Author’s note: I will be changing character names from familiar likenesses. This snippet is part of Fringe Blue, a writing project that I shelved to become a better reader. It will be drastically revised in time, as I’m in the process of harmonizing it with its sequel “Axis Mundi.” Fringe Blue is Copyright Protected, # TXu001848759 / 2013-03-20. All rights reserved.
Det. Johnny Lasko was still on the same street corner, sublimely unaware of how much time had passed since intoning the Call of Jerusalem. Stone City at ground level gave scant indication of time, as millions of termites beneath a furrowed redwood had no use for a sundial. He thought to check his watch, but wanted to keep the afterglow of such a moment for as long as possible. He relaxed his arms and stood in front of the white booth, patiently waiting his turn.
The slick door quietly slid open and an Eastern Orthodox priest emerged into the streetlight. His eyes were glazed and his concentration frazzled as he waddled away muttering Greek prayers. Taking a deep breath, Det. Lasko looked to his left and right, then entered the booth, sliding the door shut behind him. Here goes.
Inside the dimly-lit space, there was a small tray for shoes, a soft rug on which to sit, and a wide monitor low to the ground. The faint sounds of Benedictine chant. He noticed that in spite of the thin walls, all the roar of the city fell silent as oblivion. It was a warm womb, a bundled crib in a mean city, lacking only the wind-chime of dancing animals above. A polite digital voice in her mid-20s chimed, “Welcome to InterCede, weary traveler. A gift of SuperCede. My name is Endorra. What is your name?”
“Detective Johnny Lasko.” he replied.
“I’m delighted to share this moment with you, Detective Lasko. Please take a seat and make yourself comfortable.”
Lasko slid his shoes off and kicked them to the corner. He had little patience for being guided by others into a spiritual experience. His faith was his own. He knew of how Det. Wes would call this place “commie” or “queer,” or regard it like a woman’s book club. Say-and-spray Wes. Sitting down, the monitor blinked and a white background appeared. It was SmartGlass, transparent and featureless panes through which any back wall was apparent until activated into electrochromatic interface. In thin helvetica, all the major religions of the world were listed down the screen, beginning with Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, then down to Shinto, Buddhist, Baha’i, and so forth.
Endorra spoke in the genial tones of a retro flight attendant, “Please use the touch screen to choose your path and I will leave you with your teacher. Call me if you need anything. I won’t be far, Detective.”
Lasko opened his case and produced his tefillin and tallit. Tying them in haste after kissing each one reverently with closed eyes, he gently draped the garment over his head and looked back to the list of “paths.” Judaism and Christianity were listed near the top. Simply for his heirloom tefillin, the quiet atheist opted for “Judaism” and watched the screen change to another simple question.
ARE YOU A SCHOLAR OR A MYSTIC?
Det. Lasko winced. “Endorra.”
“Yes, Mr. Lasko?” the hologram asked dutifully.
“Please clarify this question.” he requested.
“Certainly, pilgrim. We want to know: do you wish to learn about G-d or to experience G-d?”
“Learn,” he said. He was skeptical that a company could bottle or match what was experienced outside moments ago.
In the side of the wall, a tiny compartment slid open with a hiss, each containing two steaming cups of tea; one white and one black. One read “mystic” and the other read “scholar.”
“Please pick a cup,” Endorra instructed.
Lasko retold himself that this was all research. Never entering an InterCede booth before, he naturally wanted all the bang for his buck. He grabbed both piping hot cups and quaffed them, forcing the hot teas down his throat in spite of the burn. He wanted to experience and know, and had years of catch-up for not starting this sooner. Catching his breath, he placed the empty cups back into the wall, watching them vanish as quickly as they arrived. Within a minute, he felt as light as a feather, not realizing the double dosage he mixed, nor how pliant he was. He shook his head and slapped himself, only to realize he didn’t feel the sting, and his fingers were like sticks of butter. The walls began to swim and dim, and the face of a friendly and avuncular rabbi appeared on the screen flanked by the inner courts of the Temple in Metropolitan Stone City. Lasko wondered if he was a real rabbi somewhere, or a CGI depiction of an A.I. program. The white noise of crashing waves hissed Lasko’s mind. Or ears. Or whatever. The rabbi spoke.
“Greetings, my child. I am Rabbi Simcha, and I am here to help you unfurl the mysteries of G-d. Now as I am told, this is your first experience in this place we share, so I will tell you the Beginning of Wisdom.”
Lasko stared into the incandescent glow of the monitor, his eyes half-shut and lower lip drooling. He could no longer feel his own body in physical space.
“What brought you to me today is the same haunting question that has burned throughout all of human existence, universal to all. But it manifests itself to people differently. Don’t you agree?”
“Incidentally,” Rabbi Simcha continued “There is an old proverb from the Book of the Samurai, which states that whenever you meet a man, realize that he loves something, he fears something, and he has lost something. So tell me Detective…what do you love?”
The screen cut away and depicted a hoary, bearded, and muscular titan on a blue throne. Lasko knew in quiet guilt that it was his lifelong mental image of how he imagined HaShem, and he bowed his head ashamed of what was being drawn out of him, which was nothing short of a graven image.
“Ahhhhhh!” said the Rabbi, “you love G-d! Excellent! So do I, and that is what makes you a talmid after my own heart.” The friendly rabbi continued. “So tell me child…what do you fear?”
Lasko felt a horrid sensation rising up out of him and he tried to contain it. Suppressing it with all his might, he felt it pushing at him like a bowel movement or rising vomit. And it was being drawn out of him by this booth…he had to leave…but…
He fought violently, his flaccid arms flailing and until he was utterly effete. Then the monitor depicted his morbid thoughts and nightmares. He could see the body of a man lying dead on the sand, his chest torn by a gaping bullet hole, as though brutally murdered in a street altercation and left to die. It was Wes, his partner, cold and dead with his glassy eyes staring up blankly like moonstones. No wise-ass smirk, no cocked eyebrow. Nothing.
“No, not again… not another partner… not Wes…,” Lasko sobbed, regressing to a blubbering, childlike emotionalism. The rabbi softly comforted him and reassured his talmid that it was all part of growth and learning. Then he asked the final question…regarding what it was that he had lost.
Lasko felt his spine stiffen and hair stand on end, like a spurned alley cur defending what little was his. He manned the redoubts in his mind, gunning down all attempts to reach for that gem. When a reasonably diplomatic hand reached for it, he pummeled it with a sledgehammer. But like the siege of a city, it was all a matter of time and attrition. He fought a good fight, almost finishing the race, while defending his faith. Lesser men would have succumbed much more quickly, and for this the pixilated rabbi commended his zeal and focus. Gasping, Lasko slouched and kissed a tzitzit, weeping uncontrollably. In the monitor congealed the face of Kristen, his Chanala. What he had lost years ago. And only then did he realize how much he had lost, and continued to lose by not telling her.
Rabbi Simcha gently opined “You have things you consider sacred, and you have identified them. And now I have a better picture of your past, values, and destiny. But fear not, my child. I am here to help you, and help you discover a truth. And the truth is this: all the religions on that list you saw are the same. They all lead to the same truth, and the same G-d. No deeds are required of you, only your faith. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Man was created in the tzelem elohim…the image of G-d.” The screen depicted a giant eye opening wide to a gallant horizon, and within the sun was a mandala formed from what looked like an iridescent microchip. In its center was a glowing, translucent female in a lotus position, caressing her floating hair with six arms as she hovered serenely in an opal sky with all the arcane mystique of a Samuel Coleridge poem. It was all so beautiful…and so wrong. He felt himself sliding into trance as the image of G-d, Wes lying dead in his own blood, and Chana his ex began slow rotation in his mind, despite his best efforts to bury all three, pay attention, and learn more about this…this…what was he doing here anyway? He couldn’t even remember. Lasko felt like his soul was being groped in a stall. His queasy dysphoria deepened. He had heard enough. Time to go.
But no sooner could he stagger to his feet than he felt a gentle weight on his shoulders, as a woman’s hands on the back of his neck coerced him back to his seat. The screen blinked off, the melody of gently-twanging sitars began. And from behind he heard the bedroom voice of “Endorra.”
“You cannot seek G-d unless you forget. Let me help you to forget…”
Outside, Det. Wes slammed down the empty shot glass and grunted, nurturing a dying wanderlust left by the silent thunderclap that wound through the world moments ago. His initial instinct told him that the intonemment came from Lasko; he had been acting odd lately. Either way, Lasko was his partner, Wes was drinking on duty, and now would be a good time to check up on him anyway. Tipping the bartender, he slid into his leather jacket and stepped out of the threshold, looking left and right for his partner as he popped his collar and gathered his bearings in the fresh air. Where was that falafel-eating scroll-digger anyway? After surveying the streets, his eyes settled on the white InterCede booth.
No way. Those were for commies and queers. He had to be somewhere else.
Even still, Wes strolled over to the booth, never having actually examined one close up. Searching for his partner was now secondary to another curiosity. The booths were so much a part of daily life in Stone City, and all other cities, and yet he had never been in one. To be fair, he had never fiddled with those Kokomon cards that were all the rage for pre-adolescents, and never felt a loss for not. Anyway, Lasko was deeply religious in an old-fashioned way, and would never lower himself screwing with one of these places. Right? Det. Wes, an ex-pat American full of spitfire bravado and Jurassic machismo, often reduced his deepest anxieties to coarse epithets like “commie” and “queer.” And although he was not one to openly admit it, those white booths had always made him uneasy. He put his ear up to the side and heard nothing, although the handle on the door read “occupied.” Now he was intrigued.
Somewhere else, Endorra loomed over Lasko. He felt minuscule in her shadow, intoxicated in the roiling melodies of the sitars, circled in the thin smoke curls from incense candles. The booth was gone, giving way to darkness, a carpet on stone ground, and to his back the bricks of the Wailing Wall extending up and out of the candle light and into pitch blackness.
In a word, she was ravishing. She was olive bronze, with a pristine face, thick eyelashes and the amber eyes of a lepress. Straight, thick black hair draped down her back. Her eyes sparkled with starlight and otherworldly beauty, rivaling in loveliness the Call of Jerusalem in the streets of Stone City. She wore a silk and flowing gown of scarlet. Across her head was a gold circlet of two snakes, swirling in the center into an ouroboros like a Delphic oracle. Leaning him back gently, she cradled the petrified Ashkenaz, serenely gazing down into his face with something he confused between the maternal love of Madonna to child, and another ulterior want that he strove to forget as he looked at his fringe to remember the color of the Throne. His pulse and endorphins began firing like pistons in full tilt, yet the clashing juxtaposition of both mother and harlot splintered egregiously in his soul and profoundly disgusted him. Lasko cringed his eyes shut. He was certain that whatever happened next, he would see none of it. If he were found delirious from a reckless overdose of psychotropic tea with a starry priestess of the high places, he would at least be found clinging to whatever self-made fence he could raise. His eyes remained puckered fast.
“Baruch ata Adonai…elo…”
Lasko balled his fists and began pounding maniacally against the wall behind him. His limbs were clammy rubber, but having lost his sense of pain he smacked the walls with bone-breaking force. He could feel Endorra leaning over him and he lashed out, kicking his legs as she prowled closer. The trefecta of unseemly choices reentered his brain and flickered like a pinwheel. G-d, Chana, and dead Wes. G-d, Chana, and dead Wes. G-d, Chana, and dead Wes. The sitars chimed loudly, and the pinwheel accelerated to a thrilling crescendo of “mother, harlot, beyt-mem, G-d, Chana, dead partner.” This was a ghastly abomination, and he scrambled to flee. But it was like running in sand. Lasko gulped for air, which was growing hotter and more suffocating as he searched for ways to make her imminent rite seem less alluring. Reason managed to escape without him, leaving him a frothing, raging animal with nowhere to run or hide, bucking wildly against the wall and unable to even curl his fingers around his gun to save himself. His eyes tight, he felt Endorra touch his forehead and smoothly lift away his tallit. At that, his heart spasmed, and an abysmal howl of guilt and shame flooded him. Maranatha!!! Then the clash of battle drums commenced, followed by the breezy swish of her thick hair falling around his face as she began sprinkling perfume and petals over his head. “Boom!… Boom!… Boom!… BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!!” Suddenly, a door crashed open. A cold blast and light flooded into the room, drenching everything in a blinding flash. Endorra’s visage faded into the white.
For a moment he floated in the great white light. Nothing about the feverish pangs in his cerebellum nor his chemically-wracked body. No sense of his close brush with defilement. But a singular penny for his thoughts was left rattling in his head: the Call of Jerusalem passed over him, and this followed. Detective Lasko winked out of oscillating consciousness, and the world around him came through in bleary still-frames.
He saw fearful turbulence, being frantically dragged out of the booth door and into the busy street by his partner.
He saw outer heaven, staring into a wheel of buildings jutting up to a dim vanishing point; a blooming lotus in the sky.
He saw the panic in his partner’s face as he leaned down shouting, drowned out by the sitars and waves.
He saw a SuperCede billboard, reading their motto about replacing and staring all over again.
He saw the busted door of the booth, dark and empty save his shoes and tallit.
He saw an astonished crowd and his chest covered in sweat and puke.
He saw Yeshua warn his disciples against praying in the streets.
He saw the Call of Jerusalem battling the Scarlet Harlot.
He saw his beloved Chana in a frame under his desk.
He saw The Throne of Glory and its Ruler.
He saw Wes in a pool of crimson.
He saw the pavement agree.
He saw a fire hydrant grin.
He saw nothing at all.