The Old Crane, on Page Road
The snake, in wisdom cultures, is a symbol of healing. Later, in the Western world, snakes became associated with evil. So we have within this one creature, this primitive early life whose brain is the foundation for our own brain a powerful symbol of change, growth, blending, healing. And evil.
Cheney looked at me with serious, buggy eyes. “It’s in there.” He meant past his long, leather-clad arm, his bony fingers clutching a twitchy cigarette, through the two parted trees, and into the dark goddam unknown.
“And it’s a crane?” I asked, just to be sure.
Cheney nodded slowly, somberly.
I looked over my shoulder to Danielle, who was looking scared but excited. Her copper hair framing her face tightly, wisping a bit with each warm breath clouding the cool air.
We weren’t stupid. At least, I wasn’t. Danielle and I both knew that Cheney was the kind of motherfucker who might take a couple of young innocents out here in the woods to scare the shit out of them and then make with the hero moves. He did seemed frightened, though. Genuinely frightened. And I’m good at reading that sort of thing; was even then.
I fired up a smoke and pulled my hair back in a ponytail, which I should have done the other way because a strand hit my cherry and that godawful burnt hair smell drifted around.
“Fuck,” I said.
Cheney reached for my hair with a gentle hand, but I batted his paw away as I tied my hair back. I glanced back at Danielle, who was outright trembling now from fear, excitement, cold or whatever.
Two plumes of smoke billowed from my nostrils, dramatically accentuated by the cold and making me feel like a motherfucking dragon. I am a dragon according to the Chinese, you know.
I bit down on the filter of my cigarette as though it were a cigar and said, “Let’s do this.”
Cheney’s face lit up in ghoulish delight, and he leapt forward to pull back some brush. He flicked his smoke away and gestured us forward, beckoning us to enter the dark.
I cut my eyes at him as I passed him, as if to say, “Don’t try anything motherfucker, or I’ll cut you.” He seemed oblivious, like kind of in his own world.
I put my big boot down in the mud and cussed again. I was cussing a lot at that point in my life. I was running on my original nervous system then, which was tiptop. I could feel everything around me all at once. Zero static. No integration problems.
Danielle was pressing against me a little as we trudged through the mud, mud which was seemingly every-goddam-where even though it looked like grass.
After about twenty steps of muddy stomping, I caught sight of it: a single shaft of moonlight illuminating a large, rusty crane. I didn’t know a fucking thing about cranes, so it’s hard to say when it was built or how long it had been there. I have no idea why it was still there. No one cared?
Cheney raced past us, and my blade snapped out with a hiss.
“Damn!” he yelled as he swerved past its tip. “Sorry! Sorry!” he cried as he kept running. He hadn’t meant to brush me, I don’t think. He was just being clumsy.
He stopped about six feet from the base of the crane, just at the edge of the light and went down on his knees, sitting on his calves, his booted feet sticking out in opposite directions like a kid. He gawked up at the crane and was whispering something.
I tightened my brow and looked over my shoulder to Danielle, who I noticed was hugging my waist and was shivering. I wasn’t cold. I’m not sure why. I was usually the first one cold.
I could hear Cheney speaking but could not make out the words. The light seemed to intensify, though just a bit. Danielle gasped. I shook my head, knowing that it was only our eyes adjusting to the dark along with a cloud or two parting in the sky allowing more light through. It didn’t have anything to do with Cheney’s gaslight show. Or Dwizaal.
Cheney turned his head toward me, grinning with those enormous equine teeth. He said, “Dwizaal is here, and he welcomes you.”
“Fuck, man, fuck!” Danielle said.
“Take it easy,” I said. “This is all bullshit.”
“Then why did we come out here?” she asked.
I hadn’t really thought about it. Because it was Saturday, and there was nothing else to do in this fucking place? Because everyone around here is obsessed with this kind of shit, and I wanted to see what it’s all about it?
Before I could answer her, Cheney bolted up to his tiptoes, his back arched strongly, his chin tipped all the way back, and his body convulsed for several seconds.
My original nervous system instinctively turned my blade toward him and found sound footing. Danielle, who was armed with an enormous blade that night, made no move for it. I glanced at her, curious. She seemed transfixed by what was happening.
Cheney came down to the flat of his feet, and his head rolled counterclockwise to bring his beady eyes to bear on us. Another big toothed grin, followed by a guttural utterance: “I am Dwizaal, and this is my place. Know me, and know eternity. Find salvation through damnation.”
At that point, I rolled my eyes, sucked my blade back in and said, “I’m through. Let’s go the fuck to Wendy’s.”
That’s how it went the first time. Haven’t I already told you this one? I can’t recall just now.
What do you think is actually happening in this scene? That may not seem like a big question, but there are many different things happening at once. So there is more to it than you might think at first.
If you’re new to this path, to this novel, to this series, or to me as an author, what does this chapter tell you?
If you’re playing along and have started the new path, reset your special traits. You can keep the general ones, like perceptive or whatever. But reset the magickal ones, the dream-based ones, and the secrets. You will unlock new ones as we go.
I spent 25 years as a COBRA administrator so snakes (in the guise of American health insurance companies) have been an uncomfortable part of my life.