|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
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A Storytelling of Crows
Airport security is easy this evening. I breeze through the pre-check line without having to take off my shoes or my belt. Belle and Annie want to shop for presents — someone's birthday is coming up — so I tell them I'll scout for a pub on our concourse and meet them there. A pub that I like, where you can sit outside in a pretend beer garden and people-watch, is at the far end of the concourse, but it has closed early. Reluctantly, I turn around and walk back, toward a pub with an African theme that I like less.
I pause at the newsstand to get a bottle of water. I don't expect much in the way of books in a shop like this, but they have an extensive display that includes a rack of Penguin Classics. I glance at authors and titles. Guy de Maupassant, E.M. Forster, Dostoyevsky. There's a story collection by a writer unknown to me with a really creepy title: Songs of a Dead Dreamer. The cover illustration is even creepier. The figure staring out at the viewer looks like one of the evil dead. I have to buy the book, if only to joke about the title with the girls when they catch up with me. Book in hand, bottled water in the side of my carry-on, I head for the fake African pub.
Then my right foot goes sliding, followed by my left, and I am airborne. I don't understand how I slipped. I tell myself to let my body go slack, hoping to escape broken bones when I come down on the hard surface of the walkway. I have the odd sensation that I am hovering, that something is keeping me up. People moving around me are blurry, frames in a slideshow that isn't paused. Yet I am paused, at nine on a Friday evening, in an airport I thought I knew well, but not like this.
From my horizontal position, I see a pair of horrible yellow curly-toed pumps, brothel-creepers from an Eastern harem. They can only belong to Ali. I see his narrow, oily face leering down at me. His eyes are masked by wrap-around sunglasses.
"He wants you," says Ali. "Come on."
I get up as if I am getting out of bed. I have the feeling I'm leaving something behind. I would like to look, but I'm being moved too fast. I still have Songs of a Dead Dreamer in my hand.
I say to Ali, "Why are you wearing shades?"
"We are among the shades."
The scene has shifted. Through a forest choked with vines and creepers, I see a black mountain ahead. This is not the way I wish to see him. Hot tongues of flame flash in and out of the moving mountain. Black limbs flourish weapons. There are eyes, bulging, reddened, uncountable tusks and teeth. And a cavernous opening in the belly of the mountain that gives the impression of an organic meat grinder.
"He is not in a good mood," Ali says, unnecessarily. He prostrates himself before the living mountain.
I can't move my gaze from what is moving inside that cavernous opening. It reminds me now of the mechanism of an immense and complicated clock. Are those human figures, bound to its moving parts in their revolutions?
Through the hiss of steam and the crackle of fire, I hear a softer, subtler sound coming from the mountain. No question. It is the ticking of a clock.
"Please show yourself as you did before," I say to the mountain. "In a form in which I can bear to look at you."
I remain standing. Prostration is not my thing. Nor are titles and praise names. But I do add, "Great one." This seems good policy.
A blast of hot air sears my skin. A great maddened eye glares into mine. Giant arms or pincers are raised above me.
"I have a story," I pant, trying not to buckle. "I think you will like it."
The forward movement of the monstrous mountain slows.
"Is it about me?"
He is changed. He has assumed the appearance I can deal with best. He looks like a maharaja in beautifully tailored clothes, speaking English with an Oxbridge accent.
"Of course." This was not an exact truth. I would need to write him in.
I recite from memory:
The smell of crushed shellfish was strongest around dawn. The dye makers kept their laborers up all night, grinding to make purple for the robes of emperors and the hems of senators.
The centurion groaned and sniffed. He would never like the smell of this Phoenician city.
His mistress draped her long body over his and murmured in his ear, "I dreamed of the Galilean again."
The centurion groaned louder and reached for the beaker of wine he had left near the bed. He was surrounded by talk of the Jew who was said to have vanished from the cave where he was buried. The centurion was all but certain that his followers had spirited the corpse away to manufacture a miracle, to turn a low rabble-rouser into a theos aner, a god-man of the old style.
Still, his woman had the sight. And Phoenician witches were good with dreams. Everyone said so.
"Enough!" Yama has shapeshifted again. He is now seated in a director's chair, wearing expensive but garish clothes with conflicting patterns, and smoking a very large cigar.
"Enough with that old story. I'm sick of it. Besides, the movie has already been made."
"The one where a Roman officer plays detective, investigating the disappearance of Jesus's body. You took too long to finish that story. When you don't nail down a story as a script or a book, it flies away from you to be told by someone else. Don't you understand that yet?"
This is dismaying news. I thought my story of the centurion and the Phoenician witch was a winner.
"Besides, we processed Cornelius ages ago." He snaps his fingers for his recorders. How does he know the name I have given to my fictional centurion? Oh, right, he would know.
"What happened to Cornelius the Illyrian?" Yama snaps at one of his clerks.
"He was sent to a different department. Through the Gate of Horn."
"Let's get to the point." Yama is stirring and swelling, massing again as that smoking black mountain. "We have to talk about your life situation."
"I'm happy to talk," I say with no conviction.
"I am glad to hear that, my dear. But your situation is such that I can only talk with you if you wear my noose around your neck."
With the thought, it is there. Yama's necktie. The noose with which he takes souls out of bodies. I feel its brush against my throat, but he lets it hang loosely, flopping down over my collarbones.
"Before we continue our conversation," the Death Lord tells me, "you will talk with my Recorders."
There they are, with their registers. They remind me of intelligent, hairless chimpanzees. Long fingers turning pages. So many names and details. Haven't they upgraded their technology since the Raj?
"What is this about?" I dare to ask. I think I know the answer, but I would like to move things along.
"There are three exit ramps in plain sight," one of them tells me. He gives me a date two years into the future.
"Death by choking."
Okay, a useful reminder. I make a mental note to chew my food properly, especially when the food is a warm, crusty baguette, and to remember that time frame. I reach for a pen to write it down, then realize that writing here won't do me any good, as in one of those dreams where you think you are writing your dream in a journal and wake to find the page is blank.
"The next exit date," Yama's clerk continues. This is a further two years into the future. Nothing to worry about now. But I want to know how.
"Death by drowning."
So, in this scenario, I stroke out. I smile at my lousy mental pun. I will myself to hold the memory of that day, four years into the future, when I could die by water.
I am ready to hear my third exit date. I assume this will take me out to my maximum allotment of time in this life. That is how things are supposed to work.
"No point in thinking about that, my dear." It is Yama himself who is speaking. "Tell him."
"Today is the day. The time of your death is now."
Now? But I'm not ready. I feel a stab of grief. I see the faces of those I love, of those who love me. We have so much more life to share. I think of things I have left undone, of seas where I never swam, of flowers I never smelled, of books I left unwritten.
"It can't be now," I protest.
"The probability that you will depart your body now is 98 percent," says the clerk, talking as if he has an unseen calculator. "It will reach 100 percent when Belle accepts the fifty pounds of kayla."
"Fifty pounds of what? What is kayla?"
The Recorder runs a thin finger down his nose. He does not explain.
"You once said it was your practice to be ready to leave your body whenever I came for you." Again it is the voice of the master. I feel the noose tighten around my neck. It no longer feels silky. It feels like nylon coated with powdered glass, like manja string.
Hmmm. Yes, I did say that, didn't I? I am confused now. I left my body somewhere — oh yes, at Seattle airport — in midair.
One of Yama's eyes expands until it becomes a television screen. Looking into it, I see my broken body being lifted onto a stretcher. It is carried back through the concourse. Belle and Annie are running after it, sobbing. Someone has given them my stuff. Annie grimaces at the cover of Songs of a Dead Dreamer. My body is loaded into the back of an ambulance. A paramedic is performing CPR. Heads are shaking. The heart has stopped. Is this the end of this body, on the exit ramp from an airport?
"I want a deal," I tell Yama. His shape is not steady. It flickers between the perfumed maharaja in his peacock finery and the smoking black mountain.
"You have nothing to deal with," he tells me.
"I have a story. That has always counted for you."
He considers this. I know he is sensitive to the fact that he is missing from so many of the myths and legends that are woven around other members of the pantheon. The masters who wrote the Katha Upanishad did him honor, making him an ultimate spiritual teacher for the one who is willing to step through his fire. But that is a rare exception.
"No centurion. No messiah," he specifies.
"I am listening." Now he is reclining on a divan, fanned by handmaidens beating peacock plumes.
I tell him a story that begins where I left my body. In this version, I do not die in the ambulance. So the story is also an essay in parallel realities. I tell it like this:
I am flat on my back on the hard floor of the airport concourse. There are concerned faces above me. One man wants to know if he should call an ambulance. It was such a hard fall that something must be broken.
As they help me to my feet, I reassure them I am fine. Truly I am. I don't understand why I am feeling no pain. It is as if some giant hand carried me down, like an air mattress. Someone hands me the horror book.
I see people rushing to put some orange witches' hats around the slick of liquid that caused my spill.
"I guess I should be more careful about my in-flight reading," I joke to the girls when we meet at the pizza joint, the only place still open where we can get a beer. I want to ask Belle a strange question, about fifty pounds of kayla, whatever that is, but I sense that this might take me into a story I don't want to play out. The ladies are off to other places, so I board my plane alone. They have me up against a bulkhead on the aisle, so I can stretch my leg but must pull in my shoulders — they are very broad — every time a flight attendant comes by with a cart.
I might manage a nap tonight, I think. I open Songs of a Dead Dreamer at random and find myself in the midst of a story about a dummy in a shop window who dreams of being human, or vice versa. I don't think I'll go there for now.
The seats beside me are empty. Maybe I'll be able to stretch out. An extraordinary figure is coming down the aisle. She seems immensely tall, with her high-heeled boots and top hat. She is wearing black leather over a bustier. She points at the seat next to me. I stand to let her in. She turns to a short, pudgy man behind her, directing him to take the window seat.
As we buckle up, I notice her gloves. The fingers are cut out. On the backs are huge death's heads.
I'm usually game to chance an encounter with strangers on airplanes. It's really an ideal situation to taste other people's life stories without any commitment beyond the duration of the flight. However, I have four hours ahead, and I'm not sure where conversation with the lady with the death's-head gloves may lead.
She breaks the ice when we start taxiing out onto the runway. She turns around, inspects the cabin, and declares, "I like this flight."
When I glance her way, she goes on, "All the seats are taken. Actuarially, when a plane is going to crash, at least 20 percent of the seats are empty."
Her male companion is leaning against the window, snoring gently.
"You look like a magician," I tell the lady.
"I do commit magic, in a way."
"In any special way?"
"Let's just say that spankings are my friends."
If I have understood correctly, she has just announced her occupation. She is a dominatrix. Not my scene. I hastily hide my horror book with the horrible cover behind an airline magazine.
Conversation lapses until the cart comes round. She wants crème de menthe, which they don't have. She settles for vodka, double.
She sips and plays with a long braid of hair falling from under the brim of her hat.
"Do you think the dead come to us in dreams?" she asks brightly, out of silence.
"Absolutely." I don't hesitate.
"Oh, good. My dead husband showed up at my bedside last night. He was a rock musician. He was shot in the face in a diner last year. It was in the papers. Anyway, he said he came to tell me that he's doing okay. He's got a new job doing music and special effects for dreams that are being produced where he is. Then the dreams are played in the minds of people down here. What do you think of that?"
"I think it's a good story."
She sniffs and takes another swig of vodka, and silence falls between us again. The cabin lights are dimmed. Most of the passengers are napping or watching videos.
The dominatrix leans against me. "Are you awake?"
"Uh-huh." I open my eyes.
"You're a writer, aren't you?"
"I put together a few tales."
"I've got an idea for you."
My Life as a Dominatrix. A succession of possible titles streams through my mind. A Story That Will Pierce You. I assume that she thinks her life story is worth a book. Doesn't everyone?
She snuggles next to me, sucking on that loose braid of ginger hair. She puts her mouth right up against my ear. I can feel her warm breath. She murmurs, "I'd love to read a story told from the point of view of Jezebel."
I am trying to remember the Bible account of Jezebel.
She puts her hand on my thigh. "Those Phoenician witches are so good with dreams."
I pull away, stunned. She knows a story I have been working on. How is that possible? Is her dead husband — the one she said is doing special effects for dreams — speaking in her mind?
I stammer something tepid, like, "It's an interesting idea." And pretend to sleep.
When I open my eyelids, the cabin is even darker than before, and one of my legs remains asleep until I hobble back to the restroom. I pick up a beer from the galley before returning to my seat.
As soon as I reclaim my seat, her eyes are on me. As before, her words come gusting out of nowhere, like the erratic winds of the Midi.
"I like crows. And ravens," she announces.
"Of course you do."
"Do you know the collective noun for a group of crows or ravens?"
Ah. A chance to gain a few points in this staccato conversation. I am quite proud of myself when I respond, "Yes, I do. It is a murder of crows, and an unkindness of ravens." I am theatrical as I say unkindness. It has always seemed to me even more sinister than murder.
"Oh, everyone knows that," she counters, dismissive to the point of spitting. "There is another word, far more interesting, and it applies both to crows and ravens. Do you want to know what it is?"
"It is a storytelling. Of crows, or of ravens. Would you like to know why that term fits precisely?"
"I am sure you are going to tell me."
"I saw this myself. I came upon a large gathering of crows — a storytelling. They were silent, except for one crow at the center who was talking away. Crows have quite a large vocabulary, you know. He cawed and he squalled and he clacked and he shook out his feathers. He was obviously telling a story. But he was a defective storyteller. When he finished his story, they pecked him to death."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mysterious Realities"
Copyright © 2018 Robert Moss.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsContents
Beforetale: Under the Wings of Pegasus
1. A Storytelling of Crows
2. The Lost Girl and the Fairy of the Copper Beech
3. A God of Freud
4. At the Moon Café
5. Conversation with a Daimon of Luna
6. The Tower in the Clouds
7. Which Is the Dream?
8. Dog Shows
9. How Much Ephesus Have You Had?
10. Heaven and Earth
11. The Other Bollingen
12. Dream Interruptus
13. Mircea on the Isthmus
14. Do You Still Fool Around?
15. When the Same Dream Keeps Playing
16. Where Women Have Four Husbands
17. World War I Will End in 2018
18. The Fifty-Ninth Swan
19. The Emperor of Enchantment
20. Lady of Changes
21. The Silent Lovers
22. Flight Conditions
23The Ride to Tethys
24. Ghost Platoon
26. The Other Novelist
27. Birth Funeral
Aftertale: The First Santa
About the Author
What People are Saying About This
“Mysterious Realities opens doors to the worlds beyond the mundane, to the joy and grief, terror and passion of the many-branching universe. . . . sink into this book and luxuriate in all that is possible — so that you, too, can cruise through your own imaginal realms.” — Manda Scott, author of the Boudica Dreaming series “What an utter delight to travel through Robert Moss’s rich imaginal world. I feel like my head and heart are seven sizes bigger. What a wondrous inner adventure I’ve just had.” — Jennifer Louden, author of The Life Organizer “Robert Moss is a ‘mything link,’ and his new book, Mysterious Realities, is one of the most luminous revelations of those who travel between the worlds. Using words as wands, this magus of the imaginal realm accompanies the reader on visionary journeys, soul-capturing dreams, and encounters with once and future archetypes. This is not an innocent book. The very reading is an initiation, a sea change into something rich and strange. It is a message from a future human, a representative from a parallel world, one who has solved present challenges by entering realms that few as yet dare to enter. Read this numinous book, and enter if you dare.” — Jean Houston, author of A Mythic Life “Story medicine is a powerful elixir in these uncertain times. Potent word-weavers like Robert Moss shape their stories in such a way that the reader feels instead of knows, journeys rather than arrives. Mysterious Realities offers opportunities to encounter the mystical through story without confining or defining the experience, without placing limits on what is essentially wild, ancient, and infinite.” — Danielle Dulsky, E-RYT 500, YACEP, author of The Holy Wild and Creatrix at Living Mandala Yoga