Venus and Wohaka sat with
their backs against a large tree half way down the mountain near the helicopter
crash site. Where on the other side of these mountains it was desert and canyons,
this side was covered with tall trees and it grew thicker and more lush as the
valley descended. Venus laughed uneasily at the incredible fact that they alone
survived the crash unscratched. The chopper was now a twisted and shredded pile
of military colored aluminum foil and wires resting in pieces against several
trees. The rest of the craft was scattered about on the ground and in the trees
from here to the top of the mountain.
So now here she was, deep in the mountains, miles from nowhere with nothing but a camera, which was of no use as a survival tool (add to that: she didn't have any more film for it with her either). She'd never find her way back to her car now, not even with Wohaka's help. It was too far away and the country was too rugged. She thought that at least with an Indian with her she would be able to survive out here. Though she knew it would take some time, she was sure Wohaka could guide her out of this wilderness.
"Where the heck are we?" Venus asked.
"I don't know." Wohaka answered matter-of-factly.
"Oh great." Venus threw up her hands, "An Indian who's lost in the wilderness."
"I didn't say I was lost." Wohaka cocked his head and asked Venus, "Is there some place you have to be?"
"Other than out of here? No, not really." She replied and then looking sideways at her companion, asked. "What do you mean, we're not lost?"
"You can't be lost unless you have some place to be." Wohaka countered. He also reminded Venus that for his people there is no such thing as 'wilderness'. "To you, it's wilderness. To us it is home."
"So, uh, what, you're lost in your home?
"You live in a box." Wohaka calmly explained. "My home has no walls. You live in a world where everything has to have a name. We don't name things, we describe them. "
"Yeah, but you don't know where we are."
Wohaka just smiled. "How can you not know where you are? You have eyes. Can't you see where you are? I know exactly where I am. I am right here. We are in the forest halfway down the Western face of a mountain two ridges South of the tallest mountain at the Western edge of the desert, if it makes you happy. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and just made up a name for this place. Then you would know where you are but we would still be in the same situation."
"The only place I want to be right now is in my car tooling down the interstate." Venus added wistfully. "I'm sure my car isn't where I left it. They've impounded it by now and they're probably waiting for me to come to claim it, wherever it is." Then, remembering that Wohaka was here to protect her, she thanked him for saving her from the helicopter disaster. To pull that one off, he must be charmed. Wohaka shrugged it off, claimed he did nothing. It was just luck, he said. From what he could tell, he told her, it was other people who needed protection from her. He reminded her that since he started following her that evening she danced on the cliffs, seven men have lost their lives while in her immediate vicinity. Four in the helicopter and before that there were the three in the car that was chasing her. Venus thought back to the two policemen and, in her mind, silently added them to the list. That made nine. It reminded her of the dreams she had of Mars and the stories he told her of the disasters he blames her for. Could she really be a jinx? Or were they really only just dreams? No, those nine people were really dead, but other than the two policemen, she had nothing to do with their deaths except she was there when it happened. She shook the thoughts off.
"Shouldn't we be looking for food and shelter or something?" she asked, feeling kind of useless just sitting there against the tree.
So they made their way down the wooded mountainside where it was warmer and the vegetation was more dense. For Wohaka it was like strolling through a large cafeteria. There wasn't a lot of food to eat but there was enough for the two of them, though none of it was anything that Venus had ever eaten. Wohaka picked something off a tree here, dug up something with his walking stick there. They eventually ended up by a stream in a wooded valley at the bottom of the mountain. They were thirsty, so they drank and then they rested again. It was for Venus sake, Wohaka wasn't even winded. He squatted down next to her anyway. He was in no hurry but he didn't want Venus to feel rushed to move on. Venus felt strangely comfortable here. The weather was nice. The terrain wasn't too rough The tall trees provide plenty of shade. The scenery was beautiful. It was peaceful and except for the gentle wind in the trees, some scattered birdsong and the babbling of the stream it was perfectly quiet.
"So, Wohaka, where are we heading?" Venus asked, finally breaking the silence.
"Where do you want to go?", he answered.
"I don't know. A highway. A town or something. Do you know which way we should go to get to one? I mean, we can't just stay here."
Wohaka looked puzzled. "You don't want to be here?"
"No. I mean, it's really beautiful and everything but what the heck am I going to do out here?!", Venus replied, waving here arms at the forest.
"Well then," Wohaka asked, head cocked to one side, "Why did you come here?"
"What!?" Venus exclaimed, "I didn't come here, I was brought here. You were there, you saw what happened."
"Yes," said Wohaka, shaking his head. "Everything you did, every move you made led you right to this spot." He put a period on the sentence by poking his walking stick into the ground. "If you had done anything differently, you would be somewhere else right now."
Venus wasn't sure if she should believe Wohaka's last statement but she thought he probably knew more about these kinds of things than she did, so she decided to trust his wisdom.
"Well, can you get us out of here." Venus asked, rather sheepishly.
"If you don't stop me.", Wohaka replied in a gruff voice accompanied by a smile. "I'll try."
They continued down the valley as it dropped and widened. They had found water. Now all they had to do was follow it to civilization. Along the way Wohaka occasionally stopped to dig something out of the ground or gather bits of things off of trees. He even dug into a rotting log for something. All of this he put into a small leather bag he wore over his shoulder.
Along the way Venus tried to keep a conversation going. Since she was going to be spending a lot of time with this guy, she figured they ought to get to know each other. However, Wohaka spoke in short sentences and usually they were responses to questions. Though he was terse in his answers, he was polite and exceedingly patient. So, Venus at least paid more attention to Wohaka's actions as he spoke less. She might learn something.
Venus wondered if this guy was for real - or really for unreal. I mean, nobody could be 9000 years old. He says he's not even a man, he says, he's a spirit. He sure looks, feels and smells real enough. On the other hand, even if he's only as old as he looks, he hasn't had a bit of food or water in three days and he just survived a helicopter crash. And those military people back in the desert acted like they didn't even see him. Even in the helicopter, it was like he just came along for the ride. The colonel didn't even look at him.
"This stuff about you being 9000 years old, is that what you tell the tourists or what?", Venus finally asked, to see if she could get a rise out of her traveling companion.
"I have been known as Wohaka for roughly 9000 years. If you are referring to my physical resemblance to the ancient native inhabitants of this land, it is because it was they who gave me this name. I do not take this shape by choice.", He said and then pausing on the path for a moment, and leaning on his walking stick, said, "I belong to these people, that is why I appear this way."
Venus stopped too. There was something funny about Wohaka. "Hey wait a minute," she realized, "What happened to you're broken English?"
Wohaka smiled. "That is merely an affectation, like my appearance. In reality, my child, I am much older than 9000 years and I am known by many names throughout this world. I am defined by those who name me. What name I go by depends on where you go in the world. What I look like depends on where you find me."
"So, who you are depends on where you are?", Venus queried.
"I am everywhere.", He replied.
"I'm curious," Venus went on, "Is there any special reason you appear as an old man?"
"As when you shall age and there are fewer and fewer people who know you and the times pass you by, you too shall appear old and your power shall diminish until it goes out and becomes known by a new name. So do I."
"I wonder, is this going to have any effect on your ability to protect me."
"I appear old," Wohaka stated, chin up, chest out, "but I am vital because I still have great powers."
Mars squatted on a boulder
at the edge of the creek next to the campsite. He stared into the glistening
water tumbling over the rocks while he diddled his lips with his fingers. It
had been weeks since his friends Karl and John disappeared, along with the ghost
town, into the time/space warp. He had camped for a week at the site of the
disappearance hoping to see the town reappear but no such luck. Mars left notes
tacked to trees surrounding the town in case his friends emerged while he wasn't
present. And those two men, the Blues Brothers, or whatever they were, who the
hell were they? Did they have anything to do with the strange behavior of the
town? How could they vanish like that? Were they real or did he imagine them?
At this point nothing in the universe would seem bizarre to Mars.
Since then, he'd been camped back at their original campsite by the creek but only because he didn't know what else to do. He didn't know if he should go or stay. If he should go, he had no idea where to go. If he should wait for his friends to reappear, then how long should he wait? If he should stay, he had no idea what to do with himself while he waited. There was nothing to do here but find something to eat and sleep. Survival here was not a full time job. Food was plentiful and easily gained. The weather was mild. Karl and John had taught Mars how to make a fire and to fish, so there wasn't much to worry about in those respects. That wasn't the problem. It was the aloneness.
If Mars had trouble maintaining a grip on reality before, this was a real test. In his former life he was a solitary and private individual. He interacted with people only when he had to. He liked being alone. Or, at least he thought he did. He had never really been alone though. Back there in the civilized world, there are millions of people working behind the scenes to make that machine called civilization work. He liked being able to flick on a light switch or TV or turn up the thermostat or hop in his car and drive to the convenience store for some beers and cigarettes or take a long hot shower whenever he wanted. It's nice not having to think about the sewage, water, electric, gas, phone, cable systems. It's nice not having to think about the police, fire and hospital people standing-by, ready when we need them. No, you're not alone. Not by a long shot.
Here, now, he was truly alone, he thought. Miles from nowhere. Isolated: geographically, physically, and emotionally. His former life was totally disintegrated. There was absolutely nothing left from that time/space: no clothes, no possessions, no documents, no photographs. In fact, he no longer had memories of that former life. His memory contained only the events that transpired since the day he met Venus. He couldn't even remember who his mother and father were or if he had any brothers or sisters. He wasn't sure even what he looked like anymore. All he ever saw was his reflection in the water they always camped near. If he did get a look at himself, he might not recognize himself, he had changed that much. All he owned in the world now were the meager possessions that Karl and John were kind enough to bestow upon him and the knowledge they imparted to him.
Mars remembered enough of the skills John and Karl taught him to enable him to survive out here in the woods alone. Still, he thought, there has to be more to it than getting up in the morning, going fishing and then going to sleep at night. The question remained: What was he going to do.
He did have enough of his faculties though, to get up every day and go fishing in order to eat. It was the ritual of fishing which kept him from going over the edge. It gave him plenty of time to think while requiring enough concentration to keep him from letting his imagination get out of control. He also had to gather firewood and other foodstuffs to supplement his diet of fish but it was the times when he wasn't fishing that were the hardest for him. Like at night, sitting by the campfire, hypnotized by the flames. The flames that always reminded him of Venus, which reminded him of all the things that happened to him when her name was spoken in his presence. It reminded him of the candelabra, the dreams, his self-immolation, the exploding garage, the burning house. Every night he relived the events in his life since he met that person who's name he dare not mention and was unable to forget. The one bright spot in all of this was the fact that this latest incident, with his friends disappearing along with the town (however weird), was the first one where nobody, especially Mars, got hurt. Then again, this one couldn't be blamed on Venus either. In fact, nothing bad had happened to him since he and his friends had come to this spot. That was the main reason he decided finally to stay camped here. Mars figured that he'd simply stay here until he got tired of the place and felt like moving on. It was the most natural thing to do, he thought.
There was one other thing Mars discovered: there was something to do with all the free time he had on his hands after all. Karl's and John's text books and notebooks were among the things that they left behind. Mars read every minute that was not spent directly on his survival. At first it was hard to absorb what he read but as time went by Mars found he understood more and more of the things he read. This he attributed to all of Karl and John's campfire chats and walking classrooms. So, Mars continued his education in Physics, Anthropology, and Mathematics. He also enjoyed reading John's books of poetry and biology. Far from going mad, Mars mind was reaching new horizons.
One night while lying on his back near the campfire watching the stars, (Mars had found this better for his mind than watching the campfire.) Mars thought he heard something in the woods. Yes. It was a twig-snap. Then another. Somebody was out there. Voices. It was two people. They were coming this way. They weren't trying to sneak though the woods either, they made too much noise. "Karl! John!", Mars called out their names as he rose to his feet looking in the direction of the footsteps in the leaves.
"Hello there!" one of the voices called from the darkness. It was neither John or Karl.
"Hello?", Mars replied cautiously. "Who's there?"
Then the blues brothers stepped into the circle of fire light. It was Victor and Dr. Kang. They stepped forward and introduced themselves to a stunned Mars, who recognized them from the road outside of Mirage the day the town disappeared. The two aliens took turns explaining who they are and what they are doing here the same way they did with Venus the night they appeared in her campsite. When they explained their time traveling ability and their scientific agenda it became a little more clear to Mars that these guys were not responsible for his friend's disappearance. Victor explained that they had returned to check the site of the time warp and had indeed found it to be once again stable. They explained that the chances of seeing his friends again were practically nil unless that area became actively unstable again, and the chances were astronomically against that happening. Dr. Kang told him not to fear, his friends weren't dead, they were just in a different time/space. They added that since his friends were scientists, the chances are they are having a wonderful time.
Although this news did nothing to raise Mars morale, he felt oddly at home with these strangers. Their manner made one immediately comfortable in their presence. Maybe it was because he once again had someone to talk to. He had no reason to doubt that these guys are aliens, just like they say they are. From Mar's point of view this weird event was business-as-usual. Mars finally felt comfortable enough to ask his guests, "Why do you guys dress like the 'blues brothers'?"
Victor stuck out his chin and straightened his tie and said, "Pretty cool, huh?"
Then it hit him. "These guys are time travelers," he thought, "I wonder . . . " Mars asked his guests if they could take him back in to the time before he met Venus so he could avoid meeting her.
"Well, first of all," Victor explained, "There's the Non-Interference Directive which prohibits our meddling with the course of history of alien civilizations."
"Yes," Dr. Kang broke in, "Besides it might not work. Some things are unalterable. You may do something different but get the same results."
"And," Victor added. "There's the possibility you two are supposed to meet? It's possible that your offspring is destined to save humankind from some deadly disease. You never know. It's not for us to meddle with. The bottom line is: we're simply not allowed." Victor said in a manner that was meant to close the subject.
"I'm curious." Asked Dr. Kang. "Why is it that you are so desperate to avoid a certain person?"
With that, Mars told them the story of his life that started with his meeting Venus. He even went as far as to mention her name out loud in order to tell his tale. When he was through, his guests were indeed impressed with his adventures. What an amazing streak of bad luck. Dr. Kang went so far as to point out that Mars might consider this an amazing run of good luck. Any one of events that Mars described could have killed him. Then Victor told Mars of the amazing coincidence that he and Dr. Kang had met this woman, Venus. He also told Mars that Venus had asked them if they knew if she'd ever meet him again, as if she hoped she would. He assured Mars that they had no way of knowing those kind of things.
"It's not a matter of what happens in the course of one's life," Said Victor, offering Mars a little intergalactic wisdom. "More importantly, it's a matter of how you react to those things."
They visited for a while longer but being polite guests, Dr. Kang and Victor bade their farewell when the noticed Mars beginning to fight off sleep. Mars invited them to stay but they declined the offer. They walked off into the darkness outside the campfire light and were gone. Mars now had a lot of new things on his mind but was too tired to think long on it before he fell into a deep sleep as the campfire burned into a soft red slowly throbbing glow.
Mars rose the next day as usual and took his fishing rod to the creek and fished until he caught something just the right size to eat. Everything else he returned to the stream. From then on his day consisted of reading and meditation. This is how everyday went. Mars no longer missed the company of other people. He no longer missed civilization. He meditated while he was collecting firewood or gathering seeds which he then ground into flour and while foraging for the other foodstuffs with which he supplemented his diet. He studied everything he came across in the forest. In time he came to understand the growth of a tree, the movement of water and air, the behavior of the animals in the forest. He felt he was as close to being one with this world as he would ever be. He finally felt like he was in his rightful place in nature, living the way he was supposed to. He was totally at home in the woods now. It was his home. It was no longer a matter of mere survival because he understood the world he now lived in better than the one he came from. He took from nature only what he needed and nothing more and he never forgot to thank her for the provisions.
Mars forgot about his former life and Venus. He forgot about Karl and John. He forgot all the disasters that had befallen him. He lived now one day at a time. He did not think in terms of the future, or even a past. He lived simply. He simply lived. He rose and slept with the Sun. He fished. He walked every foot of the valley he now called home. He got to know every tree, and every rock. He came to recognize each of the animals he shared the valley with. He slept where he grew tired and he ate when he was hungry. He was now a part of his domain.
Four days into their journey
through the forest Venus asked Wohaka if they could rest for a day. They were
in a grassy clearing in the forest next to clear flowing stream. It was a particularly
beautiful setting and Venus wanted to savor it. "People pay big money to
take vacations like this." She thought. "I might as well enjoy myself."
Venus' clothes were beginning to take on an aroma she didn't care to carry around with her. A dip in the creek would do the trick. She asked Wohaka to respect her privacy while she went around the bend in the creek to bathe. There she found a pool of flat water near a large flat rock tilted into the water. First she washed her clothes and hung them to dry, then she bathed herself. Venus climbed out of the creek onto the large rock after she'd bathed and tired of swimming and there she soaked up the Sun while her clothes finished drying. Lying on her stomach, Venus stared into the clear pool of water before her and watched the fishes swim and forage for food along the bottom. One of them rose to the surface right in front of Venus, not more than a foot in front of her face, and spoke to her in a tiny voice but in clear and unmistakable English. "Beware of the one who travels with you." The fish disappeared below the surface. Venus rose on her elbows and looked hard into the water trying to find that fish. Then another poked it's head out of the water and it too spoke to her saying, "Watch out for that Wohaka, he's a trickster." That fish too darted back to the bottom and mingled with the others. Venus looked over her shoulder hoping not to see Wohaka. Good, he wasn't there. "Was it true?" Venus thought to herself. "Did Wohaka lie to her? Is he something other than what he said he is?" Venus paused. "Wait a minute. Am I going to believe a fish?"
"Why not?" said a voice from the water. There, where the other fishes had surfaced, was an even larger fish. "We have no reason to lie to you."
"You're a fish." Said Venus. "Fish don't talk."
"You're not a fish." Said the fish. "Yet you can swim." The fish dipped to wet himself.
"Yeah, but . . ."
The fish cut her off. "Look, we're just trying to warn you. I can't stay out here in the air all day, so take it or leave it, you got the warning. See ya later."
"Wait a minute!" Venus cried before he could submerge.
"OK, make it quick." The fish said impatiently.
"Why should I fear Wohaka? Am I in danger?" Venus asked in hushed tones.
"We only know that he is solely interested in destruction. Wohaka cannot hurt you, but he will trick you and use you to do his dirty work." The fish answered. "Whether you are in any danger is unknown. It is best to avoid him."
"But how . . ."
"Look, I gotta go. I'm drying out here." Said the fish just before he disappeared into the pool.
"Oh, Great!" Venus thought to herself. "I shouldn't be with the guy I need to keep me alive and get me back to civilization. Oh no, what if he never intends to lead me back to civilization?" As she gathered her clothes and dressed her fear grew. "What if Wohaka, instead of saving me from that helicopter crash, caused it?" Then there was the matter of the talking fish. Well, after all the things that had happened to her this wasn't so hard to believe. If she could believe that a 9000 year old Indian spirit was traveling with her, what was so hard to believe about talking fish?
"Well, I'll just have to be on my toes. I'll have to be careful not to let Wohaka know I'm on to him." Venus thought as she strolled back to the campsite. "I'm not stupid. If I just make sure we never turn upstream anywhere along the way, we'll eventually end up at some town or at least a cabin or something." Then Venus thought of something that made her stop in her tracks and her face light up. She ran the rest of the way back to camp.
(to be continued.)
Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: Scherer@tesserak.net