V - The Hierophant
"I've been waiting a while to meet you. For the chance to shake your hand. To give you thanks for all the suffering you command. And when all is over and we return to dust, who will be my judge and which one do I trust? Angst . . ."
Stone Temple Pilots
Now that she was back in Majestic, Texas, April felt foreign. Hometown friends eyed her with envy, or was it contempt? Unfortunately, what bothered her most dawned on her one morning as she watched the sun rise over the tree line. Torn from her vision was the view. Trees towered overhead like prison bars. Now she saw only trees where once she saw the forest. No mountains here, only molehills. And no one seemed to understand that either. How could she explain flying to people who refused to even walk?
Los Angeles wasn't so far away, was it? Only 1500 miles or one phone call away. But she was here now. She didn't miss the mayhem but the chaos couldn't be matched here. Utter frenzy did have its entertainment appeal. Here, she was safe, comfortable, and bored out of her mind!
Too much time to think, to remember!
Majestic stood to remind her of all her failures, now and back then. She might have been safe but she was also sorry. This wasn't better than the insanity! Each passing day brought another gray hair, another wrinkle, another daydream. Silence seemed deafening. Scanning her new 'hood, April could see one, maybe two houses from the porch. No life anywhere!
'Cept that dog over there. Get out of here!
Back inside the trailer, she opened the windows and shades. At least summer was over. The bugs weren't bad either this time of year. Back in August, she had been so miserable! No window unit air conditioning have could produced enough cold to make her happy. Snow spitting out of the vents might have been acceptable. It was her re-initiation into Hell.
Now those were distant days. Farther away than LA. She had managed to get a job here, at Big T's of all places. Gone were all her illusions of the place. She lived farther away from the bar than she had as a child and spent the summer hitching rides to and from work. Walking was the last resort. She wasn't scared to hitchhike here. After LA, not much here could scare her. She wouldn't take rides from drunks, vans, or cars with more than one guy in it. Most of the time, she felt safe. Half the time, it was someone she knew. In LA, it was the people she knew that scared her the most. Not here!
As the sun began to set on her day off work, April sat in the quiet darkness of her living room. Natasha slept peacefully in her bedroom down the halls. In the mirror across from her, she saw that her honey colored hair was messy. Her face hadn't seen make-up today, maybe not even yesterday. And maybe not tomorrow either. It wasn't hard to compete with the women in this town. Having teeth was a big plus. This was her down time anyway. Even at work, she didn't feel pressure to look fabulous either. By closing time, any redneck loved her. Tried to.
Tonight however, this was her time! She stayed home suddenly inspired to start, re-start, an old project. Her blue shag carpet became a sea of papers, notes, and books. Candles flickered softly in her eyes. Before her, a deck of ancient cards, the Tarot, were spread out across the floor. To one side, a stack of reference books waited. In front of her, a chocolate leather, hand-bound journal lay open. Its pages now scrawled notes and memos, illustrations and poems. Its written testament represented April's life. My neurosis.
To the untrained eye, these notations seemed unintelligible. To April, these symbols contained the secret.
On the first blank page somewhere near the middle of the book, with Jimmy Page on the stereo, she re-created The Chart. Years of dedicated study resulted in this one picture, still unfinished and yet so familiar that it now seemed elementary to her. What is it for, anyway?
She knew what the circles meant, the crescents, and each squiggle. But what relevance does it have to the real world? Fourteen years ago, this flooded into her mind. Twelve years ago, she met Chance. (Symptom of the universe, a love that never dies.) Luckily, she discovered that Black Sabbath was awesome and because of her twenty year late coming, she wasn't burned out on them. They spoke to her, like all music does, but it didn't make her want to stalk them.
So why is Chance different?
In the chart, it showed.
But so what?
From time to time, a new revelation would come, its insight would be recorded, dated, and memorized. Then the pattern appeared. After fourteen years, even this became routine. She read over the chart carefully, searching for even a tidbit of new information. Nothing.
As she saw it, everything she had ever written had been so directed to him that she wondered if she hadn't met him or fallen in love, maybe this chart would look differently to her. Unfortunately, she couldn't imagine anything but what she still saw here.
Tonight, she wasn't going to worry about that stupid old chart. Tonight, she was going to do what she should have done back in Los Angeles. It had to be done.
I've been thinking about this for too long! It's the only way!!
You are cordially invited to attend
The Mad Hatter's Tea Party & Charity Ball
Like so many times before, she wrote this with determination and enthusiasm. Once again, she filled page after page with details. Who to invite, what would be served, how the invitations would look. These were important decisions, but after years of practice, she was getting too good at this part of the assignment. It didn't take her too long to finish.
Then came the unusual part. She stood up to retrieve the package that she brought home the day before. She felt her heart race as she kneeled back onto carpet. From the plastic bag, she withdrew a rather large box. She ran her hands over it lovingly. It represented a lifetime of work, and a good chunk of her last paycheck. Inside the box, she possessed a thousand dreams. It was the only one of two of its kind. April made sure of that. The other, she locked away as a souvenir.
It was only natural that she started with him, after all, he was the reason she even did this. But which one should he get? She ran her fingers through the box, shuffling the only puzzle she ever bought. On top of that, what made it unique was that she designed it herself. Two-sided, it revealed all of her secrets. On one side The Chart. On the other . . .
She gave up looking for his piece. It would tell her when the time came. At this rate, at the very least, she had a nifty puzzle. This time is different!
All night into the early morning hours, April went through the stack of notebooks, retrieving names and addresses of the guests. Her files overflowed with names and numbers of the celebrities that she had come into contact with back in LA. It became a monumental task, all the while her mind raced with discouraging thoughts. Thoughts of embarrassment and failure surfaced throughout the whole night, but by dawn, she had completed enough to realize that this project lived.
Several blanks existed in each invitation, such as date and place of the event but otherwise, she felt satisfied with her efforts. Blowing out the candles, she decided that she needed to rest before the baby awoke. Creeping softly past her sleeping daughter's bedroom, she paused only long enough to watch the faint rise and fall of the child.
Startled, she turned her head quickly just to see a small figure fade into the shape of a chair draped with laundry. Oh my! I need to get some sleep!! She chuckled under her breath, and sighed. It's been ages since I've seen something like that! But she didn't really want to conjure up those old memories. Ghosts were better laid to rest.
From her bedroom, she noticed a glimmer of light in the hall. Exhausted, she had to force herself to get back up. In the living room, a single flame burned brightly. I thought I blew this out! She puffed it gently, then waited to make sure it was extinguished. Smoke wafted upward, fanning like a ribbon. She smelled the burning wax but with it came a sweet smell. Closing her eyes, she tried to place it. The scent was very familiar.
Stretching, she gave up and returned to her bed. A moment later, she was out.
The trailer was motionless, except for a shadow that floated over the furniture, across the floor, and to the journal. It coiled around itself into a orb, which spiraled downward until it touched the page. Then it disappeared. First one sheet rose, then another until The Chart appeared. There the entity drew itself into the picture. The book slammed shut.
Chance dreamed about the past, but not his past. Night visions flashed relentlessly across the screen. War and peace, heaven and hell, love and betrayal. Just as he solved one problem, another arose. Why are these my problems? His mind saw hidden cameras, the beast computer, the world of human slavery. Books burned by the believers, who suffered silently behind their walls of fear and shame. Intolerance, indolence . . . nothing ever changed.
But I don't want to be . . .
He pushed away the world and the world went dark. Coming to the surface once again, he focused on the television. Oh Jesus! I spent an all-nighter with Mr. Optimist. He switched off Jimmy Swaggart.
Now that he was up anyway, he decided to look at the package he had gotten from Greg that morning. All day long, he stared at it, anxious about opening but too intrigued not to do so. Now seemed like a good time. In it was a dark leather journal. Inside, page after page of hand written text. It fell open to the chart in the center of the book, as if years of use warped it to that page.
Just like Mom's National Geographic magazine collection.
He read the slip of paper that fell to the floor.
No way! I'm not going to do that!
But he couldn't help himself. Walking away didn't help, nor did television. His mind nagged endlessly. Twenty one minutes later he lit the candle and sterilized the needle. Ow! His finger gave up one drop of blood. He dotted it onto the page, right in the center of the fore head like instructed.
Nothing happened so he went to the bathroom to doctor his finger. When he came back, he noticed that the candle had blinked out. The smoke reeked like burning wick so he reached over to retrieve the air freshener.
There, that's better!
Sleep came over him, so he went back to bed. The Los Angeles sun would blaze in his eyes in a few hours. Looking at his clock, he figured that she would be seeing it shortly. Dreams were sweet but unremembered when he did finally rise for the show.
April dreamed of a man that she needed to find. Gods and dogs, all of them. She was summoned to church. Find the priest.