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A Simple Handshake
Alice C. Bateman & Clive S. Michie
Ryan was getting restless. Seventeen, he’d been out of school since his sixteenth birthday. He’d never gotten along very well with authority, and he still laughed over the fact that his principal had circled his sixteenth birthday on the calendar in his office; the day when Ryan would be old enough to leave the school for good.
A few months ago, Ryan had left his Mom’s house to stay with a relative in Hamilton, and was now living part of the time in a shared apartment downtown, part of the time at his uncle’s house.
Work did not appeal to Ryan, although living hand to mouth without a steady job was getting difficult. With the increasingly warm weather, his feet were getting more and more itchy to get out on the road. Maybe he’d hitchhike out west, look up his uncles that had lived out there for years, and particularly the aunt he remembered from his childhood.
Aunt Sally was unusual, to put it mildly. She’d settled in Calgary in the early nineties, and hadn’t made any move to return to Ontario yet. If Ryan wanted to see her, he figured he’d have to go to her. She never had time on her visits home to spend real personal time with anyone in particular in the family, and certainly not one nephew out of so many.
But Ryan felt closer to Aunt Sally than to the rest of the family. She had her own mind, and talked in a language that Ryan could relate to. She talked of visions and dreams and magic as if they were real. She was the magical princess of Ryan’s childhood fantasies.
Aunt Sally’s ex-husband had beaten her very badly once, when Ryan was about five. But his smallness hadn’t prevented him from planning how he would have defended his favorite aunt if he’d been in the room, or from planning the revenge he might take when he was grown. He still thought about it today, and would love to just beat the hell out of the creep, maybe do him in completely, but he didn’t even know where to find him now, couldn’t remember his last name. Aunt Sally had gone back to using her maiden name immediately after they’d separated.
Ryan smiled just thinking about her. His stupid ex-uncle had actually done him a favor, because Aunt Sally had come to live with him and his Mom for several months after that incident. She’d spent a lot of time with the young Ryan, forming an impression of her kindness and her loving heart in the boy that had never faded. He’d been sorry to see her move to Calgary a couple of years later, but every time she’d come home for a visit, she’d seemed happy and peaceful.
Finally, Ryan understood what it was that Auntie Sally had smoked when he was little. He laughed at the memory of Auntie’s special cigarettes, ones she had to hand roll. As soon as Ryan had started smoking pot and hash, he’d recognized what it was his aunt had been using a long time ago. That just made her seem even cooler in his mind. She’d called it “God’s Medicine” and now that he smoked it himself, he knew why.
Ryan was hanging around Jackson Square in downtown Hamilton, along with about fifteen other teenagers. This was a perfect spot to panhandle for cigarette money during the day, but it had closed at nine. In a good day of panning, Ryan could usually make enough for food, smokes, and a dime bag of herb. He knew he should get a job, his Mom’s voice was always in his head telling him he should, but he tried to drown it out with whatever drugs might be going around.
A couple of the major dealers who operated downtown had tried to get Ryan to distribute for them, and he’d tried it, but didn’t like the pressure and deadlines, or their runners bugging him for money all day long. Which meant that he didn’t get any more free stuff to smoke, but, in the long run, not dealing was more important to Ryan than the free smoke. The cops hassled him a lot for nothing; he really didn’t want to get stopped with a thousand dollars and a bunch of drugs in his pocket. Or the gun that went along with that lifestyle.
Ryan sat down on the steps leading up to the roof of the downtown mall. He needed to just get going. Get away from the street people, the hustlers, the guys that always wanted to pick a fight because Ryan had a reputation for being tough and hard to beat. Why was it that every jerk in a twenty-mile radius with more muscles than brains seemed to come out of the woodwork on nights when Ryan was tired and discouraged?
‘If this picture doesn’t change soon,’ Ryan thought, ‘I might actually have to think about getting some work.’ God, what a thought! He’d worked lots of different jobs since he’d been out of school, mostly industrial temps, but lately the thought of going out to work every day just… He couldn’t even find words to identify how it made him feel, he only knew that he couldn’t do it right now. He felt a strong pull to hit the road, and knew he’d be doing it soon. He tried to think of what he’d need, and how he’d go about getting it. He got up and started walking in the direction of the apartment he shared with his friend Ben. He had plenty to think about.
As Ryan walked, Dan and Eugene were beginning to feel that they could fly. A couple of hours into their spirit journey, they were both still sitting near the fire. To their eyes, which were just about to leave the earth bound plane altogether, the fire had become a phantasmagoric display, magical animals and birds with long fiery tails, trails of light streaming from them after each motion. Even the stars seemed to dance in the sky. The full silver moon appeared to hover hugely at tree top level, pulsating with light, shooting bright rays out from itself.
The night was magic; Dan was lifted right out of his everyday existence, much higher than he’d ever been. If he’d been capable of thinking at all, he would have thought about how wonderful it was to be free, but Dan was well beyond thought at this stage. His whole being was becoming focused on the inner realm, although his eyes still drank in the wondrous colors and lights around him.
Inside his head, a voice told Dan to close his eyes. He did. His eyelids seemed to become a screen projecting a multi-colored spiral, twirling endlessly. He opened his eyes again because the effect made him feel faintly nauseous. Bodily sensations were far removed, but the nausea somehow reached into his euphoria and disturbed him momentarily.
He glanced at Eugene, who had been grinning now for hours, it seemed to Dan. He saw his friend’s lips move and his hand rise, trails of light following each finger. Dan shook his head to indicate that he couldn’t hear what his friend was saying. Well, he could hear sounds, but they didn’t make any sense to him.
Very slowly it seemed, Eugene’s right hand reached over and gripped Dan’s left one. The joining of their hands created an immediate connection between the two men, their thoughts and memories intermingling in a confused jumble. But making both men completely aware of each other.
Strangely enough, joined like this, it was easy for Dan to hear and understand Eugene. He was saying, “OK, Dan, ready to go for a trip where you’ve got no use for luggage?”
Dan just tilted his head back and laughed. “Haven’t we already left?”
“Well, son, we’ve taken the first couple of steps, but now we’re about to embark on the interplanetary tour segment. Hang onto me, and I’ll stay with you.” Eugene replied.
Dan nodded, and tightened his grip on Eugene’s hand. He found he couldn’t focus well enough to form any words.
“Ready?” Eugene asked.
Dan nodded mutely. He suddenly felt a kind of rush, like wind gusting quickly through his body, and his spirit soared free. He looked to his right, where Eugene was still holding his hand, and laughed aloud at the sight of Eugene’s own spirit body, an ephemeral form that changed as Dan watched. The big man seemed to go from a see-through version of his own image, to only a large shape of light with a tendril still attached to Dan.
Curious, he looked down along his own body, and saw the same changes occurring to himself. It flashed briefly across his mind that he should be frightened. But he wasn’t, he felt wonderful, free, blissful. He would almost swear there was music in the air.
He heard the sound of Eugene’s voice in his mind.
“Isn’t this wonderful, Dan? Glad you came?”
Dan replied in his head, “Wooooooooooo-haaaaaaaaaa! I’ve never felt so good in my life!”
The sound of Eugene’s deep rumbling laughter sounded inside Dan, making him laugh in response.
Dan looked down at the earth receding below them, growing smaller and smaller as their spirit forms flew at an incredibly fast speed away from the planet. The full moon took on enormous proportions.
“Hey, where we going anyway?” Dan asked Eugene.
“To talk to God,” Eugene replied with another deep laugh.
“Hey, I’m serious here!”
“So am I.” Eugene answered, still laughing.
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