Signs & Portents
Chapter 18 Part 2
The Door of Darkness
Smothering merriment, he or she commented archly, "Well, sir, the location of that ghost town seems to be one of the larger mysteries."
Robert suddenly realized he must not lose sight of the way he had come in, and their path had taken another unexpected turn. Nervous, he stopped abruptly and gazed at yet another compartment in the labyrinth.
"All times meet here and messages from the past arrive all the time. Ahh, ahh," the small gnome chuckled, "no pun intended, sir. Perhaps you should check for messengers yourself before leaving."
Robert peered nervously through an arched doorway into a large hall where couches all around the wall were lit by softly glowing oil lamps in tiny alcoves. The small gnome led the way inside. Robert looked down at the stone underfoot. The whole room seemed to be a cavern carved out of solid rock. All the same, it was a restful room, but its structure was a reminder that by entering through the locker built into the Westwind, he could never have arrived at a place like this.
"I'll leave you here, sir, and I'll come back in about half one," the small figure now examined an incredible looking chrono-instrument on his or her wrist which had been concealed previously by the voluminous sleeve of the robe, "by that time you will know if a message is to come to you. I get an indication, in fact, of an approach."
He departed in his usual quick scurry, leaving Robert trying to sort out what he had learned. Time travel? Half one? He surely didn't know the time or what sort of eerie time scale was in use here. In such a strange situation, he decided it was the better part of wisdom to do what was apparently expected of him. He moved to one of the couches and sat down, rather than trying to investigate this place, and waited.
He had been sitting for only a few minutes when he heard footsteps behind him. Turning around Robert was shocked to see the serene face of a middle aged man, naked to the waist like a Buddha, wearing a long skirt of some undecipherable material. The man walked past Robert and sat down cross-legged a few feet in front of him. For a long time he did not say anything, but Robert felt oddly relaxed and happy in his presence.
"Greetings and peace be upon you," the man remarked, finally. "I am Gudea of the dark haired people, from the city of Lagash, you would know me as a Sumerian. It would seem that the urgency of the times has brought us together today. Your world is collapsing now because men have lost contact with the Source of all Creation. The earth is spinning in darkness and no longer serves the Cosmic Harmony. In Lagash, we too had forgotten our link with the Source. One night, a strange dream came to me in which one of the gods told me that Lagash was in complete disorder, its fields were barren, its rivers were dry and the people were in great distress. I was told by the god to rebuild the ancient temple of Lagash.
"I awoke from my dream, which may I say, I did not understand at all at the time. Many times I sought guidance in prayer. Lagash already had many temples, and there were many who would have been upset if I, prince of the city, undertook such a vast building project at such a lean time. The secret, in this case was the brick of destiny. Once the brick had been constructed according to the ancient formulae, which I oversaw each phase of, and finally laid with my own hands—the King's brick, in the King's month—all our people cooperated in the effort of gathering building materials from many lands."
At this point the figure paused and smiled widely.
ŇWell, of course, that was how I came to be known as the Good Shepherd of the people of Lagash. Because the heavens themselves moved over Lagash as I laid the Brick of Destiny. I still recall the wonder of it, even our enemies were eager to help. Boats and caravans were coming night and day—from the mountains bringing marble and limestone blocks; gold dust from Nubia, and the sweet smelling woods from Dilmun. When the temple was completed, the whole land was illuminated.
From that time, abundance flowed into Sumer and the people of city of Lagash found again what they had had in ancient times."
The benign expression on the face of Gudea of Sumer changed and looked vaguely troubled.
"Today your world is in far greater peril. The gods will not allow the earth to endanger the Cosmic Harmony." Prince Gudea paused, waiting now for a response from Robert.
Robert found himself nearly speechless. "You, ah," he struggled to find words, "this is some sort of time travel? You are from ancient Sumer?"
"I am from many places, actually," answered Gudea in a easy conversational tone. "You might say that I was once from ancient Sumer."
"Oh, I see," said Robert, who did not see at all, "would you mind telling me, please, exactly what you are, and where we are? And why you've come to me?"
Gudea chuckled. "Well, that is a tall order. I am not sure exactly what I am. What are you? Does any man know the final answer to that? I am a prince of the black haired people, I am called Gudea, you are called Robert and you are a scribe of the English people, are you not? But is that the whole sum of what we are?"
Robert smiled a little bleakly. "I'm just trying to get my bearings, I wasn't trying to ask unanswerable questions. This, ah, time travel business is quite new to me, I think it was theoretically possible in my time, but no one had done it."
"I understand," said Gudea, "it was likewise unknown in Lagash."
A silence ensued and the two contemplated each other.
"Well, I take it that you are as confused by this place we are in as I am, then?" Robert queried.
"No," retorted Gudea, who now seemed to be settling into the spirit of debate, "I am not confused by this place. I have been here many times."
This silenced Robert completely.
Gudea took up the conversation, "I suppose it is not true to say I am only Gudea, I am also other things, many other things. But this information will not help you or the world, Robert. I could tell you the ancient and sacred secret of constructing the Brick of Destiny, but I do not think that will help the world at this time either."
"I had rather hoped," Robert said, "that there was some answer in the Avesta, if it would help, of course..."
"Oh, yes, I know," intruded Gudea, "but you see, it was destroyed, there is no record of it in all of this library. And later on, when they might have recorded it safely, the followers of the last remnants of the ancient religion had come to believe that the words were too sacred to be written."
"Well," said Robert, "you are the messenger who came here. Do you have the answer?"
"No," admitted Gudea, "although we of the brotherhood are one with you in spirit, I think that you can only find the answer in those scattered remnants of the brotherhood already known to you."
"You mean the brotherhood of Subud?" asked Robert. "The revelation that came out of Java with Pak Subuh?"
"Perhaps," said Gudea, "it is a beginning for men of your generation to attain harmony with the Source of Creation. In Lagash, I must admit, the task was somewhat easier. People were less affected by Ahriman, the darkness had a weaker hold. But over the generations, the darkness has gained much territory. Ah, but there have been many wonderful things as well. We must hope, Robert, that the price has not been too high?"
"What wonderful things, do you speak of?"
"Well, for example, the very means by which we two are met here!"
"Um, yes," agreed Robert, "I've been puzzling about those means, what exactly are those means, could you explain?"
"I doubt that I can explain fully, but here am I, the Good Shepherd of Lagash, yet more than years have passed since I occupied the sort of body that you occupy."
Robert rose slowly at this revelation and walked toward the Good Shepherd of Lagash. He reached forward to clasp the hand that Gudea extended toward him. His hand passed through Gudea's hand and he leapt back in alarm.
"Oh," laughed Gudea, not at all nonplused, "Sorry about that."
"You're a projection!" accused Robert, "a hologram of some sort."
This sent Gudea into peals of laughter. This laughter was disconcerting, in fact, it frightened Robert and he turned away.
"A moment, a moment," said Gudea, "it would be a pity if we fail in our understanding of each other at this time. I am sorry that I startled you."
Robert really wanted no more of it, it was high time that he found his way out of what he had blundered into here, but he reluctantly had to agree that it would be a pity.
"What are you?" he demanded, determined to get to the bottom of it. "I do not think you are an ancient Sumerian prince. Whatever you are, you are not flesh and blood, obviously."
"I did tell you at the beginning that I am also many other things, a projection, if you like that term, that is what you see of me. But I am also an entity of this record storage facility and as alive and real as you believe yourself to be."
Robert struck his forehead in consternation.
"You're a computer," he declared.
"Well, not exactly," Gudea protested, "I have no microchips or circuits in my being. And also, I am Gudea of Lagash."
"Is this the future?" demanded Robert.
"No," Gudea said calmly, "it is only a place where meetings can take place. Rather a rare sort of spot in the universe. You see our times no longer coincide, I can no longer mediate for the people of your world. You, yourself are now mediator as I once was. I came only with a message."
"Well," Robert concluded, "If you're not a ghost, I think I know what you would be called. You're an artificial intelligence, aren't you?"
"Perhaps that would suffice," admitted Gudea, "the reality is a bit more complex, but much of my
motor being does draw its energy from this record storage facility even as yours draws its from the animal machine that is not really your own true being."
Robert had the feeling that he had somehow offended the presence by probing too deeply into the nature of it. "Well, I understand that you came with a message? Could you tell what the message is?"
"My message is that your best interests may lie in going with Karshipta at the right time and place."
At that moment, the small librarian cleared his throat behind Robert. "Excuse me, sir, but we were hoping to close now."
Robert noticed that the librarian seemed to ignore the presence of Gudea and he moved forward to cope with the intrusion, but staring into the face of the gnome, he was at a loss for words. Robert was looking at a librarian who was saying it was closing time now. It was a familiar scene for Robert, part of his memory and his reality, he had been through it many times before. He would have loved to have talked with Gudea more, but he found himself following the gnome toward the exit, his thoughts in a whirl. He would come back tomorrow. It was only after he exited that it came to him that there was probably no tomorrow for this fantastic library.
He sank down on the cool metal floor of the Westwind's rear storage hold, dizzy, confused and for some strange reason, quite exhausted. He stood up and sank down to rest on the sofa that passed for a bed and closed his eyes. Recovering after some minutes of rest, he heard an inquisitive meow, and Catwood leapt up beside him. He found the cat quite reassuring. Strange, he thought the cat had studiously avoided the RV but here he was. It had to have all been a dream, he told himself, turning to gaze out into the Berkeley evening. All the constellations were familiar ones, a half moon hung over the bay, nothing in the world had changed. Catwood accompanied him back toward the apartment.
While Robert was engaged in conversation with Gudea, Carl and Miri crossed the High Street Bridge and entered Alameda in the small Datsun. Their entry was marked by a loud ringing noise of some object striking the Datsun. Miri could not suppress a small cry and Carl cursed under his breath. In the dusk, he caught sight of a group of ragged teenage boys who laughed and sneered in the direction of the Datsun. Obviously, Alameda's vacant and decadent ambience had not escaped the problem of violently inclined roving youth gangs which troubled most urban cities. He speeded up to get away from the vicinity. Miri looked around them in dismay.
"Isn't that the corner you turned last time?" she inquired.
"Yeah," Carl conceded, "but I'll go along this avenue and drop down later."
Abandoned houses with overgrown yards sped by and Carl turned finally to recover from the small detour.
"There's the house," Miri announced, "I remember it by those trees."
Carl agreed and the faded number could be seen in the twilight. He took a cautious look around, remembering the youth gangs, but the entire block seemed quite deserted. So did the house from the curbside, but he walked up the overgrown walk and knocked loudly on the door, calling "Buzz?" There was no response from Buzz. Carl decided to knock louder and was dismayed when the old wood of the door splintered and gave way under his fist. He called out his name and a loud apology about the door, through the dark panel in front of him.
He jumped back with a start when the door suddenly swung partly open, revealing only darkness inside. Testing the door, he discovered that his pounding had also broken the lock. Giving up on getting a response, he returned to the car. He and Miri conferred about the address, Miri producing a copy of it. It was a hard number to forget or be confused about, 1234 20th St. He walked to the corner to examine the remaining street sign. It was correct, the house must be the same one, he also recalled this single street sign from his last visit. Taking a flashlight from the trunk of the Datsun he again approached the house. A look inside satisfied him that the house was abandoned, the dusty and broken boards of the floor seemed to make that a certainty.
Returning to the Datsun, he and Miri circled the block which had very few houses left standing on it.
"I'll have to call him again," Carl remarked, and looked around. Where in Alameda could there be a place to phone from? Eventually, he and Miri found a shopping mall and he placed the call. Somehow, he'd suspected that the number would now be disconnected. He was not wrong.
He and Miri drove around Alameda for nearly an hour in the dark, passing the deserted house several times, before giving up and returning to the apartment in Berkeley.
"Where's Robert?" wondered Carl out loud.
"He's most probably still down in the Westwind."
At that moment, Robert accompanied by Catwood entered the apartment.
"We've had a strange experience, Robert. Let me tell you about it," said Carl.
Robert had to smile, and said "Tell me about it."
Carl left the room and brought out the papers for the Westwind, wanting to check Buzz's address on them, still unable to believe they had made a mistake about the address. They had not, according to the official address on the title of the Westwind. It had been good of Buzz to sign the Westwind directly over to them, inasmuch as he was leaving so abruptly. Carl stared at Buzz's signature, looking for a clue.
It was signed, B.J. (Buzz) Thomas.
"It's odd, the man we bought Westwind from was also called 'Thomas'" said Miri, "Thomas is a very common name, but then to disappear—and all we could find was an old derelict house that looked like it hadn't been lived in for years."
"It was a strange business, all right," said Carl. "Apparently Buzz took off and left us no forwarding address."
Miri studied the pink slip carefully and then passed it silently across to Robert. The signature was B.J. (Buzz) Thomas. The living room was charged with tension.
"We never really looked at his name carefully, we just thought of him as Buzz,"said Miri nervously. "Thomas is a very common name, and it would be straining coincidence to believe that there's any connection—?"
"Well, it gets curiouser and curiouser," Carl smiled. "When I tapped at the door where Buzz was supposed to live, it broke through. And the floor wasn't that solid, and there was a coating of dust ankle deep. I went round the back and it did look like the same yard we took the Westwind from. It was dark and I wouldn't swear to it, but it did look like the same yard."
Robert found that he was strangely relieved at hearing of their strange adventure. He felt confident that all three of them had independently been touched by the mystery of the Cup of Ahura Mazda. It was not just his personal search, it was also Carl's and Miri's. It was getting late, but perhaps he should warn them, yet again, that the climate for those who searched for the Cup was not always wholesome or pleasant. When Robert had first arrived he had found in an old old San Francisco newspaper a story about a man called Thomas who had purchased an Old West ghost town with the intention of founding a colony for those involved in "spiritualism." However, because the story focused scathingly on the sins and iniquities of the very rich, the reporter (long ago deceased) who had actually met and interviewed B.J. Thomas, had missed the opportunity to become useful to the researcher of the future.
And except for that one small newspaper story, not a single trace of Thomas's activities in the Bay Area appeared to have survived the passage of time. Robert had supposed old B.J. trail ended there, but now with the "virtual reality business" he had just experienced, he would not be at all surprised if it was B.J. Thomas who had sold them Karshipta. He was still reeling from his own experience and wanted to think things over before deciding to tell Carl and Miri his own brush with strangeness. They all had had enough for one night.
Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who,