Heaven's RendingbyAdrian Leverkuhn©
The man looked out the window as the once foreign landscape reeled away below; he looked down on the browns and greens of India as a scientist might examine an amoeba through a microscope. Mere professional interest held his mind's eye, like looking upon something once a source of intense curiosity, harkening to a world full of countless wonders that might capture the imagination of a twelve year old boy. Now? - all those wonders explored long ago, consigned to memory, the fleeting halo of youth gone – replaced by knowledge and experience, and what was it he felt? Boredom? Anomie? Professional detachment?
He was a diplomat - working in the service of his government – from Denmark, and had been posted to his country's mission in India in the late 90s. His wife had joined him then, those many years ago, and despite years of complaining and recriminations they had endured the heat and the dismal politics and the near wars with Pakistan in a state which might have been confused once upon a time as something approaching that state of grace we like to call normalcy. She hated India, hated her husband's dead-end career in the Diplomatic Corp, hated the grinding poverty that confronted her every move outside their home in the compound, and the endless dissemination that went with the job of chief domestic servant. She had only recently returned home to attend her mother's funeral, and there had met an old friend from happier days and pronounced to one and all that she was through with India, through with her husband, and she requested he ship her belongings home soonest, thank you very much.
So the man returned home to kill the remnants of the illusions that graced his waking moments like a cobra's strike; when once the lawyers were done with him and his long empty life stretched behind him like a melted Dali landscape he moved away from the tattered bits of his soul as if they were a leper's outstretched hand, and he wandered through the Tivoli and along the razor's edge of his despair thinking what he might do with the time left him, and all he could think of doing was to go fishing.
He had long heard that the submontane waters of the Himalaya were just dandy for all manner of exotic fish, and as long as one avoided the odd tiger or leopard one could have as exotic an experience as one could hope to find in this our brave new world. Why not? the man said to himself. Why the fuck not?
And so now the man sat silently, looking out the window by seat 3A as the airliner began it's descent into the nightmare of his unraveling while the somewhat too cheerful flight attendant walked by again and she smiled at him again and he smiled at her again and wondered what she tasted like down there again before he turned back to the teeming emptiness that drifted by below like a silent admonition. He didn't feel sorry for himself, he kept saying to himself, because he was already dead. Nobody knew it yet, but it was true. He felt oddly amused at this and laughed at his reflection in the plastic window.
He was aware of a lurching twisting sensation, then of falling. Then the world grew dark.
The man whipped the rod back and forth in majestic arcs; once released the dry fly slipped through the air and settled on the steel gray waters of the mountain stream. He watched the yellows and reds of the fly as it drifted across silvered-cobalt ripples, and then he looked up again at the python lying at the water's edge across the river. The snake regarded him coolly, as if the presence of a man should be a matter of concern for one so adept at taking life. What could a man do, after all?
The water rippled and the man tensed, waiting for that perfect moment to set the hook, and when he felt the fly tremble through the arc of line connecting his hand to the world beneath the sun dappled shimmering water, he flicked his wrist and set the hook. The fish exploded through the surface and ran across the river toward rock-strewn rapids, and the man was conscious of the python watching the fish as well - when he heard a voice calling his name, and he turned to see the guide that had been engaged walking his way. The image of the guide was milky white, and it too shimmered as if made from star-stuff. The sight made the man uneasy, yet all he could do was laugh as the fish skipped across the water on the other end of his line.
The guide approached and told the man that a large tiger had been seen in the area, and it was no longer safe to fish along the river. The man smiled, nodded his head to indicate understanding, and turned his attention back to the water. His line lay limp across the dazzling water, the fly on the end of the line lay like a dead thing on the ever-shifting kaleidoscope, and he wondered for a moment what had happened to the fish.
He looked across to the far shore and saw that the snake was gone, and he laughed so hard that he began to feel like the clown he knew in his heart he always had been. He reeled in his line and walked with the guide back to the bungalow tucked away deep in the forest. He laughed all the way.
It was all so absurd.
Some time later he was standing on the banks of the river, and with his rod in hand he walked along to well worn path by the water's edge until he found a spot clear of trees where he could cast his line again. He was conscious of looking in the grass for the python, and though he took his time he felt preoccupied with catching the fish that had gotten away – was it yesterday? The man stopped, suddenly taken by the idea that he couldn't remember what day it was, or when he had last come to the river, and he became aware that time no longer held any meaning to him. The idea was faintly unsettling, so he laughed.
The man looked at the clearing and decided to try his luck here for a while, so he set his creel and net down on a nearby rock and moved to the water's edge. He bent over and looked down at the water and was amazed to see his reflection there on the calm surface. He looked at himself for a moment and he was calmed by the idea that this was how he had looked for so many millions of years, and he found this realization not at all odd, and though it was daylight he took comfort in the familiar patterns of stars and planets reflected on the waters surface. He looked up at the crystalline sky and at the billions of stars in their stately array and he reached up as if to touch them, then thought better of the idea and began to cast his line onto the still water.
He saw the fish before his fly hit the water; he watched knowing what was about to happen and wondered why it must be so, then the fish broke free of the water and flew through the air before taking the lure. The fish looked at him and smiled before crashing back into the water, then the man felt his line take the energy of the fish and the river exploded. The fish broke through into the starlight again and again as it danced across the water; the water danced in the rhythm of the struggle and the man played out line to give the fish room to run.
He became aware of a stillness in the air, a stillness born of expectation, and he could see the other animals of the forest and the river had all stopped what they were doing to watch the dance of the water and the fish, and he too grew aware of the fantastic beauty that spread across the water as the fish took the line and ran across the universe. An infinite parade of prismatic explosions shook the water as the fish continued its dance of death, and the man looked on with a tear forming in his eye when the water suddenly grew very still.
The man looked at the water, looked at the fish as it gave way to the current . . .
But the fish was not dead.
The man watched the fish swim slowly toward the near bank. He could see now that the fish had turned from silver and brown to a bright pulsing red, and the water around the fish glowed with purpose. The fish approached the water's edge and circled there slowly, waiting. The man turned toward his net and creel and was astonished to see a tiger lying in the sun on the rock next to his gear.
The tiger looked at the fish, then turned to look at the man.
The man stood perfectly still. In fact, he was aware that he was holding his breath, and that his hands were trembling. The fish took the lure from its mouth and swam away, pausing only once to look back at the man.
The tiger was, the man saw, looking again at the fish as it moved back into deeper water. When at last the fish had disappeared from view, the tiger turned to look again at the man. After a time impossible to measure, the tiger laid down and put his head on its outstretched paws while continuing to look at the man. Sometime later the tiger moaned, and the man looked closely at the tiger's face and front paws and saw seven porcupine quills lodged in the animals flesh. The man saw pain in the tiger's eyes, and great suffering.
The man bent down to place his rod on the ground, then stood again and looked at the tiger's eyes. He kept his hands in front so the tiger could see them, and he walked slowly toward the animal. He could feel the animal's pain as he drew nearer, he could feel it in the marrow of his own bones, but he could also see the tiger held no fear of the man; indeed, the tiger seemed to hold the man in his eyes as one might look down upon a promise broken long ago – almost in another lifetime.
The man walked to the tiger's side and knelt to examine the quills just under the tiger's left eye. The flesh was puffy with vile yellow fluids; these oozed from four of the quills here; when the man looked at the three quills in the tiger's right paw, he saw that fresh blood ran from the wound onto the rock. Still the tiger seemed unconcerned with the man's presence, though the man knew the tiger was more than aware of his every move.
The man reached for his case of flies in the pocket of his vest, and he slowly unzipped the case and took out the forceps he kept there. He knelt beside the tiger and placed his hand behind the tiger's ear and rubbed its head; the tiger responded by flicking its tail and letting out a heavy breath through its nose. It continued to look up at the stars.
The man took the forceps in his hand and moved it to the quill closest to the tiger's eye. He took the quill in the metal grip and tentatively pulled; the barbed lance moved but would not come out. He reached into another pocket and pulled out a small knife, and with this in his hand he leaned back over the tiger's head.
On seeing the knife, the tiger let slip a deep throaty growl that seemed to issue from the earth itself, but it did not move. The man leaned over and with forceps in one hand and his knife in the other; he made a small incision under the quill and with the forceps gently pulled the quill out. A trickle of yellowish fluid ran from the wound onto the tiger's amber fur, and a foul smell filled the air. The man stroked the tiger's forehead, then moved on to the next quill. This one, as well as the next came out easily. The last quill in the tiger's face would not budge so deeply into the bone had it gone, so the man moved down to the tiger's paw.
These three quills had pierced the tiger's pads completely, and two had run all the way through the paws and exited the top of the paw; these two the man simply pulled through, but the amount of blood that welled up from the two wounds was incredible, so the man took out his handkerchief and bound the wounds. The remaining quill had buried itself deeply in one of the calloused pads, and as he leaned forward with his knife and forceps he felt the tiger tremble. He stopped and looked at the tiger and was shocked to find the animal was panting heavily and seemed almost comatose.
The man decided against cutting the flesh with his knife and pushed this quill through the top of the pad, and it slid freely through the tiger's paw and into the waiting forceps, then yet another astonishing flow of blood sprang forth and ran out onto the rock, and once again the man applied pressure to the wound until the flow stopped.
Now only the last quill still lodged in the bone under the tiger's eye remained, and without hesitating the man leaned over the tiger's face once again and made a larger incision under the quill and pulled at it with his forceps. The man felt something give deep beneath the mottled, puss-filled flesh and as he pulled the quill loose he saw a gray-marbled cyst emerge from the incision; he made another cut so the mass could be expelled. As the glistening orb popped free from the tiger's face, a small river of yellow and green burst forth from the wound and ran down the tiger's face. The smell was overpowering, and the man wretched on the ground next to the rock before returning to the tiger's side. He sat and put his hand down to the rock to steady himself, only to cry out as a sharp stabbing pain tore through his hand. He jerked his hand back in time to see a huge black scorpion scuttling away across the rock. There was a barbed spine sticking out of the bottom of his hand, and he could actually see vile darkness spreading up his arm as the scorpion's venom spread toward his heart
The man had a small first aid kit in his vest, and this he now pulled out. He looked at the meager choice of medicines available, then took out two tubes from the kit. One tube was an anti-biotic, the other a topical anesthetic. He opened both tubes and evenly divided all he had into the tiger's two sets of wounds, then he lay against the tiger's heaving rib-cage and watched as the spreading darkness made its way into his chest. He felt the arrhythmia at first as a subtle tremble, but it soon grew into a massive series of quakes from deep within the core of his being; soon the sky brightened and brightened until all that was left was the fierce and undiluted light of the stars.
The man was aware of voices, some speaking Hindu and others English, and it was plain to him even from within this most remote place that he was dying. A mist of impenetrable brightness washed over him; it was at once hot and cool – and he felt himself swept away within the eddies that roared through this interstitial space. He wanted to reach out and cling to life, but there was nothing within the mists to hold onto save the far distant voices as people fought to save his life.
He heard another voice . . .
"Yes . . . he was sitting in the front, seat 3A I believe . . . no, I was in the galley jumpseat when we went down . . . I remember his smile . . . he seemed so lost . . . almost like a little boy . . ."
The man wanted to reach out to her, wanted to hold on to his humanity for a while longer, but the strong arms of the vortex reached out for him and pulled him back into the maelstrom . . .
He felt the arc of her breathing as his body lifted gently on the swells of her breath, and he felt himself falling just as quickly within the rhythms of her life. He felt her fur on the side of his face, and the putrescent smell of her wounds, and yet he heard strength in the tiger's beating heart. He knew the beat was stronger, knew that life had taken hold again within her battered frame, and his heart was gladdened when he felt her stirring against the cool rock on which they both lay.
He felt a cold stab in his heart as something damp and heavy slid across his legs, and the tiger tried to move but couldn't. The man opened his eyes but all he saw was a milky blur sliding across his body, and he blinked his eyes frantically to clear them. With each blink this world grew into sharper relief, and finally in all its horrid majesty the python resolved before his eyes.
The python's eyes were level with his, and maybe a foot away. A pinkish-gray forked tongue stabbed the air, and the snake opened its mouth revealing sharp white teeth inside a pink mouth. The man felt the snake beginning to wrap itself around his legs, then pressure began to build over his belly, then his chest, as the snake began to squeeze the air out of his lungs. All the while the man and the snake stared at one another.
The man could also hear the struggle on the other side as physicians and nurses fired defibrillators and plunged needles into his chest, and he felt himself laughing at the temerity of these efforts. What could they hope to accomplish? Couldn't they see darkness coiled up even now choking the light out of his soul? All the man had to do was open his eyes and look into death; death was before him, holding him within its hypnotic grasp . . .
He felt his back give way, felt the tiger spring free of the rock as his head slipped to the cool granite, and he felt the tiger's roar start deep within the earth. The noise came on like a volcano, sharp and hot and full of fire, and the world withered under its furious assault. The man looked up at the snake as concussive waves of noise slammed into its coiled body, and he watched as its body rippled within the hideous blast. He felt the snake's hold on his life slipping, then watched as the tiger swung around and with outstretched paw swat the snakes head. The tiger then took the snake in its mouth and shook it; when the snake grew still the tiger tossed the body into the river, then the man watched the tiger walk to the water's edge and look down into the water. He watched as the tiger reacted to its reflection, and watched as the tiger turned to look at the stars, and he watched as the circle of life grew complete before his eyes.
The man held out his hand, and the tiger came to him. She looked down at him with what once the man might have called love, and she licked first his hand, then his face before she took his vest in her mouth and pulled the man to his feet.
They both heard it now; the sounds of the battle in its final stage as physician and nurse tried all they knew to keep death in abeyance, then they listened to the despair and pain as the healers moved off into the distance.
The man looked at the tiger, saw the love in her eyes, saw the connection they shared, and he moved to her side. He stroked her fur, then moved to walk by her side down the path by the water's edge.