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Authors: Sarah A. Hoyt

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Crawling Between Heaven And Earth

BOOK: Crawling Between Heaven And Earth
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Crawling Between
Heaven And Earth
Sarah A. Hoyt

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright© 2002 by Sarah A. Hoyt
"Elvis Died for Your Sins" first appeared in
Weird Tales
, Spring 2000. "Like Dreams of Waking" first appeared in
Dark Regions Magazine
, Summer 1999. "Ariadne's Skein" first appeared in
???
"Thirst" first appeared in
Dreams of Decadence
, Summer 1997. "Dear John" first appeared in
Absolute Magnitude
, Summer, 2001. "Trafalgar Square" first appeared in
Analog
. "Another George" first appeared in
Dark Regions Magazine
, Winter/Spring 2001. "Songs" first appeared in
Weird Tales
. "The Green Bay Tree," "Thy Vain Worlds," and "Crawling Between Heaven and Earth" appear here for the first time.
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
www.baen.com
ISBN 10: 1-888993-29-4
ISBN 13: 978-1-888993-29-5
Cover Art Copyright © 2002 by A. B. Word
http://www.epilogue.net/cgi/database/art/list.pl?gallery=9457
First printing, September 2002
Printed in the United States of America

Elvis Died for Your Sins

Every year, when I catch the flu, I lose about two weeks of work to sitting in a truly enormous arm chair in my office and reading whatever is within easy reach. A victim of laziness and viruses, I have—literally found myself reading nineteenth century biology school books rather than getting up and finding more congenial reading material in my bookshelves. My friends and family are onto me. If they find a book they want me to read, they'll set it by my chair when I get sick. I think my friend who left the biography of Elvis Presley by my chair didn't do it on purpose. However, I still read it. And, since the quasi deification of Elvis Presley has always fascinated me, this story emerged.

 

"It's whom I'm dreamed that remains eternal. It's him whom I shall return."

Fernando Pessoa

 

Mid afternoon in Eternal Life, the only New Age Store in Lythia Springs, Colorado, tended to be quiet.

We were through with the lunch-time rush of power-vegetarian-executives and not yet up to the late-afternoon rush of college students in search of books on the Hermetic Order Of the Golden Dawn or those convenient Ouija board kits.

I'd taken my sandals off, grabbed a rice-cream popsicle from the freezer at the back of the store and sat down in the window seat behind the magical-crystal-jewelry counter, with my knees drawn up and the long skirt of my Indian print dress demurely drawn down to hide all but my toes.

My eyes half closed, I heard the rumbling talk coming from the book section.

"Archetypes can come alive. You really must read this book, it takes the thesis of the Golden Bough one step further. You know, the one about the divinization of dead chieftains. It maintains that not only did humanity worship these . . .beings, but that they were actually called into existence by this worship and assumed, not the flawed mortal envelopes in which they had truly existed, but perfect archetypes."

A male voice. Probably a college professor, I thought, from the boring, slow, "I'm going to impart this knowledge whether you want it or not" tone. My first husband had been a college professor. I made a face at the memory.

"Oh, you mean they would take the form expected of them, like John Keel claims happens with UFOs and men in black and fairies . . ." A young woman's voice. Buttering the guy up for the kill? Trust me, honey, not worth it.

"Yes, in a way. They're brought to life by the collective subconscious. Perhaps they existed in another form, some spiritual form." A bout of nervous laughter. "I'm not sure I like the idea of all those idolized rock stars and actors walking around long after death, not even in archetype form. And yet, the idea is so elegant, like something out of Jung, something resonating of the shared collective subconscious"

He continued, on and on, in slow, rolling language, full of names and quotes. His female companion listened in silence and presumed raptness. I sighed and ate my rice-cream and kept my mouth shut. The pickups that took place in this store were as unusual as everything else.

"Mariann?"

I opened my eyes.

My boss, Elroy Peters, owner of Eternal Life, stood by the batik curtain that hid the store area from our warehouse and staff kitchen, what had once been the servants quarters of this converted Victorian. A tall man with snow-white hair, thin to the point of gauntness, Elroy stood as always with his hip tilted to one side and his lower lip poked out, in a way that reminded me of someone, but I could never make out whom. His pruned old face showed. "Hasn't Jonni shown up yet?"

I shook my head.

"Wasn't she supposed to have been here at ten?"

I nodded.

"It's not like her," Elroy said. "She might be many things, but she's also punctual to the minute." He normally spoke in an odd way that Jonni called "chewing on the words." Agitation made it even worse, and brought out his too-perfect-to-be-true good-ol'boy southern accent.

And he had some reason to be agitated. Jonni, our resident college-student-ditsy-blonde, had never been this late. And Elroy, rightly or wrongly, thought that he was responsible for all of us.

"I've called her," I said. "But there was no answer."

Elroy frowned, threw back a white cowlick. "Mark supposed to come in?"

"At two," I said.

"Tell me when he gets in . . .maybe we can go out and see if there's anything wrong with Jonni." He disappeared into the back, so fast that he gave the impression of walking through the virulently colored batik curtain.

"Miss?" a young man's voice.

I turned away from the curtain that hung motionless, as though no one had gone near it, and looked at the young man who stood at the other end of the counter. "Yes?"

"I'm . . .I'm not sure how to put this," he said. He had wild green eyes and wilder hair and beard in a shade of red not normally seen outside Crayola boxes. His voice came out in odd fits and starts. "But . . .my spirit just took over this body. I'm an advanced soul from the Gorianth sphere and I'm here to lead humanity, but I'm not sure"

Ah, a walk-in. Our daily bread. I took a final bite of my rice-cream. "You want walk-ins. Book section. Fourth set of shelves to the right, in the sunroom area. We have several books that will give you further insight into humanity on Earth and what you're expected to tell them."

"Thanks," he said, flashing odd metal-capped teeth.

I watched his retreating back for so long that I missed Mark's approach until he came behind the counter and almost within touching distance. "Problem?" he asked.

"Nah," I said. "A walk-in. From the Gorianth sphere."

Mark raised his perfect black eyebrows over his bright blue eyes. "No kidding. Another one? It's the tenth since the psychic fair."

"Yeah." I looked at the stick for my rice-cream. The licked clean stick said LIFE IS SENSELESS WITHOUT BELIEF. Well, then, I thought to myself, I shouldn't work at a New Age store. Nothing jaded you quicker. "Elroy wanted to know when you came in."

Mark frowned. He took off his bright blue tapestry jacket, shoved it out of sight under the counter. "Why?"

"Jonni hasn't come in. I think he had some idea of going out and checking on her."

"She had an argument with her boyfriend last night," Mark said, pulling out the schedule sheet to write in the time he'd arrived. "At the Catering Turnip."

Mark played his acoustic guitar and sang his own songs at the Catering Turnip, a vegetarian restaurant. He was such a nice guy I'd never had the courage to tell him that he was too late to be the next Bob Dylan. Even Bob Dylan didn't want to be Bob Dylan anymore.

"Big row," he said, looking up at the clock on the wall and writing down a time ten minutes earlier. "He left her to pick up the check, and she didn't have any cash and I had to lend her money. She left in tears. I expected to hear the entire soap opera today."

I found my sandals with my feet. It didn't sound good. As I made my way to the back I thought that the more I heard about this, the less I liked it. Jonni always took her boyfriends so seriously and she picked them with the same recklessness that led other people to play Russian roulette. "If the guy who wants to be possessed calls, tell him we don't have any particular relationship with supernatural entities and he'll have to find his own way to damnation," I told Mark just before I ducked through the batik curtain.

"What?" he asked, for once surprised.

"Some guy who wants instructions on how to become possessed," I said. "He's trying to get over a fundamentalist upbringing, he says. He called five times this morning. Probably will call again, trying to get a different answer."

Mark gave me a bewildered half smile, as if not sure whether to believe me.

I opened the batik curtain and went it, letting it swing closed behind me.

Elroy was half-hidden by a pile of cardboard boxes marked with BLUE GREEN ALGAE. HANDLE WITH CARE.

"Mark is here," I told him. "If you want to go out or whatever."

"Come with me," he said. "To take care of business."

I hesitated. Like everyone in this store, Elroy was all right but slightly different, like his whole concept of reality hung slightly askew. And I had never fully got over the impression that one day one of them was going to pull out a big ritual knife and sacrifice me to the god or goddess of his or her choice.

"In case I need help, young un. Come on."

"You could take Mark," I demurred.

But Elroy shook his head. "And leave you here alone? Not right for a young lady."

After two failed marriages and in my mid-thirties, I didn't really feel like a young lady, but I bit back my response. I didn't particularly want to hang around and talk to the possession aspirant, either.

I made a quick detour to inform Mark that I'd be going with Elroy and left through the front door.

Elroy waited in the parking lot, warming up his car, a white Eldorado with huge tail fins and pink accents.

Inside, teddy bears in pastel colors filled all except the driver's seat. I tried not to bat an eye as I said, people at Eternal Life store were odd and started to push the teddy bears off the seat onto the floor. Elroy gave me a freezing glare, took the teddy bears and put them in the backseat, next to ten hundred or so of their near relatives.

"You know where Jonni lives?" I asked, as he started up his car.

He nodded and mumbled, "Employment application."

As though he thought I'd suspect him of an illicit affair with Jonni, who must be all of seventeen. I told him about what Mark had said of Jonni, to forestall any more such nonsense.

We drove deeper into the old Victorian district of Lythia Springs, past the zone where houses were converted into shops, through the zone where the houses were houses, each one with a tended lawn to rival the most conventional of suburbs and on to the zone of houses chopped up into apartments, with beer cans on the window sills, and dried-up, dusty front yards.

Elroy pulled up in front of a narrow, violet townhouse.

As he got out of the car, the sun shone on his belt buckle, a huge gold-and-fake-jewels affair with the initials EP picked out in would-be rubies. I shook my head. I'd never noticed the thing. Then again, I didn't normally go around staring at my boss's belt buckle.

I walked up the maltreated concrete steps to the violet door. Elroy looked in the fly-specked window to the left. "Too dirty," he mumbled. "Can't see a darn thing."

I rang the bell, tried the massive brass doorknob.

"Is it open?" Elroy asked.

"No," I said, giving the doorknob a final shove.

"Here," he said. "Let me try."

"Be my guest." I stepped back and he took my place. The sun shone off something, probably his belt buckle, enveloping the knob in a blinding white light. He turned it. "It was unlocked after all."

The door opened with a mighty creak.

I frowned at the doorknob and followed Elroy into the dark living room. It was decorated in
early college student
, with sheets of batik in reddish brown tenting the ceiling, covering the walls and draped over the two shapeless sofas.

On the right hand sofa, Jonni lay. "Jonni," I called, making my way around piles of books and mounds of dirty clothes.

"Jonni."

She lay on her stomach, in her long T-shirt nightgown, and she didn't move. Her long blond hair covered her face.

"Jonni," I called. But even before I knelt by her side and put my hand on her cold, cold neck to feel for an nonexistent pulse, I knew that she was dead. The cause wasn't that far to seek, either. Several empty prescription-labeled bottles lay scattered on the floor near the sofa.

Shocked, gasping, not sure yet what I felt, I yelled out, "She's dead. Don't touch anything." Just as if this were some stupid murder mystery.

BOOK: Crawling Between Heaven And Earth
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