THE JOURNEYS OF JOHN AND JULIA IN CHAPTER ONE: GENESIS Line 1
The conference was scheduled to begin at 11:11 PM, sharp.
The conference room would appear at 11:00 PM behind the old amphitheater.
Eleven minutes would be plenty of time to get the invitations out and for everyone to arrive with time to spare.
It wasn’t really an invitation though, it was more like a directive and no RSVP was necessary. Everybody just had to appear. It was a duty. It was non-negotiable. It came with the territory and no one had ever questioned it.
It was highly unlikely for unwelcome visitors to show up in the area at that time – the sites of a conference were always chosen with the greatest efforts to that effect and the old amphitheater lay abandoned in the middle of a vast ancient forest with huge virgin growth trees. Most of them were more than a thousand years old, beholders of events almost too fantastic to believe. They say that the occasions on which human beings stumble into their midst are rare. They reason that a few old stones arranged in a half circle with a big slab of rock in the center and by no means spectacular enough to attract attention is all someone would see. They conclude the site is ideal.
On this particular moonless night, the creatures of the forest were the only witnesses to what was going to happen.
At exactly 11 o’clock, a slight movement disturbed the calm of the scene. In fact, it was more a blur than a movement, really. The dark night air behind the amphitheater became alive, quivered, warped, wobbled, emanated a strange hissing sound – all in astonishing disregard for the laws of physics. To the uninitiated however, it was no more than the wind in the trees. You had to strain your eyes really hard to notice the conference room emerging out of the empty space between the amphitheater and the bordering trees. It blended so well into the landscape that it was hard to determine whether it truly existed or if the remote forest in combination with a black night triggered the imagination into seeing things. Therefore, despite the fact that the absence of any human being could not be totally assured, the chances of being detected were negligible.
Any of the twenty-two members of the group could summon a conference, and each of them understood that this privilege was never to be abused. It was an unwritten rule that without a good reason – genuine or subjective – no one was allowed to initiate a meeting.
Actually, there were twenty-three associates, but everybody thought of the Siamese Twins as one person. They were not twins exactly – Siamese or otherwise – they were a couple. Nobody though could recall them ever being apart and that fact had earned them their nickname.
Today Theodore Cliffton had placed the call. He was known to behave foolishly at times, but all his colleagues would show up anyway and the conference would happen, no matter who sent out the invitation.
Here he was, a young looking man, dressed in a uniquely patterned colorful shirt, khaki-shorts and sturdy hiking boots, a safari hat lying next to him. He sat on the center rock of the amphitheater, very still with his eyes closed, in deep concentration. Not a muscle on his entire body moved. He could have been part of the landscape – that’s how still he was. Just before he opened his eyes, he nodded to himself as if affirming something in his mind. Then he stretched his legs and got up.
As he looked in the direction of the conference room, an opening appeared in the wall closest to him. He knew he had only a few seconds to enter before the building shifted sixteen and one-third degrees counterclockwise and the door would disappear. He picked up his hat and swiftly moved through.
The nondescript exterior of the hall gave no clue of what was inside. The structure was round with a diameter of maybe fifty yards but held only one room. There were no windows, yet the room felt wide and airy. It had a high dome ceiling with all kinds of strange symbols painted on it. The walls were a funny looking metal structure – they resembled a gigantic honeycomb. The metal gave off an iridescent glow, filling the whole room with a soft, shimmering light. There was not a single door.
In the center of the room stood a huge round table with twenty-two high-backed chairs evenly spaced around it. They were beautifully crafted, and each of them looked slightly different, including one as wide as a bench.
Aha! That’s where the Siamese Twins will sit, Cliffton thought, while he performed his duties as host, inspecting the room making sure that everything was as it should be. His dazzling blue eyes reflected the luminescence all around him as he looked up to the ceiling with its many symbols and a pleased smile crawled over his face.
That same moment, as if responding to his smile, a magnificent red and golden feather separated from the ceiling and slowly descended towards him. It stopped only inches away from his head – then moved horizontally towards the table. It circled the table three times and finally came to rest on the back of one of the chairs. Merging with the wood, it created the impression of a chair with a red and golden feather painted on its backrest. Cliffton approached the table, pulled back the newly decorated chair and sat down. All he needed to do now was wait.
Because he had closed his eyes again, he missed what happened next. Twenty-one more symbols began one by one to protrude from the ceiling, slowly gliding towards the table and attaching themselves onto the chairs. Just like the feather had. There was a golden wand with pointed tips on each end, a beautifully woven piece of fabric that seemed to be nothing more than a radiant beam of moonlight in one moment and completely opaque like a pearl the next, a rose, a crystal ball, a pair of keys – to name just a few. Each of them found its place as if directed by some invisible force.
Would there have been a clock in the room, it would have shown that this whole affair was completed in less than thirty seconds. But time was of no consequence in these surroundings. Everything happened in a special rhythm the way it always had, the way it always must.
Theodore Cliffton’s silent contemplation was interrupted by a low purring sound. He opened his eyes and saw exactly what he expected to see: The humming noise meant the mysterious mechanisms of the hall were getting ready to allow the next person in.
Sure enough, just a little to his left, a door appeared and his esteemed colleague, Doctor Chester Magnussen, stepped into the room. He was a tall, ordinary looking man of middle age and seemed a little bogged down by the black pilot case he carried in his left hand. The eye-catching, ankle-length crimson cape he wore, gave his appearance a certain old-fashioned dignity and suggested that he had either been on his way to the opera or to a costume ball, when the invitation reached him.
“Hello Avi,” he said cordially, placing his bag on the table. He pulled out the chair next to Cliffton’s, the one with the golden wand on it. “Nice job you did selecting this site. Must have found it on one of your travels I reckon?”
Cliffton smiled. Avi was what his friends called him, and it was short for his nickname, The Adventurer. All of The Twenty-Two had known each other for what felt like eternity and with a few exceptions, they hardly ever bothered to use their real names.
“Hi Mac, good to see you again. How have you been?” Cliffton replied with his smile now reaching all the way to his voice. “I stumbled across it, while investigating some rumors about a Bigfoot living in these forests. Made me really curious. Only, then I got sidetracked with – oh listen,” he interrupted himself as the low humming sound started up once more.
“I know Avi,” Magnussen mumbled to himself, “of all your wonderful traits focus surely is not one of them.”
But Cliffton was no longer listening to him. He watched the door reappear just a little bit to the left from where it had been before, and a spectacularly beautiful woman, covered from head to toe in a long flowing gown, made of some shiny silver-blue material, walked in. Despite the fact that she was carrying a sizable ancient looking book, she moved with such easy grace that it seemed as if her feet didn’t even touch the ground. It was impossible to guess her age – one moment she looked like a young girl and then, only an instant later, as ancient as her book. But looks were of as little consequence in these surroundings as was time.
“Good evening MaDame” Magnussen welcomed the new arrival with greatest reverence. “May I help you with your book?”
“Oh come on Mac, don’t treat me as if I was an old grandmother.”
Mirra Prestessi shot Magnussen an icy look, as she threw the book on the table. “Besides, I know you know that I would not let you or anybody else handle the book even if I was feeble which I am not so thank you very much.”
“Ah Mirra,” Magnussen answered, an expression of alarm on his face, “it just makes me nervous to watch you throwing the book around the way you do. I think of all the things that could happen if – “
The arrival of more people interrupted their dispute, and soon the hall was filled with the humming of the appearing doors and the laughter of old friends.
Most of them were loosely in touch at any time, but for all of them coming together for a conference was a big deal nevertheless. They clearly enjoyed this opportunity to catch up. A beautiful lion with an impressive dark mane walked around the room greeting everyone by rubbing his gigantic head against their hips and was purring with pleasure like a kitten. He belonged to Leona Strong, and in her presence the big cat was usually well behaved.
At exactly 11:11 o’clock, everyone had taken their assigned seats according to the symbols on the backrest of the chairs, and the conference could begin. An anticipatory silence fell over the room.
Cliffton cleared his throat and got up.
“My dear friends,” he said, opening his arms wide in a gesture of warm welcome. “Thank you all for being here tonight.”
Then, true to his style, he jumped right to the heart of things without noteworthy preamble. “I must introduce a matter of great urgency. I was contacted by a girl. She is thirteen years old, her name is Julia and she is in dire need of our help. She is not aware of her reaching out, yet the emotional intensity of her wish to have a different life is so strong that I even lost interest in chasing that Bigfoot I have heard about. And there is no need for me to tell you how much Bigfoots mean to me. They are the sweetest creatures and they — “
Chester Magnussen realized, as did everyone else, that Cliffton was dangerously close to losing sight of the proposed subject and, finding his friend’s leg under the table, he gave him an as he hoped discrete, yet firm kick to the shin.
Thankfully, today this nonverbal suggestion was enough to bring Cliffton back to his proposition. He was filled with childlike curiosity and it was quite natural for him to explore any new situation at the snap of a finger. As consequence of such behavior, he lost himself as quickly in a labyrinth of stimuli. Needless to say, keeping up with him posed quite a challenge for his friends.
“Er – where was I? Er – yes, Julia. Her parents recently separated and a few months ago her Grandfather died. Her world is upside down and she suffers deeply. She wants to change but aside from getting her parents back together doesn’t know what and if she knew that, she wouldn’t know how. She is not aware of the fact that the emotional intensity of her sincere wish to have a life without pain and full of happiness is like a prayer. I can’t explain why but I strongly feel we must let her see that every prayer is answered and that reaching out is never ignored! So I invited you here to look into her case and to get your valued opinions, as to how we should proceed.”
Regardless of his little deviation into the world of Bigfoots, it had been an unusually lengthy speech for Cliffton, and this fact was enough to convince the group of the validity of his claim. Even before he sat back down, the group was already discussing the information. Everybody talked at once – someone even yelled across the table.
“Please please my dear Ladies and Gentlemen,” shouted a stern looking man over the noise. “Let’s have some discipline here.”
His steel-gray hair lay so tight around his head that it resembled a helmet. In combination with a beard that covered almost all of his face and a pair of bushy eyebrows, he looked as though he wore a visor. His piercing gray eyes rested briefly on each of the members as he glanced around the table. He radiated an aura of unmistakable authority. As if muted by remote control, there was instantaneous silence.
“Er – yes – thank you, Herr Kaiser,” said Cliffton, noticeably relieved that the burden of restoring order had been assumed by someone so much better suited to the task. “I shall gladly answer all of your questions regarding the case. However, I was hoping Mirra would be kind enough to help us get some clarity, by affording us a glimpse into her book first.”
Mirra Prestessi, at the moment wearing her young-girl-look, had not participated in the general conversation. She sat with her eyes shut and seemed to stare at the closed book in front of her. Any stranger would have thought it very odd at best, that someone could actually stare with their eyes closed, but the people in the room had long become accustomed to Mirra’s way of looking. A common joke among them was that she really possessed a thousand eyes and that she used her physical ones only as a show of social graces. Despite these efforts to not intimidate with her eccentricities, by far not everybody felt comfortable looking into her eyes.
Half the time they were of an unclouded dark blue that bordered on purple and inflicted a sensation of being pulled down into the frightening unknown of the deep sea on a calm day. The rest of the time, they changed to a silvery blue, reminiscent of a sheet of arctic ice or the smooth panel of a mirror. On these occasions, there was no way to penetrate their glassy surface and everything they looked upon was reflected back in a threateningly clear way. Whichever color they were, caught in the path of their gaze, even the most carefully projected mask, pretense or wall was stripped away. In the presence of those eyes was no room for any perception other than truth. Mirra Prestessi was a strange woman indeed.
Without anyone touching the book, it suddenly flew open. As if by magic its pages started to turn; slowly at first, picking up speed with every turn of the page, creating a delicate breeze that made Mirra’s dress move in patterns resembling the concentric circles of a stone thrown into a pond.
Everybody in the room watched the process with fixed attention. It always was such a treat to snatch a peek into Mirra’s book, and it was by no means certain for the book to comply in all cases. The level of excitement in the room could not get any higher without becoming audible even to human ears, when Mirra finally opened her eyes and the book came to a stop.
Anyone unfamiliar with the workings of the book might have wondered why it had stopped at two blank pages – but then again, said person could have flipped through the whole book without finding so much as a single dot of ink in it. To the uninitiated, the book contained nothing but innocent blank pages – page after page after page. Such a person might have thought the book an unused journal perhaps and his guess would not have been far off the mark. Just some journal he never dreamed to exist.
Although the members of the group were aware of the special powers the book possessed, Mirra was the only one able to obtain information from it without the help of Chester Magnussen. By nature of her being, she practically was the book. With those weird eyes of hers, she had seen everything that ever has happened and stored it in the book. And – as if this was not fantastic enough already – her eyes had seen everything that ever was going to happen and stored it in the book, too. And alongside everything that ever has happened or ever will happen, the book stored all the things that could have happened but never did and maybe never will, too. In short, Mirra’s book contained every imaginable possibility as well as every unimaginable probability – past, present and future.
No member of the group however, found this particularly noteworthy. After all, time was of no consequence in these surroundings. And in an environment where time is of no consequence, anything is possible.
“Well,” said Mirra while aging slowly and not minding it a bit, “looks like the book thinks there is something to Avi’s claim. Mac, would you please?”
Chester Magnussen was already on his feet, fiddling around in his pilot case. He was obviously looking for something.
“Somebody tell me what we want to accomplish here. Visual only? Tactile? The whole shebang?”
Although his questions were not addressed to anyone specific, everyone respected that this was Cliffton’s call – so he was in charge. For now, anyway.
“I suggest we first go into visual-audio-sensory-mode, Julia only, time vector alpha-457.9-present with some explanatory narrative for off-screen goings-on if necessary,” Cliffton answered, reading the numbers off a scrap of paper he had taken out of his shirt pocket. Aside from a pouch around his waist he never carried any baggage, but seemed to produce everything he needed miraculously from the depths of his shirt. “Based on what the book shows, we evaluate the data and then take it from there,” he continued, looking around the table for response. Everybody signaled agreement.
“Then this is all I need,” said Magnussen, pulling a bizarre looking object out of his bag. On first glance, it might have been no more than some ordinary stick; colorful and round with smooth edges on both ends, about twenty-two inches long. On closer observation, the colors came to life; swirling shapes, moving in a dark-violet medium of peculiar viscosity bending and contorting with the motion of the shapes. So, although the idea seems extreme, it looked as if the wand contained a condensed version of the universe.
Magnussen removed his crimson cape to reveal the floor-length toga of dazzling white he wore underneath, held together by the most awesome belt in the form of a snake biting its tail. With a movement of his galaxy wand as swift as it was elegant, he touched the book, and one segment of the honeycomb-structured-wall lit up like a screen.
He slowly lowered himself back onto his chair, as if not to disturb the swirling motions of his wand. Mirra closed her eyes again – not out of any necessity, she just preferred to look with her eyes closed – and the honeycomb-wall-monitor displayed some static. From the metal frame around it, bright-green flashing characters indicated the marker ‘alpha-457.9-present-Julia-VAS/n’.
Magnussen adjusted the position of the wand with the tiniest tilt of his fingers, the static cleared, and the face of a pretty girl with light brown hair cascading in smooth curls just below her shoulders appeared on the screen. Her eyes had the subdued blue-green color of the ocean on a cloudy day. Specks of gold, scattered around the iris like motes of dust in a ray of afternoon sunlight, matched the healthy golden glow of her skin perfectly. Framed by long thick lashes, those eyes were the most outstanding feature in a face otherwise obscured by traits partly still belonging to the face of a child and partly already to that of a woman.
“May I introduce Julia,” said Cliffton, his voice vibrant with a tinge resembling the pride of a craftsman presenting his masterpiece.
His remark was quite superfluous, because as far as anyone could tell, Mirra had always been accurate in finding the proper blank page in her book.