The Great Escape
“Jump, Mara, JUMP!!!”
He could hardly breathe, his hope and fear suffocating him to the point of dizzying proportion. Still, he implored his beloved to hear him.
“Just close your eyes……and DO IT. Then we can be together again, baby.”
Clay’s face, illuminated by the electric blue haze of the portal, was contorted in desperate agony. His large hands were clasped behind his back, his fingers red from the pressure; and his elbows pumped back and forth nervously as he watched his soul mate through the hazy mists.
Encircling the glowing vision, those who knew them best began to chant in support, “Jump, jump, jump, jump.” Softly at first, they called out, but soon worked themselves into a frenzied chorus of beckoning, “jump, jump, jump….JUMP!”
She heard nothing but the deafening roar of loneliness in her head as she braced herself against the cold hand of unsympathetic Winter, its heartless breath whipping at her thin dress and wrapping strands of her long auburn locks around her neck like a taunting noose and obliterating her view. She shook her head, trying to loose the cruel bonds. If she must face the abyss, she wanted to look it square in the eye. Even as her toes, numb and purple, curled around the icy steel braces of the bridge railing where they kept her precariously bound to safety, her broken heart flung itself toward the dark, swirling water below. An army of rigid bumps marched up her legs and arms, even as her hands formed fresh, salty beads of sweat that ran in rivulets down the freezing steel beam that was all that remained of her backbone. Desperately she clung to it, her arms stretched behind her around the safety of its form. Mere moments ago these arms ached; but now they were no longer there. The numbness was overtaking her senses and snaking its way throughout her body. She heard only the mocking wind, saw only gray emptiness, felt only the wild pounding of her heart; and she wondered how something so broken could still work with such force to survive.
She knew the truth, she had heard the Shaman’s words. She knew what had to be done. But they were to do it together. Why, oh why had he gone on without her? And now he sent no word, no sign, no message that all they believed to be true was real. Or had he? What of the feathers, the strange taps on her window at the exact hour of his death each day? And the lovely daffodils blooming in the garden on the rooftop-their rooftop. He always gave her daffodils, her very favorite. It was too cold for daffodils and yet they were there were one morning when she slipped through the glass doors to feel closer to him, when nothing else would suffice. Her soul had become colder than the cruel hands of Winter even when she curled up beneath the comforter that still smelled of him. Comforter. Such a simple word that taunted her with promises in vain. Nothing could comfort her. Mara wanted Clay. She needed him; for she felt half a heartbeat without his body next to hers. Every ray of sunlight that filtered through her window cut into her soul, reminding her that there was a new day to face without his strength, without his weakness, without his laughter and tender touch. But could she trust a few signs? Why, oh why had he gone on? They were supposed to find the portal together, go together, be together…forever.
An angry fistful of frigid air beat at her back, pushing her forward. “NO!” Mara gasped and fought to hang on with invisible arms. She wasn’t ready. Wet whispers nipped at her feet as the ocean spray danced ever higher from the ocean’s bosom, forcing her to look into its face again. It was still there. That swirling vortex within the surface that she knew was a portal. The Shaman said she would know it when it called to her. To them. But Clay hadn’t waited. Why, oh why? A mournful wail filled the air, but Mara was too numb to realize it emanated from her own throat. She looked around anxiously, fearful that someone would be there, ready to stop her-and fearful that no one would come to even try.
“I have to go and help her!”
“No, Clay, you know the rules. It must be completely voluntary. No help from this side.” Malbrook was his closest companion and had been with their group from the very beginning. Clay trusted him and knew what he said was true. But it didn’t matter. One thing he’d learned throughout the millennia that was life was that rules stink. Rules control. Rules ruin things. And the most important thing of all he learned was that rules were made to be broken.
“Damn the fucking rules! She is alone down there. Stuck in the awful plastic bubble. We were supposed to jump together. We found it. I found it! I looked into the river and it was there. It whispered in a deafening roar and I called to Mara. But before she could reach me, I slipped. The rocks were wet. One minute I was on the rocks, so ecstatic that the nightmare would end, that we would be leaving that shithole of a life together. I looked back over my shoulder and saw her climbing down towards me; but my feet betrayed me and I was sucked into the vortex before she reached the water. ” Clay put his face in his hands, flooded with the memory of his failure all over again. No amount of time or isolation within the halls of healing could remove the guilt he had girded himself with. Not until his beloved was with him again, free of the burden of physical existence.
Mara closed her eyes to the misting rain that had begun to beat against her face, a new member of nature’s masochistic team of tormentors, trying to pry her from her moment of doubt. She let her mind drift to that other place, the one of hope and vision.
They all drank the tea and she had felt its effects almost instantly. The pleasing numbness that engulfed her body, making her want to lie with Clay and love him-madly, endlessly and with abandon. But the Shaman began to chant, drawing her from that sensual place. Clay was sitting still beside her, his long legs crossed, palms upward. She was vaguely aware that he had begun to echo the Shaman’s words, sending an eerie chorus upward in the vast cave that came back around like a thousand voices as once. Mara was suddenly sucked inside the chorus, feeling her own voice rising in her throat and chanting along with them. It was as though their three bodies were one, their voice one, their thought one; and they beckoned the truth.
They heard all of the legends, the myths and the conspiracy theories all their lives. Their world was not real. It was all a dream. Heaven waits for the pure of heart and there you will remain with God in his glory. Follow all the rules to get to heaven. Living a new life over and over until you get it “right”. There is no God. There is only accidental life. But what was right? And who was telling the truth? Then they found Mensajero.
It was supposed to be a vacation pilgrimage to Peru to see the famed Machu Picchu. Both of them wanted to feel grounded, to find peace and connect to something ancient. They always heard about the powers of this ancient land. It was on their first day there that Mensajero had appeared out of nowhere. They hadn’t opted for the guided tour, preferring to wander alone, without the “commercial” tour. The tall, dark man that stepped in front of them as they walked the path to the ruins startled them. Then he smiled and all apprehension melted as they gave over complete trust to this stranger, although he didn’t feel like a stranger to them. Walking for hours on the grounds and around the lake, he told them stories of the indigenous peoples of Peru that they had never heard before. Tales of those who left this life but no body was left behind to mourn or bury. Many theories had been formed and many legends remained about what the truth was. Alien abductions, demons that lived in other dimensions, goblins from beneath the earth. None of these explanations seemed palatable to Clay and Mara, and they told Mensajero just that. Instead of becoming angry, the stoic man had smiled in a satisfied way and led them down a dark path that went deeply into the forest around the ruins. Eventually they came to a clearing and a small cave. As they stooped to enter, Mara felt both exhilaration and a loathsome terror rise within her chest. She knew she would be losing something she held dear if she continued on, but onward they went. Within the dark, wet confines of the tiny cave they were introduced to the Shaman, El Velo, so called for his ability to see beyond the veil of the physical world into the mysteries of truth. The man was very light skinned and his eyes were as pale as the clouds. Mensajero explained to them that the Shaman’s life was spent in the shadows of truth, keeping the connection open, much like keeping a phone line open. The Shaman nodded to them and returned to his quiet meditation.
“El Velo will show you the way out when you are done.” The tall man left abruptly when the introductions were done before anyone had a chance to protest. It was awkward for a moment but they simply sat down in the cramped space and waited. The shadows grew long outside and their stomachs began to growl. Finally the small man got up and ambled down a dark corridor that they hadn’t even noticed before. When he returned he had a bowl of luscious mango and berries, placing them in front of the confused but grateful couple. He nodded toward the bowl, still not speaking, and they ate until they were satisfied, wiping their hands on their clothes. An acrid odor had been building within the cave and soft wisps of steam were drifting through the corridor. The Shaman had risen again, going into the dark and returned, this time with steaming cups of liquid. For the first time he spoke and neither of them dared protest or question. Somehow they knew they stood at the precipice of the truth they sought for such a long time.
“We drink now. Only those who are ready to accept the Truth will know it. If your heart is not open and your mind of pure intent, the cup will unleash the demons within.” Great treasure or horrific nightmare. Some choice; and yet neither of them protested. Although bitter, the tea had been laced with a pleasing flower essence of some kind and they managed to down it all rather quickly. And they waited.
A siren blast jolted Mara back to the cold, dismal present, her feet tensing slightly. Her heel slipped over the edge but she quickly brought it back into place, and tears began to stream down her red, chapped cheeks. The cave was so warm. That fear, that apprehension, would be a welcome sensation now. A grackle lit on the handrail a few feet away, looking at her with pitiful black eyes. It let out a single squawk and looked down. Another sign? How maddening this all was!
“Your world is a machination, an abomination of the original Thought of Great Spirit.” The Shaman was in a deep trance. Mara closed her eyes and let the memory flood her mind and warm her body. She opened her eyes in the cave and stared at the strange man. El Velo was sitting cross-legged and his body was shaking ever so slightly. In the golden light of the fire she could now see the tiny marks all around his face. There were so many! Small, pink scars crowded the edges of his face like tracks on a rail line. And just below his chin appeared two new wounds. His face seemed to float in front of her, the marks leaking deep red crystals that slid down his chin and hung there, shaking.
“Too long has humankind been in the eternal loop, coming and going in this game of living. There was much promise in the beginning, great hope within Eternity. Man has become lost in the playing, his lust for the things of the body overwhelming his knowledge of his purpose in living. Now many are longing to return to the beginning, to escape the eternal loop.”
His eyes flew open and the flames flickered across his eyes, now black as coal.
“There is but one way. With every new moon there is opportunity to flee, but it comes and goes with the breath of eternity. Now that your hearts and minds have opened to the Truth, you will know this moment when it comes. Every open door is a portal, but you can see it anywhere, in any place. You must be ready and you must not hesitate to enter. Once the portal is closed to the seeking soul, it may not appear again for many human lifetimes.” El Velo placed his sweating palms face down over the flame. It licked his dark fingers but did not seem to burn them. He began to chant again, lifting then lowering his hands over and over again above the flame. It flared suddenly, the orange heat licking the roof of the cave. Clay, who had been sitting in stunned silence gasped and grasped Mara’s hand. They all looked up. The ceiling of the cave seemed to open up to the sky above; but instead of stars and moon there was a swirling vortex above their heads. It was brilliant blue and filled with tiny electric white lights. It was the most beautiful thing Mara had ever seen. She held her breath. The Shaman waved his hands and the vision was gone.
“You will know of the location of your moment before it comes. Listen to your dreams. Look for the signs. Feel the power of the Truth and you shall find your way to freedom.” The Shaman opened his eyes, smiled and wiped the back of his hand across his brow.
Mara felt her heart breaking all over again. Clay had found the portal and was overwhelmed by the need to save himself. He left without her. Even though they promised one another it would be as one that they would leave. How she mourned, how she prayed and wept and slept. Without hope. Without dreams. Until two days ago. The dream was so real. The bridge. The ocean. The smiling, brilliant blue vortex. And the Shaman’s face in the center, waving to Mara, beckoning her to come. Then the holiday report that the bridge was closed due to inclement weather. Not a soul would be around. They had all been signs, hadn’t they?
“I’m going whether you help me or not!” Clay was manic now, realizing Mara would lose her moment to escape if she didn’t take it soon.
It was Echo who stepped forward, her eyes wet with tears, her own heart broken after having left her companion behind so many eons ago, never to see him again. “I will help you Clay. Rules be damned. She is having her moment. It isn’t a cheat to make sure she doesn’t lose it. I can hold the portal open for a few moments longer but it is already fading. See?”
Clay looked into the blue iridescence to see the image of his beloved growing faint, the edges of the portal closing in slowly.
“Go! But remember, you only have five minutes to convince her. Then you will forget everything and be stuck in the loop again. You may not remember any of this.” Echo opened her arms and looked around the chamber at their companions. They all nodded.
“Look!” Malbrook was at the chamber monitor, where escapees could watch over their loved ones still caught in the loop. He was excited, now ready to help his best friend. “I can get you into a repeater just a block away from the bridge. This one is about to have a heart attack on the freeway. But you have to be quick. Keep the car on the road and get to Mara before the portal closes. You think you’re up to it, man? It’s been awhile since you moved in a body.”
Clay knew the heaviness of living but it didn’t matter. Of course he could do it. He had to. It was for Mara. “Yeah, man, I’ve got this. Just…you guys….hold the portal fast for me, for Mara, as long as you can. Okay?” He looked around the chamber at the dozen or so souls that comprised his group. They all shone brightly and nodded their agreement as they moved in around the portal monitor. When Clay fled the chamber to head to the portal room there was a glow within that would have blinded human eyes.
A voice of warning trailed behind him down the corridor, “Remember Clay. Five minutes! After that you will forget and be stuck in a poor fat bastard’s abused body. And that isn’t you man!” God how he loved Malbrook.
Clay waved a hand high above his head and flew to the portal room. He never looked back as he watched the screen where the car was heading South on-what did that street sign say-Portal St? Gotta’ love life’s little jokes. The idiot was stuffing a doughnut into his pie hole even as the pains started in his fat chest. Clay jumped into the image and shouted. “Bonzaiiiii….!!”
Mara could hardly feel her face now. “I can’t do it, Clay. I was never as strong as you. What if I was wrong about the signs? What if I die and stay locked in purgatory because I took my life?” Damn her Catholic guilt anyway. It had been years since she attended mass and still she believed the lies. What if the Atheists were right? She would be chucking away years of living on a tip from a stoned out Indian in the forest. Her tears began to flow freely and Mara was losing her will. She looked down and it seemed as though the vortex she once saw there was fading. More confirmation.
Flump! Clay hit the body like a brick wall, his breath gone and the weight of a refrigerator bearing down on his chest. “Breathe, man, breathe,” called his friends into the portal. “It’s all you now and you can do this!”
Coughing and sputtering, Clay grabbed the steering wheel and veered the car back onto the black top. He sucked the polluted air of Earth into his new body and rode out the pain until it subsided. Willing the heart attack away, he quickly assessed his position. Clay pulled the car over and looked up at the looming nightmare that was his mission. Through the steady mist he could just make out Mara’s small, helpless form clinging to the beam of the bridge. He jumped from the vehicle, ignoring the angry shouts of the guy whose car he nearly hit, and made for the bridge’s ramp. Five minutes, and one already gone, he thought. His already over worked heart was screaming in protest, but Clay’s will was stronger than any human pitfalls in that moment. He made his way up the ramp, panting and huffing, driving those fat legs as hard as he could. Mara was within sight. He raised an arm and tried to shout. Nothing came out but a wheeze. He had to stop. Catch his breath. She was about to turn around. Looked like she was giving up, climbing down. He had to reach her before she gave up. Then they could finally make the leap together.
“Mara! No! Jump, Mara jump! I’m coming my love!”
“Clay? Is that you?” Mara stopped turning and clung more tightly to the beam she now faced, its cold surface burning the cheek she pressed against it. She tried to focus through the steadily pouring drizzle but she saw only a gray form moving towards her.
“Mara, it’s true. It’s all true! You can jump. I’m coming right behind you. Don’t let the portal close. Please, love, believe me. We can escape this nightmare together at last.” He panted, trying to catch his breath. The pain in his chest tried to return. “Jump, Mara, jump…” He fell to his knees.
“Not without you, Clay! Please hurry!” Mara turned slightly to look down into the face of Salvation. It had been growing dimmer; but suddenly the vortex flared, arms open wide. No, she would wait for Clay. They could go together. She looked up but saw nothing through the rain. “Clay? Where are you? I can’t go without…”
Her feet were betraying her. The new rains had made the rail slippery where she once stood and her feet had nothing dry to cling to.
Warm tears streamed down Clay’s face as he saw Mara turn. Gratitude filled his heart for his friends, for the voice of truth and for his beloved’s freedom. If only he could get up he would make it in time to follow. He pushed his way up from his knees. His pants were torn and his scraped knees exposed, blood trickling down the khaki material. This guy really has no taste, he thought. Just a few more steps and he would be with Mara. He pushed himself onward until he was nearly there.
“Wait! Who are you?” Mara was terrified at the sight of the fat man running towards her. He meant to stop her, sent from hell to keep her trapped within this nightmare so that she might never see Clay again. “Don’t touch me!” She yelled at him as he reached out to touch her sweet face, to feel her skin beneath his fingers once more. She never heard his pleas as she wriggled away from him. It was okay, she told herself as she felt her body lifted from the rail by the cold winds. Clay would be waiting for her. Her heart beat wildly in anticipation, her body succumbing to the pull of the vortex; and she barely felt the pain of the ocean’s icy fingers as they clutched at her dress, and she sank beneath the swirling waves. Soon she would be warm and safe again. Safe with Clay…forever.
“God, no, Mara. Why didn’t you wait?” Clay felt his mind growing numb. The images before his eyes seemed to fade, clarity waning. He tried to lift a leg to climb over the rail. He had to remember what his purpose was. He looked down. There was but a glint of iridescent blue bobbing on top of the waves. He knew he could make it. If only he could get this obese excuse for a body to cooperate.
“Hey! You there! What are you doing?” Clay heard rapid footsteps on the bridge. He didn’t have a second to spare looking behind.
“You there! Mister! Don’t jump! It isn’t worth it. We can help you.”
Who was this asshole spewing lies at him at this most crucial mom….suddenly his hands felt frozen to the beam. His sneaker slipped and the obese man fell to the side of the bridge. A thousand bricks had been dropped on his chest. He clutched at the polyester shirt he was wearing. The footsteps stopped at his side. He felt hands on his shoulders.
“Mister…lie still. We’re getting help. It’s going to be alright now. Whatever is wrong, it isn’t worth jumping.”
The fat man looked up into the face of his Savior and felt an instant of loathing, followed by deep gratitude. If he made it out of this mess, he was going to go to the gym. And stop eating doughnuts. And…..waves of acceptance flowed over his body as the paramedics flew to his side. The blue iridescence faded to glaring red.
Cheryl K Pennington