The Butterfly Nebula — Fragment from Chapter 21: “Visions and Seizures”

December 26, 2017

One night she’d worked late, and had only drunk one glass of wine when she decided to go outside and walk in the desert. It was freezing cold and she had wrapped herself in his jacket. She recalled how in her dream the stars had all begun to fall like snow, and she now stood on an expanse of snow, a fine glittering mantle settling on the desert plateau for miles in every direction. On each corner of the plateau stood someone important from her life: North was Virgil; Soren in the East; Laura in the West; Wyatt to the South. The figures stood unmoving, like pieces on a chessboard. She called their names, and the calling of their names lingered and floated up on the black tide, floated up to the Dog and the Hunter.  They approached her in a short line, and one by one stepped up and stared at her without saying a word, only the eternal stare, and she began to weep, trying to hug everyone but the shapes were mist and vapor, and putting her arms around the ghost of Virgil made her cry the most. The snow then began to race under her feet, a swift white carpet, and she walked faster, taking long fast steps for fear of falling as if she were on a flat escalator in an airport. And as she strode, members of the tribe appeared alongside her: two at first, flanking her, soon others, dozens more, keeping pace with her on the racing snow and whispering, a hastened sibilance, a recitation, words that sounded absurd and meaningless, like dream gibberish, and yet somehow healing her, strange balm for her aging soul, voices high and low, soprano, alto, and baritone, a choir of whispers, in pointed rhythm, in tones meant to heal and not the words themselves, arbitrary symbols designed specifically for the listener . . . Animals then joined the people: coyotes, bears, cougars, dogs, hawks, owls, ravens, crows, buzzards, sparrows, grackles, lizards, snakes, spiders, scorpions. They eventually took their leave of her—men, women, children and beasts. The racing snow abruptly stopped, and she stepped off the edge of the plateau and into outer space.

She was drifting slowly down through the void and somehow buoyant on thin air, like a cork on water, a state of near weightlessness. She waved her arms. At one moment, instead of falling, she realized she was ascending, though it was difficult to get her bearings. She saw a distant object and felt herself being pulled toward it. The object enlarged, became a giant cylinder, and she recognized the Primum Mobile telescope and was relieved at the sight of a life raft that may carry her to safe harbor. She floated toward the telescope as if  pushed by a divine breath. She grabbed a spoke of an adjustment wheel about as wide as she was tall, and hoisted herself up, a tiny pointless creature on the enormous, slowly turning barrel, a grand silver lathe immersed in the coal black sea of space. But she kept slipping, losing her footing, so she lay down on her stomach, making an X with her arms and legs, gripping the gleaming alloy skin of the telescope as it traveled through her universe. The cylinder’s turning had been steady and gradual and eventually she found herself on the underside of it and could no longer hang on. And out of the darkness Virgil’s voice whispered to her that it was okay, even beautiful, for her to let go, and she slid off the giant Primum Mobile telescope and slowly fell backwards through space, though there was no bottom, no landing for her, simply the chance of another object eventually passing by that she might reach and cling to for a time.

The vision had caused her to pass out. Later, she would understand that she’d likely succumbed to an epileptic seizure. Sunrise was breaking on the desert, and she felt cold and near death. There was a slight rigid pressure against her forehead, and she opened her eyes to find a scorpion perched there. Beatrice casually brushed the scorpion away. She then stood up and began to walk toward the horizon, toward her star, the sun.

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