Psychedelic Water 23
A rainbow warrior in a slightly seared Day-Glo orange jumpsuit squats beside the fireplace and stares into the flames. The newcomer successfully replicates the appearance of an escapee from some postmodern imperial jail on the far side of the planet. He warms his hands on the rounded basalt rocks that enclose the small fire without making eye contact with anyone in the circle. Twin silver charm bracelets ring the young man’s wrists, further enhancing an impression of recent incarceration; black neo-tribal patterns blur across florid sunburnt cheeks as his face turns from the flames and dips into shadow.
The shaman slumps into his folding chair on the other side of the fireplace and releases a silent sigh of regret; Amber… His eyes automatically scan the grassy sward and scrubby regenerating bushland for a glimpse of the elusive umber-hued woman.
“Coffee?” Maryanne suggests, tilting a cup in the stranger’s direction. The newcomer answers the girl with a slight shake of his head while Phico’s pale blue eyes continue tracking the ascending smoke plume. He peers through a gap in the regenerating canopy and squints into the wide blue sky. “Where were we?”
“What year is it?” the shaman inquires.
“Inside a glass onion?” Maryanne suggests.
“Military intelligence,” corrects the Professor as he tousles her dark tangled mop. His girlfriend grimaces up at him in annoyance and leans forward, pulling away from the grasp of his knees. “Same diff,” she says, poking a stick into the coals as she sips her black coffee. Phico drops a wee budlet into the raft of assembled cigarette papers on the shaman’s knee. “What do you reckon, Ram’yana? Can the military – or ex-military – ever be trusted to tell the truth about anything?”
“That’s a loaded question,” the shaman replies noncommittally. “They’d first have to know the truth themselves, and who’s going to tell them - the nightly concentration camp news? Their glorious leader? Some other cellmate in their prison of one track minds?” He meets the jumpsuit-clad man’s eyes as Maryanne sloshes the dregs of her drink on the fire. “Or the aliens, maybe?” she suggests. The newcomer glances sidewise at the girl’s broad smile and shifts his weight, settling a little closer to her.
“‘Travellers’ or ‘visitors’ is the preferred term,” the shaman advises. The words seem to spring from nowhere, popping from his mouth without forethought as he watches the others freeze into their positions within the intimate tableau of the small circle. An xpansive sweep of his arm indicates the bushland setting that surrounds their quintuplet tête-à-tête. “We’re the aliens here. Just ask the local Kooris, they’ll tell you. Maybe. If they feel like it.”
His head swirls with a melange of images - a psychedelic storm of fractured montages that triggers a blizzard of kinaesthetic sensations. Amidst the swarm of recollections and vague possibilities he spies a vision of Amber hitchhiking on the side of the road, at the spot where he’d first stopped to pick her up on his way into Nimbin. She must have already found a lift into town…
“Some of the Bundjalung brothers and sisters call us the space people,” Phico supplies as the shaman stares through his thoughts and concentrates on the makings in his lap. “I’ve heard the same from the Gumbaynggirr,” Ram agrees while his mind circles a recollected image of Amber’s face; her beautiful symmetrical features artfully rearranged by the bliss of their loving and surrounded by a constellation of glittering rainbow stars. He closes his mouth as he realises last night’s trip is still altering his perceptions and expanding his thoughts along unchartable trajectories, even as his body struggles to adjust to a brand new bright day in a shiny new universe.
The previous night’s acid-fuelled gift of the gab appears to have momentarily deserted him, leaving a remnant gaggle of half processed flotsam in its wake. He watches Maryanne’s bare toes slip through wood fragments and ashes, incidentally sliding against the jumpsuited man’s dirt-caked instep. The stranger observes her expressionless face from the corners of downcast eyes as she throws a faggot into the flames. A scattering of sparks burst from the confines of the shallow stone pit, soaring all the way up through the low wattle canopy. Beams of morning sunlight dance through the smoke as a kookaburra begins cackling at the hilarious sight of cloth-draped naked apes engaged in their usual antics.
A vision of Amber’s mysterious smile lingers amidst the flickering flames. Her irises flare from the flurry of sparks and swirl around the coal black cores of her pupils. The fire is transparently wan and colourless beneath the bright blast of photons pouring down from the blazing Sun, but Amber’s eyes shine as brightly as the stranger’s orange jumpsuit in Ram’s inner sight. The Asian woman’s irises become twin flickering toroids; stencils cut from the newcomer’s fluorescent fabric and warped by the intervening flames, mesmerising the shaman with magnetic recollections of her enthralling presence.
Even after his cleansing swim he still smells a trace of Amber’s scent in his beard. He can feel the extraordinary feverish heat of her flesh impressed in his plasm, tautly pressing against and around him. He shivers in the sunny morning warmth while, all over his body, atrophied hackles of fine primate hairs lift away from his skin and stand at attention.
The Professor leans forward on his creaky folding camp chair to stroke Maryanne’s spine through her summery green cotton dress. She stiffens beneath the proprietary signal of his compulsive massage as the other young man averts his gaze, looking back into the flames. “So you reckon it’s just all bullshit?” the Professor drawls as his fingers knead Maryanne’s shoulder. “All this stuff about reverse engineered flying saucers?”
Words pour from Ram’s lips once more with a life of their own; “No, not at all. Planar geoids – flying saucers – definitely exist and have been here for thousands of years… for ever in fact. There are those who say they all come from right here on Earth, but misinformation campaigns have been carefully designed to tell us anything but the truth, as they must. And besides, this is only one Earth.” His fingers continue to mull the mull, long sharp nails automatically shredding the makings while a frown appears on Maryanne’s brow. “We’ve usually been led to believe one of two things,” he continues; “Either there’s nothing arriving here from the cosmos at all – it’s all just hoaxes and delusions - or that all unidentifieds must come from another planet.”
“Too right,” the orange-garbed man agrees in a husky voice as he stares into the fire. His cheeks are painted with a crosshatching of charcoal curves, his eyes underlined with thick gobbets of kohl. “Straight to the point,” he says.
“Straight as a tie,” the bearded shaman echoes as he licks the paper tube’s seam. He holds his coffee cup up before his brow, then lowers it to the level of his throat and heart to infuse the brew with his essences. He concentrates the resultant combination before his solar plexus, inhaling rich esters before swallowing a sip and refortifying himself with a lungful of smoky forest air.
“So what do you say?” the Professor presses. Maryanne’s lips smile beneath her frowning brow. “Do you reckon they come from outer space?” she asks.
“Or inner spaces?” Phico suggests.
The shaman smooths the four paper number and circumcises the tip with his teeth. “There are many different sources of saucers,” he says as he spits out the joint’s foreskin. “I hesitate to tell you what I really think, but seeing as you ask…” He taps the cardboard filter more firmly into place. “They come from here, there and everywhere - and everywhen; a vast range of different levels of technological and psychic maturation are all appearing here all the time, from a multitude of timestreams, including our infinitude futures and various presents.”
Maryanne’s frown etches deeper patterns on her forehead as she pours herself another cup. “But if they’re time travellers, where did they start out?” she asks. “It’s like saying some god created the universe without explaining where he came from.” The Professor’s hand dips between the cotton material and her spine and she shivers before the fire.
“In an infinite multiverse of infinite universes there is no ‘first’.” Ram says, swiftly recovering his powers of speech. “And they’re not all time travellers. Plenty of disks come from right here on Earth, and others from elsewhere within this timespace continuum - but the technologies implicit in the manipulation of rotating electromagnetic fields are an evolving feast of nestling possibilities; a humungous glass onion.” He watches Maryanne’s eyes glaze over as his small audience all lift their cups to their mouths as one. “But the really interesting point in all this – for me, at least - is the way we’re being protected from developing a cargo cult mentality.”
Intermittent drumming recommences on the other side of the paddock while the Professor tousles Maryanne’s hair once again. “How’s that?” he asks, dark eyes affixed to a group of scarcely clad rainbow faeries who are headed downhill to the creek. Maryanne shakes her locks from his fingers and sweeps mussed-up hair from her eyes.
“Technologically advanced cultures often leave less sophisticated societies shattered in their wake – like all those native tribes who gave up the ghost in the face of wonders brought by advancing empires; unimaginable items dropped at the feet of stone age people who could hardly conceive how they’d been made.”
“A sufficiently high technology always appears to be magic,” Phico agrees. “Was that Clark, or Moorcock? Anyway, where was I? Oh yes,” he nods, speaking directly to Maryanne, “‘cargo cult’ specifically refers to those New Guinea tribes who intercepted supplies dropped to troops by passing planes in world war two. The natives hacked runways into the jungle and even built wickerwork airplanes and parked them nearby to lure the cargo gods down. They abandoned their lives and lifestyles to pray to promising new gods who dropped strange food and trinkets from the skies – supplies for troops dropped by parachute and often intercepted by the tribes.”
“Just so,” Ram agrees, “and most were soon absorbed into the monoculture of the new invader, or became dispirited by their perceived impotence in the face of all those gifts from the gods – or were wiped out by diseases, alcohol, social disruption… bullets and bombs.”
He catches a glimpse of the almighty forest which once stood where they sit round the small gum-wood fire – an almost thoroughly desecrated paradise whose remnants sprout back as seedlings and saplings all around them, while the spirits of elder trees remain rooted in an uninterrupted dream world that’s endured for millions of years; encompassing all that unfolds and buds beneath their overarching boughs and impenetrable canopies. This has been a fireplace for a long, long time, he realises.
The vision departs as swiftly as it came. “There are many who help to uplift humankind by a variety of means,” he continues, “but their efforts must always remain hidden. Humans have to believe they’re developing these extraordinary new technologies, abilities and ethical systems of their own accord. Otherwise many good souls would be lost in despair, in realisation of how backward we truly are.”
“So they have to secretly leak info and stuff into our cultures, so we don’t get depressed?” the Professor enquires. “Makes sense, if they’re benign. Like that non-interference prime directive on uh… that sci-fi show, you know...”
“Star Trek,” Maryanne supplies. “And there are a number of ways to leak info and tech into the world,” Phico adds. “You can insert it directly into some people’s minds, without having to stage a Roswell incident or impregnate TV programs with suggestive scripts.”
“By telepathy?” asks Maryanne. “Hypnosis?” the Professor suggests. “With lies,” the charcoal-faced stranger proclaims as he runs a hand over his short-shorn scalp. The shaman consecrates the joint and incinerates its tip. “Let me tell you a story.” He takes a deep drag and passes the spliff to his left. “Please do,” implores Maryanne. She accepts the burnt offering while she strokes the Professor’s calf muscle. “Uhhuh,” her beau nods. “Go on,” says Phico.
So he does.
“It isn’t my story – it’s one I read when I was a teenager. Here,” he says, and quickly consecrates the second finished number before passing it to Phico, along with a refillable gas lighter. The older hippy completes the circle by passing the first joint back to him. “That was quick,” Maryanne observes. “You should enter in the speed rolling comp this arvo. Whose story is it then?”
“Uh… it comes from an old Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, I think. It’s been a long time.”
“Must have been. Wasn’t that one of those pulp mags back in the sixties?” The shaman nods while Phico lights up, puffing smoke signals into the diminishing plume that arises from smoking embers in the depleted fire. “And the fifties,” the elder supplies as a puff of smoke makes it past his withheld breath. “He goes way back, this one. Like me.”
“Like a Wayback Machine,” the shaman agrees. He turns to greet another recovering partygoer and Paul’s lightly bearded face appears over Phico’s shoulder, sniffing the smoke cloud that wreathes the older man’s head as he accepts the smouldering spliff. “Come on,” insists Maryanne, bouncing up and down on the spot. “Tell us the story!”
“Well… I’ll make it brief,” Ram says. He pauses for a deep slow toke before passing the first number to the Professor, while Paul – the prime scion of the Star Earth Tribe - kneels to reawaken the drowsy flames. “A bunch of engineers and technicians are called in by U.S. Military Intelligence, to reverse-engineer a machine they say has fallen into their hands…”
“Let me guess,” interrupts Maryanne, “it’s a flying saucer.”
“Actually, no, it’s a perpetual motion machine…”
“Uhuh…” The Professor inverts the joint and shotguns smoke into his girlfriend’s instantly opening mouth. Even as the tale unreels from the shaman’s busy tongue, the tableau strikes him as remarkably redolent of a fuzzy-headed avian parent feeding a famished emerald-plumed chick; “…and the military tells the scientists they have two weeks to figure out how it works and build a functioning replica.” Ram’s head swirls with mismatched memories and he takes a deep breath of oxygenated, orgone-charged air to clear his mind. “The engineers scoff at first, and then they get down to business. They’re locked in a lab and given anything they ask for to complete the job.”
“And they’re able to do it?” Maryanne surmises through a cloud of smoke. The sentence is barely out of her mouth when she doubles over in a coughing fit. “Good shit!” she announces in staccato bleats while the Professor pats her back. The Day-Glo escapee leans back from leaping flames that Paul cajoles from rekindled coals with handy handfuls of desiccated mulch.
“Well – after two weeks the generalissimos come back into the lab and ask, ‘How’d you go?’ – expecting the engineers to have failed - and the head scientist says, ‘Well, we looked at how it worked and pulled it all apart, but we couldn’t get into that little black box on the side…’ The military guys said, ‘Don’t worry, we didn’t think you’d be able to do it,’ and the scientist shook his head and said, ‘Oh, we did it all right. It took us a while, but we worked out a way to bypass the box.’
“The generals stood around stunned while the eggheads and engineers showed them a working replica, and it turned out the high brass had been fooling the scientists all along; the sealed black box contained a secret power source after all…”
“And they built a perpetuum mobile anyway?” suggests Phico.
“Aye, just so – if you believe something is possible then it becomes possible.”
“So,” says the Professor as he passes the joint on to Paul, who passes him the other smoke while he blows into the embers, “is that what you reckon is really going on? That they fooled some scientists into building a working flying saucer by telling them they’d found one, or something?”
“If you like,” says the shaman. “Actually, if I remember the story correctly the generals traded the perpetual motion machine with the Soviets – for an antigravity device they’d developed using identical means. Let’s just say there are many different sources of saucers, and just because they were designed and built here on Earth doesn’t mean the information originally came from here – or here alone – or that the military mind is ever capable of telling the truth. It’s just not in their job description. The whole topic of so-called ‘unidentifieds’ is all a glass onion,” he says with a nod to Maryanne, “with many levels of permeability and nested masks of Russian doll truths.”
Paul coughs his way through another toke. “Wow,” he chokes; “Smooth!”
“He is, isn’t he?” Maryanne jests, taking the joint from Paul’s fingers while Phico grasps the conversation’s baton and runs with it; “And suggestions can be implanted in receptive minds in all sorts of ways, to seed and take root in fertile imaginations.” He has a swift toke and passes it on to the shaman. “So where’s that studded Goth you were hanging with last night?”
“The night before,” Ram corrects him. “No idea. She was pretty out of it when I saw her last - but she was in good hands.”
“Very droll. I’m sure she was! Oh, that’s right,” says Phico. “Didn’t I see you ’round midnight at the Chai Tent, hanging with some Asian woman? Typical,” Ram’s interrogator tells the others. “Simply notorious.”
“Better than monotonous,” Maryanne assures him while Paul’s eyes narrow. “Maybe, once… if ever,” the shaman admits noncommittally as he meet’s Paul’s gaze through the smoke. “I’ve lived all alone in the forest for years now, in case you hadn’t noticed. So please pardon me for waxing lyrical.”
The Professor comes to his rescue. “Hey, this is a great place to party hearty, dude. Get into it, eh?” His nose and lips nuzzle into his girlfriend’s hair. “Gee you smell good,” he tells her.
“So what happened to that Asian chick?” asks Paul.
“Wish I knew. If I did I’d be with her right now.”
“Like that, huh?” Phico passes the dregs of the prime number to the shaman. “You know, I could swear I’ve seen her before, but it isn’t possible; or at least, it’s highly improbable…” Ram hesitates with the roach an inch from his lips. “Why not?” he asks, squinting into the other man’s ruminative face through bedazzling beams of sunlight.
“Because it was too long ago – way back in Burringbar.” A fey chill rushes all the way up along Ram’s erect spine. “When you were living with Sue Hawke?”
“You lived with Sue Hawke?” the Professor asks in surprise. “Bob Hawke’s daughter, Sue Hawke? The junkie?”
“Who?” Maryanne asks.
“You know, Bob Hawke the Prime Minister,” her boyfriend informs her. “Oh.” She obviously has no idea who he’s referring to. Ram’yana readjusts his estimates of the Professor’s age and intelligence, turning both a notch upward. “That’s the one,” Phico agrees. “So she can’t possibly be the same woman, can she? I didn’t get too close a look, but she seemed quite young. And very beautiful. But she was the spitting image… perhaps her daughter? What was her name, anyway?”
“It’s often harder to tell an Asian woman’s age,” Maryanne informs them. “Their skin is…”
“Fuck man, them slopeheads all look alike t’me!” All heads turn at the untoward intrusion, swivelling toward a stubbly face that seems vaguely familiar to the preoccupied shaman. “’Cept them Thai girls – they’re the best…” As the tanned and tattooed stranger joins their circle Ram manages to place him as part of the group that screwed the living nightlights out of young Angel in the public park the previous night, when the exotic, wanton, drug-fucked teenaged Goth grrl was pounced upon by a platoon of young tourists in full – if dimly lit – view of all who chanced by.
“Fuck ’em, I say!” the swarthy stranger declares, echoing Ram’s recollection with unseemly enthusiasm. His obviously drunken boorishness is hardly ameliorated by a spattering of bloodstains beneath his hairy nostrils. “That’s all ’ey’re good for, waddya reckon? Smooth’s silk, hardly no hair an’ all - like hot little girls, but legal! An’ they got fuckin’ hot little…” His smile slowly fades and his discourse changes course when he sees the expressions on the sextet of faces arrayed round the fire. “Any of ’at joint left?”
The shaman hands him the near-extinct roach and climbs from his chair. “I have to get ready for town. It must be getting late – everything will be firing up about now.”
“Oh,” Paul supplies with flickering eyes cast to the skies, “it’s around ten-thirty, give or take. Everything’s probably still coming together at the last minute as usual. No rush; I’m going in again later if anyone wants a lift.”
“Have a good time,” Maryanne tells the shaman as he hooks a camera strap over one shoulder. “I can see why you live alone in the forest,” she says while the scruffier stranger shuffles to the fire beside her. “People, you know. It’s a lot more…” She leaves the sentence hanging.
“They’re usually not too bad when you deal with them one on one,” Ram says. His knees crackle loudly when he twists around to adjust his spine. “Not always,” Maryanne demurs as she leans back between the Professor’s thighs. “One on one can sometimes be unpleasant. Or boring.” The shaman gives her a crooked smile and nods a silent farewell to the group before crossing the paddock in the direction of his encampment. He can see the Jackaroo Deva in the closer distance, its undercarriage tickled by weedy grasses; sunk to its axles in luxuriant growth.
He wilfully discards the scummy ill-feeling left by the fractious tattooed man even as the stranger’s belatedly bemused voice raucously pursues him; “One on top o’ one, y’mean! Haw haw!” Ram’s pace accelerates when his eyes adjust to the unusual brightness of the sun-blasted sward. The drumming has consolidated into a regular driving beat, emanating from a large fire near a cluster of tepees and tents on the far side of the paddock.
He weaves between vans and four wheel drives as he enters the precinct of the main dance area. Bodies lie strewn on mats and tables beneath a capacious tarp roof that covers the sound and lighting equipment and a grassy undercover dance floor. Most of the crew and surviving patrons are more or less awake and reclining on cushions in torpid recovery mode, preening and smoking and sharing a communal breakfast of cuppas, fruit and toast. Few lift their eyes as he strolls past the placid chill zone.
When he reaches the vehicle his hand caresses the four wheel drive’s chipped two-tone paintwork. As his eyes shift to the place where he’d shared the morning hours with wonderful Amber he once more relives the moment when he picked he up on the side of the road a few days earlier, as he’d approached the environs of the Village of Nimbin. He recalls Phico’s remark, and his warping perceptions meld with vague memories. I thought she looked familiar. Have I seen her somewhere before? he wonders as he riffles through his random access memory. A very long time ago?
A True Story
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