Jack’s apartment, Deadside.
Wednesday evening, dusk . . .
I hit the floor wanting to cough up the water I just drowned myself with. The fact that I’m getting somewhat comfortable with drowning myself, is a bit unsettling. I may need to discuss that with Dr. Monica. But, whatever.
I look at my melted, twisted grey apartment, the sky outside the familiar color of dogs and wolves and sharks and horrible birds. And I’m searching for signs of Kristen and Rupert.
“Welcome back, John,” her soft voice says to me. I want to smile, jump up and down, and race over to her. But that might not be appropriate, given the situation we’re in.
She’s sitting on my stretched wooden chair, the one the Book of Sighs was resting on that night when the spooks were staring at it. Her legs are together, her hands sitting over her knees, as if she’s in school, waiting for the teacher to arrive. She looks calm and serene, much more relaxed than I’ve ever seen her.
I feel a bit awkward as I approach her, sitting on the edge of my bed. Just behind me, my body is lying dormant, mostly obscured by blankets. I glance back at my slowly cooling human form and then to her. And I remember how beautiful she was in the dream that she gave me, and how sad she was the last time I saw her. That moment when we kissed so briefly that it might not have even happened at all.
I take a deep breath and sigh, “I’m ready to help.”
She doesn’t smile or jump for joy or celebrate, other than to nod a couple of times. “It pleases me to hear that, John.”
“So,” I say, “where do we go from here? Do I need to slay a dragon, or solve some deeply philosophical mystery? I mean, how do we proceed?”
She leans toward me, lowering her voice—as if the words she’s about to speak are so fragile that they might disintegrate in the small space between us. “John, have you ever heard of the word, Dimashka?”
“. . . It is a word of pre-semitic etymology.”
I have no idea what that means, other than the fact that my otherworldly girlfriend is way smarter than I am. In the future I can see her wearing one of those shirts that says ‘I’m with stupid’ and it has an arrow pointing to me.
She continues, “It suggests that the beginnings of a place, called Damascus, go back to a time before recorded history. And it is to this city of Damascus . . . that you must go.”
“Whoa, wait a minute. I don’t know anything about Damascus. Where is that even located? Russia? I don’t speak Spanish.”
She smiled, “Damascus is the capital city of Syria. It is located in the southwestern part of the country. It has been called the ′Pearl of the East’. It is the oldest continually inhabited city on Earth.”
“The Middle East? I’ve read articles about that place. They don’t care much for people like me down there. They wear bombs and stuff. Fourteen-year-olds have full beards and machine guns. They eat camels!”
Ignoring my bigoted statements she continued, “In the old city, there is a wall referred to as the Old City Wall. At a point between Herod’s Gate, and the Damascus Gate, there is a door. A portal, if you will. And you must unlock that door so that our souls will be freed. It is only you who can do this. Nobody else. Just you.”
“Supposing I get there,” I pose to her, “what then? Do I will it open? Do I need a spiritual fire ax, or would an earthly fire ax work just as well? What am I getting myself into, here?”
She scoots closer, reaching out for me. Just the touch of her warm little hands in mine, it made my body feel so full of energy that my chest might suddenly burst—but in a good way.
“John, you must bring the Book of Sighs. That book is the key. You and that book, both of you are connected to this world, and to the Earth plane. The two of you, as prophesied, must open this door. Only you, and only with the book, can the door be opened and our souls freed to the golden light that awaits. That book and you were both destined to be together, and to make this voyage.”
And right then I’m thinking that the cover on the Book of Sighs is probably something other than leather. Something I probably don’t want an explanation for.
This all sounds too grand. Too incredible. Questions are sprouting in my mind. “Are you . . . are you certain that I am who you think I am?”
They looked at me like I was being blasphemous. Rupert nodded, “You are aware that there were originally three copies of the Book of Sighs?”
Of course, I told him. You were the one who told us about them. Two of them were destroyed in Italy or somewhere like that.
Rupert smiled, laughing quietly to himself. “My facts were not completely accurate. The other two copies of the book were made to look as though they had been burned. But this, you see, it was a carefully articulated plan. The books were actually separated so that when the reincarnate of St. John the Divine returned he would be able to find the book.”
I understood what he was saying, but not the logic behind it. So I asked him, “Why would you do that . . . hide the books if your only hope is to join them with your saint?”
“The theory,” Rupert explained, “was that the books were quite controversial, and in the wrong hands might have done much damage to the church, which,” he admitted, “. . . might have been the original intent of the books, for some. But the idea was that when St. John returned, over the course of his life, he would naturally come into contact with the book. If it was so destined; it would, after all, be the natural course of his true fate if he was the chosen one.”
“I’m guessing,” I say to him, “that since we’re having this conversation, that this plan didn’t pan out so well. Otherwise this whole mess would have been resolved some time in the last seventeen-hundred or so years. Am I off base, here?”
“On the fourteenth day of November,” Kristen said reverently, “in the year six-hundred and one—the seventh century—a man by the name of Johannes Damascene was born. He was the first of three saints to come to this planet for the purpose of opening the door. He was Saint John Damascene.”
“Damascus,” I said under my breath.
“Very good,” Rupert said. “He authored a very famous work of literature called the ’Source of Knowledge.′ He was to obtain the copy of the Book of Sighs that had been hidden in Damascus. But he met an untimely death at the end of a thief’s sword before he could complete this quest. Bad fortune and fate often struggle against each other.”
“On the fourteenth day of November,” Kristen began again, “. . . in the year of sixteen-hundred and one, a thousand years later, John Eudes came into this world. He was the second reincarnation of St. John the Divine. He, unfortunately, was slowly poisoned by religious fanatics in sixteen-eighty after having come into possession of the book that had originally been hidden in Athens, Greece. Sadly, he never returned from his first crossing to the Land of Sorrows, and was lost. His body was in France at the time of his death.”
“He was our second chance, our second hope,” Rupert said as his eyes looked down, almost paying silent homage to these men.
“You are the third,” Kristen said as her bright eyes studied me. “The only one, in fact, to successfully cross back and forth between both lands. You are St. John the Divine’s third reincarnate. And you will be the one to succeed.”
“And,” I asked them, “What happens if I fail . . . like they did?”
“You won’t,” Rupert said confidently.
“You can’t,” Kristen affirmed.
And the both of them, they were so sure that I could do it, and that I was their saint, that I believed it, too. It all made sense, in a kind of outrageous, sensational way. My accident, and then the book, and now this . . . it all adds up.
“How do I get there?” I ask. “What does the door look like? I still have a lot of questions.”
She brought my hands to her chest, just above her breasts. And I’m having a really hard time concentrating on saving the universe.
“. . . You will figure all of this out. It is your destiny to do so. And your reward, it will be your memories. Your past life will be given back to you. And once again you will be complete.”
My heart is racing a million miles-an-hour. I then ask her, blood flowing away from my brain at an alarming rate as my hands touch her soft skin, “What will happen when I accomplish this?
What happens to us, then?
To you and I?”
She smiles that same perfect smile that I glimpsed in my dream. Her eyes, blinking slowly, thoughtfully, she tells me, “. . . that is a bridge that you and I must cross . . . together. When the time comes for us to consider us, we will make that decision. But right now, this isn’t about you and I. This is about setting our captive souls free so that we are no longer hunted by the monsters in the sky. So that we may feel the grace of God. The warmth of his glorious embrace.”
She did make it sound noble.
“I’ll do it,” I tell her. “I’ll do whatever it takes”.
“You must look at the back cover of the book. There is a rough picture of the area you must search to find the door. It will guide you. And remember, the book is the key. The book, nor you—alone—can open it.”
“Where will you be during all of this? How will I find you?”
Out of the darkness Rupert steps forward, “We will leave for that place, now. When you get there, we will be waiting. This will be our last chance to speak with you until you arrive in Syria. And make haste, John. Time is of the essence. The window of our opportunity is closing quickly.”
“How much time do I have? I mean, this isn’t just something I can up and do. I need plane tickets, a passport, and all kinds of shots. I might even need permission. I’ve never even been on a plane before. This isn’t easy. What’s my time frame?”
They looked at each other, and then Kristen turned to me, “Days, John. Not weeks. Days.”
“Or we all rest here until the End of Days, being attacked, hunted, and eaten. And nobody ever goes to Heaven.”
She sure knows how to lay a guilt trip on a guy. Man, I like her.
Rupert came forward, kneeling between us, his right hand on my shoulder, and it felt a bit creepy—my hands still technically on Kristen’s breasts, with Rupert touching me. “Can we count on you to be the saint you are fated to be? It is your destiny. Your whole life was for this very aim. This is your quest. Will you do this, John?”
And you know, gullible old me, I said, “Yes. I’ll go as far as it takes. But there’s one thing I need to know.”
“Anything,” Kristen said.
There’s no other way to put this. “Are you and I in love? I mean, were we in love? I need to know. I’ll do this, either way. But I have to know.”
She considers my question as Rupert backs away. She stares into my eyes with her intoxicating gaze. And then she leans forward and kisses me, again. And this time, it was a real kiss. Like in those movies where two people really care about each other.
And me, I’m so dizzy I’m about to pass out. Everything is just about as great as I can imagine.
I don’t know how long we kissed, but it was epic. And when she pulled away she reached her little fingers up and touched my lips, patting them a few times and said, “Go now, John. Go to Damascus and save us all.”
I stood, nodding. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. Nothing.
“Hurry, John. Save us.”
I turned and dove back into my body. I had places to go, doors to open, all our souls to save.