I recall being surrounded by darkness. Amidst the darkness I sensed the presence of something behind it, or perhaps within the darkness itself. I perceived my surroundings like one might see a dark liquid sublimating into a clear cold glass of water—only this was happening in reverse. I began to experience the liquid darkness pulling away from my senses like a cloudy curtain of ink, pulled back to reveal some lost and forgotten secret.
My first sensation was this unwieldy feeling of being poured into mySelf. Piece by piece my consciousness was arriving into a new place, in a new body, with a new purpose. Upload complete. I was lying on my back. I tried opening my eyes but I couldn’t. There was a frighteningly bright sky that encapsulated everything in a shower of aggressive light. I couldn’t get acclimated. It made me nauseous. I started to feel around to get some sense of where I was. There were many jagged, damp, and windswept rocks all around me. I smelled salt in the air. I heard waves crashing together. I was becoming uncomfortable. The rocks were digging into my everything. I made an effort to open my eyes again. I sat up. I scanned my surroundings—rocks, in every direction. In the distance I saw a vast blue ocean and a beach. Waves were crashing around everywhere like a mob of angry shoppers trying to dogpile their way into a door meant to accommodate two.
I turned around.
There was a man sitting casually on a large rock beside me. He was dressed unusually. Greens, reds, blues, whites, yellows. He had a large hat flapping in the wind beside him. He was eating a shiny red apple. He broke out into a huge smile as soon as I locked eyes with him.
“You!” He said sitting up from the rock. “Like to sleep!”
He appeared to be in his eighties. He was vibrant and alive though. Well-groomed and gentlemanly. He had a salt and pepper goatee that Robin Hood would be proud of, and a thick Spanish accent. This old man—he was a rogue.
He looked upwards towards the cloudy, bright sunless sky. He flicked his right hand outward like a rapidly blooming lotus.
“Time—is not a luxury. We go!” He put on the giant chapeau that was sitting next to him and came down off of the rock to help me up. I was still weak. He pointed his finger to a large house in the distance. “Is okay?” He asked furrowing his brow. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it. I nodded. “Yeah. I can make it.”
He smiled, clearly impressed with my resolve. We began to walk towards the house. I kept exchanging looks with the man trying to make sense of everything. His face seemed familiar. I couldn’t quite figure it out though. He shot another smile at me, “Hello, Nicole.”
Knee-co-Elle. That’s how he said my name. How did he even know my name? As we walked, I scanned him up and down again. Still nothing. I was getting tired. Negotiating the seaside terrain in a body I didn’t know how to use was difficult. The old man realized how tired I was getting and decided to stop for the evening. He casually gathered up some dry branches that littered the ground and arranged some rocks into a small fire pit.
As he lit the beach aflame, he turned his head slightly, “Just seeing fire—it makes you warm!”
It was getting dark. I curled up next to the crackling sound of embers and the sweet smell of burning wood. The fire’s touch defeated the chilly seaside breeze and I began to feel my body relax. He was right. Just seeing this fire—it made me feel warmer.
When I woke up, the morning began to slowly seep through the night sky. The fire was still going, and the man who started it, was still asleep, curled up comfortably in his colorful clothing. It was pretty clear that he stayed up most of the night to keep the fire going. I decided to let him sleep. I got up and gathered a few branches and tossed them onto the fire. I was tired again. I sat and watched the sun rise through my toes. Compared to the day before, I was much more aware of mySelf.
The man rolled over on his side. I could see his face through the fire. “Now I make you wait!” he said laughing. “I also like to sleep!”
I smiled. It felt new to smile. But smiling was hard.
The man sat up.
“I will explain to you a thing. Yesterday, you come to this place a vessel. Empty. A cloistered actress rehearsing her lines. But today—you will come to the stage.” He extended his hand out to me like a dashing Romeo without a plan. I took it trying hard not to smile. Just being around this man gave me energy.
We arrived at the house early in the afternoon. The front door was painted pearly white accented with a faux gold locking mechanism and handle. There wasn’t much to the door. It looked kind of cheap in a red Russian sort of way. It was lightweight and hollow.
The man stood before the door and opened it. A woosh of cold air came bursting forth out of the house. As he slowly pushed the door open, the house’s carpet was rubbing up against the door, dragging against the bottom of it like white noise.
“Here is your stage, princess of Cups. Today, we meet you.”
I entered. The old man followed. He closed the door behind us.
Inside, it was mostly quiet except for a nostalgic hum of a refrigerator in the kitchen. The closets in this house were all sliding doors with mirrors. There was a balcony leading outside which overlooked the ocean. Just past the kitchen there were rows of small washers and dryers. On my right there was a room with a single bunk bed. The house was abnormally sterile. I started to cry. This was my childhood home.
The man stood there and watched as I relived both the horrific and the beautiful. Memory. This man, he was right, what I was experiencing wasn’t a rehearsal. This was real. I felt weak and defeated. I needed some fresh air.
He put his hand on my right shoulder. “And now, the princess is a queen.”
He walked away from me and headed toward the balcony. He opened the door leading outside and beckoned me over to join him. I wiped away my tears and slowly made my way back outside.
The view from the balcony was spectacular. We were very high up above what appeared to be a Charybdis-type vortex, and in the distance sat the horizon, a cloudy, sunless sky, and endless endless blue.
He sat on the ledge of above the watery vortex and pulled something out of his pocket. Actually—he pulled three somethings. Three doubloons. He held one up for me to see. There was unreadable scribble on one side and on the other something far more grotesque.
“These coins—they are from a place, a place far from everything.”
He then spoke the name of the place “far from everything.” The word sounded like it was derived in an otherworldly language from some far-flung nebula. I didn’t understand the word other than the fact that it’s likely that this language made heavy use of glottal stops—perhaps to accommodate the abnormal physicality of a beast who’s mother tongue it belonged to.
“The old gods. You know them?”
“I know of them.” I replied.
“They are out there.” he motioned to the sky. “You will meet them. In the stars. You must meet every one.”
My skin started to crawl. I wasn’t ready for any of this.
“There comes a day when a princess becomes a queen. A queen becomes a knight. A knight, she understands what must be let go. That there is nothing lasting in this life. Everything must be let go, or always there will be sadness weighing very heavy on the heart. A knight—she understands this. And when she finally leaves to travel amongst the dangerous stars, she may be a fool. But she is a fool daring to let go of the everything. She alone can kiss the lips of failure and live to tell of it.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes listening to the ocean below. I felt relaxed. My eyes met with his. Again with the smiles.
“I want to give you something Miss Nicole. But first, you must be willing to leave behind this cup and become the fool.”
“Cup?” I asked.
The vortex was swirling violently below us.
He placed one of the alien doubloons onto the balcony. Clink. He smiled. “This, is your ticket to the stars. But only a fool would take it. So, you should—think it over.”
Just then, the old man began to lean back on the balcony’s ledge. I was sure that he was going hurl himself into the vortex, but instead he stood up.
“I have a question,” I asked. “If you have to be a fool to take one of these, and being a fool requires letting go, how do you have three of those coins?”
“That—is something I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that you already have everything you need.”
He started to walk back inside the house.
I still couldn’t figure out who the man was. Until I finally did. My eyes started to well up.
“I am Paul Atreides.” I said.
The man stopped walking towards the door and started to laugh as if it had been five hundred years since he first heard that name. Paul Atreides. He turned to face me one last time, and said nothing. But I swore that I heard him whisper “I am too.”