Random Chapters from “The Magnetic Fields”

April 16, 2014

It is night. The interior of his trailer is a black pit except for the silver-white snake on the oscilloscope and the luminous green stripe on the shortwave radio. The band is not tuned to any particular frequency but is precisely set in between the crammed frequencies and it emits inter-galactic blips and bleeps, whistles and chirpings that sound like needles slitting through ice. These noises, and the drone of the hives beyond the open window, provide the cosmic backdrop.

With his right hand he takes a long pull on the bottle of carrot juice. His left hand pats Anubis’s head on the ridge of occiput between the spear-tipped ears. The Braille volume of E. Wallis Budge’s Papyrus of Ani is open on his lap. The original hieroglyphs are mated to the Braille text, dizzying constel-lations of cells and patterns. The book was custom made through one of the Braille foundations and it is a fat tome. It takes three pages of Braille to make one of type and the Book of the Dead is a very large book.

He reads from Chapter LXXVIII—Of Changing into a Divine Hawk. He chants the words in a low and rapid monotone whisper, chants to the counterpoint of hive drone and whirring static.

. . . and I had waxed old and had become pre-eminent among the Spirit-souls who had come into being with him. I rose up like a divine hawk, and Horus endowed me with a Spirit-body with his soul, so that I might take possession of the property of Osiris in the Tuat . . .
A thousand minute icy needles racing inside that radio.

The falcon tackle lay in a steel link and leather mound by the door: jesses, swivel and leash, hood and laces, glove, sock . . . the lure with a dried lump of meat tied to it upon which flies gather and feed (he hears them too). Ion relished tracing his finger along the leather sickle of the hood, which reminded him of the Son of the Corn God, the Hawk Man . . . She is back on her perch now, lashed to the block; the jesses would snare her upside down, like a petard, if she dared to fly away. He had called her back this afternoon, after he and Sol admitted the new queen. Sol had left drenched and weary, but elated over their success, blessing the colonies with rabbinical gestures. A good man and a good friend . . . Later, when his girl had returned, he scratched her leg and noticed the band and paper missing. He had sensed a disruption on the scope minutes before, a series of alpha spikes which had lasted about half an hour. What form of sight allowed him to know the frequencies and fields? Properties of light and magnetism, the way the compass needle twitched then spun out of control when anyone had ever dared to approach the old place, the reeds and rushes of it, if he could only see them, switching like that silver wire. He knew the house well, was familiar with all its cracks and corners, the fifth warped stair, the edge and plane of the Formica kitchen counter top pimpled with tacky remnants of food. His senses were an unraveling skein from this point of origin, this provenance, this amorphous beginning.

I know the Light-god. His winds are in my body . . . My face is like that of a divine hawk. I am one who is equipped like his lord. I shall come forth to Tetu. I shall see Osiris . . . I shall see the gods and the Eye of Horus burning with fire before my eyes. They shall reach out their hands to me. I shall stand up. I shall be master of him that would subject me to restraint. They shall open the holy paths to me, they shall see my form, they shall listen to my words.

In a recurring dream he is a worker in the hive. He feels the sharp hexagonal boundaries of the comb supporting him, the hard wax ridges pressing up, pollen spores clinging to his probing cilia legs. He is near ecstatic in the elegance of his movement, in the way he straddles geometry athwart the cell, lining its brittle casing with his saliva and secretions. He feels the barb uncurling from his abdomen like an unsheathed sword.

Earlier today Sol Lapis had told him, “I want you to see the Big Light . . . I cannot guarantee that you’ll see details and colors, things that sighted people see. What I think I can promise you is a magnificently huge, panoramic and powerful vision, like a fleeting glimpse of God. I know you’ve been seeking it for years.”

It all began on a bright, windy September afternoon. He was 14, already tall and gangly for his age. The bus from special school had dropped him off in front of his house in Millville. Normally, his mother had not yet returned from work and every day he knew the routine he needed to follow to let himself in. He would touch the mat with the end of his stick, slide his hand under the oily rubber to pick up the cool brass key, finger the lock’s face until he located the notched groove, insert the key, turn to the left, turn the knob and push. He had found this small routine quite satisfying.

But on that day, as the bus pulled away from the curb and he’d headed up the walk, Ion felt a rock smash against the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. Some boys shouted close by—cruel, heartbreaking jeers. He heard the smack of their sneakers against the pavement as they scurried and scrambled down the street. He recognized their voices. At first he could not get up, and he clawed the grass until he found his stick and used it to raise himself, his legs wobbling in the effort. He seemed alright, maybe slightly off balance, but soon a warm viscous fluid had gathered behind his ear and poured down his neck and collarbone. The rock had struck him partly in the ear, but mostly behind the ear, splitting open the fragile skin between the hinge of the jaw and the side of the neck. A few large drops tapped the sidewalk like spittle or the beginning of rain . . . Blood . . . He knew blood was red, but he had no concept of red. He wiped his forefinger along the side of his neck and licked the substance: a salty metal taste, taste of our animal selves, taste of violence and fear.

A neighbor had seen him fall and had rushed over to him by the time he stood up. She was an elderly black woman and she’d acted quickly, guiding him to her house as fast as she was able to guide a six-foot-two and blind 14-year-old. The neighbor had applied towels soaked in warm water as a compress to his gaping wound, and she’d watched in horror as the white terry cloth quickly turned red. Using a dry towel and scissors, the woman crafted a makeshift bandage wadded behind his ear and then drove him to the hospital emergency room herself because she didn’t trust the police to come or send an ambulance in time, and she’d called his mother at work to meet her at the hospital. He’d wound up with 16 stitches behind his ear. He had lost over two pints of blood.

Within weeks after the experience, Ion began to explore the supernatural and occult. He read the works of Edgar Cayce and became fascinated with ancient Egypt, particularly the Theban Recension, The Book of the Dead, and followed with readings in Babylonian scripture, The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Cabala. He studied the Theosophical writings and the histories of the Theosophical societies that had flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He practiced psychic exercises. He would imagine himself as a mote of dust endlessly spinning in a beam of sunlight. He had enough tactile data (sensations on his skin with their fluctuating warmth) to convert to imagination. He became obsessed with the sun, the idea of the sun, and with memory. He engaged in self-induced trances to regress as far back as the time of his birth, or earlier in the womb, and he believed these earliest memories contained a panoply of jeweled colors that was most likely his earliest experience of sight. He had developed these mental powers for a decade and then one day discovered that the acquired concentration served him well in other pursuits. He performed miracles of self-reliance by practicing falconry and keeping bees. Sighted people marveled at his ability to master a number of challenging avocations. If seeing existed for him, it manifested itself in this other-worldly husbandry, flourished in astral journeys and willed dreams where his inner vision excelled in feats like scaling the comb walls of the cell or soaring in the cool blue ether . . . These things made up the epiphanies of his life, the moments when his sightless sphere was punctured, burst wide, transcended.

The common misnomer about blindness is that it feels like darkness, but darkness presumes light. Blindness is more like being aware of the space in back of your head.

Ion finished his bottle of carrot juice and closed the Book of the Dead on his lap. He asked a question out loud in the black solitude of his backwoods trailer, and his voice, addressed to no one except perhaps the dog, sounded like a preacher in an empty church.

“If I could see,” he asked, “which type of sight would I choose? Would I choose the crystalline detail of the hawk? Or would I choose the overpowering heavenly blues of the bee?”

I know the Light-god. His winds are in my body.

***
Ligeia was unable to look into a mirror and see the beauty that everyone else saw. She admitted her face possessed a seductive charm, displayed the penetrating eyes and smooth lines and skin that typify a model. She correctly believed she did not exploit her beauty to any advantage. In fact, the opposite was true. She often made some effort to ignore or conceal her beauty, or deny it, as if beauty were one more encumbrance in her life, another creature like the ones who visited her each night.

She was the product of a racially mixed marriage. Her mother was Japanese and her father Italian. Her parents had fought constantly. She remembered her father as a clever, but trapped and pent-up sort of man, his eyes darting suspiciously in his Sicilian head as he watched for the next trick or sure thing that would allow him to make his escape from the prison of normalcy. But his perennial dream of big bucks, of status, of dolls hanging on his arms and around his neck—was an illusion. Her father had abandoned the family and died several years later under mysterious circumstances, and for years she had harbored the suspicion that he was probably murdered by the mob because of gambling debts. After gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, Ligiea’s mother had supported her and her sister by working as a blackjack dealer at The Golden Nugget.

Her mother was a very attractive Japanese-American but more inaccessible than her father. A dragon lady who had managed to lure and parade a succession of lovers and boyfriends through her daughters’ already unhappy lives. These so called men became Ligeia’s surrogate fathers, each one as big a loser as her real father had been. Eventually her mother wised up, realizing she’d lacked good judgment in choosing partners, and she spent many years alone. But the earlier years had been hell. Ligeia was 14 when one of her mother’s boyfriends had raped her. Another boyfriend (later arrested for child pornography) would sit and stare at her for minutes on end, and then abruptly stand up from the sofa with a bulge in his pants and quickly exit the room. She never found out what had actually happened to her own father, the way she had never learned the truth about anything, including the origin of her unusual name. Her mother had maintained a calculating and stony inscrutability.

In her late teens she had latched onto older men —drug dealers, musicians, bikers, artists—a juvenile version of her mom’s pathology. At the age of 19 she had engaged in a six-month affair with a 30-year-old married lawyer. It was a sick and destructive relationship rife with degrading sexual acts. She had wanted so much to please.

She could not precisely fix the point in time where her nightmares and the intrusions of the others had begun. Somewhere in her mid to late teens. It had certainly been after the rape. The nightmares had been infrequent at first and the link between them and her attempted suicide remained fuzzy. Obviously Ligeia struggled with the memory, but she’d forever have the scar to remind her—four inches of cicatrix welded into her wrist, like a fossilized snail.

The voice that had first summoned her to the graveyard was a small, strangled and helpless cry of a child she’d begun hearing in her dreams. Ligeia dropped her therapist at the time and sought out Dr. Sol Lapis. At first she would not allow herself to undergo hypnosis, but Lapis had told her, “Risk it, peel away the layers. You’ll never get to the Truth otherwise, and it’s all about Truth.” Although it was flawed advice, Ligeia became Sol’s subject and commenced her plunge into humanity’s maelstrom. But how could she have ever known its scope, its depth and extent, trapped as she was between the weight of the chthonic element and the monstrous fission of atoms that so assuredly rearranged hers?

***
*
“What does snow look like?” Ion asked Adele. “Can you describe it to me?”

“At your age I’m sure you’ve asked that question before.”

“Yes, but I want to hear a description from you.”

“Well, it’s white.”

He laughed.

“Yeah? What’s that? What’s white to a blind man?”

“Ok, I’ll try again. From a distance snow looks like a white sheet or blanket. It shapes itself to whatever it sticks to, kind of like what water does in a container only turned inside out.”

“How does it look on water?”

“The water itself is usually ice, unless it’s a larger body of water, like a big lake or ocean, and the snow simple settles on the surface . . . Funny, but when you mentioned snow just now it brought back this childhood memory of Christmas. My father, when I still lived with him, laid out an HO train set at the base of the Christmas tree. It was a village with houses and stores, and it had a farm with sheep and cows outside the village and a skating pond with tiny figurine skaters. And my father had set the whole scene up on a white felt to represent fallen snow, like the kind used in department store window displays. I remember the Christmas tree had these water lights that looked like small syringes with bubbles flowing through them.

“There’s a painting—I think it’s by John Sloan—‘The City from Greenwich Village.’ It’s a landscape at night with the Flat Iron Building and an elevated train near a tenement. That is what the city had always felt like to me as a young girl. The impressions were of this immense cloak of sinister darkness sequined with lights. The city was all mystery and romance, and yet I felt dwarfed inside of it, a small and helpless thing. Often, when I woke up in the middle of the night from a bad dream or nightmare, I would try to enter my grandmother’s room and climb into her bed, but she’d never let me get in. She was old school. She had this flinty WASP stoicism that was forever denying things like fear and superstition and night and the unconscious. One time when I was sick she made me stand outside of her room in the upstairs hallway as I cried for her to open the door. And that was the night I saw a monster climb up the stairs and advance towards me until I fainted with terror . . . And you know, I am not saying this as a joke (because you know I love you darling and I always will), but honestly, whenever I recall that monster . . . he looked a lot like you.

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