Old City, Damascus,
Deadside . . .
Swimming through the dark abyss of my drowning nightmare only to end up in the back seat of a large truck was a disconcerting experience. I fell to the floor noticing the sun’s green beams of light crossing the car at abstract angles. The vehicle was empty accept for Ms. Josephine’s blind eyes, my dormant body, and the Book of Sighs.
“Can you ’ear me, Ms. Josephine?” I asked as I leaned over my soulless shell of a human form.
“. . . yes, child . . .” she whispered lightly. She probably didn’t want to spook our bodyguards. “. . . take da book and go find da gate . . . before da dark sets in . . . somethin’ bad is commin’ . . . ”
She is always so comforting. Her words were kind of uneven, spaced strangely, with sporadic pronunciation. I think she was communicating to me straight from her mind. Her thoughts were words to me. I wondered if it went both ways, this inter-dimensional line between us.
I reached for the Book of Sighs, hoping that it would let me move it. I don’t know why I hadn’t experimented with this before now. Maybe a trial run should have been in order. Although, given the fact that there don’t seem to be doors or windows in this Land of Sorrows, I’m rather glad I didn’t attempt crossing over while inside the plane.
G-5 or not, my Deadside ass would have most likely plummeted several tens of thousands of feet, and no amount of necklace swallowing would have saved me from becoming a cold splat on the desert floor.
My fingers round the edges of the Book of Sighs and the moment that I touch it, it starts to vibrate and blur like the wings of a hummingbird. Just like all my furniture did that first time in my apartment.
I start to pull it upwards, but it’s holding on. It’s trying to resist. This book, I don’t think it wants to crossover with me. Maybe it has to go through its own version of drowning. Live out its worst mortal fear in order to walk among the dead. I don’t know what the equivalent would be for an old religious book, but it must be horrible.
I consider that, perhaps it isn’t that the book doesn’t want to cross over, but that it doesn’t want to cross back? This book, it may have come from the Deadside in the first place. It may be covered with the skin of a Deadsider, or something even more unnerving. So, maybe it just doesn’t like the idea of returning.
I’m going to have to put my back into this. I pull even harder, struggling with every one of my new muscles. The new and improved me, it’s straining like never before.
And finally, when I’m at the end of my strength, it breaks free, stretching like taffy, or gum. I pull at it and it stretches to three or four times its original length before it suddenly gives up and releases its grip on the Earth plane.
“. . . da book is wit you now, child . . .” Ms. Josephine’s calming voice tells me.
And as I turn around I notice them.
Everywhere. There must be thousands of souls, all around me, watching every move I make. They are giving me a wide area to maneuver, as if I’m off-limits. As if I’m giving off some energy that would burn them, or infect them.
They might just be giving me space so they can watch this moment. I assume that it is as important to them, as to me. It’s not every day you see St. John in the flesh.
Or . . . am I typhoid Jack to these people?
None of them speak. There are whispers, but nothing that I can make sense of. Every word is hushed and hidden behind grey hands and suspicious eyes.
These souls here, watching me carry the book that must be the source of so much legend and lore, I notice that their eyes are not quite as bright and glowing as Kristen’s, Rupert’s, nor the rest of the Deadsiders I met before. Could be some regional difference, I suppose.
And almost as if she read my mind I feel a touch on my shoulder. Startled, I jerk away only to see Kristen and Rupert, and several others behind me. They are inside my sphere of emptiness. This is so surreal and beautiful and haunting all at the same time. I wish I had a video camera.
I lift the Book of Sighs. “I have it.”
Rupert nods, almost bowing to the book.
Kristen, she smiles, looking on me with proud eyes. “You are the one, John. You shall set us free. And then you will have the answers that we both seek.”
Kristen and Rupert line-up on either side of me and they begin to walk toward the stoned wall. I can only assume they know where the door is.
As we walk, the quiet souls give us plenty of space, shuffling so as not to get too close to us. I ask Rupert, why are their eyes so dim compared to yours?
“Many,” Rupert explains, “. . . most, in fact, don’t believe in the prophecy of St. John. They don’t want to hope only to have their hopes shattered. They don’t—”
A scream ripped through the tranquility!
Rupert stopped mid-sentence. We heard them again. The screams were echoing throughout this old city as if it was a giant amplifier. All the souls, thousands of them, lowered their bodies, all eyes searching the dangerous blue sky.
“We must hurry, John!” Kristen warned. “The screamers are coming. They will stop at nothing to kill us all!”
And now we’re running at a full-on sprint.
“Where is the gate?” I yell. Where?
I feel Kristen’s hand pulling me towards the wall, and I start to see a small green rectangle illuminated by the thin streaks of light that are left as the sun races to the west.
“The book must go into the recess in the wall, and you must be the one to press it into place,” Rupert instructs as we run.
Between the screams from the quickly fading sky, I noticed several other familiar souls running along with us. Stewart is hobbling his nervous tail along. Thomas—the first man I ever met in Deadside—he is with us. My familiar dead friends. Stupid as it sounds, I actually felt slightly relieved to see them around me. I don’t know them that well, but anything familiar is a blessing in a place like this. Under circumstances such as these.
The screams grew louder as I approach the small recess in the wall. It looks to be the exact same size as the book.
“Quickly!” Rupert yells as they circle around me for protection.
The sky is black now, but not from the setting sun. It has grown dark from the wings of monsters with sharp teeth, and talons, and black eyes . . . designed for killing.
As I lift the book, Kristen releases her tight grip on my hand. I glance back at her and she nods anxiously, “Now, John! Fulfill your destiny. Save us all.”
And as I raise the Book of Sighs, it grows heavier and heavier with each inch. It’s as if it’s trying to resist being placed in its keyhole. I strain and struggle, again, grunting as I lift. The book, it starts to vibrate again. It’s really an ornery son-of-a-gun.
I feel this energy surging through my body, then through my arms, and out from my fingertips into the book as I press it home. This is the opposite of the normal saline sensation. This is me giving my energy to the book. Encouraging it to succeed. The book and I, a supernatural team.
And as it finally slides into place, at that exact moment, there is a loud, thunderous eruption. It sounds like mountains being moved. Like thousands of sticks of dynamite going off at the same time. The noise is so deafening that I have to cover my ears with my hands. We all do.
The ground begins to shake, and I think I may have done something wrong. I pray that there aren’t several slots. I hope I didn’t accidentally push the book into the slot marked ‘Earthquake’.
Everything around us is rumbling and rattling, and suddenly I see the golden bits of light start to sparkle around the wall. They are those same wonderful flashes of light that I see when I’m submerged in my drowning journey across from the Earth plane.
Tiny specs of hope.
Glimmers of a chance.
The light, it grows stronger in the outline of a large door—much wider than the tank-sized doors of the church I attended last weekend. Those growing beacons of light, they are the same golden color of the dream that Kristen gave me.
And suddenly . . .