Partaking of the Vine of the Soul

By: Delilah

E-mail: delilah_miranda@yahoo.com

Series: Coming Up for Air #11

Rest of Coming Up for Air Series found at http://brothersinarmsfiction.com/delilah/delilah.html

Rating: R

Feedback: Always welcome

Thanks: Thanks to C and Aly for allowing me to bombard them with out-of-order bits and pieces at all hours of the day (and night). Thanks to the Just Us Lurkers guys for being guinea pigs and to Fingers for across-the-Atlantic opinions. As always thanks to Lyn for the beta and the wonderful home on the web.

Warnings: Use of psychotropic drink in a religious ritual. And, if you really do know Mayan or Quechua, apologies in advance for my clumsiness.

Summary: A frustrated Blair goes native in his attempt to connect with Jim.

~oOo~

 

I’d like to think I’ve gotten a hold of this vision-stuff. But so far it’s been pretty much a solitary journey. Jim generally sits and watches me, the same way he does in the real world. And I sit and watch him. So much for the promised control over wind, fire or magical flight. At least I have yet to have my organs consumed and replaced. Hey, what do I know? I read it on soc.religion.shamanism.

"Jim, can you explain this to me?"

Jim looks around, smiling faintly.

/I like it./

His gesturing hands take in all the … blueness.

"Okay, I admit," I palm my hand against a nearby trunk, surprised to find it humid and warm to my touch, "it’s nice – if you’re very fond of blue. But what are we doing here?"

Jim shrugs in an unconcerned way.

"Do you come here a lot?"

He shakes his head and reaches out to pet the ever-present jaguar between the ears. The big cat’s pleasure rumbles from deep in its dark chest. I’m still trying to figure when the cat’s a cat and when it’s Jim or if it could possibly be both at once. The wolf whimpers jealously but I’m not about to touch anything with that many teeth. If he wants petting, he can go see Jim.

/He said you’d come./

"Here? That I’d come here? Who told you that? The cat?"

Beneath fringed lids two pairs of blue eyes droop sleepily.

Damn it.

"Who, Jim? Come on, stay with me."

When you scream in the blue jungle … no one hears you.

~oOo~

In the real world, the problem is not Jim -- who’s very talkative, well, for Jim. The problem is Simon, who really wants those guys who assaulted Jim down at the docks. He thinks, but has so far come nowhere near close to proving, they are responsible for the recent deaths among the homeless community. The only thing he can hope to prove is that one or more of them attacked Jim and maybe, if one of the trio was only an onlooker, he’ll roll on the others for the other assaults.

The only thing I can prove is that I saw them at the same time I saw Jim already on the ground, bloody and unconscious.

That leaves Jim the sole witness on which all hopes fall.

~oOo~

Jim takes my hand when we slide through the doors to the lobby. He usually is pretty happy to take the elevator to the seventh floor so this unease is probably a reaction to me. He may not know why entering such a familiar haunt is suddenly causing my heart to sound like castanets, but he’s offering comfort the only way he knows how – through touch.

It hasn’t occurred to me before, that in the jungle, I never touch Jim. I’ve been too excited that he’s actually holding a conversation with me, however brief, to use the means of communication Jim is best at - the language of hands and heart.

There is still a whole hell of a lot for me to learn.

And nobody to teach me.

~oOo~

Simon leans in carefully and tries to fix Jim’s attention. Unfortunately, you can tell by the telltale tilt of Jim’s head that he’s too distracted by something he’s heard to attend to the gentle prodding.

"Jim." I end up leaning over him to channel his attention. "Jim, I need you to tell me what happened down at the docks."

Jim’s eyes are serious and searching. He takes me in with a worried frown.

/Hurt/ he finally signs.

"I know it hurt, big guy. Do you remember that night, do you know how many people there were?"

This is an important question. I have no idea if Jim interprets things in any way we’d consider normal. I know Lisa has been trying to teach him numbers, but I’ve never asked him to count anything before. But if he’s going to answer the kind of questions a lawyer would ask, this is the place we have to start.

Jim looks down and I have to cup his chin to get his attention again.

"How many guys were there?"

My own uncertainty is being multiplied and sent back to me in his pale gaze.

As I so often do, I wonder if I am only making the situation worse. When he rocks slightly against the chair back, there’s a familiar sinking feeling in my gut. I have been around long enough to read Jim’s silent communications all too well.

"I don’t think he can do this, Simon."

I turn away to meet the captain’s disappointed gaze only to be spun back around by a softly whispered "three."

"Jim?"

He stops rocking long enough to meet my eyes. "Three." Then he rocks again, shutting down.

Simon reaches out for a tightly clenched hand. "Jim. This is very important. You understand that we have to keep them from hurting other people."

Jim nods slightly. "Hurt," he breathes out softly.

~oOo~

No matter how many times I gathered up my most serious social science vocabulary and attempted to get the youthful ADA to understand what a potentially extraordinary witness he had in Jim, if he just handled the situation right -- I knew he didn’t get it.

And I was right.

He didn’t get it.

It’s all well and good to tell me you have had experience guiding children through complex testimony, but Jim is thirty-six years old and outweighs the prosecuting attorney by at least thirty pounds.

"Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!"

It is not Jim that requires this repetition to get his attention.

"Mr. Sandburg." I roll my eyes before he even gets started, giving him even more reason to lecture me. "A ‘competent’ witness," (and he compounds his sin by making the little quotes around "competent" midair with his fingers), "must show that he or she knows the difference between truth and a lie, knows the consequences of lying, and can remember enough details to accurately relate what he saw. I have yet to feel that Jim is capable of this."

"Jim."

I have no problem attracting his "wandering" (and that’s with the quotes) attention.

"Do I like Mr. O’Rourke?"

Jim tilts his head slightly, observing. "It’s okay, Jim. Just answer the question."

/No./

The sign is emphatic. Thanks, Jim.

"Jim, does Mr. O’Rourke like me?"

Jim’s nostrils flare. I’ll have to check that out later – maybe he can smell dislike.

This ‘no’ is equally absolute.

"Does Miss Sanchez like Mr. O’Rourke?"

Rosa Sanchez is O’Rourke’s long-suffering paralegal.

Jim looks to where Rosie is sitting, shifting uncomfortably. Jim is equally ill at ease with the question, looking for all the world like he damn well understands the potential consequences of his answer.

"Go for it, Jim. Be honest."

/No/ he finally relents.

"So, Mr. O’Rourke, that honest enough for you?"

~oOo~

It is, for someone who’s made his way in the world by manipulating the native tongue, difficult to know whether the spiritual communion I have with Jim is … well, really, communion.

Jim is satisfied to sit beside me.

To be with me.

He does not require complicated dialogue. In fact, won’t respond to most utterances.

I thought the shared visions of the jungle would be a catalyst, a veritable font of discussion. But, instead, Jim is happy to be. He sits quietly and gazes up at the blue sky peeking through blue leaves and silently contemplates.

A Zen sentinel.

Naomi would be ecstatic.

I have poked and prodded and, all right, begged; I’ve begged all the deities I can think of and a couple I’m pretty sure I just made up; and I’ve decided in their likewise resounding lack of response that perhaps I need to explore what might be learned in silence.

So I sit in a half-lotus position beside him and try not to doze off.

~oOo~

Simon is very pleased with himself. You can tell by the way he keeps clasping his hands behind his neck and leaning back in his chair. Alpha male posture number two, right after beating your fists against your chest and right before looming threateningly.

"No assaults at the docks."

This all goes back to a long past exchange of theories regarding the nature of the dock assailant. The exchange where I didn’t pick three middle-class wanna-be gangstas as the likely suspects. And Simon, well, sort of, did. Hey, the man’s been a cop twenty years. Sometimes social science theory fails in that sort of real-world reckoning.

Mainly I’m surprised their parents haven’t popped to spring them from city detention yet, but apparently the parents were as appalled as anyone. And the bail, owing to them lucking into Ron Helmsley, a judge who took the crime of assaulting the handicapped extremely seriously, has been a bit hefty. The one of them that’s managed to escape into parental custody probably isn’t going to do anything on his own.

Simon’s still thinking at least one of them will roll before the trial date gets here.

As usual, hope springs eternal.

~oOo~

Life at the loft has turned out to be … good. I mean it’s less stressed with William and me keeping seventeen miles between us. Jim is relaxed, more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. Well, except when we have to come in contact with a certain ADA.

Lisa’s starting to think Jim’s just not going to speak – at least not regularly. But he likes sign and as long as I understand him and Steven understands him and Lisa understands him … that’s enough. Sally understands him even when he doesn’t sign, in a way that makes me almost envious. I’ve even thought about asking her about Jim’s spirituality, except Sally is a regular attendee at one of Cascade’s more conservative churches and I don’t know how she’d take to learning Jim’s definitely leaning toward the more pagan varieties of worship. I don’t want to breach what seems to be a whole don’t ask/don’t tell version of loft religious harmony.

And coming home to a … home - there’s some feeling I’m unable to put a name to that fills me when I’m standing outside the large building on Prospect and looking up at the soft light filtering from the loft’s glass patio doors.

When I go up the stairs and through the door, I know I’ll find Jim curled on the sofa, engrossed in tonight’s Jag’s game. Sally will be waiting dinner, even though, as I do every weekday, I’ve told her not to. If there’s a Mercedes in the parking lot that’ll mean Steven is up there, studiously describing the game to the brother he thought he’d never share such normality with.

If there wasn’t this big, looming blue jungle complete with panther and wolf I would think I’d done pretty well.

~oOo~

William, in his usual way, pulled some heretofore unknown judicial strings and an unoccupied office turned up just waiting for us to need a quiet place for Jim.

Maybe a quiet place for me, too.

Lisa offered to wait outside the courtroom and, ungraciously, I let her. She’s here to serve as Jim’s translator.

I’m here to … what?

Offer support?

It’s not quite the feeling of helplessness I had, finding Jim lying on the street. But I feel decidedly …impotent. Like I’m waist deep in rushing water trying to catch a river between my fingers, trying to damn the Colorado with a sieve.

The fact I suddenly hear the trickling of actual liquid is not encouraging.

"Jim?"

I turn and find the usual surreal transformation that heralds the coming of things … blue.

"Okay, Jim. Now is not a good time for this."

In the face of the indigo jungle I really am powerless. This is something beyond me. I think that this is almost a stress reaction. A sharing of Jim’s internal peace that doesn’t quite succeed in making me peaceful.

I wonder if I weren’t here, if Jim would be in the flat nothingness of his nirvana.

So if Jim gets a virtual desert, why do I get blue rainforest? Is my subconscious reaching back to the six weeks I spent in Peru with Eli? Because there was the closest I’ve ever felt to something spiritual?

Jim holds his hand out to me and I grasp the warm flesh, feeling the frisson of connection. Whatever links Jim to me and me to Jim.

Jim, the most silent of shaman.

A door opens in the midst of a mahogany tree and Lisa appears, completely unaware she is walking into another plane of existence. I blink at her, the incongruity striking me – not that I’m surprised to see a jungle in the middle of the Cascade Judicial Building but that I’m startled to see a door in the middle of the jungle.

The noise startles Jim and the room morphs back into polished shelves and leather furniture. Lisa has taken Jim’s hand and is leading him out to the hall. H-hour is upon us. Closing the door, I seem to see a slip of vine still twining around the dark wood of the doorframe. Seems I have drunk too often the primordial water from Jim’s stream and have come to half-believe the world he slips to, this, may indeed be the one that is real.

~oOo~

Despite what you might think about Naomi, the closest I’ve ever come to an actual courtroom is sitting too close to the TV as a kid watching black and white reruns of Perry Mason.

Neither of these guys is Perry.

The defendant, singular, the cases being tried separately, is sitting at a table in a pointedly non-gangsta blue suit, pulling uncomfortably at his collar and tie. For Jim, I picked a well-laundered cotton shirt and a cotton sweater that’s one of his favorites. Anything to make him more comfortable.

He’s holding Lisa’s hand, but he keeps looking back in my direction as we make our way up between the rows of benches. When I stop to sit in an empty seat on the second row next to Steven, Jim balks a little, but I nod at him and Lisa tugs on him gently and manages to get him to the little box where Perry always shredded the opposing witnesses.

Make that, I thank God that neither of these guys is Perry.

The judge takes on a mild tone he probably uses to calm stray dogs on the weekends. I don’t know whether to appreciate his … consideration of Jim, or to bristle. Actually I’m fighting "bristle" pretty hard.

Steven pats my forearm like he knows I’m halfway to "bolt".

Jim is gracefully sworn in. (We practiced.)

He gives his name, in sign … as /Jim/. (We practiced.)

Then Jason O’Rourke takes up the examination of what you can still tell he feels is a dubious witness.

"Jim, can you tell me what happened at the docks?"

Jim looks at Lisa then gazes out at me but there can be no prompting. If he’s to be believed he has to do this on his own.

"Hurt," he finally whispers, making the familiar sign at the same time. His gaze is now directed at the floor as he struggles to lessen the stimulus.

"Who hurt you, Jim?"

He rocks ever so slightly and my heart moves to my throat where it beats chokingly.

"Three."

"Three people hurt you? Jim, do you see one of the people who hurt you in this room?"

I hold my breath as Jim looks up, his gaze slightly panicked. This is what we couldn’t exactly reproduce. Could never practice. I nod at him when he looks over at me. Nodding can’t hurt, right? I notice Lisa is hovering incrementally closer. And everyone else seems to lean forward slightly in their seat in encouragement. Well, except for the defendant who is scowling in Jim’s direction. His lawyer raps his leg under the table and the scowl disappears.

What we ask Jim to do, daily, is frightening enough. When the world is so distracting, each sensation a minute bit that must be fitted into a whole, a skill that would fail us, too, if we had Jim’s level of sensory input. Pattern recognition, a mere bump on our daily road, is, for Jim, like scaling Everest. It’s why he likes familiarity, why he needs consistency, so he is able to ignore part of the input because it’s become background, even to his enhanced senses.

Jim’s gaze slides to the blue-suited suspect. Besides the requisite "civilizing" of the defendant that’s probably, like, lesson one in Defense Attorney 101, Jim is now doubly handicapped. He must recognize his attacker, not by the bright red jersey he wore that night, but by facial recognition. Jim whose normal gaze settles everywhere but your face.

After a long study, Jim looks down. His right hand splits two fingers into a "V" and with them he strikes the upraised index finger on his left. /Table/

At the translation O’Rourke tries another tack. "Can you point to the man, Jim?"

/Point/ signs Lisa, lifting Jim’s chin so he will look at her. /Point/.

Jim looks back toward the body in the blue suit hulking over the table. He takes one hand in the other, as if he needs the steadiness of both to complete the movement. Rocking again, but only slightly, he brings his hands up in the direction of the kid.

And given that is probably more than he expected to get out of Jim, O’Rourke decides to bail on this high note. "I have no further questions, your Honor."

Lisa rubs Jim’s shoulder, letting him steady himself against her.

"Cross examination?" inquires the judge, still in that quiet tone.

The entire courtroom seems to be holding its breath. Steven’s hands are white-knuckling the curved edge of our seat.

"Not at this time, your Honor."

Our shared held breath releases in a soft whoosh. Steven stretches his fingers, the wood glistening damply where he held it in a death grip.

"Very well." The judge leans over to look down at Jim. "Thank you, Jim. You may go."

Ten minutes at most. Ten minutes that would have been, maybe, not a walk in the park for anyone who has to testify at a trial, but not this kind of heart-stopping burden.

Jim Ellison, as I continually learn, is far from anybody.

He wants my hand and I give it to him freely. Who cares about the stares? No society should be so fucked up that it cares if two grown men hold hands. In my fingers, his are cool.

All four of us, Lisa and Steven included, cram into the first available vacant alcove in the hallway and surround the hero of the moment. Murmuring. Touching. Having a damn group-hug beside the Cascade city courtrooms that Jim endures, lowering his forehead against mine, his eyes tightly shut.

I want to take it all away from him. I want to surround him with the familiar.

He moves to rest his face against my neck, the deep breath as he scents me expanding his chest.

Steven’s hand is resting on the back of Jim’s neck. My hands are rubbing lightly along his arms. Lisa’s stroking easy circles in the small of his back.

People murmur as they pass us but we stay anyway. A tangle of supporting limbs.

~oOo~

"They’re not going to cross-examine Jim."

Even though we all thought they wouldn’t, the actual news is a relief.

Leave it to William, who’s here checking things out, to drag us back to reality. "How are they refuting his testimony?"

"Expert witness," supplies Steven. He has one of those long folders lawyers carry under his arm and he whisks it out, looking every bit the vice president of a multinational corporation that I tend to forget he is. "A doctor, Courtney Bennett."

"Courtney Bennett?" echoes William, frowning. "That sounds familiar."

Steven flips the manila cover open. "You took Jim there in 1986."

"Oh God." William sinks down next to Jim and reaches to smooth Jim’s hair. "The injections."

I swallow roughly, "Injections?"

"Hormones. They were supposed to increase the function of the pancreas which was supposed to –" A now familiar worn look comes over William’s features.

I have my problems with William but I know he was doing what he thought was right, trying anything to help Jim.

"-- they, uh …" His hand moves down to gently squeeze Jim’s shoulder. "He got this terrible rash, all over his arm and down his hand. His skin peeled for weeks and he couldn’t stand you to touch him."

"And this is their expert witness?"

"Jim was … bad even before I took him to her and then he got worse." William’s touch moves down until he’s holding Jim’s hand in his. "He screamed when you touched him, rocked when you left him alone, sometimes hit his head against the wall. We even talked about placement for him. But I … we … we couldn’t do that. We didn’t try another specialist, just let Jim be … what he could … and things got a little better with time."

"So this doctor’s going to say, what? That Jim’s a basket case and, therefore, couldn’t make an ID?"

"Probably something along those lines."

"What does O’Rourke want to do?" I try very hard not to picture Jim having to testify again.

"He wants our own expert. He thinks, maybe, if we can rebut this, the defendant will see eight years hard coming and roll over like a good little snitch." Steven shoots me a crafty look. "I was thinking that neurologist we met in the ER, you still got his card?"

Oh, I still have it. I look at it every once in a while, think about making an appointment, then change my mind and stuff it back in my wallet.

~oOo~

Brad Lozzio is watching Jim intently as he sits on the couch, his hand clutched around my wrist. "Did you try the white noise generators?’

"Oh yeah, he seems to like them when I’m in the loft, his shoulders kind of relax, you know? But Sally says every time she turns them on he has a fit."

"He does that a lot, doesn’t he? Your wrist," the doctor explains when I frown. "It’s the way he says your name, too, isn’t it?"

I lift my captured arm, Jim’s hand going with it. "Yeah, Steven said it was an old comfort maneuver, like the rocking. I think it gives him some sense of control."

Brad kneels down in front of the pair of us. "Does he know the sign for heart?"

I tap a finger from my free hand over my chest.

"Jim." He pats Jim’s knee to draw his attention. "Do you feel Blair’s heart?" He makes the sign for emphasis.

Looking intently at him, Jim nods slowly.

"Do you hear Blair’s heart?" The doc looks over at me and I supply the sign for hear.

"Do you hear Blair’s heart?" he repeats, adding the signs.

His intense scrutiny still on the face of the man crouched before him, Jim cautiously nods his affirmation.

"I think, then," says Brad, rocking back on his heels, "we know why he doesn’t always like the white noise."

"I’m not following," I say, because I’m … not.

"When it’s on and he can’t see you or touch you, he can’t track you."

"You’re saying he listens for my heartbeat? That he could possibly hear my heartbeat? All the time?"

God, how distracting. To add to all the other distractions Jim faces. How does he stand it?

"It’s probably background rhythm," consoles Brad when I look distressed. "He could probably hear anybody’s – yours just happens to be the one that’s important."

"Why would my heartbeat be more important than anyone else’s?"

Brad grins at the hold Jim still has on me. "I don’t know, but it obviously is. Maybe some day he can tell us."

~oOo~

I know that look --

Apparently Sentinel-obsessed anthropologists aren’t the only ones interested in heightened senses, as the neurologist is practically ecstatic in mid-lecture on olfactory pseudogenes.

Which means, well, shit, maybe Jim can smell "dislike".

Jim turns his rapt attention from the rustling pages of the article Brad is waving about to study me just as closely, probably because my heart rate just spiked, joining fraternally in the academic excitement.

"Hear that Jim? Why you’re special?" I tug my index finger upwards, making the sign. And I do not mean "special" the way the woman at the park used it the other day, as a euphemism for … well, whatever less than charitable thoughts she was thinking. Retarded. Autistic. Less than normal. No, I mean the dictionary definition of "special" as in "unique among others of his kind." Which Jim is.

According to this article, if I’ve gotten through Brad Lozzio’s molecular biology correctly, it turns out that these little DNA strands that they thought were "pseudogenes" actually are still switched on and act like the real thing in some people. And with the sense of smell, that’s 600 of these little throwback gene guys compared to the 400 "normal" genes in most people.

Which could explain smelling … dislike.

Brad grows even more excited by an aside regarding a study of the women who they call "tetrachromactic" – able to distinguish colors the rest of us see as identical.

It’s probably a little odd to get this energized about theoretical genetics but I’m always on the lookout for any concrete way to explain Jim. And a nice dry paper that mentions nothing about black jaguars is just what the doctor ordered. A conversational topic that won’t make Steven and William cringe.

He doesn’t know it, but Brad Lozzio’s just taken a hell of a lot a pressure of this Sunday’s Ellison family lunch.

~oOo~

It’s a beautiful spring day, not completely cloudless, but close enough for Cascade, which is enough to make me drive down the little row of shops at Five Points after we leave Brad’s and coax Jim out for some window shopping in a Bohemian corner of town, where even Jim holding my hand will go mostly unnoticed.

Jim’s enjoying the weather too. He closes his eyes and tilts his face sunward, basking, as we walk down the brick sidewalk. The shops we walk by are those quirky even-though-you’re-rich-you-can-still-be-funky kinds. Pretentious little pseudo-holes in what are likely some very expensive walls.

But when one is named The Shaman’s Drum, even I can’t resist, and in a matter of seconds we’re through the door into an artistically arranged gallery of indigenous instruments.

I’m immediately drawn to the place’s eponym. A double-sided drum with a long handle made like a phurba, the triple-sided Tibetan stake used to tether sacrificial animals. A tool used to ritually create stability and areas of protected space. Only one initiated into its use may possess a phurbha, all others are forbidden. Which is probably why I can’t quite bring myself to touch the intricate carvings: the three deities, one benign and two fierce, at the top of the handle.

Jim’s slipped my hold and wandered deeper into the store’s bowels that still seem dim after the glare of the Cascade spring sun. I’m just about to go gather my wayward charge when "May I help you?" wafts across the dimness in richly accented Jamaican tones and I hasten to intercept the salesman.

Jim, I notice, is reverently running a finger along a much larger drum in, of course (what else?) the South American section. Jim, who’s never been out of Cascade in his adult life, goes unerringly to an instrument from the Peruvian jungle.

"The Manguarey. The talking drums of the jungle. Sound from these particular drums carries a six-hour walking distance." A smile lights brilliantly in the Jamaican’s dark face. "The Amazon version of a party invitation."

"Not going to work in the loft, Jim." I laugh.

"You are a musician?" inquires the salesman.

"Anthropologist."

"Ah. Then this is the musician," he deduces, pointing at Jim.

"Sculptor," I correct.

The Jamaican laughs good-naturedly. "Ah, so I am wrong on both counts."

"Jim is …" I, too, give in and go for the simple explanation, though I can’t help but qualify it, "…diagnosed autistic."

We both watch as Jim thumbs out a rhythmic beat on the hide face of the drum.

"Drums are marvelous music therapy." The salesman has lowered his voice in deference to Jim’s performance.

Like an enraptured Jim isn’t compelling enough, he has, in just a few minutes, drawn the salesman to his cause. Okay, well maybe, he just wants to make a sale, but it is clear that Jim is enjoying himself. I know that look … it’s the look he gets while pinching and kneading clay into jaguar and wolf.

~oOo~

So, I bought Jim a drum or, rather, Steven’s credit card bought Jim a drum. Either way this may not seem to be a good thing, given the rather constricted living quarters of the loft, even if I wouldn’t let him get the Amazonian-party-invitation variety. But if half the bottom of the loft is a sculpture studio, no reason some small corner can’t be given over to the percussive arts.

With a little dissension from Jim, who gravitated toward the deep, bass jungle drums, I finally was talked into getting a tinya, a drum of mystical origin used ritually in the Andean highlands, handcrafted from tornillo wood and goatskin.

Jim holds it reverently in his lap all the way back, examining it with the balls of his fingers, memorizing the wood’s natural imperfections, smoothing the hide drumhead.

~oOo~

"You brought Jim here?"

I’m angry enough to wake up in the pitch ebony of the damn, dark cave. I’m positively furious to find I’m not alone. I shelter the body I can’t see, drawing the hunched figure to my side. Jim’s breath is quick but he doesn’t rock or moan. I don’t know if he can see, or if this truly is a lightless realm.

The answer to my first question comes in a press of breath, soft and hissing. "This place is not my making."

I feel Jim shift against me and bring up his hands. I grope for them, stilling them with my own. "It’s okay, Jim. It’s too dark. I can’t see."

Jim’s hands escape to touch my face, ghosting over my eyes and lips. I think there must truly be no light if Jim has resorted to this kind of touch.

A velvet flank grazes past me, a heated caress in the darkness.

"Get us out of here."

"This is Kunil--"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it – a place of sacred dreaming."

"Patience, young one," reprimands the not-so-disembodied voice.

Jim reaches out to pet the soft fur and the darkness reverberates with the rough, sub vocal rumble.

"Ch'in pacha? May?" whispers Jim.

I can feel his hand sweeping along the powerful flank. My Quechua is limited. My Mayan worse and my Ixil-Mamean non-existent.

I think the words Jim spoke are Quechua.

"Naach," resounds from within the blackness.

"Allinchay?" returns Jim, sounding … breathless.

I know that word … it’s "make good" or "fix."

"Enough!" I try to pound my hands against the dank stone floor but, instead, splash wrist deep into a pool of chilled water. "Have I mentioned I, me personally, have had enough? I don’t get it, okay? I. Don’t. Get. It. If there’s something I’m supposed to do, then, tell me. Just … tell me."

I am embraced, wrapped against Jim’s chest, rocked and soothed. "Please," I beg into the darkness. "Just tell me what to do, Jim. Tell me."

Jim murmurs something, melodical and low, and the darkness shifts almost imperceptively, then again, and, an atom at a time, the dimness lifts.

In a few minutes I can make out the faint rectangle of the loft’s glass doors.

"Ch’in," Jim breathes into my ear. "Ch’in."

Quiet.

~oOo~

 

The second time at the courthouse is more nerve-wracking than even awaiting Jim’s testimony was. I don’t really want to be alone with my thoughts when I hear the bastions of medical science battle over the definition of ‘Jim’. I need his warm strength beside me. The reminder of how he is not merely a forgotten file in a dozen medical offices scattered across metropolitan Cascade.

If I didn’t know Dr. Bennett was a purveyor of useless and painful hormone therapies, I’d think she made quite a professional impression -- hair upswept and close enough to severe to make your think her mind’s on medicine, expensive-looking gray suit, designer glasses. She drags out a vocabulary I haven’t heard describe Jim Ellison, sculptor, newly enthusiastic percussionist and shaman, in months now. Not even from

William.

Pervasive developmental disorder.

Isolated intact reservoirs of function.

Profound difficulties with social interactions.

Highly restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

I should wait for O’Rourke and Brad’s rebuttal. But I can’t. I need to escape under the pale spring sky that can entrance Jim with a thousand colors I can’t see. I need to find myself under Jim’s own sky-colored gaze and seek absolution for having used the same words myself when I first saw him, for having made the same mistake.

For continuing to make it.

~oOo~

I am not a surrendering kind of person.

In the face of Naomi’s admonitions to yield and let that which is just wash over me, I have always been rebellious. To be swept away by the tides seems a defeat, not an accomplishment.

But when I think of Jim, when I think of the lack of mastery that he lives with everyday, for so long unable to control anything …

I know my control is illusory. But like the question of whether any of our experiences are real, it all feels real, and, philosophical conundrums aside, that is enough to make reality, for all practical purposes.

And I am, at heart, a practical person.

Somebody had to be.

Somebody had to worry about Maslow’s more basic needs while Naomi was off transfiguring her mind in various philosophical and chemical ways.

That somebody was me.

Still is.

I am, somehow, to Jim, the bridge between his espiritu pacha and the rest of reality. At least what seems to be reality. If it is reality.

Right. We really don’t need to go there. The reality of reality can … wait.

Even if I was willing to … let go, I’m not sure how to do it. Meditation may be great relaxation but, as of yet, I have never found myself on an astral plane while doing it.

~oOo~

"You sure about this?" Peter Reid is looking at me google-eyed.

The request surely couldn’t have come as a surprise – unless it’s just that it comes as a surprise from me.

"Participatory study is one of the backbones of anthropology."

"You said you hate getting high."

"Yeah, I know." I rub a hand along the tight muscles in my neck. I do hate getting high. "But I need a little help in the shamanic area."

"Okay," agrees Peter. "I can get you peyote or ololiuqui."

"I was planning on ayahuasca."

"Vine of the Soul and Rope of the Dead. You just assume I have access to Banisteriopsis Caapi."

"Come on, Peter. The vine is not illegal."

"No, but processing it is … iffy."

"Like you care."

"True," admits Peter, leaning back against his desk and grinning.

~oOo~

Historically before partaking of the ayahuasca ceremony, you should consume no salt, no sugar, no oil or fat. You should abstain from sex and alcohol. Under Peter’s strict tutelage, I am also to abstain from cheese, baloney, pickled herring and sauerkraut, not that that’s exactly a hardship. Apparently the stuff is a pretty good MAO inhibitor and he doesn’t want my Tyramine levels going too high.

The potency of the brew depends on the knowledge and the experience of the shaman preparing it. While Peter in no way claims to be a shaman, his BA came with a second major in chemistry, which is why he kept waxing poetic about harmine and harmaline and N,N-dimethyltryptamine.

But not today. Today is the day we try to distance ourselves from our more scientific leanings.

If we were in the Amazonian jungle, we would gather a broomstick-thick section of vine, about twelve inches long, fresh from the jungle floor. Using stone we would pulverize the green flesh and put it into a pot over our campfire. Psychotria viridis, the companion plant of the vine of the soul and coffee’s more potent relative, would be ritually added. Following the dictates of millennia, we would tend the mixture all day, boiling it well in the Amazon’s acidic water.

Ethically, I have no problem with the thought of consuming this potion, despite it being declared illegal by the society in which I live. I have my own set of principled doubts about the, uh, obfuscations I had to tell to get Sally out of the loft, to make sure Lisa or Steven didn’t decide to drop in.

There was no leaving Jim out of this.

No sanctimonious bowing to innocence that, in this case, he does not have.

I am only trying to get to the place Jim already is.

None of the substance will touch Jim.

Nor does it need to.

The loft’s stove has replaced the campfire but, despite this influx of chrome and electricity, we have tried to remain true to the ritual’s spirit. I have fasted for the previous twenty-four hours, worrying Jim with my lack of interest in his offerings. In desperation, he tempted me with his favorite chocolate.

Our water was procured from some Eco grads running a solar water distillation project on campus and carefully tested by my resident chemist who added fresh lemon juice to get the pH to his satisfaction. The Banisteriopsis caapi, I, uh, smashed with a not-too-ritualistic hammer while Jim sat watch.

He has been curious, testing the pH of the water himself by dipping a fingertip in and gingerly tasting. Probably a more exact litmus test than Peter’s. He has fingered the plants and watched the water boil with an intensity that caused me to banish him to the living area to prevent a zone out.

We fall into a stretched out rhythm – boil, strain, repeat; boil, strain, repeat. In boredom, Jim strikes his own cadence on the drum.

~oOo~

There is, says Peter, no avoiding the purge. He approves my suggestion of green tea, but cautions the help will be minimal. A "transcendental purgative" he calls it. More coming out than you ever put in.

No wonder this is not a popular drug of choice.

I am to look at the purge as both a physical and mental release in which I leave my illusory control behind.

I notice Peter is not planning to drink any himself.

~oOo~

Jim’s hand in mine, I lead him to the space we have opened by pushing back the couch. Our misshapen sacred circle.

In the stoneware mug, the ayahuasca is muddy and smells of yeast. I offer the mug to a curious Jim and he sniffs at it, wrinkling his nose. I take it back and drink it, a slow gulp that leaves the thin, acrid liquid too long on my tongue.

Jim snakes out a hand to rest on my arm. His touch is warm and reassuring even though his eyes study me worriedly. The minutes tick by in the infinite slowness of waiting. I begin to feel … dislocated. Not quite at home in my body.

Peter has put on a CD of Peruvian flute music. I try to concentrate on the line of melody, give myself something to follow. My gut feels hollow, a space banded only by striations of muscle. My stomach rumbles ominously.

Jim’s head is tilted as if he’s listening to something very far away.

I’m relieved when the visuals Peter told me to expect finally start. Bright, glowy geometries darting around me. Otherwise, twenty minutes into it, I’d think the experience was pretty much all shit.

The purge … or at least my purge is neither brief nor peaceful. Dry heaving, bent bare-bottomed over my knees on the cool tile floor of the bath, I am ready to believe I have heaved out some vital organ that I need to stay alive.

As if he also figures I had purged even my stomach and intestinal lining at this point, Peter mutters something in my ear. And he and Jim wrestle me back into the living area and settle me in a little heap on the futon mattress they’d dragged to the floor.

I am exhausted and nauseous and assaulted by wayward bits of Picasso’s portraits. A triangular eye in vivid primaries; a rectangular arm; an ovoid head rushes by. Jim sits beside me and lifts my head into his lap, his sensitive fingers stroking coolly against my forehead.

"Yana pariway, watayoq." He speaks to someone not there. "Balam-watayoq."

One word floats across the abstract of my vision. B’alam. Jaguar.

I watch the letters transform themselves into bold black, coalesce into the sturdy body and stocky feline head. The cat pads toward me on shapes becoming bluer beneath his stride, as if the rushing geometries are approaching the unbreakable speed of light and shifting toward violet. The dark body shimmers and splits and two jaguars pad forward. Then the one on the right shimmers again and morphs, taller and lean and pale, into Jim.

"In lake’ch." The cat pads a circle around me, his tail sliding, hooklike around my legs as he greets me.

While my Mayan is desperately weak, this is one greeting I know. One of Naomi’s favorite New Age catchphrases. In lake’ch. I am another you.

An abbreviated yip comes from behind me. Another constant of the jungle I should have grown to expect by now – where there is a large black jaguar, there is inevitably a wolf as well.

I am not expecting the cold, wet, dog-like nose on the back of my neck and I twist my head to glare at the gray muzzle.

Echoing itself, the cat repeats its greeting. "In lake’ch."

I swipe my hand against my damp neck. "In lake’ch to you, too."

Having received insufficient greeting from me, the wolf heads to Jim who’s more obliging and settles a hand on the gray head. The cat stretches against the jungle floor before lying down and giving me a considering look.

"Ko’oten puririy."

When I shake my head, it is Jim who translates. "You come to begin a journey."

"To tell the truth, I was kind of hoping this was my destination."

"But you were already here." The cat dips his dark face in the direction of the wolf. "In lake’ch."

"Yeah, I got that part. Jim sees me as the wolf just as he sees himself as the jaguar."

"The two are one. Your distinctions do not apply. The soul creates life just as life creates the soul."

"Okay, look, we have got to find a common tongue here, man. I mean our goal is the same, right? We’re swimming the same river. Going for the same brass ring. We’re both trying to help Jim. And the only way I know to do that, at this point, is to come here, wherever here is."

Round-pupiled blue eyes blink at me slowly. "Then this journey was unnecessary. You were already there."

"Well, if I’m there, then there isn’t doing me a lot of good, is it?"

Talking jaguars are not the only ones who can be profoundly obscure.

"You must accept what you can not."

Although, compared to the big, black guy, I’m obviously in obtuse-kindergarten.

"Look, there are places where this world is supposed to flow into the next, right? Wellsprings? Somewhere I can go. Something I can study and understand. It’s the way I work. I need to use my senses. My science."

"Then you will believe."

I’m ignoring that the statement sounds … doubtful.

I glance over to Jim who is in deep communion with the wolf, unperturbed by our argument, his eyes closed, his hand resting between erect gray ears. He is at perfect ease here with being both body and soul. Here where we exchange places and all Jim’s discomfort fades. Where all mine begins.

"I think at least there I can understand. When I understand, then I can believe."

"When you believe," opines the cat, huffing out his dark cheek pads, "then you can understand."

"Granted we have different points of view, but we knew that. If it’s true you have all knowledge and power here, then show me. Help me believe."

Right, Sandburg, challenging the spirit world, the gods, whatever, is breaking the mother of all taboos.

"You think," the word is said with a sneer, "if you see the ancient temple stones, your eyes will change your heart?"

This … acknowledgement of a real, physical place gives me a jolt. "You’re saying the Sentinel Temple really does exist? That it will make Jim whole?"

"Enqueri is whole."

In the undulating blueness, his skin dappled as if sunlight filtered slanting through clear waters, Jim now gazes at me placidly.

No, I never have had any doubts that Jim isn’t whole.

"You carry that which was lost, shaman."

"I’m not the shaman here. Jim is the one--"

The protest is cut short by the dark, silken voice. "The boundaries you create are unnecessary."

Still composed in his place of communing, Jim opens his clasped hands and produces five stones, kneeling to place them on the ground. East. West. North. South. Or at least their cardinal equivalents in the plane of blue jungle. The fifth stone, large and rounded and cut by a bisected spiral, he places in the space at their heart, to center this place and open the portal to the Otherworld.

I do not know how I know this.

Anymore than I know how Jim’s hands could have hidden a shaman’s tools.

I do know we have symbolically opened a door and that we wait for Itzamna, the First Shaman, to send itz, the stuff of the soul, to nourish and sustain us.

From its center, the stone seeps dark-water tears.

The same shadowed liquid drips down Jim’s cheeks from blue eyes now shaded under a headband of white flowers.

I reach up, feeling the soft press of something on my own forehead. A white petal comes away with my hand.

I clasp stiff fingers around the softness. Soothing myself by clenching my palm into its easy smoothness. Burying my face in the warmth and scent.

"Ch’in," is breathed in my ear. I feel the warm puff of it.

I have been here before. Been eased by the plea for quiet. Been consoled in this way.

I open my eyes and find myself too close to the pattern of Jim’s plaid shirt for focusing to occur. I push myself off his steadying warmth.

The loft.

Peter waits for a report, inquiring "So?" when I just blink at him.

Jim has a concerned grip on both my shoulders.

I open my mouth, but it’s so dry, the only sound I make is a raspy little wheeze that causes Jim’s hold to tighten.

Peter passes me a mug of water then poses expectantly.

"I think I need to process." I gulp convulsively as the water I’ve just sipped threatens to come back up. "And I –" I point toward the bathroom and Peter, the old pro at this kind of thing, jerks me to my feet.

In a second I’ve splashed my drink back into Cascade’s water system.

I just want to stay where I am, spent, hanging over the edge of the toilet. After an unknown while, my time sense still apparently fried, Jim plops down to join me, rubbing concerned circles on my back.

"Hey, Peter," I rasp, straightening up a bit. "What’s that dig they just started down in Peru?"

"Peru?" he frowns.

I expected him to get it. I mean he is the expert. "Jim’s speaking Quechua."

"Yeah, I noticed that," Peter drawls, "but you’re speaking Mayan."

"I don’t speak Mayan."

Peter grins smugly. "That’s what you think."

Shit. God, I hate drugs.

~oOo~

Jim has been practically glued to my side ever since I managed to heft myself off the bathroom tile and collapse on the couch. Peter’s been plying me with Gatorade and protein bars. I’m sipping gingerly at the Gatorade, the protein bars are a bit more than I want to consider right now.

When he’s not attempting to get my stomach under control, Peter’s been studiously listening to the recounting of what he keeps calling my ayahuasca "experience".

"So, any great insights?" I ask, hoping someone has them.

"Max Uhle."

"Max Uhle," I repeat, trying to get to where it makes some sense that I’ve just recounted the most visionary experience of my life and this is the only thing Peter has to say?

"His China-to-Maya-to-Peru theory. It might just have been right."

"And you got this great insight from my conversation with a jaguar, how?"

I sound a little snippy, but, hey, I’m dehydrated and more than a little overwhelmed with my own personal mysteries of the universe.

"You speaking Mayan and Jim speaking Quechua."

"And you’re welcome to become the next expert on early indigenous transnational migration on your own time."

Jim rubs my arm soothingly and I tilt my head tiredly back against his shoulder.

"What about you, big guy?" I mean, I think these visions are shared.

/Sleep/ signs Jim, pointing to the bed in the loft he usually occupies.

Which makes more sense than anything else anyone has said to me today.

"Smart man," I mumble, wrestling myself to my feet. I’m eased up the stairs in Jim’s grip, settled on the bed and covered with a blanket. The last thing I remember is Jim moving to sit watch on the top step.

~oOo~

He is still there when I wake up, hours later, to a darkened loft. If I dreamed, the remnants are lost to me. And at least I’m feeling nearly human. I reach over and click on the small lamp on the nightstand. We both blink in the sudden brightness.

There’s still a certain sense of unreality, undoubtedly leftover from the hallucinogen still trickling through my system. Everything seems flat and two-dimensional. Even the light seems to lack body and vitality.

Jim, I assume, is having none of these difficulties as he observes me with open senses. I can tell when he’s open … taking it all in. There’s a depth to the look he gives you. Like he’s slipped into a dimension past the four the rest of us enjoy.

I stretch stiffly and, legs just a bit tottery, walk over to offer him a hand up. If he is stiff from sitting vigil, there is no sign of it as he fluidly rises. He keeps my hand in his, leading me downstairs carefully, as if he thinks I might stumble.

Tonight, I am obviously considered his charge.

With an organization I am not used to seeing, he sets about gathering the makings of a sandwich. I wonder how far this will go … I mean the man can make a beautiful sculpture but so far has shown no inclination to perform any other set of actions without prompting. He moves slowly, purposefully, procuring bread and meat and cheese. He contemplates a hothouse tomato, smoothing its red-orange skin with his fingers, looking at the exterior of the drawers I’ve never seen him open. I have no idea how many years it’s been since Jim even held a sharp knife. I could go over and cut my own damn tomato, but I have no desire to break this spell. I am willing to let Jim be the one, tonight, who is truly in the world.

Eventually Jim pulls open a drawer and retrieves a paring knife with the same infinite care. He studies it briefly, numbing me by running a finger along the sharpened, minutely serrated edge. With due diligence and moving almost poetically, he washes the thin skin, and then washes it again, as probably only someone with Sentinel senses could.

The whole process of creating one turkey and cheese and tomato sandwich takes longer than Sally takes to cook a whole meal, but it is, in the end, far more than mere sustenance. It is like Jim’s reciprocal step … the reward for my planting a, however hesitant, foot in his world.

So I take it with the reverence that it is due and partake of the fruits of my communion. My feast dish of sturdy plastic. My sacred meal consumed cross-legged on the couch.

~oOo~

In the morning, when things have returned to their usual dimensions, and the loft murmurs with the sounds of Sally and Steven engaged in a discussion of the day’s plans, I find Jim sitting a similar silent watch over their conversation.

Steven turns to pat his brother on the knee and Jim leans in to the touch.

/More/? Steven signs, seeing Jim’s empty plate.

Jim looks down and then takes in Steven’s barely touched waffles. Grasping his fork, Jim swiftly commandeers the top of Steven’s stack and lands it in his own plate.

Steven just watches … stunned and I think I see Jim grinning, just minutely, around the forkful of fried batter he’s hoisted to his mouth.

"Did he just—" stammers Steven.

"Make a joke?" I finish, moving behind Jim to rest a hand on his short hair. "I think so."

"Do you know how long it’s been since he’s purposefully done something to annoy me?" Steven reaches out and lightly punches his older brother in the arm. "Don’t steal my breakfast."

Jim looks up only briefly but his gaze meets his brother’s and Steven seems to see something there.

"Hi, Jim," he says quietly, before he gets up and excuses himself.

Sally starts to follow him but I motion her back down. I catch Steven out in the hall.

"You okay?"

Steven smiles but it’s a bit tremulous. "I never thought I’d…" A cough covers his raggedly indrawn breath. "This is going to sound stupid, but I never thought I get to punch my big brother again." His fingers work the handle of this leather briefcase. "Never thought I’d think of him as my ‘big’ brother again."

The pressure on Steven’s shoulders has not been light, either. I’m not sure if there is anyone Steven felt he could safely unburden himself to since Jim … disappeared under the uncontrollable weight of his senses.

I turn into one of Cascade’s finest suddenly, finding I can think of nothing to do except clumsily pat Steven on the back and let him get into the elevator.

~oOo~

You would think, after an intersection with the Otherworld, I would a have a nearly GPS-precise clue on where the heck I think I’m going. I mean map-wise. My spirit-wise journey is much more amorphous. But I should be able to locate this damn temple.

I mean I feel this … pull, like a lodestone compelling me onward. I find myself drawn to certain passages in Burton, to old traveler’s tales. I expected … revelation. I got a treasure hunt through the rare book room of Rainier’s library. Prescott’s The History of the Conquest of Peru. Diego de Torres Rubio’s Arte y Vocabulario de la lengua Quichua General de los Indios de el Perú. The letters of J. de la Pezuela, the country’s last Spanish Viceroy.

I begin at Chavín de Huántar in the northern Peruvian highland near the headwaters of the Marañon River, enticed by the feline images that dominate their sacred iconography. But this bare and rocky land does not draw me to itself and I move south to Kotosh with its terraced temples decorated with reliefs of crossed hands. Then even further southward to Paracas, an area of extreme aridness on the western coast. Finally, I turn east toward the jungles, toward the Manu reserve and the ancient burial towers of Ninamarca, skirting Machupicchu in search of even older ruins. And, finally, in a transcript of an old explorer’s journal, I find what I’m looking for – in an area of midlands just below the line where cloud forest meets jungle I find a mention of unexplored pre-Incan ruins.

~oOo~

Technically, I have stolen Jim.

We run for the interior of Peru. Flaunting William’s guardianship. A real piece of legalese, signed, stamped and dated with judicial finality. This is not a joy ride. Jim is … property – loved, cared for, but tattooed with an invisible mark, not unlike Cain. A definition he can never outrun.

For Jim has no ID. No picture revealing his uniqueness in the normal way – by the curve and line of his face, the color of his hair, the startling blueness of his eyes. Only a small medallion around his neck stating his name and an emergency phone number and the diagnosis that serves as Jim’s snapshot -- "Autistic".

Not near enough to get him on a plane.

Except, technically, I have stolen the Ellison company jet as well.

I am going to Peru. In a purloined Lear.

But that’s all right, because Steven is flying it.

TBC