There are places worse than North Dakota by more than a country mile, I will tell you that for nothing. Sometimes the fullness and action of fussy cities can feel like suffocating amongst other souls, all fighting for oxygen and space. North Dakota in the waking realm is desolate and empty and so flat you can see the bend of the Earth in the horizon which rises up to meet your feet. I will give it this much, in this realm or that, North Dakota’s emptiness makes you appreciate fully what there is to see there: wild horses running up the banks of a river, a buffalo on a hillside, a herd of antelope jumping the ditches, a perfect shale and sandstone collection of rocks amidst the nothingness; all of it beautiful all of it worthy of minute inspection. The Clown Parade was moving on slowly, the honied sun streaming down melting the late spring frost and the elephant trudging on determinedly.
Sweet Pierrot shuffled over next to me and lay his head on my shoulder. He had taken to wearing the make up of a sad French mime. His baggy black pants hung dejectedly off his slim body, a jaunty cravat in black and white polka dots was tied around his neck, and a white blouson shirt, all crumpled and crinkled peeped out beneath an oversized black suit jacket. Real tears mixed with the painted ones and streaked down his greasepainted face. King Pierre was staring out at the road behind, all those empty miles covered on the way to who knows where. Pierre Rotten had changed into full punk-clown dress, hair spiked up, stars and thunderbolts drawn onto his face and arms, his costume adorned with safety pins and arcane symbols. Rotten had the reins of the elephant and was talking to it in soft reassuring tones.
“Hey there Bessie…Hey there Girl…..Oh what a sweet girl you are….Just a bit further, and I got a few apples for you. I’ll bake you a cake one day, Bessie, and there will be no sadness in it, my girl.”
Bessie trumpeted for her lost calves, her sisters and brothers stripped of their ivory and laying dead in ditches, and her own fate as the beast of burden for a bunch of clowns on the road. She turned her immense head towards me and I realized for the first time that animals other than humans can cry too. A large drop fell from Bessie’s kind wise eye and hit the dusty road with a splash. There was nothing in front and nothing behind. Rotten halted her sad trudging and yelled back into the howdah.
“All off! Bessie needs a break, a hug, whatever food we can rustle up from the chest and a rest! All off!”
King Pierre regarded his brother with a cold eye.
“But this is nowhere, Rotten. This is nowhere at all.” He gestured towards the expanse of prairie to the east and the expanse of prairie to the west, and the possibly warmer nothing to the south and the colder nothing to the north.
The elephant stopped. Rotten dragged his brother off the howdah and they tumbled in the dust and the dirt. Rotten, for once, got the best of King Pierre, with nothing more than a bloodied mouth and a handful of hair missing to show for it. The King sulked and tried to kick the elephant’s leg. Bessie dodged him with an alarmed snort. With that sweet Pierrot, and Rotten grabbed him, arms and legs, and tied him like a hog. There was not even a tree to secure him to, so a fence post had to do. Sweet Pierrot produced a bandana from his pocket and tied it around the mouth of the yelling King. All was suddenly peaceful in the Nowhere Camp of North Dakota of the Dream World.
Camp was set up a little way off from the fence post with the struggling King, and to his back so he could not see what was happening. Rotten went over, loosed the bandana, fed his brother a banana and a glass of water, secured it once more, and returned to the camp. Sweet Pierrot had built a fire. It burnt brightly in the cool night air.
“Me and Rotten have been thinking, and we think it is time,” Sweet Pierrot spoke, emboldened now his brother the King was silenced. “I have a bottle of juice from the a flower called The Bleeding Heart of Love. You drop it in your eyes like, so…” He mimed dropping a little into each eye. “It takes you somewhere else, out of this wasteland. It helps you see things better. Sometimes it can make a hero of you.”
Rotten nodded his head. “Not for the faint hearted, is this flower. Flower power to the nth degree. This is a kickass flower that sometimes kicks the asses of everyone around, even those who have not touched it. It is medicine, my travelling friend. It is medicine, therapy, teacher, and communication device all in one beautiful package.”
“You can see the stars!” Pierrot cried out, howling up at the moon.
“There is only enough for two of us. You and Sweet Pierrot do it. I will talk to Bessie. I owe her a million apologies and a cake. Besides someone has to keep an eye on Pierre the Terrible over there.”
With that Rotten filled up the dropper, and went over to Sweet Pierrot, dosing his eyes with the thin pink liquid.
“Your turn,” he said, as Sweet Pierrot sat there with a smile on his face.
Sitting there by the fire I felt more attached to reality than every before. I didn’t just feel sober, I felt uber-straight. Reality took on an unsettling hue of permanence. It was as if everything in the camp had been cut out and superimposed back onto the setting, just a little adjusted from where it should be. There was no movement, no travel, time or otherwise.
“I haven’t done enough,” I declared. “This isn’t working.” Rotten started to laugh.
“Uh oh! Every person I have ever known who has ever done a heroic amount of any flower or potion, has all said the same thing. I am too straight. I haven’t done enough. Give me more. Then they either go to the moon or the grave depending on the potion. If I was you I would wait a little longer.”
Sitting there next to Sweet Pierre sipping water and chatting I noticed the sweet one’s eyes getting glazed over. I looked over to Rotten. He started to look distant.
“Oh! You are leaving!” I said with a start. Rotten shook his head.
“Oh….you are not leaving, I am leaving!” I said with a start. He nodded his head, and I shot backwards as if on a rocket-ship. Everything went black and white sparks and streaks of light in motion appeared in a circular configuration. It was hyperspace travel, wormhole stuff, the speed not of light, but of love in motion. Concentric sparks of energy and the sensation of moving backwards so fast that I was going to leave the universe entirely continued until I found myself floating, not in a tin can but in another wild desolate place where there is nothing, but what there is to see is infinitely interesting. The North Dakota of outer space. Some lower bardo, I told myself, some hinterlands somewhere before death but after the consensus reality we all cling on to.
Flowers started dancing which became the heads of great elephants, their trunks intertwining. A kaleidoscope of pattern and movement, mirroring and turning in on each other, infinitely linked but separate in their existence. The flower dance faded away to reveal a slither of stage with a pair of very tall velvet curtains covering the expanse of it that lay between. Skeletons were dancing in a line, at least two dozen of them wearing party hats and clown shoes. Some were blowing trumpets, some were playing fiddles. Two of them wore crowns on their heads, which were made themselves of skulls. They did the conga. They did the Cabbage Patch. They did the Charleston. They did the Harlem shuffle. They did the Bon Odori. Rotten appeared in the guise of a French poet from the 18th century, who dug up his own graves, his name emblazoned on the stone, and his bones deep in the dirt. Rotten hit the payload and cracked open the coffin, pulling the one legged skeleton out from the grave, breathing life into its bony jaw, perching a fetching Napoleonic blue velvet pirate’s hat on his head and passing him a shoe, a sword and a dagger. The skeleton bowed low before me and started to dance. Tears fell down my face.
“No no no. This is not fair on you. You don’t have to dance for me! It hurts you to be like this!” The Rotten Poet kept up his hopping one legged jig and performed a solo ballet spin in front of the gathered skeleton band. The Rotten Poet stood center stage and held out one bony hand to me, whilst the gathered tribe of bony musicians and partiers split into two groups, grabbed a curtain each and pulled them back to reveal what lay beyond.
Flowers grew at my feet. Mid summer air hit me in the face, thick with the smell of campfires and flower and hash. Trees entertwined, seagulls flew, a blue sky shone. Titania herself could only wish for such a beautiful fairy bower. I took the Rotten poet’s hand and stepped one step. Two steps…and then one more into the pastoral perfection that lay beyond death’s domain.