Sunday, September 07, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 22, "X Marks The Spot"

  They had been driving for too long. Hubbard felt certain that R6 City would only have been a couple of hours away, yet here they were driving through the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside the burgundy velour cocoon of the Cadillac.

  "Say, ladies, shouldn't we be there by now?" Hubbard asked, putting his hand on the driver's shoulder.

  "Another cigarette, sir?" said Cigarette Girl proffering a fresh Kool.

  "No. I asked a question! Now, I'd like some clear com for once! Where the hell are we?" he was getting irritated again.

  "There should be a gas station or roadhouse up ahead sir, we'll pull over and find out how far away we are" said the driver calmly.

  "Oh no you don't. I can see it now, we'll go in there and there'll be Atilla the Hun or Aimee Semple McPherson, or somebody else who just has to tell me what a fuck up I am! No, sir. We're not stopping again." He was adamant.

  "Sir, we'll have to get gasoline sooner or later" said the driver. Cigarette Girl tried to make herself small and invisible.

  "Now wait just a goddamned second! Sid and I drove all over hell's half-acre and never stopped to plug in his electric car, but we have to stop and get gas? How does that work? How does anything work in this fucking place!?" exasperation was rising.

  "I don't make the rules, Sir. I just follow them" came the reply from the driver.

  "Well, I make the rules in this car, and we're not stopping!"

  "As you say, Commodore. As you say" said the young woman, staring straight ahead.

  They drove on with Hubbard slumped in the back seat muttering under his breath about "not many followers" and "insubordination" and "booby traps." They were off the highway, it had turned into the Main Street of a sleepy looking town when the engine began to sputter. The motor quit and the driver strong-armed the huge car to the curb behind a red Corvair station wagon with New York plates.

  "SonofaBITCH!" Hubbard yelled over and over again. He was in full tantrum mode, slamming his fists down on the armrests rhythmically with each uttered 'son' and 'bitch.'

  The girls sat silently in the front seat, waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually, the Commodore had exhausted his spleen and sat, panting and crimson in the back seat. "Well, now what. Now what?"

  "Sir, it looks like there is a bar open on the corner. We'll go in and see where we are" said the chauffeur. 

  "The hell you will! I'm not gonna sit here alone while you two go traipsing off into the dark. Not again. We'll go together" said Hubbard with his best Tone 40, command intention. 'Fake it 'til you make it' he used to affirm to himself.

  The small town they found themselves in was unassuming. They could've been almost anywhere from the looks of it. The place certainly didn't look like R6 City, it was too clean and tidy. The street signs on the corner read Water Street and South Walnut. The bar was on the street level of an Edwardian era apartment building. There was a red, neon sign in the window that spelled out "Toby's Bar & Speaker's Lounge" in cursive script. Below that was a funny, cartoonish alligator logo with the words "Best Sausage Sandwiches in Town" painted on the glass. There were other neon beer signs in the large plate glass window. The bar was tucked beneath two stories of modest looking apartments. Ron checked the clock in the car when they got out, it said it was 9:42, but who could tell in this reality?

  The night was crisp, and there were two couples laughing and smoking outside the bar's front door. Aside from the sound of a small plane overhead, the town was pretty quiet. He'd always loved bars when he was younger. He prided himself on his ability to go into any pub and within a half hour have a crowd of people in rapt attention, and usually leave with his pick of the ladies if he was really on the beam. Hell, he was getting younger in this place, maybe he still could summon the ol' Hubbard magic, he thought. 

  But then, he hesitated. This reality was so full of twists and turns. He'd just been ambushed by three wives, a prophet, and two dogs! Everyone he encountered seemed to come stocked with a full set of opinions about him. It was unsettling to say the least. Would this place be just another one of those traps? He peeked in the window and saw what appeared to be an ordinary, bar in an ordinary town. It looked jolly and warm. "What the hell . . . ladies, after you" he said holding the door open in a courtly manner.

  Ah! There was that great bar smell. Stale beer, pine-sol and smoke, blessed, cigarette smoke. The crowd was thick and the chatter loud. He and the girls made their way to the bar against the far wall. The room was as long as the building with what appeared to be a large back room. Also packed with revelers. 

  "What'll you have, friend?" said the thick, bald bartender. Hubbard couldn't quite place his accent . . . sort of European sounding, or maybe Israeli? Odd. "What delectable drink can I create for you, Mr. Hubbard!" said the man slamming his hand down on the bar with enthusiasm.

  "How do you know . . . oh, nevermind, I'll have a seven and seven" he yelled over the din. "Ladies? A beverage for you?" he asked turning back to his Messengers, but they were nowhere to be seen. Oh well, they'd be back when he needed them, they always seemed to turn up. 

  He leaned back on the bar, lit a Kool, and scanned the crowded room. 

  Some of the people looked oddly familiar to him, though he couldn't quite place them. 

  "Here's your potion, Mr. Hubbard" said the barkeep cheerfully. "That'll be a buck fifty." 

  Hubbard was taken aback. Money? Then he remembered the bill in his pants back at Joe's, right before he got in the taxi. It seemed so long ago. He reached into his right pant pocket and there, sure enough were some bills and coins. These were twenties, also with his picture on them. "Can you break this?" he asked the squat man.

  The bartender held it up to the light. "Can do, sir! Nice likeness, not like some of the other crap I get in here! Look at this piece of shit!" he said offering Ron a hundred dollar bill from the till. 

  On the money, Hubbard saw a horrible, grimacing face wearing sort of war helmet, with the word 'Ramtha' under the engraved portrait. Ramtha. Ramtha. Where had he heard that name before? Television? Yes, it was television. He vividly remembered watching the Merv Griffin show in his motorhome in Creston, and there was a blond woman on the show claiming to speak for some disembodied spirit called Ramtha. Some of what she was saying sounded like she'd cribbed what he'd cribbed. He remembered thinking that she might be PTS, and writing that name down to tell Pat Broeker to get someone to look into it. Ramtha. 

  "So, what's this all about? Why does this guy have money here?" he asked the barkeep.

  "You'll see. You'll see . . ." said the little man laughing jovially.

  "I'll see what?" Ron asked, but the bartender had busied himself fixing a strawberry daiquiri for a heavily tattooed, bald, Indian further down the bar. 
  
  Hubbard sipped his seven and seven and looked around to see if anybody looked like they might know the score in this joint. Amid the rather ordinary looking crowd he began to notice that there were more than a few rather extraordinary looking characters now that he'd been able to settle in a bit. There was that Indian character down the bar and a few others in Flash Gordon get-ups. Maybe there was some kind of costume party happening. A tall, majestic Chinese woman in flowing robes, sipped a green drink while holding a white rabbit. Just as he was about to find the bartender to order another drink, there was a commotion at the door. The grimacing man from the bill that the bartender had showed him was standing there, bigger than life, in the doorway, and he didn't look happy.

  "Seth!" his voice boomed out dramatically. "Thou defamest me again!" bellowed the giant.

  "Oh shit, here we go again" said the tall Chinese woman, "asshole's back in town."

  The compact bartender climbed up onto the bar and held his hands in the air, "Ramtha! Good Ramtha. Friend Ramtha. There is no excuse for violence. Are we to have a repeat of last month so soon?"

  "I shall make last month's bloodbath seem as mild as one of your outdoor eating events!" roared the heavily muscled warrior in the same vaguely European accent in which the barkeep spoke. "I shall make you all my slaves!" he bellowed at a surprisingly impressive decibel level.

  The Chinese woman rolled her eyes wearily and leaned over to Hubbard, "don't worry about it, honey, he does this all the time, he's very insecure. It's just how he was written." Her rabbit squirmed uncomfortably in her arms.

  "Uh, sure. Sure thing." Hubbard said backing into the crowd. So far, this stop wasn't going too well. The giant, armored man lunged toward the bar knocking other patrons aside and roared, "I am real, I tell you. REAL!!!!" he said lifting his huge battle club above his head. The stout bartender stood impassively, showing no fear.

  To Ron's left, he saw that the crowd was parting, and a small, slender woman holding a glass of red wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other tottered up to the raging hulk. 

  "No, Rammy. No, you're not" she said dryly looking over her cat-eye glasses.

  The huge warrior froze in position, his eyes fixed on her as she approached.

  "Rammy, put your hammer-thingy down, you're scaring our guest here" she said looking directly at Hubbard. 

  "But I am RAMTHA!" the room shook and a few of the crowd fainted. Then, he slowly lowered his massive war-hammer, "I am Ramtha . . . I am." he said dejectedly.  

  "No, baby" said the small woman, "you were just made up by an angry hack in a suburban kitchen. Now you can stay here and have a drink with the others if you behave. Look, there's Lazarus over there. He's a good listener. He knows the score." she said patting the now dejected looking warrior on the back. "If you won't behave, it's back to your void." She stared-down the hulking man with intensity. "I mean it. Be polite or scram!" she said. 

  The huge beast-man looked half as big as when he came in. He went and sat in the front window next to a bearded, rotund man to sulk.

  This whole time Ron had been moving slowly toward the front door.

  "Not so fast Hubbard!" said the woman, "we have some shit to talk about. The name is Jane. Jane Roberts, and I believe you stole some of my ideas."

  He knew it! I was another goddamned trap! Jane Roberts. Crap, how did she know? How did everyone here know everything about him?

  "Come on back here with me, I've got some characters for you to meet. It's okay, Ron. We're all friends here, even him" she said gesturing toward the now contrite Ramtha. "He's just a bit self-absorbed and out of control, just like his creator."

  The diminutive brunette led him through to the back of the bar and then through a beaded curtain with a hand lettered sign saying 'Speaker's Lounge: Private' above it. The ceiling was high and the room warmly lit. There was a mezzanine balcony to the left and, the back wall was floor to ceiling bookshelves with a ladder on rails. "I know Ron, it's a bit weird being here, isn't it? I couldn't quite believe it when I got here. It was like I never went anywhere, yet everything was different. If I was dead, where was Seth? There was nobody I recognized . . . at first. It was nothing like my after death vision, at least not like I had written about. Create my own reality? Hah!" she laughed. "Hey, your smoke's almost out, have one of mine" she handed him an unfiltered Camel.

  "Uh, no thanks. I'll have one of my own. Menthols, you know" he said as she set down her wine and picked up a huge mid-century lighter and flicked the flame into being to light his Kool.

  "Ugh! I can't stand menthols, but, to each his own, eh?"

  Jane Roberts was tiny, with a high, nasaly voice, but he felt as though she had a very powerful presence. To Hubbard, she seemed very comfortable in her skin and laughed easily. He envied that natural grace in others. He always tried to bluff his way through life, to emulate that ease, but he was certain people saw through it.

  "So Ron, you purloined a lot of sources my friend, a lot of sources. And speaking of sources, I see that you and Sid have been hanging out quite a bit. He's a real kick, isn't he? I like him. Not quite what I imagined the Buddha would be like, but then again, nobody here really is what you expect, except, of course for them" she said gesturing toward the door leading to the noisy bar room.

  "What do you mean by 'them?'" he asked.

  "Most of those characters out there are, well . . . characters!" she said making a dramatic gesture with her cigarette. "The bartender? That's Seth. My Seth. From my own imagination now into my own 'life,' if you can call this life." She stubbed out her cigarette and proceeded to rummage through a large purse on the couch for another. "This place is my concept. The Speaker's Lounge. A sort of metaphysical contrivance where all the great spiritual teachers would gather and watch man's follies, like it was some football game on TV. Somehow our characters have form here. It's kinda crazy. I wrote about the Speaker's Lounge a few times. It can get pretty lively in here on a busy night. Surely you remember . . ." she looked slyly at him as she wrestled the huge table lighter up to light her smoke.

  "I honestly don't remember reading your books" said Hubbard hoping she wouldn't pick up on his lie.

  "Oh, but I remember reading yours!" she said pointing her cigarette at him as she backed over to the bookshelf on the far wall. She turned to point to each book in order, "Typewriter in the sky. Fear. Ol' Doc Methuselah. Golden Age classics!" She grew more animated now. "You know I wrote sci-fi from the time I was a teenager. I sure as hell stole from you! I'm pretty sure you returned the favor in the '70s." She had now gone behind the tiki themed bar to open another bottle of red wine. "Check this out. Chateau Margaux 1995. Stunning Ron. Fucking stunning. Get this nose, you won't believe it. You can smell the earth in it! I love the smell of the earth. My beautiful, beautiful earth." Jane looked wistful.

  "Let me take a sniff" Hubbard said as he crossed over to the bar.

  Jane poured him a glass and handed it over the bar. "Take a deep drag off that, Ron. Amirite? Superb. I could never afford wine like this when I was alive" she said looking into the distance.

  "Who are you kidding? You were a best-selling author! You must've been raking in the dough!" He wasn't going to fall for this story.

  "It was a comfortable, middle-class living Ron, but I didn't have the Midas touch like you did. We bought a nice home, but my medical bills were through the roof. It was a struggle."

  "Cancer?" Hubbard said holding up his cigarette.

  "No! Can you believe that?" she laughed bitterly. "And I was a chimney! No, it was RA, rheumatoid arthritis and an overactive thyroid that did me in. Worst part was, I knew it was coming . . . that it would get worse. It was terrifying. It's what killed my mother, I just lasted a lot longer than that hateful cow did."

"I guess I can look back and be grateful for the experience . . . almost. I've learned that it's what motivated me to create Seth, the fear. The sheer, existential terror of what I knew would be coming, forced my creative hand, as it were. Seth was the benevolent father and mother I never had. Kind. Wise. Funny. A part of myself I just desperately needed to be real."

  "But wait a second, now. I remember reading about how you swore you were uneducated in science and physics and you used that as proof that you couldn't be consciously creating Seth." said Hubbard.

  "I thought you didn't remember reading any of my books" Jane said slyly. "No, Ron, remember how I said I was a fan of yours? I devoured philosophy and science-fiction books when I was a kid. They saved my sanity. My mother was a very broken woman, a resentful monster who terrorized me from her sickbed. The world of sci-fi and speculative fiction was my escape. It made reality bearable to me." She sat for a moment and exhaled a puff of smoke. Jane turned to Ron, "I was afraid, Ron, but I wasn't wired for religion. I wasn't buying what they were selling. Most religious experience is fueled from fear, don't you think?" She looked earnestly at Ron. It made him a bit uncomfortable.

  "Well, anyway, I think it was no accident that Seth 'appeared' to me just as my body began to deteriorate. You don't know what it's like Ron, do you? To slowly loose your mobility? To be crippled with agonizing pain? To not be able to do the simplest things for yourself and watch your beloved die a little every day as you struggle? No. I don't suppose you do, do you?"

  Hubbard fumbled with his belt loop uncomfortably. It was getting too emotional for him.

    "Anyway, I can see this topic is making you a bit uncomfortable. You don't do well with feelings, do you, hon?" she said with a look of compassion.

  "I never have . . . liked . . . those. Feelings, you know."

  "Well, I read your later works and that's pretty evident. Looks like you were projecting your own reality out on all your followers, Ron." Jane flicked an ash into the large ceramic tray on the table. "That's one thing I got right, boy. I made sure that there would never be an official Seth religion, not while I was alive, at least. Of course, people being people, my followers did exactly what I told them not to do when I croaked. The Seth Center. The Seth Alliance. The First Bank of Seth." She laughed at her own joke. Hubbard just stared at her blankly. "Well anyway, blah, blah, blah. Seth told them to run in the other direction if somebody told them they had the capital T truth. But people just don't listen. They want someone to tell them it's all going to be okay . . . boy, don't I know it." Jane stubbed out yet another cigarette and took a deep swig of her Margaux. "You did just the opposite. Started your own religion, and did it ever pay off! You raked in bucketfuls of cash. I gotta say I really hated you back then. Just hated you and your whole authoritarian thing. I thought you were such a charlatan. And, of course, you were!" She laughed that breezy laugh again and Ron's stony expression made her laugh all the harder, "Come on, Ron . . . admit it! Embrace the shithead that you were or you'll be stuck in this crap for ever, or at least as long as this place lasts."

  This was too much. Hubbard got up and started for the door.

  "Ron. Honey. It's all gonna come back to bite you in the ass. Haven't you figured that out yet? It's karma, baby, or intersectionality or, whatever . . ."

  He stopped, but his back was still turned to her.

  "I know Sid says there's no such thing as Karma, but Ron, look at how things have gone since you got here. Come on Ronny, sit back down, just for a minute." Jane was now settled into a rocking chair with a freshly lit Camel.

   He turned toward her. "How do you know what's been going on since I got here?" he said defensively.

  "Ron, I've been here two years longer than you, only I didn't go into a loop. I woke right the fuck up after decades of pain and fear. Suddenly,  I was young. I was strong! I could dance and run again! I embraced a vision of an afterlife, so I think I was just ready for it. I also didn't have much in the way of a body count to have to face. Let's be honest Ron, you made one hell of a mess out of one hell of a lotta lives."

  Jane rose and began to pace as she spoke, "I've had a lot of crow to eat since I got here. I had to face that I knew, deep down inside, that I was making Seth up the whole time. Sure I claimed I was skeptical, and I was, but I would spin these tales off the top of my head. They were so beautiful and seductive. A universe that cared . . . about me! About all of us! With the success and the fans, I just bought my own party line. The irony was that I'd end up in an afterlife to find out that the afterlife I invented was bullshit. We didn't create our own reality when we were alive. We didn't 'pull it in' as you put it. That concept did give me a sense of control over my declining body, it dulled my fear, but it also made me hate myself for creating such a living hell. What had I done to deserve it? For me, Seth was the joyous and positive side of my life, the compartment I put all my hopes into, but he couldn't save me from death. Nobody could. I lost that battle, just like you did."

  Hubbard thought about his fears. Dentists. Doctors. Pain. Death. Being alone. Feelings.

  Then a smile spread across his face. "Well, it looks like we both beat the grim reaper, now doesn't it? Maybe we weren't so wrong after all?" he said with a palpable smug satisfaction.

  "Well, it may not be the gift you think it is. You do know that we can't die here, right? Hasn't anyone told you about that, yet? No suicide. No accidents. Oh, you'll feel the pain, but they don't kill you. You come back and it drives you mad after a while."

  Hubbard shuddered. "I recall Sid saying something about that . . . and a few others. It is a bit of a daunting though, I suppose. So exactly what are we here for? Just what is it that I'm supposed to do then, fall to my knees, weeping for all my sins? Is that what's expected of me?" asked Ron.

  "Don't be glib Ron, it's unattractive. I can't tell you what you're gonna get out of this place. No one can. Not even the ones who've been here for thousands of years. Some will try to manipulate you maybe, but ultimately, you're your own worst nightmare here. You gotta let go. Deal with those you wronged. Owning your shit is a start, Ron and let's face it, you're full of it. If you want to think of it in your own framework, I'm here to help you through your own wall of fire."

  Just then, the tattooed Indian stuck his head in the beads and said "Uh, hey Jane. You seen Ish in here tonight?"

  "He's probably waiting for you back on the Peaquod, honey. Just like last night, right? You alright to walk?"

  "Oh, uh, right. The ship! Yeah, I'm alright. Thanks Jane" the Indian looked a little embarrassed and  said to Hubbard "oh, sorry man, I hope I didn't interrupt" and backed out leaving the beads swaying.

  "Characters, huh? Is Melville here?" asked Ron.

  "No, not tonight. I think he has a card game on Tuesdays" Jane replied getting up to replenish her glass of wine. "More?" she said holding up her glass.

  "Oh, sure. Why not? It's not like I'm going to be driving or something. What about all the other people out there?" Hubbard said gesturing toward the still swinging beads. "The ordinary looking ones, Where do they come from? They can't all be leaders or characters."

  "Lots of them are here to find the people they followed. Some are mine and our paths will cross. Some are William's, that's Will James. He lives just across the Chemung on Walnut. We hang out a lot together now that he's forgiven me for writing his "after death journals." God he was pissed. He's in here most nights. There are others. Depends on the night and intersectionality's strange pull." She polished off the glass she poured and lit another smoke. "Look, I've got people to see and a cat to feed and I've been up since dawn." She came around the bar and bent down putting a hand on Hubbard's knee. "I don't mean to jump all over you, Ron. But, for all the magical seeming abilities we have here, all we really have is each other and a few helpers. If we don't learn from each other we stay miserable. All that shit you did. You gotta own it. I'll be here if you want to talk." With that, she bent over, gave him a demure peck on the cheek and said, "nighty night, red. Go find your girls. I bet they're out there now."

  Hubbard watched her pass through the multicolored wood beads and into the crowded bar. He sat and swirled the Chateau Margaux in the glass. It had legs. He was looking through the glass when he felt a vibration. A thrumming pulse that shook the whole building. He got up and headed out to see what was happening. The crowd in the bar was nearly silent now, most had moved to the windows to see where the blazing white light that was bathing the town was coming from. The whole building was shaking as the sound began to drop in frequency. Glasses were now jittering to the edges of the shelving and falling like lemmings the floor. Seth and a couple of patrons tried to hold back the rows of moving liquor bottles behind the bar. Some plaster fell from the ceiling and then one of the big, plate glass windows shattered. The crowd jumped back from the remaining windows and moved into the center of the room.

  Whatever the source of the light was it was getting closer. The blazing white light was too bright to look at. All of the streetscape looked overexposed. Then he saw it, the huge saucer shaped craft that was emitting the blinding beam. It lowered itself over the lawn of the park across Water Street, vaporizing several trees in the process. An unseen force smashed flat several wrought iron benches and the small stone restroom in the park and the huge vessel settled onto its massive landing gear as the light dimmed to a dull glow. The thrumming continued for a few seconds and then stopped altogether.

  Ramtha was the first out the door, battle hammer raised above his head. "Who dares to come before Ram . . ." and before he could get out the "tha" there was a blinding pulse of light that left nothing but ash where he had stood. The crowd at Toby's was on the verge of panic now. Hubbard had dropped below the windowsill and was peeking over the edge, trying to get a better look.

  There was a sudden mechanical clank from the ship and icy vapor vented out of a growing opening on the underside of the saucer. A section of hull had lowered to form a long ramp from which a shaft of yellow-greenish light shone onto the flattened grass. There was movement inside the misty opening, and Hubbard watched as a phalanx of what appeared to be soldiers began to emerge from the vessel. They were about two and a half meters tall and dressed from head to toe in silver body-suits with elaborate utility belts, short capes and visored helmets. They all carried exotic looking rifles whose barrels ended in sharp, conical tips. Out they marched in perfect formation and following the first couple of dozen came an even more impressive figure. Clearly the leader, his massive physique was clad in form-fitting, polished armor that dazzled in the light. His red cape was floor length and there was a curved, upturned collar behind his head. The figure's reflective helmet came down over his face and he was followed by an equally muscular man in a short white toga and gold knee-high sandals. Behind them came an entourage of robed figures bearing a variety of cases and trays. These minions were then followed by another phalanx of soldiers bringing up the rear.

  When the last soldier from the last group had stepped onto the grass, the troops stopped and the massive, armored figure turned to one of his entourage and snapped his fingers. A robed figure rushed up to the leader, kneeled before the armored man and offered him a long pole wrapped in fabric. The mighty figure grabbed the pole and unfurled a flag that bore only a large X. He stepped out of formation and thrust the pole into the grass. The assembled soldiers raised their weapons and let out a roar of approval. They began to move forward in unison, they looked like they meant business and they were headed straight for the bar.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great story. Loved it.

I can't wait to read you other writing. It was very imaginative.