Despite becoming an experienced explorer of the dream realm, which he had learned was a consistent, navigable geography just like any other plane of existence, Andy Crowley still experienced the horror of the drowning nightmare.
Not even once in two years now had there been a night without it.
That other nightmare — the abomination simpler minds call high school — had come to an end for another day. As he often did, Andy would use the bus ride home to contemplate what the drowning dream meant. Perhaps discovering that, he could unlock the secret to making it stop. In this session, he planned to recall the dream in a meditative state, which would enable him to explore it clearly and approach it objectively.
Because they were neighbours, and so got off at the same stop on the River Road, Deb Holcroft always sat beside him on the bus. She had known him her whole life and had grown accustomed to his eccentricities. When he put his head down against the ragged vinyl bench seat in front of them to meditate, she really thought nothing of it.
Sometimes, his other neighbour (and best friend), Nick Morrison, sat in the seat behind them. But usually he was at some sort of sports practice or another and didn’t take the bus.
From three cassettes in the breast pocket of his jean jacket, Andy pulled out Hemispheres by Rush and slid it into his Walkman. With his head still resting against the bus seat, he placed his attention on the breathing movement of the space just below and behind his navel: the energy centre of his body.
In the meditative state, he could conjure the dream in his mind’s eye. With his eidetic memory he could recall even his memories from the dream realm in perfect detail. Being awake though, he could exert enough conscious control to mitigate his emotional response to the dream — the terror of it — and explore the experience more objectively.
With his right hand he squeezed a plastic dodecahedron he kept in his pocket. It was dark blue and the edges were worn and rounded. The white crayon that filled its crevices to more clearly convey its Arabic numerals had recently been refreshed. It was part of the set of five Platonic solids he carried everywhere. Other people called them dice. With his left hand he pressed his ring finger hard into his palm to form the shunra mudra, which aided in the opening the heart chakra.
Zoxathozo a oo’ee Zozazoth, his mind chanted. The ancient words found his centre and accompanied the rhythm of Rush’s La Villa Strangiato blasting his conscious mind. For a time, his thoughts still came, but when did not invite them to stay for tea, they slowed and then ceased altogether. A parting sideward glance revealed the silver stitching on dark denim of Deb’s new Jordache designer jeans. She had pretended not to be proud of them to him — but he knew she was proud of them. His heart chakra swelled a neon emerald green…
… Always, the freezing water poured in. Then, after the reflexive gasp for one last breath, every muscle stiffened in terror. Thousands of horrified screams came. They were rife with hatred as much as fear.
“Atlan-Kol!” they screamed and he did not know what that meant. “Serpent!” they screamed as well. This he understood for it was in English tinged with some unrecognizable accent. Always, Andy Crowley knew somehow that the way they said serpent meant betrayer — and that, by betrayer, they meant him.
Then the handsome man appeared — a mariner. At once alien and somehow familiar, he wore a dark blue cloak trimmed with silver embroidery. Every time, he fought to retain his dignity in the presence of this man in blue. Every time — in the end — he lost that fight to panic. Then, finally, mercifully it seemed after the anguish of drowning, the peace of oblivion came and he was carried beyond the threshold of the construct of self to enter completely into the embrace of the All.
Having become almost accustomed to the once overwhelming horror of drowning, he had begun to piece together the notion that the man in blue, the mariner, was calling to him. This time with his conscious mind brought in to observe, he was virtually certain — no, he was convinced — that the stranger wanted him to accompany him somewhere.
“Anzy!” St. Pierre’s voice pierced the headphones of Andy’s Walkman. Even Geddy Lee’s vocals at full volume couldn’t keep it out.
In Grade Two, Ray Barker — noting Andy’s challenges with his weight and his proclivity for black and white baseball-style concert shirts — had come up with the monicker “Andy Panda.” Over time, after Andy’s passive responses, first to that name, then to the punching and kicking that eventually accompanied it, Scott St. Pierre had come up with “Andy Pansy.” Evolution being what it is, in time, resulted in the much more efficient Anzy.
Andy had come to accept it. Violence is anathema to mystic sensibilities. When the bullying came, he just considered the source. Pity was more logical than revenge. Forgiveness was the stuff of salvation. Detachment was the stuff of enlightenment. All was one. Antagonism between souls — which were in reality, all splinters of the world soul, the one soul, The All, if you will — was contrary to the ultimate truth of being.
But today was different. He was not himself. Maybe it was the shit with his parents. Maybe it was the nightly drowning, death, destruction, and hate. No, it was something deeper. Something was physiologically, primally wrong.
Then something happened, he did not understand and would not later recall.
For a momentous instant, a monolith of impossibly smooth black crystal filled his awareness. An apple bitten was at its centre: the fruit of Eden perhaps. Its voice was a trillion voices. Its confidence was the confidence of a trillion gods. And now, in a span of time shorter than a flash of insight, that confidence came into him fully and was his.
A lifetime of suppressed fury cascaded into Andy’s mind. A lifetime of f, diminishment, and ridicule all at once exploded across the entirety of his being.
“Atlan-Kol!” roared in his head. “Serpent!” A father consumed by the false solace of alcohol; a mother consumed by the false solace of church; a sister who had taken their place when she should have been enjoying her youth; the mysterious mariner in blue; the terrifying, sleepless nights; the utter nonsense of high school; the impossibility of him acting upon his feelings for Deb.
He’d had enough.
His hands were still in the pocket of his jeans. With a newfound deftness that would have shocked him had he not been on autopilot, he released the twelve-sided dodecahedron and replaced it with the twenty-sided icosahedron. Turning his consciousness inward, he hurled himself headlong through the seven realms of the Hebdomad toward the center of his being until he hovered at the mouth of the moebius bridge. There, beyond the cosmos, in the probability vortices of the Ain Soph at the very heart of the All, the delta quanta churned. In this place, so close to the singularity that resides at the heart of every soul, including the world soul, the patchwork of arbitrary notions that had become the construct of Andy Crowley resisted the intoxicating compulsion to let go of the nonsense of egoic self and so know ultimate truth. Here, nowhere and everywhere at once, Andy defied the allure of the abyss of the Ain Soph, where deepest within and farthest beyond were indistinguishable; where imagination and manifestation were interchangeable equivalencies; where thought and reality were one and the same. Focusing his intention to summon the delta quanta across the Moebius Bridge, he would twist form and fate alike to spell out a new reality in accordance with his desires. Subtly, he shifted the twenty-sided die in his pocket until the finger that pressed it against his palm found the crayon-filled grooves of the number twenty engraved in one side.
With the icosahedron, an ancient symbol of water rendered in threes dimensions, he would drown the entity called Scott St. Pierre in the very shame he had made Andy and so many others feel over the years. In this moment, he would unmake this reality as it is now and remake it as a reality in which Scott St. Pierre’s is pissing his pants.
The pad of his middle finger found the 20 and the die grew cold in his hand. So cold there would have been pain — were pain possible here, beyond all such labels and concepts.
A wide grin split Andy Crowley’s long angular face.
A small part of him strained to hope no one on the bus saw his eyes roll up and inward to connect with the true sight of his third eye: the white eyes of the wizard’s gaze. His head was down, his eyes were closed, and his long pale gold hair hung about his face. A small part of him, which was growing now, feared his schoolmates — and especially Deb — would see the blazing indigo of his third eye glaring now upon his brow.
Suddenly, as though across an incredible span of spacetime, like a lightning bolt into his soul, he heard Deb’s anguished voice. In an instant, reason returned and that small part of him that remained Andy Crowley rather than all things everywhere captured in a monolith of black glass, remembered where he was and who sat beside him on the bus.
“Anzy, can speak for himself.” he heard Scott say.
“Jesus Scott, you need to let Grade Three go,” said Deb. “Do you need Nick to kick the shit out of you again?”
Scott St. Pierre’s face blanched before it reddened. “I need Anzy to fight his own battles, Deb,” he said.
“You need to not be such a loser, Scott.” As Deb said it, she noticed Scott’s eyes surveilling the bus behind them. He was looking for Nick and when he discovered Nick had stayed at school for basketball, the situation was going to get worse fast. Deb shot a nervous glance at Andy. His head was still down against the bench seat in front of them. His hands were in his pockets. She could hear the tinny edges of La villa Strngiato from his headphones. Maybe he couldn’t hear what was happening. Maybe he was pretending he couldn’t here. It didn’t matter, everyone who knew him would think he was cowering. Everyone except her. She had known him longer than she had known anyone else. The last thing she knew him to be was a coward. Nonetheless, she was catching a really scary vibe. Was this the day he lost it? He could not maintain his monastic composure — the self-discipline others misinterpreted as cowardice — forever. He had been through so much. How did he choke it all back: bottle it all up? Deb’s heart ached for him.
She determined the best course was to keep Scott busy.
“Why don’t you —,” Deb stopped short when Andy casually sat up in his seat. He did not care if they would see now that he was a sorcerer. He had had enough.
“Scott,” There was not even a hint of anger in Andy’s voice. Quite the opposite in fact. Cool wasn’t the word for it. Though he had almost whispered the words, every eye on the bus was on him now.
“Sit down.” If possible there was even more serenity in these words. A shiver ran up Deb’s spine and she wasn’t sure if it was a good shiver or a bad one. It was something completely new. The way Andy talked made her think of Sir Alec Guinness in Star Wars. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Scott’s jaw went slack such that no words could come into it. His face was a mask of bewilderment. Then, with a muffled grunt, he shot up from his seat and marched toward Andy and Deb.
Deb’s eyes flew to the rearview mirror. She hoped to see the bus driver preparing to tell Scott to sit down. No such luck. In an instant, the empty seat in front of them was filled with the massive hockey player. He smiled at Deb and got right up in Andy’s face.
Deb was astonished by Andy’s poise. He did not flinch. Despite her fear, her heart swelled for him. She had always felt so close to him, though she knew he felt close to nobody. He had changed so much over the summer. Quitting smoking. Quitting drinking. The grace with which he handled such betrayal by his parents had amazed her.
“Where’d the balls come from, Anzy.?” Scott crossed his arms across the back of the seat in front of them. “Morrison’s not here to fight your battles. Maybe Holcroft here could offer something up that would keep me from beating the shit out of you.” The hockey player looked at Deb in a way that made her truly afraid, she balled her fists tight. Her face was a mask of disgust.
Then Andy leaned in so that his nose almost touched Scott’s, “I told you to sit down… asshole.” The way he said the last word was slow and deliberate. A chill went up Deb’s spine. Scott St. Pierre backed away, a look of astonishment on his freckled face.
“KAyeE-ToOR NAMen-RAX Tey,” Andy whispered the words beneath the audible range of human ears. The vibration they would create in his aetheric field to shape the delta quanta emanated from the thought of them more than the sound.
Not seeing any fear or shame forming in St. Pierre’s eyes, he cast a glance downward to the bully’s crotch. The dark wetness he had called for wasn’t there.
The whole bus was silent now.
St. Pierre, for an instant, wore a mask of bewilderment. Still, there was no shame there. Still no darkening at the crotch. What had gone wrong?
Andy was re-casting the spell in his head when he noticed the bewilderment on St. Pierre’s face slowly becoming something else…
… A horrible, self-satisfied grin.
Because the hand in Andy’s pocket still clutched the 20-sided, it wasn’t there to throw up a defence. And he was still too invested in his spell-caster’s postmortem to move when Scott’s face shot toward his.
His world exploded into starry red pain. Reflexively, his hands flew to his nose. A terrible metallic taste was in his mouth. Scott St. Pierre laughed. Deb screamed. The bus driver roared.
Andy blinked, then blinked again in an effort to restore his vision.
What had happened? How had a come to this? Had he really just let a schoolyard bully push his buttons and reduce him to this? It wasn’t so much the head butt to the nose that was freaking him out; it was that he had just tried to cast a spell in front of everyone — in front of Deb!
He didn’t have time to admonish himself. This failure of discipline had already very likely cost him way too much. Deb could never know what he could do. He must maintain his composure. Detach. Forgive. Let go.
When, eventually, his eyes could focus enough to see again.
He saw that blood from his nose was everywhere.
Even — he lamented in an instant of regret — on Deb’s new Jordache jeans.