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Gwenda

Something like the San Andreas Fault line snaked it’s way through the curved surface of Gwenda’s cranium and there were times when the lights went out. At other, piezo electric, moments the cave within was fleetingly illuminated with brilliant flashes of light (and inspiration). Earlier on in her forty-one years this began to take the form of nebulas voices. As time passed and the experiences shuddered from mere cerebral tectonics (to acquaintances watching) into concise interstellar communications Gwenda began to ‘realise’ that she was more than the paranoid siesmic-schitzoid that parents and accommodating friends intimated.

Her view of the world had always been different from that of those with whom she was forced to share this planet. There were so many perceptions to which she was privy but to which those surrounding her were oblivious. And it seemed to her, as she heaved from depression to inspiration, that the lives of her associates (if displayed upon the chart of a seismograph) would only be represented as a deathly straight line!

In the month of the Kite, in the year of the Dog, Gwenda had found herself in congenial company at a barbecue organised by the ‘more enlightened’ of her local peers. Conversations during the evening had ranged across a broad field of topics; mad-cow disease, social violence and decay, M.M.P (the new electoral system) and the prolonged drought had all been discussed and dissected.

“Of course you realise”, ventured Gwenda apocalyptically, “that unless we get these things sorted out very soon the Guardians”, and here one finger involuntarily rose falteringly skyward, “will be making their presence known!”

Some such, but more vaporous, allusions had escaped Gwenda’s lips on other occasions and no one present expected this cryptic announcement to do any more than remain a vacuous proclamation.

But the vibes of the evening were inductive. The structures on Gwenda’s personal landscape began to tremor and shake uncontrollably. Her eyes rolled upwards and a chasm opened below her nose. The magma voice that at first oozed and then cascaded searingly from that opening completely silenced her company. Consternation was the sole expression on every face. The young doctor, too, was catapulted from his academic logic to a state primal awe. The solidity of science yielded to the stronger earthly forces of shamanism and Gwenda became both the voice of the tortured Earth and of Meriment, a celestial cosmic-guardian orbiting high above the chaos of human affairs.

‘Meriment’ in a hermaphroditic voice, both damning and conciliatory, shook Gwenda’s person and the personal confidence of those present. From lava and gravel to electronic echoes the disturbing voice surged, up-ending the common consensus of reality and reforming a new synopses of human history and accomplishments. From the debris of what the fraternity ‘knew’ to be true a new ‘truth’ was structured and some present would not be the same again.

In their individual homes later that evening the partygoers could do little but ruminate on what had preceded.

In conversations that occurred in the days that followed a number expressed to each other an eagerness to extend the experience, to extend the encounter with ‘Meriment’ and learn more about his/her intergalactic presence. For although the business at the barbecue was bizarre and not something that could be easily shared without ridicule all those who had been there had sort-of  come under a kind of spell, as it were. Having collectively shared such a strange experience they now felt a common bond which, for most, was absent previously.

Amongst those who had sat around the glowing embers of the home-made barbecue as the wind of change had fanned them to luminosity and sent a haze of white ash into the darkness beyond, only one person, though moved by the same breeze as coursed through the company, regained his grasp of scepticism. In his fervent search for truth in his younger years Daryll had been disillusioned by contact with spiritualistic churches where vaguely similar but less spectacular possessions were common place.

The doctor was barely less intrigued than the rest of them but perhaps because of the ‘responsible’ position in which both he and the community considered he resided he inquired obliquely regarding the persisting attitudes expressed by those present that night! His relationship with Daryll, when they next met, was particularly circumspect for he sensed Daryll’s cynicism from the outset.

Collectively the rest of the company wondered how they could engineer a situation where ‘Meriment’ might again become manifest.

For Gwenda, herself, the time that elapse after the barbecue was one of relative tranquillity (at least when compared with the massive quake on that night in the month of the Kite). True, she had been surprised by the development but in retrospect she could perceive that that is what is was. It was a development. She had developed! As a Channel she had come of age!

It was only when some of Gwenda’s friends ventured their interest in hearing more from the disincarnate ‘Meriment’ the Gwenda actually began to experience self-doubt.

She knew from her visits to Reema, a Channel in Christchurch, that some could summon up spirit guides on demand. Reema had regular clientele, as well as casual and most, including Gwenda, had gone away satisfied. Gwenda felt she shared an amiable relationship with her urban counterpart, so visited him. To begin with their relationship was as it had been previous. Reema spoke as his Earthly self and initially assumed that this was another of Gwenda’s infrequent visits in search of reiteration of the certainties most clientele sought. But Gwenda, this time, he realised, was expecting different treatment and spoke to him not as one desiring some trifling platitude but as an equal, a spiritual compatriot. It was then that his attitude changed and when Reema spoke as Reema the Sioux Shaman the support, she sought, evaporated. The message was clear and surprisingly pointed. By comparison with this her four other visits to Reema had the substance of mere candyfloss. It was clear that Reema would rather she consider she was the possessor of a broken mind than acknowledge that Gwenda was wired to and intergalactic megaphone!

As Gwenda came in closer contact with this true, and inner self, friction seemed to become a more common feature in her life. This was not the original abrasion of adjoining continental-cranial plates but occurred at the interface of projected worlds!

Up until this point Gwenda had found it easy to have faith in the authenticity and pronouncements of the two Channels with whom she had had contact.

At first the gentle cynicism of Daryll, in whom she had found some personal support, had been the one sore point in their relationship. When she had supplied him with a tape, recording two of Reema’s purported channelings, he had been unimpressed. One, claimed to be the voice of a deceased relative of Gwenda’s, referred in a syrup-like fashion to Gwenda’s future role as a facilitator of change and renewal.

Now Gwenda confronted a dilemma, for on the one hand Reema’s rejection of her experience at the barbecue evening tore at her respect for him and yet her respect for Reema hinged in large part on his earlier pronouncement of her future role. This could only mean that whilst channelling the uncensored utterances of her deceased relative Reema the Sioux had rejected her experience that it was still the Earthly speaking! Was Reema basically a fake? What was his original pronouncement in which she had placed such hopeful expectation? When Daryll had suggested that the two taped voices were the same mind speaking had he been correct? Was the experience that night in the month of the Kite valid but completely unrelated to any supposed prophecy? Had the possession of that evening merely been some product of her own manufacture? The stresses now began to build! The plates began to buckle and hidden aquifers, just below the surface had their courses displaced. The skin on her inner forearms became parched, her eyes became moist.

She needed a sign, and those who had shared some of the awe of that evening’s utterances and who had lately hinted their sustained wonderment, they would need a sign too!

So two months later, in the month of the Tether, Gwenda and her friends from the lower end of the Waigill Valley shared an evening meal.

A thin sheet of cloud, extended as a faint veil beneath the stars and kept the autumn days heat from escaping to the upper sky.

The doctor arrived, a little late, from his home at the valley’s upper end and Daryll wondered what struggles and deliberations James had had to wrestle with until finally deciding to attend. As for himself Daryll viewed the on coming evening as firstly a social event and secondly as a sociological foray, for to Daryll this was part of the beginning of something. Social-anthropologists tend to delve into cultures distanced by either geography or time, but human seismology pushes human continents and archipelago in strange new directions. The underlying mental-strata fracture, tilt and buckle. Surface accumulations from the past become buried and are later unearthed by analysts, geologists of the mind. Forces also uplifted and exposed ancient fossils. Maybe this was such a one.

Every one, of course, wanted to get straight to the point, but this was strange topography, as yet a land not their own. Inter-personal dynamics, a field dear to Gwenda’s heart and a subject she had thought central to her predicted role and facilitation, were acutely active, for all participants expectant eyes moved continually back to Gwenda huddled apprehensively in a chair in the corner of the lounge.

It was fortunate that those present were relatively close acquaintances who had sufficient in common and felt comfortable enough in each others company for conversation to flow spontaneously and for silence, when it occurred, to feel appropriate. The night drew on. They could not forget entirely why they were gathered that evening. Gwenda felt alone. Self-doubt, loneliness, anticipation and obligation (in the form of meeting other’s expectations) were forces expanding within her as if wedges were being driven in from various directions. Sensory devices positioned specifically for the purpose began to register changes. And when those with her in the room realised that once again their eyes had drifted back to Gwenda, for the umpteenth time, they thought they were registering something.

Different stimuli two and a half months ago had registered with Gwenda but she had made no reference then to the possibility of some consequence. Tonight, though, amidst her eagerness, humility, awe, apprehension and hope was the sense of others waiting. It was only when she ventured to explain “I think that something is soon to happen”, that she discovered how far things had already shifted. A silent numbness had extended through her. Numbness and yet a thick pressure. A numbness and pressure that kept her arms firmly on the arms of the chair, her feet firmly on the carpet and her lips firmly fused together!

Something was happening alright! If she couldn’t raise their intention would she suddenly erupt and shatter their preoccupations? Things had to be right! But no, her friends were all becoming aware. Soon every one in the room had their attention directly on Gwenda and these cascading concerns within her were a brief, abrupt avalanche! Her breathing was becoming desperate!

From the outside the struggle was momentously evident. Gwenda was moving like some motor, rocking on it’s rubber mounting-pads... like some tremor... like... A noise was escaping through Gwenda’s cheeks, noises her closed lips couldn’t seal. It was like... like a drone, a groan...

Gwenda no longer needed to try and announce the immanence of anything but her lips broke apart and mouthed the words she had intended, though the sound that issued was a louder version of what they had heard when it was shut. The avalanche terminated in a shower of light and ‘Meriment’ rose, beckoned the spellbound on lookers to follow her out through the ranch-slider doors and onto the dewy grass beyond the reach of the pool of light blazing through the window.

Again a voice so different from Gwenda’s began to emanate from deep within her. One would have thought it both impossible that a human, no matter how talented, could have produced such vocal effects (and all, presumably, utilising Gwenda’s vocal chords) and that these same vocal chords were not mutilated in the process.

This time, as again it ranged through lava, gravel and electronic-echoes, the company were told that they would witness some proof that their experience was in no way a hoax. In forty-five seconds a bright travelling light would appear at forty-five degrees in the Southwest and be dimmed again ninety degrees later.

After the longest forty five seconds the company had endured but within the space of their arrested breath a very bright, strangely iridescent, beacon suddenly came into being, as it were and arced slowly across the black sky. It extinguished at the foretold sector.

A chorus of acclaim and wonderment erupted spontaneously and ‘Meriment’ waited a moment and then continued speaking, declaring that this same light had been orbiting the Earth for two thousand Earth years. And it had been that light over Bethlehem, proclaiming Christ’s incarnation, ushering the world to a new spiritual growth. Now a new era had arrived, ‘Meriment’ announced!

Daryll felt both sick and amazed. This was definitely the start of something but could he remain the distanced observer he had hoped? He felt James’s eyes sweep across him!

At the upper end of the Waigill Valley, meanwhile, unbeknown to any at it’s lower end and acquaintance of some of them (Stan Maehem) groped in the darkness in front of studio-home gathering and winding up the wires used in the electronic ignition of a new departure in his pyrotechnic tinkerings. Artist, pyrotechnic and prankster Stan had at first experienced defeat and then elation as the rocket had streaked invisibly in the major part of it’s North-Easterly arc. Only when it had belatedly flared into incandescent visibility had he been able to detect its flight. The height of its flight path impressed him even if its radiant life had been short. Its high trajectory had given it a long, and from the ground seemingly slow, flight. It was a pity, Stan thought, that it had glowed in full glory for only the middle of its relatively brief life. Later flights, he was determined, would be more controlled. He would manipulate its path via radio-control. This would make retrieval even more important than it was for tonight’s flight. NASA had designed the reusable ‘Shuttle’ for similar reasons of economy. But both the budgets and the ambitions were different. NASA was motivated by practical scientific aspirations. Stan Maehem was embarking on the most ambitious of his, until now strictly local, practical jokes.

Stan’s little ute’ farted into life. He shuddered up the corrugated shingle driveway, turned onto the road and made for the road leading down the Waigill Valley. Twelve minutes later, near Palmers farm, he pressed the button on his receiver and continued driving. With mounting satisfaction Stan realised that it’s flight had carried the beacon further than he had dared hope. In another ten minutes he passed the numerous crouching forms of vehicles huddled in the darkness outside the only illuminated house he had noticed. It was three kilometers later before the signal became strong. He was already familiar enough with the receiver to use it directionally and to also judge distance from signal strength. He was mentally prepared to plod quite a distance from the road, but hadn’t entertained the idea of it coming down in anyone’s back yard, hardly a surprising expectation when the surroundings were so rural. So Stan was perturbed when he found he was outside Daryll Sincock’s place Stan cruised to a quiet halt on the grass verge and extinguishing the lights waited for his eyes to accustom themselves to the blackness. He made his way down the back side of a shelterbelt on Daryll’s boundary, entering through the double fence near what must be a chook coup. The signal was now very strong and emanated from back towards the house. A dark silhouette of a haystack loomed and Stan crept around it. The signal now stayed the same and when Stan used it directionally he discovered the beacon embedded through the polythene stack-cover, at its summit. Using the cover’s securing ropes Stan dug his boot-tips between the bales and hauled himself high enough to retrieve the mettle rocket-cylinder, now very cold and spent. Daryll obviously had no dogs to awaken him (if he was home) and Stan scurried back to his waiting ute’.

The protracted drought of the region meant that, like others, Daryll had already commenced feeding out precious hay intended as winter feed. Desiccating Norwest winds had been frequent and Daryll attributed the sagging of the haystack’s cover to this factor. He leaned a stepladder against the tight bales so that he could manipulate the polythene and ropes back into place.

When he discovered the hole in the stack cover he was both surprised and annoyed. Dew had already trickled through and spoiled part of one of the top bales. In scrutinising for a possible explanation for the puncture he was puzzled by a slight but obvious melting of the plastic that had occurred on one side of the hole!

Amongst those present at ‘Meriment’s’ two appearances enthusiasm was high! Two families, who had been marginal churchgoers, claimed they felt more enlivened by being part of this new ‘congregation’ and henceforth terminated their attendance at the local Anglican church. It was not as if ‘Meriment’ had denied the authenticity of Christianity, but that the power of his/her presence was more dynamic and compelling and created a sense of being privy to an over-view (a larger picture that put their former spiritual notions in an entirely different context).

On a once a month basis the group began to meet, not always at the same house, but always in the evening and generally a Saturday.

‘Meriment’ had stated that he/she was not available on video, not on command, but that Gwenda was his/her mouthpiece. He/she was agreeable, Gwenda confirmed to the meeting to share in this new unfoldment. In a sense they were a privileged group, an elite. This was the commencement of a new wave, the first tremor that would result in a spiritual tsunami that would sweep away delusion and result in the construction of a new world society of unity. This impact would be initially slow and incremental but would gradually gather momentum until it assumed a critical stage from whence growth would become exponential.

Gwenda began to keep a journal and noted in it the guidance she received during the month. While ‘Meriment’ would be in full control of his/her appearances and may or may not manifest demonstrably through Gwenda at these newly incepted monthly gatherings she would always have her current journal entries. It was plain as the months went by that these journal entries began to assume the status as ‘Scripture’. Usually nebulas in nature these utterances frequently focused on the pressures exerting themselves on Mother Earth; pollution, war and overcrowding! Basic to ‘Meriments’ teaching was the cry that humankind’s attitude towards the Earth must undergo a reverential change!

It was plain to all who knew Gwenda that she had undergone a change! Her life as ‘Meriment’ was known to no more than a dozen people, but those in the wider community who had watched her childhood development and growth through adolescence, saw in this forty one year old woman a strength and health which had not previously possessed her. She was less reticent and no longer mumbled or allowed her speech to trail off unconvincingly when under duress!

At the top of her personal agenda, now, was the consolidation and enhancement of her relationship with ‘Meriment’. The philosophy receiving her embrace became more clearly defined, less eclectic. The turmoil that seemed to plague her inner life subsided. Some of that raw volcanic landscape began to grass-over.

James, who was unfamiliar with Gwenda’s early years but who, none the less, had thought he detected seismic signs of the underlying faulting and fractures, saw now the health and resolution. Gwenda’s aversion to orthodox medical disciplines kept her from ever consulting James for treatment of her recurrent eczema and arthritic problems.

Others who had known her longer and who had less reason than what James had to be affronted would have remembered this anti-medical-establishment attitude as one of her original fields of vehemence. James knew of this hostility only second hand.

Her new and obvious health, her new demeanor and the two shattering events those evenings in the month of the Kite and the month of the Tether (at Trevors) caused schisms in James’s foundations. Doubts, that other fringe elements in the world expressed, about his until then had merely glanced off him, barely registered. Now the formerly inviable reinforcing structures of science, around which his views and opinions were cemented, displayed serious signs of fatigue and could not be forced to bridge some of the gaps that were opening.

James became disturbed that his dream-life was becoming more intense. They frequently, now, had an impact that carried over into the following day. His sleep was less deep. He decided to seek professional advice and inquiring amongst his colleges for the name of a psychiatrist who might help one of his ‘patients’ was recommended the mature and experienced Russell Beaton.

By his third session with Beaton James had learned enough about his therapist to have his delusions of having enlisted the assistance of a humanistic stalwart of scientific determinism thoroughly eroded, for Russell Beaton had received much of his training in the U.S. where considerable research into the paranormal had taken place. From Beaton’s perspective the mind was not a mere product of the physical body but was akin to a field of potential with it’s own ability to influence the body and the physical realm in which that body was a feature. Beaton had coined the term ‘precognitive aspiritave-confirmation’ to describe the situation where events in the inner and outer worlds appear to be in divergence but were analysis suggested that the underlying subconscious aspirations were commencing to express more vividly a commitment to outward phenomena still consciously regarded as anomalous.

Through therapy with Russell Beaton James began to accept that at some deep (and far from obsolete and primitive) level he longed for a perspective of the ‘world’ that was broader than that described by the pronouncements of science. Aspects of the psyche felt as restricted by scientific dogma as by superstitions for if a mind, being potential, were to have parameters placed upon it by either internal or eternal agents the mind entered a sense of bondage.

James’s sessions with Beaton occurred weekly and Gwenda’s group now met fortnightly. This new diet was good food, James consented. Even if he knew little of his inner yearnings this sense of newness, now being experienced, gave him an eagerness for life.

James compiled a small poster featuring some of ‘Meriments’ more profound disclosures and pinned them to his waiting room notice board so that patients at his medical centre might give themselves a chance to go with this new flow!

During a routine consultation a week or two later an older man, an influential local farmer, in response to good-natured queries from James (regarding life in general and the welfare of the patients grown up family) let loose a tide of pent up concern. He fumed that his married daughter and her husband were attending some new, queer cult. Gerald Palmer had lived in the Waigill Valley all his life, and had known Gwenda’s family for 50 years and knew Gwenda was ‘CRACKED’. “Now here she is, leader of some crazy spiritualist-space man cult!

Bloody loony! That gullible son-in-law of mine has got himself and Sandra tied up in this madness. From what Sandra has been trying to convince me this silly bitch, Gwenda, has them believing she is communicating with some damned spaceship which showed the wise men the lords birth place!”

“Ordinarily I might have been able to agree with you, Gerald, the concept of a cult always carries eccentric connotations. But Gwenda isn’t cracked, I can assure you, what ever you think you know of her past! She is a well and truly mended woman.”

 “How much do you know about this madness?” Retorted Gerald Palmer enquiringly.

“What, do you mean Gwenda’s imagined madness of the ‘Meriment’ meetings?” Responded James.

“This bloody ‘Meriment’ bullshit, is what I meant!” Snorted Palmer “Don’t tell me you’re involved with those far fetched fantasies!”

James’s anger made his breathing feel constricted, he reached to loosen his tie only to discover he was wearing an open-neck shirt. He had discarded his earlier formal attire during surgery hours.

“You have nothing to worry about regarding Sandra and Errol’s involvement in the group. I can assure you” he responded, regaining his internal composure. “A few months ago, I agree, I would perhaps have thought like yourself about such a matter. However after what I’ve seen I would have to corroborate all that Sandra has probably tried to tell you!”

It was disquieting to see Gerald Palmer rise slowly to his feet, shaking his head in disbelief. He looked hard at James then strode to the door, Then turning and looking James up and down declared with another shake of his weathered head “I would never have thought that this sort of thing could happen. Here of all places! A sane, quiet rural community … once! You can’t even trust the judgement of your local doctor!” Then “I shan’t be back. You can send all my medical records down to Pai Kirctrich.”

Attendance at the medical centre fell away dramatically. For a brief time James wondered how come the community had suddenly become so free from illness and injury, but his nurse soon put him straight. Rumors, she said, questioning his judgement and connecting him with a bunch of crackpots down the valley, Adherents to some new and bizarre cult, had frightened most of his former patients to a medical practitioner further south at the next township. “Gerald Palmer”, thought James, Ruefully. His duties at the local country hospital continued fortunately!

Coming back on his half-kilometre walk from the hospital, one afternoon he encountered Stan Maiehem. Stan and James knew each other reasonably well and when they met often exchanged a little repartee but seldom delved to any deep and personally important issues. Stan on reflecting on seeing James walking, the distance he usually drove, was treated to an explanation. James had time on his hands and fewer earnings in his pocket. This brought the discussion to the reasons. And the reason, James’ involvement with the ‘Meriment Group’, led James to substantiate his involvement and convictions. When James recalled the incandescent object in flight that Saturday night Stan assumed a slightly bemused expression and asked earnestly regarding date, direction and time. When James provided the details Stan doubled up.

“Come with me”, he recommended as he gained control of his mirth.

They clambered into Stan’s ute', parked outside the store, and drove the short distance to Stan’s home-studio. James was puzzled.

“This is what you saw that night, James!” Stan declared handing him the pointed metal cylinder. “Don’t say anything to anybody about what I’m showing you here. It’s all part of a little joke I’m working up to.”

“Are you trying to tell me that it was this rocket we saw that night? This would never fly that far!”

“Oh yes it would. In fact it went another three kilometres beyond where you were. I recovered it from the top of Daryll Sincocks hay stack.”

“But that would be a flight of about fifteen kilometres!” protested James incredulously. “No problem” said Stan tapping the side of his nose with his forefinger. “I’ve done a lot experimentation, but this was the first of a new generation. I’m happy now with the flight distance. I’m concentrating on enhancing in flight control at present. I’m sorry if you’re a premature casualty, I’ve got a bit more to do before I can really stun the community…”

“Hey, hang on, if you produced that spectacle that night how come Gwenda could, firstly, predict its exact time appearance, secondly the commencement, thirdly duration of it’s luminosity and fourthly it’s flight path? You would have to have been in corroboration with Gwenda…!” “I’ve never met her” responded Stan “I’ve heard of her, what I have heard of her has never inspired me to want any contact with her, so I would have to suggest that her accomplishments that night must have been just an amazing coincidence.”

“Too amazing for mere coincidence” protested James, in bewilderment.

Stan found himself wondering, a lot, about Gwenda’s prediction. Being so accurate in her pronouncement left him feeling unsettled. Being a bit insular in his attitudes, he was quite self contained (there was some sort of distance between him and the community and they viewed him with a certain benevolent mystique) he knew nothing of the ‘Meriment’ phenomenon. But he doubted not a word of what James had conveyed. There was sufficient detail in James’s body language to corroborate the claims he had made. James too was now unsettled and the formerly tranquil waters of his mind had become something of a whirlpool. Questions, doubt, certainties and disclaimers swirled past his inner eye. On rising that morning he resolved to telephone Daryll Sincock for any possible confirmation that Stan’s rocket had indeed done as Stan claimed.

Daryll and James were mutual friends of Errol and Sandra, not of each other. They got on okay together but for some reason never really developed a direct relationship. So Daryll was surprised to raise the receiver and hear James greeting him from the other end.

Without mentioning names James stated Stan’s claims Daryll, now, made immediate sense of the punctured stack cover.

Cultivated cynic though Daryll may have believed himself to be he was unable to accept that James’s disclosure in anyway discredited Gwenda’s ‘performance’. To his mind too it was just too vast a coincidence. Some other force was at work! James was still pondering the significance of a dream he had experienced, that night, when the phone rang. He recognised Stan’s voice “If you’d like to witness my latest firework come down around eleven tonight!” a short and unelaborated invitation! Did Stan think the phone was bugged? James thought back to that dream. A large fire-breathing Chinese dragon devouring a smaller fire-breathing Chinese dragon. A voice that James recognised as his own shouting “No, No!” Was it significant? Who knows? Just before eleven that night James killed engine and lights and leaving his car swung open the vast, heavy wooden gate that led to Stan’s studio home.

A torch lying in the grass cast a haggard beam where Stan knelt tightening the screws in a ‘chocolate block’ wire connector.

“It’s a cold night” stated Stan, barely raising his gaze “ There’s some coffee in the pot” he motioned with the screwdriver towards the open door of his dimly lit kitchen.

James warmed his hands on the mug of hot coffee as he squatted on the doorstep and peered out at Stan’s hunched silhouette.

From the darkness James heard a muted “meow” and presently Stan’s black cat emerged from the night, a wriggling mouse dangling from its playful jaws. It dropped the mouse and smooched against James’s legs, seeking praise. The mouse scurried for safety, darting into what looked like an electronic control box on the floor near the open kitchen door (wires trailed from the box and out the door).

Stan was by now fiddling with something (the rocket?) about half the size of a dustbin, some sixty metres from the house.

Things happened fast. The cat pounced after the vanishing mouse. A voice, like James, in his head, cried “No, No!”. A shower of sparks flared from the control box. A blinding flash of white on the distant black lawn. A percussive wave of heat flung James heels-over-head against the table. Hot coffee scorched his chest. Somewhere in the blackness beyond the door Stan was screaming.

The torch lay upended in the long grass, only a feeble ray escaping the dark slashes of the leaves. Grabbing it James wildly swept the surrounding area. Stan lay writhing, his hands moving grotesquely from chest to neck to head. James surveyed the situation rapidly then ran for his car, buffing his ears, attempting to dispel the ringing of the explosion. He flung the heavy gate wide open and threaded his machine through Stan’s native plantings until his harsh headlights flooded over Stan’s, now motionless, body. With strength he didn’t know he possessed he scooped up the heavy limp form and eased him in through the car’s rear door.

The steep road up to the hospital on the terrace soon passed beneath them and James reversed up close to the entrance. He snatched the double doors wide and raced down the half-lit hall and into the maternity delivery room, slashing the lights on. At least this was roomier than his own surgery and he knew that Stan wouldn’t survive long enough to reach Christchurch for treatment.

The Charge Nurse, alone on duty, blinked into the stark room. Shouting instructions over his shoulder James ran back down the hall and staggered back with his blood-soaked burden.

Gwenda was heaving, not from any physical burden, but one section of the continental crust had just ridded up over another. The lower, she knew, was returning to the magma.

But what on earth was Gwenda doing pacing in pursuit of James! The Charge Nurse had barely time to object as she hurriedly retrieved bandages and equipment and turned on the oxygen, slipping the mask over Stan’s nose and mouth.

Carefully James snipped away the shredded, soggy clothing and even as ‘Meriment’ spoke he knew the verdict was accurate.

What remained of Stan’s pulse was fluttering lower and lower, like an autumn leaf.

Outside, somewhere, the fire siren wailed balefully and flames licked up the Milky Way.

* * * *

In the days that followed James endured a nightmare, as the wheels of enquiry commenced turning and then maintained their motion. Fire investigators and Police forensic investigators combed the charred shell of Stan’s blackened residence. Police interviewed James regarding the circumstances regarding Stan’s injury and death. Reporters from local “rags“ and national newspapers arrived. TV journalists, cameramen and reporters sought to gain entry to Stan’s property to cover the scene and badgered James for comment. A coroner’s inquiry was instigated. And still more reporters arrived!

The only, vaguely, comical thing to happen during this media circus was when, in good-natured rivalry, two competing television crews, each eager to obtain the first footage of the scene at Stan’s, tried to enter the narrow shingle driveway simultaneously. The right hand vehicle scraped against Stan’s letterbox, snapping off the support post at ground level.

Ultimately everyone in the immediate district, the entire length of the Waigill Valley, was interviewed, although this only became apparent when the immensely popular weekly program, “Havoc Now”, went to air. Normally treating several issues per screening this time it was completely devoted to a story where Stan’s fatal accident was slightly off-centre. The program’s investigative journalists had unearthed so much peripheral detail that a larger and even more intriguing picture or scenario had been discerned and pieced together!

Gerald Palmer sat glued, dumbfounded, to his “Lazyboy” rocker as the story unfolded on the shimmering screen before him. The Charge Nurse at the hospital related how Gwenda had arrived spontaneously with dreaded foreknowledge of the event and how an amazing voice had issued form her proffering a diagnosis that only a later autopsy was able to confirm!

Knowledge of this cult of ‘Meriment’ now became national property and was soon stimulating foreign audiences as overseas media organisations homed in on the topic.

James had to testify at the coroner’s enquiry and the events as he described them to them led to a clear understanding of the cause of the mishap. Experts were able to verify that the contrivance that exploded, mortally wounding Mr Maehem, was some sort of sophisticated rocket-like device. A short circuit, resulting from the cat and mouse interference, probably resulted, for reasons best determined by the original designer, not in sequential ignition and premature lift-off but complete spontaneous ignition (an explosion!)

Hot debris from the ruptured fuel cells had landed amongst twigs in a woodshed (some fifty metres distant) and the resulting fire had spread along a paling fence and so to the house.

* * * *

The funeral was, of course, a sombre affair. A large crowd gathered at the graveside where the entire, simple service was conducted. An interesting feature was the large easel-arrangement on which were mounted numerous photographs of Stan at various stages of his relatively short life. Particularly intriguing were images of Stan involved in (often disguised), or at the culmination of, his several past practical jokes. James wondered about the planned outcome of Stan’s most recent venture.

* * * *

The “Havoc Now” program generated a lot of interest from people eager to learn more about “this exciting new spiritual development” and James, the most clearly identifiable adherent of the movement, received at least two hundred letters from people (not all of them in New Zealand, either). A common query was whether there was accommodation nearby where people could come and lodge whilst learning about the cult.

At the next fortnightly ‘Meriment’ meeting James brought along a stack of mail to illustrate the level of public interest. From what ‘Meriment’ had said through Gwenda they knew that their group was to grow in stature. Potential new members would obviously want to be able to experience something of this new impulse prior to committing themselves to it’s objectives.

Now that the wave was forming strategies and procedures to promote and accommodate growth, to deal with the practical implications of this growth, had to be formulated. Where could aspirants be housed? Ideas, such as each current member providing shelter for, say, up to two seekers, were mooted. Constructing, somewhere, a special accommodation unit was suggested.

As a stop-gap measure one of the members, John Gillman, said that a small well sheltered paddock he had near his house could become a camping ground. Tents, which aspirants brought with them, could be erected there. This was agreed to. And seven, oldish, caravans were bought and parked close to the macrocarpas.

People began arriving. John and Penny Gillamn’s paddock was soon a tent “city”. Parking had to be provided for cars and a house-bus, toilets erected and a rudimentary kitchen constructed. Of course there was no shortage of labour to help, but initially finances were stretched!

Some people soon left after attending a couple of the fortnightly meetings, convinced, that this was not what they were looking for. Most however showed keenness to commit themselves to this “new out-pouring of the Spirit” and were eager to stay!

With the growing collective enthusiasm that was concomitant with the rising number of adherents Gwenda’s trans-dimensional inspiration seemed to grow apace. And soon the journal entries were compiling at a rate that met the clamour for weekly and then twice weekly meetings. A hall at the Waigill Valley’s lower end began to be hired to fit the increasing “congregation”. There was a semblance of structure to the new meetings and daily affairs; work, enthusiasm, guidance, even praise (for some felt a need to exult this as yet inexperienced phenomenon – ‘Meriment’ his/her self).

And then one Saturday night, in the hall, with over a hundred spellbound faces turned towards her, Gwenda became the direct mouthpiece of ‘Meriment’, once more. The experience more than met the expectations of those transfixed in the cold reverberating hall. ‘Meriment’ in that amazing and distinctive voice told the people that the Earth was a frail organism requiring care, love and reverence. Those wishing to be part of this new wave must be prepared to live a simple life, minimising their impact upon the planet. They should be mindful of how they dealt with what they considered pests. They should avoid the use of substances hazardous to the Earth. They should eat meat, as it was only by ensuring the economic importance of animals that those animals were assured of continued survival as a species (vegetarianism would see the extinction of most domesticated animals). They should pray to the Earth Mother. They should, as a group, pool some of their financial resources and purchase land, erect accommodation and construct a suitable meeting-house (‘Meriment’ would provide the plans).

It was perhaps a wry twist of irony that when the executives of Stan’s estate decided to sell his former property the group mooted the notion of possibly purchasing that property themselves.

* * * *

James had noticed a new recurrent symbol in his dreams. The disturbing connection he had witnessed between the dream before the evening at Stan’s and the subsequent events that had blasted themselves deeply into his memory made him ominously suspicious that later dreams with similar imagery were similarly significant. Ever afterwards he could never look upon the image of a dragon and not feel an involuntary shudder of apprehension. Usually, but not always, the dreams in which these dragons featured left him uncomfortable, even when upon waking their content was irretrievable.

Then early one morning he awoke shaking. The dream was bold in his inner eye. The picture was of a double-ended Chinese Dragon. It’s long body, self entwined, terminated at either end in a set of arm-like forelegs and a head. The right arm of each forepart was bent upwards. The two heads glared at each other. The clawed hands clasped vice-like, licked in arm wrestling. The inherent meaning would rise to the surface of his mind but none-the-less he felt a certain despair!

A few days later, mulling over the ‘Meriment’ group’s interest in possibly buying Stan’s property, he wandered down there to speculate on it’s suitability. It was the first time he had been back since the explosion; he was amazed at how different the place now appeared, the ruins of a crumbling charcoal castle with the first weeds peering through the ash.

Out at the road he caught sight of the recumbent mailbox, disappearing into the tall wet grass. He dragged it free and heard something slide inside it. He opened the door and reaching cautiously inside withdrew Stan’s last mail. It had presumably been delivered that Saturday morning, a month ago. Stan had been preoccupied preparing for the night’s launching and had neglected to check his mailbox.

The brown paper wrapping was still quite dry. The American stamps were bright and attractive. It was a parcel about the size of a cassette tape but twice as thick.

When he was home again he checked the sole of his foot. He had stepped on an upturned nail amongst the debris, back at Stan’s old place, and it had gone through his rubber shoe sole and punctured his foot. He bathed it in a bowl of hot water and salt and his eyes returned to the parcel on the windowsill and then swung to the cassette player by the couch.

When he at last removed his foot from the now tepid water he dried it and hesitantly peeled the tape securing the brown paper and exposed two cassette tapes. One was marked “letter”, the other “Joy”! Resolutely he placed the first into his deck!

* * * *

The first time that members of the ‘Meriment’ cult knew of James’s departure from the district was from information contained in a letter sent to all the cult’s founding members.

This supporting letter was accompanied by copies of the two tapes James had lifted from Stan’s letterbox, as well as a photocopy of the wrapping and stamps, to help verify their authenticity. The tape/letter to Stan from his American friend was chatty and in most part irrelevant to any one else, apart from its introduction to the contents of the second tape.

Ralph Dwyson had experienced an amazing phenomenon at a gathering of friends a few weeks previous. He had managed to preserve the sounds of that evening on tape. The tape’s contents included advice for living an appropriate life style. Those present had been informed that contrary to currently developing opinions amongst a strata of the scientific community man’s impact on the Earth has never been less than what it is now. Human kind, as a child of the Earth had been gifted with faculties to truly tend the chaos of nature and nature’s forces and create an Earthly garden paradise. City’s and the sophistication they both entail and foster were a wholesome product of humans technological ingenuity. Nature was robust and resilient and, before the development of man’s scientific mastery, was chaotic and capricious.

Humans should become vegetarians, for utilisation of plant protein was the most efficient use of valuable land. The resulting loss of domesticated farm animals was a natural consequence of current dynamics. New branches and inter-relationships would develop to replace the old.

One’s allegiance and respect should be directed to one’s self and to the ones above, whom human kind, as yet lower, has the potential to become.

An entity called ‘Joy’ was speaking through a chosen someone and when James heard that voice, of lava, gravel and electronic echoes he knew where he had heard it before!

 

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