The Writer's Voice
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A Simple Handshake
Alice C. Bateman & Clive S. Michie
Eugene led Dan to a small clearing by the lake. There was a fire pit dug in the middle, a mound of chopped firewood four feet to the left. Two stumps sat a comfortable three feet away from the blaze that Eugene had going in only a few minutes. By then, even the lake was becoming dark.
“You ever noticed, Dan, that the bugs don’t seem to chew on you the same way they do most others?” Eugene asked, looking across the fire as he rearranged a couple of logs with a long stick. After poking the hot end of the stick into the dirt at the edge of the fire pit, Eugene moved around and sat on a tree stump about three feet to Dan’s left.
“Now that you mention it, yes, that is true. I get the occasional bite, but not hundreds of them like some people seem to. I don’t even bother with a repellant.”
“Dan, I’ve got to talk to you about some truths that are just not acknowledged in the everyday world that you know, that you’ve lived in. Do you have an open mind?” Dan nodded. “Are you willing to suspend your disbelief for a time?” Again, Dan nodded.
“Fine, son. Now, you’re pretty familiar with the animal kingdom, right?” Eugene continued.
“Well, of course,” Dan replied. “I grew up on a small farm, we always had animals.”
“Can you tell me some of the things that most animals have in common, Dan?”
By then, the younger man, tired from a full day of paddling, was beginning to feel the effects of the magic mushrooms he’d eaten with his meal. A gradual easing inside his mind and body, a stretching, a dropping of the load of everyday cares.
“Sure, Eugene. Let’s see. Four legs, two eyes, one nose or snout, a tail usually, a fur or hair coat… what else?”
“Good start, Dan. And yet, with all these similar characteristics, are they all the same?”
“Of course not! There are hundreds of different species!”
“Excellent.” Eugene’s voice took on a slightly far away quality, or maybe it was just Dan’s altered hearing, he wasn’t really sure.
“Now, Dan, what I’m trying to arrive at here might not seem too clear yet… This is harder to put into words than I thought it would be. OK, taking stock of all the characteristics that animals share and all the differences, it becomes easy to point to a particular animal and say ‘that is a wolf’ or ‘that is a bear.’ But what if different species all wore the same pelt?”
“You’ve lost me, Eugene.” Dan laughed. “Can’t you just say what you’re trying to say without all these analogies? Let’s see if I can handle it straight up.”
“Fair enough. OK, what I am trying to say is that we all look like what are called human beings, we all act and talk and have all the same bodily functions, but some of us, inside these same skins as the others, are very different.
“Virtually a different species,” Eugene continued. “A species whose members have to live in disguise and pretending all their lives. Because if they were truly themselves, they’d likely be locked up somewhere. That’s the way of this world we’re in right now.”
Eugene stopped talking to take note of Dan’s facial expression, and was pleased to see that it was serene, listening only, not bursting with foolish questions or expostulations.
Dan nodded and smiled. “Go on, this is something that I’ve had nagging at the back of my mind for years, Eugene. I need to hear more.”
Eugene grinned, and reached in his pocket. “Dan, I want to take you on a journey. Have you ever tried something called peyote?”
“Never taken the stuff, but read about it in native lore, and in Carlos Castenada’s books. Have you ever read them?”
Eugene smiled ruefully. “Well, I never really did get much good at reading English, don’t have much use for books up here. I have a few favorites in Russian that I read from time to time, but I’m mostly content with my own thoughts. I shouldn’t put it that way to you – I don’t really mean my thoughts, I mean the things that flow through my head when the chatter of thinking is stopped.”
“I know what you mean by that, Eugene. I do manage now and then to relax, and practice meditation sometimes. Only since I’ve moved into my little farmhouse. I just never got any quiet time when I was with Jane, there was always somewhere we had to go or something I had to do for her.”
Eugene nodded. “Yup, in the constant busy-ness of everyday life, even those of us that are different from the norm have a hard time getting in touch with our own core, with what is truly real.”
“And when we do get in touch with it, how can we stay there, when we have to get up to go to work every morning in the mundane world?” Dan asked.
“Very good point, Dan, and very difficult. I’m privileged to be out here in the wilderness by myself. I can be fully in touch with reality any time I like.” Eugene paused, and looked at Dan.
“I’m going to brew us some special tea, made from peyote and quebenzas. It will take us to a place that magic mushrooms only hint at. It will leave your spirit free to soar, your mind free to travel to the far reaches of the universe. The peyote will enhance the mushroom euphoria, and, in conjunction with the quebenzas, will make the tea a sacred trinity of natural, blessed substances that will increase your personal power and awareness.
“I should warn you, this will be a hallucinogenic vacation, Dan. That OK with you?” Eugene scrutinized his pupil again, looking into his eyes, searching for any sign of fear or any reservations. Finding none, he nodded with satisfaction, and opened his own medicine pouch.
Dan watched as Eugene eased some of the contents of his pouch onto the palm of his very large left hand. “What is the other stuff you mentioned, Eugene? I’m sure I’ve never even heard that word before.”
“Quebenzas. It’s a dried fungus that grows on certain dead trees in Mexico. It could keep us up for as long as twenty-four hours, but it will take a bit of time to affect us after we drink the tea.” Eugene paused. “There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about, Dan, something I think you can help with.”
“Anything I can do, my friend, just name it.”
“Well, it’s just not that simple, Dan. It’s going to mean gathering your personal power together, and then I’m afraid that you’re going to have to tell the world that you have these powers. The planet needs your help, Dan, she’s dying. God’s going to have to choose. If people don’t change, don’t start to undo some of the damage they’ve done to her, instead of always causing more, then He’s going to drown the world. June, 2003.”
At this, Dan jumped up, startled. “Geez! I thought it was just a book!”
“What book? What do you mean?”
“I’ve just been reading a book called TWENTY FIFTY-FIVE. The sub-title asks if it’s prophecy or science fiction. It’s written from the perspective of a hundred-year-old woman, in the year 2055. She talks about how all the water levels raised suddenly and quickly in 2003…” Dan’s voice trailed off. He’d stumbled across this novel one night on the Internet, and, although he’d agreed with all the things the woman said, he hadn’t thought of it other than as a work of fiction.
Dan paced across the clearing and back, perplexed. “Do you mean to tell me that this is really going to happen? We’re all going to drown?”
“No, not all, Dan. A core of the pure of heart will remain. People who know how to treat this wonderful being we call the Earth. For she is a being, Dan. A living, breathing entity. And we’ve been chipping away at her for so long that she cannot tolerate much more. God will not sacrifice this planet for the people on it. And even if He wanted to, if the planet dies, then all the people living here die too. A dead planet cannot sustain other life. Sure, she might last a little longer than three more years, but how much longer? And what would be the quality of life when she sickens and weakens under our abuse?”
“So what are you saying, Eugene? We have a deadline, June 2003, or we drown! What can we do about it?”
“Well, it’s as simple and as difficult as changing our ways, regaining the respect for each other, the Earth, and the very life force, that we once had.” Eugene replied, then continued, “Man has become a race of killers without conscience, Dan. Look at the way they slaughter animals, at how they treat them while they’re waiting to be slaughtered. How would you feel if you’d created a wonderful and spectacular machine, called a cow, that could do all the things a cow does, and live on something as inexpensive and abundant as grass. How would you feel if you had to watch the treatment this wonderful machine you’d created endures?
“Not to mention the overwhelming slaughter of our own young, Dan. How many hundreds of thousands – or is it millions – of unborn babies are murdered every year, do you figure?
“These things are like a slap in the face to the Creator, Dan. It’s as if they’re saying we don’t care, we don’t hold life sacred, we don’t want it, take it back. How can a woman do that to her own child, Dan? How can the baby’s father let her? How can doctors perform murderous procedures day after day, or convince women to do this, and live with their own conscience?”
Eugene paused, and Dan, overwhelmed by the thoughts the older man had planted, didn’t know what to say. But he could see that Eugene expected some response.
“Tell me what I have to do, Eugene. I love this Earth, and I certainly don’t like what has been happening to her.”
“By this time tomorrow, Dan, maybe you’ll know what you can do to help.”
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