International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Dreamscapes
of the Birds
vaguely remember the day I saw the article in the newspaper mentioning
rather matter- of-factly that Rene Elias had vanished. I was drinking
a cup of smoky Russian tea and nibbling a piece of brie, when my
eyes must have caught a glimpse of his face, which appeared to be
smiling, yet at the same time expressing some sort of hidden anguish.
occur everyday across the world, but Renes sudden vanishing act
took me a little by surprise. Rene was a brilliant chemist who, despite
his reservations about intellectual celebrity, wore the label of genius
quite nicely. He was an acquaintance, in a rather abstract way, but
in reality we were not acquaintances at all. It was only by the hand
of fate that we came to know one another. A woman by the name of Alexa
Valentine was sleeping with both of us at the same time, and due to
this fact, Rene and I slowly started moving toward one another by an
invisible string of events. But that was an eternity ago.
Here, now, I chase down my memories of him. I was not at all shocked
Alexa was drawn to Rene. Intelligent, handsome, oddly mysterious. Qualities
of a man who was certainly sophisticated and worldly. I find it puzzling
as to why she picked me as well when she had such a catch to begin with.
At the time of our affair, or what have you, I was laboring away on
a manuscript I had been planning for half a dozen years. Since I was
a youth, the hermetic and esoteric arts held sway over me. And as I
grew older, I knew that any talent I possessed with writing would be
put toward some sort of future endeavor involving the alchemical arts
of fire, the alignment of the stars, and the golden elixir of Life.
Of course, most of my friends and colleagues thought that I was wasting
my time on nonsense. Fuck them, I thought. They knew very little of
what was in my heart, and within a few months I never saw them again,
for I had moved to the Coast. The ocean air cleared my lungs, softened
my skin, and relaxed my mind. I was free, able to begin again.
Within a few weeks, I not only acquainted myself with the city, but
with the many libraries as well.
During one of my many strolls through the dark and musty stacks, I met
Alexa. She was stunning, brilliant, and quite obviously manipulative,
but I was smitten and easily lead by my desires. Within no time, we
began seeing each other regularly. Two months later her toothbrush sat
by my sink, a permanent fixture. Beyond our overt physical attraction
for one another, we shared a common interest in literature, film, and
music, which we passionately discussed over long dinners, or after rounds
of sweaty sex. And perhaps it was within that sensuous dream that I
was distracted from the fact that I was the other man. Rene was close,
but I couldnt see him yet. There had been a few occasions when
Alexa came by and I could smell the subtle aroma of expensive cologne;
and of course, she would come up with some excuse as to why it was there.
Beautiful women are easy to believe. Im sure at the same time
Rene was piecing together his own story about me. I would often leave
a tiny love-bite high up on Alexas neck, which made me wonder
if Rene ever saw the mark when they made love. Possibly. Rene was a
keen observer of nature, so one could assume that his eyes were attuned
to the minute. I never told Alexa what I thought I knew about her trysts,
let alone much else beyond the basic facts concerning my upbringing,
and other banal details not worth mentioning. Most often, my thoughts
My researches and readings were done deep into the night with large
amounts of coffee and Erik Satie occupying the summit of my mind. During
one particularly still evening, when the night entirely takes hold of
ones thoughts, I came across a number of truly fascinating stories,
that despite their antiquity, absorbed into me in a deep and profound
way. The first was of a figure known as Apollonius of Tyana, who was
a great adept of the Pythagorean school, and witness to the Emerald
Tablet of Hermes. The scholar Philostratus recorded the biography of
Apollonius at the instruction of the Roman Empress Julia Domna, but
due to the enigmatic nature of history, certain details escaped the
grasp of the wise Philostratus. Apollonius healed many people in a Christ-like
fashion and travelled widely, and along the way he managed to create
the Great Stone of the Philosophers; a feat rare amongst the rare. His
followers, which were many, claimed that when he died he left no body,
turning into the Stone itself and ascending into the Above, the Absolute,
heaven if you will.
For weeks after reading these accounts, I would take long walks on drizzly
nights across the various bridges that linked the quiet solitude of
the outskirts to the chaos of the urban metropolis downtown, thinking
deeply about mystical phenomena rarely seen in nature anymore. My walks
always ended a few blocks from my apartment, at the local noodle house.
An attitude of laziness often propelled me into places such as these,
for I loved the smell of meat and sprouts rather than the clattering
of pots and pans by my own hand. During one of these outings, on a particularly
dark night , Rene walked into my life. Yet, at the time, I had not concluded
it was him at all. I was absorbed in the taste of warm broth when I
saw him out of the corner of my eye, ready to sit down and be served.
He was dressed impeccably, though something in his manner suggested
that he felt encumbered by his clothing, perhaps because the chaos in
his mind was enough strain for one man, and the tightness of his clothes
only aggravated him further. One could almost see the swirl of thoughts
dancing in his head. He ordered a simple noodle dish and lit a king-sized
cigarette in the interim. The aroma from his cigarette drifted over
to my table, and instantly I recognized something familiar about the
An almost nutty, citrus blend, which seemed unusual yet pleasing. Alexa
smoked a brand of similar scent, so perhaps that was when I first started
drawing paranoid conclusions about Rene and Alexa, however unconscious
they may have been at the time. What amazed me most about him, even
at a distance, was his near invisibility that seemed to keep most people
from looking at him. Like a ghost, he maintained an imposing glare that
deflected attention. But not that night. My mind looked for an opening
in which to satisfy my growing delusions, yet all that I could conjure
up were thoughts of exotic birds that were playing havoc in my dreams
as of late. As I sat ingesting more thick broth and broad noodles, I
kept my eye on him, perhaps due to an overwhelming sense of curiosity
that bubbled up within me. After he finished his meal, he proceeded
to take out a large envelope from his leather satchel, spreading out
a number of papers in front of him. He studied the pages very closely
before lighting another cigarette and exhaling a plume of sweet smoke.
I thought of Alexa again. Her hourglass figure, that so often brought
me pleasure, was obscured by the shadow of another. Nothing was making
sense any longer, so I decided to leave.
As I stood by the door waiting to pay the bill, I looked over my shoulder
to see Rene smiling at me, or so I thought. My body turned cold. When
I looked back again, his head was lost in smoke, eyes downcast. The
walk home I dont remember well. All I can recollect is the sound
of crows, and the vision of their black wings superimposed against a
twilit sky as they took to flight from a telephone line. That night
I didnt sleep so well. The morning brought greater promise, although
I have to admit to feeling rather chilled and ill at ease. In hindsight,
logic would dictate that my experience the night before was to blame
Instead of doing my usual work at the library, I decided to pass
the rest of the of the morning reading on the balcony. I strained my
eyes to see the ocean, which shined and glistened like a blue-green
moving gem. A state of restlessness resided in my mind as I carefully
sipped my cup of tea, wondering why I could not shake the dense feeling
that had attached itself to me. I called Alexa, hoping the sound of
her voice would calm me, or at the very least get me thinking about
something else. When she answered, I immediately started blathering
about the mystery man, the crows, and my sense of dread like some sort
of raving lunatic who had been pursued by visions for countless days
and nights. Like a stoic doctor, she told me to take a couple painkillers,
have a nap, then when evening came, visit her for she had something
to show me.
I did as she said, and in the thick mist of sleep, I had a dream. There
I was on a mountain in the high altitudes, walking along some old worn
path, when I noticed a man off in the distance sitting cross-legged
on a large rock. As I approached, a sense of strong energy tickled my
skin that seemed to be emanating from the man himself. The man, who
appeared to be meditating, opened his eyes wide and turned toward me,
smiling. I was silent, from what I remember, not knowing what to say.
The man got up from the rock and motioned for me to walk with him. His
complexion was smooth, almost golden, and his long dark hair sparkled
in the sun as we walked. He said nothing. Yet just by looking at him,
I could see that he was very content, and perhaps even beyond the idea
of contentedness. He led me to a large cave that seemed to brighten
as we entered, where he produced a rather large book from an ornamental
chest. He silently handed the book to me, then quietly walked out of
the cave. That was when I woke up, feeling better, but all the more
confused by the ethereal nature of the dream world.
Later, as I walked through the rain-washed streets, I began to feel
somewhat uplifted by my dream; nonetheless, a sense of dread followed
me all the way to Alexas apartment, hovering above my head. When
Alexa answered the door, in a satin nightgown, the seal on my thoughts
closed even tighter. Perhaps I was too stressed over nothing. After
all, what was I afraid of? She invited me in, kissing me on the lips
as I tried to take off my raincoat the ozone smell clinging to me like
campfire smoke. I nestled into the corner of her couch, and almost slyly,
she crept into the crook of my arm. Now I felt safe, I thought. But
for how long? Alexa was silent for a time, as was I. But there was an
unspoken tension permeating the room while we listened to the clock
tick in measured clicks. Something seemed oddly different about her
apartment that night. The smell, the lighting, everything. My eyes scanned
the walls and cabinets where precious books and pieces of art all had
their place; then I saw what I was looking for. Upon one of the shelves,
almost obscured by a Zen clock, was the figure of a golden phoenix.
Alexa must have noticed what I was looking at, so she got up and walked
over to the tall cabinet, reaching out to grab the phoenix that had
caught my attention. She smiled, almost devilishly, as she caressed
the figure in her hands before bringing the piece over to me, placing
it carefully in my palms. She told me that Rene Elias, the chemist,
had given it to her, who was an old friend. I savagely tried
to contain my thoughts as I heard those words, and somehow I managed
to question Alexa more about her new acquisition, as well as her old
Alexa was being rather coy, but she said that Rene had given her the
phoenix a few days before at his home on the outskirts, and that he
was rather excited about some experiments he had been working on in
his personal lab at home. The only other details she was willing to
give were vague at best. Smells of sulphur, smoke, and a feeling of
great heat thickly hanging in each room she entered. She didnt
question him. No surprises there. However, she continued, he was acting
strangely and didnt want to take up too much of her time, which
she said was unusual of him. As I looked at Alexa speak, I could tell
by the way she moved her lips and fluttered her eyelashes that her time
with Rene was anything but brief. I pictured his hands all over her.
I could almost feel his presence sitting between us. Looking at the
phoenix in my hands, with its beautiful golden wings, I had a sudden
sense of warmth in my head that caused me to drop the statue on the
floor. Alexa rushed to pick it up, putting the phoenix safely back on
the shelf. She asked me if I was all right, but I told her I had to
leave. More rest was what I needed. For the first time since we met,
she looked unhappy to see me go, yet I also saw a sense of a hurried
goodbye in her eyes as she gave me a long breathless kiss at the door,
and quite suddenly I was out in the humid, rainy air once again. With
each step I became less aware of my racing heart, but at the same time
my mind became more clouded and confused than ever. When I had touched
the golden phoenix, a wave of subtle familiarity went through my mind
as I walked along the street. Not only did my touching of that tiny
statue confirm my thoughts about Alexa and Rene, a maze of complex ideas
and came to life within me.
Everything felt darker. Without really realizing where I was going,
I ended up in front of the noodle house.
I went inside hoping that the distance between the phoenix and me would
calm my nerves.
Unfortunately, it did nothing to ease the tension raging within me.
As I sat down, hands pressed to my temples, I felt that Rene would walk
through the door any minute, if only to tell me his secrets. Of course,
nothing happened. Hours went by and my soup was cold. The silken cord
of the Coastal night tightened around my throat as I walked back to
my building. I felt weak, almost faint. Perhaps the confirmation of
my fears about Alexa had truly taken the strength from me. Or something
else had. Upon entering the hallway to my apartment, I could smell the
faint aroma of citrus getting stronger as I approached my door. At my
feet, a small envelope sat waiting to greet me. With more than an ounce
of hesitation, I picked up the envelope, carefully tearing it open.
An impeccably handwritten note said the following: "Having drunk
the wine of longevity, you wander free; who can know you? You sit and
listen to the string-less tune, you understand the mechanism of creation."
The words echoed in my mind. For three days, I barely shut my eyes.
On the fourth day, I decided to pay Alexa a visit, despite my reservations,
wondering if the sight of her face would solve the riddle in my head.
Knocking on her door, I noticed the mail had not been taken in for a
few days, which seemed unusual. No answer. I left, thinking where could
she be on such a fine day. I even went to the library, desperately seeking
a glimpse of Alexas hair. Nothing. Many more days would pass before
I heard from her; and not in the way I expected. A hand-delivered letter
came to me, quite to my surprise, just as I was finishing a chapter
on the famous transmutation at the Sarcelles gas factory in 1922 by
the enigmatic Fulcanelli.
I anxiously tore open the envelope, finding not only a short letter
inside, but also a key as well. Alexas neat, legible words were
all I needed to feel comfortable again, until I actually read them.
.Dont be upset by the arrival of this brief
note, for anger will not change anything. We can no longer see one another.
Destiny, as they say, has different plans for the both of us. I have
left something for you. You will need the key. The directions are on
the back of this note. Farewell. Love Alexa."
Anger was the furthest thing from my mind. Sadness, however, was much
closer. The confusion returned in spades. I sat down again, reading
the words repeatedly, hoping they would somehow change. Day slowly gave
way to night, and my position barely changed. At some point I feel asleep
on the couch only to wake up in the wee small hours, shivering. Several
weeks passed; and it must have been then that I saw the article announcing
Renes disappearance. Within an hour of reading the article, in
a flash of overanxious energy, I went to go find what Alexa had left
behind. Her instructions lead me across my beloved bridges, just as
the street lamps came on underneath the twilight sky. Nothing seemed
real any longer. The city was emptier, quieter, and less invasive on
the senses. I walked slowly. The only sound I could hear was the clicking
of my shoes over the pavement. About an hour later, I found the spot
she had described: an old abandoned warehouse overlooking the harbor.
Alexa certainly had a love of the mysterious; I would give her that.
I didnt have to walk far inside that eerie structure to notice
the large steamer trunk that the key would fit into.
I had seen the trunk once before at Alexas apartment. A handcrafted
silver peacock sat proudly on its top, looking at me with a million
eyes. Before I put the key in the lock, I paused. I knew my life was
about to change in some way, for better or worse. Opening the trunk
I expected, half-heartedly, to see the golden phoenix staring back at
me. But the only object within the trunk was a thick, manila package,
with a wax seal carefully imprinted with a crows head. The air
seemed to become thick, and my head floated as though I had just fallen
asleep, yet I managed to walk away with the package in my hand, ready
to marry the night ahead of me. Now, as I sit here writing these words,
time has given way to truth. At the far end of my desk sits not only
my manuscript, but Renes as well, aching to be read many more
The testament of a brilliant, curious man like myself, who is now a
ghost haunting the city of my mind, just as he did before; only now
he has become something more. My memories of Rene, in all their abstract
glory, are also memories of Alexa. A woman we both shared and loved.
Rene took on the impossible and landed amongst the stars, rather than
spending another moment wondering what his life would be without the
knowledge he now carried within himself. We will never grow old now;
and perhaps one day we will all meet again in another time and place,
our faces unchanged. He is my reflection, as is Alexa. Cradled together
in the hands of fate.
© Ryan Madej March 2009
pynchon0000 at gmail.com
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