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"And now ... we’re coming down to what you came for, aren’t we? The truth of it all?"
She hadn't meant to listen. But the old man's stories had been so interesting, as he chatted with the woman. And there had been secrets, secrets she'd heard only glimpses, snatches, hints of.
And as she'd listened, she'd seen his attention on her, his gaze on her the way old men sometimes look at young girls. And he'd spoken to her, though he'd been speaking to the woman opposite him, the two voices overlaid. And he'd told her the truth. Whatever he'd told the other one, what he'd told her, somehow, was the truth.
And she turned and ran.
On the outskirts of the Midway Trucker's Paradise are a small cluster of tiny cabins. They were built in 1959 as part of a scheme to provide accomodations to passers-through on the new highway, but in short order most long-haul truckers had sleeping arrangements in their cabs (which were free), and few families really wanted to stay at the Midway.
Eventually, the cabins, run-down and surrounded by dead plants, became employee housing, for those employees not possessed of local families.
It's here that she staggered back, reeling, stumbling, like a drunk. To her tiny, dilapidated cabin, which she shared with two other girls, both of them on shift. There to deal with the truth.
The truth. The truth shall set you free. Free, free of charge, free at last, free and easy but the truth is never easy, because you can't handle the truth.
Words. I can hear all the words now. The words he said, and the echoes of the words behind them, stretching back so long, so far, words swirling across the red earth, dark and red with rain, with tears from heaven, tears in heaven, torn heaven, heavens to ...
The words rustle and whisper like sagebrush and weeds in the scrublands beyond, pushing against each other, too many, too many, too many for words, too many to see, any more than you can see individual blades of grass, grass, grass, weeds, grass, joints, out of joints, out of booze (doesn't she keep a bottle under her bed, dammit?) and ...
Words like grass, but some words stand taller, some tales stand taller, upright and proud or caught in the wind and sun like a startled animal, visible, eyes in the headlights, and some are not weedy words but bushy words and some words are like trees, torn and twisted by the wind and wasted by the sun. But some truths are trees, growing with the telling, until they become great trees, great words, words, word, homey, word, word, the Word.
And the Word is the greatest Word there is, because in the beginning was the Word, right? That's what the preacher says, and the Word is the greatest Tree, the Tree at the center of the Word at the center of the World, the great tree, the Word Tree the World Tree ...
The word she's never heard before rolls about her head, takes root, grows and grows ...
Yggdrasil, the Word Tree, no, the World Tree. All-Father Odin hung there for seven days and seven nights or was it forty or twenty pieces of silver or three days in the tomb, and he wanted to learn to see, because if you're the father you have to see everything. And there it stands, the World Tree, stretching between Heaven and Hell, and midway between is the middle land, the middle garden, the middle garth, Midgard, mid-world, mid-path, Midway.
I'm in Midway, and I don't see a tree, only scrub oaks on the fringes and no trees, but light standards, huge, reaching to the sky, some lit and some dark, halogen lights shining in the darkness, giving sight and vision to the Father, infused with the Spirit (and what about the Son or is he just hanging, too, only with darkness filling the sky not vision) and ...
the spirit ...
The spirit freed and let loose but still residing in the tree, like Marlin the Magician, there's a trick, only that was an oak, wasn't it, I read about it in school, and isn't Yggdrasil an oak or is it on a beech somewhere, a port of call, a home away from home for smugglers and the poor and oh my dear Lord they killed her!!
They should be destroyed for their affront, and they are destroyed, those whom God would destroy He first drives mad, good and mad, fighting mad, driving mad, mad driving, the Mad driving the Mad, and there was that accident the other night, a mad man driving like mad they said and the twisted metal testing the mettle and tumbling down the pavement in flames, burning flames, a chariot of flame and fire ...
She grabs ahold of a phrase, holds to it for dear life, a drowning woman trying to figure out a path to the surface.
Chariot of Fire. No, Chariots -- I loved that movie, like Bobbie I loved Bobbie on the cross-country team and he showed me that movie and they talked funny but it's all about running and church and ... church ...
There's a song they're singing in church, and the words, words, words come to me
Bobby said it was about how God Jesus Oh God Bobbie Jesus had been in England or something which didn't make any sense because it wasn't anything like the Holy Land, that's hot and scrubby and desert like, well, Texas, godforsaken Texas, godfearing Texas, here Midway between Heaven and Hell, so God wouldn't go there he'd go ...
And did the Countenance Divine
Mrs. Donnelly was always taking about InfernalMills and one of the customers once said don't you mean Satanic and she jumped like bit and told him customer or not she wouldn't put up with that kinda talk in her shop, and besides why would you build mills where God walked, or why would God walk among the mills.
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Odin had a spear, Gungnir, the Gung's all Near Here Fear Cheer, and there's that chariot of fire, swing low sweet chariot taking all those people home, tumbling in flames down the highway, a holy and living sacrifice to God, smoke rising up into the darkness from the light ...
I will not cease from mental fight,
William Blake. Where do I know that name? Didn't he go crazy? But I never studied no English writing like that. Why do the words words words echo echo echo around, around, down, in rushing, rising rivulets?
English, but the mills thing was Scottish, wasn't it? Another voice saying other words, chariots of fire, burning, burning, yearning, burning, bobbies, Bobby Burns, he saw the mills, burning iron mills burning with smoke rising into the darkness from the light
We cam na here to view your warks
But Jerusalem's not Hell, it's Heaven, right? Heaven in the Heavens, God's in his Heaven, all's right in the world, the world, the Earth, the Midgard Midway, hanging over the Midway like balloons floating in the air and children singing singing singing in the choir.
There are two names, two words, two names ...
The old man's words came back to her like snakes, tightening about her, dragging her from one pit of madnesss to another ...
Cruikshank and Oberst. Oberst and Cruikshank. A card game, a gambler, I met up with a gambler, we were both too tired to sleep, and James Cruikshank won the land for the Midway land land Tara land Terra Earth Midgard Midway, holy land holy lamb red and pleasant, dark and red, stolen from Indians by the government, the Feds, the Federales, the Army, Uncle Sam with polio and blankets, Timber Acts and Sister Acts and Apostle Acts and Timber Acts Axe trees, the Big Tree, the Word Tree, the Timber and Stone Axe, war and sacrifices and blood and God I want to get stoned but I quit and what the hell good did it do me, reality is for people who can't handle drugs, Bobby always said and ...
... "history is boring" boring boring into my head, called trepanning, relieving the pressure on the brain which is good because I have a hell of a headache and I think it's going to explode ...
... and even the colonel of truth, justice, and the American way got cheated from a card game, who was that tall dark stranger there, Cruikshanck was his name, but
or was it Ronald Oberst who built the Midway?
Who built the Midway Midgard Middle-Earth World?
She rummaged through the drawers in the non-functioning (and, thus, relegated to storage) bathroom in the cabin, found some envelopes and a pencil, and sat down at the tiny round table that, aside from a double bed and a couple of chairs, constituted the furniture.
She wrote down the two names and looked at them.
Cruickshank is Scottish (Scotland again, Scotland the brave, grave, saved). Some think it means, essentially a crooked shank or bow legs, but it's much older, older than Scotland and Scottish. Pictish, picky picky peckish Pictish, and it means a hilltop overlooking the River Cruick (I am not a River Cruick), a hill surrounded by a river, a land surrounded by the sea, Midgard surrounded by the Ocean, about which wound the Great Serpent the Snake the Wyrm.
Oberst is Germanic, like Cruickshank is Scottish. Some believe it was originally Oberost, the upper east, but it wsa, more likely, from obrist, a superlative of ober, referring once again to the highest point in a village, the hilltop overlooking the town, God in his Heaven, all's right with the world (look out) below.
Two names. Two men. Both the same. Both the creators of the mid-world.
She wrote the two names over and over and over, twining them about in lines like snakes intertwining, like a double helix, chasing around each other, chasing their own tail like the Wyrm Ouroboros. She ran out of space on the envelope and continued onto the table.
Oberst and Cruickshank. Cruickshank and Oberst.
Partners? Brothers? Twins? The same person with different faces and names?
In 1957, a mere 70 years later, Virginia Cruickshank marries Olan Oberst. A long time for any normal "partnership" to create such a union. But if Cruickshank and Oberst are kin, or the same person --
What sort of person marries their kin? Zeus and Hera were brother and sister. Frey and Freya, too. Gods do that sort of thing all the time, to keep the line pure, to keep the metaphors unmixed, to make sure humanity is part of the equation. 1 + 1 = 1. Or perhaps 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, in some theologies.
And then produces a child, Ronald James Oberst James means Supplanter, the one who replaces. So we have a child, named after supplanting replacing the first Oberst in the tale, the Highest Point, the summit over the world, Heaven, the Mystical Kingdom, the Place Apart, Avalon, once again?
Who now owns the Midway, holding it against all covers, gods and ghost and demons of a dozen flavors and stripes. Who holds the world, the tree, the world tree Word Tree against all comers? Who seeks to make this Paradise in the Middle Earth?
She's scared now. Not quite so overwhelmed, any more, by the stream of thoughts, images, memories, words, colors, scents flashing past her eyes at tachyscopic speeds, but, with that control, comes increased fear, because she understands something she didn't at first ...
I'm not stupid. I'm not. I went to school. But I'm not this smart. I don't know this much, know all these bits of knowledge, of wisdom, of insight, connections skeins webs of facts and fiction and myth and monsters. How do I know these things.
He told me. He told me the stories. Only words. But words mean things. They have an effect.
In the Beginning was the Word. And the Word said, Fiat Lux.
Let there be the light of the sun beating down on us all, here on the anvil of the world, the relentlesseye of the Sun Son Sun.
Knowledge is in me, fills me, and the contents change the container. Knowledge. The Tree of Knowledge, a Word to the Wise, a Word Tree to the Weiss Whites, the Word World Tree, the fruits of knowledge become the Fruit of the World Tree, the Forbidden Fruit, the ...
Apples. Apple pies, sweet as creation, crunchy, spicy, filling, the earth's crust upon them, apples of the eye, apples of the sun and apples of the moon apples.
But not just apples, but cherries, sweet and dark and red, fruits of paradise, the Trucker's Paradise, and the fruit of fertility, pop! Pop the Father pops the Mother, and out pops the baby and ...
I remember a song, my mother used to sing to me. She called me Cherry, and she called the song the Cherry Tree Carol, and I always wondered why it talked about Carol instead of Mary who was in the song ...
''And Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he, "Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee, Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee."''
And the Father did, and Mary had Cherries and cherry pie, dark and red and ...
''And she cried. It was the longest she'd gone without speaking aloud since she'd returned to the cabin. It only lasted a minute before the Words came again.
An angel was killed, raped and killed, the betrayal of all God's loving creation. It was 1958, and they looked upon the angel with lust, and killed her and she bled. They cut off her wings, bringing the heaven down to Earth.
But ... Oberst was born in 1959. Maybe 1960. But I know it's 1959. If the angel was dead, it couldn't have been her. Or could it? Virginia virgin cherry Cruickshank, then? A Cruickshank Amusement?
But the angel was not dead. She was rewarded with her wings, once more, once she'd given that service, given that death death death where is thy sting wing ring?
The others, the rapists who'd done as told (did the devil make them do it? is the question even meaningful meaning full house of the Lord?) all came back here. All. Came. Back. Here. Trapped in the Midgard Midway ...
One descends to the dead, to the dragon, to the pit, to the world of material, of stink, of what a waste, oh Danny Boy, Daniel Begs a Boone.
''There's a hole in the world like a great black pit And the vermin of the world inhabit it And it's filled with people who are filled with shit And it goes by the name of ...''
Not London. Not Land's End. But Land's Center ...
They all returned, in some fashion, called back here by the one who sent them (who sent us all, cosmic billiard balls making the one trick shot, I could use a shot of something, take the shot, thank you, I think I will).
One became the fallen, who fell and fell and fell, fell falling, I do not like you, Doctor Fell, a most curious fellow traveller.
One killed himself, but sent his son, despised and rejected, Josh Joshua Yeshua Jesus to die for the since of another, darker spirit, the one in the Tree of Light and Darkness in the middle of the Middle.
And one ... sought knowledge, magic, wizardry, to break free and not be just the shell of a man. He bargained, mightily and often, until nothing was left but ...
She stopped for a moment. Held her breath. She needed to stop. She needed to be silent. She needed to sleep, perchance to dream, at least to rest.
But she couldn't keep the Words within her.
In 1882, Friedrich Nietzche wrote:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. But we killed Him. He turned it to a magic sacrifice, and we responded by killing each other in grander, greater, more elaborate, more efficient fashion.
Did God die? Or did He just --
It was 1886 when the Midway was first built ...
And Daniel, Daniel the New Man, ever falling fallen falling, Daniel in the Dragon's Pit, Daniel deep in the dark places of the night earth ...
And in that Darkness, he was visited by the One Who Knows, the Mage, the Bargainer, the Gnostic, the Know Man is an Island, the Jenkins.
But the Gnostic Knew Too Much. The contents change the container, and knowing the Truth, the Truth was set free within him.
And Daniel saw and knew and understood ...
“HE’s not the devil, man. He’s not a demon, he’s not a goblin.”
“What is he?”
“He’s Not of this World. Not of this Time. He is All and Nothing. He Is.”
I Am. The Great I Am. I Am What I Am, pop-cherry-eyed, I Am, He Said, the Tetragrammaton, the four letters representing the Name the Word the Word that Means Things.
We drove God mad.
And He is here. He has been here since we killed him in 1882 or so, trying to turn by brute force oh you brute oh I love my wife but oh you kid to this world, this Middle Way, into Paradise.
That's what the others want. The kings and witches and little gods. They want that power here, to become the big-G little-o (little-d) God.
Things are changing. And whether he wins or loses, we'll all suffer, all be sacrifice on the altar of Making It All Right Again or Making It Ours or Making Remaking Unmaking Everything. He doesn't care what he sacrifices. Hell, the House Special is ...
The House Special. Fat Mac always brings that up from the bottom pantry, where only he's allowed to go. Fat Mac has been here forever. Russell Mc Intyre. Mc Intyre's a Scottish name, you know, meaning Son of the Carpenter.
The Carpenter. Ah, which Carpenter, you might ask, carving which Wood Word World Tree?
The House Special ...
Keep the wings on and don’t bleed it.
Stubs of wings and blood dark and red ...
That's what He does to is first creations, his servents and messengers and most loyal and brightest of servants.
What will He do to us, who killed Him, who drove Him mad, to whom He will say, "Look what you made Me do! Why did you make Me do this to you?"
What ... will He do? And how can we stop Him? Do we can we may we must we? How, as those first Indians, robbed betrayed slain and now laughing in their Happy Hunting Grounds, How, as they would say.
The door to the cabin opened. She looked up. Her eyes widened.
She couldn't speak. At long last, she couldn't speak.
I'd like to have a Word, love. In fact, I'd like My Word back ...
"Cherise!" Leilani hissed at her as she stepped into the kitchen. She rarely got angry any more, but this anger was righteous. "Where the fuck have you been? Your sitting there hovering around a customer for most of your shift, then you just run outta here and vanish, and they made me fill in and I got a shitload of other stuff to do for Mr. Woczak and --"
Cherise shook her head. "I ... I went back to the cabin. I had to ... lie ... lie down. Lie down."
Leilani rolled her eyes. "Next time, do it when someone else besides me is there to fill in for you." She paused, then looked more closely. "Hey, Cherry -- you okay?"
Cherise shook her head. "Ever have something -- a word -- right on the tip of your tongue? And then -- it's gone?"
"Well, this is like that. Kinda. Damned if I know."
"Order up!" Fat Mac shouted, glaring at the chatting girls. "We got customers!"
"Yeah, yeah," Leilani said.
"Hey -- is that old guy still around? The one I was ... talking to?"
Leilani shrugged. "I don't think so. I think he's gone, with the gal he was talking to. Why, he telling you anything interesting?"
Cherise slowly shook her head. "No," she said at last. "Nothing worth remembering, anyway."
By Dave Hill
(Story citations, etc., to be filled in later. Just had to freakin' get this posted now ...)