Chapter Twenty-One


War Journal

Entry # 7

All it took was the words Aurora and alone; and all at once, I felt a weird cold buzz run through me. Some kernel of dread that I'd been harboring in private blossomed within me, proceeded to grow.

She stood. I stood. The others stood, too. We walked behind the throne, and they just stayed where they were. I glanced back at Gene, who shrugged and made the aiyee! face. I shifted over to Scarecrow, who predictably smiled and waved.

Then we came upon a doorway, framed by a thousand ornately-mirrored slats. I saw, in that moment, a thousand Ozmas, pursued by a thousand fearsome Deaths.

The Deaths, of course, were me.

We passed through the door, and it closed behind us. In the silence that followed, Ozma turned to me, and I felt a warm flush crawl across my skin. It wasn't me blushing; it didn't come from within. It was like sunlight emerging from behind a cloud.

She smiled; and if the Buddha had been a beautiful woman-child instead of a squat little roly-poly guy, she woulda looked a lot like him.

"Aurora," she said. "Aurora Quixote Jones." She seemed to like the way the words cavorted across her tongue. "You certainly are a special one. And I'm so very glad you're here."

"I'm really happy to be here, too." It was all I could think of to say.

"So tell me. What, if any, are your plans?"

"Well, like I said, I'm going out front. I really don't see how I have any choice. You don't have many fighters. But they do."

"This is true," she thoughtfully agreed.

"And some of them won't stop, no matter how nicely you ask them."

"I know."

"So, again: if Dorothy doesn't mind, I'd like to stand by her side."

"Then stand by her you shall. But let me ask you this." And Ozma leaned forward as she spoke. "Are you not afraid to die?"

"Well, yeah!' I said. "Of course I am!" Ozma laughed. After a second, so did I. But the thought had been planted in my head. Does she know something I don't know?

"I mean," I said, "I'm not going to, am I?"

Ozma looked at me frankly. "I wish I knew. So does Glinda. We are both concerned. Quite simply, there is so much going on that the future is most unclear." I nodded. "Glinda's book is filling much faster than she could possibly read; and all of her concentration is focused on magick, just now."

"Well, shit!' I blurted out. "And begging your pardon, but can't somebody else take a look at that thing, let us know what's coming up? I mean, isn't that important information?"

"It is, of course. But, alas, only Glinda is permitted to read the book."

I tried to imagine what Gene would think if he were standing here. He'd probably have thought pretty much what I did, which was: JESUS CHRIST! BEND THE RULES! ARE YOU NUTS?

But instead of voicing this out loud, I aimed for the other end of the equation.

"So why," I inquired, "did you pull me aside?"

At which point she smiled and said, "We have something for you."

And Oz being Oz, Jellia Jamb was there at once. She held a large covered platter in her hands, all of it gleaming silver. I'm certain I looked as confused as I felt in the moment before Jellia lifted the lid, pulled back a velvet adornment.

Then I stared at the object on the plate.

It was an emerald burrito.

Now, one could argue that it was actually a sculpture of a scroll, or some unknown object rolled up in parchment. And indeed, there were undecipherable hieroglyphics all over the thing, so I guess the point could be made. But no. This heavenly tchochka, this gift of all gifts, was roughly a foot long, maybe two inches wide. A nice size for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And from the way it was rolled - or depicted as such - to the fluted ends and bulging middle, there was only one true way to read the situation.

It was an emerald burrito. That's exactly what it was. A burrito meticulously sculpted out of living gemstone, glowing rather vivaciously green on Jellia's little silver platter. The sheer extent of the detail was astounding.

I found myself thinking, well, what the fuck is this?

Once, when I was seventeen, this guy from school tattooed a picture of my face on his ass. Left cheek. Startling likeness. All in all, a very professional job. Since I didn't actually like the guy, I can't say that I was thrilled. Just stunned.

And this is not to say that I didn't love Ozma, love Oz, love life, be red-hot with hunka hunka burnin' love. But in terms of a sheer sinking feeling, this made me feel something like that.

"Ummm.. .thank you," I said, staring mute at the thing.

"This," she said, "is the Skyrrla."

I said, "It's very nice."

I was starting to shake.

I thought about imitation being the sincerest blah blah blah. I thought about that guy and my face on his ass. I thought about how weirdly inappropriate this seemed. How removed from the black cloud, and the urgency now before us. Like that Monty Python sketch in The Meaning of Life, where all these soldiers in a foxhole give, like, enormous ornate grandfather clocks to their dumbfounded sergeant, make him a cake, singing "Oh He's a Jolly Good Fellow" while the enemy picks them off one by one.

Okay, said the voices in my head. So they made me this really nice burrito statue thing. Now where was I supposed to put this, exactly? On my mantle? On my grave? Up my rectum? I mean, what?

I felt pissed off. And embarrassed. And afraid. Like Ozma had butterfly wings for brains, or at least no sense of perspective. I felt the fear that Gene must have been feeling the whole time: that faith-shattered vacuum, where nothing can be believed.

Then she said, "The Skyrrla is beyond antiquity."

The voices in my head shut up.

I looked at her. She was reading me hard. And the horrible thing was: I was reading her, too. I could feel my doubt, my lack of faith, going off like a depth charge inside her; and though it burned for a second in her eyes, that sweet Buddha smile remained somehow intact, then took over her eyes again.

It was very very hard for me to put some words - any words -  together.

"Really?" I said, and she nodded her head.

"Wow," I added. Swallowed hard. "So...what-all does it do?"

"We were hoping that you could tell us," she said, and my embarrassment was sealed. Her beauty was so massive, her sincerity so complete.

"You don't know?"

She shook her head. "No, we don't. Long before I was born -  before Glinda was born - the Skyrrla was here, clearly waiting for something. For years beyond measure, the Skyrrla has waited.

"We suspect that it was waiting for you."

I know it sounds stupid, but I started to cry.

And through the veil of tears, I became aware of something amazing.

Inside the Skyrrla - the emerald burrito - I began to see movement, substrata of something-like-electrical motion beneath the tacit glow. A lightning-like dance, both precise and abstract, alive and engaged. My eyes opened wide.

There was something there for me. I knew that there was. I felt it. I felt it. It burrowed inside. I looked at my hand, and my hand was insane. It wanted to touch it. It hungered to know.

I looked in the eyes of Ozma. All resentment there was gone. I felt my own petty feelings resolve, then dissolve. I felt a beautiful thing inside.

My hand was reaching forward. I was watching it do it. I was the thing, and behind the thing. Totally watching. Eye of God. God. Hand. All at once.

Then my hand latched ahold of the emerald burrito.

And I knew that I would never die.

There are some knowings that can not be unknowed There are some moments that can not be denied. In that moment of moments, I knew some things that are not negotiable. Not subject to debate. Not an if but a yo.

The burrito spoke to me, and I saw myself in it: skull-paint on flesh mask, deeper skull beneath the mask, then into bone and down and down, through calcium swirl to atomic glow.

And it was all me. Every speck. Every ripple. Every thought was mine, and every sensation. I was hooked up and hooked in, the core and the satellite, God-head and Aurora-head in infinite sync.

And I knew that this would never end. No matter what. No matter when.

And I know I was smiling - I had to be smiling - because Ozma was laughing when I opened my eyes; and when I went to laugh, too, I found that my mouth was already there.

When I rejoined the others, I was high as a kite. To be honest, I hardly remember what happened.

When Gene asked, "What'cha got?" I'm pretty sure that I showed them.

When he said, "So now what?," I'm pretty sure I said let's go.

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