Entering The Magick
Art by Norman E. Masters
"Something that Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos have been looking for
I had lots to think about, that afternoon, at work in tubes. Fortunately it was the kind of job that left your mind free while your body went thru the machine-like activity.
An entire new world had been opened to me -- many worlds! -- by a slightly younger Steve Krantz using the silver staff of dreams, returning to me my childhood memories.
There were reasons I had chosen to forget, and... there were things that had happened in the Realms of Dream that I still did not want to remember, yet. Too much, too soon, could still be overwhelming.
The need, for now, was discovering how to return to that alien city in the cavern realms below to rescue Norea and Steve from the reptilian warriors who walk like men.
How, indeed? I wished I had the power to just dream up an entire army to the rescue, armed with modern weapons. The spears and swords of their captors would provide meager resistance against longer range bullets.
But I knew it was not that easy. The Realms of Dream are not accessible to daydream vagaries of wish-filled imagination. They have a compelling reality of their own that pulls one into entirely different directions than one would wish to be going.
The silver staff of dreams was such a potent Dream Key that it allowed some measure of choice as to the Realm of Dream one entered. Striving to return to Norea in the zombie and ghoul levels of the rooms below, I had ended up everywhere but! Fleeting glimpses of her had been attained, again and again; but each time she was further beyond my reach.
And I had lost the silver staff of dreams -- once upon a dream -- at age 15. And once lost, it could never be mine again.
There was the Wine of Dreaming; but where were precious drops of that to be found in this world? Maybe some had found its way to some ancient Egyptian or Cretan tomb, from Atlantis. Or preserved in some ancient Incan pyramid, since those areas seem to be where the Atlantean colonies survived and carried on. More might be found in the ruins of Atlantis, itself, if one could locate the remains of the Temple of Allarion, where Abydos was priest. For it was Abydos who distilled the Wine of Dreaming from his own dreams. There is a power and potency to the Wine of Dreaming that allows some measure of willed directiveness, if you already know where you want to go, and the dream matrix is in your mind...
And there was the Eye of Plithea... Old Grisselda had shown it to me, once. It was mounted as the eyepiece, focussing thru a tube like a kaleidoscope, only it was far more than a kaleidoscope. Instead of ever-changing brilliantly-colored snowflake patterns, you looked thru the Eye of Plithea into other Realms of Dream! But it only allowed you to see into those Other Realms, not actually go there. And, as with a kaleidoscope, once you rotated the tube to move into another Realm, there seemed no way of getting back to the Realm you had previously been looking into. Grisselda said Plithea's other two Eyes had been lost, that if she had them all there was a way of using them to move from one Dream Realm to another at will.
Ah... Grisselda! No museum on Earth holds such wonders as her Olde Shoppe did! She took a liking to me, as a Young Dreamer; and hers and Old Hartog's shops were like home, to me, in Shalath Lalal.
Grisselda's shop was called Ye Olde Shoppe of the Strange and Arcane, and I returned there often, when Far Dreaming between the ages of ten and fifteen.
It was a few years before I first discovered Shalath Lalal; and in a way I can probably thank Mrs. Watson,- my fifth grade teacher at Andersonville Elementary School for that discovery.
Mrs. Watson was a kindly, motherly sort of teacher,sharply contrasting with Mrs. Gallup, the mean old crone I had in the fourth grade at Clarkston Elementary, who said she would gallop after you if you misbehaved. Fifth grade left me with some pleasant memories: like getting a Merriam-Webster's Dictionary with my name stamped on it in gold from winning a spelling bee; a white elephant sale I talked Mom and Dad into taking me to, in the fifth grade classroom, where I bought my first two hardbound books for a nickel apiece (one of them a volume of Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories, the other a rather battered western novel by Somebody Hoffman... that I never got read til several years later). And we made clay-headed puppets and put on a puppet play, an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Tinder Box", upon a puppet stage that Dad built.
It was Mrs. Watson who read us stories from Greek Mythology, which is where I learned of the head of Medusa which would turn you to stone -- if you looked at it!
Well, I certainly wasn't foolish enough to want to look at any gorgon's head; but I thought it'd sure be interesting to see some of those people who had been turned to stone, from looking at it!
So, the night following Mrs. Watson's reading us the story of Perseus and the Gorgon's Head I fondled the silver staff of dreams beneath my covers and summoned Pegasus to fly me to where I could see some of those people who had been turned to stone!
Thus, for the first time, I ended up in Shalath Lalal, having flown right over those foreboding gates of hardened darkness carved into such fearful forms of demented grotesquerie by the mad artist, Druphal d'Alanass, protecting Shalath Lalal from invasive Dreamers of ill intent. I was plopped down right in front of Grisselda's shop -- nearby townspeople backing away from me wide-eyed. I later learned they had mistaken me for some sort of Great Sorcerer, perhaps the ArchMage Arkaynne, himself, in the guise of a young boy. For who else but a sorcerer would arrive riding a winged horse who immediately disappeared, upon landing? (shrinking to the size of an unobtrusive pen, that I slipped, unseen, into my pocket).
What made the initial, overwhelming, impact upon my young senses were the strange, exotic (not yet, to me, erotic) smells just beyond that door. I knew no names to describe them with; but they augered mysteriously bizarre and wondrous things, indeed!
The lighting was a bit dim, inside. The windows and skylights had not been cleaned in years. So it took a bit of time for my eyes to adjust, entering from the noontide outside.
"Well! And who are you, young master? Does your mother know you've wandered into Grisselda's lair? There are those who believe I eat young 'uns like you!
Her voice was ancient and crackey -- like old parchment. She sat, hunched over on a stool, weaving a tapestry with unicorns and fairies in a brightly flowered clearing amidst a looming, darkly shadowed forest, a small stream flowing thru the meadow, a young girl -- naked -- riding one of the unicorns. The colors had an inner light, phosphorescently radiant. It was quite magical!
Her head turned in my direction, and as my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the shop I retreated a few steps, recoiling from what I was seeing.
Her face had no eyes! Nothing there but hollow pools of darkness; they had been gouged or burned out! And perched on her right shoulder, glaring at me with jewel-like eyes that radiated an inner fire, was a miniature dragon, looming a few inches above her head. Her face had really deep wrinkles. She must be at least a hundred years old! I thought.
She looked an awful lot like my Grandma Beitler might look, if she were forty years older. The resemblance was so uncanny she could've been Grandma's mother or grandmother. Her hair was wrapped up in a big tight bun, like Grandma wore hers; and I expected that if it were unwrapped and brushed out it'd probably hang all the way to her ankles like Grandma's did!
There were some differences -- besides the greater age. Grandma walked kind of hunched over; but she didn't have an actual hump on her back; like this ancient crone did. And Grandma didn't smoke any corncob pipe or have a mustache or scraggly white, thin chin hairs like a billy goat! Nor did Grandma have slightly pointed ears like that! And whatever it was she was smoking in that pipe, it certainly wasn't tobacco!
"What's wrong, boy? Griffin get your tongue? Is your mother letting you come into a shoppe like this, unattended? Where you from?" she asked in a gruff, rasping, scratchy, crackley sandpaper voice.
"Uhhhh -- Mom doesn't know I'm here. We live on a farm -- outside Clarkston, Michigan."
"Never heard of it. How'd you get here?"
"Pegasus brought me. I told him I wanted to see some of those people who were turned to stone from looking at Medusa..."
"Oho! You must be some rich emperor's son to have Pegasus, himself, bring you here!! Maybe you'd like to see the head of Medusa, herself! I've got that, too!"
"Ummmm -- no thanks! I don't want to join your collection; I just want to see some of it!"
She cackled good-humoredly.
"Well, come closer, young master -- closer! I see what I can see of you thru the eyes of Pippit, here; but I want to know who you really are. What'd you say your name was?"
"Uh -- Norman. Masters."
"Master Masters! I'm Grisselda. Pleased to meet you. Don't be shy! I'm not going to hurt you! You've traveled a long ways to get here, haven't you! And there's something in your right pants pocket! It radiates a power I can feel. I recognize it! I've been searching for that Treasure you have there for centuries! You can have anything in my shoppe in trade for it, son! Any two things, as a matter of fact. Grisselda doesn't want to cheat you!"
"No thanks. I didn't come to buy anything, or trade for anything. I just wanted to look..."
"Umppf. Hold out your hand, young master, so I can learn more about you."
I broached closer, extending my left hand, viewing that dragon warily. Cautiously I slipped my right hand into my right pocket and wrapped it around the silver staff of dreams in case I needed some sudden help or to make a quick getaway.
"Caution is wise, Master Norman. Many are not as honest as Grisselda! Ummm-Hmmm!" she commented, after feeling my hand with her dry, callused and knobby fingers. "Now your head."
"I don't have any lice!"
"I didn't say you did! Phrenology, young man. It's your bumps I want to feel! Tells me a lot about you! Hmmmmmm...." she said, carefully exploring every square inch of my cranium with her fingers...
"So?" I asked.
"I thought you might be somebody important -- coming in here like that! I see I'm going to have to look more deeply into your future -- thru the Eye of Destiny!"
"The Eye of Destiny? What's that?"
"Something that Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos have been looking for for a long time, now, and would dearly love to have, again! Fate has, indeed, become very blind since the Eye of Destiny became mine!"
She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out the Eye, then popped it into her right socket. "What I see thru this is a very complex weave -- of your possible futures and of the past that led up to you."
She looked a long time; and I was getting more than a bit fidgety. At age ten I wasn't all that much concerned about my future; I was more interested in seeing those people who had been turned to stone! But I didn't think I ought to be impolite; since she was the one who had what I wanted to see.
"Um-hmmmmm!" was all she said, after looking at me for over five minutes thru that Eye. She popped it back out and returned it to her apron pocket.
"What's that mean?" I asked. "Do I become famous, or anything?"
"Best you not know, young Master Masters!" she said, primly.
"Something awful is going to happen?" I asked, my heart sinking.
"Awful things happen to each of us. We live thru them or we don't. But it's not that. It's just that knowing beforehand could have an adverse effect. It would be unfair of me to deprive you of the surprises. Don't you worry. You will be of some importance to some -- maybe more than you will ever imagine! What I can tell you is that I am your great-great-many-times removed grandmother. If I counted it right, you're the 99th generation going back to this old womb -- thru King Saul. I want you to promise to bring your own first born son to see me. Not many are given the privilege to meet their own 100th generation offspring!"
"Uhhh -- okay," I promised, not all that much interested in any possible future son at that time.
"You won't forget, now?"
"How could I ever forget a place like this -- or someone like you?! I'll remember!"
"Fine, then, young grandson! Amorette! Where are you, girl? Come and show this young man around! He's come to see the three that Medusa turned to stone. Show him anything he wants to see -- except Medusa, herself, of course. And you'd better keep him away from those falling ash globes with Sodom and Gomorrah in them that the Time Fishers shrank and englobed for us. He's a little young, yet, to be viewing what those people are doing in there. There's better places for him to lose his innocence, isn't there!"
Prayer of the Infinite Heart
Art by Norman E. Masters
"Yes, Grans," spoke a petite, elfin-faced beauty, stepping out from behind a stuffed creature unlike any I had ever seen before. It was basically all face. I guessed it moved around with those few tentacles coming out from the sides of its jaws and head. It had a big grin -- with walrus-like teeth, very large eyes and two broad elk-like horns sticking out the top of its head.
"What's that?!" I asked.
"It's a slord. Never step on a slord -- or it'll storple you away!" warned Amorette.
Amorette looked to be about fourteen; her breasts were already fairly developed, tho they would swell to twice the size they were, then, in a few years. I was probably rather pop-eyed and blushingly embarrassed, because they weren't covered! She was bare-footed, with anklets of tiny silver bells that tinkled with every step. There were lilacs woven in her long black hair, the one fragrance in the air that was familiar to me. She wore nothing more than a bright orange kinda-skirt that didn't reach her knees, torn in inch wide strips up to the top of her thighs. I got enough glimpses so I could see she wasn't wearing any underpanties, either! Her walk was very undulant; she clearly loved to wriggle provocatively. At the time this was more puzzling than anything else, to me. Certainly girls who attended the Church of God or Andersonville Elementary School didn't dress or carry themselves like this!
"Norman!" said Grisselda, sharply.
I thought she was going to bawl-me-out for staring at Amorette's breasts...
"You look at anything you want, as long as you want, except those miniature cities, since the people in them are still alive and doing things you shouldn't be seeing. They're for a special collector, who will be paying me a lot for them! You stay as long as you like; and come back as often as you want. My shoppe is always open to you. You have some really exciting adventures ahead, for you, young man! And Amorette -- you tell him what he's not to be touching!"
"I will!" There was a lilting, musical quality to Amorette's voice, and an undertone of playful mischief. A quality of light in her eyes seemed to dance, teasingly, almost as if daring me to do something, tho I couldn't imagine what! (I was still ten -- not fourteen! And this was 1952 in the World We Know -- not 1992!)
As I looked more closely at Amorette's face, and compared it to my immediate memory of the girl in the tapestry that Grisselda was creating, I realized they were the same.
Ahhh... the Shoppe of Grisselda! It was wonder upon wonder upon wonder! A veritable maze of wonders. Without Amorette as my guide I would surely have gotten lost.
Art by Norman E. Masters
There were dozens of flying carpets. "Oh yes, they really fly!" Amorette assured me. Unicorn horns... "You'd be surprised what old ladies use them for," Amorette confided to me, in a whisper; but when I asked what she just smiled, mysteriously, and refused to tell, batting those long eyelashes, the color of midnight., "It's too nasty," was all she'd add.
The three people who had been turned to stone were two Greek warriors, still in armor, tho one didn't have his helmet, anymore, and a crouched woman with arm half raised to cover her face. All their faces were etched in lineaments of wide-eyed horror, silently screaming forever and ever. It sent a genuine quivering of fear thru me, just looking at the sheer terror upon those faces; because you knew that what they were seeing was ghastly beyond words.
And you could tell that they weren't just statues carved out of stone, either. The flesh-colors were perfect; and one of the woman's hands was busted off. You could see the petrified muscle and blood vessels and bone sticking out! It was neat! And the soldier whose helmet was missing -- part of his skull was missing, too; and you could see the convolutions of his brain! They were definitely the Real Thing!
Nearby was Lot's wife, the one who got turned into a pillar of salt. Some of her left leg and half of her left breast were missing; but it was real smooth in those areas, rather than rough, as it would have been if the pieces had been broken off. And I could see that Lot's wife had had three breasts! -- something I'll bet hardly anybody else knows!
"Pippit keeps licking her," confided Amorette. "Dragons need a bit of salt, you know... But you can't guess what that is!" she challenged, pointing to a closed glass case with a small bottle inside that had this little piece of dried-up something in it.
"I haven't the faintest idea," I admitted. "Doesn't look worth saving, to me! A dried up apple peel?"
"Nope! It's the only authentic relic of its kind. Lots of places have claimed to have it -- but this is the only REAL one. The Time Fishers fetched it for Grans; they were just throwing it away, anyways."
"Well -- what is it?"
"Jesus Christ's foreskin, when he was circumcized!"
"Yuck! Why would anybody want to save that!"
"Grans says it'll give her some power over Yahweh, when she gets around to it. She's still kind of pissed over the way they treated her, back in King David's time. I don't know why; she's better off here, anyways!"
I wasn't too sure what she was talking about; I hadn't gotten that far in Mom's copy of Egermeir's Bible Story Book, yet, to even begin to penetrate the historical nuances being suggested, then.
All I said was, "Well, I'm sure glad they didn't do that to me!"
"You mean you've still got yours!"
As I grew older I learned more of what was being implied. It turns out that Grisselda was the Biblical Witch of Endor consulted by King Saul when he no longer trusted the Hebrew priests he was on the outs with. She was still quite young, then (not the 969 years old she claimed to be when I first met her when I was age ten!) and Saul was very attracted to her. King's "privilege" and all; she could hardly say "No!"; since wise women like her were barely tolerated in that country, then, whatwith the increasing power of the priestly Yahweh cult; and their desire to wipe-out the competition.
When David came into power he was more controlled by the Yahweh cult than Saul had been. Astoreth (Queen of Heaven, sacred Womb of the Gods, Mother of the Seventy Gods) could see that her power, in this earthly territory, was waning, so warned Grisselda to return to the realm where she was born before that crazy Yahweh cult hunted her down and stoned her to death. Plus, carrying a son of Saul, the previous king, was certain to be another reason for condemnation of her by King David. She was already blind, then. She once told me that blindness gave her the ability to see things that others could not see. I was twelve before Grisselda disclosed to me how she had been blinded -- when she was only 18...
Lots of mummies, and not all of them human, by any means. There were bottles with jinni still inside, King Solomon's seal still intact upon them. There were amphorae of wine from Atlantis... but only the smallest vial of the Wine of Dreaming. "That's really precious," confided Amorette. "Grans had quite a bit more; but she traded it to a Dreamer who came here about a year ago. He might have come from the world you came from. His name was Peter something. He traded twenty-five years of his life for it!"
"What do you mean -- he traded traded years of his life for it?"
"That's why Grans is so old! She keeps alive with the life other people trade her! She checks their lifeline; she looks at their future thru the Eye of Destiny; and if they've got a hundred years, many of them are happy to trade-off the last 20 or more, when they wouldn't be all that healthy, anyways, for something they really want! Grans says she expects she'll be living forever -- in the business she's in!"
I forgot to mention that in the case right next to Jesus Christ's foreskin was a bag with thirteen of the thirty pieces of silver that Judas Iscariot got. Amorette said that lots of warlocks indulging in the darker forms of sorcery found one of those pieces of silver very useful. "Grans doesn't really want any of their life-energy, so she trades those for other things, like this over here!"
Locked in the next glass case were about two dozen crystals unlike any I'd ever seen, otherwise. Their bottom half was like a crystal ball, globular and bubble-smooth, probably about seven inches in diameter (but with a flat bottom). Atop the globular part was a crystal tower extending up another five to seven inches, with tiny rainbow-sparkles of energy shooting out from the points of the tips. And inside each was a different magickal scene, ever changing, like a three-dimensional movie.
One of them was filled with dozens of angels in flight, their eyes shooting out fire; and cities below were burning...
Another was a sylvan scene with dancing fauns and dryads; another showed a battle between what looked to be Greek warriors and centaurs. The next one really surprised me! Inside the crystal I saw my own and Amorette's faces staring back at us in startled surprise. And then they withdrew and walked on thru the shoppe, their backs turned to us...
"What was that?!" I asked. "It can't be a mirror, because then they wouldn't have left!"
"Those are eonite dream-crystals. They're indestructible; stronger than diamond. Each one of them preserves a dream of Morpheus -- forever! They're really very valuable. Some of the dark sorcerers have come into possession of some of them; but they aren't conducive to the kinds of sorceries that increase their powers; so they let them go for things that will."
"But how did we get inside that one there?!"
"Obviously we are dreams of Morpheus, too! Kind of exciting, isn't it!"
I wasn't so sure about that! I preferred to believe I was more than just a dream! "What are those little sparklies coming out the tip?"
Intimations Of Change
Art by Norman E. Masters
"The eonite dream-crystals feed on cosmic rays. Transmuting that energy keeps the dream moving, and alive, inside. Excess energy gets released thru the tip, like that. It tingles against the skin, and can be revitalizing when you're really tired. And when you sleep with one of them under your pillow, your own dreams are really vivid. They transfer intense dream energy when you hold them in your hands, against your heart -- or against your forehead. Grans says Morpheus is one of the few male gods she can tolerate. She says he's a far more powerful god, in his effect upon humanity, than all the puffed-up ego-centric gods like Yahweh, Zeus, Odin, Tiu, and Mars, combined. These are among her greatest Treasures; and it's almost impossible to get one from her, for any price. She's really got to love you to let one go to you; and it's a gift-of-gifts. The only thing she has that she values more highly is the Phoenix egg; she'd never part with that, either!"
"A Phoenix egg! I'd love to see that!"
"She doesn't really keep it here; at least not exactly. She keeps it in a place nobody else can get to; and she doesn't let other people see it. I haven't even seen that! The only way I know about it is she talks in her sleep, sometimes. When I asked her about it she got real snappy, and told me never to say anything about to to anyone, again! I can't imagine why. Oops! Don't you dare tell her I said anything about it. I really shouldn't've! She'd probably put the Backwards/UpSideDown Fearsome Curse on me for a week!"
"Believe me, you don't want to know! And you don't ever want her to put that curse on you! Absolutely no one does. Nobody -- but NObody -- messes with Gran Grisselda for fear of that curse! And you know -- Pippit doesn't breath fire like lots of other dragons; but he can spit pure burning acid, with total accuracy, for fifty feet! One time a couple of thieves tried to rob Grans; they thought that because she was an old woman, and blind, to boot, that it'd be easy! They couldn't have been more mistaken! Pippit shot acid into their eyes, blinding them, and then Grans put the Backwards-UpSideDown Fearsome Curse on them til they died from it! Word got around. Nobody's tried to steal anything from Grans, since! I never feel safer than here, that's for sure. Just knowing I'm related to Grans, nobody messes with me, either!"
"What's this?" I asked.
"Oh -- that's a mummified horog. Ugly, aren't they!"
"Looks like something out of a nightmare you'd rather forget!"
"Pieces of them sell real well, dried, or mummified. Sales -- and trades -- in their parts, alone, keeps us in food. The Droogs bring them in, in trade for black lotus pollen, which doesn't exist on this world, or any world they have access to. Grans gets the black lotus pollen from the night gaunts, who fly to the moon, quite often; they trade it to her for ambrosia..."
"Why would anybody want a piece of that? That thing's just really ugly!"
The mummified horog stood about as tall as a full-grown man. Its snout was pig-like, with Neanderthal brows jutting out above it. Its overall facial structure was gargoyle-like, with long, pointed, bat-like ears jutting up about eight inches. The hair between the ears flared up to a point about a foot above its head. Beneath its jaw was a strange flap of flesh like a tongue, but hairy. The thing was totally hairy, especially its shoulders, arms, and above where people have nipples. But the horog didn't have nipples; there were two tentacles about six inches long each coming out from each breast area. Its penis was like a foot long snake with teeny-tiny worms growing out of it, instead of scales or hair. It walked on hooves and had three really thick fingers on each hand with long nails. The hair below its chest was pretty short, only about a half an inch long, at most.
"Oh -- horogs have all kinds of medicinal -- and other -- uses! There's not a part of its entire body that isn't useful for something! People eat its testicles, for longevity. Its tongue cures warts, and some venereal diseases. A paste made of its earwax can remove cataracts. Part of it can be used as an aphrodisiac, other parts to return potency or clear up incontinence. Love philtres... an aid for indigestion... a laxative. A mother or wetnurse dries up -- powder up those chest-wigglies, mix it with your spit, and smear it over your tit, and the milk will start flowing, again! I know one man who did that to himself, when his wife died, and he nursed two infants until they reached the age to be weaned!"
I looked at her sceptically. Was she pulling my leg? She seemed to really believe what she was saying...
Next Amorette showed me some panpipes that had actually belonged to Pan, himself! Grisselda had kept them as a momento of a very wild night she'd spent with Pan, under the full moon. "Grans says he was insatiable! Thirty times! She said she was raw for more than a week!"
I really didn't understand what she was talking about, as with some of those words she'd used in reference to the uses horog parts were put to; but I nodded my head, gravely, pretending I did. I didn't want Amorette to think I was ignorant! She seemed to think I should understand all this. Later visits, when I was older, and some repeats, on her part, is what eventually planted the terminology in my memory.,
"These are really precious to Grans, too. She says they help remind her of her heritage! She let me play on them once. It made me feel real funny, inside, like I wanted to do something; but I didn't understand what. All warm and tingley and wanty! Maybe Grans will let me play them for you, sometime, when you're older! Grans has really taken a liking to you! I can't imagine why; but there must be some reason..."
"How are they a part of her heritage?"
"You saw Grans's ears? They're faun ears. She's got a bit of Pan's blood in her -- about twelve generations back -- her own way-back Grandma spent a night with Pan, too, only she got pregnant! There's a bit of faun in me, too, from Gran, thru my mother's side, and some elvish blood, from my dad's side! I'm still a virgin, you know! You wouldn't think it! Most everybody my age would just be ashamed to say that! I pretend I'm not when I'm with them, and tell them I've had lots of fly-by-nights! I've made up wonderful stories about them; and everybody believes me! Except Mums and Grans; they know the real truth. Now don't you dare tell anybody, especially here! I'd just die of shame! Now you've got to tell me a secret about you -- so we're even!'
Age ten... I didn't even know what a "virgin" was. Certainly I'd heard about the Virgin Mary, at Sunday School, but had never really understood that, either... 1952... Backthen I'd wanted to read some copies of Reader's Digest from 1949 I saw in Mom's dresser drawer; and they'd been forbidden me; I wasn't old enough! And I never peeked at them, on the sly, to learn what was so forbidden in them.
So I told Amorette about the time, only a few years before, when I'd pulled down my younger sister's and cousin Sharon's panties and looked at them there, and actually touched it, something I'd never want my Mom to know about, and had extracted their promise they'd never tell. And I told her about the time I'd watched Celia go #2 in the outhouse, looking thru where a board was loose in the back. I could only see her bare butt and the poop coming out; then I poked her butt with a stick and she told Mom and I had to go stand in a corner for an hour, apologize and say I was sorry, and promise never to do that again! Next day Dad nailed the loose board tight.
"Oh -- that's kid stuff!" responded Amorette, dismissively.
"That's all I can think of that I ever did, except the time I peeked at my Christmas present from Celia one year, when she bought me the Classics Illustrated comic of The Song of Hiawatha that I wanted so much. She asked me if I did; and I lied and said I didn't; but she knew I did, even though I lied and never admitted it. Then the present wasn't a surprise; and that was disappointing to me, on Christmas Day; so I never did that again."
"You're so innocent! You need to know somebody like me!"
Dimensional All Ways
Art by Norman E. Masters
Next Amorette showed me shelves of bottles; preserving human homunculi, dragon, unicorn, mermaid fetuses, among others. They looked so sad... Some of them were still alive; their eyes blinked... and they stared with such pleading looks...
There were shelves and shelves of ancient books and scrolls. Many of them had been scavenged by the Time Fishers from the Library of Alexandria; just before the Muslims burned it. There were scrolls from Atlantis and Lemuria, a third epic poem by Homer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft's Azathoth -- the entire novel! -- and over a hundred of the lost books of Enoch... There were books bound in human skin and dragon skin, and a scroll inscribed on an actual dragon's tongue -- with acid! "It's fireproof, that's for sure!" said Amorette.
Amorette showed me one book where the pictures, inside, actually moved, and another where the words kept changing! "What language is that in?" I asked.
"The language of the Elohim," said Amorette. "It's entitled The Mind of God. Grans says it's Yahweh's only authentic Words -- but He keeps changing His mind! That one's not the only copy; but they're kind of rare... Grans reads it sometimes. She says He's gone insane; and if you want to stay sane, yourself, you don't want to read in it too long!"
I didn't see how anybody could understand what those words meant, anyways! They certainly weren't in English; and they moved so fast you could hardly follow them. Beside it were a couple of broken stone tablets, their dozens of fragments carefully pieced together.
"What are those?"
"The original commandments Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai."
Just more strange squiggles that didn't make any sense to me. They might have been saying anything.
I got to see Venus de Milo's head and arms, and the head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. And Cleopatra's wig was interesting, and her golden breast-cups. "I don't know why anyone would want to wear anything like that!" was Amorette's comment. "Heavy and ugly! They're far prettier with nothing on, don't you think?" She took a deep breath and bounced up and down a bit.
At one point Amorette revealed the secret powers behind that large hump on Grisselda's back. It actually enabled her to levitate! "Grans doesn't need any flying carpet or witch's broomstick, that's for sure! But she says it takes a lot out of her; so she uses one of the flying carpets most of the time. She used to have a full-sized dragon; but they eat so much that she decided it was more practical to let it go. Dorkeldorphs don't cost so much to feed; but they're so stupid. People only laugh at you when they see you riding one of them thru the air; and you almost always end up somewheres besides where you want to go! Grans says she'd like to own a zebec, someday; they can actually fly you all the way to the moon! But they're really hard to come by."
It would take a book to detail all the wonders in Old Grisselda's shoppe, and to detail their history to some extent. It literally took me years just to see everything there; it was far more fascinating than any museum in The World We Know. The marvels in that shoppe were part of what kept drawing me back to Shalath Lalal -- oh -- probably once a week, anyways, as long as I had the silver staff of dreams. And by the time I reached the age of fourteen Amorette became a definite allure. Those are very special memories -- perhaps to be shared another time.
But, that afternoon, at Pontiac Motors, whisking those axle tubes thru the finish bore machine, another memory, of more Significance to my goals, then, surfaced.
It happened a few months before my twelfth birthday. By that time Old Grisselda's shoppe and Old Hartog's shop were second and third homes to me. Neither seemed to mind having me around. Perhaps, in ways, I reminded them of their own youth, and lightened their spirits a bit with my questions. Both of them loved to tell stories -- about their long and varied lives; and I loved to listen! I was especially enthralled by Old Hartog's tales of his adventures on the moon; and he promised that before he passed on we'd go there together, sometime, for there were people and places, there, he wanted to see again, one more time.
But this particular time Old Hartog was mysteriously gone from his shop. I'd never seen it closed, before; so this was very remarkable to me.
I asked Grisselda about it, worrying that maybe Old Hartog had taken sick, or had a heart attack or something. She said he was low on dragonhides; traders had not been bringing any in -- across the desert of Klai -- for a half year, already; so his stock was depleted.
Old Hartog made body armor, helmets, boots and belts out of dragonskins, which were highly popular items, being very flexible and protective. Warriors came from many realms of Dream to frequent his shop. He preferred carving statues out of wood and marble -- and small things like the pipe he smoked -- a very intricately carved mermaid, who he loved to fondle whenever filling the bowl atop her head with cannabis bud. He called her Teeahnna -- modeled after his Lost Love. (She was eaten by a dragon, afterwhich Old Hartog became less of an artist and more of an armorer, for no armor was better for dragon hunters than dragonskin, itself!) Whenever Old Hartog would light up that pipe, sucking slowly and savoringly on Teeahnna's tail, you could literally see his eyes glaze over in fond memory of his Teeahnna and the bliss they'd shared while she was still alive.
"He left to go kill dragons?!" I queried, horrified. Hartog was too old for that! I feared I'd never see him alive again.
"No, dearie. He took an expedition to the Dragon Fields."
I'd never heardtell of the Dragon Fields before, and queried her about them. Grisselda was impatient about talking about this; she had other things on her mind about which she was bursting with excitement.
"No long tales about this, Norman. There are more important things. They're south about a hundred and fifty leagues." (I knew enough to be able to translate that to roughly 450 miles...) "Across the Desert of Klai, across the Desert of No Name -- and near the middle of the Desert of No Return. It's really just one gigantic desert, about 300 leagues by 500, but geographers divide it into five deserts, by Name, with imaginary lines connecting the oases defining their boundaries. It's the dragons' graveyard; that's where the old ones go to die. He hired a dozen and a half men, took a dozen snarkleneighs to pull sandsleighs for the dragon hides, half a dozen womples to carry some of the men and rode Schrobie's rupplelorp, himself, to scout ahead. I told him he was courting disaster; rupplelorps are so stubborn and irascible; but he was sure he was more stubborn; and he probably is. I told him he should rent one of my flying carpets; but you know Hartog -- refuses to have anything to do with magic. Doesn't trust it. Personally, I wouldn't trust a rupplelorp much more than a dorkledorph!"
Dorkeldorphs are mighty stupid. They're about the size of a donkey with a donkey-like head, but a bee-like furry body. Eight thin legs; double bee-like wings on each side; and their ears, as large as their wings, function as auxiliary wings, too. Rupplelorps, on the other hand, have a reptilian body, much like a crocodiles's, with large water-storing humps like a camel's, eagle wings and a very human-looking face, grumpy-looking and long bearded. Their ears, though, are more like a large rounded leaf than a human ear. Womples run pretty fast, for having only two legs. Their legs are thicker and stronger than a horse's or camel's; they have a single hump like a camel, an ostrich-like neck and a dragon-like face. Their teeth make them fierce fighters. And snarkleneighs -- they look about as dopey as a dorkledorph; but as a beast of burden they can haul more than a camel or a horse, are a lot more tractable, and as friendly as a puppy. Their faces are kinda camel-like, with long tufts of hair curling out from it at all angles. Their body has the bulk of a hippopotamus and their tails are just the thickest, broadest, longest, bushiest tails I've ever seen in any of the Realms of Dream! From the context of the World We Know, it was one very strange caravan Old Hartog was leading into the Desert of No Return for dragonhides. And he'd better hope that no live dragons learned he was looting their ancestral graveyard; or they'd be trying to fricassee him and everyone with him, for sure! I dearly hoped he survived the expedition, for I wanted to hear everything he had to tell about it. Besides, he'd promised to go with me all the way to the Moon of Dreams, so utterly different from the airless and lifeless moon orbiting The World We Know...
But none of this had any bearing upon what Old Grisselda was impatient to be talking about; and never in the almost two years I'd been coming to Shalath Lalal had I witnessed such impatience on her part, or such repressed excitement.
"Don't worry about Old Hartog, Norman; he'll be fine! He's too stubborn to die, much like I! He'll be back in a month with enough dragonhides for ten years. There are more important things to be doing! An adventure, young master; and an opportunity the like of which has not happened for more than nine hundred years! Finally we have a chance to get back the Cloak of Invisibility that Arkaynne stole from my mother and me nine hundred and fifty-one years ago! When I tried to get it back, before, he killed my mother before my eyes, then did things to her still warm body that an eighteen year old should never have to witness being done to any woman, let alone her own mother. Then he did the same things to me, before burning out my eyes. He let me live; calling it a sorcerer's 'mercy'!" The cold, bleak, remembrance of those past immensities of pain, her depth of loss and that ultimate defilement, expressed thru that utterly remorseless hatred in Old Grisselda's voice, chilled me in ways like nothing I had ever experienced before.
"What did he do to you and your mother?"
"The unforgivable. You're too young, and far too innocent, still; and Grisselda's not the one to be destroying that."
That was a frustrating kind of tantalization. Why mention it if she didn't want to explain what she was talking about? But... she was right. Altho, almost twelve, I still had no notion of what "rape" meant. "The fate worse than death" in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan novels was something utterly beyond my own conception, then.
"When I gain the knowledge -- and the power -- Arkaynne will suffer hells even he, in all his depravity, cannot conceive. But he's got a thousand years over me; and still knows more. I am no archmage; tho I am gaining on him. But now we can get back the Cloak of Invisibility; and that, alone,eventually, may give me the edge I need to give him his just desserts!
"I have waited over nine centuries for this opportunity; and it will be the most important thing you will ever have done, Norman. More important than you can yet imagine; for you do it for yourself, too, in ways you won't be able to understand for many years yet. I scryed it thru the Eye of Destiny..."
I hated that kind of secretive mysteriousness, keeping the full facts from me when I was sure I could understand, if she'd only tell me. But I knew Grisselda well enough, already, to know she wouldn't tell til she thot I was ready to learn, no matter what I said.
"Why don't you just use the head of Medusa to turn the Archmage Arkaynne into stone? He wouldn't be a threat to anybody, then, anymore."
"Believe me, dearie, I've considered it, a score times more than you have fingers and toes. But that's too quick, too painless, too merciful. He deserves no mercy. I want him writhing in agony for a million years; and will settle for no less!"
The malice in her voice made me really glad I wasn't the archmage!
"How come nobody ever talks about him, here? Everytime I've mentioned him, anytime but with you, people get real quiet and shush me up. They look scared, too."
"It's like with the devil, lad. They figure if they never talk about him, or even mention his name, maybe they won't draw any attention from him. No one has ever come back alive from his Fortress of Fear on the Dragon Isle in the midst of the Burning Sea! Hell could be no worse to go to!"
"Is that where the Cloak of Invisibility is?! How can we get it away from there, especially if he's more powerful than you are?!"
"That's the beauty of it! Arkaynne is not there -- now! And won't be, for at least three days, if not a week. He's off to a centennial sorcerer's convention in another Realm of Dream and intends to bring back some succulent succubi to slake his lusts on. Frail humans die too soon. He hardly gets them broken-in and trained to satisfy his perverse desires before they prefer death. He could bring them back alive, but zombies have never satisfied him for any length of time. Even succubi die in his embrace, after a century. He sucks the life essence right out of them. I shouldn't be telling you this. You're still too young."
"Where's Dragon Isle? How far away is it?"
"Six hundred and some leagues -- across the Cerenarrian Sea, the Isthmus of Argotte and the Tears of Astoreth -- that's the world-circling ocean. It's a quarter of the way across another continent, Bosonoria."
"We going on flying carpets?"
"Good Goddess, no, Norman! You're going with the silver staff! It'll be almost instantaneous!"
"So far away -- how do you know he's not there. How do you know he's left for some sorcerer's convention to get some -- suck -- suck -- suckers -- or whatever they are?" (Yes, at that age i did think "succubi" might be a glorified form of Tootsie Roll Pop!)
Old Grisselda confided some secrets to me, then, that she'd never told anybody else -- ever! -- not even Amorette! And she showed me the Phoenix egg!
She kept it secreted in a null-space interdimensional vault. It took some really arcane and advanced metamathematically magickal incantations to unlock the vault. She mumbled the Key so low I couldn't understand any of it, held out her hands, and there it was in them, out of nowhere.
The mysterious manner of its sudden appearance was nothing compared to the entrancing magic of the Phoenix egg, itself! Never had I seen anything like it -- or imagined such beauty!
Its shape was pretty much like a robin's egg, but considerably larger, at least a foot from end to end and probably nine inches in diameter near the middle. Its shell was utterly transparent and inside were these dancing swirls of living fire -- cerulean blue, peacock-bright green, brilliant yellows and golds with traces of orange and scarlet, and at least a dozen miniature starbursts going off all the time.
"Wow! Can I touch it?!"
"Why not?" Grisselda lowered the Phoenix egg to her lap.
Inside The Phoenix Egg
Art by Norman E. Masters
It felt warm, and I felt an intensitude of vibrant life inside, dancing, dancing, dancing, pulsating against the translucent shell as if wanting to burst free into a fullness of explosive transformation.
"Is it going to hatch?!"
"Maybe in another 500 years! It'll grow considerably larger -- and I can't let it hatch here!"
"It would consume the whole world! This is a celestial Phoenix, one of the cosmic eggs. When this egg hatches, it will give birth to a whole new galaxy."
"But it feels alive!"
"Do you think stars and worlds and galaxies aren't?"
"Well -- I never really thought about stars and galaxies being alive, before! How'd you get this?!"
"Too long a story for now. Phoenixes are singular. Each world, each sun, gives birth to only one Phoenix, which is a condensation of the fiery life-essence of its very core. Then the Phoenix always rebirths from its own ashes. But if one world Phoenix -- or solar Phoenix -- can be brought together with another, thru a spacewarp or an interdimensional warp, they impregnate each other. Since all phoenixes are bi-sexual they both produce a single egg, very special eggs, for by the 900th year, living stars begin forming, inside."
I learned from Grisselda that this was not the only Phoenix egg in this Realm of Dream... The Archmage Arkaynne had the other. And both were telepathic.
It was thru the Phoenix egg that Grisselda had been able to keep tabs on Arkaynne's thoughts and movements for over four centuries! The one she had, had very acute receiving power of every thought transmitted thru Arkaynne's Phoenix egg, which was of every thought of the Archmage, himself, of those he brought to his fortress, and of the dragons which guarded it for a seven league perimeter. But altho Grisselda's Phoenix egg received telepathic transmissions from the other egg over such a long distance, it was only able to transmit thoughts for a very short distance, itself. And tho Arkayyne's egg transmitted, powerfully, its reception was far more limited. Thus Grisselda was able to listen-in on every thought the Archmage had whenever he was within seven leagues of his own Phoenix egg; but the limitations of his egg, in reception, gave him no inkling this was happening!
Thus Grisselda had been able to learn manymany sorcerous secrets directly from the mind of the Archmage, himself. She complained, tho, that it was an awful way to learn., His mind was so nasty, so diabolical that it became a torment, at times, being pulled into its dark and torturous labyrinths. "You don't know what obscene really is, until you've tuned in to that fiend's mind," she muttered in utter disgust.
Whatwith the powers inherent in the silver staff of dreams and the synchronicity of my own presence in Shalath Lalal with the Archmage Arkaynne's absence from his Fortress of Fear, for the first time it became possible to recover the Cloak of Invisibility that had once belonged to Grisselda's mother, and which now, rightfully, belonged to Grisselda.
The major problem (besides getting past the guardian dragons) was that Arkaynne's Phoenix egg would record every thought that I thought while within 7 leagues of it, and would be able to transmit those to the Archmage, himself, when he returned. Then, once the Archmage learned who had taken the cloak, and who had sent me, all was lost!
The silver walking stick, being a manifestation of Icelos, could take the form of any beast; so there was no difficulty in appearing there on a dragon, myself. Grisselda did know the spells (learned from the Archmage Arkaynne's mind) to put a "glamour" upon me so that I gave the illusion of being the Archmage, sufficient to befool the guardian dragons.
But to befool the Phoenix egg -- that was more difficult! There was no disguising the reality of my thoughts.
So what Grisselda instructed me to do was to think only certain thoughts, over and over and over again, never deviating from those thoughts.
She taught me the rhyme:
I was to think nothing other than that -- the entire time it took me to enter the fortress, find and snatch the Cloak of Invisibility and depart on the dragon the silver staff of dream had become. If I could not avoid thinking of something else I was simply to count numbers from one to however far I got.
To be certain that a betraying thought did not escape my mind, Grisselda would monitor my every thought thru her Phoenix egg, which would be receiving them thru Arkaynne's Phoenix egg. She put a charm upon my wrist thru which I would receive a mild electric shock if any betraying thought escaped my mind. If that happened then I was also to take Arkaynne's Phoenix egg. Of course she preferred I not have to take it for that would put an end to her inside information on the Archmage.
And in return for running the risk and recovering the Cloak of Invisibility for her she promised I would be able to use it, once a year, on my birthday, the next three years. And I could take any single item in her entire Shoppe for my own, with the exception of Pippit, the Phoenix egg and the Cloak of Invisibility, itself!
She also plotted out a few diversionary tactics, for extra protection. For example, when I mounted the silver-staff dragon, I was to instruct him to "Return me to the Realm of Yahweh!" Immediately upon arriving there I was to instruct the silver staff to take me to an empty ghoul cavern of Dolarr. Immediately upon arriving there I was to go to the cloud-hidden peak of Hatheg-Gla; and, finally, from there, back to Shalath Lalal to deliver the Cloak of Invisibility to Grisselda.
Grisselda cackled gleefully at the thought of the Archmage Arkaynne launching a vengeful campaign against Yahweh -- for stealing the Cloak of Invisibility!
Well, now is not the time to detail that tale in all its mishaps and permutations. Suffice it to say that the Cloak of Invisibility was recovered; I did not have to take the other Phoenix egg; and the Archmage Arkaynne never learned who really took it or who sent him to take it. And that he was almightily pissed-off as he had never been pissed-off before -- at that upstart godling, Yahweh! And when he came back, singed and nursing his wounds from that imbroglio, after he decided to go off and teach Yahweh a lesson, Grisselda had lots to amuse her for several weeks, listening in to his thoughts during the aftermath.
Art by Norman E. Masters
Upon returning to Shalath Lalal with the Cloak of Invisibility I couldn't resist the temptation of putting it on to see if it really worked. And, being not quite twelve the next mischievous impulse was to walk down the cobblestoned streets scaring people with a sudden "Boo!" coming out of the air of No One There!
Those kind of hi-jinx didn't set too well with Grisselda; and she gave me a tongue-lashing for it like I'd never received before. It wasn't the hi-jinx, themselves, intrinsically, that teed her off. It was the fact that reports of an Invisible Voice doing such could, potentially, get back to Arkaynne, in time -- which might make him suspicious as to where the cloak actually was. My unthinking foolishness had just undermined all her carefully-executed plans to make sure he wouldn't!
Well, I felt hurt and ashamed of my own stupidity to have done such a lame-brained thing, tromped out of Grisselda's shop in a dither and a pout, wandered down by the wharves, on the Bay of Ispokay.
Amorette had repeatedly warned me to stay away from there, especially near dusk when the fog rolls in. But I was in a sullen, self-hating gloom, and went that way deliberately as a way of punishing myself. I would've stopped by Old Hartog's shop, instead; and doubtlessly some of his droll and worldly-mellow comments would've lightened my mood of self-recrimination over such abysmal stupidity, but he was off on his expedition for dragonskins.
So I watched a Droog ship unload strange cargo amidst the drifting mists. I wasn't totally stupid and suicidal! I did hide behind some bales of snufflegrass that wouldn't be loaded til the next day on a different ship. The snufflegrass would be spread in the hold under the crates of onkeyhonks being transported to the Isle of Sharonog. Onkeyhonks shit a lot; and snufflegrass is absorbent and has a strong, but not unpleasant, counteractive odor. The shipment was probably for the culinary delight of some of the higher echelons of wizzywigs there. They love eating onkeyhonks -- alive! -- and down to their last "Onk!yOnk!yOnk!" (At least that's what Amorette told me, once; and then she burst out laughing and could hardly stop! I don't know what she thought was so funny -- whether it was something she wouldn't tell me about the onkeyhonks, the wizzywigs, or whether it was just the expression on my face when she was going "Onk!yOnk!yOnk!")
Droogs are not really popular in Shalath Lalal. People tend to skirt shy of them, and whisper darkly about them after they have passed. Droogs carry a sinister air and have shifty, furtive eyes. Three of them, one in the back of their heads. And nasty tempers. They can go into a rage over nothing! They're tolerated because they're the only source of horlogs. But otherwise the cargo they bring remains mysterious -- as does the cargo they take. It's all stored in Nerg's (the woofernoop's) Warehouse; and Nerg keeps his warehouse locked and reveals nothing about what he is dealing in. It is transported by snarkleneigh caravan into the Carpacian Mountains; and whatever it is the Droogs take in exchange comes from there. Woofernoops are pretty fierce, being the size of a human giant, basically looking like an obese cat walking around on two legs, but with jaws that have shark-like teeth. Nerg's face is kinda lionlike; but his head is really big, and extra long. It looks like he's got room in it for an extra brain, behind the normal one! So what with a woofernoop being so fierce, and the Droogs being so sinister and prone to unreasonable rage, nobody asks them what it is they're dealing in!
But, very frequently, people end up strangely missing after a Droog ship has left harbor. And none of those missing persons has ever been seen or heard from again.
So I watched a half a dozen Droogs moving their strange cargo to Nerg's Warehouse.
Then something else came off the Droog ship like I'd never seen before, and, quite frankly, hope to never see again! It was a very disturbing looking creature. It was barrel-shaped at the shoulders with a black robe draping to the quay. But the cloth moved strangely with a continual writhing and contorting going on beneath it. A vagrant scurry of breeze lifted it a moment and I got a glimpse of what the dark gauze-like robe was covering... It was a mass of dozens of writhing tentacles, leaving sucker-mouth wet imprints on the quay. On its head was a flat, square, thin boardlike headpiece with a scarlet veil falling down to its shoulders. But there were a dozen holes all around the veil; and glowering thru them were baleful yellow eyes the color of vitamin B-rich urine. And it stank! It smelled like a cross between licorice, vomit and rotten meat.
Then it saw me! Making slobbery, sucking noises it began hastening in my direction.
I tore off like a nightgaunt out of screebering nightmare... but it was fast, and gaining on me!
My heart was pounding like it was going to burst out of my chest. In frantic remembrance I snatched the silver staff of dreams, pen-sized, out of my pocket, held it between my legs and literally screamed for Pegasus.
In moments I was aloft, ascending still higher over Shalath Lalal, while the creature, below, reached futilely into the air with half a dozen groping tentacles.
I was definitely ready to head back to the more mundane commonplaceness of The World We Know, for awhile, after that.
A week or so later, when I asked Grisselda what the creature had been she said it was a Stridge, and that I was very fortunate it hadn't gotten ahold of me, that they did really horrible things to people... that after a Stridge was done with you there'd be nothing left but bones and skin!
I took one of the eonite crystals preserving one of the Dreams of Morpheus for all Eternity for my reward for recovering the Cloak of Invisibility. I was kind of afraid to take the one that I was in; and others were so strange they were scarey. So I took the one preserving the adventures of a centaur and a lightly-blue furred and feathered birdwoman with a really pretty face who I named Bluebird. Morpheus dreams really long dreams! Their adventures go on for a whole lifetime! I couldn't possibly watch them all or I'd have no time to live my own life!
A really strange thing happened after I used the silver staff of dreams to return to Shalath Lalal the evening of my twelfth birthday. I was pretty excited about being able to use the Cloak of Invisibility; and had thought about it sufficiently to know I wanted to use it for more than just foolish pranks. There was much that one could see, cloaked in invisibility, that one would never be allowed to see, otherwise! Nearest-by, for example -- what mysterious things was Amorette doing when she wouldn't let me come along? What strange things passed thru Nerg's warehouse? There was the possibility of witnessing the secret rites of the Priests of Gorm, or getting in to see the garden of King Asperides, where the flower-maidens grew! I could even sneak up to the top of the Tower of Issi where the Princess Lalaynya lived!
I burst into Old Grisselda's Shoppe bubbling over with anticipation, and asked her, jauntily, what she thought I ought to use the Cloak of Invisibility to see.
Grisselda's lips puckered out in wizened thoughtfulness. For a lengthy time she said nothing.
Finally she said, "This is going to seem strange to you, Norman, and you won't understand it for a long time. I could explain it to you; but you'll remember it better if I don't. You already borrowed the Cloak of Invisibility, today; and you haven't returned it yet!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Or maybe I hadn't heard it right? "What?!" I asked in disbelief.
She repeated the last sentence she had spoken.
"What do you mean I already borrowed it?! I just got here!"
Grisselda did not deviate from what she was insisting was the case; and, for sure, my intense disappointment in having the bubble-of-my-expectations so unexpectedly burst lodged the memory of my twelfth birthday visit to Shalath Lalal indelibly in my dream-memories.
There was a tone of genuine regret at my disappointment in Grisselda's response; but she would explicate upon the enigma no further.
As I left, muttering under my breath, Grisselda said, with more compassion than I'd ever heard, before, in her voice, "You will understand later, Norman. Don't forget this!"
You bet I won't forget you breaking your promise! I thought, dragging my feet, morosely, in the direction of Old Hartog's shop. Don't know why I ever got that back for you anyway! She must be losing her mind... Going dotty... Well... she is 971 years old! Don't need your stupid old Cloak of Invisibility anyways!
Afterall, I did still have that most magickal Dream Key of all, the silver staff of dreams!
Old Hartog made up for my sense of loss with the most exciting parts of his adventures in the Desert Of No Return, telling me of the walking mummies in the necropolis of Nicrotis, of the battle with an old dragon who had come to the Dragon Fields to die, and how he got what he came for, but not in the way he expected! And the living whirlwinds that almost buried their caravan alive, on the way back, the sandsleighs weighted down with dragonskins. And he introduced me to the baby whirlwind he was raising, for a time, more a temporary adoption than a pet, really. And the whirlwind took me for a ride! Kinda scarey -- but exhilarating, too!
On my thirteenth birthday, when I was supposed to be able to borrow the Cloak of Invisibility for the second time, my hopes were up just as high as they had been the year before because when I'd stopped by about a week before Grisselda slyly insinuated that she suspected I was pretty excited about seeing what was to be seen in the Forbidden Places in Dream... She suggested that the mermen and mermaids disporting in the Bay of Rispey was something I might not want to miss, that that was one of the places she had gone -- on her sixteenth birthday, when her mother allowed her to don the Cloak of Invisibility.
So I didn't think Grisselda was going to pull any dirty tricks on me like she had the year before.
Thus when Grisselda informed me that I'd already come earlier that day, with a companion, and borrowed the Cloak of Invisibility, and had said it wouldn't be returned til the next day, I was really angry!
"You promised! And you've broken your promise twice now! And if you didn't want me to ever use the Cloak of Invisibility, why'd you tell me I could -- three times? You're a liar! If you don't trust me with it, or you're afraid I'll lose it, you could just tell me the truth. You don't have to lie about it and say I already borrowed it -- when I didn't! And you know I didn't!"
Well... Grisselda didn't like being called a liar! That's being sassy and disrespectful of your elders; and if I thought I'd gotten a tongue-lashing for messing-around with the Cloak of Invisibility, scaring people, over a year before; that was nothing compared to the tongue-lashing I got then.
And it just really wasn't wise to piss Grisselda off that much! She told me she was going to teach me a lesson -- for impertinence -- far more effective than my mother washing my mouth out with soap, a lesson that I would never forget!
And she did!
She put the dread Backwards/UpSideDown Fearsome Curse upon me that Amorette had warned me about that very first time I'd come here!
Art by Norman E. Masters
What the curse did was put your right arm where your left leg is -- and vice versa and your head on backwards where your genitals are, and your genitals atop your neck. Your mouth is lock-jawed open with your tongue stuck out as far as it will extend; and she just leaves you that way until after you've had to take a bowel movement!
After that she returned me to my normal configuration and graciously allowed me to clean up the mess.
Of course with the thieves she just never turned them back at all!
Grisselda promised she would never tell Amorette about the incident. She repeated that I had already borrowed the Cloak of Invisibility; and that I was never to forget that. Then she added, "Your time is not my time, young master. What has already been, for me, is yet to come, for you. You will know what this means when your time comes. Your future is already my past. Remember that!"
Then, as I was leaving, "I'm sure, Norman, that when your fourteenth birthday comes around you will not have borrowed the cloak of Invisibility before you get here!"
And, indeed, on my fourteenth birthday I made up for what I'd missed-out-on before, and did watch the mermaids and mermen disporting in the Bay of Rispey (alongwith a few other forays to view the hitherto unexperienced and unimagined). And, even at fourteen, I was absolutely shocked at what the mermaids and mermen were doing with each other! But, likewise, I was strangely stirred -- in ways I had never been stirred before, and thought it might be nice to do some of that with Amorette!
Remembering all this more than sixteen years later, working the second shift at Pontiac Motors in The World We Know, I finally realized how it was possible that Grisselda had not lied to me, afterall...
Hope, once more, blossomed in the throbbing in my breast.
Here was the way to extricate Norea and Steve Krantz from being held captive by the Kroati! Wearing the Cloak of Invisibility I could pass unseen across that foreboding bridge into the heart of the alien city in the Underworld Cavern of Dream, just as I had ascended, unseen, into the Tower of Issi to watch the Princess Lalaynya take her bath, just as I had walked right past King Asperides's guards to enter his Secret Gardens famed thruout the Dream Worlds, and listened to the quivering strains of the flower-maidens singing the sun to rise... just as I had watched the erotic play of the merpeople... and the gollywogs under the full moon from the shore of the Bay of Rispey...
The problem was: how to get back to Shalath Lalal before a younger me arrived on my twelfth or thirteenth birthdays to borrow the Cloak of Invisibility for something farfar more important in my life now than what I would've used the Cloak of Invisibility for, back then.
Then I had had the silver staff of dreams. Now I had nothing beyond the intensitudes of uttermost longing, which had never yet gotten me where I most wanted to be!
I needed a Dream Key. Desperately. An effective one; one that really worked.
But where could such be found in The World We Know?
What would Old Hartog advise me to do in a dilemma like this? was the youthful thought that then surfaced in my mind, as if coming from a sixteen-years-younger version of myself.
I remembered, then, what Old Hartog, himself did. Every morning, just as the sun was peeping over the horizon, every evening, just as the sun was setting, trailing her robes of gloriously lingering light, he prayed to Robblee Pob, the childgod of the Dream Realm Old Hartog had been born in -- Ooth Cathsaad. He'd lovingly carved a five foot statue -- on a pedestal -- out of ruddy marble imported from far-fabled Ahher. It stood in the middle of his garden, behind his shop, with myriads of flowers blossoming around it. And he had another Robblee Pob, about four inches tall, that he carried with him, when he traveled.
Altho Old Hartog would talk endlessly about his various adventures, he always remained reticent about why he had left Ooth Cathsaad to settle, eventually, in Shalath Lalal. His eyes always lit up, most fondly, whenever he mentioned Ooth Cathsaad; but, strangely, tho he wanted to visit the moon, again, I don't remember him ever mentioning wanting to return to Ooth Cathsaad.
But he loved Robblee Pob.
The statue was that of a roly-poly cherub with just a hint of mischief in his eyes, joy-laughter tweeking the edge of his lips. And tho it was a statue, the eyes were alive! More than once I saw them follow my movements as I walked about Old Hartog's garden. And they'd wink at me!
Old Hartog told me that Robblee Pob's living essence was present in any statue, in his image, that was created out of genuine love for Robblee Pob.
As with Eros, Robblee Pob was one of the sons of Aphrodite. Borne of the Goddess of Love, he was, himself, a gentle god of Love, forever young.
"If your prayer comes of love, if your prayer is prayed in love, if your prayer is for love -- pray it to Robblee Pob! He will answer your prayer. But first you have to make your own Robblee Pob -- out of your own love for Robblee Pob," Old Hartog once told me. And that was one time when Old Hartog's Robblee Pob not only winked at me -- but, I would swear! -- actually, slightly, nodded his head in affirmation of what Old Hartog had said!
What else to say? Here was the way!
It was for Love... I shaped it of clay... and I labored for days on a two foot statue of Robblee Pob, reshaping it over and over again, trying to capture the essence of his shape, his features, as Old Hartog had revealed them to be... returned to me, now, with the dream-memories...
Katie thought I was acting stranger and stranger. Why this sudden obsession with a clay statue? she wondered.
John Mach dropped by and caught me praying to it! And yes, my intensitudes of longing for the Dream returned had turned me into a veritable pagan! -- at thirty years of age! And no lightning bolts struck me dead, hurled by any Judeo-Christian God living in the Heavens of The World We Know.
Into every contour of my Robblee Pob, thruout the shaping thereof, there was a heart-focus of yearning prayer, a heart-pulse of deepest caring -- not only for Robblee Pob, but for Old Hartog, and Old Grisselda, and Amorette and Norea and my children as they looked on curiously, wanting to help (which they did in some measure)! We found lots of colorful fall leaves, since the flowers were all gone for the season, and showered them upon Robblee Pob, then danced around him, singing spontaneous, celebrative songs. A five year old Shahn and two year old Jaynell found it more fun than going to Sunday School; but Katie had a conniption fit about it!
So I hid Robblee Pob, for fear she would destroy the clay statue. But that night after work (a full week after I had realized what must be done) I took it out to the garden under the full moon and prayed, again, as Old Hartog had taught me to pray -- to Robblee Pob. I remembered the way I used to caress the smooth contours of Old Hartog's Robblee Pob, and felt very much like that child again...
I laid my heart bare and prayed to the child god, still again, with all the intensitudes of my longing -- to transport my dreaming consciousness back to Shalath lalal on my twelfth birthday, before the younger I had arrived there with the silver staff of dream.
A vagrant cloud scattered a few chill raindrops upon us, baptizing me in the moonlight. Two of them splattered Robblee Pob's eyes and ran down his cheeks like tears.
Then -- the eyes came alive! looking at me warmly and fondly, twinkling with a kind of dancing delight.
Then the eyelid of Robblee Pob's right eye closed, slowly, in a waggish wink.
But I did not awaken in Shalath Lalal.
Instead -- I found myself in Ooth Cathsaad.
Jan. 24 --> March 2, 1998
Dream Dimensional Shift
Art by Norman E. Masters