Epic adventures are not chosen by people per se. I mean you can choose to go on the road, throw yourself at a blank page, and leap into the unknown. You can even get on a boat or a plane and go as far away as the limits of this round ball we call Earth will allow you to go, into worlds and cultures that feel alien to everything you know and it still won’t be far enough. Sometimes we don’t just need to get out of our own heads, out of our egos, out of the bounds of reality that surround our souls. Sometimes not even the wilds of North Dakota, the bamboo forests of the Orient, the jungles of the Amazon are not far enough. Sometimes there is a deep and lasting need to go beyond, to go Furthur.
I stepped from the barrier of Death and the dancing skeletons who hold back the curtain past, further, beyond, into a hippy idyl, a bower of flower children, a garden. There were crowds of young people, and a few older ones too. I suppose not everyone wants to live eternity being 21 years old, not even 27. A man wearing a peaked Captain’s hat, and chauffeur epaulettes, holding a hammer in one hand, leaned up against a fantastically painted bus. The approximation of paisley and acid-drenched colors can be attempted in the world we stand in, but does not match the real thing. We can only carry back the memory and try and recreate it in words and song and other artful things. Minute flowers in yellow and orange and reds, arranged into paisley teardrops vied for attention with moving swirls of falling color, rising and falling into waves and spirals. Words made themselves from patterns. “Peace”. “Love”. “Kindness”. “Gentle”. “Child”. “Garden”. Camp fires glowed and leapt into flame. Tree houses dotted the landscape, teepees and tents and shacks and sleeping bags beneath the stars clustered around the fires. The grass was green and flowers grew wildly and freely and fast. A bubbling stream flowed through the middle of it. A willow tree dangled fairy lights and the sky moved between brilliant sunset and sunrise colors and the perfect blue of a midsummer day’s Californian dreaming. Everywhere was life and greenness and beauty. The flower children were dressed in Afghan coats, flared blue jeans, beads and bandanas. They wore teeshirts and bikinis, crochet and smiles. Some were naked as jay birds. Some were under heavy blankets. This was the heaven that was lost at Altamont and that was almost captured at Woodstock.
Behind me Rotten, the poet stood at my back, surveying the scene. To my left a giant blue bear was stirring a bathtub. The flower children hippies were bringing things to put in the bath: flowers and trinkets, stones and crystals, beads, and hair ties, and Egyptian rings. One boy brought a set of tom tom drums up to the bath. The bear shifted from Bear to Man back to Bear. His beard was magnificent and grew flowers within its depths, and his eyes shone with sunshine. He shook his head. “Too big, man, too big….think smaller…” The flower child reached to his wrist, untied a friendship bracelet and gave it to the Bear of a man with tears in his eyes. “She gave it to me, before I left to go out there, to war. To die.” The Bear gave it back to the flower child with a dirty bandana in his hair. “You put it in, David. It’s your gift.” The boy dropped it into the bath and watched as the water bubbled and fizzed and rainbow sparks came up from the surface. Bluebirds flew over the bath, and ladybugs dropped their wings into the surface of the gorgeous potion.
The Bear noticed me, nodded and smiled, and nodding, pointed towards a treehouse. It had a white sheet covering its frame, in a makeshift tent arrangement. A young woman with long dark blonde hair was dangling upside down from the entrance to the tree house, her head towards the ground, her knees bent around a branch, her hair hanging long and low and blowing in the breeze. She was laughing and waving to me with such immense friendliness and openness. I waved back to her. Deep in the dark of the treehouse a shadow sat brooding with menace and barely-contained evil.
The man who was sometimes a big blue bear came over and lit a small campfire in front of me and motioned me to sit. The girl who was hanging upside down jumped to the ground, and dark clouds hid the sunshine. She showed me a small star tattoo on the inside of her right arm.
“Hello! I’m Star! Are you staying?” Such a friendly girl. Such an innocent soul. Such a pretty, open child.
As soon as she spoke to me it was as if blood in bucketloads drenched her from head to toe. Her eyes grew wide and the lids almost peeled back, showing the whites of them also filling up with blood and gore. Clotted blood coated her eyelashes, pieces of flesh hung in her hair, her gorgeous hair was plastered to her head with blood and flesh and fluids. Her hands dripped red and she held them out towards me. The fire filled with blood and pooled around her.
“Please hold my hands,” she pleaded. “Please would you be a friend for a moment? They are all scared of me. They say I’m messing up the garden and spoiling everything. Would you talk to me? Would you hold my hands?”
Sometimes the quest comes right up to you and asks if you will help. I could feel the gathered flower children in the garden begging me to help her and by helping her, help them. It was a right that had to be wronged, a stain on their paradise that had to be erased. I reached over to her, sitting next to her by the fire and staring her straight in her blooded face, I held both her hands. As I did I saw such terrible scenes. I saw murder and dismemberment. I saw bodies of men and women, even a tiny baby laying stabbed to death on the floor beneath a Californian moon. I saw a knife reflected in the gleam of a silver baby’s rattle. I saw rope and I saw hope. I saw fear and I caught a glimpse of a fury and flurry of immense violence, and I saw a shadow passing by.
It felt as if for those moments it was just me and Star. Just me and her alone in the darkness of her filth and fury, with the shadow of evil watching over us both. I held tighter onto her hands and forced my eyes up to meet her face. As I did she stuck me right in the ribs on the right hand side with a large butcher’s knife, yet still something which felt like bravery and compassion made me keep on holding on.
“Will you be my friend?” She asked, pleading. “They will not come near me. They whisper bad things about me. I am trying so hard to be nice, to be friendly, ya know? Why won’t they come near me.” And the hippies in the garden cowered and hid their faces from the fire.
The big blue bear coughed into his hand and pointed towards the bathtub, which glowed with a strange and beautiful light, swirling with pastel colors and a sheen of iridescence, sparks and rays of light coming from the surface of the water in immense peace and purity. It was a fairy bower, it was The Bath, it was peace and perfection and could scrub anything clean with the sacrifices poured into it, that were not of blood, but of happiness, kindness, love and hope and beauty, childhood memories and the warm glow of teenager summers back when the children thought they could make their way back to paradise if they all pulled together like a team.
“One of you can take the bath,” he said. “One of you only.” The Blue Bear who was a man held up a Bakelite yellow radio painted with submarines and flowers. “Jump in the bath, and when you do, at the peak of the beauty of the sound, I will drop the radio into the bath. If you take it, all this will go away, my new friend.” He addressed me with a wave of his hand. “You won’t have to face Star. You won’t be in this bloodied garden, and it will be beautiful, and gentle and powerful and you will not have to face fear, horror, evil or any of that which you saw when you held Star’s hands, but Star will have to stay here with us. I can’t tell you what you will see or where you will be, but it will be better.” The Bear morphed back into a man. “If you give the bath to Star and persuade her to take it, it will clean her up, wipe all that gore and evil clean, and you will free her from her pain and suffering, and free this garden from it too.”
A long legged man trudged into view. He had been standing by the man who was wearing a Captain’s hat and standing by the bus. His legs were thin, and his face was long and angular. He moved like a man who was used to side-stepping trouble. “Heavy thing to lay on someone with a headful of magickal flower juice. You don’t have to do it, in fact, I would recommend hopping into that bath and seeing what else that bloom-juice can show you, instead of this bloody freak show.”
I looked back at the bloodied face of Star in front of me, and the blood pouring out of the wound in my side and the increasing tide of gore around me. I looked at the faces of the hopeful flower children whose paradise was being sullied and made into a place of fear and suffering. I looked at the big blue bear who was holding the radio. I knew what I had to do.
“I won’t take it. I’ll give it to Star.” The only trouble was, that Star didn’t want it.
“I don’t know what it will do to me. I want to still be me. If I get in there, I don’t know what it will do to me. It might just get rid of me entirely. I don’t want to disappear…then there is ….” She looked towards the tree house and the shadow.
“Star, you can’t go on like this. I know how much you want them to like you, love you again. I don’t know what will happen to you, but that bath is so pretty I can’t imagine that it is anything bad. Why don’t you try it. It can’t be worse than what you have right now.”
Star looked at me sadly, the blood dripping off her nose as if she had been bathing in it and had no towel to dry off with. It fell on my white slip-on canvas shoes, making alarming red splatters that mixed with my own mess from the wound in my side. She was covered now, from top to toe in someone else’s blood. It was flowing over her as if it would never end and forming a pool around her, a kind of bathing pond of its own. Slowly she rose, holding both my hands, and hugging me tightly, she started to tread towards the bath and the old man who was waiting there with the radio. The flower children parted like the sea, watching her with mouths agape. No one said a word. No one dared.
The Man who could be a blue bear helped her into the bath, washing his own hands of the blood after she was safely installed within it. The water fizzed and bubbled and did not turn red, instead glowed brighter and brighter, full of light and love. As she ducked herself under the surface, the old man dropped the radio into the bath with her, sending a bolt of electricity shining gold into the water. The old man reached into the bath and pulled out a round white smooth ball walked over to me and plopped it into the palm of my hand.
The white orb was smooth like bone but shone like a pearl in the midday sun. I turned it round in my hand, feeling the glossy weight of it. It felt so gentle, so pure and ever so vulnerable. Suddenly it blinked. The orb opened up to reveal a pretty bright green eye, with long lashes. It knew nothing. It simply was. It existed in absolute vulnerability and perfect purity. It was what was left of Star. What was left of Star was so pure, so innocent, so embryonic that there was no more blood and suffering caused or inflicted upon her. The eye which was Star kept on blinking at me, as if wondering whether I was her mother, or her guardian, or someone who would care for her. I just wanted to put it down. The vulnerability in the palm of my hand was too heavy, too delicate. I was scared and overwhelmed by this sudden responsibility. I suppose I had put her in the bath in the first place, but I was not expecting to adopt a fragile, blinking, innocent washed clean pearl-like eye, embedded in smooth pearlescent bone.
The thin man who told me to bail on the whole enterprise turned up, his bandy legs moving in contradiction to his body, and motioned pitching a ball. “Just throw it away as far as you can! Get rid of it! You owe it nothing!” I shook my head, the eye blinked unknowingly.
“No.” I said, though all I wanted was to get rid of the eye in the palm of my hand, that was its own entire self contained, pure little being. Scrubbed clean of the actions of her life, Star was a soul, an essence, a perfect eye who could see and learn, and was unchained from the shadows of her past.
“Do you want to take her?” I asked the old man who was sometimes a big blue bear. He shook his head. “How about you?” I turned around to see Rotten, who also shook his head.
“Does anyone want to take her?” I asked loudly. The collected crowds all shook their heads, and so I kept my palm opened and wondered what I was to do with this pure embryonic soul in my hand that looked like an eye contained within a pearl, her blinking eyelashes peering out at the world with total innocence and wonder. So we stood for a long time, me and the Pearl that was an eye, and contemplated the universe before us. This pure orb of blinking innocence did not deserve to be cast into a dark pit, nor hurled away to be injured. It deserved love, now that it had re-found purity.
Suddenly the eye grew wings and flew from the palm of my hand, out, out, out into the wild blue-black yonder of the universe, and in the distance a shower of butterflies exploded into gorgeous colors of joy and happiness, flying with the eye, free at last from suffering. Tears filled my eyes for the friendly girl with the big smile and the plain face who hung upside down from trees and who had got eaten up by the Shadow that lurks in the darkness. I cried for the fragile vulnerability of the flying eye that remained once all the pain of a life lived in the shadow of darkness had been washed away by the love and sacrifice of others who wanted to give someone the chance to be free of the horror. That someone could have been me, but I am glad I chose Star and it was her. I can bear my suffering – it is transitory, hers was permanent.
Looking round at the gathered Flower Children in the garden, there was rejoicing and glee. The Garden was freer than it had been for a long while, their home almost returned. But the Shadow in the Tree House that had sent poor Star into horror, murder and misery still remained.
“She should have had a butterfly on her shoulder, not a star on her arm,” I said to no one. Poor kid didn’t even realize what she was doing before it was all late.”
In the distance I heard the elephant trumpet and a wolf howl at the moon.