Here’s installment three of my novelette “Content With the Mysterious”. I was honored when it received praise from a fellow SF writer who is also a scientist by profession. She wrote:
“Content with the Mysterious was excellent. It is the most even-handed treatment of the subject (the uneasy relationship between science and belief) I have seen. As a scientist, I’ve always looked for data to support theories. However, a lack of data isn’t proof of impossibility. Although anecdotal evidence isn’t the same as the type of data one uses to prove, say, the validity of quantum theory, there comes a point when so much of it amasses that it seems to me it can’t be dismissed. At any rate, “Content” gave an evenly balanced discussion that looked at both sides and made good points.” — Catherine Asaro, author of Catch the Lightning (Tor)
She hated dreams like that. She’d had mercifully few of them. They disoriented her, made her feel ill-at-ease in the waking world. “Night-ponies,” she called them. Dark dreams, but not black enough to qualify as nightmares. They were usually murky, leaving nothing behind but a smudgy residue studded with tiny pockets of lucid detail.
Lissa could still vividly recall one such moment when she hung above her bed, looking down on her own sleeping form, Kenny snuggled beside her beneath the covers. She remembered thinking there should be hair in her eyes, but there wasn’t. Nor was there a hand to wipe it away with.
She’d had the impression that she was rising; the figures below stirred slightly, growing smaller. She had feared a collision with the ceiling, but a “glance” upward revealed only an endless, star-studded sky. She looked down again and saw her own rooftop.
Funny, she thought, I’ve never seen it from this angle before.
Bright orange fabric fluttered against the chimney. She remembered seeing the next-door neighbor’s boy flying a kite that color the weekend before.
She began to move upward again, the rooftop receding too quickly. Terror lanced through her and she fell—no, was sucked down an invisible funnel through the rooftop into bed. She woke with an electric jolt, sitting, sweating, cold and clammy, heart haring.
She hated dreams like that. Associated them with stress. She associated this one with the stress over her most recent article.
She grimaced, close to admitting to herself that Ken was right about more than its salability. She hadn’t meant to assume such a cynical tone. She really had set out to be objective, but the very thought of anyone granting credibility to that supernatural twaddle set up her hackles. The thought of people like Ken and Petra Genoa—educated people, bright people-buying into it made her want to rage.
And there was no relief from that rage in her morning schedule. She had two interviews lined up—an NDE and a Chinese healer.
The Chinese healer was first; a whimsical diversion. Professor Lin Wen was a scholarly gentleman who conversed as comfortably about Tantric Buddhism as he did about chemistry—a subject in which he held one of his two doctoral degrees. He discussed how the spiritual essence, or qi, possessed by an individual could be read to predict fortune, and channeled to change it.
Lissa asked how he, a man of science, could accept and even promote something of which he had no scientific proof. He smiled and asked if she had scientific proof for everything she believed to be true.
“No,” she said, “but someone has.”
“Ah,” Wen responded. “Then you depend upon the science of others.”
“Most of us do, largely because scientific ideas are falsifiable. Qi isn’t.”
“Ah,” he said and looked inscrutably archetypal. He parted from her with avuncular concern, prompted, he claimed, by the lack of balance in her qi.
Great, she thought wryly. No more PMS. Now I can just say my qi is out of balance.
Her second interview took her to a pleasant neighborhood of neat, older homes where she expected to hear of Julie Pascale’s near-death experience. The case was particularly interesting to her because of the media coverage it had received eight years before. It was still a high profile case—high impact, if she could break it. But when Pascale’s husband met her at the door, she knew she was going to be disappointed.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but my wife has changed her mind.”
“About the near-death experience?” The sarcasm was born of frustration.
He frowned. “No. About the interview. She’s not feeling well.”
“I can reschedule.”
“I’ll tell Julie that. I’m sure she has your number.”
And I’ll bet I have hers, Lissa thought irritably. She ought to congratulate herself, really; another true believer ducking the hard gaze of rationality. But she didn’t feel congratulatory. Julie Pascale had a particularly well-documented set of NDE experiences and Lissa had been looking forward to a one-on-one confrontation. She drove home accompanied by acute disappointment.
She was pulling into the driveway when a momentary recollection of last night’s odd dream drew her eyes to the chimney. A splash of orange caught her eye. She hit the brakes too hard and the Saab’s tires yelped in protest.
Nestled against her chimney was the neighbor boy’s orange kite.
She was fascinated. This was exactly the sort of thing that a ‘true believer’ would take as a psychic experience, yet she knew she had merely dreamed, spinning off stress and the events of the previous day. Though she didn’t consciously recall having seen the kite on the roof, she certainly could have caught a glimpse of it, and she definitely recalled seeing it in flight.
She was in bed, asleep, before Ken got home. She half-dreamed him entering the room in a reptilian slough of textile, kissing her cheek, brushing his teeth, slipping into bed beside her. She dreamed it from above—spider’s eye view—and he was no more than settled in when she was out on the lawn watching a peculiar ritual.
A car pulled up across the street and several young men, black-clad, got out. Whispering and laughing, they darted among the neighbor’s trees and shrubs, trailing gauzy webs of white.
Amusement bubbled. They were teepee-ing the Rathman’s house! Feeling as if she were afloat, Lissa drew nearer to the car—a dark green Saturn Electra.
A light went on inside the house and the boys fled with a slamming of car doors. Voices distracted. Not, oddly, the shouting of irate neighbors. She had expected that. She did not expect the well-modulated tones of conversation.
A woman’s voice: “Photography has always been a passion of mine. Since I was a child, really. Now, it’s my way of observing and absorbing the world.”
Lissa’s dream faded to black in a wild sensation of sucking speed—Alice down the rabbit-hole. The voice in the black changed: “Recently, you absorbed the sights of Tannu Tuva and showed Westerners what must surely be a lost world—a Shambala. What is remarkable about these photos is the contradictory senses of alieness and familiarity they evoke. I am looking at a photo of a group of standing stones. Near them is a circular tent-”
“That’s called a yurt.”
(Striped fabric, sheepskin, an odd wooden door.)
“A yurt. Before the yurt are a couple of young men in loin cloths doing a dance that looks like, well, like the funky chicken.”
(Stocky, muscular bodies, arms akimbo, grins the sole adornment save for skillfully tied, fringed cloth. Nearby, an audience laughs and applauds, dark eyes glinting.)
“It’s called the Dance of the Eagle and it’s done to honor the patron spirit. They’re preparing to wrestle. The quality of their dance will determine which opponent they’re paired with.”
“I’m out of the shower, Liss.”
She stirred. Black faded to gray.
“Describe the next one for me.”
“C’mon, Liss, up-getting time.”
(Semi-dark gallery. Black and white photo, struggling toward color. A man clad in a combination of feathers, fiber, and colorful wood clutches a painted drum.)
“Chakar O is equal parts shaman and Buddhist bhikku. The drum is used not only to accompany the dancers, but to please the spirits and call down the bounties of the spiritual realm.”
(Dancers; they are frozen in mid-step, feathered headdresses in mid-bob. They could be Cheyenne or Sioux instead of … )
Where the hell is Tannu Tuva?
“Lissa!” The radio snicked off.
She came fully awake.
Ken smiled at her. “Welcome to the land of the living. Where were you?”
Lissa stretched and yawned. “At a photo exhibit … What? What’s that look?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just … nothing.” He scurried downstairs.
He left before she did and so she sat, vagrant, over breakfast, nursing a second cup of coffee. She was rinsing her cup and regretting the loss of the Pascale interview when the phone rang. She was both surprised and smug when the other woman’s new-age-gentle voice came over the line.
“Ms. Shaw, I’ve thought this over and—and I do want to talk to you.”
Lissa made an immediate appointment, hurrying to gather her notebook and scramble out the door. She had backed down the driveway and turned the car when she caught sight of the Rathman’s house. Slung between their mimosa trees, toilet paper fluttered festively in the breeze. Several rolls of the stuff littered the lawn.
Her mind did a double take. Oh, God, I’ve started sleepwalking!
She groaned. Which meant she had wandered out into the street in nothing but an oversized tshirt. She hoped she had only gone as far as her bedroom window.
Behind her, someone honked. She unstuck herself and drove to Tiburon.
To be continued…