by Bill Bowler
Chapter 5: Wandering Soul
Yanosh Straker’s illusions have been unmasked and his world has crumbled. He hits the road to get away from his own past and memories. Along the way, he picks up a hitchhiker, a young woman.
Madame Sonya sat behind the wheel of von Holzing’s car and held the steering wheel.
“But Sonya, you don’t know how to drive!” von Holzing pleaded.
“I don’t intend to.”
Madame Sonya closed her eyes. It seemed to von Holzing that a gentle light enveloped her and caused her to glow. With a slow and deliberate motion, she turned the ignition key, started the engine, and pulled away from the curb. Von Holzing saw with alarm that her eyes were still closed.
“Sonya! Watch where you’re going!”
Sonya did not reply. Slouched in the seat with both eyes shut and a tranquil expression, as if asleep or in a trance, she turned the steering wheel, stepped on the gas, and drove the car to the northbound highway.
Von Holzing was a nervous wreck the entire drive, but Sonya, sleeping blissfully, held the road. She regained consciousness briefly and opened her eyes when they crossed the border. The Canadian immigration officer asked for her license but something seemed to take possession of him and he waved them through with no memory later of ever having seen them.
With von Holzing on the edge of his seat, Madame Sonya, eyes shut, mind open, drove northeast, eventually leaving the highway for the local streets and, finally, parking at the side of the road where a dirt path led into thick woods.
Sonya turned off the engine and opened her eyes, as if waking from sleep. “Where are we?” she asked.
“Nine hundred miles from New York.”
Sonya looked around. They were parked on the shoulder of a gravel service road. Both sides of the road were lined with thick woods but a nearby path led into the forest and up the side of a mountain. Madame Sonya and Prof. von Holzing got out of the car.
“Which way from here?” asked von Holzing.
“Yanosh’s spirit has led us this far. Let us follow that path. I feel drawn in that direction.”
Madame Sonya and the professor entered the forest. Von Holzing held Sonya by the arm and helped her along as the trail grew steeper, ascending the side of the mountain. The sun dappled the ground and the thick forest surrounded them on all sides. Berries and blossoms grew along the way. The trees held out their branches like welcoming arms. Tall grass waved and rippled in the clearings and meadows they passed.
“You know, Abe, I feel quite at home here, as if I’ve been here before or somewhere very much like this.”
“I prefer the comforts of home, myself,” said von Holzing, brushing a fly away from his ear. “Indoor plumbing, clean sheets, that sort of thing.”
They continued their hike and, towards late afternoon, they came to a place where the path forked beside a large flowering bush. They stopped and stood at the fork.
Von Holzing looked expectantly at Sonya. “Which way? No clues from Yanosh?”
Sonya stood, unsure of which direction to take. “There is great turbulence in the non-corporeal plane. It is causing interference in the telepathic channels. I’m afraid I’ve lost contact with his spirit.”
“Then let’s sit for a moment. We haven’t had a moment’s rest since we left New York.”
Madame Sonya sat on the grass beside the professor and looked around. The fragrance of roses hung delicately in the air. Dozens of pink-red blossoms covered the magnificent bush. They reminded Sonya of something. She couldn’t quite place it. It was something from her childhood or something her great grandmother had told her. She couldn’t be sure. She dropped her eyes and her gaze fell on the nearby grass. She stood up and screamed.
“What is it?” cried the professor, jumping up. “What’s wrong?”
“Look! A hand!”
Von Holzing saw a wrist and hand, palm up, extending out from under the giant rose bush. He knelt down and saw that inside the bush was a great hollow space and an unconscious young woman in a white, silken robe was lying hidden there.
“Let’s get her out,” said von Holzing. “Carefully.” He pushed the branches aside, leaned in and took the unconscious woman by the waist. He lifted her out from the hollow and laid her gently in the soft grass under the dappled forest sunlight.
“She’s a lovely girl,” said Madame Sonya. “But whatever is she doing sleeping under this bush?”
“She’s out cold,” said von Holzing.
The young woman moaned faintly and moved her head.
“She’s coming to,” said Madame Sonya.
The woman opened her eyes and looked around in confusion.
“Don’t be afraid,” said von Holzing. “We’re friends of Yanosh. We’re looking for him. But who are you, dear, if I may ask?”
Hope told them who she was and, as best she could remember, how she had met Yanosh and how they had come to the monastery. She could not explain how she had come to be under the rosebush as she had no memory of events following their meal with Thanatosius.
“It’s right down that path,” she said finally, pointing down one branch of the fork, “the dreadful monastery, with that awful man in charge. Yanosh may still be there. We’ve got to help him! He may be in trouble.”
“That’s why we’ve come,” said Madame Sonya. “Are you well enough to walk?”
Hope got to her feet, a bit wobbly.
“You’re not afraid?” asked Madame Sonya.
“Just a little,” said Hope.
“Then let’s pay the good abbot a visit and introduce ourselves,” said von Holzing.
They walked down the path, with Hope between them, and soon came to the stone wall and iron gate of the monastery grounds. Sonya recognized the image the globe had shown her. Von Holzing peered through the gate and saw dozens of hooded figures laboring in the orchard and gardens.
“They’re a bit overdressed for this hot weather, I daresay,” said von Holzing. “They must be rather warm.”
“Hello! Hello there!” von Holzing shouted. “Can somebody please open the gate!”
There was no response from the laborers.
Von Holzing took the metal chain and began ringing the bell vigorously. The somber peals clanged in the summer air. The door of the chapel opened and a gray haired monk with thin lips and flashing eyes came out and headed down the steps towards the gate.
“It’s him!” gasped Hope, and she cowered behind Madame Sonya.
Sonya felt the waves of emptiness and lifelessness emanating from the man and washing over their poor souls. She put her arm around Hope. “Don’t worry, dear. We’ve dealt with this type before.”
As Thanatosius approached the gate, Professor von Holzing called out, “My good man, do you have a moment to greet some weary travelers?”
Thanatosius’ gaze fell upon Hope, like a hawk on a rabbit.
“Oh, yes, I believe you two have already met,” said von Holzing. “The young lady is in our care now so you needn’t trouble yourself longer about her welfare.”
Thanatosius glared at von Holzing. Then his eyes moved to Madame Sonya and narrowed, forming two thin slits. His lips curled in a contemptuous sneer.
“Of course, please come in. You’re most welcome.”
Thanatosius slid the bolt back and pulled open the gate.
The professor, Madame Sonya, and Hope stepped onto the monastery grounds.
“We’re looking for a friend of ours,” said von Holzing. “Yanosh Straker. He was your guest two nights ago.”
“He left,” said Thanatosius.
“Did he happen to say where he was going?”
While von Holzing and Thanatosius were talking, Hope wandered into the orchard, looking for any sign of Yanosh. A breeze from the ocean cliffs blew across the orchard, rustling the leaves and shaking the fruit. Hope’s eyes fell on one of the monks picking peaches from a tree near the edge of the cliff and her breath caught in her throat.
“Yanosh?” She ran to him and grabbed him by the sleeve. “Yanosh!! It’s me!”
Yanosh said not a word and never looked at Hope. He kept working the tree as if nothing else real around him existed.
Hope pulled his sleeve. “Yanosh! Please! What’s wrong with you? Can’t you hear me?”
Von Holzing hurried up to them. “Straker! Good to see you. We’ve been worried to death about you. Yanosh? It’s me, von Holzing.”
But Yanosh paid no heed to them, as if he saw and heard nothing, and plucked another peach from a low branch.
Thanatosius and Sonya approached.
“I thought you said he’d left,” said von Holzing.
“It seemed best that way,” said Thanatosius. “He’s renounced your world and joined our order. He’s taken a vow of perpetual silence. There’s nothing you can say or do now.”
“You liar!” screamed Hope. “What have you done to him?!”
Thanatosius raised his arm and, as one, the hundred hooded laborers, including Yanosh and the dead climber, ceased their work and turned towards the little group.
With both hands, von Holzing grabbed Thanatosius by the cassock and shoved him towards the edge of the cliff.
“I know what you’re up to, you devil!”
Thanatosius stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. As one, the hundred hooded figures, including Yanosh, began to shuffle slowly towards von Holzing.
As Thanatosius struggled to his feet, von Holzing grabbed him again and the two men struggled at the brink of the precipice as the hooded monks surrounded them.
Twenty arms wrapped around von Holzing and pulled him away from Thanatosius.
“You’ll pay for this!” Thanatosius screamed. “You have desecrated the sacred grounds and you will answer for your blasphemy!”
A white, screeching feathered missile shot down from the blue and two sets of talons gripped the flesh around Thanatosius’ eyes. The claws dug into his eyes, blinding him, as the great wings beat around his head. Thanatosius howled in pain, blood streaming down his face. He struggled blindly, flailing his arms, trying to break the owl’s grip. He stumbled back another step towards the precipice, the lose ground crumbled, gave way under his feet, and he slipped off the edge. The great owl went over the edge with him, followed him down, then swooped out low over the waves as Thanatosius struck the rocks.
Twenty arms released von Holzing. As one, the hundred hooded figures went limp and crumpled to the ground like broken dolls, Yanosh among them.
Hope and von Holzing ran to Yanosh and gently rolled him onto his back. His eyes were open but blank and empty. Von Holzing put his ear to Yanosh’s chest.
“He’s not breathing.”
The professor took Yanosh’s wrist.
“He has no pulse.”
Hope threw herself on Yanosh’s body, weeping violently. Madame Sonya came up to them, shaking loose feathers from her hair and wrapping her cloak about her to cover her nakedness. Von Holzing looked up at her.
“Yanosh is dead.”
“That isn’t Yanosh,” said Madame Sonya. “It’s the frail shell that once encased his immortal spirit.”
Hope was weeping hysterically, clinging to the body.
“His spirit is still with us,” said Sonya, as she knelt and put her arms around Hope. “I still feel him. He longs to join us, to communicate with us, but the more direct channels between our planes of existence are broken from disuse and lack of belief. He has no choice now but to transfer permanently to the non-corporeal realm or to wander homeless in the void until such time as his spirit might find a vacant dwelling that resonates with his own soul in the psychic plane, one where he might find refuge, a home where, even temporarily, his spirit might linger.”
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Copyright © 2008 by Bill Bowler