THE VAT MESSIAH
Dreamed 1985/2/27 by Chris Wayan
Pain. Belly, gut. But the tests found no lesions. The attacks follow no pattern I can see. Whatever is in me is there, always, waiting; it attacks no matter how I live. Like death, it comes to all sorts of summons, but comes to silence too.
So I ask Dream for a straight answer, angry, as I rarely dare to be. I've always let dreams decide the topic, but no longer.
I eat the lecithin, set out the notebook, and enter the other world.
I'm at Lake Tahoe, checking out the summer resorts. In the twenties they were stylish retreats for millionaires. Empty now, elegantly rotting. On the beaches, Winnebago families with bullied kids wade in the shallows. Too cold to swim. The jet set's in the South now, in the sun and smog. The people I represent need a Social Swim that's warm, with lively people, young people who might join us--but not polluted. The choice so far has been dull versus toxic.
I pass the Last Resort.
Up along a ridge road through rusty sequoias. Summer mansions look small as birdhouses, beneath. One carved tower matches a guidebook photo; but the paint's faded, the gingerbread's gone. Decay, decay.
I round a mountain flank and stop, stunned. Road's end. Just a narrow path along a jagged ridge, running miles north to a huge hulking pine-dark peak--Black Mountain, sacred to the Navaho, where the Crystal Springs flow. Ten thousand feet above the towers of San Francisco nestled on its toes. The knife-ridge, too, has a name: The Highlands. The hill tract where I grew up! It was narrow, but I remember it wider than THIS!.
A squashy-hatted man comes strolling round the corner as I take in the sheer scale of the way before me. He says "You grew up there, didn't you?" Quite a mind reader. What's he see?
"Yeah." I say. Then I think it over. "No. I grew up in the mudflats over there, til I was nine. My attitude was set before I saw these hills."
He grunts and sits a while. He glances at the book on my dash. A Voyage to Arcturus. Vaguely I recall it's got this narrow ridge path too. Squashy Hat asks: "Where's the Messiah, now?"
He hasn't made our sign, so I play dumb. "I haven't seen today's Chronicle, but I think she's still camped about halfway along the ridge. Still heading north toward Black Mountain and The City."
"So she's passing your old home. Gonna go see?"
"Yes; I'm looking for her."
We walk up the narrow path a mile north, and enter the tract clinging to the ridge's east face. The view's spectacular--but what a place to grow up. No way to get out without four-wheel drive, nothing to do... And I thought for years I was shy!
I say "I'm amazed she's camped up here. Where's she gonna buy the loaves and tofu?"
We round the corner and Squashy Hat laughs. House of Kim Chee, 7-11, Sushi Circus, the Golden Arches, the Good Earth...
I say weakly "These are new."
He blinks at me. A man comes puffing up behind us and jumps in--"You could have driven places or walked. It's not MY fault!" It's my father. As if I care whose FAULT it was! Isolation's the issue.
Walked places? The hill's enough to make him gasp. Oh, I made a choice; I never asked for their car. I felt guilty inconveniencing them and wasting precious fossil fuel going up and down that ridge, just to see people. And justifying every trip!
I know the Messiah's near. I leave my father and Squashy Hat in the minimart buying Spam, and hike down alone into Polhemus Canyon, seeking our camp. Feels southwestern; orange cliffs, wild cucumber vines, a redtail hawk curving over. At bottom, I wander, pocketing streamworn agates. Don't find the Vatters yet, though I think I hear them up the far side. I find a geode, orange and rough with a quartz window, like the Magic 8-ball we questioned as kids... I always liked the way the fortunes swam from darkness to the window. I squint inside the geode and see azurite pyramids in the core. I like it. It feels like me. Dumpy lump, but crystals hid in the heart.
Oh. Chris tales! In the heart.
Shall I take the geode? Several kilos. I look up at the cliff I have to climb. Now's the dangerest part; it will unbalance me. Sadly, I put back the offering.
Hope I remember the rockclimb out from when I lived here; it's been years. I walk 100 yards up the canyon to the dark side gulch. The web of tiny ledges is gone! A bulldozed road slants straight up. The cliff's dwindled, impossibly, from a thousand footer to a twenty foot ramp. I run up... to find a shopping center.
"So much for my childhood isolation" I mutter. I feel let down: the old climb was risky--but beautiful. Now, just a gulch behind the newest mall. I could've brought the crystals after all.
A health food cafe clings to the rock right up the the edge where I emerge. Under the sign
She yells "Hi!" and I run up and hug her. I take off my long coat, that looked so eccentric in the spring heat, and let my wings stretch at last. I shake out the ache of trying to pass. I whump up to the roof in one beat. I've always been skinny; at last, it's a benefit! Messiah wheels slowly up on her brown primaries to join me. We dangle our feet off the rain gutters and look out across the loud and iridescent crowd, our Dada craft fair.
"I think we'll go up to the mountaintop soon." she says. "You find a good place for the Contact Center?"
"No... all the resorts are clean enough but cold and empty... or lively enough but polluted."
"Well, no surprise. I still think it's too early for us to find our place. I know you're impatient but--look at how we've grown since you left!"
"Have the Conformists made more threats?"
"When haven't they?"
My eye catches on a visual sharpness on the far shore of the crowd. Two seven-foot hulks, real Frankensteins, are pushing through the visions, slowly, rudely, obliviously. "Who the hell are they? I don't remember seeing them."
She stares with her recently added eagle eyes and says, "I don't like this. What kind of person would want to become that? And identical..."
"The government? The Conformists? But they're against vatting on principle--it's their whole argument. Would they do it?"
"Someone has." she says, quite bitterly. I look at her. She looks haunted. "Those two scare the hell outa me..."
"I don't know. Bad feeling. Let's move out--fast."
I sound the alarm with my trombone larynx. The camp boils. We dive to earth, furl wings, scurry into the cafe's back room. The owner, a supporter, offered us three empty ice-cream tanks as temporary vats. They work, though people come out a bit flavored: chocolate, raspberry, mango. I help Messiah drag people out of the protogoo. Ugh. Yellow slime. Never liked the stuff though I owe it so much. Two tall folks didn't quite fit and their heads got squeezed on the endwalls. Grotesque pinheads, with many-branched tentacles where arms should be. Huge, mute, they stand passively. I say "We can't leave these two half-changed."
Messiah says "They aren't. We found them growing on their own. The vats have started to create people spontaneously--from leftovers."
"I am love." says pinhead number one.
I groan. "Well, they need to go back in and finish, soon as we find another place. Yuck." A thought comes. "Suppose the Conformists are scaring us into emptying the vats just so people will see monsters on the news?"
"Good point; the back door?"
"Yeah." Clump! Crack! The Frankensteins are pushing in the front door.
"I am sexy." says pinhead number two.
"Right." says Messiah.
We lead them by the tentacles through the scattering crowd. We and the core group scurry north toward cover in the oak hills of the Watershed Lands. We can't fly with the pinheads--besides, we'd be perfect targets and they've had time to plant snipers here. Paranoia? Up in Yolo County, two murderers just got off--"Heck, I thought it was just a bird." On the ground, they need better excuses.
We walk, a weird parade through a silent shuttered tract. Wiggly charming Mediterranean streets. Fake of course--isolation behind the villagy facade.
Streets are dead empty. Not even faces at the windows. We usually draw a mob! Do they know something? My unease grows.
Open ground ahead now. Bramble bushes border a rising field. To the right, a dropoff into a wooded canyon. I see the Bay and Diablo crouching beyond. I fear an ambush. It's a good spot, and their last chance before we're clear. Mass arrest? Kidnap the Messiah? Would they risk the reaction? They're not stupid. They'd be helping us.
Twenty machine guns open fire from the hedges. Slugs rip through my flesh. They punch like hammers. I'm bleeding but I can't feel it. In two seconds, all of us are down, a bloody tangle. They keep pounding away, tearing the grass as well as us. I hear them screaming hate, laughing. The laughing freezes me. My vision starts to dim. We are all dying. Messiah's broken wings fold tentlike beside me. Choking on my own blood, I tell her "Use your Power! Run time back!" She raises her red striped face and looks at me sadly.
"Not enough... can't escape."
"No, just a few seconds!" She coughs, tries to focus. "You can!"
Our awarenesses slide backward a few fatal pulses and we stand just before the first bullets fire. "It's useless Chris we can't run there's no time I'm so sorry I got you all--"
"Bend the damn bullets!" I snap, and she gasps as she grasps it. And the barrage starts. She warps geodesics, sweating with fear and strain. Tracers whing over us and thud in the dirt. We drop to the grass, and they fire as before--draining their clips at us. The hail trails off. They start talking, walking out easily, knowing they nailed us.
A green bird gives an ultrasonic shout, and we rise as one, scatter in air, into brush--as they gape at the impossible resurrection. A few hip shots, very wild. Feathers puff like a burst pillow to my left, but no one falls. We melt into the watershed woods; our element. Hidden even from each other, we scatter.
And so my question was rejected and, rephrased, answered. Not "Why am I still sick," but "Why am I alive at all?" No great miracle: two small miracles, plus great presence of mind. Miracles often aren't enough.
So it's war. To the death, now. Always was for them, I guess; we just didn't know how much they hated change.
I must stay underground and try to link up with the Messiah again. Some of my friends can be trusted...
The next thing I remember, I'm in a car. Leona's driving me through the flats of San Mateo to a Changeling house she thinks may still be clear. "It's run by Mark, David, and someone new named Dawn Johnson."
I get excited. "Wait a minute--blonde, kind of rowdy? Southern-fried hippie? Gorgeous?"
"Well... I guess a guy might call her that. You would."
"I think I knew her ten years ago! I was hitching with Kay on the Olympic Peninsula, and she and her boyfriend kept giving us rides and the muffler fell out. God she was sweet! Barefoot, bracelet on her ankle, peach brandy in her pocket, glint in her eye... I liked her so much. Kay and I argued in circles--as always!--and she'd beg me to stop reasoning and just live... I wonder if she's still so beautiful?"
"Unfold your wings like that and they'll catch you." Leona's skeptical of my crushes. Good advice though. I refurl my freak-flag.
Mark's white VW bus is here, and David's car. "Well, they haven't run." I say. "The house is still safe."
But Leona says "No, if they fled, they'd have used Dawn's pickup. The cops wouldn't watch for it since she has no record--she just joined." The house is dark and quiet. Guess Leona's right; they're gone. Still, I want to be sure. I need help!
I walk up, knock, jiggle the steel knob. Leona's worried the neighbors'll think we're burglars, and returns to her car. I try around the side. The walk gets steep, awkwardly edges gravelheaps and pits. Mixed with the gravel are cases of food. I climb them like monster stairs. Thousands of egg cartons--I stifle a high giggle. I knew invading people's boundaries made me nervous, but--walking on eggs?!
I reach a little pass between egg crags, and before me rolls open hilly country, sprinkled with redbarked madrone trees. Wild to the horizon. I breathe it in and yell and run, down the sweet grass slope to the crowd at the foot. I'm here at last--after all I've heard! The Co-op Market of Heart's Desire! Crispers, bins, cash registers, all out under the sky. Plugged into stones. The houses behind me are gone. I'm in the Great Back Yard.
People walk miles on Market Day to add their herbs and clothes, doughnut flutes, beans, thumb-pianos, fruit, Black Mountain spring water, dulcimers, cows, plays. (Small instruments are big just now). I browse, grab ripe bananas, one organic orange--unsure it's worth waiting in line for so little. On the run, I just can't shop for my heart's desire. My eye scours the crowd for Dawn... or the Messiah... or anyone cute who looks sympathetic to Changers! Sort them into two bins: possibles, and unimportant blurs. I'm shopping around, like it or not. Didn't I know?
I feel a tug at my pocket. I grab the hand and trace the arm--not to a thief, as I expect, but to a small child in jumpers who says to my kneecap "I can't find my father. Do you see him? The grownups are too tall."
A second later, without prompting, the kid describes him. Smart! How many kids realize adults' ignorance so young? "He's thin... red lumberjack shirt, beard, glasses, curly hair..." I picture an ecologist, as intelligent as his child.
I circle the mob and describe a few who semi-fit. To each the kid says "No...." We go through the line, and I go right past the cashier, still looking in the near distance at faces and red shirts. My food gets mixed with another woman's. And who stepped on my orange?! I give up. I'm so easily distracted! I half shop half look for a lover half look for a father half seek my friends. I garble every goal. What the hell am I after?
"Goodbye, kid." I say sadly. "I'd say good luck, but you won't need it. When you're as clear about what you want as you are, you find it."
"Good luck," says the Kid.
Ouch. But he's right.
I walk west through the fields. I have to find a refuge, and someone to teach me focus. A swami?
They live on mountain tops, so I climb.
Soon I'm in the wild oak hills of the rift zone near the Fault. Sweating, I slow up. Up a steep ridge--in the world outside the Great Back Yard it might be the very one I left, that I grew up on. I flounder up the blue-white coyote brush slope and find a wind-hissing wild-oat clearing at the top, ringed with a wall of big rough lilacs. They shade and almost hide the slaty little shack.
But is the guru in? I peer through the rickety swinging door.
It's my old family's garage. Piles of my mother's paintings loom. There's an army-colored table and desk in the corner. One small light. The old man in uniform looks up and says,
"Welcome to the Camp, Chris. Glad you made it." It's Colonel Potter. I have reached the Messiah's MASH.
"They're still after you. I won't ask where you hid." He adds, gently, "Good job staying alive."
I report the rumors I heard at the Fair: the Conformists have a deadly bioweapon, bottles of Enzyme Lotion that explode with a delayed reaction. They have a hit list--I'm on it. But they also plan to use it to raid Alameda Naval Base and set off one of its H-bombs--try to provoke a world war. They're willing to burn us all, oats, lilacs, everyone, to keep people from creating their own forms--tampering with God's image.
Incineration's not tampering.
Potter stays calm, though he looks sad. He says, "I've been hearing of their list for some time... but this raid takes priority."
He ignores one thing. He's first on the list! Ahead of Messiah, me, all of us. Potter never loses his focus; they saw focus was crucial before I did. Why can't I make him see he has to hide? He shrugs it off. "I'm too old to run." He forgets that he's essential. Even he has flaws! I nag him. But he'll only cope with one thing at a time: the crucial thing.
He sighs, "Go get some R and R, son; you deserve it." I follow his nod to the back door. It leads through more paintings, sculptures, into the Art Camp's main section. Light, rambly building. Huge hanging mobiles of glass plate, representing birds. Plaque says "Isamu Noguchi Exhibit"...I don't like them. They're all flat. I note the shapes in case I ever want them for background designs; all they're good for. One bird alone curves, sensual, solid.
"Found a pretty one ya like, uh?!" says a passing sarge.
"My choice of birds seems limited" I say drily, then hear myself and laugh as I realize "bird" still means "girl" back here in the MASH era.
On the walls are the usual burnt-orange photos of the Lovable Stuffed Bears. Each one stands for an R and R activity--one breed of fun. You can check them out for two weeks with your draft card... so you can refer to them "in the privacy of your own tent" to see if you are enjoying yourself correctly.
"Damn Conformists are everywhere!" I snarl, and stalk straight through to the next chamber. "Grumble grumble fucking Security Bears!" I look up. Where am I?
Long, warm, narrow as a mobile home. Paintings stacked around. A live-in studio several artists share. Wood panel walls. Classy for a MASH! And modern plush carpet. Wonder if the landlord knows they paint above it? Then a familiar eye peering out of a watercolor forces me to look close.
It's mine. I live here. This long room is my studio too.
A young man walks in shyly. "It's you, isn't it? Really you! You'd know."
"The Answer. Please tell me! I've thought and thought--"
He's earnest. He's hilarious. His aura goes right round in circles.Yikes! A logician.
I puzzle how to tell him, how to help him: it's so obvious that for him the Answer is "Stop reasoning all the time and just live."
What the hell. I say it. He analyzes this devoutly for five minutes.
I see a bottle of skin lotion. AHA! It's a squeeze bottle, looks vaguely phallic. Perfect. "The first step is to learn the courage to make a mess! Splat that lotion all over this room! Use it up!" The lotion is yellow-white, spermy. Can he have symbolic sex without worrying about the mess?
Wow! He goes wild! Spattering goo on the carpet...on the walls...on himself...on me...on the pictures... MY PICTURES!
Silently screaming "IDIOT IDIOT you and your fucking helpfulness IDIOT!" I dive for the paper towels. Wipe the watercolors, oozing with skin cream. Damn, I'm just smearing it around. I try to rub it in evenly, so it'll show less. As the oil sinks in, the colors darken. And intensify! They shine as if varnished, as if my eyes are polarizers. The saturation spreads. The rug, the walls, the tiles all radiate their blues and woods and greens, become themselves, but more so. I spin, gaping at the transformation's beauty.
The new light reveals the outline of a Door I couldn't see before. The young man gapes, as, to his eyes, I walk through the cedar wall.
I lose myself in our merge a moment and blink to find... I've gone through a final wall.
I'm in a warm, stone-arched breezeway... People walk through. They all look human. Like them, I'm naked, in the humid dreamy heat. My long long black black hair tickles my back, butt, arms, breasts. I glance into a silent kitchen. Ochre stone and light. I see carrots on a cutting block, sliced at a long angle; they're deep red-orange ovals. I step in and touch one. It feels like my lips, dry in the heat, but yielding, warm. I pick it up, toy with it. It's the color of my lips. I slide it down along my skin... along my stomach... to the other lips. It matches their color, too.
I remember how we kids used to take slices of lemon or orange peel and fix them between lips and teeth to make a weird gold smile. I spread my outer labia and slip the carrot in behind them. It stays! I like the effect: to a casual glance, the carrot passes for swollen red turn-on, but if you dare to look again... CARROT HA-HA! I laugh. I feel sexy, a little kid with mama's lipstick on.
I leave the kitchen and wander through archways, smiling sweetly and wordlessly at people. A few men start, look away embarrassed... Too polite to stare, so they miss the joke! I didn't expect this. I can't get a rise out of anyone. So to speak.
Finally I come to the main arch of the Quadrangle, facing the Church of the Quake. I stand in the archway. The picnickers and their paper bags and cafeteria trays scattered like flowers under the still trees ignore me. I let out a yell. The near ones glance. I slide the slice loose in front of the lunchers.
Now they notice. I just pulled my cunt off!
I think of the guy in "archy and mehitabel" who used a pickled onion as a false eye and pulled it out and ate it--on the bus--regularly--and I start laughing again. An impulse says "Eat it!" just to see what my nervous little audience will do, but I think "Don't, it's dirty."
Fury shoots through me and I say
"My... cunt... is not... DIRTY!"
A truth goes click and I yell defiance at the Church, fists up and legs spread for battle,
"I... AM NOT... DIRTY!"
The carrot has a yellow glaze--"like vat goo, ugh" says my enemy, but now I see it as beautiful, the glaze of a painting, or freedom lotion, or good old yucky vat goo. I pop it in my mouth, and roll it around, chew it, and savor the sauce, and swallow it. And the people cringe.
And DAMN it tastes good!
So... it's open war now. Dreams came through. But I asked the wrong question. Not "Why do I get these attacks?" as if health comes free to ones like us in a society like this, but "Why do I survive such vicious attacks?" They're not out to make me change my diet or something; they're meant to kill. Be proud! I beat the killers. Those threatened by my strangeness; those who want to heal me by casting out the spirit they think troubles me, but really troubles them, and is me; and the conformist inside me who hates my difference and what I've missed because of it, who'd rather die than be an outcast, a monster. How hard I try to excuse my executioners! "They MEAN well." And then puzzle over my bleeding guts like an oracle.
I feel rude for resisting, even as they hack at my heart on their Aztechnical altar. They want me hacked out, hollow--safe. To keep my heart, I must act so I feel like I'm heartless. A monster.
I AM a monster. Oozing yellow slime. Deformed? No. Forming. Out of scraps and bits, fused in primal ooze.
I was sick through the eighties and early nineties. I'd had a rough past--sexism at home, bashing at school, battering from my only longterm partner. So I assumed old trauma was sickening me still.
But in 1996, I quit eating gluten and abruptly got much better; a decade later I realized my attacks might be a recurrent infection and tried antibiotics, herbs, and diet; I improved though I still get flare-ups. Much of my pain HAD medical causes.
And yet... the dream hints at deeper trauma. That massacre by gunmen in chaparral recurs in other dreams (like Hunters' Fire). Other recurring dream-images turned out to be memories; could this be? Yet my childhood, while ugly, wasn't war-torn. So why does a firecracker still make me dive for cover? Why can't I sit in a lit window at night?
I'm uneasily starting to think there's something to this past-life stuff.
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