But Kaspian believes his memories and emotions are precious treasures belonging to him alone. Now he must staunchly defend them from his born-again stepmother, a megalomaniacal alternate education tsar, sexually ambiguous counselors, corrupt Washington politicos, and wacko ufo abduction theorists. Recent events suggest that the laws of what's possible on this living Earth are constantly changing. And Kaspian must find his own way into the heart of the Great Mystery.
|Product dimensions:||4.19(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.80(d)|
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Dear Child I also by pleasant Streams
Have wander'd all Night in the Land of Dreams
But tho calm and warm the waters wide
I could not get to the other side
Father O Father what do we here
In this Land of unbelief & fear
The Land of Dreams is better far
Above the light of the Morning Star
William Blake, The Land of Dreams
EARLIER in the evening they had played one of those games meant to foster cooperation. You were blindfolded. Your hand was placed in the hand of one of your fellow campers, who was blindfolded also. The two of you couldn't talk. The only way you were allowed to communicate was through the sense of touch: your partner's mute palm pressed against yours. Now you were given a task to perform. When it was Kaspian's turn, the task was to carry supplies across a bridge. But there were too many supplies to carry in one trip, and some of the boxes were too bulky for one person to handle. He and his partner were going to have to work something out.
The night was warm. Kaspian could hear mosquitoes whining near his head. Farther out, on the black pond, a loon made one of its schizoid warbling sounds. The hand in his began to sweat.
He wondered whose it was. A boy: he was pretty sure of that. The hand was big, bigger than his own. It was slack and fleshy. Mike Pisegna? The fat kid from New Hampshire? Kaspian suppressed an urge to drop the hand, to push it away. He could smellgreasy dinner odors and midsummer sweat.
He groped for the bridge railing. His partner's grip held him back. For an instant he became disorientedthe laughter of the other campers, arrayed unseen all around him, swirled as though he were riding a merry-go-round. Behind his eyelids, retinal nerves flashed like brake lights in fog, streaky and dull.
All at once the night fell silent. Kaspian could not feel his partner's hand. He lifted his head and it felt weightless. Instead of faint red lights his eyes swarmed with blips of pure sparkling silver. A thousand stars. The whole universe stretching wide to him. He opened his mouth (to laugh? to scream?) but everything was so quiet and still; he was happening in slow rewind.
We're inseparable, you and me
said a Voice inside his head.
And Kaspian knew that Voice.
From where, though? It was deep, somehow fake-sounding. He strained to hear it again.
Only now instead of the Voice there were shouts and laughter from two dozen campers all around, and Kaspian's blindfold felt painfully tight, squeezing red bands across his retinas. He tore it off. He stood breathing rapidly, almost panting.
Beside him Mike Pisegna toddled, large and stupid, ketchup splashed down his t-shirt, straining outward with one big arm while clinging to Kaspian with the other. A stack of empty cardboard boxes lay beside them at the base of a footbridge. The scene was lit by Coleman lanterns and the final, pinkish haze of twilight.
Kaspian yanked his arm away. Almost panicky, he took half a dozen steps onto the bridge. He could half-remember something that confused him. All he wanted was for time to stop: not long, just a few heartbeats: time enough to think.
Firm loud voice of a Peer Counselor. Kaspian felt without looking Waiter Gilliland coming toward him, parting the crowd.
"What's the matter here? Somebody doesn't want to play by the rules?"
Kaspian hated Walter Gilliland. He was a shrimpy guy about 18 with nothing better to do than spend his summers bossing around the smaller kids in the Indoc Section. His voice had a nasal, penetrating quality, like a mutant blackfly.
Gilliland reached the bridge and stood beside Mike Pisegna, who was still blindfolded, groping idiotically.
"So it's you, Aaby," he said to Kaspian, making a sheep sound out of his name. "I was hoping we could make it all the way till rack time without another one of your Incidents."
Kaspian kept his back turned. He stared across the footbridge, into the woods beyond, shadowed and featureless. The bridge crossed a stream that ran cool and fast, twisting between boulders slick with moss. Some days you saw fish down theredarting minnows, slick gray brook trout. Kaspian could smell the water now. He could hear leaves whipping high in the air, green kites in a breeze off the mountains. He felt wrongly situated.
Gilliland's foot came down on a bridge plank. The structure creaked, adjusted.
"Talk to me, Aaby," he said. "Tell me what's going on with you. I'm eager to understand, really and truly. Despite your repeated efforts to provoke me."
Kaspian didn't want to get started with this. He did not want to argue with Walter Gilliland. Anyway, what could he say? The blindfold was too tight, I started having hallucinations. All Kaspian wanted was to cross the bridge and be by himself for a while. Into the woods, the deep closet of night.
"Kaspian Aaby," said Gilliland. It was starting anyway. "Excuse me? Are you aware that I am speaking to you?"
"Perfectly," murmured Kaspian.
"What? You said what?"
Gilliland took a step closer. The bridge trembled.
"Are you aware," Kaspian said, still quietly, "that I could turn around and beat the living shit out of you?"
This might have been true: Kaspian was as tall as Gilliland, though three years younger. His fists were thicker. And he was getting angry. The only trouble was, he had never been in an honest-to-God fistfight in his life.
"Very admirable, Aaby." Gilliland's voice became higher-pitched, as though he were straining to be heard by the whole audience of miserable, bug-eaten, bad-smelling campers, not just Kaspian solo. "Your profanity impresses me, truly it does. I'm sure we're all very much impressed by your command of four-letter words, as we are by your tremendous team spirit and cooperative attitude. You know, if you were to give this exercise a chance, it might just teach you a lesson or two."
A lesson or two. The phrase stuck in Kaspian's ear. It sounded like something his stepmother had said, prior to shoving him along with a couple of bags of clean socks and underwear onto the bus for this so-called Accelerated Skills Acquisition Camp, a summer-long indoctrination meant to prepare him (the way you prepare a piece of meat, say, by pounding the tenderizer in) for the new school he'd be attending this fall: American Youth Academy, an exciting private-sector alternative to the failed public school system. And indeed, Kaspian had learned a lesson or two in the 27-days-but-who's-counting since he arrived here. He had learned for example that the Great North Woods consist largely of insect habitat. He had learned that his team-spirited fellow campers were a rich source of jokes of a particularly raunchy variety, enough to sour you on the concept of sex altogether. He had learned what S.O.S. stands for, and that it congeals on your plate to form a substance akin to Elmer's glue. He had learned that Peer Counselors are assholes and C.I.T.'s are junior assistant subassholes, and that Senior Staff might once have been assholes but have since matured into tightened, impenetrable sphincters. Were these "lessons"? Or did lessons have to be specially impressed upon you by higher authority, as for instance during those many hours of Personal Reflection Time in which Kaspian was required (for sins varied both in heinousness and in originality) to sit alone in the rustic wooden chapel raised on stilts over the floodplain like a wannabe tree house, with nothing but the Word of God for entertainment?
Kaspian waited for Walter Gilliland to get tired of playing around with him, to come to the point, which would be, inevitably, another oration in which the phrase "get with the program" would be heard.
"To tell you the honest truth," Gilliland at this moment was saying, "I've just about had it up to here with this attitude of yours. The Staff and I have given you every opportunity, but you don't seem willing to make any effort whatsoever to get"
"Shut the fuck up," said Kaspian. Without turning around. Still facing outward, into the woods, away from Gilliland, away from everybody.
From somewhere among the onlookers came a hesitant titter.
"What did you say?" the shrimpy counselor demanded. "What did you say to me?"
Kaspian opened his mouth to say it again, louder this time. But before he could speak, he had a revelation. Everything became clear to him. He understood that Gilliland was nothing, not worth the trouble of cussing at. He realized that the whole scene hereeverything about ASA Camp from the latrines to the canoe docks to the chow hall to the chapel on stiltswas nothing but a game, a simulation, a bunch of pieces laid out like a model railroad set. Complicated yet pointless. Like Life Itself.
He was aware, even now, that he was thinking in a strange and somewhat confused manner. It was as if some echo of that singular momentwith the blindfold on, the million stars in his headstill colored his awareness, like half-heard side-channel ambience. Adding a strange, dimensional effect to the scene before him, which was otherwise fiat and gray.
"Now you listen to me, Aaby," Walter Gilliland was saying.
But Kaspian didn't listen.
He would never listen again, he decided. He didn't have to anymore.
He started walking across the footbridge and he kept walking when his feet touched the rocks on the other side. He heard them calling his name and he thought he heard footsteps, toomight have even felt the tug on his arm but soon all of that slipped away from him, spun down into the past. Kaspian just kept walking. Away and away.
Into this whole other night.
FOR a long time he walked without wondering what he was doing, without really paying attention. He felt like an animal that's been held in captivity so long he's forgotten his natural proper habitat, then all of a sudden gets turned loose into it. Acclimation was a challenge. Daylight was just about shot, for starters. What was he supposed to do when it got totally dark? Was there going to be a moon? (There wasn't yet.) Why hadn't he thought of this?
The weird thing was that he didn't care. He didn't seem to notice that what he was doing did not have any purpose. Or if he noticed, this fact did not feel remarkable; it didn't feel like something you needed to be governed by. Many things make no sense. This whole American Youth Academy idea being an excellent example. Was Kaspian like, for example, an actual American Youth? (No. He was a changeling of unknown origin who had gotten switched at birth.) And did he really need to transfer from a boring but perfectly okay small-town high school to this high-bandwidth Academy at the cutting edge of pedagogy? (No. It was his stepmother who needed, for reasons of her own, to be rid of him. And who desired, in the bargain, that he be taught a lesson or two. To which Kaspian had replied, Then couldn't I just spend a couple of months at the beach with the Book of Goddamned Virtues? And got his face popped.
Yeah, but it made a funny story, and therefore had been worth it.)
The path followed the stream, but at some uncertain pointto elude pursuers, though there appeared to be noneKaspian turned up a crooked little spur that might have been just a channel for spring runoff. Walking got harder; larch claws grabbed at his hair. You could hardly blame them: Kaspian's hair was an inviting target. It poked out. It was tangly. It was an undefined shade of brown. He hated it but was devoted to its care and kept it closely under observation. It went with his nose, which was also on the bulgy side. His eyes were the wrong brown, flecked yellow, and went with nothing. They just stared back at themselves, emptily. And the mouth was undergoing some sort of transformation, to a thing that when he opened it, people wanted to smack, from a thing that moved female types to utter that dreaded phrase, cute smile. Same mouth? Same movie? He couldn't decide.
Kaspian was getting nowhere. Or else he was getting deeper and deeper into a major mess, as per lifetime habit. But at least this particular mess had the benefit of being of his own making, as opposed to Accelerated Skills Acquisition Camp. Not that it mattered, probably. Because in the end he was stuck, he was going to be caught and locked back up in the zoo again. There is no longer a place for creatures like Kaspian in the wild.
Suddenly the larches let go of him. He took a couple of stepspractically feeling his way now, it was so darkand found himself stepping out into a broad open space, a clearing. You could see across the clearing by what faint light was left. The ground floated like a magic carpet of deep sea-green. On all sides the forest was black, but black with contours, with textures. Everything was dimensionless. Shapes were fluid, distances elastic. Kaspian got a shivery feeling, standing there. A thousand stars burned overhead. The night breeze moved arms of darkness above him.
The light was not that big a deal. Not at first: when it appeareda faint, bodiless glow that now was tinted orange, now yellow, now lavenderKaspian hardly noticed it. It simply fit, and he gave it no more thought than you would give a bough of leaves, pale and fluttering in the moonlight. He walked a bit farther out into the open space, and then he stopped. It was almost as if the light itself had stopped him.
Now he found that all he could do was look at it. It got larger, or came closermaybe both?and there was something about it ... a presence, an almost tangible power. As the glowing sphere grew in size and in brightness, the rest of the world, and Kaspian with it, plunged into silence so deep that the night itself seemed to quail, to draw back into its own darkest crevices. The light changed position a couple of timesnot so much moving as simply being first in one place, then anotherand when finally it stopped, Kaspian felt an electric quiver move up his spine, the hairs of his neck pricking up, his scalp itching with energy. He thought
It sees me.
Which he knew was stupid, or possibly insane.
But the light saw him anyway. He knew that for absolute certain.
It's found me. It knows I'm here.
There were a couple of frozen moments. Then time came unstuck and events spilled out all at once, too quickly to follow. The light took on a shape. The shape was something like a carousel, and it began to spin, and there was a kind of high-pitched sound almost like a flute or a piccolo, but really neither of those. Strange music. Dizzying merry-go-round, all lights and no horses, no visible machinery. Kaspian stood there, maybe thirty feet away from this thing, maybe fifty, stone-still, like a person under hypnosisaware of what was happening but unable to perform simple actions, such as lifting an arm, nodding his head, turning and getting the fuck away from there.
He was afraid; but then again he was not. Not in the way you're afraid of somebody pointing a gun at you. The fear was almost unconnected with him; it seemed to come at him instead of from him. It came from the light, and as with the light itself he could not be quite certain that it was real. Or rather, in what way it was real. Like, could the whole thing just be part of some dream? A waking dream, vision, something like that? You would almost think so.
Then this happened: in the middle of the light, riding round and round on the spinning carousel, Kaspian saw his dead father.
It was his father, dead. Not his father as Kaspian remembered him, blurrily, like a video he had watched too many times during the nine years since the funeral. No: his father, Daddy, now, there, in front of him, reachable, shout-at-able, real. Kaspian felt drops of liquid on his forearm and realized with shock that he had started to cry.
"Daddy!" he said out loud.
His father smiled and kept spinning. Everything was okay, everything was cool there on the Wheel O' The Dead.
Kaspian knew one thing now. One thing for sure. This was not a dream and it was not some head trip, a thing he was imagining. It was happening, really and truly; and in a way that he could neither understand nor ignore, it was happening for him.
He sucked in a breath and realized that he had lost much of the sensation of his own body. What had felt like hypnosis before now felt like fiat-out paralysis.
Between one moment and the nextwithout moving or changingthe light vanished. It was simply not there any longer. Kaspian stood as stiff as a rock in the darkness. And then out of the darkness, into a sort of twilight that seemed to constellate around him, stepped three ... three ...
Say it, Kaspian. To yourself, anyway.
... three leprechauns.
Or anywayif you won't buy thatthen something that looked like leprechauns. Three very short little guys; but not short and blocky like midgets, and yet not proportioned like ordinary people, either. They had a stoutness about them, and their heads were oversized, and they wore strange old clothes that looked like maybe something out of the Depression. Hobo leprechauns. Only in brown instead of green.
They came up around Kaspian and even though they projected an air of bustling, of doing something in an awful big hurry, it was hard to say exactly what they were doing, other than looking at him. But that was enough.
Malevolence. Kaspian could sense nothing at all about these three small guys except for a pure, intense malevolence. It reminded him of the creepiest person he had ever, before then, come in contact with: a Glassport police officer who ended up shooting his fiancée after she jilted him, after he had bought them a pair of his & hers turquoise Camaros. But this was way worse than that. Kaspian felt as though the fear which had earlier seemed to come straight at him out of the light had now been transferred to these three little dudes. His body quivered like a stick someone was shaking.
"Why don't you come with us," one of the leprechauns suggested.
Kaspian could not make out which of them had spoken. Maybe none of them had; maybe the words just appeared in his mind.
"Okay," he said.
His own voice sounded as always. Kidlike and kind of dumb.
Later it would be unclear to him why he had just said Okay; as opposed to like, No way or Fuck you or even, sensibly, Go where? Actually he was wondering this already. Still, that's what he said, and the leprechauns wasted no time in leading him off toward ...
Toward nothing. At least, Kaspian had no awareness of having traveled anywhere. He went straight from the realization that the leprechauns were taking him somewhere to, suddenly, standing in a kind of hole or tunnel. It was not much brighter than the twilit field, but a little: enough to see that it stretched ahead and slightly downward for a very long distance. Kaspian tried to look back, but he couldn't turn his head around. He was moving forwardthe leprechauns were alongside, not so much guiding as guarding himand he had no sense of his legs stepping along in the usual fashion. For all he knew, he was floating down the tunnel.
The walls and ceiling and floorthere was no clear distinction between themappeared to have been cut roughly out of stone. The light was evenly distributed and had no apparent source. There was a smell of something earthy, something hotlike two rocks make when you strike them hard together. Kaspian tried to gauge how far he had moved down that strange passageway but it was difficult, partly on account of having no reference points, as every part of the tunnel was exactly like every other. Thenagain, all at oncethey were through it.
He was standing in a room. The room was about twenty feet across, round or nearly round. All its surfaces were smooth. The three little guys stood with him for a moment or two, then they turned and a door opened and they left. When they were gone, you could not see where the door had been.
Kaspian found that he could move his body again. He flexed and felt somewhat normal and somewhat an alien to himself. For an instant his mind touched on the question What is happening to me?but that was so terrifying even to think about that it made him feel dizzy.
He sat down on a metal sort of table thing. Had it been here a moment ago? (That question had no meaning. Next?) The metal was cold, then it got warm. It got softer as well, as though it were changing into an organic substance. A membrane of living plastic. Kaspian settled down and tried to relax but he felt as though he had chugged a 12-pack of Coke. Every nerve end rattled.
The dooror maybe a different one, just like itopened and closed. Before Kaspian now stood a blond girl about his own age. Blond and pale to the point of being nearly an albino. But her eyes were blue and intense. She wore a white dress or robe. Which? Neither, or both. The flowing cloth, light as fog, made it hard to get a sense of her actual bodyor rather in a way it seemed part of her body, an outward extension of her being.
Then Kaspian noticed her hands, the most beautiful hands in the world. They were slender and seemingly boneless. One of them lifted toward his face, and the girl smiled a radiant smile, and Kaspian instantly got a hard-on. It was embarrassing and it hurt, being squeezed into a knot in his underwear. But he was damned if he was going to reach down there and adjust it.
"Who are you?" he asked the girl.
She said a name. Kaspian would never remember it. But he recognized it as a name by the way she pronounced it, offhandedly. He wondered why he could tell certain things but not others. He wondered if any of this ought to make sense.
It can't be real, was in one part of his mind.
And yet it was the realest thing he had ever experienced. More real than real. As though he had been half-asleep for fifteen years and suddenly, finally, woken up.
The girl began speaking. "We have let you come here"
"We who?" he said, so quickly he surprised himself.
Her smile was like a wall of snow. "You cannot understand," she told him.
Kaspian twisted his mouth sideways, cynically; he had known she would say something like this. We are more highly evolved than you. Our brains are seven thousand times more advanced. Such bullshit.
"What do you want with me?" he said. "Are you going to like, perform experiments on me or what?"
"It was you who wished to come," said the girl. Still smiling. Her voice liquid. One hand making gestures that seemed to have no meaning in the air. "We decided to grant your wish."
"That's crazy," said Kaspian. "Who's we? And why did we think I wanted to come?"
"Crazy," she repeated, opening her eyes wider. Stars swam in them. She did not seem to be disagreeing with him; rather to be intrigued by his use of the term.
That irritated Kaspian. He said, "Look, if you're going to"
The girl touched a finger to his lips.
It was like being anesthetized. Kaspian tried to operate his mouth but could feel nothing there, nothing at all from the chin up.
He had to admit, it was pretty slick. She had disarmed him: his mouth had been his only defense. Now, even more than with the evil leprechauns, he felt totally helpless. And he still had a hard-on.
"What I need to do will not be painful," the girl told him. She spoke like a doctor snapping the latex gloves on. Yet she did not make any move, except for that hand in the air, the perfect fingers tracing patterns. Kaspian felt an irresistible urge to lie back, but there was no need for this because the table thing came up and sort of cupped him, like a bug in a Venus's-flytrap. It did not hurt. But of course it was the freakiest thing that had ever happened, and he supposed things were only going to get worse from here on.
The numbness that had begun around his mouth now spread through most of his body. He managed to twitch a toe, and he found that he could turn his head from side to sidenot up or down, thoughbut everything in between had fuzzed out on him.
The girl busied herself. Kaspian could not quite see what she was doing because his eyes would not point that way. With peripheral vision he watched her bending over him and then straightening out, moving her arms from place to placetouching me, he thought, but could not feeland after an interval that might have been long or short, she came to stare straight down at him and she said:
"Would you like to stand up?"
Kaspian found that he could, that his body was back to normal. He glanced quickly down at himself but saw nothing askew. No evidence of unspeakable molestation. He stood facing the girl, who looked back in a way that made him feel like a dumb punk. "Now what?" he said.
"I'll show you more," she told him.
Kaspian found himself going along with her as though he had no power to resist, or even to form the concept of resisting. They left the room through a door that materialized for their convenience and now they were standing in a large open space that was a sort of greenhouse. Light flooded through it. As with all the light in this place, or series of places, it came from nowhere. The plants appeared to be made of damp, shiny plastic, pendulous with brightly colored fruit. The girl waved her hand: inviting Kaspian to look around until he had had his fill. When she sensed (correctly) that he had done so, she led him to another space, a smaller one, arranged like a sort of conference room with tables and chairs that were almost ordinary-looking; yet even here, something was vaguely wrong, the appearance of everything was a little skewed. Were the chairs just a tad too small? Were they shaped in a way that did not seem intended for human backs? Kaspian could not snap his mind on to what was the matter: it was like some obvious clue was lying there in front of him but he somehow failed to see it.
After that it was on to another room, and this one looked like an exotic lounge in an old 60's Screen-O-Rama, maybe Dr. No. And then again it did not. The pieces were all in place yet they were put together wrong.
The girl now sat down in one of the movie-set chairs and stared placidly up at him. You would have sworn she was watching him think, observing the processes of his mind. Her dress or gown poured around her, still concealing whatever there was of her body. Kaspian tried to glance elsewhere in the room, feigning disinterest, but the only place he found to look was straight into the girl's face. Those penetrating blue eyes, the snow-wafer teeth.
"You are different," said the girl. "You are funny."
"Ha, ha," said Kaspian. Thank God his defense, his mouth, was operable again. He sat down near the girl in something like a chair that did not feel exactly like a chair. He said, "Isn't this where you like, explain things to me? Like, tell me why I was chosen or whatever?"
"You came to us," the girl said simply.
"Yeah, you said that before. But I mean, how could"
"You walked away from your camp and you sought us out. So we admitted you. There was no choosing. Not by us. I might ask you, Why did you choose to come? Is there something you wanted?"
Kaspian opened his mouth to say No but the word would not let itself be spoken. Instead he formed the syllables, "Something, I, wanted ..."
And for whatever reason, or perhaps no reason at all, this brought a memory back to him, a shard from the past he had been trying to retrieve. The memory was of a voice, a familiar voice, though a forgotten one. And the Voice was saying
You and me.