DAWN of the WIZARD
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The sun was resting on the horizon, tickling the sky with flames of dying light. Rory looked down at the pipe. The marijuana inside was still smoldering so he raised it to his lips and inhaled deeply. He held the smoke in his lungs for nearly a full minute, counting one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi; exhaling slowly, letting the smoke roll off his lips. His mind shifted another level, another door opened.
The sun soon crawled behind the edge of the world and the pipe went out. The air began to cool. Rory eased himself up, almost floating. He breathed in the cool, evening air, surveying the view from atop the hill. As his eyes scanned the area of sand dunes and rocky hills, he felt his mind shift once again. Memories began to flow, filling his mind with pictures of the past. Painful pictures that were deadened by the herb. Painful memories that somehow, now, began to be comprehensible. He began the long walk home, floating.
..."I'm sorry, Mister Keppler, but there's nothing else we can do for your wife. The injuries sustained in the car crash are simply too severe. We have her stabilized, but she's heavily sedated. You can go in, but she won't be responsive."
"Thanks, Doc'," Rory said, the look of despair and pain obvious. "How long do think she has?"
"That's hard to say. On the machines we could conceivably keep her alive indefinitely, but she'll never regain consciousness. Her brain could stop functioning at any time, however. It could be hours, days, or weeks."
Rory kicked himself mentally as he thought of the bill and wished for only hours. But he knew that if it was only hours, her, and his, suffering would be less. He did not want her to suffer. He shook his head, trying to shake the thoughts out.
"Are you all right, Mister Keppler?" The doctor was looking at Rory with concern.
"Hunh? Yeah. No," Rory contradicted himself. "Are you sure there's nothing you can do?"
"We're sure, Mister Keppler. The injuries to her brain alone would cause death if we turned off the machines. Her spleen, liver, pancreas, large and small intestines and her stomach are so severely damaged that only a complete transplant of those organs will give her a chance, but she wouldn't survive the surgery."
Rory dropped his eyes, then his head. "Thanks, Doc'." He stepped away from the doctor and entered his wife's room. As he sat in a chair beside her bed, he tenderly grabbed her hand and started to cry. "I don't know if you can hear me or not, Rebecca, but the doctor's say you're hurt pretty bad." He looked at her pale face, eyes closed, a tube taped to her mouth. "I guess you know that already, hunh?" He leaned forward and put his head on the hand he held. "I don't know what to do, Love. I can't stand to see you like this. The doctors say there's no hope. I wish you could tell me what to do." He raised his head, again looking into her blank face. "I know what needs to be done, but...but I can't bring myself to do it. I don't want to lose you, but you're already gone. Aren't you?" Again, Rory dropped his head to her hand and closed his eyes, tears seeping out and dripping on their hands.
Several moments passed and Rory relaxed a little, exhaustion taking it's toll. Then, when his mind was blank, he saw himself and his wife in the cockpit of a sailboat, her leaning against him as they sat on the cockpit seat, the ocean sprawled out in front of them endless, the wind pushing the boat on a starboard heel. She turned towards him and said, "You have to let me go, Rory. You know it's best. For both of us. I'll be all right. I'll be here, waiting for you."
Rory jerked upright and stared at the blank face of his wife. Was that real? Was that wishful thinking? Was that an attempt to alleviate his guilt? He put his head back on her hand and waited. Minutes passed in hours. No more visions. No trips. Nothing, just deep, chest-tightening sorrow.
Rory raised up and again looked at his wife. She looked so pitiful, so helpless, so pale. After a another minute, he stood and bent over her. He kissed her on the forehead, then her cheek, then her lips. She felt...cold. He straightened, then with resolve and regret, he left her room.
"Where's the doctor?" he asked the nurse at the station.
"He went to check on another patient. Can I help you?"
"No, you can't." He didn't mean to sound cold, but for what he was about to do, he didn't have any room for warmth. "I need to talk to the doctor. Can you page him for me?"
The nurse looked Rory over. His wife was under her care. She knew it was hopeless and what the doctor had told him. She realized what he had decided. "I'll get him here ASAP."
Rory's demeanor softened a bit. "Thanks." He then returned to his wife's room and waited for the doctor...
Half-way home Rory ducked into some shrubbery by the road and reloaded the pipe. He lit it before returning to the road, stuffing the smoldering pipe into his jacket pocket, thumb over the bowl. His short stride quickened. The blue bandanna that encircled his head and reigned his hair became damp with sweat, even in the cool, evening air.
Rory checked both directions of the road, then stole another hit off the pipe. Exhaling slowly, his mind shifted as his small, rented house came into view. From this angle, physically and mentally, it appeared as if the person who lived inside was a stranger. Yet, he knew the resident, intimately. Still, as he approached the house, it was as if he was looking through someone else's eye's.
The feeling disappeared when he put the key in the lock. The musty air rushed by him, escaping into the night. He looked around the dimly lit room and sighed. It was time. Time to pack the few things he considered essential and hit the road. He hadn't seen 'them' since Rebecca's death, often wondering if 'they' caused it. So, it was time to continue the journey to find himself, to find the dream that had so long eluded him, haunting him in his dreams.
He searched his bungalow once more from the door, searching his mind for something he may have forgotten. He thought of calling Diane, to say good-bye, then decided to stop by on his way out of town. He threw the key inside and shut the door. He was paid up for another week, so the landlord shouldn't be too pissed when he finds out that the tenant has walked out unannounced.
Rory hefted the pack on his shoulder and headed for Diane's house on the other side of Butte Rock; a small desert town of seven hundred and eighty-nine souls, ten miles east of Alamogordo. Two streets wide, the area residents were scattered around the horizon in mobile homes, RV's and the sporadic house.
The sun was long gone by now, and the air had a crisp bite to it. The stars were scaling the heavens, and the moon sailed slowly in it's orbit. Cars were scarce on the street. Rory pulled the pipe from his jacket and lit it, inhaling deeply. He knew he was smoking too much, but coming down simply sucked. He could also hide the pain in the smoke. And yes, Diane also helped to hide the pain.
He was stoned when he reached Diane's, but not yet zooming. He was hoping she would smoke a joint or two with him, enough to get him zooming, then he'd leave. With any luck, he won't have to explain to her. With any luck.
He knocked again, this time harder. He tried the doorbell, knowing it had never worked since it was installed. Rory turned around on the porch, looking up and then down the street. He took a couple steps forward and sat down on the top step. `Was this a night she worked?' He couldn't remember. He lit his pipe again, inhaling deeply, wishing for the wind.
With the contents of his pipe fried, he dug in his backpack for a pen and paper. He wrote Diane a short note telling her he was leaving and slid it through the mail slot next to the door. Strange thing, luck. He reloaded the pipe before he started for the road. He wasn't sure where he was headed, except westward. He wanted to see the Rocky Mountains again. He wanted to see the ocean again. He wanted to find a meaning to his life, more than this endless running.
Hitting the main highway an hour later, Rory put his thumb out as he headed west down the lonely road. Twenty minutes later he heard a vehicle approaching from behind and put his hand out, thumb up. The car whizzed by without even tapping it's brakes. Rory shook his head and smiled. He continued walking, pulling the pipe out of his pocket and inhaling the sweet smoke now and again, his mind floating on distant memories and unrealized dreams.
Since the death of Rebecca, he had lost all interest in trying to fit in and become another member of the workforce. Suspicion around Rebecca's death had haunted him since the accident. Was it really an accident? The truck that hit the car only had front-end damage and the driver wasn't even hurt. The police report said the truck ran a red light, T-boning Rebecca, yet no charges were ever filed. He couldn't push the issue because he couldn't afford too much exposure. He continued to go over the events concerning the car accident. Even though he was sure they had caused the crash, he had no proof, only gut instinct. But who could he tell anyway? The cops? The government? Both knew about him and his testimony and still his parents were killed in an attempt to kill him. No. He was in this by himself. And, he must admit, doing a pretty good job of it, too. He hasn't been found, arrested, or killed. He felt a pang for Rebecca, then. She had been killed, however. Most likely by whoever killed his parents.
Another car approached and passed him. Rory looked at the receding taillights for a moment, then stepped off the road and into the bushes to reload the pipe. He wanted a joint, but the pipe worked better on the public thoroughfare. It was easier and quicker to conceal without losing the weed inside.
Two hours and another bowl after starting down the highway, a late model four-door with dull red primer and rust camouflage pulled onto the shoulder ahead of him and stopped. Rory trotted to the car and bent over to see inside the passenger window.
"Where ya' headed?" the driver asked.
"The coast," Rory responded.
"It's a long coast. Anywhere in particular?"
Rory paused for a moment, thinking. "No. Not really. I'd appreciate a ride as far as you can take me."
"Hop in, Brother. I'm going to Wilmington."
Rory opened the door and climbed in, putting his pack in the back seat. After the driver pulled the car back onto the highway, Rory asked, "Where's Wilmington?"
"It's a coastal town in Los Angeles proper. Gonna see a friend who lives on a boat there." The driver paused and inhaled deeply. "You smoke?" he asked Rory.
"Hunh? No. I gave up cigarettes ten years ago."
"I ain't talking about coffin nails. I can smell weed on ya'."
Rory dropped his head, sure he was in trouble. Realizing there was no use in denying it, Rory admitted to the smoke. "Yeah, I partake. I've got a little bit left," he lied. He had over an ounce on him. "You want to share a bowl?"
The driver looked at his passenger with scrutinizing eyes. He returned his gaze to the road. "Your shit doesn't smell all that good. Can you roll a joint?"
Rory was taken aback. His stuff wasn't all that good? Well, truth be told, his stuff was mediocre. But this guy can tell by smelling the residue? "Yeah, I can roll a decent joint. Why?"
"Open the glove box and grab the tray and bag. There's a light there on the dash you can use."
Rory did as instructed and pulled a small, white plastic, rectangular tray out of the glove box, a large bag of marijuana and rolling papers on it. Before he opened the bag, Rory could smell the quality of the weed. It was definitely better than what he had.
As they continued down the road Rory cleaned enough marijuana for a joint. The driver turned on the radio and tuned in a rock station. After Rory twisted up the joint he handed the finished product to the driver.
"Nah. You first. You rolled it."
"But it's your shit."
"I've got plenty. Light it, Bro'."
"Sebastion," the driver replied, offering his hand.
Rory shook Shebastion's hand. "Nice to meet you. And thanks for the ride."
"I had a feeling about ya' when I saw ya'."
Rory lit the joint and inhaled deeply, almost immediately spitting out the smoke and hacking until saliva dripped from his lips. "Whoa. This is some really good shit," he finally got out.
"The best," the driver agreed and put his hand out for the joint.
Rory handed him the joint, still recovering from the hit. Sebastion inhaled just as deep as Rory had, then handed the joint back. Rory sat there, the joint smoldering as he watched and waited for Sebastion to cough his lungs out. When Sebastion exhaled without so much as clearing his throat, Rory knew he was in the presence of a true Stoner. More of a Stoner than himself.
Rory took another hit, albeit a smaller one. This one he held while passing the joint back to Sebastion, exhaling when the joint came back his way. He sat there a moment, feeling the affect over the high he already had. He was impressed. They continued to pass the joint back and forth until the roach was too small to hold.
"Throw it on the tray in the glove box, will ya?" Sebastion suggested.
Rory closed the glove compartment and sat back, enjoying the zoom he had now reached. Some time later, Rory just wasn't sure how much time had passed, he turned to Sebastion. "You want to sell some of that?" he asked, pointing to the glove compartment.
Sebastion looked at Rory, then back to the road. "What are you going to do once you get to the coast?"
"Wha'd'ya mean, what am I going to do?" Rory answered, somewhat perplexed.
"You got a job lined up or you got a skill you can market? How do you plan on living?"
"I hadn't thought that far ahead, but I always make do."
Sebastion looked at Rory again, sizing him up, analyzing the feeling he had about him. "You ever deal?"
Rory looked at Sebastion, trying to read the man. "Nope," he lied. It was one thing to posess, quite another to deal. "I've grown some for personal use, but never dealt. Why?"
They road in silence as Sebastion mulled over the offer he was going to make to Rory. Rory sat motionless, staring ahead, his mind floating on the smoke, his thoughts already elsewhere. Minutes passed before Sebastion spoke.
"I need someone reliable to make runs for me, from California to Nebraska. I'll pay five thousand a trip and all the weed you can smoke. But if you get caught, you know nothing of me." He turned to Rory to judge his response.
Rory just sat there dumbfounded. This couldn't be happening, he thought. His mind raced as to what he could do with that kind of money and access to this quality of smoke. "Uh, how often do you have trips to the Nebraska?"
"Twice a month."
Whoa, Rory thought. Ten thousand bucks a month. That was more than he made with his small time dealing in six months. "Who pays for gas?"
"I'll help you get the vehicle, you pay for gas and food."
"Can...can I think about for a bit?"
"Sure. Wilmington is still a ways away."
"I'll let you know before we reach the border."
"I can wait. And while we're waiting, twist up another one, will ya?"
"You got it."
Thirty minutes before crossing the California border, Sebastion turned to Rory. "Is everything put away?"
"Yup. It's all in the glove box."
"Good. We'll be stopping soon to declare any fruits we might have."
"Eh, just another reason to assert their control."
"Only if you let them. There's over ten pounds of weed in this car."
Rory's jaw dropped. "Ten pounds?"
"Yup. Got a buyer in L.A. waiting for this. If you want to drive for me, the money I get from this will go to setting you up. How do you feel about living in a motorhome?"
"Um," Rory paused. "No qualms. Why a motorhome?"
"You won't have a permanent residence. In fact, you won't have an address at all. Is that going to be a problem for you?"
"Nope. Nope. I've been off the grid for a while now. The motorhome sounds great. I've always wanted to boondock."
"What the hell is boondocking?"
Rory smiled. "Dry camping. It's living out in the wilderness. No hook-ups to electricity or plumbing. You live off what's around you, making trips to town only when necessary."
"Sounds like my kinda living. Can't imagine why I haven't thought of it before?"
"Don't know, but this deal you've offered me is right up my alley."
"Does that mean you'll work for me?"
"Yup. When do I start?"
They stopped in line at the California border entry. Three cars were ahead of them and they quickly moved forward.
"I'll have a run ready a couple days after we get to Wilmington."
"Sounds great." Rory paused. "Um, I'm going to need an advance. You know, to pay for gas and food."
"Already have everything figured out."
They reached the border guards. "Evening gentlemen," the Customs official greeted them. "Do you have anything to declare? Fruits or plants?"
"No, sir. Nothing to declare."
The border guard bent at the waist and peered into the car. He hovered there a moment, Rory sure he could smell the cannabis even though they hadn't smoked in two hours and had had the windows down even longer. Then the border guard straightened erect and waved them on. "Have a nice day."
"You too, officer," Sebastion said out the window as he pulled away.
When they were back on the interstate Rory turned to Sebastion. "I thought for sure he could smell the weed."
"Nah. He was just seeing if we were lying about apples and oranges. Fuckin' piss ants."
"You know where that term comes from, don't you?" Rory queried.
"Uh, because they work for the 'Man' and are nothing but ants?" Sebastion offered.
"Hunh-uh. Piss ant is a derivative of peasant." Rory separated the syllables. "Peas - sant. Piss ant. See?"
"Hmm-mm. Sounds plausible."
"That's all I got: plausibility."
"Works for me." Sebastion checked his mirrors, then said to Rory, "Break out the tray and twist up another, will ya'?"
"Sure thing." Rory leaned forward and opened the glove box.
Rory could smell the pollution in the air miles before they reached Los Angeles, coughing up mucus as his body rejected the irritants. The drive through Los Angeles seemed to take forever with traffic clogging every freeway they accessed. "This is what people come here for; to be choked by the pollution?" he remarked.
"You'll get use to it. By time we reach Wilmington, you won't even notice it."
"How much longer is that going to take?"
"Depending on traffic, two to three hours."
"Wow. I never realized L. A. was so big."
"It's huge. But that doesn't make up for anything. It's still a shithole."
"That'll make me want to stay here."
"You won't be here long. Before you're first run we'll find you a spot out in the middle of nowhere to stay." Sebastion quickly looked at Rory. "How does that sound?" He turned his attention back to the road unfolding before them. "Fresh air, open space, no neighbors, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera."
"Sounds like a dream come true. Pinch me, will ya'. I think I'm dreaming."
"You aren't dreaming. Is the joint ready?"
Rory put the nearly rolled marijuana cigarette to his lips and licked the gummed edge of the paper, twisting to completion. "Done. You wanna' light it?"
"Nah. You twisted it. You light it."