The key hung from its cord on the bedpost, refusing to give up its secrets. The man looked at it often, wondering how it got into the woman's hand and why she couldn't remember how it got there.
The woman looked at it less often, trying to remember a dream that refused to emerge from the fog. The sum of what she could recall was the desperate underwater kiss and returning to the surface.
"You saved me..." was all she could utter that morning when the key appeared in her hand out of nowhere, ”I was drowning and you saved me,” she repeated, pressing her head into his chest, feeling the warmth of his body chase away the cold shudder that ran through her.
"Just a dream,” was his reply as he lifted the key out of her hand and hung it on the corner of the bed, before rolling her onto her stomach as he had intended. But even as he lifted it, he had a sensation that it belonged to him. Could it be something he'd misplaced and then forgotten about?
The man didn't let the thought linger, he was too intent on the curve of the woman's back and the way her buttocks rose in perfect symmetry. He felt his passion returning once more, and his manhood swelled in response. As he glided into her and felt her body move with him, only a very small part of the man's consciousness lingered on the key.
The mystery of the key grew daily, however. Eventually it bothered him so much that when he was alone he developed the habit of removing it from the bed-post and trying it in various locks throughout the house, hoping it would fit one and the mystery solved. But no matter how he tried, this key refused to fit. When he asked the woman where she got it, she simply replied she thought she had once worn it around her neck, but it was so long ago she couldn't be sure. She had no idea how it had wound up in her hand that morning.
For the woman, that was that. The key held no intrigue for her. It didn't feel like it was hers to keep, so she happily left it on the corner of the man's bed.
What neither realized, what neither could know, was that the key was working a strange brand of magic on the man. Every night the key turned inside him just a little, before turning back. It was loosening the lock on his heart. Inch by inch, night by night, it began the work of setting him free.
The first night they slept under the stars, the couple lay naked in each others arms, feeling the night air on their skin, the dew settling upon them. That night the woman told the man the story of the wind. It went something like this...
When she was young a teacher had visited her every night. The teacher would appear by the side of her bed and tell her it was time to go. The woman grew so used to this experience that it no longer frightened her, and the teacher had become a dear friend, and as real as the man lying next to her.
Her teacher was a shaman, a sorcerer from the deserts of Mexico. He came to her because he believed she was one of his apprentices. He had seen her in a dream and her aura was so unusual that he took it to be a sign that power was calling her to him. When one had an appointment with power, one had to pay attention, he had told her. So he had found a way to teach her that didn't require them to be in the same part of the world. In other words, he had found a way to enter her dreams and work with her dream body.
The woman said that at first, the sorcerer had taught her how to focus her attention in each moment and to let go of the past. She had struggled with the concept for a long time, but eventually she had been able to let go of the pettiness of her past life, with its grudges and resentments and little by little had called all of herself and her life force back into the present.
This had given her the gift of 'dreaming' of entering other dimensions and levels of consciousness and even other worlds while asleep. She had experienced many amazing things, and once her personal energy was strong enough she would be able to remember the detail of these experiences and integrate them into her conscious mind.
But this is another story, to be told at a later time.
What she told the man as they lay naked under the stars, he caressing her hair, her face, her hips and she lightly running her fingers over his stomach and thighs, was the story of how she came to find her direction.
One night, just before dawn, when the sorcerer visited the woman while she slept, he took her to a place sacred to the local tribal people, a place high on a mountain overlooking the sea. In this place were powerful stones; massive stones perched at impossible angles that were venerated by those who knew about power. There was one stone in particular that he drew her too. It was wide and flat and high, like an altar.
The sorcerer told her that he would leave her here, in this place of stone. That once he was gone she should undress and lie down naked on the flat stone on her back. When she protested that his request was ridiculous, he started to walk away into the bush. She called out to him, thinking he was teasing her, playing a trick, but he did not turn back. Just before he disappeared into the scrub he gave her one last instruction. "Wait for the wind. Power has made an appointment with you and the wind. Pay attention to the direction your wind comes from, let it enter you and own you from the inside out."
His voice resounded in her head, frightening her. At first the fear made her as still as the stones around her. Then the fear made her run. She ran after the sorcerer, diving headlong into the scrub at a speed that should have allowed her to catch him in seconds. But he was gone, and the bush showed no sign he had ever been there.
She turned in circles, looking for a sign, hoping to hear him laughing at her sitting on the branch of a tree, but his voice did not come. All she could hear was the buzzing of insects, the rustle of the wind in the leaves and the call of birds to each other.
Carefully, and with a determination born of terror, she retraced her steps to the sacred stones. Dutifully she removed her clothes and dropped them at the foot of the stone altar. The altar was high and she had to find footholds to climb upon it. Once she was on top, she sat, with her knees pulled up, looking out to sea as the sun rose into the pre-dawn light.
She remained this way for some time, knowing she must lay down on her back, but feeling unable to. Thoughts swirled around her, thoughts of embarrassment, anger, frustration and foolishness. What if someone found her here, lying naked on her back on this stone? What if the wind never came for her? What if the sorcerer never returned? How would she get home?
Eventually she grew tired and surrendered to the urge to lie down on the flat stone, which was gradually warming up under the sun's rays. The warmth and stillness of the morning added to her malaise, and she began to drift off into sleep.
When she awoke the sun was a quarter of the way through the sky, half way to its zenith. She had been asleep for hours, and as she realized this she sat bolt upright in panic. What if someone had seen her?
After a moment, she stilled her racing mind and took a deep breath. She knew the sorcerer well enough to understand there was no returning home until the day's task was done; she better just get on with it. So she lay back down.
This time, the stillness began to surrender to a breeze. The breeze was so light it felt like a lover's caress. As she focused on the feeling of the wind, she began to relax. She opened out her arms and legs, so that she looked like a starfish on the rock. And the wind began to rise.
It swirled around her, and at first she couldn't tell its direction. It teased her open mouth, her ears, her nose, tickling, stroking playfully. Then as she relaxed and gave herself up to the touch of the wind, it rose up between her legs and entered her.
The moment was so unexpected, and so powerful that her back arched as if she had a man thrusting between her thighs. The wind launched hard into her, again and again, opening her, reaching deep within her until her body shuddered and found release.
As the wind retreated from her, and began to caress her once more like a lover, she realized the wind was from the north. But the wind was not finished with her.
It entered her mouth, gliding down her throat like a ribbon of silk, filling her lungs with energy. It entered her nostrils and seemed to carry the scent of her sex on its wings. She almost laughed at the thought that the north wind was the flavour of her, and wondered if others would sense it on the wind that morning.
The wind entered her ears, whispering words of power too her. Speaking her secret name, over and over again, like a paramour about to take his leave. Then the wind licked at her, and she spread herself wide to accommodate its request. It was hard for the woman to describe what this felt like, as it was a combination of arousal, deep pleasure and a scouring.
When the wind entered her, it swept away everything that remained of her old, false self. It gouged her out, leaving her empty, satisfied and exhausted.
Later, when the wind left her, she felt as though she had spent a night and a day in lovemaking, like tigers do when they mate.
She shook her head at the thought that the north wind had just seduced her and made her his. Knowing her task was done; she climbed down from the stone, dressed and waited for the sorcerer's return.
"Is this a true story?" the man asked.
"As true as the story we are both living." she replied.
He kissed her mouth hard; it was all he could do to hold himself back while she had told the story. He was a little jealous of the wind, and very aroused. His kisses covered her body as she lay naked in the starlight. He sucked at her nipples, bit her belly and gently pressed his fingers into the wet spot between her legs. She was aroused too, and her wetness invited him in. His kisses continued down her body to the mound of her sex, and he licked her swollen lips, drank her juices. He wanted her, and she wanted him. That was the truth of it. Little by little he felt her magic releasing him.
He buried his face deep into her, licked at her, spreading her wider. His manhood throbbing, she drew him into her mouth, and the north wind rose around them
Weeks had gone by and the man and woman had settled into a rhythm of days and nights together. Their play extended beyond the bedroom, and into every aspect of their lives. Their laughter could often be heard at a distance as they dissolved into fits over the most ridiculous of things; usually the woman's clumsiness at the most inopportune time, or despite her intelligence, her unique and completely clueless moments.
They knew the time was approaching when the man would have to go back to sea - it was what he did - live half his life offshore. It was something anticipated because it marked the final stages of his recovery, the healing of his bones, muscles and nerves after the accident that had drawn them together.
And want to go he did, except for the part about leaving the woman, and leaving the new life that was emerging out of him.
But it was what he did, and this leaving would be an important step, a rite of passage back into the world, out of the safe, protective cocoon of his life onshore. He was still a young man, not yet half-way through his life, he figured, and he needed to do this, to prove that this part of his life was not over.
For the woman, his leaving was important too, she needed him to regain that part of himself that he loved best before her arrival. She wanted to believe that the two could co-exist, and that a new rhythm could be found.
She also needed to discover what her rhythm and routine would be when he was gone, to see how she would exist. The changes in her needed to be real, to be there even if he wasn't. So his leaving both frightened and saddened, while at the same time exciting her. How would it be for each of them, she wondered, upon his return?
On their last night together, after a deep hot bath, a curious thing happened. The woman joined the man as he cooled down in the shower. The steam rose off both their bodies and the sound of the water falling from the over-sized shower-head was amplified by them. As the woman closed her eyes and rested her head on his chest, the sound increased, filling her ears, her world. The water drenched them and cooled them, but as the woman relaxed into his embrace her closed eyes were filled with light.
The light coming off their bodies was visible to her now, eyes shut. There were rivers of it, ribbons of it, coursing through the two of them. The light was pale silvery-blue and it was everywhere, fleshing out their form with its brightness. The beauty of it caught her breath, and flooded the woman with a bliss she had not known existed. The light that they were, glowed from within, but when she opened her eyes it was gone.
Only when her eyes were shut, and her visual senses narrowed, could she see the light, and then she realised she was seeing not with her eyes, but impossibly with her ears. It was the sound of the water hitting their bodies and bouncing that created the extraordinary illusion of light. And it overtook all her senses.
Her teacher had told her this was possible, and once, years ago, she had experienced something akin when she 'stopped the world' and had seen what sorcerers call the luminous body. She had seen from outside her energy body. The golden cocoon of light she had experienced then was as vivid to her memory as it had been that first moment. It changed her, showed her how much she had shut out, how much was filtered. And she had seen the predator at his work.
On this night, however, what she saw went beyond her expectation. She felt she was glimpsing their true natures, beyond the veil of any aura, beyond the confines of a corporeal existence - seeing their eternal selves.
She was quiet for some time, and even after the shower stopped, and she lay dripping next to the man, she held onto the feeling of the vision as she recalled it with her eyes closed.
She wanted to explain to the man what she had seen, but she could not speak of it yet. She promised him that one day soon she would share with him what she had experienced, but not yet. To speak of it then would diminish it, would lessen its power. And one thing she knew, the power in it was important.
On that last night the man felt himself begin the process of drawing away, withdrawing himself from his life onshore, preparing himself for the separation and the inevitable pain.
On that last night, the woman spoke the forbidden words of love, asking not for a kindred response, just for the space to speak them, to own what she felt out loud with no expectation of his reciprocation. That last night, he told her all the reasons he could not say those words - reasons she already knew; reasons which meant naught to her; reasons which were not reasons at all.
All that mattered to her was that her heart was free to sing its song. She could hear his whispering in harmony. The fact that his heart was not yet free to sing out loud was just a minor detail, a detail the key on the bed-post testified to.
As it turned out, their last night, was not a last night at all, and the man and woman were granted a reprieve.
On this the second of their 'last' nights, the man did not protect himself, he did not retreat. Instead he stayed present and bathed in the beauty of what they had created, what they were becoming.
On their last morning, as she saw him safely off on his journey, she was no longer afraid of the separation. She had become a woman in her own right; she was whole, as was her heart. She had asked the universe to grant her a great love, and the great white bird had sent her this man.
On their last morning, the man was at peace, he had allowed her love in. Some key was turning inside; opening a part of him he had shut away before he was even a man.
As they kissed their last kiss that day, he breathed her in, hoping to hold the scent of her inside his lungs. As he pressed her close, and kissed her warm lips, the woman thought she could feel something hard beneath his shirt. It was only later, after he was gone that she saw the imprint of the key he wore around his neck against her skin.
"Travel safe with him across the sea" she whispered to the north wind, as his plane took flight. "And bring my love, this man, once more back to me...'
The night after the man had gone back to the sea, the woman's heart started to miss a beat. It seemed to her that it had taken up a new kind of rhythm; one that went - beat, pause, beat, beat... beat, pause, beat, and beat.
Her rebelling heart could keep this up for hours, like a large butterfly was beating inside her chest and stopping her from catching her breath. The woman fought the urge to panic, to jump to the conclusion that something was wrong and go to a hospital, because deep down she suspected that she was being changed and the beating of her heart was somehow part of this.
As she drifted off to sleep on the second night he was gone, the woman remembered a conversation she had with her teacher many years ago when she had asked him whether humans were alone in the universe.
Her teacher frowned at her and said emphatically that this world is not the only one in the universe inhabited by sentient beings, and that we are arrogant to think of ourselves as unique. He told her that his teachers had shown him many worlds, just as he was showing her.
And these worlds were real, and not illusions conjured for her entertainment.
His words frightened her and made her stomach feel extremely uncomfortable. Up until then she had believed these experiences were exactly that - illusions created to help her grasp important lessons.
The thought that the places and beings she had experienced were real made her suddenly want to vomit. Her head spun, and she had to sit on the floor to get over the feeling of nausea that accompanied this realization.
When she had recovered her composure, the woman's teacher told her that some of these worlds were in different dimensions, not just different solar systems, and that the earth we live on has a twin - a twin planet that moves through time at a different rate than we do on a parallel plane. He showed her this place could be accessed through doorways within our own personal energy field. He explained how events in parallel worlds provide the traveller with a glimpse into other probability lines; probabilities we have the ability to choose or not choose. This had the woman intrigued.
What the sorcerer also taught her was that at every moment our actions create or destroy future possibilities. And, that there are particular moments, or intersections, where we are able to change our course and jump to a different probability. In this way we not only change the future, we alter the past.
This kind of talk again made her nauseous, which the sorcerer explained was normal.
“Our minds,” he said, “filter out everything that doesn't fit the pattern we are taught to expect in the world, and will make us feel sick or faint in order to avoid facing an anomaly - something that doesn't fit the predictable pattern.”
She could almost hear his voice, and the electricity she had felt coursing through her during that conversation.
Sometimes the woman would wake up during the early hours drenched – sweat running in beads off her body - like she had the night she woke up with the key. But on these occasions her body was also on fire, as if she was alight from the inside. She would awake with an enormous feeling of power coursing through her and around her as if the frequency and vibration of the atoms that made up her body was being changed. And it almost felt like she glowed.
It was hard to be objective about this, but each experience seemed to coincide with a subsequent physical change that others could see, and followed realizations about the meaning of recent experiences.
It was as if she was moving, bodily onto another line of probability, or perhaps back to the one she was meant to be on. Just as her teacher had suggested was possible.
The train crash her life had become over the preceding two years had ended the trajectory of the life she had chosen many years earlier.
Now it seemed a new probability was unfolding.
So the woman wondered if her changing heart beat was just the latest in a string of symptoms that revealed this transformation, and that she was sliding from one probable life to another.
After two days of the butterfly anomaly, her heart settled into a new rhythm, one that didn't take her breath away, and a new calm settled over the woman.
The night after the woman saw him off and he returned to sea, the man's heart started to hurt. Not a physiological hurt, but a hurt of another kind; a hurt he had avoided for many years.
It hurt as he fell asleep and drifted into dream. It hurt like an ache, a hunger, and there was something almost pleasurable in the pain. It hurt like a dragon awaking from its winter slumber, eager to hunt and satisfy its overwhelming hunger.
As he slept, with his aching, hungry heart, he dreamed he was in a sinking ship, a freighter tossed by huge seas, and buffeted by gale-force winds. He dreamed he was studying maps trying to find a safe course into a harbor, to pilot the huge ship out of rough seas and into protected waters, when she started to groan.
It happened so fast they barely got a mayday call out before she was swamped. Her body twisted and tore on the back of a massive wave which slammed her down, not once but twice. As he realised they were lost, that her cargo was loose, and she was taking water, as he realised they were beneath the waves and no longer on top, his heart raced, and the pain inside it felt like the dragon was about to burst through his chest.
He went into survival mode and tried to get out of the bridge, but the door was locked. He turned to the other members of crew for help, but they were gone. He was alone inside the bridge that was rapidly filling with water. He reached for the key that hung from his neck, but it was gone. He filled his lungs with air and dove under the water line, searching the draws for the key to the bridge door. Every key he found was wrong. Every key he found could not provide the release he needed. And so he prepared himself to die.
Water had reached the roof of the bridge and he had taken his last lung-full of air, when an impossible thing happened. A woman appeared at the window of the bridge - a woman who did not belong to the ship. He watched her as she ripped a cord from her throat and put a key into the lock of the bridge door. He tried to swim to her, but his lungs were out of air and the room started to dim around him. He felt her mouth on his, forcing in the air, snapping him back to consciousness.
His eyes snapped open just as hers closed. Giving her back just enough air to keep her alive, he grasped her in one arm and he swam, with every ounce of strength in him, out of the bridge and up to the light. He swam not for himself any longer, but for her. He swam because in that moment he remembered who she was, and why she was there.
He swam because in her hand she held his key, the key he had put there long ago. He broke through to the surface as the once sleeping dragon came out of its cave, out of the deep into the light and opened his heart.