There is no earthly explanation for what happened to me one terrible night last spring except that I was deeply depressed, seriously thinking of killing myself because I wasn't a celebrity (or at least rich, successful and sought-after) and had started having a real problem with alcohol.
A day or two earlier I had received, by snail mail, a hand-engraved invitation to something the card referred to as A Voyage of Discovery--whatever that meant.
I was in the newsroom (I'm a reporter in her mid-to-late forties; the exact date won't pass my lips in this cruelly ageist society. Also, my name happens to be Dorsey Corn and I don't like hearing jokes about it) doing my routine daily work when the invitation was tossed on my desk along with the rest of the morning mail, which I customarily read with a latte and a sticky bun or two. Little did I know this would be my last morning of relative peace and sanity!
I turned the square of cream-colored pasteboard over. Sure enough there was a Hallmark logo so it couldn't possibly be a hoax. I immediately showed the card to my editor, we call her Susan Lucci, a still glamorous aging movie star I'd been having some trouble with lately (nothing to do with business I assure you) --Susan said it looked like a breakthrough opportunity, adding "Go follow up on it, Dorsey! File a story by this week's deadline and you'll get a nice raise." (Maybe the bitch just wanted to get me out of town but that didn't occur to me at the time. I was too blown away by the invitation which to me was many times more impressive than being asked to dine at the White House and meet the celebrities there, and I'll tell you why in a moment.)
Excited? Wow! There'd be no sleep for me that night. According to the small print, I was on my way to interview none other than Athena the Goddess of Wisdom; I could hardly believe it. What an opportunity! Once in a lifetime? More than that--once in a million lifetimes-- Forthwith, I began packing. The invitation said "Bring no baggage. Nothing at all" but of course that wasn't possible; I right away began filling a backpack with thermal underwear, my travel alarm, a parka, sweaters, the Bible, my roach clip, a change of shirt, camcorder, passport, journal, nail polish and so on--the bare essentials.
Following instructions I took a cab to Paine Field late at night--a cold, beautiful night in early March. I paid the cabbie, watched the taillights disappear in dark shadows--
Then something unexpected happened.
I was all alone; even the cafe (which is nothing spectacular at that small airport) was closed. I saw plenty of tethered Cessnas and Piper Cubs, etc., but no people at all; maybe it was too late for them.
On the runway was a private jet ready for takeoff, otherwise there was no welcoming committee, nobody at all. The minute I boarded the aircraft the steps folded up, whoosh! and we taxied out--the pilot, if any, appeared to be locked in the cabin. I knocked repeatedly but there was no answer, only a note pinned to a seat-back. The note read, "Without trust you won't make it." "Okay," I said to nobody in particular and took a window seat (it was a six seater but I was the only one aboard, a totally weird sensation) and pretty soon the plane took off.
The city fell away. My fears rose--we were flying across miles of black water, then westward over a broad expanse of desert sand--where the hell was I going? And more important, would I ever get back? But it was too late to start worrying about details like that. "Don't panic" I told myself, and fell asleep under an army blanket with a Greek logo on it (I found the blanket along with several Greek magazines and a can of warm Diet Pepsi in the overhead compartment).
It was probably eight hours later that we landed. Not at a real airport; we set down in what appeared to be a rice paddy with a falling-apart hangar, no food or drink anywhere (by now I was starving) and again, not a soul in sight.
A note pinned to a fencepost informed me that the rest of the trip would be made by muleback; Athena and I would meet in a bamboo hut on a mountaintop "Twenty gazroans from the bue Indian Ocean," said the note. Attached was a rough map informing me that I must turn the map in when I reached the hut and would be sworn to secrecy as to its exact location. If I didn't feel comfortable with any of this I should immediately go back the way I came "And be damned to you," the note added in an illiterate scrawl (there were also dirty fingerprints on it).
"What is this f*#& sh# *?" I blistered the air, mad as hell; I'd had nothing to eat or drink for hours (except for one warm Pepsi) and was furious at such shabby treatment of a member of the American Press Corps, but what the f*#?& could I do? There was a mule tethered by the fence--I threw rocks at that stupid Lear jet for a while, made a dent or two and broke a window but nothing else happened so I untied the mule, mounted (more than a little scared; I'd never ridden a mule before) and let the animal pick his way up there (wherever "there" might be)--me enjoying a startling view full of sunshine on snowy peaks that were absolutely dazzling (not to say blinding)--and of steep, spectacular chasms where a single misstep would mean instant death for myself and the mule.
"I hope you're sure-footed," I told the animal, trying to keep from shivering and losing it (as they say)--but after we'd traveled about an hour I had to tether the mule a few hundred feet below the place where the bamboo hut was supposed to be, according to the map. From there on, the terrain was far too steep and treacherous for a pack animal; I had to claw my way up to the very top of a rocky precipice. But at least the cliff had small trees growing out of it, for handholds. I wasn't used to this kind of ill-treatment; what terrified me most was the thousand-foot dropoff on every side. But I finally (God knows how!) made it. I arrived panting and bleeding from a painful fall (at first thought my wrist was broken but it turned out to be only badly sprained), had lost my backpack and most of the equipment I'd brought including my cell phone, was scratched from head to foot by brambles, exhausted, in no shape to interview a Goddess or anyone else and all I knew for sure was that somebody was going to have a big fat lawsuit on their hands as soon as I got back to the U.S. of A.!!
I should have said "If" but wasn't that smart. Not yet. And then to top everything--
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the goddam bamboo hut was empty! Damp, moldy, obviously nobody had used it for years, and yet--that figured, didn't it? Isn't this the kind of torture that the so-called "gods" have always inflicted on us poor dumb mortals? Exactly. You bet. I was angry, scared, tired beyond anything I'd ever before experienced. And then--
Behind the hut I found a series of steps leading to an open space surrounded by crumbling columns that were holding up a roof of some kind. I walked deep into the interior of this shaded structure, whatever it was--my eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness--
To be honest, at this point I was crying bitterly (but silently) and was utterly terrified. "I don't care any more," I wept--the tumble down the cliff had taken it out of me. Why had I come on this stupid mission in the first place? All I wanted was to be safely back home again! My wrist throbbed, I was trying to palpate it to see if a bone was broken when lightning suddenly flashed all around. Gray clouds came rolling in--the lightning picked out a shape at the end of this godforsaken temple or whatever the hell it was--
What I saw was fuzzy and indistinct at first.
I just stood there, staring blankly. Eyes trying to adjust to--what? And then rising out of the gloom was an enormously tall, robed figure. And a voice that broke the stillness.
"Come nearer," the voice said.
It was a loud, deep, rather pleasant voice and it came so suddenly (as if out of the blue) that I remember uttering a nervous little laugh (like an idiot). Next I cleared my throat to say: "Before we do anything else, ma'am, I'm a reporter and I'll need to establish your identity before asking a few questions, all right? I'll make this quick--"
"I'll make this quick," the voice echoed my words. The speaker was a woman, probably Athena herself (of course, who else?) and she was (as I said), many times bigger than life-sized, dressed in flowing white robes, saying: "First I'll need to ask a few questions. Are you aware that you stole my church--the temple of Athena on the Acropolis at Athens put there by Pericles himelf? Has your precious government explained that you just walked in and ripped off my temple as your people so often do while trumpeting their 'niceness' and 'humanity' and simpering 'Oh, I'm so, SO sorry' and 'Can't we all just get along' and other hypocritical cant? So tell me, what is your opinion, Dorsey Corn? Do your beloved laws cover a theft of this magnitude and if so, should not you little locusts receive the death penalty for it?"
"What?" I'd started to say "What are you talking about?" but that sounded rude and I didn't quite have the nerve to finish it. Not under these circumstances.
"Don't play innocent, you criminal," she said coolly.
I watched those marvelous lips as the words tumbled out--I don't have to say that the goddess Athena claimed my full attention (or what was left of it).
"Examine the facts," she said. "Your people spend a lot of time bragging, ''We are a nation of laws.' Let me ask a question you probably never considered before. Can you imagine how such a vain, lying, wretchedly ignorant boast might sound to the ears of an Olympian?"
"Look, lady, I'm tired. I've come a long way, I have injuries, can't we call an aid car or something? Please? You don't have to worry, my paper will pay for any out-of-pocket money or monies you may incur --"
She held up a hand and just plowed ahead with her own agenda, saying, "It makes you sound like the worst hypocrites ever born. Mark well: in a god's view, your much-touted law is unfair. Unfair laws stink in my nostrils, and a whole nation of them is nothing less than a stinkpot."
"Hey! Hold on there. You can't just--""
"Secondly, you think the word 'human' means kind, good, considerate, etcetera. False! It really means a barbarian. A cruel, stupid savage. Third, your religions including social psychology are nothing but myths to keep you from exploring your own mind--please keep quiet, fool; your turn will come!" she thundered.
"Fourth: you brazenly stole my temple, the Parthenon, and rebuilt it stone for stone in your absurd little country--minus my great ivory-and-gold likeness that the Parthenon itself was built for the sole purpose of housing and then you scavengers, you bottom-feeders, went ahead and renamed it ''The Supreme Court Building,' thinking nobody would notice and having full confidence that such outright thievery wouldn't bring you the foulest of luck."
"Now wait just a damned minute. In the first place, that's a lie!"
She ignored my protest and said, "Why do you people steal? Because you have no great art of your own, no talent except as mechanics, grease-monkeys in the service of computers and piddling space flights (a Mars shot is like a flea jumping from one hair to another on a mule). You call yourselves 'free,' you are no more 'free' than a poor sad little chained-up monkey. The things you do best are brag, and steal. But in this case, unfortunately you don't know what you're messing with."
"Are you threatening me? You can't say these things!" I was crying, angry, in pain and shock. My wrist throbbed and I hated this cruel bitch who didn't put bodily wellbeing above all else in life!
"Where is your vaunted freedom of speech?" she said softly, looking seriously at me. "Even the words are a joke. Every one of you knows that your government is a mere tool of corporate profiteers and that your acts of vengeance--your foolish wars--are all stupid and suicidal no matter how many flags you wave or monuments you build--"
Athena is gorgeous, that goes without saying. Oh, those flashing eyes of hers---the proud curl of her lips! But never at any point did I let this magnificent goddess see how impressed I was.
"I get it, Athena (if that's really who you are); you're bitter! " I yelled. "You're bitter and angry because you think we stole your precious temple, just went ahead and ripped it off, copied it totally and gave you no credit at all, is that the problem?"
"Not angry. Never angry with a poor barbarian. You haven't seen my anger yet--I am only very, very sorry for you. You don't remember who you are, my poor friend. I pity you and your people. You are not bad people, only victims."
"Don't remember who we are, that doesn't make sense--so who are we if you're so smart?"
"You've forgotten that you're a race of Great Ones conquered long ago, degraded, scattered around the planets and driven insane. Turned into what I see now: whores looking for paying customers. That's incredible, a terrible tragedy, a working definition of 'hell' and you'll deny it with your dying breath--but truth impinges and somewhere deep you know you are not a body but a spiritual being with hidden abilities beyond your wildest dreams."
"O.K., whatever you say," I held my ground. "Go on. What hidden abilities are we talking about?"
"The potential you have is mind-boggling, yet all of your cultures are designed to minimize you, to make you feel weak, small, bad, wrong, and that you must punish and be punished. You are in a deadly trap. I can help you get out of it. But you must be willing and must understand."
"Willing to do what, understand what? I've come from a great distance at your invitation! I'm tired, hungry, injured, depressed, shivering, my skin is icy cold and I'm probably in shock--" Nothing I said impressed Athena in the least. She went on:
"You are a race of sleepwalkers who've lived thousands of lives with the terrible amnesia of the body-worshipper, but I have news for you! Ghost=soul=spirit=you. Discorporate beings whose gods come and go with the fashion of the day, because you worship a material universe and since time immemorial you've denied it but now-- "
"Yeah? Now? And your point is?"
"The point is simple. I'm offering you my help. I've taken pity on you, but if you want my help I'll need a groundswell of you--millions not just asking but DEMANDING to be set free, to be given a technology a hundred thousand years ahead of where you are now."
"I'm sure we'd accept that," I said (making a feeble attempt to be nice and end this conversation pleasantly so I could get the hell out of this place, alive!)
"Then try to see into the distance. Most humans are in a tumult of despair; no matter how many conceited speeches they make, humanity's face is always wet with tears. But mark this. You must agree to be helped before I will agree to come back and help you."
I was swaying on my feet. "I'm sorry," I moaned. "Whatever we've done to you, Athena, I'm just so, so sorry!" My eyes kept closing (did she care? Not at all!) But still-- Her immensity, her beauty, her sheer presence--
"I'm apologizing! I'm sorry, so, so sorry! There, I apologized! I said I was sorry--so why can't you be nice? Can't we all just get along?" I babbled these platitudes and many more until she gave me a goblet of wine which I drained at a gulp.
I then thanked her earnestly--not sure she was still there. It was even worse getting home--how I made it down that cliff I hardly know, then a bus took me to the airport--after five hours on winding roads and no free ticket home--and when I finally arrived in America and was getting my wounds attended to in the emergency room, I discovered that everything was gone. Of course I'd taped the interview with Athena but the tape along with everything else, was gone; later that night, looking over what I had managed to salvage I found there was nothing left but a grainy photo of the Parthenon. Her "temple" as she called it, stolen by us light-fingered Americans. Here it is, for what it's worth. And yes, it's where we got the model for the Supreme Court Building but does that make us a gang of rotten, lying, talentless thieves? Of course it doesn't!
In any case, this is my story. I'm filing it quickly, mistakes and all--in hopes of getting that raise Susan Lucci promised me. There are probably larger issues in what Athena said that escape me, but I'm only human; I'd rather be dumb and comfortable than have to deal with that crazy stuff she said--most of which I must admit went right over my head.
Yes--I'll file this story but they'll never print it. As we all know, nothing unflattering to humans ever gets printed. And as for me--I'm more interested in resolving my own self-image issues. I mean, isn't a positive self-image what is really important to a person?
Read Chapter 1
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Passing for Human
Read Chapter 1
Malzberg Review of Passing for Human
Censorship in Our Time?
I See Dead People
The Elements of Disaster
Dog Park Incident
Florence of Arabia
PEOPLE SHOULD NOT SAY "YIPPEE"
The Silence of the Hacks
A Nutshell in India
Sleep Tight, Ya Morons!
When This War is Over
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