1. Mindy's Monsters
At 7 A.M. Mindy Carlson awoke from a nightmare. Feeling like she was suffocating, she staggered out of bed and threw open a window. The air revived her; it was a bright morning and birds sang in the tree in the back yard. She withdrew a few steps and tried to gather her scattered wits, when suddenly a winged creature the size of an owl landed on the windowsill. It had the head and face of an ugly woman and vulture-claws almost as big as its body. In a hideous cackle it said: “You filthy turd, you’re not going anywhere today. Just crawl back into your fetid bed and let your stinking carcass shrivel up and die!”
“Get outta here!” Mindy shrieked, then grabbed a book from her dresser and threw it at the Harpy. It passed right through the thing’s body, and with a fiendish laugh it disappeared. She fell back onto the bed and clutched her head with her hands, moaning “No, no, not again! Gods, give me light! And a little bit of steel in my spine would help too.”
As if this prayer were answered, she sat upright with a convulsive movement and saw the Sun shining through the window. She approached it cautiously and looked out. There on the ground was her physics text, amidst a random assortment of objects she had thrown at outré intruders in the past. She made a mental note to collect the book on the way out, then opened a seven-day pill-caddy on her nightstand, took out the day’s dollop of five tablets and capsules of different shapes and colors, carried them to her bathroom and flushed them down the toilet. Then from the back of a drawer she dug out a bigger pill-case, extracted from it a healthy handful of dietary supplements, and downed them in one gulp with a drink of water.
She pulled off the slip she had worn as a nightdress, then struggled into a pair of jeans adorned with decorative patches, some of which had symbolic and magical valences as well as the merely esthetic. On her back just below her neck was a tattoo of a circle encompassing twelve jagged lines radiating from a smaller circle, all in black except for a red heart in the center. She covered it with a white blouse very much like a short toga, with a rectangular bodice just deep enough for a glimpse of cleavage. On her upper left arm was tattooed a shield in the center of which was a snaky Medusa-head. A tatted spear ran from the crux of the thumb and forefinger of her right hand all the way up the arm to its point, which was emblazoned by a golden sun just below her shoulder. In the middle of her forehead was a little yellow dot circled neatly in red. Unlike most caste-marks it was permanent, and Mindy had applied it herself with pins and needles and tattoo artist’s ink in the mirror. Now she slipped into a pair of flats, gathered up her backpack, and headed downstairs.
In the spacious suburban kitchen her brother Craig was demolishing a stack of pancakes with a schoolbook propped against the syrup pitcher. At 16 he was two years her junior but two inches taller with an athletic build. Momentarily glancing at her, he said, “Hi, Sis. How y’doin’ this morning?”
She said, “Oh, um, okay. Y’know, the usual.” Despite her best effort to keep a grip on her viscera, her voice had faltered and almost cracked.
Craig’s eyes instantly shot up from the book and fixed her with a questioning stare. As she settled shakily into the chair across from him, the skin of his face became mottled and greenish, then coagulated into scales which spread over the rest of his body down to his gnarly clawed hands, feet, and long pointed tale. It was futile for Mindy to try to mask the terror that contorted her own face, and in a hissing reptilian voice Craig said: “Oh ssssshit, what do you sssssee me turning into thisssss time?” He didn’t wait for an answer but swiveled his head and shouted: “Mom! Mindy’s off her meds again!”
There was a patter of feet in the living room and then their mother bustled into the room, looked at Mindy and said, “Sweetheart, how could you! We had such faith that you’d stick with it this time, and Dr. Berg took such pains to work out a regimen that would minimize any side effects.” Mindy was rattled by the tension of the confrontation, but her mother’s genuine love and concern calmed her just enough to turn off the hallucinations ~ or “numenal
overlay”, as she called it in her own thoughts. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she said with sincerity, “but I just can’t stand what the meds do to me. It’s not the side effect, it’s the full-front straight-up main effect.”
“But it makes all those nasty psychotic symptoms go away ~ the horrible monsters, the nightmares, the paralyzing fear!”
Mindy took a compulsive look around at the room, whose contours had a queasy ripple, as if the world could morph into a nightmare at any moment. But she steadied herself and said, “It makes them go away by turning me into a zombie. I can’t think, I can’t feel, I can’t love. My soul shrivels up and if I keep taking those poison-pills it’ll die.”
“Oh, Mindy…!” said Mom, on the verge of tears.
Craig looked like himself again, but sounded distinctly serpentine when he said, “Should we call for a 72-hour hold?”
“You can’t!” said Mindy ~ “I’m not violent!”
Craig’s suggestion helped Mom find her voice again: “Mindy, we know from the awful stuff that happened before that you’re a danger to yourself when you don’t take your meds. Plus there’s the washout effect when you stop all at once. Seriously, dear, at the facility they can check you over and do what’s best.”
“Sure ~ they’ll strap me to a cot and shoot Haldol up my ass.” Mom was shocked, but Mindy’s mind went into self-preservation mode. She thought fast and said, “Okay, what if I agree to see Dr. Berg? Like right away, if he wants. I can tell him why I didn’t like his latest cocktail.”
“That would be wonderful! Thank God, you’re coming to your senses. He always responds to emergencies ~ I’m sure he’ll be able to squeeze us in. Let me phone him right now, though it’s so early that we’ll have to wait for him to return my message.” She hurried out of the room.
Craig said, “So what kinda critter did I morph into?”
“What, a big snake?”
“No, the original ~ he was a dragon that lived in a cave under the temple of the Delphic Oracle. That’s why they called her the Pythoness.”
“Whoa! Wish I could turn that on like a superpower ~ for sure I’d make varsity tackle.” They both laughed, and the tension between them dissolved for the moment.
Mom returned with a big smile on her face and said, “He’s such a fine doctor! He actually picked up his phone at this hour, and said he could see us during his lunch break. That means I won’t even have to take time off from work, and they’ll understand if I’m late getting back. But Mindy, can we trust you to wait here and stay out of trouble all morning? Or would it be better if you went to day program as usual? After all, they’re professionals equipped to deal with psychiatric emergencies.”
Mindy tensed up again, but after an uncomfortable pause she said, “Yeah, but why should we inflict that on them? And if anything did happen, it would probably disrupt class and maybe even set off some of the other clients. I’ll be fine here, I promise. I’ll chill out and listen to space music, or maybe take a bath. And if it gets freaky again, I’ll call you first thing."
“But what if it gets overwhelming?”
Mindy swallowed hard and said, “I’ll call 911 and go in for the 72-hour hold on my own recognizance.”
Mom was impressed by this suggestion; it convinced her that Mindy was serious about getting the help she needed, and settled the issue of where she should spend the morning. Her husband came down for breakfast, and he was filled in on the situation. He sincerely loved Mindy too, and they shared an affectionate exchange before he rushed off to work.
Half an hour later Mindy was alone in the house. “Thank you, Minerva!” she said to her patron Goddess. “And please, Mercury, lend us the wings on your heels so we can clear out of here in time.”
2. At One with Goddess
From the back of her closet Mindy unburied a suitcase that had been packed a year ago, then hurriedly gathered her personal hygiene items, underwear, and an extra change of clothes, which she put into her backpack. She sat at her laptop and spoke her searchwords aloud: “The Kin of Aries, organic farm called Soul Haven in the Valley of the Moon, Sonoma County, California….”
Damn, nothing for Kin of Aries or Soul Haven. Of course not, dunce, those are their private names. But dammity-damn, the Valley of the Moon isn’t even on Google Maps! Maybe it’s just an informal local name….
She had heard of the alternative community at third-hand in a chat group, and it sounded too good to be true, which she feared it was. They were getting all the way back to the land, living as naturally as possible while still keeping a foot in the high-tech world. They were spiritually enlightened and some of them had psychic powers. A couple of their members were psychos like her who had been completely healed through a combination of the lifestyle, high magic, and divine intervention. And best of all, they were pro-white!
She remembered her contact saying that the Valley of the Moon had something to do with Jack London; she added his name to the search, and there it was on the map of Sonoma County: Jack London State Park. Then the text search revealed that it was originally Jack’s ranch with the homestead he had built, now a museum; and that his search for a place to settle had been dramatized in his novel The Valley of the Moon. “That’s gotta be it!” said Mindy, “or at least it’s a clue to fix the radar on. When I get there somebody can surely tell me where Soul Haven is.”
Next she searched the Greyhound routes, and shouted “Praise the Gods!” when she found one that ran within a couple of miles of the park, through the town of Sonoma. She would have to wend her way across several states, and she saw by the schedules that the trip would take two days. Her heart sank at the prospect of fighting her hellish magic war for so long among strangers, with a minimum of physical comforts. But a shaft of light beamed down from above, and an Olympian chorus sang:
Cast off your fear, for we shall be near!
With aegis and spear your way shall be clear.
Shed not a tear, for to us you are dear.
The divine light poured into Mindy and vibrated up and down her chakras. Now she felt ready for any ordeal and thanked the Gods, though she already broke the letter of their injunction as a big beatific tear rolled down her cheek.
Checking the Greyhound schedule again, she discovered that a bus would depart from the local stop in about an hour ~ just enough time to get there, with a bit to spare if she hurried. Carefully but quickly she filled out the electronic form, typed in her debit card data, and printed out a ticket to Sonoma. She saved all the new information to her online files where she could access it from her smartphone, then shut down the computer and called for a cab.
She finally exhaled in the back of the taxi, but her breather didn’t last long. A hideous lizardlike head popped up from the crack in the seat cushion to her right, extended itself like a snake, and coiled around to face Mindy. She gasped when she saw it, but exerted the iron self-discipline she had been practicing and constrained herself from reacting loudly. But then another head arose on her left, then another and another. It was a Hydra, the many-headed monster of classical myth, and its saurian body was presumably right under the car-seat on which she sat. A quavering moan escaped from under her breath. “All you all right, Miss?” asked the cabbie, looking at her in the rear-view mirror.
“I… I’m okay,” said Mindy. “Just a touch of indigestion.”
The cabbie seemed like a decent sort of guy and appeared to be still concerned, but he looked back at the road and drove on.
The Hydra laughed sadistically in a stereophonic voice coming in sync from all its mouths at once. “So you think you vomited me up,” it said, “or maybe shat me out? Maybe you just need a dose of kaopectate!” It shrieked in a long peal of demonic laughter, and Mindy momentarily felt like she would indeed be physically sick. She mastered it, but then the creature said: “You think you’re such a clever girl to run away from home, but Daddy’s gonna stop you from getting on that bus, and then he’ll drag you back to Dr. Jekyll for your poison pills!”
It triggered a harsh realization, but then she flashed on a scene from the recent Spider-Man movie, when Doctor Octopus was nearing the end of his tether and the claws at the ends of his mechanical arms started talking to him ~ exactly like the Hydra was doing to her! She clenched her gut and looked round in rage at the heads. She shouted at them mentally: It’s true ~ you’re part of me! You’re not here in the cab at all, you’re nothing but a bunch of bile in my own subliminal snakepit! Now slink back down there with all your heads before I chop ’em off with my spear!! It worked: the Hydra hissed like a fire that had been doused with water, then disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The monster was gone, but it had reminded her of a simple fact that could put her escape in jeopardy: the Greyhound stop was right in front of her father’s office building in the suburb’s biggest mall. She thought it through and realized that the danger was actually minimal: he usually stayed inside all day and had lunch in the five-star restaurant on the ground floor. His office was on the tenth floor, and so even if he happened to look out while she was boarding the bus, he wouldn’t be able to recognize her at that distance. To be on the safe side, she dug her most non-descript jacket out of the suitcase and put it on over her distinctive toga-top. She breathed a little easier, and her mind wandered ahead to California.
The bus was already parked in its slot when the cab pulled in, but there was still ten minutes until departure time. She had her cab fare in hand and was opening the door with the other, when she looked at the entrance of the office building and her heart froze: there was her father standing and talking with some other men. She slammed the door shut in a state of alarm and confusion. “What’s wrong?” the cabbie said; “are you feeling sick again?”
Trying desperately to calm herself, Mindy said, “Could you do me a favor and turn the meter back on so I can wait a minute or two? I… I just remembered something important that I might have forgotten to do at home, and I need to sort of search my memory to be sure.”
The cabbie shrugged and said, “OK, as long as it’s your dime.” He clicked on the meter and settled back to watch TV on his smartphone.
A minute passed, then two, and the men showed no sign of breaking off what appeared to be a jovial conversation. What to do, what to do? Mindy’s mind still fluttered and floundered. The Hydra turned out to be precognitive, like most of her entities, the demonic as well as the deific, and were also possessed of other superhuman powers. Aha, she thought, just what I need right now! With little more than four minutes left, she marshaled all her energy and focused it upward mighty silent shout: Minerva! Athena! My Goddess, my protector, my soul and myself! Come to me now, save me, deliver me!
A spark of light appeared above and radiated a thin, silver line of energy directly into the top of her head. It filled her body with iridescence, and she began to grow. She stood up, her head and upper torso passing right through the roof of the cab. The tattoo on her left arm expanded and separated from her flesh and became a real shield, while the tattoo on her right arm also detached itself and became a spear. On her head was a helmet of gleaming bronze, graven with arcane icons. And there she stood facing the building: Athena-Minerva, Warrior-Goddess of Wisdom, arisen from the mists of history.
Minerva Victorious Over Ignorance ~ Bartholomeus Spranger
This was not a job for her weapon so she shifted the spear to her left hand, then extended her right with palm outward toward the group of men. A field of invisible force rippled forth and swept over them. One man looked at his watch, beckoned to another, and the two strolled away, waving farewell to their fellows. Mindy’s father and two others continued to chat. The Goddess flexed her hand again, narrowing her gaze upon them. As if they were blown by a gust of wind, they suddenly trotted through the doorway of the building and disappeared inside.
Minerva instantly condensed back into Mindy, who shoved open the cab door, reached into her purse and handed some bills to the driver, slung on her backpack, picked up her suitcase, and began running toward the bus, waving and shouting. The cabbie looked at the money, did a double-take, then jumped out and called: “Miss, did you really want to give me this much?”
Over her shoulder she said, “Yes, yes, it’s fine, thanks for waiting.” She got to the door of the bus just as it was closing. She shouted frantically, “Hello, I’m here, please wait!” The door swung open again and the driver looked at her in exasperation. “Sorry to be late,” she said, “but I have a ticket.”
“Thank heaven for small favors,” he said, but got up and helped her carry her bags on board. She walked all the way down the aisle and was overjoyed to find the back row of seats unoccupied. The bus lurched forward and she plopped down. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she whispered to her formidable Higher Self.
As the cabbie was pulling out he noticed the elegant restaurant, and realized that the strange girl’s gratuity would cover the cost of a splendid meal there for him and his whole family, with plenty to spare for a generous tip. “What goes around comes around,” he thought happily.