They sat in a circle on the grass. They were all cross legged, like Indians, except Murray, who was outstretched with a hand holding up his head. He was chewing on a stalk of grass. He reminded Sam of the poet, Walt Whitman but he didn’t say so. They had eaten and drunk the remainder of Murray’s cider, to the old man’s disappointment. Reilly had just finished telling him about what had happened since they left him.
‘A piece of antler, you say?’ Murray said.
‘From the god, Cernnunos?’
‘And where is Cernunnos? Shouldn’t he be here with you?’
‘You know how reclusive he is,’ Reilly said.
‘And he expects us to clear up this mess? Typical!’ The others said nothing. ‘These gods. Why can’t they take care of their own? If Morpheo has gone crazy or power mad surely it’s up to them to look after it.’
‘That may be so,’ said the bhikku. ‘But Cernunnos is the only god I know. We can’t just leave things to some entities we have never even seen.’
‘That sounded almost Atheistic, bhikku,’ Murray said.
‘I’m no atheist,’ Reilly said.
‘I’ve a question,’ Sam said. ‘How come we haven’t been affected by this? I mean, I sleep and dream. How come I’m still sane?’
This was greeted by silence.
‘Maybe it’s because you’ve divine blood?’ Green said. ‘I mean, I’ve divine blood too.’
‘But we still dream, right? Plus, how come Reilly and Murray haven’t been affected? They have no such blood.’
‘Well, we’re both outsiders,’ said Murray. ‘Maybe it has nothing to do with blood.’
‘Or, maybe Morpheo has kept us sane,’ Sam said.
‘For what?’ Green said.
Sam was silent for few seconds before saying, ‘I don’t know. But I want to find out.’
‘Here, here,’ Murray said. ‘The lad wants to find out. He is truly the Sybarite.’
‘I thought you were against doing something about it,’ Reilly said to the Shaman.
‘I’m against us doing it alone.’
‘You’ll come with us?’ Reilly said.
‘No. Me and the girl have another path to take. But we’ll go some of the way.’
‘The path to the Otherworld. I want to know what the gods are going to do about this.’
‘Really?’ Sam said.
‘Do you mean that?’ Reilly said.
‘Yes but don’t think I’ve gone all humanitarian. Going to the Otherworld also happens to be the only way I can keep this young girl’s company. I’ve grown fond of her, even if she is just a ghost.’
‘You mean we’re going to the Otherworld? We’re going to see the gods?’ Tracy said, excitedly.
‘Looks like it,’ Murray said.
Suddenly, a voice from above spoke to them. ‘Well, what a splendid gathering we have here!’
They looked up and saw Morpheo standing a few feet away from them. His face was milk white, his short hair unruly and raven coloured. He wore what looked like a black karate suit. He held the antler in his right hand and smiled a cold, psychotic smile.
‘I’m surprised you made it this far,’ he said. ‘Old man, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can ever serve a purpose for the city again!’ he said, looking down on Murray. ‘You’ll never be more than a wino with delusions of grandeur. All you’re good for is drinking and smoking.’ He turned his attention to Sam. ‘And you, Sybarite, you think you have a role to play in this adventure? Well, let me tell you. It’s a farce. You think you can change your ways? You’ve about as much chance as you have of changing those leathers! You’re pathetic!’ He turned his attention to Green. ‘The Green man. What interest do you have in the city? In the people? All you care about is the forest. You’re nothing but a glorified tree hugger. Useless! Naïve!’ Then, looking at Reilly, he said, ‘and our bhikku! The monster killer! I think not! I think you’re the monster, Bhikku. You will never be a part of society. You will never have a role to play. In fact, you’re all monsters. You’ll never be accepted by the people. So, why do you care? I’ll tell you why you care. You care because you think you are good and that there is some good in people. In the world. Vanity! Don’t forget who I am. I’m the god of dreams. I know your hopes and aspirations. And I know your follies! I know what you and the people are made of and, believe me, goodness is not a part of it. Fools! You’re all fools! You think you can stop me? You think you can restore sanity? Don’t you know there is no going back? You’ve about as much chance as you have restoring the girl to life.’
‘We killed your dragon,’ Reilly said.
‘Yes. You did. And what a big mistake that was. You should have let me have what I wanted. Look at the monster you face now. Or, I should say, the monster you run from. How do you kill something you can’t see or touch? You say you treat monsters as real. How can you fight something that arguably doesn’t even exist?’
‘It’ll show itself. In time,’ Reilly said. ‘They always do.’
Morpheo nodded in silence, as if thinking about how to respond to this. In the end, he said, ‘that’s right, Bhikku. It’ll show itself. And then you’ll know what you are really facing.’ He held up the antler like a talisman for a few seconds, looking at them in silence, before turning around and walking away.
‘Well, that was unexpected,’ Reilly said. The others were despondent. Finally, Murray broke the silence by saying, ‘fuck him.’ He was sitting up cross legged like the others, no longer chewing on the stalk of grass.
‘I agree,’ said Green. ‘We should keep going. I’m not afraid of that asshole.’
‘Sam?’ Reilly said, looking at the Sybarite.
‘Well he might be right about the leathers but I say we should keep following him. I don’t have a choice, anyway. I can’t go back to the city.’
‘Murray, you said you were going to the Otherworld with Tracy,’ Reilly said. ‘Is this still your intention?’
‘Yes, it is. You know the pub, The Fisherman?’ Reilly shook his head. ‘Well, it’s about a mile from here, on the bank of the river. There’s an entrance to the Otherworld there. It’s in the cellar. Anyway, I need a few drinks…’
‘You ok with that, Tracy?’ Reilly said to the ghost.
‘Yes, of course. If it means I can leave the river.’
‘Ok. Let’s start moving again,’ the bhikku said.
‘The sky,’ Green said. ‘Look at the sky.’ The others did so. Dark clouds still writhed restlessly but they were shot through with rays of light.
‘Every cloud, man. Every cloud,’ said Reilly and they prepared to leave.
From A Bhikku’s Tale
By David Jordan