The Return of the King
“The reconstruction of life, the rebuilding of the world: one and the same desire.”-Raoul Vaneigem
“When’s the Lesbian Grrlz Brigade showing up?” Ike asked as he gulped elixir and the Chinese takeout he’d picked up when he left the office. The Sunday New York Times lay untouched beside him on the couch and the television was dark, though Ike was curious how the Jets-Seahawks game was going. If it weren’t for the newspaper beside him, he might not have any idea what day of the week it was anymore.
Fred frowned slightly. “Around 8:00, I believe. Esmeralda will be here earlier to set up. I invited Constantia as well.”
“Really?” Ike said, glancing sharply at his phone—nothing—and then to Fred, who was pacing. He had nothing to say against Esmeralda, he had grown to like her, but Fred was on a tear about testing the boundaries of belief and that apparently now meant backyard spellcasting. “They’re seriously going to try to call the mothership?”
“Esmeralda believes that the Amunians may be attracted to the energy, to the pleasure and companionship.” He shook his head in raw admiration. “Wait till you see it, Ike. It’s the most beautiful thing.”
Esmeralda knocked about ten minutes later, wearing a sweeping black gown with tight sleeves and a collar buttoned up to her chin.
“You’re going to freeze out there in that,” Fred said, as he accepted Esmeralda’s hug, her body soft in all the right places against his.
She lifted her skirt to reveal red long johns tucked into high-laced boots. “These will keep me warm.” Esmeralda cast a grin at Ike who seemed to be admiring her taste in boots.
Over the next hour, the women who made up Esmeralda’s Cunning Womyn coven made their way to Casa Hector. Some were happy to come in from the cold, though a few went immediately out back to join Esmeralda. Only one accepted the proffered beverage, and she chose a shot of whisky from the party leftovers. A number of the women were gray-haired, lines creasing their faces from age, sun, consternation and merriment in equal parts. Fred found he was quite comfortable among them, talking politics with a woman called CiCi, who was even more radical than he was. Ike hid in the basement, nursing yet another jar of elixir, till Fred rapped on the basement door.
Out back, a tall, forked branch stood in the frozen ground to the north of Fred’s little hibachi grill in which logs and kindling were arranged. A wreath of holly boughs and sprigs of mistletoe hung from the fork, gold and green ribbons whipping in the wind. The moon, still nearly full, hung high above them, veils of racing clouds flying before its face, an icy halo taking up most of the sky.
A picnic hamper and Fred’s Coleman jug stood nearby.
There was initially a lot of chatter, the women catching up with each other, welcoming two teenage girls who professed an interest in magic, one of whom was wearing a gold and maroon striped scarf around her throat. Fred and Ike were introduced; though Ike for the most part hung back, Fred enjoyed the unusual spirit of these women, at once sympathetic and unrestrained.
Eventually, the women took their places, stretched out into a circle and clasped hands. One woman sang a loud clear note, and the rest began to hum together in rising and falling cadences. Fred felt a chill run up his spine; there was electricity in the air.
“Sisters!” Esmeralda called, to the other twelve women holding hands in a circle, and to the spectators who stood beyond them. “Tonight we celebrate the Yule, the longest night of the year, and we celebrate, for into this darkness, new life has been born. Though the cold is upon us, still we rejoice. The earth has turned—“
“At 7:04 this morning.”
“Thanks, Nancy,” Esmeralda laughed. “The earth has turned once more toward warmth and light.” She leaned forward and struck a match, lighting the kindling. In the wind, even sheltered as it was by the circle of women, flames leaped up fast, and soon a merry fire danced in their midst, casting their glow among the shivering shadow limbs that the moon had cast upon the ground.
“The days grow long again and our hearts fill with hope.” She called above the hissing flames. “Life, we remember, life is a circle. What is lost, is found again; what dies, lives again. Let all the celebrants join with us now.”
Fred stepped forward and took hands with two women who opened a way for him. The teenage girls and the small son of one of the women, took places as well. Fred looked back at Ike, who stood statue-like against the house, his arms crossed severely across his chest. Barely perceptibly, he shook his head no.
The women began to chant, and soon the children, and Fred, picked it up.
The wheel turns; the power burns.
They began to circle the fire, at first just a shuffling of feet, but then faster and faster, almost at a run, the chant continuing and keeping pace.
Esmeralda stepped forward toward the fire, and the circle closed behind her.
At first, the flashing blue and red lights that appeared from behind the moon looked like a helicopter but Fred kept watch as it approached, waiting to hear the thrumming racket of the propellers as it passed over head. The only sound continued to be the wind and the fire, while the silent red and blue lights resolved into a flashing sphere. No one else seemed to notice the descending soap bubble. Fred squeezed Esmeralda’s hand and with a tilt of his head, he encouraged her to look up. Her gasp alerted the circle to the frosted orb, now level with the treetops, that pulsed rhythmically pastel as it continued its gentle fall.
“What is it?” she gasped. Her gasp was echoed around the circle as an intense heat fell across their faces, forcing most of them to look away.
“Oh, Goddess!” one of the girls wailed ecstatically.
“It’s Glinda!” the other one shouted. “The Good Witch of the North, the good witch! It’s a sign!” The circle fell away, backing around their Yule fire, as the man-sized Christmas tree ornament landed at the edge of the trees, directly atop the strawberry bed.
Fred winced, but took a step forward.
Ike had no such intentions, and stayed carefully tucked in the shadows of the porch. It wasn’t exactly “The Dunwich Horror” or anything like that, in fact, it was really rather beautiful, but he was disturbed to find the world not at all the way he’d been taught to see it. Wolves in Lancaster County was one thing, but aliens? He was living the X-Files, only to feel like skeptical Scully rather than cool Mulder, solid forensic reports to the contrary. Then his arm was yanked violently backward, and he found himself looking into two pale faces with staring eyes.
“It’s a fucking UFO!” Paulette announced with indignation, her fingers dug talon-like into Ike’s arm.
“Can’t argue with that, anyway,” Ike said, gripping her hand fiercely. “Unknown Fucking Object.”
Paulette choked a laugh; Constantia was already sprinting past her, headed for Fred. Ike found the pressure grip on his arm a reality-check; he hardly believed what he saw, but it was happening. His mind was in freefall, his senses on overload, but she was here, her strong hands holding onto him, the cinnamon of her breath. Reality as he knew it.
Fred had other thoughts, none of which took notice of the woman who had taken her place beside him. Hope against hope…he strode toward the mysterious bubble.
The silence of the descent was replaced by intermittent popping sounds that seemed to come from the shimmering object. A flare of color trailed up the walls with each pop. As they looked on, the color explosions came faster and faster, the sphere peeling open like a lotus flower.
Standing within was a tall, slender creature that stretched its arms into the cold wind.
Fred, alone before the Yule fire, echoed the gesture. “Dakarai Bes!” he called out.
“Frederick Magellan Fuchs!” the creature called back, as it made a running slide down one of the curved, lotus petal ramps, now pulsing a luminous chartreuse.
They clasped hands.
“Your joyous community?”
“A real one. I am trying to rid myself of ideas, live with facts.”
“You may not find it easy, but it is the noble way to truth.”
Fred grimaced. “Tossing the ideas, that’s not as hard as I expected; what’s really troubling is being forced to accept experiences that I’ve always thought were nonsense.”
Bes grinned and bobbed his head knowingly. “It is always unexpected when the explorer discovers the errors of his map. To find something new, you must be lost.”
Esmeralda appeared at Fred’s elbow.
“Ah! Esmeralda Lucille, I am enchanted to gain your acquaintance,” Bes cried, his soft features melting with warm regard. “I am called Dakarai Bes of the Amunians, although I anticipate that Mister Fuchs has spoken to you of our previous meeting.”
“Yes, yes, he did.” To Esmeralda, this rather beatific face was decidedly female, so she was immediately open in her manner rather than flirtatious.
Bes took her hands in his. “But look at you! You have surpassed yourself. What a queen you have become.”
She giggled, and he placed a kiss on her brow. Now she did indeed feel queenly.
Turning back to Fred, Bes asked for and was granted introduction to their assembled guests: to the ladies of the coven, the children and girls, and of course, to Constantia and Paulette, and lastly Ike, who had wandered over to check out the lotus boat.
He was kneeling on the ground trying to see the undercarriage of this so-called vehicle, which seemed to have no mechanical parts that Ike could see and was made of a material he didn’t fathom at all.
“Would you like a demonstration?” Bes said, bending close over Ike’s shoulder.
“Whoa!” Ike hurtled away from the voice and against one of the petal ramps, which contrary to expectation, was flexible and warm rather than rigid. “You’re giving me a heart attack.”
Bes advanced solemnly and stretched his hand upon Ike’s chest. “I have no wish to cause harm. May your heart heal.”
Ike looked even more alarmed, as Bes, ever tranquil, reassured him. “I have studied the design, fear not. I am thoroughly trained to heal broken hearts and other wreckage.”
The alien hand upon his chest was warm, at least, which was reassuring. Indeed, Ike felt rather strange, as if something giddy was coursing through his blood, a feeling akin to that first teenage drunk, out back of the equipment shed with some of the younger guys on his dad’s work crew one Fourth of July, drinking beer and whisky, and laughing all night till his belly hurt. God, he’d been happy with the world back then…
The lotus vehicle began pulsing with colors again, mainly the dark red of burgundy wine and the scarlet of blood, coursing together like a river lit with dazzles of gold. Bes offered his hand to Ike, who was mesmerized by the new display, and hauled him effortlessly to his feet.
With a peach fuzz face like that, Ike figured this guy must be younger than he seemed. Then again, he was an alien, so who knew how such things go with them? And this so-called ship—what was it made of?
“Vitrine composite with embedded cellular psychometrics.”
Ike shook himself. Wait. Had he…? Eyebrow lifted skeptically, Ike eased a hand again over the curves of the petal ramp. “And you program it to run the routines you like?”
Bes shook his head. “It’s psychometric. It comes from my thinking, my being. Or in that last display, yours.”
Ike jerked upright, all thought, word, movement obliterated. He no longer knew what to think, no longer knew anything, except that lingering giddiness, and behind it, gratitude that in his present state he had not produced cascades of pastel bubbles, capering kittens or something even more embarrassing.
“You know, Bes, there are some bands in this world that would kill for technology like that.”
Bes looked alarmed. “Kill? What sort of bands are these?”
“They wouldn’t really kill—it’s a euphemism. It means that they would do extreme deeds to have something this incredible. Rock bands; you know, musicians.”
Now Bes smiled, nodding appreciatively. “Artists. I understand now. On Amunis, it is much the same. The competition in the name of Beauty is savage in the extreme. Shall we rejoin the others, Isaac Duckworth?”
“Sure. Just don’t go shouting out my middle name, OK?” Ike said as he walked back with Bes toward the group. Paulette was leaning against the corner of the house, her arms crossed tight across her chest. He knew how he must look; he was grinning like an idiot.
Bes grinned back. “Oswald is not a good name? It means the Power of God, in an ancient tongue, I believe.”
“No kidding? I’ve only got it because it’s my Dad’s first name. He goes by Wally.”
How this creature knew their names was beyond him, unless he really did read minds, which raised another shudder.
“Your secret is mine, Isaac Duckworth.”
When their eyes met, they spontaneously shook hands. This alien kid had a good grip, but Ike felt tears welling for no good reason. Paulette watched him, astonished.
“What’s with you?” she whispered, as Bes joined the others in retreating to the house for refreshment. His watery, dumb-shit happiness seemed a cause for alarm.
Behind them, the Yule fire burned peaceably before the psychedelic lotus, which now soaked in the bright, silvery moonlight.
“He touched me,” he managed, tapping his chest.
She pushed him up against the wall, in the darkest shadows between the houses.
“Shut up, Duckworth,” she whispered against his lips, as she slid her hands through layers of clothing in search of skin. “I’m doing the touching now.”
He didn’t speak, but moved against her restraint to kiss her, lingering long before he pulled away.
“Nice one, Ike,” she laughed, slapping his cheek lightly. “I could really stand a bit more of that, but it’s cold out here.”
He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her to his side. Her face fell against his shoulder, and she let him lead her back toward the house.
With all departed, the moon pulled up the covers and called it a night, leaving the Christmas lights up and down the street twinkling with especial merriment in the deeper darkness. All fell silent. At that signal, the Yule log burst, throwing sparks into the air, and an answering geyser of gold scattered high above the deck of the lotus boat, as big fat snowflakes began to rush down the wind.
It’s almost done…start over here.