Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I fell overboard and was swept away, frantically flailing about in the vicious whirling, cold dark wetness of words, gasping, as I took in a mouthful of salty verbs and spit them out. Walk, run, jump, fall, twist, turn, thrash, and screw, all went flying. I clung to a large noun floating by with parasitic adjectives sucking on its fat belly. No end in sight. I caught a couple of strange and foreign words and devoured them without thought of what they meant. I caught a few truths that tasted bitter, and often nauseating and tough to chew, and later my stomach churned and I threw up. The seaweed of ennui seemed to wrap itself around me. I tried to chew myself free, shredded my boredom with my teeth, and swallowed it. It was plentiful and tasteless, but went down easy. Yet, there was a vague fear that it was eating me, as I was eating it. My actions became an endless list of flowery, saccharine, and slimy adverbs. Monotonously, wearily, resignedly, fruitlessly, I sank into stuttering half-sentences. My whole life blinked, glittered, flashed, flowed and carved arroyos into canyons, and ran down the gutter of my brain into some rain barrel at the base of my spine. I crawled along the mucky bottom, clawing at the mushy decaying bed of lost expressions, meaningless contradictions, lies, nonsense syllables, idle chatter, and things never said. At long last, I stumbled onto the shore of silence and sat there lost for words for quite some time. And then I began to write.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Once I was walking down the old road that followed the river - the river I loved to skate in the winter. Skate and never stop skating, bend after bend , each one yielding the alluring next one. But it was Spring on this occasion. And it was warmly breezy. And one gust in particular seemed to pick me up. Seemed to literally sweep me off my feet. Of course, it hadn't really. Because I could look down and see myself there, still standing with my hair blowing around. It was only my mind that had gone.

To an old green canvas awning, half-eaten and seemingly burned in places, and tearing easily in my hands and sending up a musty grain that circled my face and then vanished. To a dull car with no tires and a seat of dark stains and stiff places and a hole in the rotting fabric where I tore at the straw within as though crazy and then hung my head out the glassless window. The back of my legs itching and flushed, kneeling there bent to the wheel, idly bouncing up some kind of history that whooshed up cool between my legs and cool upon my belly, and it too, hovered in front of my face , until I sneezed it off, a black stringy mucous.

To a bottle somebody pitched, skipping it empty to a patch of weed, where the rain had played its label loose and slid it fading and chewed and half off the glass as a half-hanging shroud for a half-popped bachelor's button leaning out looking for sun. Where I tipped the bottle and dribbled out greenish last drops onto my hand, and it wouldn't wipe off but left my fingers stinky and bitter tasting. Across the field my feet trailed a broken grass and milkweed line snaking diagonal to the next block.

To a rabbit I chased there with my first fashioned weapon. A long and confident club from a hickory sapling that could beat against fur with a thud and the sound of bones breaking wet shiny and red for coloring the chips I carved into the handle. Whacking through the bushes out west of Chicago. Still, this one got away, hopping madly through industrial obscenities of tortured wires and broken bottles and crumbling skeletal shells of tin cans over time. And shattered shards of plastic as dull as stupor and cracking down the middle. Something dropped and broken in a numb city moment accidentally, something thrown crying at a wall and reduced to multi-colored triangles the earth could not absorb. Things broken and abandoned. And all of them catching my attention and bashed into smaller vulgar fantasies and sifting through the grass to disappear. Bashed once for the rabbit that got away, and twice for the next one that dared to appear.

To the grinning idiot in me sporting dark glasses to best conceal smarting in the face of a woman, or questions of love, or answers to dying that never appeared to negate suicide notions, or give insight out beyond indecision and all that crying. To a woman who happened, whose tongue crossed mine over and over and stranger with a spit I sucked in like a soldier who, dying, still yearns for water. Whose smell left me smelling myself into dreams alone of her floating around inside me, and clutching the first pulse of entry as a relic of what had then vanished and a way of saying goodbye.

To a rabbit that had been mowed down and her nest of babies by the park workers. And I buried the several pieces I found, my hands bloody, sticky, half-drying pasted with small clumps of matted fur. And later, picking a small mat of stained fur from beneath my fingernail, and licking at a dark clot that had dried into blood crumbs between my fingers, stretched wide and clubless and hiding my mouth and my eyes. After that I returned to the old river road. The wind had stopped. It was eerily still. I finished my walk and went home.


Part I : The Minor Miracle

I suppose this is a preface to a story. I am holed up in my house in the middle of a heat wave. Too much time on my hands has always set my mind to brooding. For the past two weeks, my thoughts have gone back time and time again to something that, I guess still haunts me. A dusty incident of long ago that mostly sits on a dark shelf in some back room of my head. So, this is what wandering about inside myself leads me to. I know the story well. Too well. I guess the problem has always been knowing how to tell it. I am hoping that if I make a beginning, if I only try, I can work through it in awhile, and then put it away forever. So, with that said, I take a deep breath, and begin.

It took a long time for it to come to this, and a lot of Chinese take-out. Countless crumbled fortune cookies trailing a hopelessly tangled paper string of failed dreams. My own intractable Gordian knot of things that didn't come true, or were too vague to matter.

It all sounds dismal and bitter, I know; but that was long ago. That was before Preita. This is the story of her. And about the day we met. 'Met' is not the right word, I suppose. I was 20 then. She, was 14. A child, in the eyes of the law. But out there, in the desert, some 100 miles south of Tijuana, the law is what you make it. Let's just say that when I regained consciousness, my head was on her lap, and she was running her fingers gently through my hair. And I had no idea of who she was, or what she might soon become. I was only aware of the wonderful amber light in her eyes, and of the shadow looming over us. The dark figure of her mother shading us both from the blistering sun, and her dangling silver crucifix. This is how the story began, the story of Preita's Magic Fingers.

Where is the best starting place for such a story? I suppose the things I experienced in my life, and in the lives of others around me in the five years or so preceding Preita, might explain a lot. But, you can read such cultural commentary in countless explanations of what the '60s were all about. Right now, two things come to mind, as I try to explain how I got lost in the desert and stumbled quite literally, into Preita. I don't really remember that moment. But, Preita told me later, she saw me stumbling just before i fell, seemingly dead, to the desert floor. I do recall seeing a slender young girl making her way barefoot along a faint trail through a grove of mesquite bushes. She was carrying a primitive twig birdcage full of what appeared to be Mexican sparrows. And, I vaguely remember how the sky, the girl, the distant mesas, and the ground in front of me had suddenly become a whirling blur that quickly faded into blackness.

As a small child, I remember how young mothers with sick babies would come to the house seeking out my grandfather. He was a faith-healer, of sorts. As I recall, he would gently lay the baby down upon his lap. He would recite a biblical scripture. He would then cup his open fist over the baby's mouth, bend down, and blow his breath into the baby. As a child, you can witness many things that don't seem extraordinary until years later, when you think about them. When you ask yourself questions about your past. What was that, exactly?. What made that ritual work? I remember grandaddy alway had a jaw full of chewing tobacco. He was always spitting on the ground or into a can. Maybe it was the tobacco on his breath, or such brown saliva that was the curative agent. Or, maybe something else.

So, now let me move forward in time, to get closer to the story at hand. I was sitting in a Cultural Anthropology class at a university in San Diego, California. I was listening to one of the many fascinating lectures about the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Spanish Conquest, the supplanting of ancient beliefs by Catholic missionaries, and so on. How, in that epic period, much information of these early cultures was lost. Well, not lost, but deliberately eradicated. And how, despite all that, certain traces of an earlier mentality, even a wisdom, still persist today. And how south of the border, an oral tradition still passes along many of the insights of an ancient time. When the professor began to go on about Curanderismo, by way of example, I felt a shiver of my own history run through me. It seemed that this practice of healing by looking at the balance between health, nature and religion was at its core. This all reminded me of my grandfather. The professor went on about the currently emerging trends in areas of holistic healing, herbalism, faith-healing, and ecstatic religious experiences. But, I only took all that in, peripherally. I was already planning a trip south of the border to try to understand this myself. I realize, I haven't even gotten to the story yet, but I am getting closer. Try to bear with me. I told you up front, its complicated.

I talked to my professor about writing a paper on Curanderismo based on first hand accounts I would gather in a field trip of sorts, down into rural Mexico. He liked the idea, and even wrote me a letter of introduction on university stationery that I could show to any authorities who might question why I was out in the desert talking to people about Curanderismo, and gathering herbal specimens.

The drive down through the sprawling city of Tijuana was tedious. Road blocks here. Detours there. And most peculiar was how each detour taken seemed to take me down squalid streets of waving whores in hot pants. In fact, I was beginning to think those detour signs I was following may have been put up by pimps themselves. Finally though, I was headed out on a seemingly empty highway into the desert. I had seen on the map a place called Demon's Brow. There had to be a story there, and I soon found out I was right.

On each side of this endless highway there was only desert as far as the eye could see. All along the way however, you could make out the occasional shack, or small adobes, set well back from the road. Most conspicuous, were rusty barbed wire fences. They seemed forever adorned by plastic bags. Plastic bags in the desert are the modern equivalent of the tumbleweed. They get rolled about along the ground until they are at last hopelessly snagged along the fence rows. I was more than an hour now south of Tijuana. I pulled off at a deserted gas station where I had spotted a local farmer drying chili peppers on the hot asphalt. I asked him if he knew of Demon's Brow. He nodded, and pointed to a mesa in the distance. It looked to be about three miles away. I asked if I could leave my car there, because I wanted to make my way to the mesa on foot. He looked at me as though I was crazy. I smiled and nodded, as though to assure him that I was, in fact, crazy. I handed him a 10 dollar bill to watch my car. His eyes got quite big. I guess 10 dollars out in the middle of nowhere is a lot of money.

I grabbed my gear, and a couple of bottles of water out of the trunk, and took off. It only took me about ten minutes to realize it was hot as hell. I sat down a few times to take a drink of water. Nothing like a big gulp of hot water on a hot day. I felt a certain light-headedness after awhile. At first, I took it as my giddy happiness to be out of the city. Later, I realized I was on the edge of a stroke. I was captivated by the yuccas in bloom, the cholla, the mesquite and creosote shrubs, and a plant known locally as the devil's claw, witch seemed to be everywhere. It bore, and dropped to the ground below it, strangely beautiful seed pods. The fact that the pod had two devilishly long curved thorns is where it got its name, I suppose. I had heard of this plant before. It was the bane of charros and farmers because of the way its thorns would so easily latch on to the foreleg of a horse, or a burro, or a goat passing by, or any other damn animal. It would then go along for a ride on the frightened beast until it was pawed off. I think it was as I was stooping down to collect a couple of these claws that I saw out of the corner of my eye, someone walking along. That was the last thing I saw. I collapsed. The lights went out. Later, I learned that It was Preita, of course, making her way home with her cage of birds.

When I awoke, with Preita and her mother looking down at me, I was quite confused as to what had happened. Her mother knelt down beside me, and took my hand.
"You died, my son. But my Preita brought you back to life."
"But, but, that's not possible!" I said. I looked up at Preita who was still gazing serenely down at me, still caressing my face with her hands. For a moment, she turned to look up at her mother.
"But, but, mother..." Preita stammered.
"It's true, my child", the woman said to her daughter, reaching out to cup the girl's face in her hands. "Today, our precious Savior, has anointed you with His healing powers. You have been chosen Preita. My little Preita. My angel."
"But, mother..." Preita said, her eyes filling.

I walked wearily along with them, down a narrow goat path to their home. It was a small deteriorating adobe shack. A single room. It was like stepping into night as we entered. But, as my eyes adjusted, I saw candles everywhere. The air was pungent with the complicated fragrance of herbal plants hanging in bundles from the primitive lodge poles overhead. And crude crucifixes made of sun-bleached mesquite twigs, laced together with some kind of animal hide, adorned the walls everywhere. Preita led me to a small mattress in the corner, and told me to lie down. My head was spinning again. The pillow smelled like Preita. Once again, she was caressing my face.
"Preita, I didn't die. I passed out. It was the heat." She pressed a forefinger to my lips.
"Shhh...shhh...I know. Sleep now."

I awoke to the strange sensation of something moving up and down my back. Preita seemed to be brushing my skin with some kind of branches. And I could feel her thumb pressing down just above my tailbone, and moving in a small firm circle.
"Don't worry," she said. "I am taking care of you." Two men had appeared. They were busy at the table, stripping the meat off of the head of a goat.
"Preita, I didn't die, Preita."
"Shhhh..." she said softly. I drifted off to sleep again. I had a dream about my grandfather. And how he got trapped beneath a slab of coal deep in a collapsed mine in West Virginia. And how he never spoke of God after all that. He was down there for three days. He, to me, had become God. He had somehow, been resurrected. He had more broken bones than bones that were whole. And he never spoke of God again. He became a recluse. Maybe that is why I had become so intent on ignoring the prevailing winds of the times. A realization that I am here from some known date I was born, and some unknown date when I will die. And, the only real question then, was what makes the most sense to do in the meanwhile?

I awoke the next morning with Preita snuggled up against me. Her hand seemed to still be tracing my body, even though she was sound asleep. Outside, there was the sound of roosters crowing. And there were voices. I was far, far away from a telephone. But, somehow, news gets around in the desert. And the news was of how Preita had raised someone from the dead. There was the smell of chorizo cooking. Her mother at the wood stove. The air was smoky, but smelled sweet somehow. Preita awoke, and put on a simple white linen dress. And I stood at the doorway sipping some strange green tea, as one by one, I watched people approach her. She embrced them each and every one. Her mother stood by her side reciting some scripture. I felt my skin prickle, as I realized she was reciting the same verse my grandfather had spoken so many years ago. It was from the Old Testament. From Ezekiel. Ezekiel 16:6, to be precise. Preita reached out and ran her fingers through each one's hair as her mother chanted.

"And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thine own blood, Live. Yes, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live."

Part II : Curious Angel of Demon's Brow

I left Demon's Brow and Preita, after spending another several days there. Before I left though, it became clear that this recent event had a few consequences that seemed to be kaleidoscoping out at the speed of lies, or blind faith. Like the expanding concentric circles on the water of a placid pond, in the aftermath of a thrown pebble, word of Preita's 'miracle' seemed to have spread for miles out into the desert. People seemed to be coming from far and wide to feel Preita's healing touch. They came sometimes, 3 or 4 at a time, in rusted out sedans with peeling paint, or in sputtering, coughing old trucks. They came on foot. In primitive sandals cut and formed from the black rubber of old tires. Or, they came shoeless. There was a family who arrived on burros. Most came with maladies of one kind or another, although some came just to catch a glimpse of Preita. To see 'The Angel of Demon's Brow', as she would soon be referred to.

And then, there were the offerings. As poor as these people were, they did not arrive empty handed. People would stoop and lay a peso or two at Preita's feet, as she ran her fingers through their hair and her mother mumbled the 'healing verse'. Or they presented her with produce they had farmed. One tired old man humbly laid a solitary potato at her feet. Another, brought her two goats. One to milk, and one to eat.

Preita seemed bewildered by it all. And she got little rest. She mostly sat in the shade of a blossoming chinese elm tree at the corner of the house, and 'healed' people as they came and went. I have pictures of Preita in my mind that, I guess, will be there forever. The image of her sitting there on an old sun-bleached wooden box, barefooted. Her simple, hand-made and quite wrinkled, white linen dress. Her hair, a childish dark tangled mop. Her amber eyes, full of questions when she glanced at me. The drab desert ground at her feet colored by the occasional fall of a long and lovely feather of the peacock that sat in the branches overhead, lazily preening. She had become a vision. An apparition. A dream. And, I could have lived in such a dream forever, except for her haunting glances, and the helpless shrugs of her lean and lovely brown shoulders as she ran her fingers through yet another, stranger's hair.

Preita knew as well as I did, what really happened that day she found me. But her mother kept insisting that I had died, and Preita had miraculously brought me back to life. I don't think her mother really believed that herself. In fact, I am convinced it was an invention inspired by certain motives that were becoming increasingly apparent. She seemed more like an entrepreneur designing a business around the needs of people to believe that God is real, and that He cared about their desperate lives. The shrewd embellishment of a lie can become a grand scheme in a short amount of time. Preita's mother seemed adamant in her assertions as she talked to her daughter, and to me. The Lord had given Preita this gift of healing, and with it, a mission. A calling. And she said that the Lord would richly bless Preita for her service to Him. And that many bad things happen to those who disobey God. I tried to tell her, that I was not dead when Preita found me. That I had passed out from the heat of the mid-day sun. But the woman just shook her head 'no', and turned to toss two of Preita's white linen dresses into a galvanized tub of soapy water, and sat down in the wooden chair next to it.
"No, my son," she said, as she swung her bare feet into the water. " You were dead. I am old enough to know a dead man when I see one. You were dead." She looked over at her daughter as she stood, and began to stomp up and down on Preita's dresses. "Preita, get the bottle of bleach, please. You gowns must be as pure as snow. My Preita must radiate the glory of God in her appearance," she added, as though lost in a dream of a deepening scheme. She sat down in the chair, her feet still sloshing up and down in the foamy water. She turned to reach for a small wooden box on the table behind her. She opened it, and called Preita to her side. She reached down into the box and rummaged about for a moment, and then produced a pair of dangling silver crucifix earrings.
"Preita put them on," she said, as she rummaged down into the box again. This time she came up with a long delicate silver chain. A necklace. It had three red garnets dangling from it. They were beautifully formed in the shape of tear drops. She cupped the garnets in her palm. "Look, Preita. The tears of Jesus. I give these to you, Preita, my angel." Slowly, but surely, Preita was being transformed. From the diminutive little bare footed girl standing by the highway, waving her cage of birds at the occasional passing tourist, she was morphing now into an angelic butterfly for God. And, for her mother. She was beginning to look stunning it's true. Her mother had brushed her mop of dark hair back, and into a long braid down her back. Her face, no longer obscured by her hair, was a perfect oval, the silver earrings dangling freely. Her amber eyes looked bigger than ever. Nevertheless, her glances toward me were full of her helplessness, and her sense of obligation to obey her mother. I found it difficult to look at her, yet, impossible not to.

I returned to my studies at the university, reluctantly. Preita began crying as I prepared to leave. I was torn on the drive back to school. Something very deep in me, felt something very much like cowardice. Very much like betrayal. In the following days, I couldn't get Preita off my mind. Studying was difficult. I kept writing her name down over and over in my journal. And it was difficult to fall asleep at night. Not to mention replaying over and over in my mind, that moment I awoke in Preita's arms. Then, one day I got a letter from her. My hands were trembling as I opened it. A lovely lock of her hair fell into my lap as I unfolded the paper. It was one simple sentence, carefully penned. A question. "Will you ever come back to me?" Beneath that, her charming signature. "Preita, Curious Angel of Demon's Brow."

Part III : To Demon's Brow and Points Beyond

It took me several days to figure out what to do, but even as I pulled out of San Diego and headed south again, I wasn't sure what kind of scenario would play out. I only knew that one way or another, I was going to be with Preita. If I had to kidnap her, then, so be it. Even if I had to kill her mother. I was horrified to think of that, I have never killed anybody, and don't want to. I would be killing my self in the same blow. Who could live with such blood on their hands? So, my non-homicidal plan was quite simple. I would pull up to her mother's house. They would be happy to see me, and I would be cordial. I would take a walk with Preita. I would lead her eventually to my car. We would quietly get in, and I would snatch her away.

And then what? Try to smuggle her back to the states? A young girl, at that? A minor, beyond that. The consequences of getting caught would be severe. I could do jail time, and Preita could be deported home, to return to her entrapment by 'God', or her mother's self interests. Those were really dark, and ominous clouds in my mind, as I got closer and closer to Demon's Brow.

When I pulled up, there were a half dozen or more people milling about in front of Preita, beneath the chinese elm. It seemed the ritual had evolved. She was no longer running her fingers through the hair of kneeling believers, she was lightly running a peacock's feather around the person's face and across their shoulders. Her mother stood at her side reciting the verse. The wooden bucket at Preita's feet was filled with coins. And other offerings were scattered all around, like they fell out of a passing plane. A woven blanket. A red plastic can that appeared to be a gas can cut in half, holding an armful of cut flowers.. And then there was a box with holes punched into it, that seemed to hold a restless chicken making lots of noise. There was a burlap sack that seemed to be squirming about. Four rabbits, soon to be a stew. A pair of black sunglasses with little red stones all around the lenses.

And then, there was the falcon. Yes, someone brought Preita a falcon. He perched on a nearby post, and seemed a bit spooky to me. He was chained to the post with a tiny metal collar around one leg. And, he had a black hood on his head. Add to that, the fact that the peacock was nowhere to be seen. I didn't have to ask why. There was every kind of peacock feather scattered all around on the ground. Miracles come. Miracles go. And then, there's only nightmares.

Preita stood when she saw me, and ran toward me. We embraced. The mere, faint scent of her hair turned me into a junkie, on the spot. It was just that easy, that instantly, to know for real. I had fallen in love. Then she returned to her post, and I stood watching the parade of people in a line, waiting patiently to see Preita. It was a scam, no doubt. Nevertheless, people walked away smiling, though they were clearly in one kind of agony or another upon their first arrival.

It seems people need something to believe in. Something stronger than themselves. The longing to experience something special. Something inexplicable and wonderful. Something to take their grief away, even if only briefly, and replace it with hope. Here, in Demon's Brow, they had the curious angel, Preita. They came with an expectation. A belief. Or, at least, a suspension of disbelief. They performed along with Preita, a ritual, enacting and re-enacting the miracle of healing, again and again. Somehow, they each went their way feeling better, stronger. The magic wasn't in Preita's fingers at all, nor in the peacock's feather. It was in their own minds, and in what they chose to believe. That is what seemed to empower them. And it is the same with beliefs that enslave. Like Preita, in her mother's cage, feeling unable to fly away, even if the door was opened. And, her mother has trapped herself, as well. Corrupting and bankrupting her own soul, with self interest and greed destined to some day, eat her alive. I suppose that if I should take Preita away from here, I might be also freeing her mother from her own self-destruction. A rationalization, I suppose. Another form of belief, enabling me to plan what to do here. Now.

As sunset neared, Demon's Brow became silent except for an occasional cluck or cackle from the chickens strolling about. And even they, were drowsily waddling to the fence. There, they would flap their wings, as though they just suddenly realized they had wings, and clumsily fly to the topmost rail, From there, a mere hop onto the branch of a nearby tree and they were settling in for the night. The sun's last rays were creeping up the face of the mesa, I looked toward it, and the fall of light and shadow on the steep and rocky slope had painted the reddish face of Satan. It seemed to glow and glower there on the mesa wall, then slowly fade away as the sun dropped lower.

Preita's mother fixed some scrambled eggs, and chorizo, with piping hot tortillas. We ate quietly outside at a flimsy weathered card table, as the sky deepened, and the silence all around us became palpable. It was pleasant and hard to bear, in the same breath. Some pregnant aura seemed to encircle us. The feeling of things yet to come. The labor pains of how to make it be.

Finally, Preita's mother looked over at me and spoke.
"Tomorrow, my son, you must go before the people, and tell them of how you died, and of how Preita restored you with her touch. How she snatched your soul from the clutches of death. How she...." I nodded, and stood up from the table, and stretched. She was pretty damn good at this business of making things up.
"Tomorrow will a big day. An important day." I replied. Somehow, I knew that the hour had arrived. I turned to Preita, and extended my hand. "Come, Preita, let's walk about, and watch the night unfold." As I felt the touch of her hand in mine, in that instant, I knew it would be a long time before Preita's mother saw her daughter again. Behind us, as we walked out toward the mesa, I could hear the clattering of clay dishes as her mother cleared the table. The conversation was simple, as we stopped and turned to each other. I heard the muffled sound of a door closing behind us. Preita's mother went in to the house to get ready for tomorrow.
"Are your ready to go with me, Preita?" She nodded in reply, and pressed her face to my chest. We turned, and walked more quickly then, to my car, and pulled away. We never said goodbye to her mother, and Preita never looked back. Neither did I.

All that was some time ago. I teach at a small college now. Most of my courses are about the sociology of religion. Preita is happy enough for now, to mind our three children. But she says she wants to go to school herself some day. And that is fine with me. To this very day, I still like to lie on the couch and lay my head on Preita's lap, and feel her fingers running through my hair. Each time she does, I feel as though born again. I suppose that is the power of love. As for Preita's mother? Last time we went to visit her, it looked like she was figuring something out about herself, or about life in general.

The End


Ellen Ana Winthrop stood bare-footed on the back porch in her faded linen gown. She squinted and blew a long soft breath out over her first cup of coffee. The morning's first hint of sunlight was just making its way through the hickory trees and making the fog hanging low over the garden, glow. It seemed a day like any other day. Her left shoulder leaned lazily up against the cedar post, her right hip slung out to the side. A familiar posture that came from babies on the hip. But now, it was a hand-me-down Winchester rifle she cradled casually there. The chickens were just beginning to stir in their perches among the low slung limbs of the Chinese Elm that shaded the hen house. Her eyes scanned the undergrowth of lilacs and wild blackberry. The coyotes usually lurked there in the shadows, eyeing the chickens noisily flapping down to the ground in search of breakfast. She wouldn't kill them, but she would damn sure scare them away. Coyotes aren't mean. They just get hungry the way everything does. She fired a couple of shots off into the air and smirked at the sudden rustling in the bushes of wild things scattering. "You have to get up early if you want my chickens," she muttered. She tossed her long greying hair back over her shoulder and walked back into the cabin.

Ellen Ana was luckier than a lot of women. Many never lived to bear a child, or died in the process. Ellen Ana's babies were grown and gone. Two restless young men now somewhere in the distant West, or so they last said in a letter. Ellen Ana was lucky enough to take pride in the first peppering of grey wisps amidst her long, curling, and famously red locks. She stared at herself in the mirror as she tied her thick mop back with her favorite ribbon. She smiled at the wrinkles on her face. She pressed her face to the glass, and kissed herself. It wasn't out of vanity. It's just that there was no one else to do it.

The day was bound to unfold like all the others. Things that need doing seemed an endless circular list. She pulled the kettle off the fire and emptied it into the murky water in the galvanized tub on the floor. She removed her gown and dropped it into the tub. The shiver that overcame her felt good. She sat down in the chair and lowered her bare feet into the water. She reached for her coffee again as she lazily stomped her gown and stockings free of yesterday's grime. She could hear the distant honking of geese flying by. They were always going somewhere. If they weren't headed one direction, they were headed in the other. Like gypsies. Always on the move. She felt a tinge of jealousy. Everything that had kept her here so long, was long gone now. The boys were working on some distant railroad line. Her husband was buried out there on the hillside. She glanced wistfully out the window. Her eyes fixing on the old buckboard wagon. The old horse shuffling about in the pasture getting fat and lazy. In her mind she imagined hitching them up. Loading up a few chickens. A couple of boxes of favorite and necessary things.

"Am I going crazy?" she asked herself as she buttoned up her shirt. She glanced in the mirror. Her reflection was shaking it's head no. She slipped into her overalls. Her boots. She strolled out to the pasture with a leather halter and a bucket of grain. "You know what, Jitters? she said, stroking her horse's massive neck and shoulder. Running her fingers through his tangled mane. "I'm thinkin' you an' me, we need to shake the dust off. What do you think? You think you can still pull a wagon?"

Two days later, Ellen Ana Winthrop and Jitters headed off for who knows where? Some of the things she had loaded on the wagon, she sold a few days later when she pulled into the town of Bucksnort. She bought a new dress and some .22 longs for the Winchester. She settled in Kansas City for two years. Then she was off again. Jitters stayed behind with a blacksmith who promised to let him loaf the rest of his days. She traveled by stagecoach with a gentleman from Missouri. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, they boarded the first trans-continental train. They were married along the way, in Winnemucka, Nevada. He was a good man, but died of a snake bite while on a cattle drive. Ellen Ana lived to see her sons again, and was buried in southern California by her grand-children at the age of 79. Her Winchester was buried with her, along with her favorite ribbon. The simple inscription on her tombstone read, "Movin' On".


Dr. James Moultan, a clinical hypnotist, noted in his journal the curious case of Annelle Pendleton. She had been referred to him by Doctor Alton, at the clinic where they specialized in sleep disorders. Ms. Pendleton not only slept 24 hours a day, she was a sleep walker for twelve of those hours. She was able to do what most waking people do, while sleep walking. she got up in the morning, had breakfast, brushed her teeth, and went to work, and yet, she was still asleep. At work, she was noted as a reliable person, who got things done, and was even Employee of the Month three times. The thing about Annelle Pendleton, was that she did all this while asleep, and sleep-walking. What follows, is the account of Doctor James Moultan, regarding his work with Annelle.


This recorded transcription is an accurate account of my use of hypnotherapy to both explore and understand, the
characteristics of Annelle Pendleton's unique presentation of an unusual sleep disorder syndrome not seen or written about before in the literature of the field.

Jan, 8, 2010. Initial Session with Annelle Pendleton. (Notes)

In my first meeting with Annelle, I was impressed at how perfectly normal she appeared. How awake she appeared. Her eyes did not display the kind of blank glassiness so typical of sleep walkers, nor was there any slurring or slowness of speech, as one might expect, and even predict, as typical of the common and classical form of the disorder. She was, in fact, quite articulate in describing to me her experience of her unique condition. She had been asleep now for three years. During that time, little about her life had changed. She still kept a tidy house, went shopping, maintained her excellent standing in the work place, went to bed at a normal hour and got up as usual in the morning. The only thing that really changed for her was an inner awareness that, while it seemed she was getting out of bed, getting dressed for work, having breakfast over the morning news, and so on, she knew she hadn't awakened at all. She was still asleep, but going about her usual life. Being aware of this led her, in a misguided self help sort of way, to try to wake herself up. In our next session, we will review some of these efforts.

Jan 15, 2010. Session 2

Annelle, recounted her determination to wake herself up. She had tried purchasing a loud alarm clock. Then multiple alarm clocks. She says, as of this date, she has well over a dozen. None of them seemed to shake her from her endless sleep. Several of them were so loud and annoying, her neighbors in the next apartment had complained about them. Then she spoke of a day when, she was standing in the kitchen, and she suddenly charged angrily straight into the refrigerator, and knocked herself out. When she came back around moments later on the kitchen floor, she was disappointed to discover that she was still asleep. She reported that the collision she had attempted, did little more than than to create a slight red goose egg on her forehead encircled by a pale bruised halo of a deepening blue and purple. She said that she realized in that moment, picking herself up from the floor in tears, and rubbing her throbbing forehead with her palm, that she needed help. That she was getting increasingly desperate to wake up.
She had thoughts of hurting herself into wakefulness, even if only to awaken screaming in pain. Or stepping out in front of a fast-moving car to her death, if just to have a moment of waking clarity before dying.
"So, that is why I am here today, doctor." she said, finally raising her head from her fixed gaze down at the floral pattern of her dress across her legs. She swept her palms over her thighs several times, as though smoothing it, as she looked into my eyes. I nodded, looking at her, her eyes revealing nothing but an urgent dark question mark.

I glanced at the clock on the wall.
"In our next session, Annelle, I'd like for you to take me further back in your life, so I can begin to better understand your inner dynaics."
"What do you mean when you say my inner dynamics?" she said, standing to leave.
"Well," I replied, "It means basically the stuff you are made of; the stuff that moves one purposefully through life. We'll walk through it together next time, Annelle. We'll take it slow and easy, and perhaps we both will get to understand you more in time. You see, we have no predictabilityy about life, without first understanding it. And without predictability, there is no possibility of control. It all starts with understanding. Do you understand?" I opened the door for her.
"Yes, doctor. I understand." she said, waving goodbye as she walked toward the stairs.

Jan 27, 2010 Session Three

Annelle sat on the red leather arm chair by the window, as usual. She stared out the window, looking down at the busy street thick with city buses, and yellow cabs. People rushing along the city sidewalks, in all directions.
"You know what's funny, doctor?" she said. " People are always wishing they could live in a dream. If only they knew what it was really like."
"Are you living in a dream, Annelle?" I asked.
"Mm hmm," she replied. "A very long dream."
"I'd like for you to take me back, Annelle. Back to when your very long dream first began. Can you do that?" She nodded,
"I will try. It was in the Winter of 2006. There was a lot of snow that year. I was 23 in the Spring of 2007. That's when it all went out the window." I leaned back in my swivel chair, looking at her as she fell into silence, and simply stared out the window. I knew from her records, that long before 2007, she had been seen by clinicians for narcoleptic seizures, that were brief, but with a sudden onset. These had begun when she was about 10 years old.
"That's when what all went out the window?" I asked quietly. She turned her head to look at me with a startled expression.
"I'm sorry, doctor. What did you ask me?"
"You just said 'that's when it all went out the window' ."
"I did?" she said. I don't remember saying that.
"Annelle, I'd like for you to think back even further. To 1987. You were 10 years old that year. Do you remember? " She nodded.
"I wish I could forget it. Doctor, I really need to leave early today." she said, wringing her hands. "Can we do all this another time?" I nodded,
"Sure." I said, sensing her discomfort. We had touched, even if only on the murky surface, upon two periods of her life. Periods of time that were deeply significant in some way."

Sessions Four and Five, Summary of notes.

Over the next two sessions, we were able to identify the co-incidence of the emergence of various symptoms of sleep disorder, with times in her past where she had experienced great loss. At the age of 10, and, in fact, on the very day of her 10th birthday, her father did not come home. He had been tragically killed in a commuter train wreck, on his way home from work. By the time the news reached her that evening, she was dancing and having fun with a living room full of girls her age, celebrating her birthday. In the years that immediately followed, her life went reeling off-balance. She was having bouts of insomnia, wetting the bed, and having sudden narcoleptic episodes. These symptoms seemed causally tied to the trauma of her father's death. While things improved through high school and college, it could have been predicted even back then, that what happened years later in 2007, could have thrown her into the dark hole of endless sleep and dream, where she remains today.

Session 6

Annelle laid down on the couch and rested her head on the pillow.
"Comfortable?" I asked, as I pulled my chair up near the couch, just out of her field of vision.
"Yes" she replied.
"I want you to feel comfortable and relaxed. You have been sleep walking through our sessions, haven't you? I said in a soft voice.
"Yes." she replied.
"Just as you have been sleep walking through the last three years of your life." I said.
"Yes." she replied.
"And you are wishing and wanting so much to actually wake up." I added.
"Yes." she replied.
" I want you to do something, Annelle. I want you to close your eyes and take a long deep breath....10... I want you now, in your present state of constant sleep, to imagine or dream, that you are not really asleep at all....9.....that you are actually awake....8.....Are you awake, now, Annelle?"
"Yes" she said with a yawn, as she began to slip into a trance state.
"Good. Awake and, I would like you to close your eyes.....6....and go to sleep....5....very peacefully sleeping...4......peacefully sleeping......deeper and deeper asleep....3.....and when you hear me softly call your will awaken from your long dream....1....

I got up quietly and walked into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. What happened to Annelle in 2007 involved a man who hurt her deeply. So deeply, that she had retreated into an extreme state of emotional insulation. A state of mind and feeling that no longer allowed the world with all it's shock and pain, to touch her. She became so removed, that the real world didn't seem real at all, but more like more like a long dream. And sleep for her became the only possible reality. Over time, she came to actually believe that life really was a dream. Finally, she awoke one morning, but without really waking up. She had begun to believe she was sleep walking, rather than actually getting out of bed. Her protective detachment, and insulation had engulfed her. Swallowed her. She was not living a dream at this point, the dream was living her. And so, for the past three years she has been sleep walking through a world in her mind, a world that was but a dream. A dream that possessed her. I made a few notes before continuing with the procedure.

Note: "The procedure I used, to, in effect hypnotize her in her own self induced trance, is relatively new. Whether, it has worked here with Annelle or not, remains to be seen. In asking her, in her sleep walking state, to pretend or imagine she was awake, I was hoping that I had, in effect, entranced her own self-imposed hypnotic trance. When she answered that yes, she was awake, she was in fact, really awake for the first time in three years. It was as though I had psychically flipped her delusion like a pancake, and put reality face up once again. When I asked her to return to sleep again, I was basically putting this conversion of her state of mind into a normal sleep-wake cycle. Finally then, as she returned to sleeping, I gave her the suggestion that when I called her name next, she would awaken into reality."

I returned to my seat and looked at her. She was breathing slow, deep, calm breaths, peacefully asleep.
"Annelle?" I called quietly.
"Yes." she mumbled sleepily.
"Are you waking up now,?"
"Mm hmm," she said. I watched as she turned onto her side and snuggled the pillow beneath her head. She blinked her eyes several times, then rubbed them with her fist. "I guess I fell asleep." she said, with a yawn.
"Yes, I guess you did." I answered with a smile. She pushed herself up on one elbow, and then slowly sat up. She gave a funny laugh and said,
"I had the craziest dream."
"Really? Tell me." I said.
"Uh huh, it was so crazy. I dreamed that I had gone to sleep, and slept for three years! It was like I was Rip Van Winkle, or something. So crazy." I smiled.
"So, how are you feeling now, Annelle?"
"Happy" she said. "Happy it was just a dream. A long, long, bad dream."
"Yes, Annelle. A long dream. But it ended, didn't it?"
"Yes", she nodded. "I am awake now."


It was a lonely stretch of road he was walking. Desolate looking land that yielded little that was edible. A landscape of dried up rivers. He was too happy to finally be alone, to feel lonely. He was nowhere in particular, and yet it now seemed impossible to be lost. He had certain thoughts or questions in his head about what did matter then, and what does matter now, that seemed to send him spiraling through his history and into the future. It seemed that in the absence of almost everything, the little that remained was that much more real. Some separating of the wheat from the chaff. Some trimming of the fat. Some dumping of useless cargo. Some reckoning. Some accounting. It didn't matter whether he walked or stood still, the future was finding him, regardless.

When religions clash, God's not there. If the sky looks like it's falling, it probably is. If the ground sounds like it's calling your name, keep walking. Keep wandering through the labyrinth of thought and feeling. Look wide-eyed. Listen carefully. Feel sincerely. Don't flinch. Don't blink. Something important is finding you.

Occasionally cars would pass. He didn't bother to try to thumb them down. Each step was satisfying and self-rewarding, even though he was tired. It was a pleasant fatigue. Neither the cheap shoes against the hot pavement, nor the dust in his mouth seemed to phase him. He hadn't a clue where he was going, yet, it didn't disturb him. He had, in a flash, had this very certain feeling, that you don't have to know what's right, before you walk away from what's wrong. The truth is out there, if you walk long enough, or if you stand still long enough, if you listen long enough, if you look hard enough, it finds you. And then it moves you.

A girl pulled over in a dusty sedan. Her face was more freckled than not. Her hair a dense maze a brush would get lost in.
"You got any gas money?" were the first words out of her brownish, very chapped lips. She had an old suitcase in the back seat. A pile of books on the floorboard. Several folded maps on the seat beside her. He said he had a few bucks. They drove down the road a few miles and then pulled off. They walked slowly for over an hour down an arroyo, talking, picking up pebbles here and there. They sat along the dusty bank talking quietly and rolling little pebbles down the slope. They laid back and looked at the small white clouds drifting across a deep blue sky, giving each cloud that passed a name. They walked slowly back to the car and got in, and drove away.

The car got smaller and smaller, its trail of dust diminishing until finally the air cleared and they were gone. That was the last anyone has seen of the two of them. The desert slowly reset it's vast and empty stage as the sun disappeared behind a distant mountain.


I fell overboard and was swept away, frantically flailing about in the vicious whirling, cold dark wetness of words, gasping, as I took in a mouthful of salty verbs and spit them out. Walk, run, jump, fall, twist, turn, thrash, and screw, all went flying. I clung to a large noun floating by with parasitic adjectives sucking on its fat belly. No end in sight. I caught a couple of strange and foreign words and devoured them without thought of what they meant. I caught a few truths that tasted bitter, and often nauseating and tough to chew, and later my stomach churned and I threw up. The seaweed of ennui seemed to wrap itself around me. I tried to chew myself free, shredded my boredom with my teeth, and swallowed it. It was plentiful and tasteless, but went down easy. Yet, there was a vague fear that it was eating me, as I was eating it. My actions became an endless list of flowery, saccharine, and slimy adverbs. Monotonously, wearily, resignedly, fruitlessly, I sank into stuttering half-sentences. My whole life blinked, glittered, flashed, flowed and carved arroyos into canyons, and ran down the gutter of my brain into some rain barrel at the base of my spine. I crawled along the mucky bottom, clawing at the mushy decaying bed of lost expressions, meaningless contradictions, lies, nonsense syllables, idle chatter, and things never said. At long last, I stumbled onto the shore of silence and sat there lost for words for quite some time. And then I began to write.