Dreamed 1994/9/1 by Chris Wayan
I dreamed of Mount Shasta, twenty thousand years in the future. Readers who have never traveled in California may need to know what Shasta is. Picture two towering stratovolcanic cones fused together: Shasta proper, rivaling Rainier or the Matterhorn, then a snowy saddle, and Shastina, much lower but still the size of Fuji. It's more a country than a mountain, looming two miles and more above its foot, and floating on the horizon for 150 miles in every direction: compass needle and north pole in one.
Shasta's always been sacred, and has a reputation for spirits and odd happenings even today; many New Age cults have sprouted under its gaze. When I was a kid, we drove by every summer on the way to Seattle, camped and hiked around it...
I always thought it was God.
But in my dream, Shasta's been riddled with tunnels by strange beings: snicker-penguins. These secretive people live underground, but prefer their caves airy and with a view. I bet they were already living in Shasta even in industrial times, given its reputation as a spook peak.
Shasta has eroded massively since my day. Maybe the penguins' burrowing weakened it, though steep cinder cones like Shasta do change very quickly. The saddle between the two peaks became a natural bridge, which then collapsed. The old higher peak eroded faster than Shastina, and the two are now twin peaks, only 11,000' high--a thousand meters lost. Unrecognizable as the Shasta I knew. I know it's time's way, but I can't help feeling sad at the ruin of my childhood shrine.
The snickering penguins look cute, but no one likes them. Their favorite saying is "Nyah, nyah." I know that tone. When I was small, and different, kids would follow me around and mock me. Little critics. Shasta's infested with a whole race of bratty ten-year-olds in tuxes. With sharp little beaks.
Humans would like to kick them out of Shasta, but even the Feds dare not mess with them. The penguins have nukes! The Navy built a secret command post nearby, but the penguins being natural miners easily penetrated it. When the Navy tried to stamp a logo on the peak to reclaim it, the penguins sabotaged the Navy software and erased the claim effortlessly, almost contemptuously. They didn't retaliate, but made it clear they're technologically ahead of humans--and plan to stay so.
Human hermits use the mouths of abandoned penguin burrows for their retreats. The Old Wino is the best known. Of course he doesn't call himself that--he sees himself as The Holy Hermit, the oldest on Shasta. He does know the mountain best--among humans. But his drinking has gotten so bad, he wanders around in a fog--barely takes care of himself. And he paints obsessively, if not well--forgets to rest or eat.
Still, because he doesn't honor his own safety, he knows the caves better than anyone but a penguin. One day, he leads me to a wonderful hot spring in a cave. There are whole cave-rivers; pilgrims come to bathe. But this one seems private, only the wino and I know of it. But I'm timid to use it much, for I fear the penguins will come pick on me.
RAZI DIVES IN
But the hero isn't me, or the Old Wino, or any human. No, not a penguin either. She's a bard, a singer and harpist named Razi. Razi's a krelkin, an herbivorous but rather feline deer with a mare's mane and tail, stubby hands for front paws, a furry voice and a vast hearing range. She's confident and easygoing, comfortable in her body, and she acts on her needs. If she wants a bath (and krelkins love water) she jumps in. If she wants to sing she jumps in. If she wants love she jumps in. Her life looks so risky, yet it all works out. A miracle-magnet. Do I sound envious? You're right.
I tell Razi about this hot-spring cave, knowing she'll use it as I can't. She promptly gallops up the mountain, finds the cave, and dives into the spring. Rather than being harassed by penguins, she has her usual luck: makes a serendipitous discovery.
Razi dives deep and finds a flooded passage into a damp warm steamy cave. A cave with ladders, pits, level floors! And lit! This cave complex houses a rare race of beings: cave elves. They look more or less human but thin and fast-moving. Very few have ever been seen--they're terribly private.
Razi introduces me to them, and we converse with fully half a dozen individuals--a Shasta record.
A girl not much over three years old tells us she's ready to have kids of her own now--though she still looks like a human three year old! This is normal for cave elves, apparently. They mature mentally at the same fantastic pace--IQs pushing 300 in human reckoning. I don't know whether they mature early and then plateau, or if they keep growing to become geniuses. Her father, the only elder I know, seems merely brilliant... But is he hiding his full intelligence? Or we may be blind to it. Pearls before penguins...
He does tell me they don't like my exposing them, even mentioning them in a dream-tale. They want their privacy. I apologize, but say I must go on exploring, telling all the inhabitants of the Mountain about each other. For we all need allies against the penguins.
Later, I struggle to tow a heavy trailer full of electronic gear onto the freeway. The Navy's anti-penguin gear? Razi's amps? Frustrating, wrestling with the wheel. My car's underpowered for this, but we need the gear! Cars honk at me, yell as they zoom by. Humiliating. But I'm not throwing out music... or self-defense.
Or passages like this. I know they don't make a neat, elegant story, but this isn't fiction.
TRUST THE SINGER--DOES SHE TRUST ME?
I'm doing a dance exercise with Razi. We stand facing each other and fall inward with arms before us, to form an A. It's a trust exercise. I like leaning on her and her leaning on me. Her hands bang firmly into my pecs. Lightly built though I am, I feel solid. But when I do the same to her, she flinches: my own straight-out hands touch her breasts. They're small, fur-covered, and a bit more side-facing on krelkins, but still, they might be tender. Or is she just shy, is it taboo? I look around, and other krelkin dancers are leaning casually on each others' breasts without flinching. Is it because I'm human, or weigh more than most krelkins? Or maybe hers muscles are sore. I say neutrally "I'll try to find a place I can lean on--how about like this?" Rotate arms so hands cup the outside of her breasts, with most of my weight on her pecs below the shoulder. She tilts her head like she's listening to her own body, but doesn't answer. "Can you tell me if something else would work better?" I patiently try to figure out a way we can lean on each other...
Many months of intrigue later, we push the snicker-penguins back decisively! They still hold the heights, but the mountain-foot is securely ours now.
To celebrate, we three meet again, in the cafeteria of the Navy facility built into the mountain-foot, not far from the Holy Wino's secret spring. Razi, her tone with him, feels saddened and embarrassed by the old drunk. I feel the same: he's apparently forgotten all about his role in the early stages of Razi's triumph. We're honoring the husk of the man he was. The lunch drags on awkwardly, me adoring Razi but unable to say so; the Wino drinking quietly into a stew; and Razi, nervous and fidgeting, not wanting to be rude to the Wino, but... And then, at dessert, he sniffles and says to Razi: "Well, how did the quest go? You smell like you succeeded. I remember your scent, all these years. Still just as wonderful: Incense and Peppermints."
Razi gasps! His phrase triggers a mini-satori, a buried memory she lost years ago. The phrase was a key!
And he knew it, and carried it for her, all these years, until she could take it again. Not only are his mind and spirit alive in that old shell, he's capable of bestowing blessings, and even expressing them in a deeply krelkin way (notice his key words referred to scents, not sight).
A holy hermit after all!
Yet... deep in the volcano, the penguins are still laughing at us. Lost a battle, not the war.
You know, I adored Razi, but I've idealized her. Even she's not perfect: she really underestimated that old hermit. All of us did.
What if the penguins have too? What ELSE does the Old Wino know?
My sister didn't warn the restaurant a large party was coming, or check to see what kind of place it was; she just heard it had great food. Turns out, it's a formal place for business types. Humans in suits. Do they discriminate? Our party's interracial, wild and scruffy artists in spattered jeans, or natural fur. The manager glares and orders a separate room cleared for us, so we won't offend the regulars.
The Old Artist endures the party, obviously being patient for us. He'd rather be painting.
Then it's time for games in the park--a ferny canyon with a grass floor. The party-givers and a rich collector running round playing "crack the whip" with the Old Artist on the end. At last his emotional meter runs out.
"How nice you all admire my work so much you feel it necessary to prevent it." he says sweetly. And walks out of his own party, up the crumbling volcano, to his cave. To think, and drink, and paint, and lie in the doorway and commune with the mountain, scruffy and eroded and serene.
To have his own happy birthday.
Footnote: "Incense and Peppermints" was a hit psychedelic song in the 1960s, by Strawberry Alarm Clock.