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vol v, issue 6 < ToC
Ruba's Rift
by
Lisa Towles
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Ruba's Rift
 by Lisa Towles
Ruba's Rift
 by Lisa Towles
Nothing rots in winter. Cold, nature’s disinfectant, is a freeze frame for the unrequited, a sort of accidental preservative. Homes in disrepair, crooked teeth, even broken dreams don’t feel so desolate up here. Montana. February. I’ve lived here all my life, and wonder if I’ve ever really lived at all. It’s two a.m. and my head is on sideways. Fingers frozen inside Thinsulate gloves, the sky is a pulsing kaleidoscope. Okay, I’ll admit to an occasional relationship with hallucinogens. But there’s color in the sky even when I’m straight up. And the sightless see plenty.

I travel down an empty path, and hands reach out from the folds of darkness — from behind trees, draperies of willow weeping for young voices, majestic spruce blue as new angels. It’s all there for us, the voice tells me. I can’t see it. I can’t even hear it, not in an audible way. But I sense a something — someone — within my grasp. And being human and, therefore, basically fearful of what I don’t understand, I walk. It is all I can do, the only act I own entirely. Thinking, well, that’s another story. Thoughts are not my own, for I give them away freely, surrendering every moment to the spastic whims of the unconscious machine. Breathing, a choice of the lungs. But travel. Ah, the sweet scent of volition. I walk and I’m surfing. My feet are a magic carpet. I feel the cold air of wanting on my cheeks, and the river, a dark contralto, moaning under a carpet of pine.

I see her, the dark princess. Only now, in this moment, when before she stayed in the shadows, humming mildly and rubbing herself against tree bark and the little shacks on the edge of the woods. Her dark skin makes her invisible, partly. Without clothes, her entire body is tattooed and she bobs up and down like a schizoid dancer. In her features I see finely chiseled bones assembled expertly by Michelangelo or Da Vinci. Leonardo built planes but knew how to build perfection in beauty as well. Oh yes, and she is beautiful. Primal, naked, and unafraid. Her bare feet press into the earth. Like me, she is also a traveler.

There she is now ... I see her, or the right side of her — a bare thigh, shoulder, the edgy curve of a muscular breast, and small, razor teeth betraying a sly smile. And now, as I move to see the rest of her, I notice only half of her is visible. The other half lives in another world, perhaps a parallel universe or another strand of time, a few seconds before...or after. Her right eye is upon me, glazing over me, studying, absorbing, mind melding. Yet that eerie smile pervades. Up, down, she bobs by bending her right knee, saying “aaaaaahhhhhh, ah aaaaaaahhhhhh.” Sort of like song, wailing, and tears. I’m stuck, she seems to tell me. Get me outta here. Please. What am I really looking at?

Walking. The cold. Yeah, sweet cruel precious intolerable freeze. It’s Montana alright. What do you expect? But cold in the context of psychedelic, or psychotropic drugs has a whole new aura. Trees bend down to greet me. The pine needles under my feet turn to shards of glass and bone China when I look down. My parka’s a cloak of boa constrictors tangled and hissing around my neck. I allow my roiling mind the luxury of these fantasies because, after all, fantasy is what I desire. Drugs for escape, drugs for adventure, ride the wave, dude. I’m there, I’m riding, my board is too short and fast for me, I’m scared and wanna hide under the water. But I don’t hide. I walk on bone China. I hear the sizzle of snakes in my ears. My brain is twisted. I can breathe, but everything threatens me. The cold, loneliness, suffocation, the dark. And there’s my ink-black, interdimensional princess behind a Douglas fir six feet ahead.

“I know you,” I say in a voice that isn’t mine. “Sweet dark angel.”

She moves closer, mostly leaning rather than taking actual steps. Her right arm wraps around the tree and makes her bare hip visible. It is simultaneously fleshy and bony, feminine and masculine. My brain makes me want her, but my heart, the seat of my only real intelligence, tells me she is dangerous and from another space.

“Why do you assume I speak English?” the dark princess asks.

I turn my head up and see the canopies of pine, the shimmer of Glacier Lake in the distance. I know where I am. Home. My woods. My land. “This is Montana. What else would —”

Her laugh incites the snakes wrapped around me. When I blink, the emerald lake vanishes and there’s concrete beneath my feet. A parking lot, cicadas buzzing overhead, ninety degrees out and black as midnight. Is it New Orleans or Nairobi? My dark princess is circling me. I cannot see her but I feel a coolness on my back and arms that contrasts with the sudden heat.

“Ruba,” I say. How do I know her name?

“I am,” she replies. “And what else do you know?”

The snakes are quiet now and there’s no broken glass under my shoes. “In Montana, you come as heat, and here, wherever here is, you are cold. The cold quiets the snakes wrapped around me.”

“You fear the snakes.”

“No,” I protest, but it is only half true.

“You are the snakes,” she insists. “You make them. Tell me more,” she says, moving closer. I see the outer shape of her body in front of me with a light behind her, like headlights fifty feet away. “Where are you?”

Breathing. Thinking about the woods, how cold my bedroom is at six a.m., concrete things. The curdled cream in my coffee, my alarm clock assaulting my ears. “You tell me,” I say. I’m pleading, almost in tears. Emotions are strangers now, unwelcome and capricious.

“Where did you live as a boy?” And now she vanishes again into the cloak of air and soot.

As a boy. Was I ever a boy? Am I a boy now? “San Juan,” I say, barely remembering a string of disparate details. My father’s factory job, the oppressive heat in August, a smelly mattress, the older girl who undressed by the window. When I spin back to the parking lot, it is light out. Mature trees line three rows of cars and the sun burns the back of my head.

“Yes. San Juan,” Ruba says behind me. I turn. She’s not there. I’m learning. “San Juan. Now you are here,” her voice chides.

“What are you, a ghost of Christmas past? Naked Scrooge? Sounds like a porn movie.”

“Is that what you want?” she says quickly, and materializes before me. Her breasts are much larger and she’s wearing tall white boots. “A centerfold Scrooge?” She sways her languid hips, her large breasts move gently up and down; white teeth gnashing at the air. Her laugh is awful, hellish. I feel myself crying and can’t stop. I think of the drugs I swallowed, thanking them for the adventure and damning them to hell.

My mind wants to protest but I’m aware of my energy. It’s waning and I can’t fight her. “I wanted an escape, not group therapy.”

Ruba slides closer, three steps, then three more even slower. Her bare breasts are touching my chest, her lips on my cheek pressing towards my ear. “One ... on ... one. We ARE the group. Therapy is a state of mind.”

I can’t help but look down at her breasts and notice two things. They’re smaller now, their original size, and her body’s only half visible again, borrowing itself over and over from the other place. Her shadowy presence tantalizes me — even more provocative than her freedom from clothes. More than I want her, I want that place, the other side, the shadow. I want to see it, see myself in it and see her other half. What does it look like there? Is the air thicker? Does the ground feel solid, and can I see God?

“You want the other side, baby? That what you want?” She cackles. The sound makes my palms tingle.

“You read minds or something? A talent you took from the dark side?”

“Who says it’s dark?” she says.

“So we’re all in hell and the other side is heaven?” I reply.

The terrible laugh again, like sandpaper on baby skin. “Heaven is a sandbox and hell’s a gas station men’s room. Okay? Don’t be so provincial. We’re capable of big things here.”

“Who?” I ask. “And where?” Looking around, it all changes again. Now I feel the cold under my shoes, but the air is still hot. She’s pushing me back to Montana. I’m feeling the transition. “Big things? Like giant sequoias and the sky?”

“Formations, transformations, reformation.”

As she says these words, I see a luminosity pass through her eyes, changing them from brown to a glowing green.



Mostly, I love her inside voice, the one no one can hear but me, the one that disguises itself as my own original thoughts. But they’re not mine. Like how I suddenly knew her name. I didn’t conceive of it, search for it, yet it showed up in my head, fully formed, mythical messengers, erect as soldiers poised for action.

“You will take three journeys,” she tells me.

“I don’t need to go anywhere.” I cross my arms like a defiant child.

She rolls her eyes at this gesture. “You want the other side, don’t you? You wanna know where I GO when I’m only half here. You want ... the rift.”

Now I’m on a dock somewhere near the edge of the universe, looming over stagnant, black water that might as well be tar. It’s not moving, so this can’t really be water. “There’s no current here.”

The dark face widens to allow a smile. It’s a beautiful smile she has sometimes, born of white, well-formed teeth and a sincerity to her eyes that’s not usually there. I call it the marketing smile, when she wants me to do something I don’t want to do. How I know so much about this strange being is a question I will undoubtedly ask forever, as I hardly know her. “It can’t really be water because there’s no current? And is there no current just because you can’t visually see the water’s movement?”

I wonder if she’ll ever ask me an easy question. Here, I’ll stick to simplicity. “Where are we going?”

“Three journeys.”

“You already said that. Let’s get on with it then.”

She laughs the terrible laugh, puts a full moon in the sky over our heads and slides into her human form again, this time all of her. I notice first her feet — not too large for her size, but they seem stronger, somehow, than what you’d expect on a petite woman, like they could morph into flippers or claws at any moment. Then, while my eyes slide up her dark flesh, clothes appear — a long, silky dress, tan shoes. “Ready or not ...”



Without even blinking, I’m standing in line in front of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She’s beside me in full costume with her hand gently holding my elbow. As we approach the entrance, I instinctively reach for my wallet. Gone. What a surprise.

“You won’t need it. We’re starting outside,” the mind reader says. I follow her to the parking lot. She looks up, shakes her head, and walks us right into the middle of Columbia Avenue. Cars are not screeching their brakes, and though we’re in oncoming traffic we don’t seem to be in anyone’s way. I see my own body and touch my arm, then hers. So we’re both here physically. I look up at her with a questioning glance.

“Yeah yeah,” she says in her floozie voice, “consciousness has many levels.” Watching me, she perceives my question. “We’re here alright and yes the cars are real too. Why they’re not hitting us has to do with the laws of physicality and consciousness. What you see isn’t necessarily what’s there. In other words, reality isn’t necessarily dependent on perception. Look up there,” she points to the building. It’s a multilayered spiral.

“How did he create it?” she says.

“Who, Frank Lloyd Wright?” I ask. She’s still looking up. And I notice, from this strange unreality, that a sudden wind blows up the bottom of her dress, yet I feel none of the wind on myself, and I can’t hear it. Come to think of it, I can’t hear the traffic spinning past and through us either. I try to breathe but can’t get air in my lungs. Okay, Guggenheim. “In segments I suppose, starting with the foundation.”

“Remember what I called our three journeys? Formations, transformations, and reformations. From these, you’ll understand everything about yourself and the world ... and about the other side.”

I’m shaking my head. “Formations then? Is that what this is?”

Ruba slides her long, dark arm around my neck and moves my head so it’s directly pointed up at the building. “What do you see? Squint your eyes if you have to.”

Squinting, like she suggested, I imagine that I’m a miniature person, an ant on a beach, gazing up at a giant nautilus shell.

“Yeeeeees,” she smiles, “nautilus. Do you know what that means?”

“One of nature’s miracles, I guess. Like the spots on a giraffe, and the way all rivers flow into the ocean.”

“Not a beach exactly, more like a mathematician’s laboratory. A nautilus shell is constructed out of a mathematical logarithm, a series of numbers that all succeed each other in perfect order. The equation is based on that madman Fibonacci, his real name was Leo Pisano, and this theory he had that everything in nature is based on a single mathematical equation. So he went out and found all kinds of things, like nautilus shells, that fell into his equation and he managed to get the world to believe every word of it.”

“You don’t believe it?”

Ruba snorts and walks out of the street toward the building. “I’ve been around a long time, and seen lots of things come and go, like geodesic domes, meteorites, black holes. Fibonacci based everything in his research on the Golden Mean, which was supposedly discovered by the Greeks and used to create all of their famous historical structures. I guess I think things are more random than that. When you create an environment, any environment, and put intelligent life in the middle of it, well, all bets are off. Dinosaurs and their immensity, that’s one thing. They’ll eventually consume everything on the planet. Animals, plants, you know. Much different from human beings. The most intelligent beings of our time, like,” she nods, “Fibonacci, Einstein, Fuller, Hawking, you know, really got us into the worst trouble of all. Because the more we know about our world, the more we want to change it and, inevitably, fuck it up. The physical impact of a comet, say, is immediate. But intellectual impact takes much longer and has a much more dramatic effect on the nature of the future.”

Ridiculous, I thought.

“What’s ridiculous about it?”

“So you’re not big on intelligence then.”

She shakes her head and flings her hand high in the air. We’re walking now around the perimeter of the museum. I see people looking toward us but with no eye contact. “It’s the level of intelligence. People like me, you know, who aren’t necessarily rooted to the here and now, call you Midlins. You have a middle level of intelligence that’s higher than animals but much lower than other beings. You’re capable of much more than you actually manifest, but your fear keeps you from going anywhere with it.

“So are you going to show me where all the numbers are hidden in the museum?”

Shaking her head again, Ruba starts to untie the silk dress and pulls it completely off, revealing her fully tattooed nudity, and then kicks her clicky shoes into the street. Noticing my wide eyes, she grins.

“Nobody can see me but you, baby. Keep it in your pants.”

“So your kind of beings don’t subject yourselves to carnal desire?”

“Sex? Is that what you mean? When you get to my stage, you can have whatever you want anytime. If I want an orgasm, I have it. You don’t need other people for that.”

“Well even my stage of humanity knows that. What about communication, though? Intimacy? You simply evolve past your need for other people? I don’t see the point.”

“I know. That’s why you’re at your stage and I’m at mine,” she muses, and suddenly all of my own clothes vanish off my body. I see shadows on the sidewalk and, when I look up, the sky is red. “Ready or not ...”



I find myself next completely naked beneath an eerie red-streaked sky and, once again, in the middle of traffic.

“I know, trust me, it’s an experiment,” Ruba says, guiding me by the arm to one of the fast-moving cars. She touches one car and it stops moving, and seems to become like us, whatever that means. The back door opens for me and Ruba shoves me in, closes all the doors, and stands genie-like outside of it.

“What do I do now?” I yell through closed windows.

“Relax and enjoy the spaciousness.”

Smaller than a Yugo, I try to appreciate her use of irony. And then a crimp in my lower intestine tells me that wherever we are going next will seem small by comparison. I watch her through the back window — fading again. Half here, half there or wherever she goes or lives or dwells, I don’t even know what you’d call it. That’s when it occurs to me. All I wanted to do was go there, wherever she went, that other place or next world, and maybe these three journeys will help me to get there.

“Get in!” she shouts Gestapo-like.

“The trunk? You’ve got to be —”

Before I finish my sentence, the tattooed, hundred pound princess thrusts me in the trunk of the tiny car with one swift move with her foot. The trunk slams over my head and darkness pushes all the way through me. I had been afraid of the dark as a child, in our huge farmhouse in Grass Plains, Montana. Since the car isn’t moving, I’m able to unfold both legs to relieve pressure in my stomach, and one of my arms reaches out a few inches. I wonder how long she’ll keep me in here, and how many more molecules of air I can suck up before I expire.

“Stop being so dramatic. Just another minute,” she says.

God help me.

“You are God. Help yourself.”

“I’ve had enough! I’ll go back to my —”

“Stop your whining. Do you want it or not?”

“Want what???” I scream from my scratchy throat and strained vocal cords.

“Everything. Knowledge, enlightenment, human progression ... or do you want to live the same boring litany of eternal stagnation? I know, honey, ignorance is bliss, but it’s also for cowards.” She pauses. “I didn’t think you were one of thoooooooose, now.”

“It’s dark in here. Can you make it light?” My words are muffled; the air is scarce.

“Close your eyes and take a long, deep breath.”

I mumble something to her and start breathing. Ten counts in, ten counts out. Then I open my eyes and I’m outside in a field of tall grass, lying on a bed and wrapped up in sheets. Just my head is sticking out. Daytime. And so much sunlight I can’t keep my eyes open.

“Not too dark for you now, I suppose?” she chides.

“It’s too tight. I can barely breathe. Can you loosen this, this ... cocoon or whatever it is?”

She laughs now. “Now isn’t that an interesting word for it?”

“Look, I don’t know what kind of karmic hoop jumping I got myself into but I want out. It’s too weird for me. I’m not one of those outward bound kind of guys. I’m a computer programmer for God’s sake. I just ...” I lower my voice, “want to go home.”

“Sorry, baby. And you want your mommy too while we’re at it? Well forget it. Your job is to breathe and absorb all you can in your new environment. You know, build a comfort level with it.”

“I’m in a frickin’ cocoon made out of sheets!” My blood pressure’s elevating, I can feel it. I start wriggling out of the sheets, moving my arms a few inches till the twine loosens.

“You can’t go back.” Her face is inches from mine.

“What do you mean?” Panic arrives in the form of locusts buzzing in my chest.

“You can’t go back to your, you know, old life. If you bail now, you go back ten lifetimes, which is the same as about fifty levels of consciousness.” She pinches her lips. “I guarantee you don’t want to go there. Stay with me now.” With her last command, she makes her voice sound large and hollow and God-like. She slides closer to my right ear. “Stay ... with ... me.”

I nod.

“Good. Now, this next part is gonna seem a bit severe, but in a way, you’re not doing anything. All the change is coming from me. All you have to do is lay there just like you are now, in this pretty field with the sun streaming down on you.” She winks. “Okay?”

Why did I feel like she was turning me into a bug?

“I am, in a way.” And when she winks again, the tree near my bed is a hundred times as big, and so is Ruba. Yet I’m the same size. God help me.

“Stop saying that.”

“See, the funny thing is that I didn’t actually say anything, which illustrates the insanity of this whole thing.”

Sigh. “What whole thing?”

“This fucking acid trip or dream.” My heart is swallowing me whole, I can hardly talk. Breathe, I tell myself. “I can’t even go ba-” I can’t stop my snow plough from panic to tears. Ruba’s arms are still folded.

“Not supposed to be that. Wipe your eyes and start being a caterpillar.”

“I can’t move my arms, remember?”

“Caterpillars don’t need to wipe tears from their faces,” is her existential reply.

“Okay. One: they don’t have faces; two: they don’t cry; three: no hands with which to wipe the tears that they don’t shed on the faces they don’t have.”

She’s pacing now. “It’s up to you, Boz, how you want to spend this time. The point is that you experience the suffocating claustrophobia, at first, of a moth in chrysalis, but then eventually the quiet, stillness, and beauty of this profound change and transformation. But sure, you can editorialize yourself out of anything you choose.”

It is quiet in here, and very still. It’s light, but the sun isn’t burning my face because I only have eyes, or so it appears. My form has changed, but not my perception. Strange isn’t the half of it. Breathe, she told me repeatedly, while pacing in front of me, this black giant. Most noticeable about this form is my smallness in comparison to other things. I suppose I’m hanging from a tree leaf. A bird on a nearby tree, starling I think, is the size of my prior perception of a skyscraper. Will it eat me, I wonder. It’s safe in here, though, womblike in a way. I’m suddenly completely relaxed — not sleeping, but totally at peace. Drugged, sort of, and I remember this about the biology of butterflies and caterpillars, these chemicals, I think, that are released at different stages of the development of the pupa. I feel them in my veins, in what would normally be my legs — this liquid warmth. I am completely asleep but completely awake.

I can’t see Ruba’s eyes now — she’s too big and, looming over me the way she does, she’s a big dark blur. I feel the warm liquid inside taking over me, covering up more of my lower half and rising up to my midsection. It’s like a warm, comfortable glue. Or hot butter. Like heroin. I could get used to this. God help m—

“St—”

“Okay, okay. Gimme me a break, I’m a fucking insect.”

“Not for long.”

I’m a double helix. My body is shaped like the twisted threads of DNA strands. My arms, though I’m only inches long, feel like the size of telephone poles compressed into a pencil eraser. Legs that used to be one of my best assets, long as my mother pointed out, attractively strong and hairy as my first wife used to say, have been reduced to tiny dots with no more importance than a toenail. I can feel an otherworldly force, the DNA miracle, working its way down the length of my new body. It’s deciding — on a color palette for my wings. I want yellow for both bedrooms, my first wife Noreen is saying in my memory tape. We’re selecting paint for our first house. She would have painted the entire wall space bumblebee yellow. Shit, bumblebees, what do I do about those?

Focus, Boz. Yes, wings. I don’t know how I know, but I know that someone or something has chosen browns and white for me. Not much of a palette, but I know I’m to be a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, male, with fantastic variegation of color and large, fluid, gossamer wings. Most certainly, it could be worse.

It’s time. The chrysalis sack has thickened, hardened, I’m in the appropriate physical trance with still enough reserve muscle tone for the proverbial prison break. Now or never, my mind tells me, the guards are sleeping. Go!

“Prison?” I hear Ruba’s silky voice.

Ignoring her, as I still can’t actually see her, I start at the top — my head. It shoves forward through the forest of gluey cellophane sheets. My shoulders move my folded new wings out next, and my lower body and swollen abdomen follow. I’m nearly out and, at the same time, can see myself from a few feet away. The wings are tiny, and will be filled within the next hour with the womb-fluid I’ve been holding in my stomach.

“Well, there might just be hope for you yet,” she says.

“That’s all you have to say? Don’t forget, you’re eight hundred years old. I’m a lowly homo sapien, just a mere mortal.”

“Not anymore.” She’s smiling. I see her, her luminous brown skin, white teeth. Every speck of her an irony of frightening beauty. I wonder what sex could be like between a human woman and a male butterfly.

I use my new wings to fly me up into the sky, higher she tells me, higher, even higher. What’s on the other side of higher, I ask her. She laughs.

“There is no other side, baby. You’re a butterfly, you can go anywhere. Just fly.”

“Where?”

I follow her instruction. The sky’s much colder up here. There are airplanes, I remember them from my last level of consciousness. Not really any birds this high, no trees. Just clean cold air and limitless possibility. I wonder if Picasso lives up here, Jackson Pollock, Leonardo Da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright. All the visionaries must live up here, because nothing’s in the way of anything else. No impediments to progress or possibility. Up here, on the edge of the world, all there is is imagination. Wow.

“Where am I going?” I ask my silent mentor. Up here, right now, Ruba’s a voice I hear sometimes. Gone is her beautiful, radiant dark skin, her sleek body and silent curves, eyes, lips, tiny angel feet propelling her from world to world. I miss her human form; hell, I miss my own form. And in a way, I don’t. I can fly now. Whatever I gave up, from Montana, I got a pair of glowing brown and white wings. How cool is that?

“Keep moving up — we’re going into the dark that’s beyond the fields of blue. Space.”

You’ve seen the films. One was called Brainstorm, there have been so many, that take you into the mind immediately after death. The darkness, then the bright light. And then ... the inevitable and endless tunnels. Things coming at you lightning fast, lights, colors, objects, shapes, like going from a giant kaleidoscope to a blender. I’m soaring through this kind of revelatory space, free of the burdens of gravity, temperature, even consciousness, which I now realize has been the greatest burden of all. Yet I glance downward and see that, oddly, I have returned to my human form. No more wings? My wings. Ruba, where are you?

“Here, baby. You can’t see me but I’m here.”

“Where am I going next? You’ve got to tell me something.”

“I said three journeys.”

“You mean death,” I say with dramatic flair.

“I told you already. Reformations.”

It’s dark, and fucking cold, colder than I ever remember being, as if I’m in a place that has not even a memory of heat. It feels like a mountain with walls of rock around me, but I know that, could I see, there would just be empty space. I’m remembering my childhood fear of the dark, the nightlight I used to turn on after my mother came in to check on my brother and me, and when we got caught with it I remember the stuffed dog I used to place over my right eye so my peripheral vision wouldn’t trick me into thinking the closet monsters were emerging. My fear jars me now. I feel my palms perspiring, even here, even now. It’s so quiet, that even my sense of terror is a companion — it’s at least something else in this place besides the wilderness of my mind. Endless imagination, I guess that’s what I thought was out here. I was right. There’s nothing ... and everything. I am nothing, everything, and the entirety of God all at once. I think of Ruba once again, but then notice something.

Stillness.

It’s like what I felt inside the butterfly pupa — complete stasis, silent, a warm, almost hot vacuum. This, oddly, with nothing around me but more and more miles of nothingness, feels the same, but cold. Still. Silent. Cold. Vacuous. I remember her words about three journeys — formations, transformations, reformation. I don’t know what it means, so I breathe, we breathe, my internal terror and me, an endless companion in this sacred, terrible place.

“Okay, what am I doing here?”

“What do you feel?”

“Like something’s about to happen.”

“And when it does, baby, you’re gonna draw on what you know already.”

“Binary code? What I know as a human, as a computer programmer from Missoula?”

“That’s not what I consider knowing.”

“I don’t mean to bicker, your highness, but you’re saying I didn’t learn anything in forty-seven years?”

I can’t see her and yet I know the exasperated look on her dark face. I’d give up eternity to see that face one more time.

“Duly noted.”

“Shut up, and stop reading me. I take it back,” I reply.

“I mean that you’ve learned more in the last hour than in the past forty-seven years.”

“I thought you were going to sa—” and my words are cut off suddenly by an immense, orange orb hurtling through the cold black void. Like if the sun took off running, this is what it would look like. Then I realize it’s coming toward me. I don’t bother calling her name, as I know she won’t answer. And in some strange way, I have no fear now. I’m about to be obliterated by a comet and yet I know somehow that this is part of my path, or some path some part of my consciousness has chosen. I can hear it, a giant scratch on celestial fabric tearing through the very essence of space and time. Can there be sound without gravity? And if I’m noticing sound, is that my old consciousness or the one Ruba’s helping me form? So I ignore the noise and float noiselessly, buoyantly, and wait.

Closer.

Breathe.

Closer.

Still breathing, deeper now, trying to think of old prayers from Catholic School. Pathetic, isn’t it, what the mind does to comfort itself.

At the precise point of contact, there’s no sound. Only a colossal collision of darkness and light in every permutation of the symbolic spectrum. My physical body is scattered into a million pieces, and ... in a way, I can actually see them. I see my pixilated self, I don’t know if they’re/I’m reduced to subatomic particles, if I’m looking at the protons and electrons that used to make up my cells, or if they’re actual tiny chunks of raw flesh.

“Think,” Ruba tells me. “What are you thinking?”

“Is this the rift? That other side where you go?”

“Sort of. Ask anything you want.”

“What is the hoop I must jump through now? I was obliterated by a comet and I appear, on some level, to be still alive.”

“What’s your inclination as a result of disintegration?”

“Re-integration ... ah,” I smile with my invisible face. “Reformation. I’m in a thousand pieces, and now I put myself back together.”

“Yeah, baby, you got it. Draw on what you know, on what you’ve learned on these journeys.”

I’m not afraid now. Even my terror has abandoned me, a cowardly soldier that retreats into the dark night when nobody’s looking. From ‘formations,’ I know that the Guggenheim museum, and smaller things like a nautilus shell, are made automatically by nature through a mathematical equation. So ... anything in nature can be re-constructed if it can be constructed. Find out what my own personal logarithm is and rebuild, or ... use the same equation, the Fibonacci number series or whatever it is, and use that to rebuild my own human body. If I remembered correctly from high school physics, I think the series arose out of adding the last two numbers to get the next number. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 ... but it went on for infinity. How far would I have to take it?

“Start small,” Ruba says, obviously standing by somewhere close, making her alien observations, reporting back to Q or her Klingon ship where ...

“Klingon? Of all the aliens on Star Trek, you call me a damn Klingon? Guinan would have been a nicer choice.”

“Sorry to offend you, Highness. Okay, starting small then.” I look around me and the particles of my body are already arranged, it appears, in some kind of pattern, though my un-eyes can’t distinguish it. I can see the particles or cells, though, individually. Start small. How about six? I take the particles, gather them together with my invisible hands, and position them in a linear array, making space for the empty numbers. 0-1-1-2-3-empty space, 5. Watching. Listening. No, that’s not right. It should be like this: Empty space for the Zero, one particle, one particle, two particles, three particles, then an empty space where the four doesn’t go, and then a cluster of five particles. They look like tiny clusters of peas all laid out in a straight line. I wait for Ruba’s commentary, sarcasm, whatever she’s cooking up, and I hear nothing. Then I remember that I’m supposed to draw on what I’ve learned.

The chrysalis.

The silence, the stillness, patience, waiting to inhale, exhale, blink, and transform.

So I wait. It feels like an hour, is probably a year, and I’d love to hear what Einstein would say about this.

I hear nothing, feel nothing, sense nothing, there is no past, no future, and nothing in the present except these molecules of light bridging me to the endless darkness. And then, they begin to move.

That’s right, my cells are moving ... on their own. Protons, electrons, making cells, enzymes, proteins, like watching an evolutionary ballet. It’s completely silent and overwhelmingly beautiful. I’m aghast with the miracle of this display — the colors change from bright orange, the color of the comet that blasted me, into blues, greens, and reds. I remember bioluminescence from scuba diving, and this is even more beautiful, this colorful, magical miracle of ... myself. I feel my invisible heart cave in and give way to tears, though I’m not in that form yet, so I can only pretend to cry. Where’s Ruba now? Is she watching this? The strings of colored cells are forming into a mathematical fractal. From my one logarithm of numbers, my one little five-piece formula, they’re all floating into place. I’m a fractal now, watching, ever watching. It’s dark, but now I seem to have eyes, as my vision expands in dimension. I breathe and feel a sort of movement in the front of my invisible body. The fractal is forming itself now. It’s fatter, taking on the shape of a sort of stringy sausage. Is it forming into my butterfly wings from the chrysalis? Searching the darkness, I see that it’s forming into a human fetus. I think of my mother, though I can’t see her from here, and I experience what I felt in the womb. I remember what I felt there. Is that possible? It was a cross between a chrysalis and outer space — silent, buoyant, warm, and completely dark.

The fetus is growing — I can see all the body parts. My brain, from this unique vantage point, looks like an MRI scan — greens, bright yellow. It’s forming, now, into ... flesh. My consciousness is nearby, hovering, about ten feet away. And my body is reforming on its own from my numerical array, my fractal.

“What’s next?” I find myself asking Ruba, hoping, praying she’ll appear visually one more time.

“Well that’s entirely up to you. The possibilities now are endless. Isn’t that obvious?”

I’m smiling. “Ohhhh yeah.”

From my physical body, I blink my eyes a few times to try to inhabit and acquaint myself with this new formation of my body, as if to say hello, old friend or maybe hello again. And what I find, after these three amazing journeys, is the one place where I always felt the most peace. I’m in some way myself again or my new self, John Bozman, a computer programmer from Missoula, Montana, imagining a beautiful, empty, quiet beach staring into the crested waves of endless blue.

“Do you wish you took the blue pill?” Ruba says, beside me now with her endless sense of humor.

I can’t help but laugh, and then I stop when I see that it’s really her. Naked, fearless, tattooed with the most intricate patterns of ... no less ... fractals. Is it my fractal, meaning the very essence of my being woven into her skin? I gaze at her beauty and wonder how many times she’s been reconstituted in outer space, and if there’s even a number for it. I reach out to touch her, finally, a raw, physical, purely human impulse. Her flesh responds to my touch, her leg moves slightly, I feel the gentle pulse of her blood beneath the warm, dark skin. I breathe her in through my nose, eyes, my pores, the alluring scent of her, the scent of change, of ancient history and also something entirely new.

I wake in my own bed. I know it’s sometime later and though I feel her energy and sense her scent all around me, I don’t see her. The practical part of me wonders if we’ve been together, in this very bed, and if so why I can’t remember. A bleakness moves inside my chest and belly. Not something as mundane as sadness or even loss. More like a challenge, or summons.

“You want me?” I can’t hear her voice, but her question arrives in my head like a thought.

“Yes,” I reply, with my mind.

“Come then. Do you remember the way in?”

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