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THE SHASTA GATE
THE SHASTA GATE
The Indian dreamed.
The true union you ought to seek with creatures that attract you is to be found not by going directly to them but by converging with them on God sought in and through them.
Teilhard de Chardin
Hymn of the Universe
"Pensees", Number 36
In his dream the sky was a strange and ominous yellow, as if seen through the smoke of a prairie fire. Things had an amber, graphic quality which seemed to speak directly to the mind in a primitive, or intuitive, language of color. The mountain was as stark, as "present" as he had ever seen it; and, born in its shadow, he had been its disciple for nearly 80 years.
The dream is a dream of prophecy, said a part of his mind not asleep. The speaker is the Mountain. Then he saw the stallion streaming across the meadow, mane and tail out behind him like a rocket's contrail.
The stallion was Jebel Druze, outside of dreams the sire of prizewinning Arabians throughout the West, prolific and lucrative stud of the breeding ranch run by the Indian and owned by a San Francisco industrialist Catherine's horse. In Ram's dream he was the fountainhead not of horseflesh but of revelation.
The sky boiled around the mountain until it was wreathed in cloud. The ring of cloud was like a spoken word which the Indian struggled in his sleep to hear. The stallion was the leading edge of a swirling wind born in the depths of the mountain and churned into frenzy round its volcanic cone. That cry, that moaning howl which filled his ears was the sound of no atmospheric wind. It was the voice of the mountain speaking through the animal in a language older than even the Indian could imagine.
Shasta had spoken to Ram before but never like this, in dream. The rare mystical experiences had always been preceded by days of solitude and fasting, in rituals of his people which lived in him because he shaped them after his own fashion, to his own ends. Having begun for him as vast tribal pageants in which as a child he participated much as the leaves unquestioningly portray the design of the seasons, with his maturation these rituals had become his own personal dramatizations of the spirit of nature. By acting out what nature seemed to be saying, he became the speaker himself. Like summer rain, the words became a torrent and then lost themselves in flow. The whisper, the single voice, became a chorus, with the whole of nature speaking through him at once of all things.
Ram heard the voice of the mountain for the first time as a young boy, during his first independent role in the ongoing tribal drama: his trial of initiation. Three days and three nights he had gone without food and sleep, with only enough water to moisten his parched lips and throat. He and four others, none of whom had yet lived to see twelve cycles of the seasons, had been stripped and sent alone onto the mountain. If it was his time to join the tribe as a man, each would receive a message from the spirit world which would direct the whole course of his life to come. And to Ram, in August of his eleventh year, the mountain had spoken.
He had felt the coming of the messenger within himself, as if he gave birth to the vision that would guide him as the women of the tribe had given birth to all the generations of his people. Like some terrible bird of prey, the messenger had uprooted the vision with savage talons from his very guts.
From that time, the mountain whether it would speak to him directly or, as now, through another had always summoned him first to a preparation of fasting and meditation. Never had it spoken to him from a dream in the midst of his daily life.
On its surface the message might seem to be about the arrogant young woman who came to claim the horse for another summer. But in threequarters of a century if the Indian had not learned to see beneath the surface of things, he had learned nothing. Catherine Conrad, after all, was more than she herself realized, and Ram sensed that the message was concerned with her shadow self: that part of her being only hinted at, in vague and distorted outline, by her physical presence in the world. Was it time to illuminate that phantom self, which at present, like all shadows summoned by the sun, served only to reveal life's radiant Source impeded?
Perhaps it was even time to embody the phantom: into this world the word made flesh. If the horse was the mountain's voice, and this dream its language, what was Catherine and Ram himself but its living medium: the spirit's gateway to the world?
Why was this happening now, when tomorrow night she'd be alone again at the ranch? Why couldn't she have gone one more night on the strength of all they had shared these past two years? She had sensed this summer away from him would end it but to stop one night short!
And once it had started like this, her mind creeping in like the fog that in fact even now enveloped their apartment she could feel and smell it in the room with them once her mind began to come back from wherever it went when she made love, it was never satisfied to stay up there in the back of her head where it usually resided: the silent and generally cynical observer.
That would be bad enough this uninvited voyeur coolly regarding their act of love. But if it intruded at all, it invariably had to comment on what it observed, dragging her from her dream of lovemaking to chatter stupidly about what was beyond words. She loathed this, and detested her helplessness to stop the process once it had begun.
Now of all nights, the last night she'd spend with Bill this summer possibly the last night she'd ever spend with him and her fucking mind had spread through her body like a cancer. Wherever his body touched hers, her mind was there to record the contact and to monitor her response: her dream of abandon become a nightmarish web of entanglement.
Had all this happened in the few minutes since they'd undressed and come to bed, or had it begun with her telling him earlier in the evening that she'd decided to spend another summer at the ranch after all, and the bitter argument that had precipitated ended, as she'd always been able to curtail all their quarrels, by her soft surrender to the dream: beckoning him, cajoling him, entreating him to follow her inward.
Had it started even earlier, months ago, when she'd felt the first tremor of dissatisfaction with Bill's determined climb through social activism to the carefully entrenched position he'd envisioned for himself, and now focused on with such discipline, in the San Francisco professional hierarchy?
Who cares when it started. Why this ejection from the womb, this scalpelintrusion of the mind? What good is the dream for controlling no not "controlling"; simply reducing the friction in a relationship...what good is it if the membrane's too weak to hold. Sex was her refuge, her power. To lose both...the thought panicked her.
It had been hard enough getting beneath his anger. She knew she'd have to deal with it all over again tomorrow. But then the road would be waiting. In a couple of hours she'd be packed. Nothing could hold her back then.
"Goddamnit, Catherine, I don't believe you!" he'd yelled at her. "You wait till the night before you're leaving to tell me you're going up there again? That's damn inconsiderate!" His jaw began to quiver, compromising the look of outrage in his eyes. For a moment longer he held her with them, but finally the trembling jaw defeated him and he turned abruptly away, flinging his arm with an oath against the empty air.
Her own voice was a monotone which, flat and tightly controlled though it was, seemed to her to fill the room. As she listened, it became the room, and she stood there, feeling her feet against the floor to keep from falling, inside the dead words.
"I didn't make up my mind till yesterday that I was going. You put me on such a guilt trip about it the last time, I wasn't sure I wanted to again."
"Well are you sure now? You wanta spend the whole summer up there? What about me? You know I sure as hell can't be with you, unless I come up for a weekend or something."
What about Bill? What could she say? What the hell did it matter wasn't it just throwing words into an abyss? "...I think it'll be good for both of us to be away from each other for a while," she heard herself saying. "You ought to go somewhere too. Get out of here for a few weeks."
"But not come up to Shasta huh? Well, I couldn't if I wanted to, Catherine. I can't just leave work like that. Someone has to exercise a little responsibility."
"So the rest of us can fuck off, right? Well I can't wait to get up there in all that open space. I'm suffocating here, Bill. And it doesn't have anything to do with you. The ranch was part of my life ten years before I met you. I love it it's still part of me. You've just got to accept that."
Bill tended to delayed emotional reactions, largely from the attempt to overrule his initial, spontaneous outbursts with reason. He'd become an openminded, levelheaded human being if it killed him, and Catherine figured that in the long run it probably would. His emotional restraint, when it held up, was one of the things she told herself and friends that had first drawn her to Bill, indicative as it was of his mature character. Even she was scarcely aware of how much she despised it.
Invariably, when the blowup finally came, the original emotion had been compressed and distorted into impenetrable hostility. This is probably what she'd have to face tomorrow but not for long. She and her little Miata would be leaving it all behind: the relationship with Bill which no longer satisfied; school, which forced her to live in the city; the cocoon of errands, decisions and responsibilities which life in the city entailed. For the whole damned summer!
...Ironically, for the time being Bill had escaped into the dream she was providing, while she found herself locked out. She began to fantasize. This wasn't Bill thrusting his manhood and repressed anger into her. She retranslated the furious energy of his communication, slowing it in her mind, liquefying it with her body. Fantasy always made of her lovers more than they'd made of themselves.
Her created entity needed a face; as in a dream her lover's identity eluded her. She imagined that he called out to her. His way of holding and entering her was eloquent, irresistible, voracious. It wasn't enough to be fucking her body; he demanded her soul. But with such beseeching love, such masculine pleading. Who was this? She tried to picture him, to see into his eyes, the expression on his face as her phantom lover plunged so givingly, withdrew so ruthlessly beating the hard straight surface of her bed into a shell of light, into which she felt her softened pliant spine curling, her legs drawn up in insatiable surrender, her pelvis and tunneled womb rocking, reaching for the last ounce of that thrusting, loving...a warm, liquid shudder swept through her longing body. At last she was borne away by the dream.
Now she slept. Bill felt her surrender as a series of light tremors and cupped his hand protectively beneath her elbow. She lay across his arm, in a position as familiar to him as the sound of her breathing. And though the knowledge that she was leaving was like a shaft of ice in his breast, it was surrounded by wave upon wave of love for her, flowing out from him beyond control, like the release of sobbing.
...While Ram, 400 miles north of them, grunted in his sleep and prepared to meet the stallion Jebel Druze.
The Indian dreamed.
END OF SAMPLE
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