Later that night . . .
First thing I did was race home. Or, more accurately, to my hospital financed apartment. I laid the book carefully down on a wooden chair near my bed and I got on the phone. I had to dial the number several times because I kept glancing back at the book, waiting for something to happen.
“Yeah,” Ricky answered, seeming as if he was engaged in something.
“Hey, it’s Jack, I’ve got the title of the book.”
That seemed to get his attention. In the background I heard him say, “. . . I’m out, dudes, I got some important shit to do . . .” and then his voice got louder, “Okay, Jack. What is it? No . . . wait. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
That Ricky’s a strange one alright. It wasn’t a full 10 minutes and he was walking through the door, “So what happened? You fall and hit your head or something?”
I was in the kitchen, eating a stack of Oreo cookies. I had designs on a glass of cold milk, but Ricky seemed impatient. Cookie bits in my mouth, my fingers a dark brown, almost black, I walked over to the chair and joined my young friend.
“It was the weirdest thing,” I told him. “I was sitting there, at the mall.”
He turned, “Galleria, or Valley View?”
“Valley View,” I answered.
He nodded his head a few times.
“. . . anyway, I was just sitting there and the book was in front of me. And I had food all over the place and I thought I spilled some mustard on the cover.”
“Shit dude! You need to be more careful—”
“No,” I explained, “I didn’t spill anything on it. I thought I did. And there was a symbol on the cover, the one Rupert had been looking at under the magnifying glass. And I just felt it.”
“Felt it like . . . how?” Ricky said, kneeling down so that he could study the dark-skinned cover of the book. “Like music? Like emotionally? Like fake tits?”
I told him that I felt it like a beating in my chest. As if loud drums were being played in my body.
“Oun-togi!” he said as he leered at the book.
“Oun-togi, the spiritual drummers. Remember?”
I tried to convey to him that I didn’t think there were invisible drummers stalking around in my body, sounding out the names of religious books, but he wasn’t trying to hear it. I think Ricky had more faith in all of this Voodoo stuff than I did.
My money was still on brain tumor.
“So, then . . .” Ricky said as he reached out his hand and gently played his fingers across the cover of the book, “. . . what’s it called?”
“The Book of Sighs.”
He cocked his head to the side, considering something. “That’s got to be something we can find on the Internet.”
I crossed my arms, unsure how much the Internet was going to help. “That’s just for pornography isn’t it?”
Ricky turned to me as if I’d just called his mother a filthy prostitute. “Jack, if you’re ever going to survive in this new world, then you’re going to have to start shedding that fear of computers.”
He stood, pulling out his phone, “While the Internet may, factually, be a good place to find all kinds of porn; that is not the only thing there is to be had. Our entire human history is accessible through the World Wide Web. It is the one thing that breaks down all barriers, passes every border, and cannot be stopped. No man, no group, no government can control it. It is a living thing, now.
“The Internet,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, “is the thing that humans will look back on, generations from now, and say, ‘that right there was when it all changed.’ It is man’s greatest contribution to a global awareness.”
“And it’s a good place for porn,” I added.
A dirty little smile briefly crossed his face, “. . . and it’s a good place for porn.”
12 minutes later . . .
Did you know that you can find a coffee shop with wireless Internet access every two-minutes if you drive in any direction in Dallas? That is one of the many fun facts that Ricky enlightened me to as we were skidding around in his SUV. He drove through traffic the way I imagine he would if the vehicle was stolen.
When I asked him why we were in such a hurry, he looked at me like I was an idiot and replied, “You know how much of our lives is wasted away in traffic?”
I pulled on the shoulder strap of my seatbelt, just to make sure I would be safely inside the vehicle when it rolled. I figure it’s only a matter of time.
When we skidded to a stop at the Starbucks, Ricky grabbed a small leather case, a bit thinner and wider than the quasi-mystical book I was holding. We sauntered across the parking lot and made our way inside. It was pretty busy for the early evening. We found a table in the left corner, near the condiments, and sat down.
He unzipped the bag and pulled out a thin laptop computer. It was sleek and silver, and looked like it belonged on an alien spaceship. Thin grey men with big black eyes and anal probes were probably turning their saucer upside down looking for that thing.
We were going to Google the name of the book. That, he explained anxiously, would get us close. If that didn’t work, we’d Ask Jeeves, do some Yahoo!, and then Lycos the title. I’ve never felt so illiterate in all my days. This was a new language I was just going to have to figure out.
Once he got his computer purring, he headed over to the counter and got us a couple of double mochas. “These are the coffee equivalent of crack rock.”
He entered the words:
The Book of Sighs
And as quick as he clicked on the ′find′ button, there were several hundred results. He read off the first few as our eyes scanned the top 12 search results. None of them mentioned the ′Book of Sighs’.
“Sighs, Bridge of . . .”
“The Doges’ Palace (from Venice) . . .”
“Minor poets of the later period (from English literature) . . .”
First one, we decided. And seconds later we were looking at this,
Sighs, Bridge of
Italian Ponte Dei Sospiri, Bridge in Venice, Italy spanning the narrow canal of the Rio di Palazzo, between the Doge’s Palace and the prisons.
It was built about 1600 by the architect Antonio Contino. The enclosed passageway was so called from the “sighs” of the prisoners who were lead across the bridge. They were to endure unspeakable acts of torture, violence, and molestation.
We both read the text to ourselves, wondering how it might apply.
“I guess it could be Italian,” Ricky pondered under his breath. “What do you think?”
“I’m still an infant, what the hell do I know about old books?”
Ricky took a sip of his liquid crack, “. . . kind of scary, huh? Torture, violence, and molestation. So basically, when you marched across that bridge . . . that was it. You were done for. That would suck, big-time!”
“And I’m guessing people didn’t ever make it out of old Italian prisons,” I said, taking a glance around the coffee shop. There were a few older couples, but mostly the crowd was young and fresh. People with their whole life in front of them.
These kids, they all learned more by the time they were in the third-grade than I probably got in all of my schooling—well, if I went to school, anyway. This generation, they have access to so much information, and I wonder if they have any idea what to do with it.
“This is something Rupert would know more about,” he said, sitting back in his chair, eying the book in my lap. “Let’s look at the next one.”
The Doges’ Palace. This should be interesting.
The Doges’ Palace
The core of political life in Venice was the Doges’ Palace (Palazzo Ducale), whose crenellated mass appears to float upon the waters of the lagoon.
Erected over many years after the burning of the original 9th century structure in 976, most of the present building dates from the 14th to the 16th century. It was not only the residence of the elected doge, but also the meeting place of the republic’s governing councils and ministries.
On the east side of the palace runs a narrow canal spanned by the Bridge of Sighs, which led to the state prisons and is immortalized in Lord Byron’s Childe Harold.
“What do you think?” I asked, having read the modest text.
“Not sure if this is the right angle. Maybe we’re off on a tangent.” He took a frustrated breath and then sipped at his mocha.
He set his brown cardboard cup down carefully and turned towards me, “All you got so far is the title of the book?”
He folded his hands behind his head. “So, what now? Do we just wait until the drummer starts pounding away at your chest?”
I looked down at the book, my eyes blankly staring at the cover the same way I had at those stupid inkblots. Numbly, I said, “I saw another one, yesterday.”
“Another one of the shadowy things.”
“Spooks. Yeah, right after I left Dr. Smith’s office.”
“Were you on any medication?”
“No!” I replied. “I’m not some junkie. I have major head trauma. Long-term amnesia. I’m not some addict pill-popper.”
“Calm down, buddy,” Ricky said with a smile, “. . . I’m just trying to rule things out.”
“Fair enough,” I said. I took a few breaths, trying to remember every sordid detail of my sightings. “At first I only saw them when I was falling asleep, or just waking up.”
“Between dogs and wolves,” Ricky said.
He explained to me that the dusk and dawn times—when the light was blue and surreal, and your thoughts were ethereal and floating—that was what the French called, the time between dogs and wolves.
“Okay then,” I said. “At first it was only then. But then there was what I saw a couple nights ago, in the morgue . . .” I realized that I was speaking a little louder than I should have been because when I said the word, morgue, at least three tables of people looked over at us.
Ricky looked around the room with a thousand-dollar smile, holding his fingers as if he had an imaginary pencil in them, “. . . we’re writers.” And all the nosy patrons were instantly relaxed and put at ease as if he’d said the magic code word or something. A fickle bunch, these youths.
I continued, my voice several notches lower, “. . . so then we were at the morgue and I saw them, again. And that night, I was really tired. And no medication, either.”
“Okay, so it’s when you’re tired. Sleepy,” he noted.
“That’s what I was originally thinking. Because that makes sense for hallucinations to happen when you’re really tired and having problems staying focused.”
I nodded. “But then I saw one on my way out of Dr. Smith’s office, right when I left the reception area. Something flew past me at about a hundred-miles-an-hour. Fwoom!” I said using my hand to illustrate.
“Well,” Ricky surmised, “. . . I guess that makes sense. You were in that office, talking to that shrink and his pudgy twin. You were focused, but then you got worn-out by the Rorschach test. So when you left the office you were emotionally drained. Same as the other night in the morgue. Same as when you fall asleep and awaken.”
He nodded, took another sip, and scratched his chin, “You were between dogs and wolves every time.”
He wasn’t understanding why I was worried. “Look, what happens when I start seeing them when I’m just a little tired? And then, I see the spooks when I’m just relaxed. And eventually, if I go up a flight of stairs too fast, I’m seeing these creepy little bastards in every corner.”
He had an ‘Ooh’ face. “I see, now. You’re worried that you’ll start seeing them all the time, and won’t be able to chalk it up to hallucinations.”
“Either that, or I will be hallucinating all the time,” I complained. “If I’m going insane, it’s happening much quicker than I am able to deal with. Hell, in a couple of weeks, the time between dogs and wolves might be infinite. I don’t know if I can deal with seeing these things all the time. I might be losing my shit, here.”
“Don’t get all carried away,” Ricky said reassuringly.
I looked at him uncomprehendingly.
“I mean, for all we know, all of those spooks might actually be running around. You might not be going crazy at all.”
“Anyway,” he said tipping his cup towards me, “. . . this stuff should keep the spooks at bay for a little while. Like jet-fuel for your brain.”
Now I understand why people get hooked on drugs.