The Pacific coast is endless and Lady Chief had been walking for days along the shore, grey clouds above, totally alone and not even able to finally make the choice of suicide, of just simply walking into the surf and drowning. She must walk, walk, walk on the edge of the surf forever, her own, personal, Ancient Mariner, eternity. She no longer had the deadly choice that, as a minimum, floated before her mind whenever emerging from sleep, and sometimes repeated regularly throughout the day, sending her in tears into the arms of one of her lovers to give herself strength. Maybe she had already chosen it since now she was totally alone, no Elizabeth, no Sally, no convenient way to orgasm from one of her sisters to settle her down after a nightmare and give her a few hours of truly restful and unbroken sleep, no cooking to do, no meals to plan, no outward excursion to dress and primp for.
Alone and walking, always walking, detouring to the right as the tide came in and to the left as the tide went out in order to stay at the water’s edge. The only variety available was to remove her sandals and walk more slowly in the faltering surf or the wet sand it left behind. The wind was chill from the ocean and penetrated the cracks of the hoodie above, the sweater below, and the satin, always satin, next to her skin. With every step her despair was the tiniest fraction deeper and her belief the tiniest fraction stronger that she had already died and this was Hell, her Hell, a Hell where not only can you lose your name, but also where you can forget why you even wanted to do it, and be left with only the pain of namelessness, of lack of identity, of lack of full certainty whether you are even there or not.
When the pain struck her heart too hard, she called out her sister’s names loudly, “ELIZABETH!!! SALLY!!!” Over and over vainly calling in the endless cloud covered dusk on the chance that she could wake herself from this dream that wasn’t really a dream, that was Hell in her own image: restless in the wind, cold in the sea mist and sprinkling, never more than sprinkling, rain. Without her noticing it, fog was creeping in around her. Soon it would be so thick that to keep to the water’s edge would constantly require her to look down. As she started looking down to walk, she heard a faint sound above the swelling of the surf…
She stopped to listen. She hadn’t believed that she could stop. There it was again, muted, as all sound in fog. Was it a called out name? Her name, “Lady Chief!”? It kept repeating clearer and clearer through the fog. Abruptly, as it happens in fog, Sally was standing in front of her calling, “Lady Chief, it’s me, Sally…” Or was it me Sally? Was it the terrifying image that Sally had seen in the mirror long ago at the Ritz Carelton. The face in the fog flickered from Sally to the image of Lady Chief’s feral self, somehow, though not visibly, shrunken and wizened, the me that Sally had taken from her. Lady Chief was smothered in fear. Could you be afraid in this Hell? Maybe not. Maybe it wasn’t Hell after all.
It was Sally again, “My gosh we had a hard time finding you! Whatever possessed you to dream of the entire Pacific Coast? All we asked for was undisturbed peace, quiet, and solitude away from the Demons that mock you and the shades of the people you ordered killed, not a route North and South on half the planet. Listen! Do you hear the mocking of the Demons?” She didn’t. She was relieved of them, or what passes for relief in the land of the Lost, which she had never left since the day she’d ordered her first murder. The absence of them was somehow equally as frightening as their taunts.
Sally spoke further, “Do you feel the phantoms that are always behind you, just out of reach of sight in the corner of your eye? No longer in front in the dreams, to point fingers and accuse you?” She didn’t. She only felt the sense of a large shadow behind her in the fog. Not enormous. Not gigantic. Human scale, like your mother before the growth spurt that left you looking down at her instead of up. Not hostile, but tentative, as if not wanting to disturb or annoy. Sally again, “Yes I see the shadow, I think I know what it is, but I won’t say until I do know.”
Abruptly once again, like a genie out of the bottle, Elizabeth was standing next to Sally covered in the white glow shot with green, the muted version, that Lady Chief and Sally both know is always there but they never see in the light of day. “Lady Chief, Kuan Yin asks me to speak to you who cannot hear Her directly, and who fails to understand that no one is actually separate from Her. You have committed great crimes and will, when you die, fall into the infinite webs of horror humans call Hell. None of these are any more real than the appearance that you and I are separate, but you will not understand that in your great torment of eons duration.”
The light around Elizabeth began to slowly brighten “To escape this you must purify your deeds, which cover you now like layers of mud. The first step you have started, which is regret and remorse, but your life will not be long enough to finish this step nor to undertake the rest and free yourself from this horrible danger. The remorse that is in you will not be enough to prevent it. You know this and it has driven you to despair.” Lady Chief broke down and began weeping on Elizabeth’s chest.
“But the strength of your remorse is just barely enough that I can hold out some hope. Here you see Me as Elizabeth, like one star in a universe of billions, but when you die you will see at once all the stars there are. Most who die so see me and run from me in terror. But if you stand your ground no matter how much I make you fear, I can take the power of your remorse and amplify it to send you where the moral dilemmas of humanity still exist and this will give you a final opportunity, if you take it, to purify this evil.”
The bright light widened to include Lady Chief. “Be calm now sister, since your last dream you are much closer to your own death. Open fully now and lose yourself in Me. If you can, you’ll fear Me much less at your moment of truth.” Both Elizabeth and Lady Chief vanished in the growing brightness of the light. We waited. It seemed to us like very long time. Then they both returned as the light started to dim, the last words were soft and the light was leaving, “You see? We’re not separate at all. And never have been.” We all hugged one another, without tears, and the friendly shadow towered over us. Suddenly I knew, instead of just suspecting, that it was Cherry Hawkins, still struggling to bring herself fully into our collective dream. We fell into and were lost in each other, one collective mind and no dream bodies.
Then Lady Chief awoke.