|The Earth Died Screaming,
Or, A Journey to the Edge While Marching On a Road of Bones
By Matthew Random
Hunter S. Thompson was dead; he sat down in his kitchen near his trusty typewriter and fired a gun into his mouth on a Sunday night. He'd left a suitably vague suicide note: 'counselor' typed on stationery from the Fourth Amendment Foundation.
'I'm a road man for the lords of karma.'
I threw the Seattle Post Intelligencer down on the coffee table and leaned back in my chair. The Doctor hadn't been a favorite of mine, but there was no denying that he'd had an effect on the psyche of journalism. That Thompson had chosen to stop fighting, to give into the first of his natural enemy, was significant to me.
Fear, Clarity, Power and Old Age, the four adversaries that one must overcome while traversing the path to a becoming a man of knowledge. Had the aging icon of gonzo journalism understood the consequences of his action, or had the eagle swallowed him?
Years ago, I had undertaken to study Casteneda and set myself on that pithy road to enlightenment—wrapped myself in a cocoon and shrouded myself in the fog. I emerged from that self-imposed pupa a changed man, but I discovered a different truth for myself. Shrouding my intentions, disguising my inner self with a fog so that I should show to those around me only what I intended them to see was the wrong path for me. I took away from that lesson a truth: that only you know the path of your heart, and you must take it at all costs.
Thompson had cloaked himself in a fog not so different than Casteneda, built a whiskey soaked mythos that, in the end, had swallowed him. What was the essential difference? He had beaten fear and clarity, scoffed at the power of his own charisma, leaving the question of whether or not he had escaped, or overcome the last of Don Juan's enemies, old age.
The question was immaterial, but the quest for knowledge was tantamount. There are more things in this world than what we see, and as a man with a thirst for understanding, I came to the realization that I had to again travel that path my heart had shown me.
April—god love her, she is the light of my soul, that which makes living worth the struggle; but I also recognize that same quality disqualifies her from being my road man on the journey I needed to undertake. This undertaking required someone who was willing to stay the course without fear.
I needed Tasha. That fact alone brought home to me the scope and nature of the journey I faced.
I seriously doubted that Tasha's vow of silence in a Tibetan monastery had lasted for very long. I called a few old friends, to find out if they knew of her whereabouts. I followed rumor with gossip, chitchat with anecdote, and finally ended up with a solid lead. She was running a Kabbalah center in Houston.
She was willing to be my companion for this adventure into the beyond. We made plans to meet in Houston, and travel together to Oaxaca. We might still run afoul with the DEA there, but the long arm of the law doesn't always stretch into the desert.
I made sure a neighbor would be able to feed the chickens, and told him he could have all the eggs the little bastards produced, if he dared to brave their pecking. I called April at her hotel in Hong Kong to let her know that I was going on a trip.
We only talked for a few minutes. To be fair, it was probably three a.m. there, and she was pretty out of it, but it was good, wonderful to hear her soft sleepy voice. "I love you", I said, and ended the connection.
The trip to Houston was uneventful, and as a chronicler of the human condition, I took great note of my fellow travelers. We were all undertaking a passage, some routine and mundane, others great and life changing. In either case, we were all expanding our boundaries.
Natasha was at the airport waiting for me at the international departure lounge at Bush. She hadn't changed at all, still the wild child with stars in her eyes, and a skirt that swished at her knees.
"Matthew!" She took a running leap and threw herself into my arms. I held her tight; breathing in the faint scent of patchouli that clung to her hair. She was so dear to me, despite the hell we had inflicted on one another. It had taken me a little while to understand that our paths had to diverge, but we were better on our separate roads.
I set her down and held onto her shoulders at arm length. "Tasha, you look great. How are you?"
"I'm alright. I'm happy."
"That's good. You deserve it." I dropped my hands; she grasped one and led me to a setting of chairs by the large windows overlooking the tarmac.
"How are things at the farm? Are you back at the Journal?"
"Same as always. Yeah, Iverson told me that he'd always thought of my leaving as a sabbatical."
"Is this," she waved her arm in a wide circle, "an assignment?"
"Nope. This is for me—although I'll probably submit the story anyway."
We talked in oblique terms about the trip we were embarking on; the correlation I was seeking between Thompson, Casteneda and mind expanding drugs. She understood, and it was a pleasure to discover that she had found her own enlightenment, that she had become a like minded individual who could hold her own in a dialogue. When we had been together, Tasha had been struggling, and that combative spirit had overtaken all of our conversation.
The call to board the Aeromexico jet pulled us out of our tête-à-tête, and we gathered our bags and started the next leg of our voyage of discovery.
After a much needed breakfast -- last night we had been too tired for dinner and simply collapsed in the hotel room -- we wandered down to the marketplace. Ostensibly, we spent a few hours shopping, but in reality I was looking for someone. He might have been Casteneda's prototype for Don Juan, though most doubted that exact person ever existed. Years ago I had written an article about this modern day shaman, but I had no doubt that he would still be at his sun-baked shop on the square.
His assistant, a pretty senorita, greeted us as we entered Senor Velasquez' shop. Tasha veered off to look at the merchandise. It hadn't changed much in the intervening years, the high stacks of woven goods blocking any breeze so it was stifling hot. I returned the greeting in my admittedly poor Spanish, but she quickly took mercy on my overtaxed linguistic skills and switched to English.
"How can I help you today? Perhaps you would like to see the latest shipment of Indian blankets? They are of the best quality, and quite authentic."
I took that to mean that they were fresh off the ship from Taiwan, but I understood the economics of the tourist trade. "I am a traveler, seeking Senor Velasquez." It was crap as code words went, but it got the job done.
"Ah, yes. My husband is resting, he is not well. You must return this evening for dinner. Perhaps he will be able to see you at that time."
Velasquez was an old man, and the news that he was ill saddened me; the fact this was his wife didn't surprise me at all. "Thank you for the news, I am sorry he is in poor health." I fished a business card out of my pocket and gave it to her. "Please let Senor Velasquez know I stopped by and we'll be pleased to join you tonight, I look forward to seeing my old friend."
Senora Velasquez took the card and looked at it, then tucked it into the top of the cash register. "I will tell him when he awakens, I am sure he will be happy to see you."
Natasha rejoined me at the counter; she had a pretty serape and a small clay figurine to purchase. I had no idea if she really wanted them, or if they were merely a way to ingratiate us with the shopkeeper, but the gesture was appreciated by the both of us.
We took our leave, weighed the pros and cons of sitting by the pool sipping a drink, or taking in the sights. We compromised—a visit to Monte Alban first, then a drink.
The ancient church suitably awed Tasha, and I was glad to see the sun set behind the mountains. We had a little time left before the dinner hour, so we had our drink the cool, dark bar at the hotel. She spoke a little of her newfound faith, and I was again amazed at how much she had grown. I had only ever wanted to keep her safe, provide shelter for her fragile soul, and my concern for her was eased in finding out that letting her go had been good for her.
I paid for the drinks, and we walked to the shop. The night air was invigorating, and the scent of night blooming flowers was everywhere. The moon was rising, a slim crescent that hung low on the mountain tops in the distance. The streets were still crowded at his hour, and I reveled in the wash of humanity. We are all of this earth, and we all share a common thread, if only we pause to look for it. I didn't want to arrive with empty hands, so we made several stops along the way.
The shop was closed of course, but I took us around the alley to the back to find the entrance to the residence. I knocked, and my old friend answered the hail almost immediately.
Eduardo Velasquez was indeed not well, but even the evident illness couldn't disguise his sharp intellect and kind wit. "Matthew, compadre. It is good to see you!"
I shook his hand and introduced him to Natasha, and he led us into the small dining room. His wife was there, and this time we were properly introduced. Rosalita bade us to sit, and she cooed over the flowers and wine I presented to her.
The meal was simple and hearty, and we caught up as we ate. We heard about the marriage, and the shop, and I spoke of the trials of the last few years and my own failure as proprietor. Time flew by, and after bidding us a good night, Rosalita retired and we were left to discuss the business at hand.
I explained in detail my thoughts and needs. He thought it was an interesting proposition, and agreed to provide us with assistance. He was too frail, and so he would send his young apprentice to the hotel in the morning, with admonishment that I was to approach this with an open mind. The expectation itself could color the experience, and change the perception of vision.
I could've stayed for hours talking to Eduardo, but I yielded to his age and infirmity and we said goodnight. Paualo would arrive before dawn to pick us up.
The ancient Landrover had seen better days, but Paualo assured us it was in excellent working order as we jounced along the washed out road. It had no windows, and we had to yell in order to be heard over the noise of the wind and engine, so that any conversation was minimal.
Our destination was an old settlement some hours outside Oaxaca, and when we arrived we were hot, tired and dusty. Paualo showed us a well where we could refresh ourselves, and he waited while we wiped off the grime and sweat. I reminded Tasha to not drink the well water, and handed her a bottle of still water I'd pilfered from the hotel.
The ceremony would be held in a traditional tent, and the fire pit in the center was darkened with repeated use. I started the fire, and Paualo returned with the peyote buttons and we began.
I took enough to begin a light state of euphoria, and Tasha and Paualo sat beside me at the fire to watch over me as I began my trip. I continued to ingest small quantities at regular intervals, and soon reality began to bend and twist in upon itself, and then went dark.
I awoke to a single vivid spotlight, as if I was the ringmaster in some bizarre circus, and the parade of images slowly revolved around me.
The monkey on the ladder wore the face Dr. Gonzo. I chortled. Gonzo the monkey. Right.
Next was a devil with the visage of Casteneda shoveling coal with crows as big as airplanes, and suddenly he was swallowed whole by a lion with three heads. The lion promptly shed his skin and was beset by army ants, and they left nothing but the bones.
Suddenly the scene shifted and I was in a deep forest. It began to rain, but I walked between the raindrops, which turned to mackerel and trout. There was a flash of lightning, and a tremendous clap of thunder, and the stars went out, and the slim crescent moon that had hung over the Mexican desert fell from the sky. The lightning showed me the path, a road of bones that I followed. I understood where it was taking me; it was to the edge. The only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The edge is where the earth dies screaming, and a great day of wrath comes.
I stepped over the edge, and fell, and fell and fell, until the darkness again took me.
"Matthew. Come on, Matthew."
I felt a gentle shake to my shoulder, and I feared to open my eyes again. It was an incredibly stupid reaction, since I knew, logically, that everything I had seen was inside my head. "Tasha?"
"The one and only. Come on, you need to drink this."
"Is it over?" I whispered.
She leaned over me; I could smell the patchouli and whispered back in my ear. "Yes, it's over. You're going to be fine."
"No, Tash. I don't think I'll ever be fine again. How can I be?"
"It was a bad trip, you've still got it in your system. You're vulnerable. You need to drink this, it will help."
I gave into the inevitable and opened my eyes, and struggled to sit up. Paualo took my arm and assisted me. I was surprised to see Eduardo sitting across from the dead ashes of the fire. "How did you get here?"
"My young apprentice brought me yesterday when they could not wake you."
"Yesterday?" I shook my head dumbly.
"You have been out of your body for two days; they worried when they could not rouse you."
I took the water bottle Tasha gave me and I drank deeply, emptying it.
"So, did you find what you were seeking?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"It will take time for you to accept the meaning of the visions you were given. They may not clarify."
"In this case, I think Casteneda is right, clarity is highly overrated."
"It may be so."
The horrifying, chilling images began to recede, and I reached for another bottle of water. I might not ever be able to determine the fate of a certain alcoholic journalist, but I could say what a long strange trip this has been.
The Earth Died Screaming by Tom Waits
Ruby's on the midway
and Jacob's in the hole
the monkey's on the ladder
the devil shovels coal
with crows as big as airplanes
the lion has three heads
and someone will eat the skin that he sheds
and the earth died screaming
the earth died screaming
while I lay dreaming of you
well hell doesn't want you
and heaven is full
bring me some water
put it in this skull
I walk between the raindrops
wait in bughouse square
and the army ants
they leave nothin but the bones
and the earth died screaming
while I lay dreaming of you
there was thunder
there was lightning
then the stars went out
and the moon fell from the sky
it rained mackerel
it rained trout
and the great day of wrath has come
and here's mud in your big red eye
the poker's in the fire
and the locusts take the sky
and the earth died screaming
while I lay dreaming of you
Many thanks to Speedo who provided me with the lyrics for the first NickZone Lyric Wheel. story by dossier 3/9/05. ~2600 words Rated E for Everyone. People you recognize aren't mine, and belong to history, or to LS Entertainment Group Inc. (edited slightly 4/18/05)
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