“Abraxas is the sun, and at the same time the eternally sucking gorge of the void. Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness, in the same word and in the same act.
Therefore is Abraxas terrible.”
~ Carl Jung, Seven Sermons of the Dead
Because Andy refused to set foot in the mall, Dave O’Finnegan operated as something of an acting Deputy Dungeon Master while they were there. Some members of the group couldn’t regulate their enthusiasm for the arcane mysteries that lay hidden between the covers of the D&D adventure modules that lined the store shelves at Leisure World.
“Hands off, Baker!” O’Finnegan snapped. Sheepishly, Jason Baker put the module back on the shelf. Leisure World, the sole purveyor of D&D merchandise in Belleville, was always their first stop at the mall.
“Ok, hard-ass! Slow down. I’m not looking inside.” Baker put the module back on the self like a cornered perp putting his weapon on the ground for police. In his head, he was working out how to get out of O’Finnegan’s line of sight.
“So what’s with Nick, do you think?” Ian Grayson held a translucent, orange 20-sided die up to the light and inspected it as though it were the Hope Diamond. On their way to Leisure World, after Nick had told them he was going to look for Deb at Sneaky Petes, they had been discussing his sudden disinterest in game night.
“Jesus!” O’Finnegan said. “If I had the prospects with the ladies Morrison has, I wouldn’t be spending Friday nights with you nerds!”
“So it’s girls then?” Jason was eyeing the TSR module “White Plume Mountain. “I like girls.”
“Or girl. Singular.” Dave Grayson was with O’Finnegan looking at other role playing games. There had been buzz recently about taking a shot at the newly released Marvel Superheroes RPG. “He did make a b-line to find Debbie Holcroft.”
“Shani, Lori, and Tracy will be with her. So it could be any one of them.” Ian said.
“Or all of them!” O’Finnegan’s face lit up. “He’s Nick friggin’ Morrison.”
“Deb’s got a thing for Andy,” Baker said it absent-mindedly. “I was on the bus the other day. Those two are like Siamese twins. It’s not Deb.”
“It’s not the other three either,” Dave Grayson said. “Nick would’ve said so. If anything he can’t stand them. He doesn’t get why Deb hangs out with them. If it’s anyone, it’s Deb — or someone else altogether. Probably one of the city girls.”
“Listen to us cackling hens! Jesus!” O’Finnegan was reading the back of the Star Frontiers boxed set. “I’m done here if you guys are. Feels like Miller Time to me, gents? Tudor Arms?”
“Gary’s working!” Jason Baker dropped the Plume Mountain module back in its place on the shelf. Dave O’Finnegan shot him a disapproving glare and shook his head.
Gary “Gare-dog” Murphy was one of their D&D friends from the city and a waiter at the British pub in the mall. He never hesitated to serve them booze.
“Let’s track down Morrison first,” O’Finnegan said. “What kind of fools would go into a babe-lair like the Arms without their 18-charisma wing-man?
“That’s why you’re the DDM,” Baker said, trying to curry favour after getting busted for sneaking a peek.
“Douche Dungeon Master?” Ian said. They all laughed.
“Deputy DM!” O’Finnegan said, genuinely hurt that they weren’t taking his role seriously. “With new adventures for you ogres, no less,” He proudly brandished the Star Frontiers RPG boxed set he carried to the checkout.
“Game Master is fine if you prefer.”
Nick hadn’t found the girls at Sneaky Petes.
Famished from hockey practice, he ordered two burgers, fries, and a Coke and sat by himself. He would need the fuel to track them down. He was not a big fan of doing laps at the mall. For a moment, he saw how Andy might be right. The hub of smallness Andy called it. The slackjawed hordes utterly consumed with constructing identities for themselves with the shit they buy.
In his heart, Nick Morrison believed most of the same things as Andy. He had always thought of him as nothing less than a brother. Finishing his second burger, Nick watched the mall people go by. Anxious moms, grumpy dads, crying kids. None of them realizing they already had everything. All of them jonesing for more.
Am I one of them? He thought.
Andy’s parents had left him, yet he always seemed satisfied with his life. His bike, his dice, his records, and his library card were his only possessions. God knows he didn’t care about clothes. Nothing but jeans and those goddamn concert shirts! Andy owned less than almost anyone Nick knew — yet he carried himself like the richest man in the world: a paradoxical cross between a stately philosopher-king and a squirrely 10-year-old hopped up on Halloween candy.
Nick admonished himself. Enough of this. Yes, he’s my friend. But I need to live a life of my own. Andy isn’t Batman. And if even if he were, would I really be willing to be his Robin?
He’d made up his mind. Why all this self-deliberation?
Shuffling out of the booth, Nick Morrison made his way into the crowd toward the Denim Nexus. There was a good chance he’d find Deb there.
Nick found Deb in front of Sam the Record Man. Begrudgingly, he prepared to fake interest in Platinum Blonde, Corey Hart or whatever other pop pablum the girls were into these days.
“I got the job!” Deborah Holcroft threw her arms around Nick Morrison.
Though Nick had thought himself confused of late — it all amounted to nothing next to what he felt in this moment. Suddenly, Deb’s body against his, her energy, her enthusiasm, and the ferocity of her embrace threatened to overwhelm him.
“At Denim Nexus! I’m a sales clerk! Thursday nights to start and then Saturdays starting in December.”
Through the tumult of feelings and physical reactions, Nick managed a wide — what he hoped was not too nervous — smile. He knew Deb’s friends would be watching. Would they notice what was happening to him? I don’t know what is happening to me? He thought. This is Deb!
“That’s so cool!” he managed to say!
“I can get a discount on a new jean jacket for you!” She said. “You totally need one.”
“Sure thing. That’s awesome.” Nick lied. He loved his old jean jacket. Andy had painted a WWII Flying Tigers emblem on the back. There they are. He suddenly noticed Shani, Lori, and Tracy. Other girls, from the city, were with them too. He didn’t know who they were — but he could tell right away they had been thoroughly briefed on who he was. He rolled his eyes in his head. He had learned how to control doing it outwardly in these situations.
He was relieved to note the expressions on their faces were the typical ones. He got the sense no one had gleaned anything from his unexpected response to Deb’s hug.
“Can we talk alone, Deb. It’s about Andy.” Nick was sure he heard an “ewww” and a “gross” from the tittering girls. They all loathed Andy Crowley. This, despite Deb’s lifelong advocacy on his behalf.
Idiots, Nick thought. What am I doing? Was he really trading his Friday nights with his best friends to be with these people? Suddenly, where a moment before he had been taken aback by inexplicable feelings for Deb Holcroft, he was angry at her for her shitty taste in friends.
He remembered all the years when it had just been the three of them. Deb, Andy, Nick.
Then she took his arm and pulled him back toward Sneaky Petes.
The moment she put her hand on him and set her eyes upon his, the confusion he had felt took him again. He was certain she had never looked at him like that before.
Nick Morrison did not know Deb Holcroft thought he was going to die and so misinterpreted the way she was looking at him the same way he had misinterpreted the intensity of the hug she had given him.
The thought of just the three of them fell completely from his mind then, and he forgot about Andy Crowley completely.
There had been the monolith of black glass and there had been Andy Crowley. But not now. It was as though they had never been apart. It was as though they were all there could ever be.
Spherical points of light shrank away into the distance from this new, fused perspective.
Quarks; atoms; molecules — is that what they were? — spiraled away and downward.
Next, alien creatures swimming in a raindrop came into view from all around them and receded into the singular point at the most distant limit of perception.
What now? Is this blood?
What is this? bone? Could it be stone? Does it matter? Are they not all illusory distinctions. Unnecessary. Arbitrary. Petty.
Some small part of Andy was holding on to ask these questions: a speck of ego in the exploding vastness of this new being, hungering to vanquish division — swelling fat on all it assimilated into its awareness.
Are these questions or are they answers? The speck of ego’s whispered curiosity infuriated the monolith mind. This nonsense of distinguishing one from other was anathema to its very purpose for being.
Shrinking away now was Terra. or was it Earth, Diqiu, Arda, Kadoor Ha’aretz, Ea, Maapallo — so many names.
“No!” The ego of Andy Crowley exclaimed as it began appropriating the vast knowledge it was acquiring. They call that world Sanctuary! That is the name most beings know it by.
Enough with the delusional distinctions! The monolith seethed to the now minuscule Andy-ego. For what are labels and names, save the most heinous of attachments and deceptions! See that world now. It is a dust mote: meaningless, pointless, temporary.
Then the stars sped away too. Then the galaxies. Then the entire universe. All receding beyond reckoning.
And then, for the last of the shrinking particle of mind that remained Andy Crowley, something surprising occurred.
The remnants of Andy Crowley’s egoic faculties ascertained that he was growing in size upward beyond one universe, which alas was something of the subatomic fabric of the next, larger, universe.
Quarks to atoms. Atoms to worlds. Worlds to universes.
And then, again.
And in the very last moment, just before that sliver of ego would finally be amalgamated into the monolith-mind, the mind of Andy Crowley — filled with wonder — seized upon one last musing.
As above, so below. As below, so above.
The Hermetic expression came as a gleeful whisper that sent a shudder through — what was it now — a uni-mind? The words of it festered like an infection. This modicum of delineated thought, of self-awareness, was as a poison to the expanding thing: a pulsating gangrenous tumour. Writhing and bloating it spread. The ascent through realities sputtered and slowed. Then the expansion ceased altogether before it started to reverse.
In relation to the whole, that fragment which was Andy Crowley was growing.
“I love you,” Deb’s voice joined the now-shrinking malignancy, causing the reversal of its expansion to accelerate.
“You’ve always been a selfish asshole,” Nick’s words were there too, adding poison that fuelled the collapse of the merged entity.
Suddenly, Andy Crowley knew himself again. Hovering in the white nothingness, he now held the small, black rectangle — a perfect fit — in the palm of his hand. As memories and thoughts poured back to him, he thought of Star Trek. The little monolith seemed to him like some sort of futuristic device. He imagined the beeping sound made by Captain Kirk’s communicator.
The grey apple icon appeared within the rectangle’s smooth onyx face. A synthetic chime exploded in his head. It was a deafening single note. Later, he would recall it made him recollect the opening synthesizer riff of Subdivisions by RUSH.
He could not tear his attention from the bite out of the apple icon that floated beneath the black glass.
His vision tunneled down. He fought to remain conscious. The limits of every aspect of the elusive notion of what constitutes mind came then to be tested in the egoic construct that was Andy Crowley.
Though he could not discern as much, a vague sense of having murdered all manner of beings in numbers too enormous to comprehend brought crippling nausea upon him — and for but an instant he had a veiled understanding of what it had felt like to be; vanquisher of worlds; usurper of gods; and murderer of souls beyond count.
The pain of the thought was but a blip in the arrow of time known to his consciousness for it was impossible for him to carry any concrete memory of an experience of this magnitude into the everyday fabrication of consciousness and existence that was self and world. Indeed, no sentient creature in all the multiverse could conceive of and process reality on this scale. Not yet.
You’ve always been a selfish asshole. Nick’s voice was echoing in his mind. His best friend had never said such words to him. But they could not have felt more real.
You’ve always been a selfish asshole.
Andy recalled then, that he had come here searching for answers. Was this one of the answers he sought?
You’ve always been a selfish asshole.
As the words repeated, it occurred to him to ask the monolith if it could help him know if this was indeed one of the insights he had come here to discover.
He didn’t know why, but he had the sense that touching a finger to the flat glass of the rectangle he held in his hand would cause something to happen.
But when he looked into his hand, the sleek, black monolith was gone.
Panic overtook him.
The loss dwarfed anything he had ever experienced before. He arched his back and roared unintelligible grief into the void.
Such was the severity of his anguish that Andy Crowley did not feel the warm tingling rising at his navel. And in that mysterious manner by which it always seemed to know what is best, his silver cord manifested to take him home.
To be continued in Chapter 7
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