By Francis Marion – First Published February 7th, 2017
Dakota Free State July 17th, 2073
Joseph grabbed a log and tossed it into the fire and kicked it with his boot to position it in the center of the ring. As he mixed coals with fresh wood a cloud of sparks blew skyward and danced upwards into the night, mingling with the millions of lights already flickering and dancing in the darkness.
He sat quietly by himself and listened to the music and the laughter coming from the large tent across the yard as more than a hundred of his closest neighbors, friends and family celebrated the marriage of his only granddaughter, Sarah to one Michael Roman.
He loved Sarah, she was the daughter and eldest child of Nathaniel and Mellisa, but he didn’t approve of the marriage. She’d met Michael at a youth mixer in another community when she was just sixteen. Michael struck him as distant and overly introverted. His family situation was strange by Joseph’s standards. Michael’s father, Arthur, was an older man about Josephs age, who had married his wife Annabelle when he was well into his late forties and she was still in her early thirties.
What he knew of Arthur made him uncomfortable. Arthur had fled the California territory decades earlier, leaving the security and comfort of a tenured position at a prestigious university to come to the Dakotas. He had spent the first few years wandering the territory doing odd jobs, or so he’d said before he met Annabelle and settled down with her and his aunt near Great Falls. He and Annabelle lived with and looked after Beth until she died a few years later, not long after their first and only son, Michael, was born.
Joseph had once commented to Morgan, his eldest son, that he felt Michael was hiding something. He’d felt there was a character flaw buried somewhere underneath the cloak of silence the boy always wore. He’d only voiced his concern with Sarah once. She’d simply responded that grandfather didn’t know Michael like she did. He couldn’t see what was underneath like she could. Joseph did not press the issue. His feeling at that moment was that it was better to let time take care of things than to press too hard and run the risk of alienating his only granddaughter. He couldn’t risk losing her too. No more loss. Not right now.
The last half decade had been a difficult one. He’d lost Angela five years earlier to a brain aneurysm. One morning she went out to the chicken coop to pick some eggs and never came back. He found her laying in the middle of the small wooden shack, a bucket of freshly picked eggs overturned on its side next to her; the eggs, broken, and the love of his life barely breathing. He’d rushed her into town to the clinic where she came to long enough to say goodbye. That night she was gone.
Six months later Nate was called up when organized gangs from the east breached the Dakota border and began raiding some of the small farming communities along the Red’s western banks. It had happened before and the gangs, normally numbering a few hundred men here and there, were easily dispatched by Dakotan militia. But as usual, they would do a lot of damage in the meantime. His unit was busy rooting out a few dozen men from a series of farms along the river when a stray round called his name and number.
With Nate gone, Mellisa and the three kids, now in their late teens, had moved back to the ranch to be with Joseph. The ranch was security for them and they were security for him. And so it went.
As a light, cold breeze began to pick up Joseph grabbed the collar of his old canvas jacket and pulled it tighter then pulled his chair closer to the fire. He moved the log and the fire with his boot again to encourage the flames and settled back to stare at the stars when he heard the sound of footsteps in the gravel behind him.
“Good evening Joseph, do you mind if I join you,” he recognized the voice from behind him. It was Michael’s father, Arthur?
“Not at all Arthur, please have a seat.”
Arthur pulled up a lawn chair next to Joseph and buttoned up his wool coat.
Joseph stretched his legs and put his feet closer to the fire to warm his toes, “Cool evening again, eh? Sometimes it feels like we haven’t had a proper warm summer in decades.”
“Well, they certainly have been sporadic. I fear they will become more so in the future.”
“Possibly,” replied Joseph skeptically, “for the sake of everyone in this country I pray that doesn’t happen.”
“Hmm,” Arthur paused for a second, “Well, as you well know there are many things in this world that we have little control over. Everything has its place and its time and most things run in cycles. It could be that we are running into another cycle that as modern men, whatever that means these days, we are unfamiliar with?”
“Anything is possible Arthur.”
“Almost anything,” replied Arthur. He stopped himself. He was reverting to ‘professor’ Roman. Joseph would not appreciate being lectured by the professor and Artie knew it.
“Anyways, Joseph I just wanted to come over and thank you for everything you’ve done for our family. Your generosity and your hospitality this weekend have been above and beyond the call of duty. My family and I are truly grateful for everything you’ve done. Today has been beautiful and the kids, they are so happy together. Thank you.”
Joseph stared into the heart of the fire and poked the logs with the tip of his boot again. He’d heard Artie speak but as he’d gotten older he had less patience for idle chit-chat, shallow platitudes, or flattery. Social planning and diplomacy had been Angela’s job, not his. Filling her shoes was difficult in this regard. And since he didn’t have a lot of use for Arthur or his son it was difficult for him to feign anything beyond simple politeness.
“You’re welcome, Arthur. Just doing my job.”
The two men sat quietly beside one another for a short time when Joseph finally spoke. He did so plainly and unapologetically.
“Arthur. I’ve always wondered. What made you cross that border all those years ago? Why did you come here? To me, you seem like you are out of your element in this part of the world.”
Arthur sighed and smiled, “Well Joseph, that’s a long story but it’s probably a conversation we should have,” Joseph raised an eyebrow. That was not the response he was expecting.
“So. do you want the short and sweet version or the long complicated version?”
Joseph smiled. He liked Arthur’s candor. It wasn’t expected and it meant the bullshit factor would be at a minimum.
“Tell me the truth. Just don’t bore me.”
Both men laughed as Joseph reached down beside his chair, grabbed another stick of wood and chucked it into the fire.
“A little over twenty years ago my best friend and colleague, a guy by the name of Myron Little, he’s gone now, came to me with a crazy idea. He was a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley and I was a professor of biochemistry. Myron was interested mostly in the history and people of a region in South America situated primarily in Peru. So one day he comes to me and says, ‘hey Artie, wanna take a vacation in Peru?’ and I say, ‘what the hell would I want to do that for? I hate the humidity and tropical environments in general’ and he says, ‘I think I found something there that might be of interest to both of us, it’s kind of crazy, but I think we should go and talk to some people and I could kind of use your help,’ so I say, ‘help with what?’ and this is what he tells me.”
“He has this crazy theory, based on some guy’s videos on youtube, that the Inca didn’t build Machu Picchu and a lot of the other structures in the region and that the people who built those structures left clues as to who they were and he figures the key to figuring this whole thing out isn’t hidden in some ancient textbook or some esoteric code written in stone but in the chemical makeup of some ancient drug turned hipster fad called Ayahuasca.”
“At first I think my best friend has lost his marbles. Then I start looking at pictures of Machu Picchu and watching the hundreds of videos online showing two distinct types of construction used on the site. So I ask Myron about it and he says ‘Listen, the Inca lived in and built on Machu Pichu. No denying that. But that city is older than the Inca. I guarantee it,’ to which I respond ok, fine, so how do you make the connection between Ayahuasca and the original builders?”
“‘It’s a hunch’ he says to me. The shamans of the Jivaroan tribes in the region have been making this stuff for thousands of years. But it’s a mixture of a few different things that have to work in tandem with one another and if you screw it up it either doesn’t do what it is supposed to, can make you really sick or even kill you. Now, no offense to the shamans of the Jivaroan peoples but riddle me this Joseph, how do a people who, up until recently, have been trapped in the stone age for thousands of years come up with a mixture that not only has very interesting hallucinogenic properties but can also aid in the curing of addiction and the resolution of some types of mental illness? How do they do that without either failing miserably over and over again or killing themselves in the process? Luck?”
Joesph shrugged his shoulders, “Not sure how this relates to you being here but go on,” Joseph poked the fire again and the sparks spilled out over the stone ring and onto his leather boots. He kicked them off into the gravel, watched them glow for a few moments then fade to black.
Arthur paused. He feared he was losing Joseph, that the story was too long and too complicated so he quit talking for a moment and regrouped.
“Joseph, what if I told you that there are different levels of reality that we are not aware of. Different types of technology that we are not aware of. In fact, what if I told you that you yourself are a living, breathing piece of biotech? What if I told you that the body you inhabit is, in fact, a tool and that you, the real you, lies somewhere beyond your own flesh and bone?”
“Well Artie, I think I’d tell you that you’re full of shit,” Joseph laughed and Artie chuckled with him.
“Well, I know how it sounds, but now you know why I had to leave California. And now you know why I am here.”
Artie stood up, stretched his legs and turned his back to the fire, “Sometimes our ancestors leave messages in places we least expect to find them. I found that message Joseph and that’s why I am here speaking with you now.”
Joseph rearranged himself in his seat and sat up straight. Arthur’s tone had changed, he could sense what he was about to say was important to him.
“You’re a good man Joseph. I think that is why we are here right now. I believe that is the reason why my son met your grand daughter and why, against your wishes, they are married today. Moreover, I will tell you with almost one hundred percent certainty that their marriage will not bring joy or happiness to your home. They will forsake you, Joseph. They will leave and you will never see them again. But you must not forsake them.”
Joseph was stunned by what he was hearing, “How can you say that? Why didn’t you say something earlier? Christ man. You knew this and then just decided to let all of this happen?”
“Joseph, nothing we could have said or done would have stopped this from happening. It was simply meant to be. And by allowing it to happen, by allowing them the freedom to follow their path you will have freed yourself from a sort of liability you would have incurred if you had done otherwise.”
“You son of a bitch. I should kick your ass!”
“No need,” replied Arthur calmly, “my time in this world is nearly at an end.”
Joseph paused, had Arthur just told him he was about to die? What was this guy up to?
“Joseph, a new season is almost here. This saeculum is winding down and something new, something we have not seen for many, many thousands of years is nearly upon us. Winter is about to fall and it will wipe the slate clean. The Kali is ending and a new super saeculum, a ‘great year’, is coming. It’s time to prepare and before I shed this mortal coil, you will come to understand your place in it all,” Arthur quit talking and pulled a tiny vial from his pocket filled with a dark liquid and handed it to Joesph.
“When you are ready,” Arthur was speaking with an assertive tone Joseph had never heard come from him before, “you will need to take this. When you do you’ll understand.”
Arthur took a step forward and put his hand on Joseph’s shoulder then walked back towards the tent. Joseph could still hear the sound of music and laughter in the background as he held the glass vial with the black liquid up against the light of the fire.
He turned it over a few times to examine it then squeezed it in his weathered and cracked hands. With his head bent, he ran his clenched fists across the side of his face to the back of his neck then stood up, knocked his chair over and yelled at the tent, “Fuck you, Artie! Fuck you and your stupid stories.”
He took a few steps towards the party, paused, then turned, kicked the fallen chair and threw the vial and its contents into the flames.