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adobeDreams Revisited

by Robert Burke


SMASHWORDS EDITION

*****

PUBLISHED BY:

Robert Burke at Smashwords


adobeDreams Revisited

Copyright © 2018 by Robert Burke


The characters and events in this book are fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.


Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


* * * * *


For those who love fantasy and adventure.


*****

Acknowledgements

With gratitude for Abigail, Caroline, Rayna, Raphael, and the other characters of the adobeDreams universe who live so vividly in my heart.


*****


Note to Readers

This volume contains material previously published as “adobeDreams: A Novel of Santa Fe” (2010) and “adobeDreams II: The End of Karma” (2012).


Abigail. Caroline. Rayna. Raphael. I hope you come to love these characters as dearly as do I. Indeed, my affection runs so deep that I chose to revise their previously published stories and combine them into one volume.


My primary reason for doing so is that I felt I could do a better job of telling their story and in some sense owed it to the characters. At the time I wrote the original novels I was taking a full load of “post-corporate-job bucket list” classes at a local community college while also taking on Reiki training through Master Teacher. Somehow, I thought I could compartmentalize and juggle all that. Instead it was a continuation of the frenzied multi-tasking of the corporate environment I had just left, and a recipe for mental burnout. Fast-forward some five-to-six years later and it was time to revisit adobeDreams.


I also listened to reader comments and eliminated superfluous elements that did not contribute to the overall narrative. Sometimes an author has so many ideas and so much to say that the plot is diverted into tangential branches that bear no fruit. This is just such a case where a little less is indeed a whole lot more.


Lastly, combining the two novels makes a richer, more complete story.


Some readers were enthralled by what we might call the philosophy of the adobeDreams novels, and for that reason I have added a “Philosophy of adobeDreams” chapter as a compilation of those insights. My hope is that these snippets will in some way prove helpful or at least provide a basis for further thought.


May God bless you, and please enjoy adobeDreams Revisited.


*****


adobeDreams I

The Grotto of Hearts

by Robert Burke


*****

Chapter 1: Burro Alley

“I was waiting for someone to show me the way…”


Abigail Regan stood on a street corner in Santa Fe, New Mexico, waiting for a man. She shielded her eyes from the morning light and studied the reflections in the windows of a small café on the corner of Don Gaspar and Water Street. Trees in full bloom on the opposite corner rendered an almost impressionist scene in the distortions of the glass.

Reflective surfaces held a special fascination for her, and she often imagined the surface of a mirror as a portal to another world. If she looked deeply enough, could she thereby go to the other side? Some day she might see herself staring back from an alternate universe. It happened before, why not again?

Today her mirror image revealed a young woman with a brunette ponytail and large sunglasses. The dark lenses concealed a scar underneath her right eye, hidden from view, but not her awareness. A digital camera with a short-range zoom hung at waist level from a strap around her neck. A sleeveless plum blouse, khaki skirt, and walking sandals completed her attire. Over one shoulder a dyed canvas bag carried a flash, a telephoto zoom, and a smartphone tucked into a side pocket.

“Still me,” she said to the reflection.

She sighed and opened a city map to look one last time for adobeDreams, an exclusive bed and breakfast she knew only through obscure Internet references. Finding the unlisted B&B was crucial to the success of a travel guide she planned to publish in the spring, and she’d contacted a source to lead the way.

“If I were a mystery hotel, where would I be?” she asked.

“You look lost,” a man said.

She turned to the voice. The morning sun obscured her vision for a moment while she made out the silhouette of a man with his back to the light. The glare created a halo around his blond hair, and concealed his face.

“My apologies,” he said, and stepped to the side so that she could look away from the sun.

The man was six feet tall, mid-thirties and lean, with unruly curls behind his ears. He had green eyes with facets that caught the light and shone with an inner glow. He wore a white sports coat over an indigo polo, with pressed jeans and scuffed brown loafers. Abigail judged him to be a professional of some sort, perhaps a lawyer, or a civil servant. He was a little older than someone with whom she’d normally find an attraction, but unlike men her own age, at least this one knew how to shave. As though any of that mattered now. Never again…well, not for a really, really long time, she had decided.

“I am Raphael Mendoza, at your service. Can I help you find something?” he said.

His fair skin, green eyes, and blond hair didn’t seem congruent with a Hispanic surname. It was a little like meeting an Asian person with the last name of “Jones,” but she supposed people came in all shades and colors. Even so, she wondered if he could have been adopted.

He apparently noticed her confusion and explained, “From the Scandinavian Mendozas.”

She laughed. She hadn’t realized she’d been staring. Her cheeks warmed with a pink blush.

“I’m sorry. I kind of went somewhere in my head,” she said.

“You are lost, or looking for something?” he said.

“Yes, yes,” she stammered. Oh this is going well, now I can’t even speak English.

“I’m looking for a B&B that’s not on the map. It’s called adobeDreams. Have you heard of it?”

“Yes, I know of it. It is a little difficult to find. Which way were you going?”

“I was waiting for someone to show me the way, but it looks like I’ve been stood up. I thought I’d go to the Plaza and start from there.”

Raphael looked up and down the street. A few tourists strolled in the distance, but no one approached.

“Actually, it is closer to Burro Alley,” he said. “I am walking that way. May I accompany you, Miss…?”

He raised his eyebrow and cocked his head to reinforce the question.

“Abby! Abigail, actually, but my friends call me Abby.” Of course they call you Abby, you dork, that’s what people call you when your name is, “Abigail.”

She stepped back and scanned the empty street, and then read Raphael’s face. He seemed trustworthy enough, and who could say whether her alleged source would ever show up? A guide in the hand is worth two in the…wait, that doesn’t make sense.

“That’s very kind of you. Are you sure it’s not an inconvenience?”

“It is no problem at all. I am glad to have the company.”

The two walked north on Don Gaspar Avenue in the shade of the buildings. The New Mexico light had been exquisite earlier that morning, but the combination of the intense sun and low humidity had threatened to broil Abigail’s fair skin as she stood in front of the café. The cool shadows were welcome. She retrieved a small water bottle from her bag and sipped.

“Is this your first visit to Santa Fe?” Raphael asked.

“Yes, it is. I’ve wanted to come here for years! I love the adobe architecture and the light.”

“Welcome to the ‘City Different.’ Are you here for the Indian Market?” he replied.

“Yes, but I came a few days early to see the city before the market begins. Do you have any recommendations for places I should visit? Besides adobeDreams, I mean.”

“You are a photographer? Have you visited the galleries along Canyon Road?” he said, as he glanced at her camera and canvas bag.

“Actually, I’m a travel journalist. I try to find the unusual attractions that other guides miss.”

“That explains your interest in adobeDreams. How did you hear of it?” he asked.

“I saw it mentioned in a post somewhere. The writer said it was a special place that changed her life. Do you know anything about it?”

“It as you say, but I suspect if you are ready for something to change your life, that something will find you.”

“’When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,’ or at least, that’s the cliché. Is that what you’re saying?” she asked.

Raphael laughed, and gave her a warm smile. His easy-going confidence put her at ease. She noticed he didn’t wear a ring.

“I like to think that teachers are around us all the time, in many forms. From a certain point of view, everything that happens is simply feedback from the environment. The question is, are the students listening?” he said.

“That’s rather deep,” she said.

“The trick,” he replied, “is that any experience capable of teaching you something new is also by definition a challenging experience.”

He paused for a moment, and then explained further, “If it does not make you uncomfortable, then it is not really anything new.”

Abigail chuckled.

“You’re one of those thinking types, aren’t you?”

He laughed.

“I suppose I am. I plead guilty to too much people watching.”

“And what else has ‘people watching’ taught you?” she asked.

He thought for a moment before responding.

“I see people who want to change their lives, but never leave the comfort zone. They trick themselves into believing they are on a different course, but the truth is, they just keep doing different versions of the same thing, and their lives remain the same.”

“Is that so bad, for most people?”

“It depends on whether you want your epitaph to read, ‘She watched a lot of great television.’”

Abigail snorted and then rushed to cover her mouth. She couldn’t remember ever doing that. Good lord, what is wrong with me?

“No, that wouldn’t be much of an epitaph, would it?” she said, after she regained her composure.

“No, it would not, but I think you walk a different path,” he replied.

His comment seemed a little strange. It could be interpreted as a compliment, but then again, they’d just met. Who was he to judge what path she walked?

“Why do you say that?” she asked, with a slight edge. Don’t try to tell me who I am, dude. I’ve had enough of that.

“Your occupation. I doubt travel journalists spend much time watching television. Or maybe you do, in hotel rooms?” he said.

“No. I’m usually collating notes or uploading images. Not much time for TV.”

At the intersection with San Francisco Street, they strolled west toward Burro Alley and walked in silence. Abigail feigned interest in the display windows of small shops as they passed. Support posts of the building overhang cast slanted shadows on the walls.

“So what do you do, Raphael?” she at last thought to ask.

“I am an arbitrator…for select clients.”

She wondered if his careful phrasing of “select clients” meant “the rich and famous,” but didn’t know if she should press it. She did anyway.

“That sounds mysterious. Can you give me any hints about the people you work with?” she asked.

He smiled.

“No one that you would recognize. I can only say that they are among the best, and the worst, and sometimes even entities at such extremes must find a way to work together.”

“And that’s what you do?”

“Yes, that is what I do,” he said without further elaboration.

They turned into Burro Alley. A statue of a burro with a load of firewood stood at the entrance, and Abigail floated her palm along its jaw. The bronze felt cool to the touch. Reflections from opposite windows cast rectangular-shaped light patterns on the wall behind the statue.

“The burros brought firewood for the cantinas. Hence, the name, ‘Burro Alley,’” Raphael said.

As they approached Palace Avenue, a single blue door appeared along one wall. Abigail paused to admire the play of light across its weathered surface. Chips and cracks in the paint exposed older, faded streaks underneath. She ran her fingertips over the rough texture and raised her sunglasses to obtain a better view. The streaks were actually long scratches in the wood, as though animals had clawed at the door.

“This must be hundreds of years old,” she said.

“The blue represents running water, a barrier that evil spirits may not cross.”

He turned the knob and pushed inwards. The door opened to a long, narrow path between tall adobe walls.

“For purposes of Feng Shui, blue doors also represent abundance,” he said.

Two thoughts immediately occurred to Abigail. One, this is the part of the movie where the handsome stranger shoves you into the trap where his henchmen lie in wait. Two, never accompany a perpetrator to the secondary crime location, because that’s where the sexual assaults and murders occur.

“Never go where the bad guy wants to go,” an instructor in a rape awareness class had said. She advised students to do whatever they had to do to avoid going to a more secluded location.

The class included self-defense training against a male instructor in a heavy protective suit. Abigail thought of her ex, Edgar, as she kneed the mock assailant in the groin, and tore into him with elbows and palm heels.

Edgar outweighed her by almost twice her bodyweight, and he hit her! He hit her! That outrage fueled an interest in martial arts, and she took additional kickboxing classes to learn the proper way to punch and kick.

She scanned Raphael up and down and wondered, why couldn’t I remember all this stuff before I walk away with a complete stranger, someone with whom I’ve hardly had five minutes of conversation? Raphael, I’m keeping my eye on you!

A breeze touched the sweat on her forehead. She wrapped her arms over her breasts and stepped through the doorway, enticed by the coolness and the unknown. Perhaps it wasn’t a smart thing to do, but she felt compelled to move forward.

Brown adobe bricks lined the path between the walls, with narrow drains running along either side. The bricks were uneven in spots with shallow craters where weeds had been pulled from the joints. Abigail couldn’t see the other end of the path, although she knew it could not be more than a block long. She looked over her shoulder at Raphael. He stepped inside the door and closed it.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Only as far as the path takes you.”

Perhaps warning bells should have rung in her head. In a secluded area with a strange man she didn’t know, anything could happen. Yes, he was handsome and seemed safe, but the same could be said for Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer of the 1970’s who used good looks and charm to lure his victims. Yet, somehow Raphael’s presence calmed any apprehension she may have felt, even though she couldn’t say why.

She admired the texture of the adobe, and slid her fingertips across the rough surface as they walked. The walls stood three stories tall, with the sky a blue river between them. Soft light reflected back-and-forth between the walls, and gave the path a glow like warm caramel. The narrow path created a sense of isolation and her frame of reference involuntarily inverted with that of the sky. Vertigo twisted her equilibrium and for a moment she couldn’t tell if she stood on the ground, looking up, or if she peered from some great height at a river far below.

She stepped into a junction with an intersecting path. The air temperature seemed to plummet and gooseflesh rippled up her arms. Darkness extended as far as she could see in both directions. Something shuffled within the blackness. She lifted her sunglasses and strained to see the source of the noise. Large, indistinct shapes seemed to flow within the gloom, or perhaps some trick of her vision suggested movement where there was none.

She glanced over her shoulder at Raphael. He maintained a respectful distance behind, neither too close nor too far.

“We should keep walking,” Raphael said.

Low snarls rumbled from the shadows as Abigail stepped away. Stealthy footsteps approached the intersection. She imagined feral dogs creeping forward to attack. The hair stood up on the back of her neck and she stumbled away, not knowing what to do.

Seemingly without movement, Raphael stood in the intersection and faced the darkness.

“Stop!” he commanded.

A blue flame in his upturned palm illuminated the walls with a brilliant glow, and he stood firmly rooted as a tree. The flame swirled with energy and an unseen force pressed against Abigail’s body. It was bright as an emergency flare, but there did not seem to be any device in his grasp. Her vision tilted, and she stiffened an arm against a wall for support.

The snarls fell silent. Raphael closed his hand and the flame disappeared.

“What are you? A magician?” she asked.

“Keep walking, Abigail. Your way is secure,” he said.

Onward she walked, much further than she believed possible for this short block within the city. Back in the intersection, Raphael maintained his vigil, apparently to safeguard her passage. The air currents turned chill and flowed across her skin as thick as fog. She turned her palms up. Every crease and line flowed with blue light. Even the swirls of her fingertips pulsed with a radiating glow.

Have I been drugged?

Her hands felt electric. She held them palms out and made small circles in the air. Rippling wakes followed her movements like fluorescent fish swimming through heavy liquid. She looked at the dial of her sports watch and saw the second hand frozen at one second past nine. Something is very strange here, but the thought slipped away.

She collapsed to her knees, hands splayed in front, supported by the bricks of the path. Her camera and canvas bag slid in slow motion to the ground. A wave of nausea washed over her and she struggled to hold the contents of her stomach.

A red wasp landed in her field of vision, and groomed a foreleg with its mandible. Abigail focused on the insect in an effort to control the nausea. The wasp first groomed one foreleg, and then the other, without apparent concern for her presence.

As she observed the wasp, a revelation occurred to her. The insect simply behaved according to its nature. Nature does what it does, without doubt, without hesitation, and without deliberation. It can do nothing else. Few humans achieve such a connection to the universe, and perhaps then only in the flow of creativity, or acts of selfless love, or the abandonment of sexual ecstasy. Something inverted in Abigail’s brain, and she struggled to make the distinction between the human looking at the wasp, and the wasp looking at the human.

The edges of her vision collapsed and she woke standing upright, peering at the luminous arc of the Milky Way in the night sky above. A chorus of insect song hummed in the air. She had no recollection of the passage of time or how she arrived at the location.

“My God, that is beautiful,” she said to no one in particular.

Her legs seemed rooted into the earth. A vibration rose through her feet and resonated throughout her body. The stars moved across the sky as in a time-lapse video. The same strange thoughts she experienced with the wasp came back. Am I the human, looking up at the galaxy, or am I the galaxy looking down at the human? Perhaps in this place, there is no distinction between the molecule and the mass.

“We are all the same,” she said.

She inhaled cool air through her nose and expanded her diaphragm to fill her lungs with oxygen. She exhaled through her mouth and lowered her head. Calmed by the deep breath, Abigail assessed her circumstances. She stood in a small clearing, with an adobe archway and wall in front of her. The wall reached over a story high, and stretched into darkness in both directions.

A wood gate with two doors stood closed under the arch. Candles burned in small sconces on either side. A small placard hung below one of the candles. She strained to read it in the dim light: adobeDreams.

A braided pull-string of fibrous plant material hung between the gate and the placard, passing through the wall. It seemed obvious that a pull of the string would ring a bell on the other side. Abigail grabbed the string, hesitated, and then tugged.


*****


Chapter 2: adobeDreams

“You are here, the time is now, and that is sufficient.”


Abigail debated whether to ring the bell again when footsteps approached from the other side of the wall. The gate opened and a young Hispanic woman stood in the doorway. She wore an ankle-length white robe that took on a gossamer glow from lamps in the background. Long black hair fell over her shoulders and her brown eyes sparkled in the night. For a brief moment she looked like an angel.

“Welcome, I am Caroline, and this is adobeDreams,” brown eyes said.

Abigail stumbled forward and forgot to introduce herself. Her legs wobbled and her head felt too heavy to lift. Caroline caught her arm and guided her toward a structure.

“You’ve come a long way to visit us. We’ve looked forward to your arrival for some time,” Caroline said.

None of that made much sense, but Abigail couldn’t formulate a question. Tunnel vision obscured everything but her footsteps as they crossed a bricked path. She thought of the night she drank too much at a neighborhood bar and friends escorted her home amidst giggles and laughter.

The giggles morphed into birdsong. The birds sang of dawn and their hunger for the warmth of the sun, and of air currents stirring through the leaves. Nice birdies.

Abigail woke beneath a down-filled comforter in a large adobe room. Morning light cast a vanilla glow through sheer curtains. Coarse wooden beams crossed the ceiling above. She didn’t want to move. Ever.

She snapped awake and sat up with her brain doing quick math. She was in a strange bed in a strange room and didn’t have any clothes on! She grabbed the comforter with her fists and pulled it over her chest. Wide-eyed, she scanned the room and extended her hearing to detect any sounds. At first there was nothing, but at last the melody of the birds returned.

She lifted the sheets and performed a quick inspection. Her body appeared intact, and her underwear hadn’t been removed, so she retained some dignity regardless of what happened the night before.

A black robe with jagged red and white striping lay across the back of a chair with her clothes folded on the seat. Her camera and canvas bag rested on a small table against a wall, below a silver-framed mirror. She reached for the robe, looked around, and then stepped out of bed to put it on. Square brown tiles on the floor warmed the soles of her feet.

She inspected the contents of the bag. The camera gear and other belongings rested inside exactly as she’d left them. She fished the smartphone out of the side pocket and pressed the Home button. The signal strength indicated, “No service.” The WiFi indicator was blank. She scanned the room and saw no phone, no clock, and no television.

Abigail dropped the phone back in the pocket and looked into the mirror above the table. Why is it when you first see your reflection, it takes a moment to realize that it is you? She studied the dark haired woman in the mirror. Her mother’s blue eyes stared back, but her focus went to the scar beneath her right eye.

Her fingertips traced the scar in the reflection. It was a permanent reminder of bad decisions. Thank God her mother wasn’t still alive to see what a mess she’d made of things. If another Abigail existed in a parallel universe on the other side of the mirror, she hoped she’d made better choices.

A handwritten note was tucked into one corner of the frame. She plucked it out and examined it front and back. It said, “Join me downstairs. ~ C”

She dropped it on top of the dresser.

“’Join me’ who?” she wondered out loud.

She moved aside the curtain to look out. A small table and two chairs sat on a balcony above a magnificent garden. The arch of a circular moon gate rose above beds of multi-colored flowers.

She hugged the belt of the robe, looked left and right to ensure that no one could see, and stepped out. Her room sat on the second story of the building at one end of a long rectangular garden. The long sides of the rectangle had only ground floors. Raised flowerbeds and rectangular skylights sat on top of the lower roofs. The moon gate faced her room and had an outer band of deep fuchsia with an inner ring of light blue. Long strings of V-like characters inscribed the inner circle, but she couldn’t determine whether they were actual letters or some kind of ornate design. Japanese maple trees framed either side of the gate. That is going to be beautiful in the fall, she noted for future reference, as photographers sometimes do.

A path curved through the garden to the gate. The path straightened after it went underneath the gate, and then disappeared into more foliage. Black-eyed Susans and white-petaled coneflowers grew thick underneath the balconies. Bees buzzed from one blossom to the next. Blue flax and yellow-tipped red blanket flowers lined the edge of the path nearest Abigail’s room. Further away she saw pink prairie roses, hummingbird mint, and stands of ornamental grass. The gardens covered as much ground as a public park, and she wondered how this much real estate could be hidden in Santa Fe.

Two balconies lay on either side of Abigail’s room, while additional balconies extended along ground floors on both sides of the rectangle. High vegetation along the far edges of the garden blocked her view of how far those rooms extended.

She stepped back inside and dressed. She stuffed the camera in the bag and slung it over one shoulder, then put on her sunglasses, and checked the mirror one last time.

In the hall she followed a staircase that curved to a lower floor. The stairway opened to a large dining area where small groups of people chatted at tables. Columns separated the area into two sides and supported exposed ceiling beams. The far wall opened to the outside air with a balcony that overlooked the garden.

Morning light suffused the entire room and the aroma of food made her stomach rumble. She hadn’t eaten since the previous morning, or at least, she assumed it’d been the previous morning. Truthfully she couldn’t say whether more than twenty-four hours passed since she met Raphael on the street corner in Santa Fe.

Raphael? She hadn’t seen him since he scared away the dogs in the alley, but what did he do to her? Somehow she’d ingested a hallucinogen and been led here against her will. It was the only thing that made sense, and somebody had some explaining to do.

Hungry or not she intended to walk out and go straight to the police. Maybe she’d find a clinic and get a toxicology test to determine what drugs she’d been given.

The woman who opened the gate sat alone at a table. She smiled and waved Abigail over.

Caroline. That was her name.

Abigail hesitated, then went to the table and sat down. She did not remove her sunglasses, partly to hide the scar, and partly to avoid any indication that she might stay for more than a few moments.

Caroline wore a black, cap sleeve blouse with large red poppies printed diagonally across the front, and black shorts with cargo pockets. As though in a dream, Abigail remembered the warmth of Caroline’s hand on her arm from the previous night.

“Good morning, Abigail. You must be hungry,” Caroline said.

Fresh apples and other fruit sat on the table, with open containers of granola, water, and juice. A waitperson reached over Abigail’s shoulder and sat an empty bowl and spoon in front of her, then disappeared.

“The granola is good, but perhaps you would like a breakfast burrito with salsa verde?”

Abigail looked to either side, then leaned close to Caroline and asked, “Where am I, and how did I get here?”

A subtle smile crossed Caroline’s expression.

“This is adobeDreams, and you walked in through the gate.”

“I know I walked through the gate, but that’s not what I’m asking. How do I get here, to this place, to adobeDreams?”

“You asked for a guide, and one was provided.”

“Raphael? Raphael was my guide? Then why didn’t he just say so?”

“You asked for a guide, and the universe provided one. Rather than question circumstances, perhaps simple gratitude is a more resourceful response.”

A surge of warmth rushed to Abigail’s head.

“Whoa, whoa! Don’t tell me how to respond! I want to speak to the manager, before I decide whether to call the police.”

Caroline stood up, straightened her blouse, and sat back down.

“How may I help you?” she asked.

“You are the manager?” Abigail blurted.

“At your service. Ask me anything you want to know.”

Abigail leaned back in her chair. She wanted to feel annoyed but lost focus every time she made contact with Caroline’s eyes. The irises sparkled in the light like the facets of brown diamonds. A person could get lost in those eyes.

What she really wanted to say in that moment was, “You are so lovely,” but looked away.

She needed to do something to regain control, to get the momentum of the conversation going her way as the aggrieved party. She stared Caroline in the face and for dramatic effect removed the sunglasses to reveal her scar.

“Who drugged me, and why?” she demanded.

Caroline showed no reaction.

“I understand why you might feel that way, but no drugs were involved. The disorientation you experienced occurs as consciousness shifts from one focus to another. The first time tends to be the most dramatic.”

“Cut the crap,” Abigail replied. “What are you trying to sell? Club memberships? Timeshares? Exotic cruises?”

Caroline grasped Abigail’s hand and gazed into her eyes. Abigail had seen similar expressions of sincerity before.

“Oh, god, it’s not insurance, is it?”

Caroline chuckled.

“No, we sell no insurance. The mission of adobeDreams is to provide discovery.”

“Oh really? And how much does that cost?” Abigail asked.

Caroline gave Abigail’s hand a gentle squeeze.

“You didn’t allow me to finish. The mission of adobeDreams is to provide discovery, and that process is unique for each individual. What you came here to discover is the person you see in the mirror. Who is she and why is she here?”

The edges of Abigail’s vision went dim. She gasped to catch her breath. How could Caroline know about her fascination with mirrors? Perhaps it was just coincidence.

“Are you for real?” Abigail asked.

“Look at me,” Caroline answered.

Abigail looked into the other woman’s eyes and saw selfless concern, someone who had only her best interests at heart. No one had looked at her that way in a very long time, not since her mother.

“You are a guest here, and may stay as long as you wish. It’s that simple.”

“Stay as long as I like? How is that supposed to work? Who’s paying the bill?”

“We are beneficiaries of a private trust.”

“Let me guess, the same people Raphael works for?”

“That’s very intuitive. Some of the same entities, yes.”

“What about my luggage at the hotel?”

“It has been handled and will be there when you return.”

“I can’t have my luggage?”

“Everything you need is in your room.”

“Don’t tell me what I need. Is there some reason I can’t have my own stuff?” Abigail demanded.

“You may have your ‘stuff’ anytime you wish. Simply walk out the door and turn left,” Caroline said matter-of-factly.

Abigail expected a “we-can’t-do-that” excuse. Caroline’s response put her off balance. She thought about the journey to get here, with Raphael, the blue door, the strange vertigo, and the red wasp.

“If I leave, I can’t come back, can I?”

“You are here, the time is now, and that is sufficient.”

Brown eyes or not, that declaration pushed Abigail’s patience over the edge. Who the hell are you to tell me what is ‘sufficient’? Bitch!

“Don’t tell me what is ‘sufficient.’ And don’t try to define my experience,” Abigail snapped.

“As you wish,” Caroline said. She then stood up and walked away.

Her abrupt departure threw Abigail off.

“That went well,” she said under her breath.

The fruit on the table mocked her empty bowl. Should she stay or should she go? There was more here than what she’d been told, but it didn’t add up. She eavesdropped on her parents once as a young girl, and she knew from that conversation that when something didn’t make sense, it was time to walk away. Her father’s explanations hadn’t added up, and her mother didn’t listen to her own intuition. That hadn’t work out so well.

Abigail pushed the bowl away.

Then again, she came to Santa Fe to find adobeDreams, and here she sat in the dining room. The mystery was a little bigger than she supposed, but so what? The hotel provided the perfect “hook” to set her travel guide apart from any other. She needed the story and her editor expected her to come back with the full scoop.

What better opportunity for a journalist than one that puts a table full of food right in front of her face? She pulled the bowl back and reached for an apple. Besides, she wanted to see Caroline again. What an annoying person! She had just stood up, walked away, and left Abigail sitting there. Just like that! How rude!

Abigail gritted her teeth. This wasn’t over. She wasn’t done with Caroline, not by a long shot.


*****


Chapter 3: The Grotto of Hearts

“Why shouldn’t the Earth be the best possible place it can be?”


After breakfast Abigail decided to explore the hacienda. She’d only walked a short distance when a young woman with short, cropped blond hair approached from the opposite direction. The woman wore a black spaghetti strap top that hung loosely over black athletic pants and dark grey running shoes without socks.

Even from a distance she looked tall, six feet or more, with muscular arms, a flat stomach, and no hips. Abigail surveyed her build and took her for a volleyball player, German perhaps, or maybe Norwegian. Her athletic pants had a small red hummingbird embroidered above the pocket.

“Excuse me, are you a staff member?” Abigail asked.

“Yes. I am Rayna. You are…?” she said as she extended her hand.

“Abigail Regan,” she replied as they shook hands.

Rayna carried herself with a toughness of character that matched the hardness of her grip. She sounded Israeli and Abigail speculated that she’d served in the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces.

“Good morning,” a familiar voice spoke before Abigail could continue the conversation. Raphael walked towards them wearing a purple short-sleeve shirt tucked into light-colored trousers. Thick veins covered the muscles of his forearms, which appeared strangely hairless.

“So, it’s the arbiter,” Abigail said. “What’s going on here?”

“The answer to that question is best experienced, rather than explained, but we shall do both. Would you come with me, please?”

He walked away as though he expected the women to follow. Well, I guess the one with the penis is in charge. Imagine that!

Raphael glanced back over his shoulder and smiled. His pace slowed when he turned his head, and Abigail saw the details of his shirt. What she presumed to be random patterns were actually V-shaped symbols, only a shade lighter than the eggplant fabric itself. Abigail thought they might be the same characters she’d seen on the moon gate.

They walked toward the front of the hacienda, and then veered off down a flight of stairs between walls of rough-cut stone. The steps curved in a spiral as they went down into the earth. Strip lighting at knee height along both sides of the walls created two long ribbons of light that illuminated the path and curved out of sight.

“You have questions, and I will explain as best I can. I told you that I am an arbitrator, and that is the truth. I arbitrate agreements,” Raphael said as they walked.

That’s what arbitrators usually do, Abigail thought; now tell me something I don’t know!

“What you may not expect,” he continued, looking back at her, “is that agreements take many forms. There are agreements among events, and there are agreements among paths we take through life. Your arrival at adobeDreams is just such an agreement. You wanted to come, and the hacienda stood ready to welcome you.”

The circular path troubled her equilibrium, and so did Raphael’s words. Abigail steadied herself with one arm against the wall as they descended.

“What do you mean, the hacienda ‘stood ready’?” she asked.

“Have you ever noticed how things sometimes seem to happen by themselves? And other times, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make things happen?”

“Sure, everybody gets that.”

“Have you ever wondered why?”

Abigail’s brow furrowed for a moment.

“I suppose it’s because the universe just likes to screw with us,” she said.

Rayna chuckled.

“It’s a matter of alignment of the circumstances. Suppose you want to win the lottery. Do you believe this is possible?” Raphael asked.

“It’s…possible, but you probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning.”

“You can win the lottery. Would you like to know how?”

Abigail’s heart accelerated. Yeah, I’d like to know how to win a ton of money.

“Buy your ticket and wait for your numbers to come up, it’s as simple as that. It might take years, decades, or even lifetimes, but eventually your numbers will agree with those in a random drawing.”

Abigail stopped on the stairs. How is that helpful? Are you stupid?

“The thing is, the you that wants to win the lottery is infinitely less powerful than the You that creates the laws of probability.”

“So it’s as hopeless as it seems,” Abigail said with a shrug.

“It’s not a matter of hope, it’s a matter of alignment. If you had not come to Santa Fe, or if the hacienda had not been available, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite know what you’re getting at,” Abigail said. And it’s beginning to piss me off. Is this all still a sales pitch?

“What I’m saying is, this is an extraordinarily fortuitous time,” he said as he resumed his descent.

How many floors they walked down, she didn’t know, perhaps six or more. Near the bottom she saw that Caroline, with eyes that sparkled like brown diamonds, waited at the landing. Abigail smiled and her heart beat a little faster.

What was happening here? She’d felt passing attractions to other women before, but always interpreted it as admiration for the way they carried themselves, their accomplishments, or their choice of wardrobe for the day. And yes, there was that girl in high school, and that kiss as her mother walked into the room. Ugh.

This was different. Abigail felt drawn to Caroline like opposite poles of a magnet.

They all stood together at the bottom of the stairs, with Rayna next to Caroline. Abigail wished Rayna were somewhere else for fear that Caroline might like her more. Then she realized they hadn’t bothered to introduce themselves, which meant they already knew each other. Of course, they did—Caroline said she was manager of the hacienda, and Rayna was an employee of some sort.

Abigail reprimanded herself for the jealousy. This is silly. Get a grip. What’s the matter with you?

The stairway opened into a massive domed chamber. Pinkish stone slabs rose in arched columns to the top of the dome; others fit together in long diamond shapes or triangles with broad bases. The top of the dome had four dark concentric bands suspended from the ceiling, with a massive seven-pointed star hanging beneath. Each arm of the star had a silver gash pointing from its base to the center of the star. Seven heart-shaped planters hung from the walls of the dome with flowering plants. Each plant bore red bell-shaped flowers.

Finely crushed stone covered the floor of the dome, compacted and smooth as concrete. A light grey outline crossed the floor in a complex pattern of interconnecting lines and whirlpools. The diameter of the floor exceeded twice the dome’s height, too far across to see the entire pattern from ground level. No detectable source illuminated the space, yet everything received even light. The chamber appeared to be thousands of years old.

“Whoa,” Abigail said, as her jaw dropped. Rayna mumbled something in Hebrew that seemed to express the same sentiment.

“What is this place?” Abigail asked.

“This…is the Grotto of Hearts,” Raphael said.

He led the group to the center of the floor. The height of the dome left Abigail wide-eyed, and she marveled at the precise fitting of the stone joints. Looking up at the heart-shaped planters, Abigail understood how the chamber got its name.

“This place is insane. How can you keep something like this a secret?” Abigail asked.

“The Grotto is a portal. A portal that takes you where you need to go, to see what you need to see,” Raphael explained.

Abigail started to ask another question and Raphael held up his hand to urge patience.

“Now is the time when experience provides what words cannot,” he said. Something shifted the moment Raphael finished his sentence. A wave traveled through the air and spun through the chamber like a whirlwind, but stirred no dust. Abigail and Rayna wobbled on their feet, but Caroline held steady.

“I’ll take your things,” Raphael said, as he reached for Abigail’s camera bag.

She gave him the bag.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“Something marvelous,” Caroline answered as she stepped between Abigail and Rayna. The three of them locked hands and looked up. Abigail felt reassured to once again feel Caroline’s grasp. Have two human hands ever fit together so perfectly? She wanted to apologize for being aggressive at the breakfast table, but now was not the time.

“I have one question for you, and one question only,” Raphael said, as he looked at each of them in turn.

“This is the beginning of all else that will follow. Why shouldn’t the Earth be the best possible place it can be?”

He didn’t expect an answer. Abigail repeated his words to herself: Why shouldn’t the Earth be the best possible place it can be?

“Focus on the center of the star,” Caroline said.

Abigail concentrated on the seven-pointed star at the top of the chamber. The star pulsed and seemed to pull her closer. An unseen force tugged her body upwards. Vertigo swept over her and she struggled to hold onto her breakfast. She scrunched her eyes closed to regain composure.

When she re-opened her eyes, the three of them stood in a pocket of stillness. The dizziness faded. Abigail realized that she now looked down at the center of the star, instead of up, as though gravity had somehow reversed itself. The three held hands in a circle as their feet hovered above the surface of the star. The floor of the Grotto lay far below their heads. Raphael watched for a moment, and then walked up the spiral stairs, out of sight.

“Holy shit,” Abigail exclaimed.

“Don’t be afraid,” Caroline said as she squeezed Abigail’s hand.

Abigail looked up, sideways, and down. Her legs trembled as she struggled to calm her fear.

“Look, ma, no hands!” she quipped. No ropes or safety nets, either!

The glowing spokes of the star grew bright and surrounded them with a wall of light. The surface of the star seemed to move. Blue streaks of light filled the micro fissures within the stone, became liquid and traveled in rivulets across the surface like mercury. The rivulets joined together in small puddles of blue light and grew larger. The granular surface of the stone oscillated in vibratory patterns that formed interconnected whirlpools of energy. The surface rippled with vortices of energy.

The stone vaults shook with a rumble of thunder. Two of the triangular shapes in the roof opened. A flash fell through each of these openings, one light, and one dark. The flashes were shaped like men, with luminous wings lifted above their heads and folded back. She followed the shapes as they accelerated toward the floor of the dome. They impacted the floor with booms of thunder that echoed off the walls. She expected the floor to crack and burst into fragments, but it did not. A figure stood calmly at each impact point, arms raised in the air. They lowered their arms and the illusion of wings went away.

Angels! The darker of the two looked at her in that moment, and Abigail sensed a smile. The figures walked toward the sides of the dome beyond her field of vision. From this vantage point she saw that the designs on the floor of the dome appeared to form a huge mandala, although the protective wall of light obscured the outer edges.

Abigail looked down. Her body sank toward the vibrating blue liquid. The pool embraced her as her feet slipped below the surface. The liquid felt warm and comforting as a tub of bath water. She looked at Caroline.

“Don’t be afraid,” Caroline said.

Their legs sank into the warm blue pool. The liquid rose up their lower legs and knees. As it rose to Abigail’s thighs the feeling became almost sexual; a warm caress that involuntarily caused her to spasm. The liquid connected the women in an embrace that their clenched hands could not. They were lovers. They were sisters. They were children cuddled together in the same mother, waiting to be born. The pool rose above their waists and enveloped their clenched hands. It rose to their chests and kept rising. They would sink below the surface at any moment!

Caroline looked at Abigail and whispered, “It’s okay.”

Abigail wondered how “okay” was defined on her planet. In what way could upside-down submersion in a blue pool of liquid at the top of a dome equal “okay”? Abigail caught a slight smile on Caroline’s face a fraction of a second before the pool rose above Caroline’s mouth. The liquid hadn’t yet reached Rayna’s chin, another advantage of her height.

Once more she heard Raphael’s voice, “Why shouldn’t the Earth be the best possible place it can be?”

And then she went under.


*****


Chapter 4: Earth Paradise

“How many clawed the earth to survive, so that we might be?”


A large blue globe blinded Abigail with its intensity. Shapes of blue, white, brown, and green coalesced as her vision adjusted to the light. The shapes of Africa and the Middle East, the cradle of humanity, became recognizable. Earth. Earth as it is seen from space. Oh, momma, we are so very, very far away from home!

The moon appeared much smaller and distant than Abigail expected. She sensed Caroline and Rayna, but saw only the blackness of space. The women existed as bundles of consciousness in the dark, connected by a nebulous sense of presence in the void.

If she had physical eyes in the moment, Abigail would have wept for the beauty of the Earth. She understood what astronauts meant about observing our planet from space. How beautiful and how fragile it appeared in the darkness!

From the bleakness of space Earth emerged as humanity’s bright, shiny paradise in the void, the only known planet capable of nurturing human life. There was nowhere else to go and no other place for human beings to reside. Earth was it, and it was the only “it” there was, or that there may ever be. Earth was a treasure, a gift from God beyond comprehension.

God? Abigail did not think of herself as religious. She took a critical look at religions during her college years, and saw institutions designed to perpetuate patriarchal domination through guilt, condemnation, and a belief in magic. Even if intellectually she did not believe those criticisms to be true, she dismissed the idea of any man telling her what to believe. The question she asked herself was, “Who died and made men the masters of the Earth?” Because you know what? That isn’t working out so well for the rest of us!

Looking at the beautiful blue Earth, she realized that the real magic was that life, and intelligent life, exists on the planet. You want miracles? We, the children of the Earth, are the true miracles.

She focused on Africa, and felt drawn to an area along the eastern edge where the continent forms a massive peninsula jutting up into the Arabian Sea, the Horn of Africa. She had no stomach with which to experiences queasiness, but familiar feelings of nausea and vertigo rose within her. She had not planned on an African vacation, but sensed that she was about to get one, ready or not.

Abigail suddenly stood on the ground amidst knee-high grass. The sun beat down on her head and shoulders with her shadow directly beneath. Nothing moved in the heat but the smell of the baked earth, not even insects. She looked down and saw a body covered with coarse hair. She screamed and heard a bestial bark. Panicked, she jumped from the sound and tried to brush the hair off her skin. She flailed her arms trying to push the beast away and pounded her feet until dust rose above her shins. She shook and gasped, then hugged herself in an attempt to restore calm.

“Oh, my God! What’s happened to me?” she screamed, but heard only guttural huffs.

She examined her face with both hands and felt fine hair over its surface. Her eyes receded under heavy brows with wide cheekbones and a small chin. In a flash she understood what she had become. If it hadn’t meant eating dust, she would have fallen to the ground. Instead she held her knees and grasped the tattered remnants of her sanity. I am Abigail the Australopithecus, ape girl of the savannah!

Dark lumps moved in the shade of nearby trees. Underneath the limbs, a group of early hominids escaped the mid-day sun. She walked to them through walls of heat. They looked on with some apparent curiosity, but otherwise did not react to her approach. This is my troop.

Perhaps they wondered why she ventured out into the broiling sun. Abigail squatted and peed. There, now you know all about it!

She instinctively looked for toilet paper, but just as quickly realized that there was none. Okay, air dry it is.

She sat down in the shade, her body supported by one arm. The troop numbered less than a dozen animals with three males, six females, and two babies. The babies had large eyes and fat cheeks with tiny fingers that grasped the fur of their mothers. A baby suckled at the breast of a female, while the largest male looked over the assembly with apparent indifference. That’s the alpha, she assumed.

Abigail was a young female in the group, not yet of childbearing age. She sensed Caroline and Rayna, but didn’t know if they shared her experience, or lived their own.

The males were half-again larger than the females. Somehow she knew that one of the subordinate males—an apparent lieutenant--had tried to mate with her, but the older, alpha male chased him away. Afterwards the alpha sniffed her private parts and then shuffled off, but she knew he would someday have her. All the females belonged to the alpha.

Perhaps big alpha was the long, lost ancestor of her father? Except, Abigail’s father never used her for sex. He tried to pork everything else that moved, but he hardly ever touched her, for any reason. She suddenly envisioned a big rock in big alpha’s future, when he least expected it.

The troop dozed in the shade all afternoon. One of the females approached and groomed Abigail’s fur in the manner of chimpanzees. She plucked debris from Abigail’s coat and ate the insects.

“Thank you, Rayna,” Abigail wanted to say, hoping that Caroline was one of the other, prettier females, if “pretty” is a word that could be used for ape-girls of the savannah!

Abigail sat up and groomed the female’s coat. The other female smelled familiar, and Abigail wondered if she could be a sibling. The grooming activity eased her nerves, and Abigail felt a primal connection to the troop. We’re all that we have.

In the late afternoon, lightning popped across clouds on the horizon. The alpha male rose to his feet and grunted, followed by the other males. They barked at the rest of the troop and everyone assembled. They needed water, food, and shelter before nightfall. The big male and his lieutenants led the way, each carrying a stick with a crude point. Some of the females placed sharp-edged pieces of stone and other small objects into folded pieces of animal hide. The first purses! Just wait until they cost three thousand dollars!

The troop followed animal trails through the savannah until at last they descended into a wide gulch. A thicket of trees marked an area where dense vegetation suggested they might find water. The males moved into the thicket, looked and sniffed, took a few more steps, and then looked and sniffed again.

The troop followed the males. They picked berries from the bushes and ate leaves from select plants. Light shone through gaps in the trees and illuminated the blossoms of fragrant flowers. The females snatched insects that crawled through the brush, tore off the legs and wings, and dispatched them down the gullet. Yummy!

The alleged male lieutenant squatted and defecated on the ground, passing very loose stool. Now, that’s not sanitary, Abigail thought, as she avoided the spot.

The troop moved on through the thicket, and paused ever so often to eat, sniff the air, and listen for anything untoward. They scooped water from an ankle-deep stream. The current created small cascades that flowed over smooth stones.

The gulch deepened to a canyon, and the troop broke free of the thicket to bed down for the night. The walls narrowed further down, but the slope of this location, though steep, would allow escape if the need arose. The males located an overhang of sedimentary rock a short distance from the stream, with bushes on either side that provided some amount of wind protection. The males cleared the area of small stones, and the females snapped off branches and swept away smaller debris.

The troop huddled close under the overhang and watched the sunset. The distant storm moved away. The stars popped into view a few at a time and she wondered if her companions had any appreciation for the lights in the sky. Millions of years separated these early hominids from an accurate comprehension of what those lights were, how they formed, and how many of them there really were. How could you explain the concept of “billions upon billions” to someone who cannot count their toes?

Then she realized these creatures felt the Earth and the cosmos in their bones, in the very core of their being. Regardless of whether all of them added together couldn’t form a complex thought in their brains, they belonged to the universe as much as any homo sapiens that would ever evolve from them. Eat, screw, poop; it was life at its most elemental and direct.

These hominids were more alive than anyone she ever met. No higher brain functions generated an endless stream of drivel to separate them from their experience with the environment. They lived in the moment, every moment, and lived with power and grace beyond anything she’d ever known. At least when their time passed on this Earth, they would leave behind only bones, not plastic water bottles and foam packaging. Abigail’s modern technological arrogance skittered away in shame, and she wept silently for what human beings lost so very long ago.

Warmed by collective body heat, the troop slept soundly until a strong wind blasted through the area. In a dream Abigail saw the face of a dark-haired human who frightened her. He had the look of a predatory bird that wanted to eat her flesh.

She woke staring up into the Milky Way as the dream faded into the night sky. She tried to identify the few constellations she knew, but saw nothing familiar. She supposed the position of the stars appeared differently millions of years ago.

The wind died down and she became aware that the entire troop was awake and alert. She heard soft steps on rock, little more than a whisper of noise. The steps stopped on the ledge above, accompanied by faint breathing. Something big lurked up there. Something with claws, and teeth, and hunger for meat. Abigail wanted to run but knew it was pointless. She wondered if the morning headlines would read, “Night Monster Massacres Proto-Humans – Ten Dead.” Where is a flamethrower when you absolutely, positively, MUST have one?

The troop listened to the breathing for a long while. It began to sprinkle. Big raindrops struck the earth. Thunder boomed somewhere above the rim of the cliff. The creature took off with a violent scattering of rocks. Stones showered down from above and the group cowered in fear of an attack, but afterwards heard only the sound of approaching rain. The troop huddled together in silence and did not move, though some continued to tremble with fright.

Snapping noises came from further up the gulch, and gathered into a continuous rumble. Unlike thunder the rumble did not dissipate but continued to grow in volume. Stone struck stone and tumbled together to hit more stone. Cracks boomed and echoed off the cliffs.

Flash flood, Abigail realized. No flamethrower could stop the monster that was about to attack! She stood up, undecided which way to run. The lieutenant who had tried to mate with her barked a command. She looked at the alpha and he crouched poised for action, though apparently also uncertain about what to do.

“So hard to think with so little to work with,” she wanted to tell him.


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