. For a moment, they actually looked as if they had made up their minds to attack their intruder. These were dangerous little creatures despite their size, and, if I couldn't fend them off, they could inflict quite a little pain if they chose. I grabbed a large branch lying on the road, raised it above my head, and yelled even louder, shaking the branch and making a small advance as I did so. That must have done the trick for they then turned and scurried off.
"I've never seen anything like it!" I said to my father-in-law, still a little shaken from the encounter. As my father-in-law fiddled with the gate latch, he looked up briefly. "Perhaps you stepped into one of their underground tunnels?" he offered as an explanation and then turned back to his task. With his head bowed as he focused on the gate, he began a story. A tall one, as usual, but it eased the tension. "You're lucky it wasn't a Hodag! You would have really been in trouble then!" he said with a grin. Judging that all was not going well with the latch and thinking I could do better, I walked over to see if I could lend a hand. I was also thinking that I'd better take some care in how I offered to help. I didn't want to insult him by trying to take over.
"A what?" I said. He then chuckled and told me the story of the mythical, menacing creature that would rise from the depths and roam these parts of the Northwoods. "Humph! Huge claws and the head of a frog, what will they think of next?" I said while looking askance at my father-in-law who was still fiddling with the gate lock and chuckling. Then he looked at me with a broad grin on his face. It seemed as though city boys like me were no end of entertainment for those raised in the woods as he had been. When I didn't bite at his teasing, he turned still smiling and finally removed the chain, which fell with a clang against the steel column it was attached to, and together we pushed the heavy gate against rusty and squealing hinges until it was fully open.
Still a little nonplussed about the badgers and the Hodag story, I flashed back on the Jackalope—the antelope-horned bunny rabbit—stories from the Western U.S. of my growing up years and began to chuckle myself. "I guess every region has stories of implausible creatures," I mused aloud and helped to lift the heavy iron gate off its hook.
Once the gate was opened, I walked back to the van, giving a wide berth to the little clearing, climbed aboard, and drove in behind my in-law's rented coupe. The road was rutted from the tires of an earlier journey and filled with the muddied water of a summer shower. The musky smell of the rain-washed trees and the breathtaking view of the lake seemed to erase the badger incident from my mind and replace it with visions of Thoreau's Walden and a growing excitement about what kind of week lay ahead.
If I had known what really lay ahead, I might have hesitated, turned the car around, and left even more quickly than I'd come, and returned to the joy and safety of that meadow in Madison that we'd left earlier. But, as we parked the cars and began to unpack our things into our chosen rooms, nothing but the charm and expectation of a summer adventure filled my thoughts.
The cabin is a long, rustic rectangle that sits between twin lakes that are connected by a narrow stream with lots of fir and pine trees and a scattering of maple and birch covering the perimeter right up to a narrow sandy beach that rings both lakes. The cabin itself has large casement windows hinged at their sides that open to a screened veranda where easy chairs are scattered about. A squeaky, antique screen door slams constantly with everyone's going in and out. I smiled because this reminded me of all those summers of my youth. I could still hear my mom yelling at me to not slam the screen door—just as I let the screen door slam. Her timing was always off, or I was just too quick.
A dirt path winds its way from the steps of the veranda down to a small dock at the water's edge. Inside the cottage, mission-style, leather-and-wood chairs dot a room paneled in wood. A large stone fireplace fills the center of one wall. Worn green panel curtains frame the windows, and a large round table sits at one end of the long room. This would serve as the dinning area where, for the next week, we would celebrate a day's boating and hiking with wine, good food, and the camaraderie of family members and their stories of old times.
I knew that, after all the stories had been told, both past and present, and the children who had fallen asleep at the table had been cuddled up and put to bed, Franny and I would go out to the veranda and listen for the cries of the loons and marvel at the magic of the fireflies flitting amongst the bushes that were just barely visible at the edge of the lighted clearing.
The bushes are clustered all over the property and along the trail that leads to the beach. Here and there, they form secret nooks among their branches that invite one to explore, albeit on their hands and knees.
To add to the magic, there is a garden gnome peeking out from one of these nooks with one foot on the path as though to block one's passage. Bolt upright with his fists planted firmly at his hips, he is all business. But his faded smile painted forever across his pudgy little face still shines with what I can only describe as mischief. The rest of this stout little fellow is covered in moss and other forest mulch that has accumulated over the years. He is quite the forest fairy!
On that first evening, I imagined crawling around all these hidden places with the kids in the morning, but for then I was tired and had given up the hunt for the sound of a loon. I commented on our lack of success, and Franny responded, "I know, I'm missing them too, but we have a whole week ahead of us, and I'm sure we'll hear them a lot."
"You're right, of course!" I said trying to let go of the impatience I felt whenever I couldn't control the environment around me.
I really wanted to let go of the stress of work and just melt into the quiet of this place. When I closed my eyes to better take in the peacefulness, I grew tired, and, before I could suggest we head off to bed, Franny got up and put out her hand as an invitation to join her. "Shall we get some sleep? I'm exhausted!" she said sleepily, and we headed off to our room.
But, on that first night, we had to put away all the gear from the van that we hadn't yet stored. While Franny readied herself in the bathroom, I, a typical male brought up on the notion of just getting the job done, gave little attention to fastidiousness. Knowing full well that Franny would rearrange it all in the morning regardless of how I did it right then, I stuffed the girls' clothing into a set of well-worn drawers that had obviously seen many campers over many years. We then donned our pj's and climbed into an old and creaky bed, turned out the light, and snuggled up against the cold.
We talked of the week behind us, laughing at all the jokes, story telling, and quaint personalities we'd met. And we planned the week ahead. But soon we tired, and we both turned over to sleep.
However, for me, the pristine calm of the woods had the undesired effect of releasing the tension built from a year's worth of stress. Unfortunately, the release didn't dissipate the stress; it just made it more present in my mind. After an hour of tossing, worrying, and rehashing the accumulated yearlong stresses of being the county psychologist and balancing the demands of clients, their parents, and the various school districts—all of whom have differing ideas about what should be done—and with sleep still eluding me, I begrudgingly got up. I grabbed my journal off the nightstand and decided to go out to the veranda to do some writing.
Standing by the screen door and looking up, I was in awe at the spectacle of stars that were literally spilled across the sky. From this pitch-black perspective, it was easy to see why it is called the Milky Way—the stars were scattered like a glass of a toddler's spilt milk across the ebony table of the Universe. I tried to make out some of the better-known constellations, but there were just too many stars for this city boy to make anything out, so I decided to just let them be and enjoy them without naming them.
I lowered my gaze to the hilltops of the far eastern shore of the lake. They were silhouetted by the stars behind them, and I noticed something rather peculiar. At first I didn't quite get it, but, when I focused more clearly, I could see a star blazing away just below the horizon where, of course, a star shouldn't be.
Curious, I stepped off the porch and into the clearing to get a better look. I checked again to make sure this wasn't some cabin light or camper's lamp, but, no, it was indeed a star! That is so odd! I thought, and decided that I wanted a closer look, which I could only get from the beach. I placed my journal on a table near a chair on the veranda and entered the cabin to put on something warmer before heading down.
Excerpted from The Archipelago of Dreams by R.J. Cole Copyright © 2011 by R.J. Cole. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter I A Star below the Horizon....................1
Chapter II The Time Master....................24
Chapter III The Dream Healer....................40
Chapter IV The Lords of Survival....................82
Chapter V Reconnecting the Spirit....................105
Chapter VI Blodeuwedd....................123
Chapter VII The Lords of Survival Redux....................159
Chapter VIII Farewell to Glen Airmeith....................173
Chapter IX The Return Home....................189