NOVEMBER 2, 2019
THE 21ST CROSSING
So anyway, the time came for Denby to make the annual crossover, which had remained as a Tradition even though the offices and the Household had been transplanted by force during the Night of Shattered Fires. Tradition has its own powerful force as some of you may know. And the Night of Shattered Fires, begins with its present day immanence to overwhelm the memory of a terrible night of broken crystal for we have continuing struggles in the here and now that demand attention.
The sun descended and shadows grew long across the little avenues of Silvan Acres. Because of the creek passing through, and then the long absent train line and now the road, this place had been a traveling place for many hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The Editor said, "Go now," and so Denby took his walking cane and went out to the uplift where the earth was embanked higher than in other places along the road.
To his great surprise a train came trundling along the way beside the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, even though Denby could not recall such tracks ever having been there.
The machine heaved to a stop with steam and groaning and Denby climbed aboard and took his seat in a cabin with no other passengers in the car. The train proceeded down Sir Francis Drake, stopping at Yolanda Landing and various points not known to Denby and then proceeded south and east through a dense fog that made identifying landmarks difficult. For a long time everything outside the windows was entirely black and Denby assumed they were somehow crossing one of the bridges.
At one point the train stopped and the conductor, a gaunt man wearing a robe, came down the aisle announcing in a foreign accent "Endstation! Endstation!"
Denby disembarked to find he was on the Shoreline Road on the Island. He walked along the path there that bordered the brightly lit condos and the seawall until he came to the Iron Gate. He undid the latch and was greeted by any owl. "Who? Who are you? Who?!"
An iron bell began to clang and then he saw the vast expanse of bonfires lit upon the beach. Those bonfires lit by the souls waiting passage to redemption or eternal fire.
A distant dog or set of dogs set up a jarring sound of barking.
He used his cane to push open the gate and so step through a veil of mist to the Other Side where a long reach of strand with bonfires extended to north and south, broken only at this height by the extension of a stone landing.
As in years past, as he approached the Portal, the Voice bellowed to him from some echoing deep cavern.
"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!"
"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!" and the words flamed inside the skull as if poured in molten steel. Just as it had for the past 19 years.
For pete's sake. As per Tradition, dammit, Denby muttered.
A large owl, about two feet tall, perched on a piling scolded him with large owl eyes.
"Hoo! Hoo! Hoooooo!"
Okay, okay. Poor choice of words.
On the other side the ground sloped down as usual to the water for about thirty yards, but he could not see the far lights of Babylon's port facilities or the Coliseum. A dense, lightless fog hung a few yards offshore, making it appear that the water extended out beyond to Infinity. The sky above was filled with black cloud and boiling with red flashes of lightening and fire although not a drop of rain had fallen.
All up and down the strand he could now see that countless bonfires had been lit, as is customary among our people in this part of the world to do during the colder winter months along the Strand, and towards one of these he stumbled among drift and seawrack.
Sitting around that fire, he recognized many faces. And many more all up and down that beach.
"ch'io non avrei mai creduto / che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta"
Strange words in another language reverberated inside the skull: "si lunga tratta / di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto / che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta" echoing and echoing down long hallways of echos into eternity
A small child, barefoot and wearing a nightdress ran past and disappeared as quickly as she had come.
A blonde woman figure appeared before him, glimmering with an internal light and gauzy fabric blown by an invisible wind. This apparition greeted him.
"Denby!" said the woman. "Here you are again!"
"Hello Penny," Denby said. "Back again."
"A year has passed up there in your world, I guess. Here another year is all the same for waiting. There are several here who are new and they would like to speak with you."
Several little girls, all between the ages of six and nine ran barefoot across the sands between them and vanished into the misty beyond.
A man with bright blue eyes and wild reddish hair came running up and ran circles around the two of them several times before stopping and doing severa bouncing jumping-jacks.
"Denby! Look at me! Ha ha ha! I can run and jump again!"
"Hi Chad," Denby said. "Good to see you are in top form!"
"And look at this what I found!" Chad bent down to pick up a shiny guitar from the grass tufts. "It's my old Martin D-28! God, I was so heartbroken when I put my foot through the soundboard and broke the neck when I was drunk as all hell. I never could bring myself to replace it I loved it so much so I got that $50 nylon string. But here it is, just like new! And I can sing again!"
Chad began strumming away and singing in a powerful voice.
"Hello there my old friend
Whaddya think about that!?"
"Glad to see your health has improved in the afterlife," Denby said as Chad began jumping up and down with the guitar.
Chad stopped jumping and said, "You ever schtupp my wife?"
"No, Chad. It never occured to me."
Chad got teary eyed. "Y'know, you are a real gentleman. With that COPD and emphasema I wasn't much effing use. You know it occurred to Tammy . . .".
"I know, I know. But I am not built that way. I had other concerns."
"The effing world needs more guys with effing integrity like you. Remember that effing hardware store we worked at under the effing freeway in Babylon?"
"That was 35 years ago and I still remember. You tried to teach me the banjo on the steps. I have that instrument now -- Tammy gave it to me."
Chad burped and out popped an obolu from his mouth. "Effing mother of the mushroom king what a place this is! Found my old guitar from 1962 and burping gold now! Eff man!"
"That is your passage fee," Denby said. "I guess you will be seeing some old friends and family soon. Tell Shannon I think of her from time to time."
"Hey, come on old buddy, you can tell her yourself," Chad said moving down to the stone pier. "C'mon man! Come and bonk my sister! Its all okay now!"
"In a little while I will be right behind my friend. In just a little while."
"Ok. I gotta have a few words with that guy I used to play with, Mr. Kantner."
And as he descended the slope, Chad sang and played his guitar.
Mama take this badge from me
"Come on down," Penny said. "Here are a couple more old
friends of yours."
The two of them went down to one of the bonfires not far from the old stone jetty wharf that appeared every year extending out into the shallow waters offshore.
There two men sat conversing and laughing with great animation. One fellow had a flowing beard and the other had a head of curly hair above a craggy face.
"Hey guys!" Denby said.
"Denby, here you are," said the man with curly hair and the craggy face. "We were always Los Tres Amigos until you arrived and then with Paul we were Los Cuatro Amigos until Jim checked himself out. Then we were Tres Amigos again. "
"I hear Paul nearly bought it recently due to cancer," said Jim
"Hey lets set up a poker game right here", said the man with curly hair. "Matchsticks and nickles. One hundred dollar pot."
"I do not think there is time for that, " Penny said.
"Ahh!" said the curly-haired man. "I have always liked you. I do not know why, but I do."
"Doyle," said Denby. "You have always been cantankerous. Craggy-faced Doyle."
"Craggy-faced? What the heck in Sam Hill does that mean"
"You are photogenic, Doyle. Always have been."
"Hey!" Doyle hopped up and adopted a fighter's stance. Feinting slightly with his lead.
Denby stood sideways and put up his hands, just like they used to do in the old days, he and Doyle.
"Ahhhh," Doyle said. "You'd probably kill me. Ha ha ha ha!
"Denby, there is someone here you need to meet," said Penny.
"I know," said Denby roughly. "I know already."
In a circle of light that emanated from some unknown source, a woman with chestnut brown hair danced in a circle with the ephemeral children who ran out of the darkness to cavort and then disappear again.
"Ring the Rosy. Parker has a Posey!"
Denby approached and stood a while, watching this dance and then spoke. "Hello mom."
The dancing woman stopped and all the children bolted off into the darkness.
"Hello Sonny boy. You were my First Born."
"I know about the other who did not live. That is another story. So now how are you?"
The woman stuck out her tongue and made a fillip sign with her hands.
"She is so insousciant," said Penny. Everyone here loves her.
"Life does not go on forever. And that is a good thing I have found out. Now I am at peace, but I worry about your father. He is entirely too serious. He wants to control everything."
The two of them stepped aside to another fire circle to discuss important things in the brief hour that remained.
"You wanna play poker?" Doyle said to Pennie.
"I do not think that is allowed down here."
"O common. Matchsticks and pennies." Doyle said. "After all we have all of eternity to hold or fold.
"Doyle you are some kind of rascal wanting to set up a poker game with the Angels in a place like this," Jim said.
"Well, hell, I just want to pass the time like we did before. No harm in that. Maybe teach a few angels some angles. You me and Paul were always Los Tres Amigos. Remember that? Then Denby came along and we were Los Quatros Amigos. Then you checked yourself out and we were Los Tres Amigos again. We could be Los Quatros Amigos again. Except Paul of course is up there still . . . ".
A loud bell began to clang and the souls along the beach started to wander down to the jetty that struck out into the dark Bay. A glimmering in the distance announced the approaching Ferryman.
Doyle responded with astonishment when a gold coin popped out of his mouth.
"What the heck is this?"
"That is the obolu that grants you passage," Penny said. "You are very lucky to depart now. "
A glimmer appeared from far off across the water and many of the souls on that beach began to gather at the old stone jetty that had appeared.
"C'mon Jim!" Doyle said as he moved down the slope.
Jim just shook his head. "Sorry amigo. Gotta stay here a while."
"Well what the . . . C'mon man. This is the trip of a lifetime. Last roadtrip of all!" And Doyle grabbed Jim to drag him down by the hand to the jetty where the skiff docked and the souls began to board, offering their passage obolu.
"C'mon Jim, c'mon! Let's go!"
But the infernal Ferryman turned his visage towards Jim as he stood still upon the sand and his body began to smoke under that withering gaze which consisted of eyes that were wheels of fire and Jim fell back, shielding his own eyes from that terrible punishment.
Up furthur on the beach the woman who had been talking with Denby said it was time to go. An obolu popped from her mouth.
"I have suffered enough. Time for an end to it all. Bye-bye Sonny! You were my First Born."
And with that the woman descended silently down to the jetty, where the Ferryman waited for her, followed by dozens of young girls, all the not born and the never-will, cavorting and dancing and bearing flowers in baskets they strew along the path.
The Ferryman, in an unaccustomed guesture, assisted her aboard with unusual gentleness. And the woman who had been Denby's mother turned to face the shore and she put her thumb to her nose and wiggled her fingers and laughed and laughed as the skiff pushed off to the Other Side.
Meanwhile Jim struggled up the bank to the firepit where Denby and Penny stood.
"Well he is gone and here I am," Jim said. "Waiting for Paul. Last of the Tres Amigos."
"Self-murder takes a long to forgive, " Penny said. "You might be here longer than even me."
Jim sat down heavily on a log beside the firepit. "Well this sucks. How is Paul?"
"He almost joined you with the cancer, but much to his consternation he has been dragged back through the black tunnel of therapy into the living for a while yet." Denby said. "But he is made a very angry and unhappy man having been put through all of that with operations, chemo and radiation that cooked his innards and that is not considering the politics right now."
"Paul is the son of a Baptist minister. Anger would be his birthright if nothing else. For nothing else is what we Californios have earned over time," Jim said ruefully.
"You're father assisted Mullholland as an engineer right up until the San Franciscito dam brake. You should have seen it coming."
A little girl ran up to Denby and spoke. " Hey Papi! I am Sapphire! Remember me! You named me last time! I am not born yet, but maybe I will be some day!"
Denby got down on his hunkers to face Sapphire. "Hi Sapphire! I hope you have been good all this time I have been away."
Sapphire nodded vigorously. "I have not been born yet. I cannot tell a lie! Maybe after I am born!"
"Well I am 62 so we will see about that."
The iron bell began to clang, calling the faithfull to their knees to speak the softly spoken magic spells. And close the gate between the worlds at the time the veils between the worlds are thinnest.
"Time to go, Denby. This one has been quite the family reunion."
Reluctantly Denby turned to go up the slope.
"Denby." Penny said simply and he paused as a wind kicked up with gusts.
She reached out her hands to cup his face. Cold, so cold. He felt a wetness on his lips, on his face. Perhaps the slap of saltwater from the Bay carried by the wind.
"Good-bye. Until next time."
He ascended the slope as the sound of the bell and three dogs became more insistent until he stumbled through the gate which slammed shut behind him. There, an open door to a train compartment waited for him and he climbed in to plotz into a seat in an otherwise empty railcar with salty, wet cheeks. On the return journey, he reflected Penny had become in the afterlife what she had been before. In life she had been a nurse during the height of the AIDS plague whose job it had been to handle the affairs of patients who had been sent home from Hospice as they lapsed and eventually died and allowed her to handle the paperwork of such things, there always the angel to usher souls to the door and through it to the next form of existence, if any, beyond.
The train passed through shadowy regions of smoke and the skeletal forms of houses and the smoke of spooks until it passed Yolanda Landing and eventually to the San Geronimo Station, where Denby disembarked. From there he went dutifully to the Island-Life offices although he felt exhausted unto death.
The Editor awaited him as in years past.
"So this is the 21st time you have crossed over," said the Editor. "How was it this time?"
Denby fell into a plush chair Martini had snagged from a For Free roadside pile. He gave the Editor the one thousand yard stare.
"I can tell you are wanting a drink. And by just the look of you, so am I." The Editor reached into the desk and pulled out a bottle of Glenfiddich and set two glasses on the desk before pouring more than two fingers into each glass.
"Any idea how the elections will go this time and what will become of the Country? You did ask, did you?"
"This time there was no time," Denby said hoarsely.
"That is par for the course" said the Editor. "Anything else?"
"There is nothing else to say," Denby said, his thoughts now far away. The thousand yard stare.
"I suspected not. It is all according to Tradition. At least we have that. Cheers."
"Cheers. Slainte." Denby said.
They sat there until the first glimmering of light appeared above the eastern hills. And so ended the last night of Los Dias de Los Muertos, the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest..
The sound of the train horn keened from Oaktown across the estuary and wended its way through the redwoods of Marin's well-matriculated hills and slid over the sleeping bulk of Princess Tamalpais following the old, forgotten railbeds that once led along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the coast, stirring the coyotes who began to howl their evensong which carried forth on the winds over Fairfax and White's Hill, ululating through Silvan Acres and the mist-shrouded niches of the San Geronimo Valley, coursing with faint gray shapes along the ridge-tops through the drifts of fog to an unknown destination.