Stopping to sleep on an empty interstate in a dreamworld approximation of the dead Badlands of North Dakota, riding on the back of an elephant with three Clowns, a large chest with seemingly endless properties of being able to carry and produce minimal provisions, and no real idea of when or if I was ever going to be able to go back again to the world I came from was a trip to be sure. Ahead of me the road stretched out as if these wild empty places with the rocks in shades of earth and blood, sand and steel would go on forever, and there was the distinct possibility they would. At least elephants don’t break down on the interstate and leave you waiting for a car to stop by. It can be days in some of these desolate places, even in my world before another car will drive by with the possibility of rescue. Out here, in this hinterland of some lower bardo anything was possible, except rescue. Rescue was not possible out here in the luminosity of the Deadlands. This was the place of visions and revisions, of lessons and sack-cloth and ashes hessian realizations of the life and the damage done.
A lake shone out before the little camp like a mirror. Mirrors are funny creatures. Some think they are gates, some think they are doors, but perhaps portholes is a better description. This porthole was utterly still and flat. In the still flat black surface of the lake there were stories to be told. A totem pole with a fox above the stand, holding up the base, then a butterfly above him and a vine that turned into a snake that was so vast it stretched off beyond view, shone in the surface of the lake. A warrior with an axe was chopping up that wily poisonous serpent whose very breath could sicken and kill and entire village. He stood separating the two pieces of the snake whose head had twisted round to see me, showing me his two pronged horns. Without the man’s leg’s keeping the snake apart, it would simply merge back together again and become even stronger. The wind blew ripples across the lake and I watched as another simple story played out of a canoe and a vast lake. In the middle of the lake was a mountain, but nobody knew it. The lake was murky and dark and this volcanic rock that didn’t quite break the surface sat there waiting to wreck a vessel. The canoe with two men in it, fishing and laughing together ran aground in the middle of the lake and started to sink. From the shoreline a rescue was mounted, but the light was getting dim, and the men were now holding onto scraps of shattered canoe, trying not to sink. Flaming torches provided a little light but the rescue was looking grim. As the two men were pulled into the canoe and the people on the shore wondered about their bad luck and how anybody could ever be so cursed as to run aground in the middle of a great lake, and the moon shone like a button in the sky, the human condition was laid bare before me: we need each other, but we are always surprised when someone else helps and rescues us.
I sat holding my knees watching the scenes play out before me, with Sweet Pierre sitting beside me. The elephant stank sweetly of hay and dung and apples. Pierre Rotten had a fire going and was roasting a fish over the fire, while King Pierre wrote in a book with the usual scowl on his face. The trip was long, and showed no signs of ending. We were on the road headed to who knows where, but the destination really didn’t matter. I had already given up all hope of ever being ‘home’ again. My home was now the elephant and these three clowns and for now, this black lake with the coyote howling in the distance, as jackrabbits ran avoiding their canine jaws, and owls hunted for mice and voles. The chirrup of grasshoppers and the buzz of a mosquito provided a gentle background music. Sweet Pierre looked concerned as he passed me a tin cup of tepid tea and a square of chocolate.
“There is something big coming over the horizon, my friend.” His face contorted in the flickering glow of the campfire. “And I don’t think it is going to pass us by.” King Pierre stood up and turned away from the lake and shone a light into the darkness.
“I can’t see it, but I can feel it,” Pierre muttered darkly. Rotten shuffled a stick into the fire and moved around the glowing embers, pushing himself as close as he could to the protective heat and light of the flames.
“It’s coming for HER,” Rotten muttered, getting up, and putting his hands on both my shoulders, whilst peering into my eyes. “I’ll come with you. Whatever it wants, I’ll come with you. I’ve got your back.” With that Rotten took my hand and led me into the inky blackness of the night.
Dead like North Dakota. Dead like a dodo. Dead. All was dead. Nameless souls shuffled for space occasionally bumping into us as we walked forward into nothingness, but away from The King and Sweet Pierre and straight into the Void, tumbling and falling, holding onto one another for the love of dear life and sheer fear.
There is a kind of darkness which is visible, yet utterly without light. Rotten was dragging me by the hand, running toward something huge. “Come on! We don’t have long! We can’t miss this! He is going to fly!”
Looking up ahead of me I saw a giant obsidian foot of a statue, gleaming black in the darkness, the light from the souls bouncing off his surface, causing it to gleam brilliantly and glow with a blue fire. Following the vast foot upwards past robes of black rough fabric that hung off his giant frame in impossible folds and swirls of geometric shapes, I made out a hand, my eyes trying to adjust to the sheer size of the statue before me. Arms stretched upwards holding a bowl made out of the same shiny infinitely dark crystal he was made from.
The bowl was held up above a head carved from the blueprints of Botticelli. His features were broad and perfect, his forehead spanned the universe and his eyes glowed with violet fire. Generous lips were parted slightly, showing the tip of a scroll-like curled tongue, that belonged on a wren or a hummingbird, scaled up for this vast creature. His hair flowed behind him like silk, covered by a cowl. Di Vinci himself could not have carved such a perfect being. His wings were folded neatly behind him, within them planets moved and eyes blinked and each quill was a symphony or a poem in it’s own right. The Black Angel stood inviolable, immovable. Perfect. Crowds gathered at his feet watching the bowl be filled from some invisible force from above. Darkness visible was filling the bowl constantly in a torrential stream. Within the dark deluge were shapes and distorted sounds. Mysteries and secrets filled the bowl.
“He hardly ever moves, and he only flies once in a millennia,” whispered Rotten. “Watch!”
The bowl started to overflow and the Black Angel made a sound like the screeching of gears, or the grinding of grain, lifting his voice up to the heavens. A distant trumpet sounded, blown by a celestial Miles Davis, heralding the overflowing of the bowl of darkness. Then the black Angel poured the darkness out on the gathered souls. Darkness is not wet, it is malleable and viscous as jello. I was suspended within the gelatin dark mass like a piece of pineapple in a child’s birthday molded jelly treat, only missing the whipped cream and cherry on top. I fought other suspended shapes around me who panicked and jostled in the thick darkness. Rotten was trying to stay close, holding onto a scrap of my sleeve as we fought to stay upright in the poured over blackness that enveloped us. Souls were raising their hands, desperate for the vast black Angel to pick them up.
He spread his wings, stretching them out after their millennia-long rest, letting the wind of the screams catch an updrift, a thin current of air. Suddenly he bowed down, and one stony huge shiny hand came right for me, gently holding me in a pincer between finger and thumb, lifting me up with Rotten holding onto my ankle for everything he was worth. There was no time to scream, and fighting was clearly not going to work. His stony grip was firm, yet the Angel, aware of his stony shiny strength and vast size, held me gently in his obsidian grip. My stomach lurched as I shot past planets and space, nebula and stars, me and Rotten held now in the palm of the Black Angel’s hand. His face, full of blue flame and fury moved towards me and the crouching Rotten, showing a tongue like a scroll, long and thin, with strange writing on it.
The Angel’s scroll tongue reached out for miles curling and spiraling into the void. The tongue was carved with words, and dripping blood into the gravity-less realm of outer space. The words were living and moved like vines, grew like flowers, dropped like leaves. With his free hand the Angel reached out to the end of his tongue and cut off a portion, Arthur and I safely tucked into the folds of his raiment watched as brilliant ruby blood spurted from the tongue of the Angel and the wriggling piece of tongue sat in his hand spitting flames and strange incantations. The Angel said nothing. He lay me down gently and cut my chest open, pulled my heart partially out of my body, and slit that open too, and slid the piece of tongue into the center of my heart. Dipping his finger in the blood from his tongue which was now covering his face, he inserted my heart back in my chest, sealed up both heart and cavity, skin and muscle, bone and sinew, and set about repeating the procedure with Rotten who had a look of utter horror on his face. All amusement was gone, just a giddy realization of the excitation within.
The Angel started to be consumed by blue flames. His face twisted into a picture of serenity, then he showed his wild side once more, making sure I was absolutely aware he was not some fluffy cherubim, yet that he also meant me and Rotten no harm. A small flame started to glow in my chest.
“What is your name?” I asked the Obsidian Angel.
The Angel looked utterly perplexed for a second, then broke into a disturbing bout of what I presume passes for laughter in his realm. “You are asking my name?” He was incredulous. “After all this, the first thing you want to know is what my name is?”
“Well, it is important that we all know who each other are,” I replied as carefully as possible, feeling slightly foolish.
“Humans never cease to amaze and confound me. Just when I have you figured out, and I think you are going to beg for mercy, ask for riches or want to know the secrets of the universe and the date of its ending, you come out with a perfectly reasonable and polite question, as if we are two strangers meeting on the road. Perhaps there is hope after all.” The Angel sighed and looked me straight in the eye.
“Az po es.” The Angel replied. “Or in your tongue. You are Az.”
“Oh no,” I replied before I could stop myself, I asked YOUR name, not mine, and I am not Az.”
“Who are you then,” the Angel asked, “if you are not the name I have written in this scroll? Is it possible you do not know who you are, but I do?”
“But I asked YOU who YOU were!” I bleated shamelessly.
“Well you should have asked who you were, you fragile little fragment from the potter’s wheel. But that is ok. You can learn, if you just pay attention.”
With that the Angel bent over, holding me and Rotten, folding at such speed my stomach lurched and my head span. He plunked Rotten on the ground first, setting him on his feet, staggering and reeling. Then he very gently encouraged me out from the palm of his hand as if I was a scared dumb beast, who he had picked up and now had to set down after untangling it from a cruel wire fence. “You’re alright. Go on. You are ok. Go see your friend…there you go…” Two giant fingers gingerly set me on my feet and let me waddle off towards the waiting arms of Rotten.
“I guess you could say,” said Rotten with a smile, “that we are now Breast Friends!” He pointed to the thin scar on his chest where the fragment of tongue had been inserted into his heart, and then tapped my chest which bore a similar scar and also glowed with strange blue light.
The Angel trod back over the hill into the darkness visible his empty bowl by his side, and his footprints leaving blue fiery imprints on the dead land of North Dakota. In the distance an elephant trumpeted and the sound of Clowns whooping and yelling filled the still night air.