Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Part 05

Mufane shifted down into third as she pulled her Jetta off the freeway and took onto the cloverleaf that would take them to the terminal where Elizabeth's plane was due in another ten hours. Beside her, Rachael sat fuming in the front seat.

"I told you the plane won't be here until two-thirty," Rachael said. It was all she could do to stop herself from strangling her sister with the pine-scented air freshener that hung from the rear-view mirror of the car.

Mufane's obsession with geomancy had started out innocently enough, when they were children. At the time it had been an idle curiosity, something she did out of boredom or an inability to decide whether to watch reruns of "Land of the Lost" with that hunky Wesley, or to tune in instead to the new "Captain Caveman" cartoons. At some point during her teen years Mufane had started taking geomancy much more seriously, collecting books on the subject and buying stones whenever she could. By now, when Mufane had reached the age of 42, it was an unhealthy obsession. Her first husband had left when she had put their entire life savings -- the children's college funds included -- into Enron just before the company went down in a flaming heap, on the advice of the stones; and Scott, her second husband, had shot himself with an antique service revolver because she refused to make a single decision anymore without the blessing of her stones.

Rachael had never liked Scott much when he had been married to her sister, but now she felt an odd affinity for the man. She found herself wondering if that revolver was still around, or if the stones had told Mufane it was all right to get rid of it. Given the sort of advice she solicited from the stones, they had probably told her to take it Baskin-Robbins and exchange it for an ice cream cone.

She allowed herself an idle smile as she imagined Mufane standing there with in the ice cream store, pointing insistingly at the stones and explaining to the disbelieving manager why it was vital that he follow the instruction of the magic stones. The thought almost alleviated her aggravation at having to ride in the Jetta to the airport at 4:30 in the morning, just because Mufane the night before had asked the stones when they should leave.

There was a rattle of stone within the cup holder.

"Can you turn the dome light on for a sec, Rache?" Mufane asked. Rachael groaned, but she complied.

The Jetta slowed to a crawl while Mufane stared at the stones to divine their message. Behind them came the blast of an air horn and the scream of metal twisting as a tractor trailer swerved through the guard rail to avoid running over them. There was a loud crash as the massive truck plunged off the side of the road and rolled down the hill before exploding at the bottom in a tremendous fireball.

"Ah," Mufane said at last. "Well, if that's what happens next, we'll go along."

Something about Mufane's tone made Rachael sit up straight and take notice. "What?" she demanded. "What is it?"

Mufane didn't answer. She just drove up a bit further, then pulled over next to a grassy strip along the right side of the lane. She turned off the Volkswagen Jetta -- even though Mufane never passed up a chance to brag about having a high-effiency diesel-powered automobile, she also made it a point never to waste fuel by idling when she could avoid it -- and unlocked the doors.

"This is it," she told her sister. "You have to get out here."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Rachael demanded. "The airport's still at least two miles away, and it's still dark. Are you crazy?"

Mufane shook her head solemnly. "I'm sorry, this is where the stones say you have to get out," she said simply, as though that explained everything. "Give me a call when Elizabeth comes in. If the stones say it's OK, I'll answer the phone."

"But -- ! But -- !"

There was no arguing with Mufane when the stones had told her something. She knew that she had divined the will of the universe, and she never argued with it. Nor would she let anyone else do so either.

"Freaking stoner!" Rachael yelled as the car pulled off. In the distance she could hear emergency vehicles rushing to the site of the truck accident.

Rachael shivered, and pulled her white jacket close about her as the red tail lights of her sister's Jetta vanished in the distance. It was cold and wet and miserable out here, and she was wishing not for the first time that she had been born in a more normal family.

She had been walking for a while before she realized that she had no idea where she was. The road had faded from view, and the ground was now sloping gently down toward a river. Dry brown grass crunched under her feet as she walked. Up ahead, a crowd had gathered by the river, unable to cross by any means other than a small raft manned by a solitary worker with a long pole that he was using to propel the raft back and forth. Long cables connected the raft to each shore by means of an erect pole in its middle.

"Where am I?" Rachael wondered aloud. "I've never seen this place before."

The voice that answered her was high and thin, and oddly familiar, like something she had once heard in a dream. Beside her stood a small man, with an overlarge head and vast bulbous eyes that seemed to see in all directions at once.

"You are at the beginning of a long journey," he said. "Where such things are willed, it is willed that you should begin this journey with a single step."

She looked at the man curiously. "Do I know you?" she asked.

"We have met," he allowed, bowing courtesouly. "You may call me--" and he told her his name.

"Nate?" she repeated, uncertainly. She looked at her wrist. There was no welt on her wrist, no sign of gnats. Her watch said 5:03. She turned her eyes away, then back. It still said 5:03. She knew then that, odd as this experience was, she was not dreaming.

The odd little man tilted his head to the left as if he were evaluating her. "That will do," he said. "And with your permission, I will be your Virgil for all that is to come."

No comments:

Post a Comment