Dream of Love

The collective trance was one cooperative system, a brain composed of interactive personal stories, and the process was both as simple and as complicated as for a bird flying in formation with the flock. "We have been gifted," Normal Nuts said. "We have been gifted with the ability to replicate ourselves in Space, and we have learned that our creator came not in the light, but in the darkness." He paused and felt the trance deepen. "How could we have prepared ourselves for Sophia?" he asked. A murmur of undefined sentiment moved through those in formation.

Sophia said she was Luther's wife, which came as a surprise not only to Luther, but to everybody else in Ash Fork, because he had no wife on earth. And yet he didn't immediately deny her claim. "This is a different universe," he said. "We have to be open to new possibilities." And he would look across the room to where Sophia was dealing cards at the women's table.

The women's table had formed by itself, like a cloud forms in an otherwise clear sky, and though it takes up relatively little space, being alone there it becomes aesthetically defining. "The deserts are littered with dead religions," Sophia was saying as she expertly flipped the cards through the air. Her hands were mesmerizing when they handled the cards. There was cut, shuffle and deal, and each of them could be broken down into smaller units, more defined muscle memory. "The Europeans finally learned to quit following somebody who has a great vision. 'No thank you, a good manager is what we're looking for. Next.'"

She was talking to the three women at her table, ostensibly anyway. She was listened to by many others, who were perplexed about her being there at all, because nobody knew where she came from other than that she said she was Luther's wife; "His first wife," she would add, arching one eyebrow. Luther himself claimed no memory of her, observing, "She's not somebody a man would forget, is she now?"

"Then you're saying you don't know her?" Peanut asked, anteing up and raising.

Luther took another look at his hole card and pondered his next move. "What I'm saying is that fate works in mysterious ways."

"There he goes again," Bergamo said. He was showing the king of diamonds and whatever was in the hole he was staying pat, matching the bets but not raising them. "You don't know her but you know goddamned well there's no line in the world that works as well as 'You're no lady, you're my wife.' Why don't you admit it, Luther, this woman decided she wanted to be your wife and so she just said she is your wife and waited for you to deny it. So far you haven't exactly made an unambiguous denial."

"That's a characteristic of genius," Luther said.

"What is?" Peanut asked. "Not running off free pussy?"

"He means ambiguity," Bergamo said. He pushed in his last bet and turned over the ace in the hole. "It's one of the qualities of a genius to have a much higher tolerance for ambiguity than the average person." He moved his eyes and gazed at Sophia, tuned his ear back to the conversation at her table. They had been talking about the contemporary history of earth. "Nobody understood them like Lawrence," she was saying. "They'll take your money and then, when somebody comes through with passion for some new Jerusalem, they'll follow on away from you and there goes all your money. They are people who celebrate the birth of poets as the greatest events."

"She a historian or a philosopher?" he asked.

"You asking me?" Luther's face had reddened a little.

Bergamo noticed it and smiled with genuine amusement. "Didn't you not say she isn't your wife?"

Peanut snorted.

"I didn't say she was my wife, did I?" Luther asked, his mood turning dark around the edges. "She said she was my wife. Those are two different things."

"You're saying that your not saying something is the same thing as her saying it? I'll be damned, I didn't realize those were the same thing, Luther." He looked at his hole card and signaled for another card on top of the seven. The Jack of Spades flew to him and nested on the table. "Nothing bigger than that?" he asked, and folded.

"Like you said, it's an ambiguous situation, and so it takes a bit of genius to tolerate it, I'll grant you that."

The scene played through the collective as a shared dream, a memory they stripped down to the frame, like an old car, and built back up with a different purpose than the original. It wasn't a family car anymore, it was built to haul moonshine whiskey on Thunder Road. The original engine was underneath, but on top there were new cams and lifters and cooling systems. Even though there were different accounts of what happened by different people who were there, they seemed to be coalescing into one story, scene by scene.

And within each scene there was the voice of Normal Nuts, weaving them into an official history of what had happened leading up to the defining event.

"There's always later in the evening," Normal Nuts said, and there was a sympathetic murmur. "Oh yes, there is always later in the evening, when the hidden line of logic crosses the railroad tracks you've been barreling down. It's like a snake slithering along, unseen, but carrying the venom you ordered for scene three. It's like walking in the forest with a big cat. You know it's there, walking along with you, but it stays just out of sight, awaiting instinctual guidance, which might be to kill you and it might not. It's that place where the paths cross, and where there's no certain outcome. It's the border town you have to pass through to get to the frontier."

They knew what had happened later in the evening. Sophia and Count Bergamo danced together.

"Peanut was there," Normal Nuts said. "He was my grandfather, who replicated Normal who replicated me. I am the information." He paused to allow the words to deepen the collective trance. "I am the information, you are the information, we are the information.

"There is no denying that Count Bergamo was complicit in his own betrayal and murder. Anybody in the Mission that night could watch them dance together and know, without any doubt, that they were in a synchronistic involvement. And what moved in the collective mind at the Mission, while they danced, was a twist in the fabric of awareness. It hit Luther slightly faster than anybody else. He saw that he had allowed himself to be seduced by a past that never happened, because he wanted to take what wasn't really his.

"He also saw that Bergamo was responsible for setting up his public humiliation. Now, because he had become invested in being Sophia's husband, he had fallen under her spell. He was jealous to see her moving with Bergamo with the faithfulness of a shadow, so that flashes of erotic activity would appear around them and dissipate like images escaping a fire.

"The oldest story in the book," Normal Nuts said, and the crowd acknowledged it was so. "At least the oldest story in the bar," he added. "The reason prostitution is the oldest profession is that the only known antidote to this obsession to own a woman is to actually pay for one, so that you get hold of the downside of ownership. I have sailed the seas, my friends, but on other people's yachts. Those things take a lot of maintenance.

"The oldest story in the bar," he repeated, "is that life has no fury as a man scorned, and he's likely to use more than poison conversation to give it an exit wound. He is more likely to do what Luther did. He said, 'Do you want to take this outside?' Which is how Luther came to be on his ass in the middle of the street, knowing he had been whipped like a dog. No, he could have stood that easier. He had been trained like a dog. Bergamo was his master, and he wanted to kill him for demonstrating it in front of a crowd.

"It was after he knew that he couldn't confront Bergamo directly when he realized he was replicating. One never knew what was on the other side. In Luther's case, it was how to solve the problem of a creature that lived in the darkness and couldn't stand the light of day. The only pattern he knew of that fit was the pattern of the vampire, though the evidence that the Count couldn't stand the light of day was entirely circumstantial. There was no evidence at all that he was hurting anybody.

"Except for the dream of love, of course."

He could feel a deep silence come through the room, like everyone was holding the collective breath. How many of them had experienced the dream of love? He had not. But Maggie couldn't shut up about it. "I thought I'd had good sex," she'd say, "but there was never any lover quite like the Jack of Hearts." The name had been given to him by the women who shared the dream. How many men had experienced it was unknown, because most of them didn't want to talk about it. It was unnerving to have a spirit that seemed to pass into anybody's sleep and seduce them in their dreaming.

"It was the dream of love that branded him a vampire, and caused the great fear."

The next scene came through on a chilling breeze, as they recalled the fear. It was a fear of the unknown, and of a power beyond their own. There are two aspects to a belief in higher power. One is that it can protect you, and the other is that it can control you, remove your freedom, so that you are imprisoned inside it's love. They are the aspects of the mother, which was why Bergamo chose to show it to Luther through a woman unknown to him, but who claimed him. He should have understood it when she said she was "his first wife." But he was in the same boat as Oedipus. And now he had to kill his father, his last obstacle to having passed entirely through the pattern to be set free on the other side. The only way out was to go all the way through to the end of the story, stunned into awareness so that he wouldn't enter it again. Trying to escape the pattern in any other way was like the leaf trying to escape the wind.

In the great fear the streets were often deserted. Women and children were staying inside the houses, where any intruder would be repulsed by the houses' security programs. This made no sense, as the Jack of Hearts had been moving anywhere and everywhere he wanted. By legend, the incubus drains women of energy by sexual engagement, but this phantom was not being blamed for that. The women had never looked rosier, and there was developing a split in the men's house. About half of them thought Bergamo was a demon -- and nobody doubted the spirit who left as his calling card a Jack of Hearts was Bergamo -- and the other half seemed to have a kind of humorous distance from the idea.

The split wasn't that deep at first, but over time it became more obvious. The right side of the split, so called because they pledged to do the right thing, and destroy evil in whatever form it appeared, was much more formally organized than the left side of the split, which was characterized by more storytelling and music. They seemed to not try to get rid of evil, but to use it as flavoring. The same things that provide flavor to the meal are impossible to stomach in gross.

It was the rigidly organized half of town that formed itself into a protectorate. That was what they called themselves, and they seemed almost in a trance when they armed themselves with crosses and implements of violence against the human heart. They didn't think of themselves as agents of death, though. Luther insisted that they all loved Bergamo, but that he was possessed by evil, and they were going to liberate him.

"When we found him there, in the upstairs apartments over this very hall ..." he glanced up at the ceiling as if blood might drip through it onto the pure white of their newfound innocence. The others looked up in formation and touched their hearts. This was to become a sacred gesture, though someday the story would be separated from the experience of the defining event. "He offered no resistance to the charges. He never apologized or showed any remorse. To the end he refused to confess. Just before the blow was struck, he asked us, 'How do you kill a god with a stick?"

There was a long silence as everyone contemplated the question. However you kill a god, they all knew, it was not with a wooden stake and a hammer. Count Bergamo had vanished at the moment the blow was struck, and they were left with their murderous intentions conjoined to a consciousness beyond their grasp.

"We are killers," Normal Nuts said. "But we have evidence that we can evolve into creators."

He had finished the history and he left the stage so that the actors could take over now, as they would do every year until the memory of the origin of Ash Fork had dissolved into time. They would ritually portray the lust for power, the projection of darkness onto the creator, and his drinking it in like fine wine before vanishing from among them, leaving them with a defining moment, when time started over again.

Posted: Thu - August 23, 2007 at 04:06 PM