The Old Wisdom
“You look so sad, Gram.” The child’s words sprung too happy, too bright for a day with a dark sky and heavy storm.
I am very sad. The old woman smiled anyway, looking into the face like a mirror in time. God, this could be me eighty years ago. “I’m just very tired.”
“Then you should take a nap! That’s what I do when I’m tired, and then I feel better!”
It’s not that kind of tired. “Maybe I will. Are you tired?”
“I’m not tired at all. I was hoping you could tell me a story of how it used to be.” Her crystal blue eyes begged with innocence not to be denied.
Stories. Where did we lose our way in the tellings? She grew hungry in her sadness, recalling the storytellers of before. Much of her early life was about the stories. “Which story would you like to hear?”
“I want a new story. I want to hear a secret story. One no one else knows.”
“They are all secret stories until they are told and even then, the stories hold more secrets.”
“I gathered that much, Gram!” She looked over her shoulder and then put her finger to her lips, giving the old woman wide eyes. “I want you to tell me about a story I read.”
“Read? Read where? In what? How?” Reading was a skill no longer taught, its value lost in the years after the Revolt of 2020 and the sixty years to follow. There was no revolt, only collapse. The changes hadn’t happened overnight. Much like the decline of the body in life, culture decayed until society could no longer stand on its own feet.
“See? I got secrets, too!” She crossed the room, looked in the hallway and shut the door. “Great-granddad Mike taught me this!” She showed an old, leather-bound book. She danced to Gram. “And, guess what? He told me the biggest secret you guys had!”
I doubt that. “Did he, now?”
“And.” She tilted her head down showing the bright red tattoo on her forehead, looking hard from under her eyebrows. “He said I was the one you’ve been waiting for.”
She put a wrinkled, fragile hand to the child’s face. “If that could be so. He could not see as I see.”
The child spun on her toes and laughed. “He said you’d say that!” She pursed her lips and scrunched her face. “Great-granddad Mike told me I was the last hope to bring back the old ways.”
Dreams of children. When did I stop dreaming? She watched the sheets of rain pelt the glass. She knew the child was not the hope, last or otherwise. The dream of regaining what she lost, the dream of undoing what she did evaporated like a puddle on the desert sand. Years ago – a lifetime ago. The way of God, religion and wisdom long faded into memory. Man had truly lost his path, if there ever was a path for man.
“Michelle. What would you like to hear about?”
She climbed onto Gram’s lap and wiggled to get comfortable, opening the book. “I don’t understand lots of the stuff it says here. Great-granddad Mike said it’s a magic book.” She looked to the air, putting a finger to her lips. “A Gospel, he called it.”
Gram chuckled. “Oh, my sweetness. It’s neither. It is only a diary. We would write things down as they happened so we’d remember.”
Michelle turned her head, just a little. “Why? Didn’t you guys have good memories like we do today?”
“Maybe not.” She opened the book. “This was Judy’s.”
“Who’s Judy, Gram?” She hungered for knowledge, any knowledge.
Gram’s lips curled, her eyes distant. “Judy was my special life mate. She died long, very long, before you were born.”
“Oh, Gram! That’s so sad!” She patted Gram’s head. “Do you miss her?” In the world Michelle was born, marriages and life mates didn’t exist. Michelle didn’t understand the concept but had the general idea.
Grams eyes welled with tears. “More than life itself.”
Michelle opened the book to the back. “Okay. There’s the story I want you to tell, then. I don’t understand this at all.” She squinted at the faded handwritten words.
“How’d she die?”
“I killed her.” Her mind reeled to the time when death and killing were exchanged at great personal cost. She knew Michelle couldn’t grasp the idea, death so close to life now.
“Why?” Michelle twisted her face. “For food?”
“We thought it was the right thing to do.” She intentionally used we, distancing herself from the responsibility. Gram put a hand to the child’s face. “How old are you now?”
She looked to the ceiling. “About sixteen cycles, I think.”
Gram closed her eyes. “I was about your age when I met Judy, in what used to be called an airport. Back then, people traveled all over through the air.”
The child’s eyes got big. “The time of magic!”
“Yes, child. It was the time of magic.”
“Great-granddad Mike said you used to be a powerful witch and talked to God and all.”
“He said a lot of things.”
She flipped through the book. “Judy says so, too.” She looked toward the door. “And, the other books of magic – eh, diaries?”
“Great-granddad Mike said that what we need to know is in these books and we can have the time of magic back.”
“His parents thought so, too. We all did. We were wrong.”
Youthful eyes sparkled as only a child’s could, yet to be devastated by the greater realities of life. “Great-granddad Mike said you gave up too easy.” She winked. “I think so, too.”
“How dare you! I am the Last Crone and wisdom Keeper, Makaila!”
Michelle put a hand to Gram’s forehead. “Please, relax. I can’t have you busting an artery and dying on me yet. Mom and Dad say you’re just a crazy old lady and Great-granddad Mike was a crazy old man, both of you dreaming up a time that never was.” She bit her lip. “I really need for you to help me understand these books.”
“My child, I will tell you the stories as I remember them, as I have always done, that you may tell those who come after you.” If there is a generation to come after you. I don’t think there will be. “But Mike was wrong. The magic is not in these books. The magic is gone forever.”
“Gram. I got a really, really big secret. Something I can’t tell anyone.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“I’ll tell you, though.” She twisted around, putting her lips to Gram’s good ear. “I got someone in my head. She talks to me. It wasn’t Great-granddad Mike who told me you gotta teach me the books. It was her.”
Gram pulled Michelle close and held as tight as her failing muscles would allow. The world went insane. Gram hoped the child would somehow be spared. “I’m sure she did, Michelle. I will tell you the stories, as I always have.”
Michelle smiled into the warmth. “She said to tell you butterflies. What’s a butterfly, Gram?”
“You read that in the book.”
“Gram. Show me butterflies.”
Gram held her hand as she used to eighty years before. Michelle squinted at the hand, turned and straddled Gram, held her hands over her head for a moment and then placed her palms on either side of the old woman’s face. “Like that?”
Gram’s pale blue eyes went wide. “Yes, child! Just like that!”
Michelle sat back around on Gram’s lap and opened the book. “Tell me a story. Tell me about how Judy died.”
Life is good. “Pops, travel well.” She placed a white carnation on the grave. “Now you can be with Ma again. I know you’ve missed her so.” Standing on the hill with the house behind her and the cornfield below, she wished for her inner sight. With three years of drought followed by three years of above average rainfall, the yield would barely get them through.
Unusual but not abnormal weather patterns, they called the past few years. Joseph and Marcy dying, for no apparent reason other than they were old, was unusual. “It’s almost as if what gave them life drained out of them,” Arianna suggested.
George, her husband, told Arianna that was nonsense. “How many times did Makaila say death was life and life was death? We don’t have to like it. We are allowed to feel what we’ve lost. We are allowed to feel the pain. However, take flesh, accept death.”
“Yeah, I know. Something just doesn’t seem right.”
“You are so right, Arianna,” Makaila said aloud to her great uncle’s grave. Makaila saw clearly watching the news, listening to reports and following trends. Without her inner vision she couldn’t be sure, nevertheless, the death of her uncle and aunt made the point. She held her suspicions for as long as she could. Years.
The efforts toward peace throughout the world failed overnight. All the gains of the last half-century dried up and blew away on the wind. The odd weather patterns were worldwide, causing food supplies to dwindle. Skirmishes were the natural result. Something hid under the apparent cause and effect. People didn’t trust people anymore and not just on a national level.
The psyche of the planet was shaken in 2005 when the earth groaned, flexing with massive earthquakes. The best scientific minds took a deep breath and proposed the happenings were the natural result of a cooling mantle floating on top a molten core. California lost one-third its area and became an island. The former state declared independence. Talk went around Washington about invading the new island, but the government was distracted by the withdrawal of Florida and Georgia from the union, unifying as one state and the invasion of the lower western states by Mexico.
The news media was restricted with emergency regulations and finally taken over by the government under the Temporary Special Orders Act. Within sixty days, the Temporary Special Orders Act of 2006 was amended to restrict and finally shut down the Internet. The information highway sputtered out and died.
“I know something about being a human being,” Makaila told everyone on the farm. “We have the heart to face down anything. Pops told me a long time ago there’s nothing we can’t beat if we throw hard work at it. We have land, livestock and crops. We’ll do just fine. This will pass. The world will recover.”
Megan watched Makaila as Makaila gave the pep rally four years before. “I believe it is time we talk of things.” Megan spoke from behind Makaila at the grave.
Makaila closed her eyes, not turning. “Well past the time. I’ve been hanging on to hope.”
“As have I. The hope that I am, we are, wrong.” Megan looked across the corn. “All the spells of old – ”
“ – haven’t worked for ten years.”
“You have known for that long?”
“I guess. I just didn’t think it would mean this.” She stood, turning on Megan. “It’s not my fault!”
Megan calmly stared with her solid black-as-coal eyes. In all the years Makaila knew Megan, Megan changed little. She was tall and lean, her black-as-night hair cascading around her white-as-flour flesh. “It is exactly that. However, that does not matter. What does matter is what we can do about it.”
Makaila let out a long sigh. “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought.”
“As have I.”
Most, if not all the major cities fell into a strained chaos long before the earthquakes of 2005. Violence was on the rise, gangs grew in numbers as did turf wars. Law enforcement was strained. With the earthquakes of 2005 and the ensuing weather patterns, marshal law was declared followed by more amendments to the Special Orders Act allowing any authority full discretion in how to keep order.
The human race was dealt a serious blow, nevertheless, the powers-that-be and social observers held onto optimism. History over 20,000 years proved Man’s ability to rise above anything. Where hope in the temporal is stolen away, many people turned to the spiritual. New religions popped up all over the map along with the renewal in the End Time predictions of the traditional religions. Mass suicides started in 2007 and by the time 2010 rolled around, they weren’t news anymore.
“There will always be a certain portion of any population which is prone to such behavior in troubled times,” Judy explained. “We saw this 500 years ago during the black plague, for example.” She, too, felt the problems would pass and the planet recover.
Makaila spread her arms to the cornfield. “This, began ten years ago. I’m sure of it. This is a not a normal pattern. What holds all things together is coming undone.” She turned to face her friend. “This will not get better all by itself. This will not pass.
“My sight is gone, my vision, reading subtle body. I haven’t been able to do butterflies since that day. I can’t heal myself or others.”
Megan tried to interrupt. Makaila put a hand up.
“You lost your magic, too. The old way is no more, gone when I lost my gifts. It’s not just you. I thought maybe it was, something to do with you standing so close to me.
“I was following the science and spiritual journals.” Makaila looked to the ground. “The incidence of spontaneous remissions of just about any condition has dropped off, last I had access – what? Five years ago? To nothing.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“Prayer, positive thinking, Megan. We lost the mind/body connection.”
“All the magic.”
“I made a mistake.” Makaila clenched her fists. “I thought we didn’t need God.”
Megan closed her eyes. “A love that offers nothing and demands nothing, yet that which sustains us.”
“How could I have missed that?”
“You are not God. How could you have known?”
“She didn’t even know!”
“We have to find our way back.”
“God, I wish I had my sight!”
The moon crawled, a faded red, into the night sky. The scientific explanation coming across the television was: the chemical composition of the ash in the atmosphere from nuclear blasts and new volcanoes refracted light. Megan suggested the moon was wounded. “It cries.”
Makaila took Megan’s place above the circle, spread her arms to the stars and peered into the fire. “Friends – family, I have held to myself much too long what I see. What we did. No. What I did ten years ago has caused the troubles we have before us.”
“We did,” Arianna said. “We did it.”
Makaila looked to the ground. “No, Arianna, it was me, alone I made the choice.”
“Did you carry her into the fire alone?”
“Enough!” Megan said. “What was stays as it was. As always, we must look to the future, not the past.”
Jill took a deep breath, holding tight to her husband’s hand. “Makaila, Mike and I have spoken about this. I really don’t want to hear your explanation. I don’t want to hear in words what my heart already knows. I know I must hear, so tell.”
“It’s hard to find words that make sense but as we look out on the world, not much makes sense anymore. I think back and even doubt my own memories.” She looked at ten-year-old Michael. “I have seen, with my own eyes, miracles. I have seen miracles at my own hand. But, it’s been a while. The time of magic is gone. Now, the past ten years, has been a time for man.”
Makaila again dropped her eyes to the ground, silence pressed forward. Finally, she raised her tearful face. “Look what we’ve done!” She waved an angry fist toward the moon. “Look what we have done,” she repeated quietly, a whisper betraying the deep pain.
“You grant yourself much too much power, Makaila,” Terri said, her eyes cold, hard. “You always have. This has been foretold so many times, I get tired of reading about it.”
Haunting her thoughts almost everyday, Makaila could hear the words of an old man, warning of the evil within men to be released. “That’s nonsense. The future will be what we make it.”
“Only with what we have to work with. You said it yourself. Look what we have done without Her.” Terri finally spoke what went unsaid. “You think to keep it secret. I know what you did.” Terri smiled. “I was washed just as deeply with the fire as you were. Maybe more so.”
“You went insane.” Makaila looked to Judy for help.
Judy took a deep breath and reminded Makaila: “You started insane, my love. Do you forget that?”
“Enough,” Megan said again. “I feel we all have to pool what we know so we can move forward. Isn’t there enough fighting in the world already?”
Jill’s mind raced. “Makaila, tell me straight up. What has caused this?”
Makaila looked to the moon in search of words.
Terri laughed bitterly. “Don’t you get it, Jill? Makaila not only sent Her back to the mountain, she cut us off forever.”
Jill tilted her head, holding Terri’s eyes. “And, that means what, exactly?”
“It means we’re screwed,” Arianna put in.
“Yeah,” Terri agreed. “Big time.” She pointed to Makaila. “All because you were so full of yourself!”
“Me? Who was the one scorching the landscape with hell-fire, murdering hundreds of people at a time? You point a finger at me?”
“You call it murder. Just reward for them being who they were. If you hadn’t put an end to it, this would all be over instead of us limping into never-never land!” She jumped to her feet. “This is all ridiculous! The End Time is here. It’s just a matter of when, not if.” Terri raised her arms and distorted her face. “Dammit! What I’d give for just one serious blast of lightening!”
The evil hidden within all men. Makaila watched the person she pulled back from the darkness first of a walking coma and then insanity. She counted to ten, knowing Terri was more right than wrong.
“I don’t agree nothing can be done,” Judy calmly stated. “I feel, like before, we just have to figure it out.”
Megan stood, pointing to Makaila. “Sit down, young lady.” She pointed to Terri. “You, too.” She spread her snow-white arms, her eyes reflected the fire’s dancing flames. They sat, both having the deepest respect for the elder. “Terri may see as she wishes, though I agree with Judy, which I’m allowed to do.”
“You can be as stupid as you wish,” Terri retorted.
“Yes. I can. And, I can choose to do as I wish, work for that which I wish to work for. As Mike said long ago: what tomorrow brings, it brings; today is today.”
“I said that?” Mike asked.
“Yes, my husband. You did,” Jill told him.
Arianna smiled. “I will stand next to you, Megan the witch. I will fight as hard as I can to make sure tomorrow comes – ”
“ – because that’s what we human beings do,” Makaila finished.
Terri laughed again. “That’s what you don’t get! We’re no longer human beings! This is no longer the earth! You killed us all and we’re all dead already!” She jumped to her feet. “I’m leaving. You guys are pathetic.” With that, she stormed off.
“She’ll be okay,” Judy assured everyone. “She goes through these phases.”
“Now that the heckling’s over, could someone please tell me what’s happening?” Mike asked, taking his son into his lap.
“Yes,” Jill lobbied. “How exactly are we screwed?”
“Terri’s right, though I don’t know how she knows,” Makaila confessed. “I severed the tie between us and Catrina when I took her back to the mountain.”
“Because a spiritual being has no business interfering with temporal matters?” Arianna asked.
“Yeah. Something like that.”
Arianna nodded. “I would have done the same thing if I could have.”
“Well, that makes it all better!”
Megan’s black eyes caught Makaila’s. “We talked about this. You had no way of knowing.”
“No rule book, remember?” Arianna added.
“Okay, okay. Point taken. So what do we do?”
“Easy.” Judy smiled. “As I understood it, you opened a door to take Catrina back. We open the door again.”
“The magic’s gone.” Makaila argued.
“We don’t know that.”
“Agreed,” Mike said. “Just because the magic isn’t close to the surface as it was, doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
“Just deeper?” Makaila asked as if to herself. “Sure. That makes sense. If the magic was gone completely, we wouldn’t be here.”
“Told you with Ma and Pops. It’s as if the life, magic, drained out of them,” Arianna reminded Makaila.
George spoke up: “Now that it’s put that way, it makes some kind of left-handed sense. I think I’d rather fork manure than do magic. At least I can see the manure.”
Jill squinted. “What if we create the mountain here. Start all over again?”
“I don’t follow,” Arianna said.
“Let me see.” Jill rolled her eyes toward the stars. “Maybe the mountain isn’t a place. Well, it wasn’t a place. What if Megan casts a circle as a spot and we all meditate within the circle, making it bigger and bigger? A time that is not a time in a place that is not a place?”
“Maybe we manifest a new mountain? A new place of light?” Megan asked.
“Something like that,” Jill agreed.
Makaila shook her head.
Arianna said: “I don’t think so. I was there and I don’t have the words, but that place cannot be made of this place.”
“The old wisdom would bear that out,” Megan agreed. “Here was not created of there. Here was created of her light being corrupted by the dark.”
“Combined.” Makaila drew a look of question from Megan. “Combined, not corrupted. We are not, nor have we ever been corrupt. Things are coming undone, not being destroyed by corruption.”
“The end is the same, though?” George asked.
“Well, yeah. However, it makes a difference if we’re going to fix it. We can’t be thinking there’s something we have to beat. We gotta restore the light, not beat the dark.”
“The balance.” Megan nodded.
“The balance,” Arianna agreed. “Without her light – ”
“The love that demands nothing and offers nothing, yet sustains us,” Makaila said.
“ – the balance drifts toward the dark.”
“Back to as it was, before she pushed back the darkness,” Megan concluded.
“Okay,” Mike said. “Now we’re getting somewhere. We have two things to try. We can manifest a new mountain and we can send someone to the old mountain.”
“I’ll go.” Arianna didn’t hesitate. “I’ve been there and at least at one time, I did show the Mark.”
“You still do, in my eyes,” Makaila said. “But, that’s nonsense. The only choice is me. I was born there, after all.”
“Which is why it can’t be you,” Arianna argued. “No matter what, you’re the best connection to there we’ve ever had. We can’t afford to lose you in the here and now. I’ll go.”
Makaila rolled her eyes. “It’s not going to be just a matter of getting there. You’re going to have to reestablish the connection. I saw it. I know what it is. Get me to the mountain. I know I can do it.”
Jill’s eyes got big. “You’re talking about doing the same thing you did to Catrina?”
“Well, we can’t just book a flight, you know.” Arianna looked toward the stars. “I can do it. Get me there.”
“No. It must be me,” Makaila argued again. “I’m the only one with the experience.”
“Which is why you have to stay here. You have to be the sender.” Arianna sat smug.
George took Arianna’s hand. “I think I should go. I was there, too, if only for a few minutes. Catrina put her light directly in me and kept me alive.” He narrowed his eyes to the fire. “I believe I know what must be done.” He gave Makaila wide eyes. “If you can get me there.”
“Who’s the magician, anyway?” Mike asked. “I’ve been doing magic all my life. It should be me. If I don’t know what to do, get me there. I’ll figure it out.”
“This is not carny magic, Mike.” Makaila shook her head. “And, without Jill at your side I’m not sure you could have made it through a show.”
“Hey!” Mike sat up.
“It’s true, Mike,” Jill said. “This is out of your league.”
“Me.” Judy looked to the ground. “Megan and Makaila have to facilitate. I am the only one here with a connection beyond the temporal with Makaila. That will reestablish what’s lost. It can only be me.”
Makaila looked to the stars, the same stars she looked to her first day out of Hell, the institute of her imprisonment, so many years before. A tear leaked from her eye. “So mote it be.”