Book fragment: To the foot of the pyramid

I’d like to share a bit I wrote about some heroes travelling from an equatorial grasslands where the Rhinomen live across a great desert to an abandoned Pyramid in the desert. I credit inspiration for the Pyramid to B4: The Lost City, a most excellent D&D module. However, my pyramid does not lead to forgotten peoples in an underground civilization.

The Pyramid in the desert is a practical accomodation to the harshness of desert sandstorms, and used to be an outpost of a long defeated Elvish Empire.

One thing that bothers me is the people whose story I’m telling are of the Cow tribe, but their primary interaction with animals is with Camels. And so I need to weave a sub-story about cows with the main story. Shomari, who operates Camel Lot, is of the Cow Tribe, but camels are his particular love. That is not to say that people of a given tribe have to prefer their totem animal. After all, Cathal of the Pig tribe keeps wolves at his tradepost.

If you are a fan of my work so far, you will pick up that freedom is an underlying theme of this story, among all peoples. And so people of the Pig tribe are free to love wolves, or orangutans, or cats, or whatever else they have affection for. As with the Cow tribe, the Eagle tribe, the Dolphin, or any other tribe. Their cultures are different, but their fundamental assumptions of personal liberty are more or less the same. The manifestation of that liberty is what distinguishes the various tribes.

Please let me share with you how Fabian, Tree, Binti, Samara, and Arachnid leave Camel Lot and travel to the pyramid in the desert….

Exit the Oasis

The party awoke the next morning before the sun to Shomari singing by the pond.

Fate has blessed me with camels

and friends, food and water

if I could relive this life

I would not choose another

The forces of nature at my command

a beautiful woman, and useful work

if having all this isn’t enough

I’d rightly be called a jerk

Strangers come and go

and tales they share with me

If I had to stay the rest of my life

I would do it happily

Shomari continued his song, and the party and the denizens of this oasis awoke and prepared for their work that day. When Shomari’s song was complete, he returned from the pond and ordered some breakfast brought to the party. They ate more cottage cheese, and kefir, bread, dates, and smoked fish.

As they ate together, Binti asked, “Where did you get these fish, Shomari?”

“At great expense, I brought them from the ponds of our own country. Several wagons filled with water and fish, and sadly some fish did not survive the heat. But those that did bred here, and did very well. Now this pond has algae, and plant life, and fish, and crayfish. The water is very deep in the center, where most of the fish hide during the heat of the day.”

This fact piqued Tree’s curiosity, and she asked, “Why doesn’t this pond evaporate?”

Shomari grinned, delighting in Tree’s intellect. “There is an underground reservoir that spans miles. I think the elves tapped it long ago, but since their defeat it remained untapped as far as I know. And so with the help of the good dwarfs over there,” and he pointed to the dwarf camp that was active with bustling little men gathering their tools, “ I blasted the earth here. It was exhausting. They dug as deep as they could before the sand caved in, and I used that which I’m blessed to blast through. First we found mud, then with more work we raised the reservoir to the surface.”

Fabian asked, “And how did you find the underground reservoir?”

Shomari answered, “Where there’s hills, there’s water. We doused.”

The meal went on, and then they began to clean up. Shomari said, “Please, wash in the pond, and get ready for your journey. I’ll have your camels readied.”

So the party each stripped naked, and they were unashamed, and swam in the pond, and washed themselves. Being early in the day, there were still some fish near the surface, and those fish swamp about their ankles, tickling them. All except Samarra, whose skin was so thick she could not feel the fish, but she cherished the soft squishy mud under her toes, and was glad to wash grime from her journey away.

They bought water bags, provisions, ropes and torches from vendors. Arachnid was well behaved, and Binti bought him more dried fruit. The newly acquire camels tanked up on water until they were full, and the preparations for the journey were almost complete.

Shomari came to the party with his lady companion, who bore a gourd filled with fermented sap. “I’d gladly refund your money if you would head home. Can I change your mind?”

Fabian shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. While your place is well defended, “ and he looked to the towers where archers stood watch, “I have to know what the Snake Men are up to. As far as I know, nobody has meddled with the Pyramid in a long time. It’s time to figure out this mystery.”

Shomari nodded, and scratched the camel behind the ear. And he said to the camel, “farewell friend.” To Fabian, he said, “Very well. I’ve charged you enough. Take this mead my lovely companion has brought. It’ll lift your spirits if you encoutner the evil I’m afraid you’ll find.”

Fabian accepted the gourd, and stowed it in a saddle bag. “I won’t forget you, Shomari. You’ve been a kinder and more generous host than any stranger I’ve ever met.” He shook hands with Shomari, and nodded to his female companion, saying “madam,” and then urged his camel to begin the trot to exit the oasis. His companions made their salutes, and rode on, and Samarra brought up the rear, jogging and clanking in her armor and weapons, leading her pack camel by the reins.

Shomari watched with a heavy heart as they trotted out between the guard towers of the eastern gate. He feared he wouldn’t see his beloved camels again, nor the kind and brave adventurers who graced his little outpost in the desert. A tear dripped from his eye, and his companion saw this and said, “are you alright, Shomari?” Embarassed, he lied, “Just a bit of dust in my eye is all. Let’s get back to business. The dwarves need their milk and kefir!” And the two returned to the fermentation caves.

To the Pyramid

It was not a long march to the pyramid, but it was off the beaten path, so to speak, as much as one could discern a beaten path. The party road eastward for a day, resting at sunset, and then turned souteast for half a day, and they saw the pyramid faintly rising in the distance over the sand dunes. It was extremely hot and dry in the desert sun, and despite plentiful water rations, they were fatigued by the oppressive heat.

Tree observed the pyramid at a distance with her telescope, and said, “Five hours, maybe six. I think there’s vegetation.”

“Nonsense,” said Fabian. “It’s drier than cracked bones out here.”

“I see something not stone, not sand, but vegetation,” replied his wife. “Look!”

Fabian took the strange contraption, squinted, and aimed it along his wife’s pointed finger. Indeed it seemed there were scraggly trees eeking out a meager existence. Where there was vegetation, there was water. Even if death awaited them there, at least they wouldn’t die thirsty.

Samarra wasn’t dismayed, and she spoke of the adventures ahead. “There’s evil to smite, I’ll warrant. Whatever secrets the elves left in the pyramid, they’re best left secret. Wherever the Snake Men go, evil follows.”

They rode on for another five hours, and the pyramid grew ever closer, until it towered in front of them. Smooth cut stone on four sides, save for a cut staircaise, and a rectangular stone door near the top. Around the pyramid there were thin, widly spread conifers, and cacti, and dry grasses.

When they got closer, they found the body of the dead Snake Man the birds spoke of. Eight feet long, this great hybrid snake-human creature lay face down in the sand, an arrow in its back. A scimitar lay just out of reach of it’s outstretched hand. With a gesture, Fabian signaled the party to dismount and take defensive positions while he examined the body. Binti readied her bow, and Tree her automatic crossbow, and Samarra her javelins. Arachnid puttered around on all eight limbs, sniffing the dry air.

Fabian was puzzled to see no signs of decay on the creature’s green, scaly skin. He reached down to pull the head up, only to recoil at the most peculiar at the sensation of touch. The skin was hard, like the chitinous exoskeleton of an ant or a beetle. “Tree,” he said, “You should look at this.” Tree handed her crossbow to Samarra, and came to examine the corpse.

She felt the corpse, and she too recoiled. “How odd, flip him over,” she said. Fabian grit his teeth, and heaved the massive creature out of the sand and flopped it on its back. The hood around his head splayed open. The snake’s eyes were mutlifaceted, like an insect’s compound eye. It lay, mouth agape, fangs exposed, dry, and not decomposed. There was no foul odor, nor bugs, nor maggots. Just a great snake with arms and hands, and a hard, chitinous skin. Tree had never seen such a thing. “What happeend to him?”

Bintri felt impatient, watching the doorway atop the pyramid, some fifty feet up. “What is happening?”

Tree replied, “Keep watch daughter, and I will explain after.” She looked to her husband.

Fabian frowned. “This isn’t natural. I don’t like this.” And immediately he regretted bringing his daughter along. She was fourteen, and able to make decisions for herself, but he hadn’t forgotten his fatherly instict to protect his child. He said to the people on watch, “This snake man has skin and eyes like an bee or wasp.”

Samarra slowly backed up, and glanced down at the corpse. “It sounds wicked. Whatever happened here was evil. I’ve wrestled Snake Men and none had skin like that.”

Book chapter: The Gift

It’s been a struggle for me to write the book in the sequence the events take place. I have chapters in my head that are way ahead of the current moment of the story. It is therapeutic to get those chapters written so I can focus on the current moment of the novel. I can incorporate those chapters at a later date.

I will include the current draft of the main novel in this post. If you are not familiar with the premise of my novel, it is a high fantasy story that’s not very original, but many of the characters can speak with animals. Those persons are completely hairless. They have alopecia universalis. It is a rare condition, but about one tenth of humanity has it. And each tribe of humans lives in a mostly peaceful and virtuous anarchic existence, with each tribe having an animal as it’s totem. It’s a world where most humans are good and kind, and geography solves most problems of irreconcilable cultural differences.

There is an event in the novel, a magical or divine event, that results in a full third of humanity becoming completely hairless, and being able to speak with animals whether they want to or not. I will now share the first draft of that chapter with you:

The Gift

Authors Note: This chapter is out of sequence. It is written as I am about to send Fabian and company from Camel Lot to the pyramid in the desert. Today is 1/15/2022. The chapter is inside me, and it needs to come out.

Joruun awoke to a flat, white, cloudy sky. The summer air was damp, but cool. Instantly she knew it would likely be at most a mild day, maybe light rain, but otherwise still and quiet. She blinked her eyes a couple of times, hoping the clearing of mucous would improve her vision, but the white sky remained, and she sat up in her bearskin bed.

Joruun stretched, her soft marsmallowy biceps belying the great muscle beneath, and she looked about. To her left her horse nibbled at young beech leaves, and to the right, at a stony beach, the river babbled softly over stones and log debris. Naked, and unashamed, she threw off the bearskin and stumbled sleepily to the riverside. She knelt her delightfuly plump self in the mud, and scooped water to splash her face and wash the sleep from her eyes. She then gargled and spat, and stared at her reflection in the water.

Her thick mane of auburn hair caacaded down her back with slight curls and across her pale, freckled breasts, and it was stubbled with some leaf and twig debris. After the tussle with the Manticore the previous night, she had fallen asleep exhausted, not thinking to clean herself. And so she decided it was time, and dunked her head into the stream, feeling the cool water seep into her ears and around her scalp. She felt the water soak into her hair, and was prepared to pull out her head of heavy wet hair. She exhaled, and bubbles streamed about her face, and she let water seep into her nostrils, to clean her sinuses.

Pulling back, she gasps, spraying water out her noses and mouth, and instinctively went to push her wet hair out of her face. Her hands pushed against smooth, wet, slippery skin.

It was then she heard “Mama, where is your mane?”

On guard, she glanced about quicky for some hidden foe, but there was no one else but her horse, who stared at her curiously. “Your mane is in the water mama.”

Confused, Joruun looked to the water, and saw a massive, auburn mass of hair floating slowly downstream, and then felt a distinct chill of the wind on her scalp. Her right hand went to her head, and she felt smooth skin, and suddenly she panicked. Her hair. Her glorious mop of thick, auburn hair. She knelt down in the shallows, stones digging into her knees and shins, and peered at the water. Her reflection revealed a lovely shaped bald head, no eyebrows, no hair. She looked to her armpits, her groin, and only a few lose hairs clinged, the rest had fallen out.

“Mama! You’re all naked now!” she heard. And soft lips nibbled at her back, and Jorunn startled and turned about with a splash. Her horse retreated a step, and looked at her with her right eye.

“Did you say I am naked?” Jorunn asked, on all fours, in the water, staring up at her horse.

“Yes Mama.”

“You can talk!” exclaimed Jorunn.

“You can hear!!” said the horse.

And then it set in, finally, that Jorunn had become blessed, and she wept. She had lost the object of her beauty, her glorious mane of auburn hair, and could hear the thoughts of animals. She rolled over and lay half in the stream, half out, on the stony beach, and wept, and her horse said, “Mama it’s okay. Please don’t cry.” And a horse tongue wiped away her tears, and horse lips nibbled her cheeks.

And Jorunn cried “Stop, please. Stop.” Joruun continued to weep, and the horse knelt down, and rested her head on Jorunn’s arm, and patiently let her cry until she rant out of tears.

* * *

Shomari surveyed his camels by the pond, a pond he created with the help of dwarfish engineers and his own magical talents. They drank, they swam, and they spat, and were content. The foundation of his prosperity, the camels were everything to Shomari, and he was glad to see they were doing well. A few were mischievious, and liked to tug on his chin braid. And so as he surveyed his camels, one came and tugged, and he didn’t feel it. The camel chewed, and Shomari assumed it was yet another camel chewing its cud.

He completed his survey, and one of the dwarfs came by to report on the digging in the hillside. “Sir, we’ve finished chamber four, and the… you shaved your beard?”

Shomari said, “Nonsense. I am a wizard.” And he brought a fist to stroke his beard, only he grasped nothing.

Startled, hes said “one moment,” and rushed to the pond, and looked into his reflection. In the still water, his round, chubby, chocolate face had no chin whiskers, and no eyebrows, and no nose hairs, and his scalp which normally had a degree of stubble from shaving was skin clean.

And he heard the camels speaking. “How far can you spit?” “Farther than you no doubt! You’re pretty cocky for a juvenile! Speaking of cocky, you’ll be surprised when your child looks like me.”

And Shomari realized immediately what happened, and laughed, and his massive belly heaved up and down like a shaken bag of gelatin. The camels continued their jibes and crude comments, and Shomari laughed all the harder. Not only had he built a successful outpost in the desert, not only had he prospered, met a lovely woman, employed his countrymen and foreigners alike, but now he could hear the speech of animals. He laughed so hard he cried, and he cried so hard laughed. He was blessed beyond his wildest dreams. The dwarf, confused, went back to work.

“Look, ol Pudding Belly is laughing! What’s he laughing about!” said one Camel. And Shomari laughed even harder, until he was short of breath, and his vision blurred, and he fell to his knees, and gasped for air, and then resumed laughing. He laughed for almost half an hour, alternating between tears, and gasping, and laughing, and back again, until he was exhausted, and had to retire to his bed. He fell asleep listening to the whispers of ants, and scorpions, and a spider in the corner of his tent that waited for flies, and the faint gossip of cranky vultures griping about the poor pickings of rotten flesh. Shomari chuckled briefly, but his diaphragm was sore, and he contented himself with cheerful amusement at his good fortune, and fell into a deep sleep.

* * *

In the wilderness between Bear and Pig country, there was a small, crudely constructed hut. A man there with a T scarred onto his cheek beat his dalmation with a stick. The dog whimpered, and cringed in the corner, and his father chopped wood on him, screaming in rage.

Then the man heard a voice, “Father I’m sorry. I don’t know what I did wrong! Please stop hurting me!”

He raised his stick again, and then stopped. The dog whimpered, and cringed, and the man said “what did you say?”

“I’m sorry Father. What did I do wrong?”

The man took a step back, and dropped his stick, and swept his other hand across his face with disbelief. He felt something fuzzy in his calloused palms, and his beard and eyebrows were laying there. He shook his head in disbelief, and felt his head become lighter, and his long, unkempt hair fell out in clumps.

The dog hadn’t been fed in days, and had taken the half-rotted remains of a rabbit from the spit over a neglected fireplace.

Not understanding empathy, the man recoiled, and fled the little hut, and ran into the forest, found a cave under a huge boulder, and dived into it. A troll was sleeping there, and awoke suddenly to a loud thump next to him. His great hand reached out instinctively, grabbed the man by the throat, and strangled the life out of him. Awaking fully, the troll realized that some fool had run into his cave and delivered breakfast. Studying the body, it was yet another Marked human. The troll could not read, but he knew which humans were rejected by the brands on their cheeks. They tended to be the rudest of all his victims. He had let some sweet, kind hearted humans go before, but the marked ones he always ate. He hadn’t eaten man flesh in many months, and it would be a welcome change. Maybe he could make human sausages, or some some gelatin, or a stew.

A day after, the dalmation, missing his master, went out searching. He came upon the cave, where he met a troll. The troll was cooking great smelling stew that seemed familiar somehow. There were also freshly tied sausages hanging over a fire, being gently cured and smoked.

Trolls, like humans, often keep animal companions. Usually they’re nastier creatures like giant spiders, or carrion crawlers, but they’re known to sometimes keep dogs and cats. The troll offered the dog a bowl of stew, which he happily ate. The dog then cuddled with the troll by the fire, and the troll gently stroked his fur. The dog quickly forgot his former master who beat him, and lived with the troll to the end of his days, and his days were exceptionally long.

* * *

Two men of the Dolphin tribe, both honorable, had an irreconcilable difference about who owned a mulberry tree. They could not be persuaded to share it, and so they fought bare handed to resolve the dispute. Witnesses to this dispute watched, sad but stoic, and the two men punched, kicked, head butt, and wresteled. Both had bloodied noses and scatches on their bodies. One man seemed to gain the upper hand, and pulling the other up by the pony tail, prepared to land a final blow, only the tail came off in his hand. His foe, not realizing what had happened, landed a swift kick to the other’s balls, and the man fell to the earth with a fist full of hair.

Both wheezed, and coughed, and there was murmering among the witnesses. The murmer raised to gasps and shouts, and the two combatants ceased and looked about. There were women and men pointing to each other, and rubbing their naked scalps where there used to be hair, and in the mulberry tree they could heart the crows say “Welp, I guess no dinner for us tonight!” “Nope! They’re not going to finish it. When’s there a good war when you want one? Remember the werewolves?”

“Aye! I enjoy werewolf flesh. It’s like eating dog and human together.”

The two combatants looked at each other, for their hair hand fallen out, and their beards, and their armpit hair, and the rest of their hair, and they noticed they were itchy, even the man who was just kicked, and they scratched at the irritation. They laughed, and listened to the banter of the crows, and the beetles, and the ants, and the worms who turned up to the vibration of two men fighting on the soil above them.

The man still on his feet offered his hand to other who laid stunned on the ground, and helped him up. And they agreed to share the fruit of the mulberry tree from now until it died a natural death.

* * *

Across the planet, the hair of human men and women fell out, and they heard the thoughts and words of animals. A great many were overwhelemed, and it drove them mad for a time, until they learned to filter the noise. Others were grateful for the newfound intimacy, and others felt remorse for treating animals not as well as they could have. There were only a handful of suicides, but most people became used to their newfound gift, and adjusted to it.

A full third of humanity now was completely hairless, and could speak intimately with animal life. Wig makers saw a boom in their business for a while, but when the newly hairless had children who were also hairless, the business tapered back to normal levels. The suppliers of warm hats and dust filtering veils did good business and prospered.

Below is a link to the current version of Zootaloot!

Back in the Saddle Again

This year has been extraordinarily difficult for me socially, economically, psychologically. I had to the chance to live my dream as a Karaoke DJ for a little while, and I switched careers, and sadly I’ve lost yet another son. My boy Pickles lived to be 14 and change. He had an infection complicated by diabetes, and I had to euthanize him.

My son Pickles. May he rest in peace.

I thought losing Peeps last year was difficult, but this was far worse. Pickles was innocent, and he only wanted love and to love. He was a bit of a Forrest Gumpish kitty with seven digits on his front paws, and he loved to be held, and to suckle on soft fabric, and on occasion when he fought, he fought like Forrest Gump, charging in heedless of the risks. My sweet boy, Pickles, may he rest in peace with his brother and king, Peeps.

On the positive side of things, my grief has pushed me to resume my novel in earnest. I’d like to share a little piece of it now. In this bit I am pursuing the adventures of people from the Cow tribe. I’d like to share this bit about crossing the desert and coming to an oasis and waystation. As the scene unfolds, we have three humans: Fabian, his wife Tree, and their daughter Binti; as well as a six-armed mini orangutan named Arachnid, and a Rhino lady named Samarra (daughter of Oak and Maple).

It was especially hot this day, with not a cloud in the sky. The white sun beat down on the travellers as they moved from hard ground to sandy, and trudged on slowly through the desert. The camels groaned and sang among themselves, as they like to do on long hot journeys.

On and on we trudge

thankless steeds of those who must

move their goods from here to there

and if we die they do not care

Little do the people know

that in the firey heat or snow

we need no wares nor merchandise

to acquire for us all the things we like

Fresh grasses, leaves, and waters blue

are good enough for me and you

Our happiness lies in what we’re given

in all the natural world under heaven

On and on they sang of the toils of camels, both mocking their handlers but also celebrating their own nature. Occasionally the camels would stop, and the people marching would be concerned. But the camels felt the need to play a game. They hoched up mucous, and saw how far they could spit. Being amused by their spitting distance, they continued on for a couple hours, only to stop and play the game again. The humans and orangutan were soaked with sweat, hoping for a breeze, and the Rhino Lady was stoic, but was also beginning to fatigue. However, they were all amused by the camels and their game, despite how disgusting it was to watch large beasts spit balls of mucous. At least it broke the monotony of travel.

By late afternoon the party approached the Oasis. There were large sand and tree covered hills, which seemed out of place in such a flat and barren place. At the base of the hills were thicker grasses and trees, and between the hills were solid towers of stone. Peering hard, they could see people and animals moving about, and above all they heard the grunts and cries of camel conversation and a faint waft of moisture and manure on the wind.

The camels with the party quickened their pace, eager for a break. The humans and ape held on tightly to their reins and the Rhino Lady quickened her foot pace to a steady jog. The closer they became, the more appealing it looked. Well built stone towers manned with archers of the cow tribe assured them of the security of this outpost, and hear hearty human laughter. Beyond the gap in the towers they could see a few people and camels going to and fro.

When they were a hundred yards out out someone up on the tower called out, “Party approaching. Three humans, an ape, a rhinoman, five camels.”

“Rhino Woman!” boomed Samarra, indignant. All the humans thought they felt the earth shake at the sound of her voice, and Tree got the impression the sand shifted slightly, though she wrote it off mentally as a heat induced hallucination.

“Correction, a Rhino Woman,” called a mocking voice.

Then the same person shouted toward the party, “You out there. What is your business?”

Fabian waved, “We need to trade camels. We’re headed for the pyramid.”

“You must be insane to want to go there!” the guard shouted back.

Fabian called back, “No more insane than your mother when she conceived you!”

There was a momentary pause, and then all the guards in the towers laughed heartily. “Come on in my friend. See Fatso when you get here.”

They reached the base of two towers that flanked the path into the oasis, and several well armed members of the Cow tribe went about their business. One tending to camels, one tending to archery equipment, another climbing a ladder to the tower. Sounds of a blacksmiths hammer rang from one tent, the smell of some delicious soup from another.

The odor of camel manure was strong now, and it reminded Fabian of home. And now he missed his heard of cattle. A little different from cow poop, he thought, but still wholesome.

The party dismounted and walked their camels to the corral, where a fat, short man awated them. He had an enormous round belly, and round plumpy cheeks. and his chin whiskers twisted into a braid as is common among magicians of the Cow Tribe. He wore a white keffiyeh that framed his round, jolly face. Fabian paused at the sight of this most peculiar man, and asked, “Are you Fatso?”

The fat man laughed a deep, belly laugh, and his round belly jiggled like a bag of pudding. He boomed, “Do you see any other fat people here?” Fabian was taken aback, thinking had offended the man, but his companions laughed too. The fat man continued, “Welcome my friends to Camel Lot! A place to park your camels! I am Shomari.” He scanned the newcomers, but didn’t recognize them. “Are you just resting here or trading your camels?”

Fabian said, “We’ll need to trade our camels. We’re headed for the pyramid.”

The fat man’s eyes bulged, “Why would you go to such a forsaken place with my camels?”

Fabian said, “The birds say the Snake Men are there.”

The jolly face frowned for a moment, and replied, “Well you know your business. However, I’ll need a larger deposit if you’re going to risk my camels.”

Binti rolled her eyes, believing there’s little to no risk, but Fabian nodded. They haggled for a moment, and then Fabian passed some coins. Binti caught a glint of gold, and wondered if her father knew anything about haggling for rented camels or anything else for that matter.

After removing their luggage, Shomari called another man who sang sweetly to the camels and led them to a comfortable shaded spot under a pavilion. “Now, my friends, “ sai Shomari. “Come rest in my cave.” The party looked to each other, puzzled, but they followed the fat man to a hillside, where an entrance was dug out. Shomari lit a lamp and they followed him in. It was much cooler under the hill, and here and there were large clay pots filled with fermented kefir, and cottage cheese, and yogurt, and tubs of butter. “Here,” said Shomari with a wave of his arm, “is the secret to my prosperity, and my fat belly.” He motioned to some stools around a table, and they all sat at them, except Samarra who was too large for those stools, but she did not mind. Shomari lit more lamps, and brought bowls of yogurt, cheese, and flatbread, butter, dates, and desert truffles. So grateful to be free of the desert heat, they didn’t notice that Arachnid had slipped away to explore.

Shomari called out to the front of the cave, and a shapely woman in airy chiffon pantaloons came in with a bottle of fermented palm sap, and poured cups for everyone. She massaged Shomari’s shoulders, and rubbed his scalp he regaled his guests with tales both exciting and mundane. He spoke of caravans of traders coming to and fro with exotic merchandise, monsters that rise from the desert sand and swallow horses and camels alike, and miners that come by monthly with their camels laden with common salt. Before long everyone was a little tipsy, and jolly, and they broke into song. Binti produced a flute, and Samarra a Jews Harp, and Fabian a pair of wooden spoons that made a satisfying clack, and they had a good time all the way to sunset.

It was all quite enthralling, and Binti then realized that her father’s money was well spent, and that his generosity with coin ensured reciprocal generosity. She decided she would think twice before questioning the price her father paid, because he obviously knew what he was doing.

A Journey to Wonderland

[Edited for spelling and to change phrasing that came across as judgemental when i didn't mean it to]

My Journey to Wonderland

This story is long, and has a lot of detail about the setting and my experience. It is not indicative of how your experience might be if you take this journey. I don’t recommend or unrecommend it. It is your sovereign choice what medicines you put in your body.

I took a week off so I could take a journey at my leisure. I didn’t want to go on this journey in a bad mood. I had some anxiety about some obligations and other things going on later in the week, and I had the beginning of a cold sore. Nonetheless, I decided to go for it just after noon.

It was a warm summer day, sunny mostly, with the threat of rain in the evening. I live at a private residence, with a large garden tucked away out of sight. I have two room mates, one of whom owns the house (I’ll refer to him as the Landlord). He’s a retired gentleman. He was fine with me having my journey. My other room mate had to work. There are my three cats, the landlord’s three dogs, and my other room mate’s cat. I mention them because I’ll refer to them as characters later on.

I ate the whole white chocolate bar and went out in the outdoor, fenced in play area for the animals. I started reading my favorite chapter of The Wind in the Willows: Dulce Domum. That book is as meaningful to me as what the Bible means to some devout Born Again Christians. I wanted to get into the right frame of mind, as far as I could determine what it would be.

I aborted the chapter partway through when I realized I should probably get out to the garden before the medicine kicked in. So I left the peaceful sitting place, gathered my gatorade and my wide brimmed hat, and went out to the garden.

I kept feeling like I forgot something. That is usual for me, as I lug a lot of supplies with me to work, and it’s not uncommon to go back in and get a thing or another thing. I had my android tablet fully charged and connected to the wifi for music, and listened to that for a little while. After hearing “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed and realizing I was crying harder than I normally would, I put the device away, and went to sit in the garden.

The medicine began to set in. I was paranoid about causing my landlord to panic. So I walked over, calmly, and told him I’d be fine no matter what I looked like. He said he wouldn’t worry, gathered his dogs, and went inside for a nap. I returned to the garden.

Then a wave hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sweating profusely, panic set in. I fought the panic. It was probably a mistake. The grasses and plants began to move as they might with a journey. I was tempted to give up and call an ambulance, but I knew that it would end badly for me and everyone else. All I’d get is a banana bag and strapped to a gurney, and my house searched, the residents harassed. No way. It was a temptation, and I passed the test. I tried to vomit, but only a little mucous came.

The panic drove me to ingrained fear and coping responses. My spiritual views are probably best described as Gnostic, but I found myself feeling very Catholic (as it was my upbringing, and with no disrespect intended to Catholics), praying to the Father and the Son to show me what I wanted to see. The Lord’s Prayer. I suppose someone else of a different religious tradition ingrained in their youth would do something similar. A feeling of terror causes emotional regression. I write all this with love for all of you who read this, regardless of your spiritual outlook.

After some time, I got to remembering I could change the sensory input, and looked up to the trees, and saw how they danced in the sunlight, and were glad of the sun. I embraced the hallucinations, and I was able to then get out of fear and into love and gratitude.

I will describe what I went through, but I think words are insufficient. Remembering my friend who helped me through my first trip, I got up and interacted with my surroundings. The leaves of the blackberry plants were soft. The oak tree wanted love, so I caressed its leaves. The hemlocks looked menacing, so I grabbed hold of branches and shook their hands. The long pine cones on the ground crawled like little armadillos. My hat turned into a happy snail, whose face was caressed by loving clovers.

I played outside for a while, delighting in intense color contrasts, and the visions when I closed my eyes. I noticed that the type of visions changed when I was in the sunlight versus the shade. At some point I took note that I saw a bas-relief of an unusual alphabet scrolling on my eyelids when I closed my eyes.

Eventually I needed to go into the house to get more vitamin C. The wood of the front porch had such amazing contrasts in the wood grain, and every detail, crack, or speck of dirt stood out. Opening the front door was fun in itself. I found myself walking as carefully as I could, so as not to break or damage anything. As I entered the kitchen, I looked over to the wall with the toaster, and saw the same characters scrolling on the wall that I saw on my eyelids earlier, only it was not a bas-relief. It scrolled upward and off to the side slightly. One character was bigger than the rest. I assumed it was garbage of my imagination, but fun nonetheless. Some invisible thing flung pasta sauce on the wall. It was actually splatter from a crock pot earlier, but it was showing up in real time for me.

The color contrast of the walls was so beautiful. I got to thinking for a moment of a few women I’ve known who liked this kind of décor, and at that moment said “No wonder I found them attractive.” It was a dark take on Alice in Wonderland, for lack of a better analogy. If you ever played American McGees “Alice” video games, you might understand what I’m talking about.

Think of horror movies where walls and wood look aged, stained, perhaps a little moldy. It had a touch of old world charm. Like finding a house from the 1880’s undisturbed in the current day, but with some modern equipment like running water and digital clocks.

In any case, I experienced all kinds of amazing sensations, some confusing, some a little disturbing, but most pleasant, and drank my orange juice. Remembering a friend’s advice to trip outside, I went outside, but I stole another look at the wall above the toaster, and the matrix code scrolled there like before.

I had a couple more difficult moments in the garden, where the waves were a little overwhelming, but I got through them. My orange and purple gatorade glowed and shined on things around them. The plants frowned in the shade, and rose to meet the sun when it came from behind a cloud. I realized I would be more comfortable if I changed my pants, but I was afraid to go in. So I went in. It was around here I realized that I could, and should, explore things that frightened me. I began to realize I could play in this new world.

In my bedroom I found one of my cats, who is 14, and is old, and has diabetes, curled up on the bed. When I turned on the light, the hallucinations faded. He looked like a baby. I quickly changed into PJ pants, and then down the hall to the bathroom.

I felt like I was exploring a parallel universe. One end of the bathroom had a lower ceiling or a higher floor. There is in reality a slight slope, but this was exaggerated, like that hallway in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I took delight in the sound of urinating and the rainbow bubbles from peeing in the toilet. All kinds of subtle hallucinations, mathematical patterns, while I washed my hands. I noticed that my hands continued to feel soapy despite extended rinsing, so I wrote that off as hallucination and dried them.

Back outside, I took off my shoes and hat, and left them by the garden. This became a landmark, and I was always delighted to find my hat, shoes, and purple gatorade. It was my anchor.

Sometime later I was back inside, and a brown and black yorkie who lives here came up to kiss me. He became a wooly bear caterpillar and kissed my face. I had the patience for getting slimed with a stinky dog tongue, which I normally don’t. I was gentle, so gentle, careful never to harm him. Finding just where he liked to be pet. We also played with a squeaky lamb toy, but what touched me the most was my seemingly infinite patience for his affection. Why can’t I always give him the time we wants?

I went into the den, and noticed the cobwebs dancing from the air conditioner blowing. They began to glisten. One in particular seemed to stretch out toward me. It had eyes, and a cute nose, and it wanted to boop my nose. At first I felt “this is just a hallucination” and then I thought “Stop judging it and let it happen.” Upon putting aside judgement, it glowed brighter, and loops of brilliant orange and yellow light came out of it on two sides, like ribs. And it stretched out to reach me.

I eventually turned away, and decided to see if I could read. I grabbed a newspaper from a pile of newspapers we would use for lighting the wood stove. I flipped through it, experienced synesthesia and the text changed colors. I selected a grocery paper and sat on a chair. Thinking of Alice as well as Wind in the Willows, I settled into my most refined English country gentleman accent, and said “Well old boy, what shall we get from the deli?” as I browsed the paper. I then wondered how it would feel to tear the paper, so I tore it near the bottom. I then realized I tore the date, felt bad, and looked at the date. It was a current paper, and I felt sad. And then I realized my landlord hated that particular grocery store, and I laughed hysterically.

There are steps down to the laundry room, and they were different heights. Meaning the steps were not of uniform distribution. In the catboxes in this room there were large trilobytes rising from the sandboxes. Outside was my cat, and I went out to pet her. I loved her so much. I cried.

Back outside in the garden, I went to the perimeter and ate blackberries from the bushes. I got a seed stuck in my teeth. It was uncomfortable. I went back inside to floss. I delighted in seeing my own reflection. Seeing my cat come in the bathroom behind me, I made some joke about “Sir have you see my cat?” and I laughed. I was not very good at getting the seed out. It took two pulls of floss. I had to make a delibrate effort to put the used floss in the bathroom trash and close the lid. I succeeded.

I could go on and on, documenting everything I experienced. More important than details are the realization that I could play in this parallel universe. What I mean is, while I was in this real universe, I perceived the parallel universe. I could play and try things and see how my mind responded. We have an island in our kitchen with pots and pans hanging above. So I decided I would see how it felt to get my head inside and look around. I was in a little maze of reflective pots and pans. I tried all kinds of things. I tried one hand in warm water and another in cold, then reversed hands. I burned myself lightly with hot water from the faucet. The only limit on my actions was morality, and the non-aggression principle.

I had a moral revelation on how I treated my room mates. I could get better. I wrote myself a note, and as I wrote it I noticed that the hallucinations I experienced changed depending on my mental state. If I was writing or reading I experienced one set of hallucinations. If I wasn’t, a different kind of hallucinations. As I wrote, the table felt damp and sticky, and the matrix code appeared on my hands. All kinds of emotions I can’t explain. The note came in handy when I was done, and I’m doing my best to love my room mates better than I did before, human, dog, and cat. I know to remember to consistently do the hard work of love and not just the easy work.

Eventually my landlord woke up and went outside with the dogs. We had a pleasant exchange, though he seemed to think I was creepy. It’s all good. I think I was projecting my own insecurity onto him, and he was chill and just doing his usual thing. By then I was on the downswing of the journey, and the waves were fewer, and far less intense. Part of me was curious what he would have seemed like as a character in my other world, but it was too late, as I was returning to this world.

It was a good four hours of intense emotional, sensational, and spiritual enlightenment. And all the while, through good feelings and bad, I felt gratitude and love. Huge gratitude for getting to see our world through this new lens. Love for the animals, the bugs, the plants, for God. I couldn’t bring myself to slap mosquitoes until I started to come down.

I tried to explain my journeys to my friend group in the past, as they are experienced veterans. It’s either something you’re not supposed to talk about publicly(like some folks won't discuss sex outside of their marriage) , or they’re jaded and don’t care as they’ve heard it all and then some. Or maybe they just don’t give a shit, in which case so be it. I do long to compare notes with other people, but this may not be the crowd for comparing notes. Part of the journey is learning to accept that others, as much as I might want them to, will not share my interests. They like to take the same medicine, but with a different perspective.

I find it quite interesting, especially since I figured out how to experiment while in the state, and make it work for me. I can’t control outputs (results) but I can control inputs: ie. looking at the same wall resulted in the Matrix code scrolling by. Thinking different thoughts changed my experiece. I wasn’t held hostage to one situation as I was on previous journeys. Not that unexpected hallucinations and feelings didn’t come up, they did, and not that it wasn’t difficult at times, it was. In my opinion, I had a glimpse into the nature and possibilities of the universe – just a glimpse – while others would just call it getting my neural wires crossed by chemicals.

Two days later I figured out the symbols I saw in the matrix. It was on accident. Due to my internet searches and activity, I get many ads geared toward what we might call Hippie subculture: clothing, musical instruments, etc. So I got an ad for Tibetan singing bowls, and there was a bowl with a prominently engraved character and many smaller characters. They are the Tibetan alphabet. I don’t recall seeing Tibetan before. Maybe I have, and it was just a buried memory that came out thanks to the medicine. Maybe it means something else – perhaps the divine revelation I prayed for – and I should investigate it further.

The thing I’m most grateful for is learning how to treat my roommates better. All the entertaining visions are nothing if I don’t become a better person. I also know what I need to do with my life: I need to let go of people and situations that no longer serve my needs. I knew this, but the experience made it obvious I cannot ignore this any more. I need to do those peaceful things that make my life better, and lift up those whom I keep in my life.

I can’t say whether you should or should not use this medicine. I can’t say what your experience will be like. But I will offer a couple suggestions for if you do:

1) Remember the golden rule if there’s other characters in your parallel universe. When you’re sober again, anyone you harmed will still be harmed. Anything you broke will still be broken. Being tripped out is no excuse for harming others. I found myself picking mosquitoes off me gently and setting them down. It’ s not wrong to slap mosquitoes if you feel like you need to. Far be it for me to tell you not to defend yourself against possible disease carrying parasites. I ate a dandelion leaf and some blackberries, that’s about all the damage I was willing to do to anything.

2) If you’re feeling badly, you can embrace the bad feeling, and be thankful for it, or you can let it go, and do something else. Change the input, and you may change the output. While on the journey, I became thankful for the negative experiences. I was glad I was tempted to call an ambulance, I was thankful for those moments of fear and confusion. I grew as a person because of the little hardships.


My final thoughts. I didn’t come all the way back from my journey. A tiny piece of me is still in that world. I find myself taking delight in washing dishes, walking through my house, observing cobwebs, and getting slimy dog kisses on my face. I like looking at the stairs to study the cracks, scratches, and imperfections. I like the subtle slope of the bathroom. I remember how I felt that day, and part of me has not lost the wonder. It is my hope I do not forget the lessons learned. It is also my hope I figure out why I saw the Tibetan alphabet. I don’t even know where to start figuring that one out.

I want to go back to Wonderland

I want to go back to Wonderland

I want to go where giant snails are greeted by loving clovers

Where pine cones crawl about on their business

Where plants raise their leaves and branches to greet the sun

Where I befried a hostile hemlock tree with a handshake

I want to love the color contrasts that I used to ignore

and the geometry of a house creates different moods

I want to go where the cobwebs dance and glow

and want nothing more than to boop me on the nose

and I can read the grocery paper and laugh

I want to go where a wooly bear caterpillar will lick my face

and wants just to be loved

I want to go where the water bowl is filled with tiny glowing gems

I want to know exactly where to pet my cat

I want to go where the stairs are different heights

and trilobytes rise from the catbox to say hello

I want to go where my hat and shoes will always be waiting by the garden

as a landmark, so I don’t get lost

I want to walk into the bathroom, and have both ends be a different heights

I want to floss my teeth to remove a seed, and be mesmerized by my reflection

I want to delight in rainbow bubbles in the toilet when I pee

I want to put one hand in warm water, and the other in cold

and laugh

I want to go where I have infinite patience

and time is an illusion

I want to see the code of the universe on the walls

so I can learn to read and write it

I want to close my eyes and see in four dimensions

I want to go where I love everything, and harm nothing

not even mosquitoes

I want to go back to Wonderland

and live there forever

The Cow Tribe – Book Excerpt

Here is an excerpt from my book Zootaloot. It is the beginning of adventures starring the chief of the Cow tribe. Until I can research Swahili names the way I did Gaelic names for the Pig tribe, I’ll use whatever names come to mind as placeholders.

Fabian and the Rhino Village

Three months before arriving at Zootaloot Farm, Oak stood on the periphrary of a Rhino village in on the Southern Plain. It was late spring, and it was hot, and the grasses were tall, and the crops of corn, and yams, and other delicious vegetables were in full bloom. Behind him were many of the clay brick huts of the Rhinomen, as well as many of his people going to and fro about their business. Some carrying weapons and shields, others carrying baskets of supplies. Here and there were sullen looking Rhinos, with bandages wrapped around their noses. Also going to and fro were several chocolate colored humans of the Cow tribe, some carrying buckets of water, some baskets of fruit, some had spears and swords. They all wore light, flowing robes and tunics that helped them stay cool in the hot sun of the region. A couple humans tended to the sick Rhinos, changing their bandages and washing the wasting flesh on their noses.

Two of the humans were wizards, they carried leather bound books, and their chin whiskers were twisted into thick braids that descended a foot or more, as was their custom. These two spoke with several persons: a Rhino physician who augmented his usual armaments with pouches of herb and salves; a wizard of the Horse tribe, his light, freckled faced accented with a dark and thick red beard with braids from the corners of his mouth; and last a sea elf wizard, his gaunt and petite frame decorated with assorted dried fish tails, crab claws, and other fetishes of a seafaring shaman. They all spoke Elvish, the trade dialect of the continent. “I don’t think the cause is a bacteria,” said one of the Cow Wizards. “Tree didn’t see anything unusual in her microscope.” “Could it be a fungus?” asked the Horse Wizard. “Nay, the usual anti-fungal ointments didn’t help,” answered the Rhino physician. And on they debated.

About thirty yards away, Oak stood Fabian, the chief of this group of humans. Tall, quite handsome, and hairless, he had a sincere smile devoid of stress lines or wrinkles, and wore a beaded necklace with a small golden bull head. Tied to his waist was a belt with a finely made sword, and he had a gourd of fermented punch in his hand as he talked with Oak and a large, elderly bull cow. The three spoke frankly together as old friends.

Oak said, “I appreciated your kind words at the funeral last night, Fabian. Maple really loved you.”

Fabian replied, “Let’s drink to her memory. She was a great warrior.” With that, he tilted back the gourd and took a massive gulp, and some punch ran down his chin, and handed it to Oak, who also took a large draught, and offered it to the bull.

“Nay, I shouldn’t drink alcohol,” said the Bull. “But I will instruct my cows to fertilize a coffee field in her name, as she loved coffee.”

They chatted on about this and that. The wizards and physicians were stumped as to the cause of the infection afflicting some of the Rhinos. There were healers or wizards arriving from many lands. Fabian’s people sent messages to all the tribes of free poeples, elf, men and dwarf, but none seemed to have the answer to the mysterious disease that plagued the Rhinos.

Oak had arranged to send scouts to scour the contintent for help, and would take his son and go to the land of the Pigs to find Artur.

“Artur?” asked Fabian. “I have some coffee beans for his wife. I know how much the Frogs love their coffee. Could you bring it?”

Oak said, “Of course my friend.” He caught the sight of a juvenile Rhino woman, his own daughter. “Perhaps, Fabian, you could do me a favor.” He turned and called to his daughter. “Samarra, come here girl.”

A few seconds later a Rhino female, about age 9 (they become full adults at 10), almost six feet tall, arrived. She wore two swords, two axes, and leaned on a spear. “Hello father! Hello Fabian. Hello cow?”

The bull nodded.

“Fabian,” said Oak. “I’d like you to look after Samarra, and keep her out of trouble.”

Fabain smiled, “I’ll look after her as if she were my own daughter.” And with that he put his arm around her shoulder.

Samarra was about to return the gesture, when a cow galloped around one of the huts at high speed, kicking up a cloud of dust. Standing atop the cow was Fabian’s fourteen year old daughter K’Tanga, a cute, hairless girl with round cheeks, and she let out a whoop as she approached. “Zootaloot father! Whoa!” and lost her balance as she passed the four persons, and tumbled into a gorse bush, laughing hysterically at her own clumsiness.

“Like that daughter?” Oak laughed. They all laughed, even the bull, who mooed his amusment. “If my beloved daugher can avoid standing on charging cows without a harness, I think she’ll survive.”

A Snowy, Icy, Rocky Hillside

I took a jaunt in Fox Forest and found myself pondering a hillside that would be foolish to climb.

So I decided to climb it. After all, I had my pack, and my favorite stick, I thought I could do it. More importantly, I decided I needed to learn to climb a cold, slippery, treacherous hillside.

So I trudged through a frozen swamp and started on my way up.

Past the swamp, at the base of the hill.

The snow was crunchy and hard, so I had to dig my heels in and rely heavily on my stick for support. I had a lot of fun checking out the trees that grew on this hillside. In the distance some bird was making a honking noise: not a goose, maybe a duck?

Fattest beech tree I have ever seen.

I neared the top, and stopped to admire a beech with a hollowed out spot. I wondered who lived in the hole.

Looking down from the top. It doesn’t look so bad.

At the top, I took a moment to look down and reflect on my journey. Now that I was at the top, it was time to look around a bit.

No animals? No Bernie Sanders taking a nap?

There was a snow covered boulder at the top. If I had written a fictitious story about my ascent, there would have been an animal prophet or oracle to congratulate me. Alas, I found no one.

a mix of hemlock and beech at the top of the hill.
more hemlock and beech

I was cold, so found a spot under some little hemlock that was sheltered from the wind, and with lots of dry leaves to rest on. I set my gloves in the sun and drank a tallboy hard iced tea.

The trek down was perilous, and I could not take any photographs as I needed both hands to keep me from falling into the rocks. I found a rabbit trail, and slid down on my butt most of the way. My butt was cold and I had some snow in my boots, and the wind was bitter.

At the bottom, I quickly found the park trail and made my way back to the parking lot.

All in all it was a great little adventure. I gained some experience ascending and descending a snowy, icy hillside (+1 to wilderness rolls), and got some inspiration for my stories as well.

Do your adventures inspire your writing and gaming?

Tribute to my son, Peeps

On Wednesday, 11/18/2020, I had to euthanize my cat Peeps. He was in kidney failure. Peeps lived with me for almost 15 years. He was an impressive creature. At times he seemed almost human. He raised two younger cats from infancy, his younger brothers Pumpkin and Pickles.

He was patient with me when I was less than a good father. He always loved me even when I was wretched. He comforted sick cats at the Veterinary clinic. He grazed on grass while I foraged for dandelions and plaintains and sorrell.

When I moved into my new home, there were four Yorkie dogs here. He led his younger brother Pumpkin in a battle with the Yorkies. It was like something out of a fantasy film. Nobody got seriously hurt. From then on, the dogs and the cats lived mostly in peace.

There are so many tales I could tell about Peeps, but it would take forever. He was my son, and now he’s gone. On our American holiday of Thanksgiving, I miss him greatly, because I always made a plate of food for him and his siblings. Peeps was cute in that he made sure to eat his vegetables (all veggies were ones healthy for cats) as well as his meat.

His three siblings are sad, and seem lost without him. He was their father, leader, and king. Hail to the King. King Peeps. May he rest in peace.

Thank you – I found a home

A big thank you for your prayers and well wishes. I moved in with a friend of mine who had a spare room. It’s been a difficult journey but thankfully my feline children and I have a place to live. We moved in two days ago, and today the cats had their first encounter with the four Yorkie dogs who live here. There was a bit of a skirmish with my oldest two taking the lead in confronting the dogs, but they established their boundries. Over time all parties will adjust.

It was quite inspiring to observe the tactics my cats used in dealing with the tribe of dogs living here. There is a tribe of cat people (actual hybrids) in my story, so the behavior of my cats inspires the in-story actions of the major cat-people characters. My oldest cat, cancer stricken, aged 15, led the charge and was so brave. He was like a King leading his people. Theoden charging out of Helm’s Deep. His brother, only one year younger, joined him as soon as he let out that infamous feline devil moan. It was glorious. There were no real injuries, just some cuffing, lots of barking and hissing, chasing and retreating. And I must say, part of me was glad my tribe of cats came out on top, though I bear no ill will toward the dogs. They are sweet creatures.

Another revision of Zootaloot

I finally took time that should be spent sleeping to work on the book a bit.  I revised the last two chapters, “First Blood” and “Konnor’s Trade Post.  I chose to have Naranbaatar live, so as to illustrate, through his interaction with Artur, the respect that the different tribes of men have for each other, though their customs are different.

I’ll revise them further, I think, to give greater character depth.

Attached is the latest copy of Zootaloot!

Zootaloot69

 

I’d also like to ask you to pray for me – if you are willing – as I’m trying to find a new place to live.  My landlord is going to renovate the building and radically raise the rent, and I must find room mates or move out.  I need a home for myself and my four cats. They are my children.  If that is outside your spiritual tradition, then I place no burden on you.  Peace.