FICTION: The Dragon’s Lair

Magical Realism Short Fiction By Kaelan Strouse   (5,800 words – 25 min read time)

 

“I know who you really are,” the grubby man spoke as he peered at me through one, droopy-lidded eye.  The other eye was patched and covered.  “You can’t hide from us.  We know… we can always know our own kind.”

He began to cackle; I pulled away from him.  How could he know anything about me?  This vagabond, this street performer?

And yet…

Yet there was this spark of recognition when I saw him.  Something about him that hummed a familiar harmony to the song within my own soul.

He stared at me through his one good eye.  A knowing stare.

“The answers for which you seek are below ground.  Go there and know yourself.”

With that, he and his many layers of coats turned; scooped up his open violin case; and shuffled off into the bustling Michigan Avenue streets.  The Christmastime crowds swallowed him up in their excitement over newfound treasures to bring home to loved ones.

Meanwhile, the flurries danced around all of us in the cold, December air.

I wondered how he could know?  That for the past many weeks, as I have set out for my evening walks, I’ve kept finding myself being drawn to the same route… below ground? Down to the lower levels of Chicago’s vast underground network of roads.  A labyrinthine nest of crisscrossing alleyways beneath the pedestrian hubbub of the city.

I stopped tracing his disappearance through the crowds and quickly glanced at my watch.  Oh shit. Late again, I chastised myself.

I clutched my “To Go” bag tighter as I sprinted around the tourists and the shoppers ogling store windows featuring wares that were priced far too expensively for their respective costs of manufacturing.

I’ve worked in one of the gleaming towers on the Magnificent Mile for two years now.  A tall, stone and concrete block with crystalline eyes that shine out over the teeming masses below.

As beautiful and festive as the streets below have been for the holiday season, my office was counterpointly bleak and bland.

Gray walls.  Gray cubicles.  Gray, little men and women with tired eyes and defeated shoulders shuffling papers back and forth alongside reams of pointless emails.  Monies sent and received.  Bills paid or owed.  Projects in process or completed.

And all of this meant exactly nothing to me.

The elevator dinged, allowing me entrance, and rushed me up the thirty-seven stories to a pool of boringness in the air.

My supervisor, Tom, a short, stubby man with bespeckled eyes and a constant air of sniffing something that smelled like shit hovered by the entrance.

He looked at me.  He didn’t comment on my being late from lunch, but his glare communicated all that he needed to convey: thorough disapproval.  It were as if ‘thorough disapproval’ were his creed in life.  Constantly letting his employees know that they could be optimizing their time more effectively, being more productive.  Wasting less, doing more.  If he could replace everyone with machines, it would make his small, joyless heart glad.  Machines wouldn’t need obligatory breaks or paid sick leave.  They could work 24-hours straight with no complaints.

I bowed my head slightly as I scurried past him, as if to acknowledge that I understood the implications of his leer.  I slipped around a few corners and into my cubical.  I had tried to liven my surroundings up with a bit of twinkly garland and some holiday cards pinned to the walls.  I wedged a photo of some loved ones wearing Santa hats in one corner.  The organization had always disapproved of too overt decorating or personalizing of one’s workspace.  They wanted everything clean and uniform.   They wanted the grayness to seep into the very corners of our souls.

How did I end up here?

Another day.  Another dozen spreadsheets completed.  I looked up at the clock: nearly three o’clock.  Nearly time for early dismissal.  They’ve pandered these perks to us as if they were huge gifts to be cherished: an extra two hours off on the Fridays between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  How generous.  How beneficent.

Why did I choose this life?  Did I even choose it?  Or did I just end up here?

When I ate my lunch, I hardly even tasted it.  Absorbed in my work.  A ham sandwich on rye with a pickle and coleslaw that tasted as bland and soulless as my surroundings. The suffocating monotony of the job sucked the flavor out of even the best, local delicatessen’s signature dish.

Another hour to go.  Then, another thirty minutes.

And not at all too soon…  it is finally time to depart.

I flick off my monitor; power down my computer.  Pack up my satchel and my gym clothes.  Every morning I hit the building’s gym seven floors below.  An escape from the madness above; a chance to stretch and move my body.  A chance to hit something, often with an image of my boss’s face superimposed on it in my mind.   A chance to let out some heat, some aggression.

I have the sweaty clothes from this morning bundled up.  I will wash them this weekend.

I used to walk home straight from work; I live only twelve blocks away.  But I haven’t done so for some time now.  Not since the home I have to walk into is now empty.  Half the possessions gone.  Half of what used to make my apartment a home were absconded with in the night by someone I had once considered my love.

Since then, my house has been merely a place to store my stuff.  A place with half-emptied cupboards and half slept-in sheets.

So after work: I walk.  Sometimes for hours.

At first, I walked all over the city.  Exploring the many parks, bridges, and fountains that the glorious Daniel Burnham and his successors installed in Chicago’s waterfront.  But more recently, I’ve again and again found myself heading to the same place: Lower Wacker Drive and its environs.  I can not for certain say why.  There is just something… about it.

My mind flashes again to the grubby violinist that accosted me on the street earlier this afternoon.  “I know who you are,” he said.  “I know what you’re longing for and why you keep walking to the same place blow ground, night after night,” or something along those lines, I think, is what he said to me.

Down the elevator.  Thirty-seven floors and then, Ding!

I shoot out through the lobby like a bird escaping its cage; out into the street.  The snow has stopped and the sky is clear.  It might be only three p.m., but the sky is already almost dark.  The solstice is upon us and by four p.m., it will truly be nighttime.

The wooden soles of my shoes make gritty clacks against the wet concrete.  They’ve salted already in premeditation of the ice that will come when the sun fully sets its hazy head.

I turn a corner.  Down Ohio street, towards the Pier.  Tourists and children gather here alike for the Ferris Wheel and gardens.  The city has tried to make it less touristy of late but has only moderately succeeded.

Over the river, onto a bridge with swift moving cars and boarded up exits and entrances.  It was erected at a time when the city government was more trusting of its civilians to safely egress through stone stairways towards the river below.  From there I walk up to the permanently moored ship in the water that serves as some sort of yacht club for those bourgeois enough to afford their own boats… and then over the snow-laden, grassy hill and into the dark beneath.

Upper Wacker, Lower Wacker, Water Street, Lower Lower Wacker.  Three or four stories of roads built on top of each other… most of them in dusky twilight, illuminated only by sparse, orange street lamps.  The further down one goes, the more deserted and less evenly lit it becomes.  Apparently the lights down here used to be green; they used to call this area ‘Emerald City.’

And even from these deepest levels… more corridors leading further down.  Some of them with no lights at all.

There is something about this area… perhaps it is the isolation in the otherwise noisy city.  Perhaps it is the sense of un-knowing, of mystery. …There is just something about it for me.  A feeling.

For all my life, I have always had feelings I couldn’t quite name.  Premonitions, almost.  Sometimes, a sense of when something critical were about to occur.  Or, sometimes, a sense of being in the right place at the right time to encounter a person who would prove to be of significance to my journey ahead.  Finding things at the exact moment I most needed them.

This intuitiveness makes it all the odder that I accepted a position at a mercantile company so at odds with my passions and purpose in life.  A place that kills spontaneity and joy rather than creates it.

I brush the side of my shoe against the concrete gutter.  The accumulated dust flutters up into the air in dancing spirals.  Whether it is so dirty because none of the city street sweeping machines have bothered to make it this far down of late or because this area serves as a rainy basin where water and debris can too frequently accumulate, I do not know.  But this part of the city is indeed filthy.  Covered in layers of dusty grime a millimeter thick.   I like it here, but I know not a reason why I should.  It isn’t the least visually appealing.

The logical part of my brain knows it is unsafe to be here by myself.  None of the kevlar-laden policemen or women patrol these areas.  It is too quiet, too abandoned, except for the speeding vehicles trying to escape the traffic above.  I logically know that any sort of unsavory characters could be lurking in one of these shadows.  They might have a need to cause pain or perhaps a simple desire to claim a wristwatch for their own.  Apart from my coat, I really do not have much of value on my person.   The crime in the city has gotten better, but it still isn’t great.  Perhaps I should be more careful?  My hair is parted perhaps a little too neatly to avoid notice from those looking for an easy score.

Suddenly, I hear coughing from around the next corner.  Someone or someones are waiting and gathering nearby.  I pause.  ‘Should I move forward?’ I wonder.  I don’t see any great alternatives around me.

After a moment’s hesitation, instead of continuing forward on this route I’ve walked before, I turn to my left.  Abandoned.  No noise coming from it.

And it is dark.  Nearly dark as pitch.  I can barely see the shadowy shapes surrounding me.  Some areas of these lower, lower areas seem even less frequented than others.   This one seems entirely forgotten.  How could anyone function down here to make deliveries or proceed with any purposes whatsoever when they cannot see?

Up until this point, I’ve always stayed where the lamps burned brightest.  I realize that I now have three options: go back the direction from whence I came, take the street where the expectorating individual lingers, or forge ahead into the thick darkness.

I decide to continue onwards, again against my better judgment.  I fish around for my cell phone in my pocket.  Perhaps, I can find more reassurance with a little illumination without attracting too much unwanted attention.

I flick open the control pane, press the button that ignites the LED as a lightbulb, and journey on.

This street smells almost earthy, I realize.  The walls and ground feel wetter here.  Dank.  There are signs of vegetation starting to creep through the walls and concrete slabs under my feet.  Little mossy and viney things sprouting their verdant heads into the black abyss around me.

The city is quieter, too, I observe.  The distant sounds of the roaring and beeping trucks and cabs seem fainter.  I realize this street feels… older.  As if it were one of the original streets of early Chicago, buried deep beneath the steel and glass parapets above.

And perhaps it is.  The city raised the street level of downtown not too many generations ago.  Maybe I am setting foot on an older, more exotic part of the Chicago that once was.  Buried between the foundations of gleaming skyscrapers.

I take several steps forward.  I loft my cellphone light above me as if I’m Indiana Jones exploring some mystic’s cave, expecting boobytraps to be triggered at any step.  There’s no rubbish here, I notice.  No garbage cans, no soda cans, no litter.  The walls and floor have suddenly become brick.  That’s a very unusual sight amidst the modern jungle around us.  It’s been many years since cobblestone had been employed in construction uses in these parts.  I thought all of it had been torn up and discarded by now.

Further in yet, and the mossy, earthy smell continues to grow.  It feels… warmer, too.  Like I’m being cradled by the Earth.  The ground is now curving downwards beneath my feet.  In the dim light ahead, I begin to discern that the street culminates in a cobblestone archway.  I notice that on the sides of the vestibule are sheets of iron riveted to the walls.  Something had been welded or wrought onto each of the plates of metal, but have since been ripped off.  Perhaps there had been torches mounted there; there are soot marks on the rough bricks above.

I step cautiously up to the archway.   Strange to see this style of craftsmanship here.  Metal doors I see all the time down here.  Barbed wire, too.  But this… it seems almost to beckon to me like a gateway to another world.  A portal.  A wardrobe.

I peer my light through the opening and see stone steps circling down and out of sight.

Now, this is even more highly unusual.  I haven’t seen steps like this, or nary any steps at all going down… I am already so far down, probably even beneath the water line of the river already.  There’s a chance this may be an egress for the transit or sewage tunnels below, but those are always fenced off and locked tight.  They tend to have an industrial, unused look; like they had been built for regular passage but have since been abandoned. But this looks… frequented.  There is no other way to describe it.  People have been here with some regularity.  I can feel it.

I peer closer to the stonework.  It appears to be well over a century old.  I see stamps in the bricks dating back to the eighteen hundreds.  It has held up remarkably well.  Some of the bricks are crumbling or lacking their edges… but it’s remarkably clean.  Like someone has taken the care to scrub the walls.  And there’s… there’s a life about this place that is stark in contrast to the gray filth and modern construction of all the areas I’ve walked in hitherto.

As I lean against the pillar of bricks preceding the steps… I hear a distant drumming.  Drumming? I wonder.  Down here?   Like a heartbeat, only faster.  The sound of distant banging, in time, moving in complex and weaving rhythms.

It doesn’t sound like the street performers from above ground, with their flipped-over, five-gallon, white buckets and improvised drumsticks.  Begging pedestrians to leave them a buck for their musical aspirations.

No… it sounds more… tribal, I would almost say.

The rhythm moves something in me… a feeling reminiscent of the sound beat of my ex-lover’s heart when I would lay on his chest and count the moments of my existence by the silences between thuds.  Or… the melodies of a civilization, far removed from this urban sprawl, who called to their ancestors through the ritualistic banging of drums.

I know without being told that it is a drumbeat of significance and importance, even as distant as it is from where I currently stand; I can tell it serves a greater need.

I feel a longing.  A deep desire within me that I haven’t felt since… since.  Since I know not when?  I would have said that night I met Bryan, my ex.  But no, this extends even back further than that. A deep pull within me.  An itch so deep in my psyche that it reaches into the core of my very soul.

This inspires in me a sensation that I haven’t felt since I was a child.  From when I believed that anything was possible and magic was as real as the snow that danced before our windowpanes every December.

And before I can even realize what I’m doing, I discover my feet are carrying me down the steps.

I’ve passed the archway; and with great haste, I am descending.  Down and down and down I go.  Circling these stone steps that are cascading onwards.

Level by level in tight, serpentine spirals.  Like traversing the interior column of a great cathedral.  I’m being pulled—drawn—by an unseen force.

As I descend into the levels below, the drumming gets louder and the air even warmer.  Soon, I am regretting my coat and hat.  It’s positively sultry.

Now, the vibration from the drumming is feeling very present around me.  The walls are resounding with the rhythms.  It is moving within me a feeling that language can never adequately describe.  The closest that I can parallel this experience to is the sensation of when two people are in the throws of passion, nearing climax; and their bodies are fully in sync, moving together as one.  And the fervor builds and lifts; and there is energy pulsing through them like a madness.  A feeling of creation, and that they could be capable of doing anything, even beyond the limits of physical practicality.  That they, in that space, feel beyond human.  Transcendent.

That’s how I feel as I circle these final few repetitions of stairs.  That’s how I feel, still, as my feet carry me beyond the final steps and into a dimly lit corridor beyond.

I am well, well below the city now.  Perhaps even beneath the foundations of the river.

Here, wrought iron torches smolder, riveted to the walls.  It’s firelight, but very dim.  There are four on each wall preceding a heavy, wooden and iron-bound door at the far end.  It is through this door that the drumming is emanating.

It is through this door that my soul is vibrating.  Towards which my whole existence is being dragged.

I can not turn away now, even if I wanted.  Even if I could.  Like metal shavings being pulled to a magnet against their will, I am being pulled to this door and whatever lies beyond it.  I am feeling a completeness unlike anything I have ever felt before or fear I will ever feel again.

This is heaven, and I am in ecstasy as I traverse the evenly-laid flagstone slabs beneath my feet.

As I cross the room, I abandon my hat and coat. I’m in my shirtsleeves and pants again, as I was in my office.  But now, I am sweating from every pore.  And it isn’t from the warmth alone.

It’s from the vibration within every cell of my body in time and tune with the rhythms dancing ahead.  I have to blink my eyes to clear the sweat trailing off my brow.

As I reach the door I sense, rather than see, that it is made of ancient oak.  Oak that has been here so long that the much of the softer parts of the tissue have been worn away, leaving heavily raised ridges from the tougher layers of Xylem.

I place my hand on the braided, metal latch.  It’s in the shape of an ornate serpent biting its own tail.  I clasp it firmly in my right hand, turn it clockwise, and pull the heavy door towards myself.

My left-hand flicks closed my light.  I don’t need it now, and I don’t necessarily want to alert the occupants in the room beyond of my presence immediately upon entering.  I’m sure they will notice the door opening, but I don’t need to add the artificial, daylight-tinted, LED light to further highlight my arrival.

In the room beyond…  Well, there’s really no way to fully explain what I see.  To be honest, even staring for several seconds, it takes my eyes more time than I have given them to make sense of the landscape.

The first thing I observe is the movement.  Whether human or some other sort of creature, I cannot immediately discern; there is flowing, undulating dance ahead of me.  Flailing wings of gaussian material swirl before me in complex and synchronized patterns.  After a moment I realize that it is young men and women in elaborate and feathered attire dancing in perfect unison around large, hulking objects.

There are giant, glowing orbs.  Well, actually, they’re more egg-like in shape. Standing four to five feet high and appearing to be made of internally-lit alabaster.  All golden-hued and veined with dark splotches throughout their exteriors.  They are some of the most magnificent examples of stone workmanship and luminosity I’ve ever encountered.  They glow and dim themselves in rhythm with the dancers and the unseen drummers that must be somewhere nearby.

There are five of these giant eggs surrounding an emerald, glittering mountain between them.  This hulking mass must be seven feet high and thirty feet long, around all of which these dancers sweep themselves.  The landmass is made of snakeskin-like material, but each scale is reflective- …no, self-illuminating.  It sparkles and swims with tones of magenta and blue and gives off a faint glow.  There are mounds and ridges…

And as I look closer and longer, I realize that it is not an non-living thing at all… but some sort of breathing creature.  It looks like a giant, crouching lizard of some sort.  Yes, I can see it’s tail and legs curled around itself.  Its head and neck are turned away from me, so I cannot examine it closely.

I take two steps forward.  Against my will, the door silently shuts behind me.  I sense rather than hear it click; and as I try to feel for the latch on this side, my fingers tell me that there is none.  I reach for some way to reopen the door, but my searching fingers turn up empty.

With a great clash the music crescendos and abruptly silences.  Emptiness fills the room.   The dancers pause, erect themselves to their full height, and as one: turn to face me.  Standing stock-still and breathless, they all turn their gazes on me.

I sweat more.  I start to stammer.  I want to excuse myself.  To apologize for intruding.  To express my regrets and attempt to extradite myself from the surroundings.  But no words come.  I can no more squeak as make any sort of coherent statement.

Still, they stand… staring.  Why don’t they say something?!  Move in some way?!  I would, if I were able… I’m stuck, stone still.

And that’s when the glittering, green mountain in front of me begins to sway.  It starts to lift itself up… climbing up onto its scaly legs… and the great creature’s neck turns my direction.  Unwrapping vertebrae by vertebrae, the creature leverages its head towards me.  Now I see, it’s more a stegosaurus than a lizard.  Its triangular head faces me directly and the creature’s amber eyes take me in.  Its pupils are star-shaped and purple.   It stares into my eyes with the wisdom of a being more ancient and worldly than any human I’ve ever encountered.  It stares into the depths of my being, the core of me from which my consciousness emanates.

Come, the dragon says.  But he does not use words.

I do not know how I know that ‘he’ is a he.  But I do.  With certainty beyond articulation, I know that this dragon (it is a dragon, I know that too) is male and wants me to follow him.

His heavy steps reverberate through the cavern in which we are standing.  He turns his head and body towards a dark archway opposite from where I stand, on the far, diagonal corner of the room.  He marches one step at a time towards the darkness.  The men and women around us back themselves to the walls and bow in deep reverence to the ancient beast as he departs their presence.

As I cross the stone floor, worn smooth with age and regular use, I glance at the supplicated dancers around me.  They aren’t all young, now that I look closer.  Some look positively ancient.  Nearly as old as the dragon creature surely must be.  But watching them move… their fluidity, their grace… I would have been sure that the eldest could have only been nineteen.  They were all so spritely and agile; they moved effortlessly.

Men and women of all different ages, colors, and body shapes.  Some very attractive, others not.  As I glide across the room, eyes are darting up to meet mine, but for only the merest flashes.  They then return their focus to the stone floor beneath them.

For being such a heavy and gigantic animal, the dragon moves quickly through the archway.  The room is now empty of his presence.  My feet are carrying me again, for if my body were responding to my own desires at this moment, I would assuredly turn heel and flee the opposite way.  Or stay rooted in the spot where I formerly stood, unable to move.  Instead, I find myself traversing the space more quickly and assuredly than I actually feel at this moment.  I should be in blind terror of the situation in which I find myself.  I should be running to hide.  But, instead, I’m not afraid.

My heart is racing… but it is not in fear.  It is in anticipation.  I am longing for whatever is on the other side of this stone archway like I am longing for Bryan to return.  Like I am longing for my favorite toy from childhood.  Like I am longing for every hope that I have ever lost.

I approach the darkness.

I step inside.

The room beyond is not as entirely dark as I anticipated.  It is large, with a low ceiling.  The furthest wall is maybe sixteen feet away.  There are boxes and barrels scattered about.  And crouched against the wall opposite me is this self-illuminating dragon.  Giving off a pale, green light… that somehow makes the room feel warm and welcoming, rather than sickly.

Sit, he commands.  Again without words.

I find myself crosslegged on the floor.  I don’t remember getting down here.

Tell me why you have come, he calls.

I hardly know what to say.  I don’t know why I am here.  I don’t even know where here is.  And I certainly didn’t have a well thought out reason for barging my way into their arcane ritual.

But words, words I did not know I had, are pouring out of my mouth.

“Because I knew… I knew that there was a truth down here far beyond the one being sold to me in the world above.  More than the shops, and the t.v. shows, and the horrible bosses can give me.  That there is a truth beyond logic, beyond thought, in the shadowy gloom beneath the city streets.  Because… for all of my life… I have been looking for you!”

I said those last words with an assurance that I did not know I possessed.  I had been looking for a dragon?! Me?!  I didn’t even know that dragons existed, let alone that I wanted to find one.  And why would I want to find one, some part of my brain wondered?

But as I spoke the words aloud, I knew with a rock-hard certainty that they were true.

I had been looking for this.  All of my life.  Part of me knew this existed.  Knew that this was real.  And that I needed it.

I knew that this dragon would be able to teach me more about life and about myself than anyone up in the world above.

The dragon smiled, if dragons can smile. He bared his pointy teeth, anyways, while I spoke.

Come, he says.  Kneel before me.

And I do!  Like some sort of supplicant before a minister, I bow down and kneel my head before this great beast.  Again, the logical part of my mind is screaming.  Laying my head before his mammoth claws and fangs.  But I do.

The dragon leans down and his snout hovers above my crown.  He sniffs in air.

And with an incredibly delicate touch, a ruby tongue extends from his mandible… and grazes the top of my head.

In a moment, I no longer exist.  Me, as I know it, is gone.

I am swimming through seas of eternity.  Galaxies whirl around me in a complex dance of immense beauty and destruction.  Worlds collide and are born anew.  Life generates and deceases with startling regularity.  Creation undulates around me.

I see atoms.  I see cosmic particles.  I see matter form and dissolve.

I feel joy; I feel bliss; I feel immense sadness.

I feel a world, a universe of experiences all in one moment.  I am everything.  I am nothing.  I am… I have gone beyond transcendence.

I see the world from whence I came.  I see my city: Chicago.  I see and feel all its millions of its inhabitants.  I know without thought each other their musings, aspirations, and fears.  I live a million lives in an instant.  I am everyone.  I am no one.

I am the leaves of grass that grow along the lake in the summer.  I am the bird that builds her nest in the trees.  I am the fish swimming up the river towards Lake Michigan.

I am the sewers; I am the buildings; I am the sky; I am the land.

I am everything and nothing.  I am everywhere and nowhere.

I am creation.  And I am dust.

I am life.  And I am death.

After both seconds and centuries of this experience, I am back on the stone floor, beneath the great beast.

In this moment, I know what will happen from here.  I know my whole life in a mere instant:

I will return to the surface, quit my job, and move out of my apartment.  I will live on the street, begging for money from people who pass by.  People will always give me more than enough to live.  I will teach the great lessons I’ve learned from the Dragon.  I will be regarded as a great sage in the city.  People will come to learn my thoughts on life and love and fellowship.  I will be heralded as an incarnation of Christ.  I will develop a church.  I will lead thousands to their enlightenment, to their salvation.  I will die, happy, at the age of eighty, with friends surrounding me.  I will thereafter go and live on another planet in a galaxy not too far away.  I will have many children there.  I will go from lifetime to lifetime sharing the Dragon’s teachings.

I’m back on the stone floor, beneath the dragon.  Sweat pours off my brow and onto the slabs of stone below me.  I breathe.  In an flash, I know where my life will go from here:

I will go back to the surface.  I will return to my job and tell my boss he’s a fucking moron.  I will get a better job, one that benefits people who are most in need of aid in the city.  I will go on to found a philanthropic agency; I will bring access to healthcare to those who require it most.  I will adopt many children.  I will fall madly in love.  I will die at the age one-hundred-and-nine being cradled in my husband’s arms.

I’m back on the stone floor.  Breathing heavy.  Again, I know how my life will unfold:

I will never go back to the surface.  I will stay down here and be a servant of the Dragon.  I will daily dance with my fellow acolytes.   And when those amber eggs hatch, I will create havens for those young dragons.  I will live a life of servitude, dedicating myself to their wellbeing.  I will grow older and die here, dancing and chanting and being ecstatic.  I will die at age fifty-three.  I will be reborn to a family nearby and grow up knowing about the Dragons that dwell beneath the city.  I will enter their service again, in another life.

Again, I’m back on the stone floor.  Breathing, and:

I die.  My soul is transported.  I reawaken in Heaven.  This is all a dream.  Saint Peter is calling to me.  He says my name is not in the book.  Woosh!  I am drawn down into Hell.  Fire and brimstone.  Little, red men with pitchforks pinch at me.  I burn.  I am reborn on earth.  I live alone with my husbandless mother in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains.  I will become a lumberjack, like everyone else in the town.  Like my father surely was.

I am back on the stone floor.

I look up at the dragon.  He stares intently in my eyes.

Go now.  This life is your own.  Make of it what you will.  And know what you’ve seen here to be just a small taste of what is possible.  Come back to me when you are ready for more.

I don’t know what’s happened.  I’m standing outside a stone archway, with a cascade of cobblestone steps heading downwards, beside me.

How did I end up here?  Where have I been?  Did I go down and meet a dragon below?  Or was this all a dream?  Who brought me back?

I look down at my body to check to see that I’m still all there, that I am still corporeal flesh.  Everything is as I remember it.  But then… as if sensing more than seeing it, I turn my wrist over.  There is a sparkling, green scale tattoo on my right forearm, the size of a quarter.  It’s brilliant and self-illuminating.  I hold it up to my face and once again…

Woosh!

I am soaring through the cosmos.  I am some sort of interstellar bird, flying on the winds of the empty either.

I am everything; I am nothing.

I am back in my body, back in Chicago.  Standing in a dark, subterranean street.

I do not know where I am going to go or what happens next.  I saw many possibilities for my life before me in the lair of the dragon.  And I’m sure there’s many more besides.

That street musician was right.  The answers I sought are below ground.

Onwards I walk, out of the darkness and into the light beyond.  I will be back, of this I’m certain.

 

Photo by Roman Boed (https://flic.kr/p/Xdgqpm)

Letting Go of Needing to Be Extraordinary

I remember in high school being quite taken with the not-quite-so-authentic-or-inspired lyrics of Avril Lavigne:

“I want to know that I

Have been to the extreme

So knock me off my feet

Come on now give it to me

Anything to make me feel alive

Is it enough to love?

Is it enough to breath?

Somebody rip my heart out

And leave me here to bleed

Is it enough to die?

Somebody save my life

I’d rather be anything but ordinary please”

Like I said, not entirely the most inspired bit of song writing ever penned to paper… but it encapsulated a desire that was beginning to pressurize in my chest; a desire to do great and extraordinary things in my life.

An excerpt taken from my daily journal around this same teenage-time reveals my own, modest ambitions towards achieving greatness:

Sept 16, 2002

Life Goals:

  • President of the United States
  • Prime Minister of Britain
  • Be knighted
  • Win at least two Academy Awards for Best Director an Actor
  • Win a Tony Award for Best Actor
  • Win a Nobel Peace Prize

…the list went on from there with at least fifteen more items of a similar nature.  Although I am relatively confident that my fourteen-year-old self was cognizant enough to realize that  A) Several of the items in that list would be tactically impossible due to different laws and regulations, such as nationality; B) Would take multiple life times to fulfill, if at all; and C) Would require substantially different skill-sets and life orientations – and yet, I am not so certain I was fully aware of the unfeasibility of such.

The craving within me to achieve something “Great” was profound beyond measure.  I recollect lying on a heap of crumpled comforter, on the floor of my parent’s master bedroom at sixteen, having my first-ever legitimate panic attack due to the fact that should have already attained something publicly noteworthy and profound in my already advancing years of age.

Long story short: I was a nut-job, hellbent for glory, and totally disconnected with any deep sense of self-worth.

I wanted the profoundly extra-ordinary to manifest in my life and convince me that I was merely good enough.

Sound like a current President we all have the misfortune to be currently acquainted with?

At that time in my life, I really did not have a lot going on to teach me my inherent worth.  I had few (if any) real friendships, I was scared of most everyone I encountered, I was bullied horrendously, I was totally disconnected from my sexuality, and so repressed that I considered myself “broken” because I could not feel what other normal teenagers felt.  I felt really worthless.

And I wanted something glorious beyond measure to tell me I had worth – because I could not find it in myself.

And so, going to college shortly thereafter, I decided to become a professional actor – because assuredly Hollywood and the thundering applause of a raucous crowed would give me that fulfillment.  And, if it wouldn’t be tangibly possible to attain all of those checkpoints on my high school to-do list, at least onscreen I could play a President, King, Physicist and Astronaut and achieve some feeling of that attainment.

Well, life, as she has a way of doing, has kicked me in the gut and pulled the rug out from underneath me, knocking me down, enough times since that point that I began to question that longing.  Why did I want to be a movie star?  What was I afraid of in starting to date other people (something I did not attempt until I was twenty-five years of age)?

Long story cut very short: I eventually started to develop sincere self worth.  I started to learn my “size.”  Learn to know what I had to genuinely offer and what was mere aggrandizement.  I started to genuinely connect to who I truly was, what I wanted, and what I had to give.

A large step in that process for me was discovering meditation.  I truly credit it for giving me my life back.  It taught me to start removing the layers of facade I had unintentionally fabricated, to uncover my truest self beneath.

And – it simultaneously connected me with the mystical – the ethereal – and the divine.

I moved into a meditation ashram right after college – where I learned that I was “special.”   I had unique karma to encounter this practice.  I was blessed.  And that I had a chance to go beyond what normal humans experienced – and live a life that was truly “extraordinary.”

Wait… Sound familiar?  … somehow I traded one dream of self-aggrandizement for another.

In hind sight, I do see there was a dangerous mentality to the tradition I entered.  A promise of specialness. A guarantee of life being more than normal humans (outside the practice) could understand.  And that gave me purpose and a feeling of divine grace.

And then, as all false-idols must, my sacred imaginings shattered to the ground.  The leaders that promised this mystical and otherworldly ideal were revealed to be more human than they presented themselves to be.

And I ended up parting ways from that tradition – heartbroken and distraught.  But still much more alive and authentically myself than I encountered it, thanks to the still-excellent teachings I received.

But in wake of that leaving, I once again have found that craving inside me to be “extraordinary” resurfacing.

Now, I no longer want to be a movie star, or famous, or a figure of social importance.  I actually now desire the simple things: a loving home, a gracious partner, good food, sturdy friendships.

IMG_0478

But there’s part of me that wants something so much more – something that I am now beginning to call a connection to the divine.  My experiences in the ashram started to illuminate some glimpses of that for me.

And if I am totally honest with myself – that longing for something more than what we associate “normal” to be – is indeed a spiritual longing.

A desire to return to a state of pure-bliss, pure-awareness, pure-truth that the ancient rishis and “seers” have articulated existing within each and every one of us.

That the longing for the “Extraordinary” is nothing more than a longing to return home – to my Soul.

Spiritual traditions across the globe have articulated that the Earth is just one place conscious beings reside – and that there are other places that we might be more akin to.  That we are “spirits having a physical experience.”

My question is now for myself: how can I truly appreciate and relish the ordinary – while striving for the extraordinary within me – and not through outer glorification?

How can I cultivate the magic, love, light, and prosperity I feel in glimpses in my meditation in the rest of my waking life?

How can I live a life fully empowered, aware, enheartened, and steadfast?

How can I live in truth?

These are my current questions.  Questions to which I am unsure there are solid answers.

What do you think?  Please share your insights and inspirations below!

Namaste,  Kaelan 🙂

Why I am Grateful For Everything… and Yes, I Mean EVERYTHING!

Let’s discuss what it really means to be grateful.

Sure, the birthday present, the unexpected surprise planned by a loved one, the raise given by our employer, these are all easy moments for which to be grateful.

But what about the rest of the moments in our days?

What about the boring spells, the trying times?  How about the fights with friends, misunderstandings with partners, the escalation of fears in harrowing events?  Are we grateful for these instances?  Are there any reasons to find gratitude for life’s most trying moments?

I enthusiastically say, “Yes!”

And here’s why…

Inside each and every one of us are little pockets of energy.  They are accumulated from life events, and a great number of them arrived with us when we were born.  These little pockets attract certain life events to occur.  They attract people we need to meet, challenges we must face, and blessings that will grace us.

And there’s a big reason why they do this: every single event that occurs in our lives must happen in order for that energy within us to break apart and become free-flowing.  We attract life situations that make us free through their happening.

That award you got in school could be there to teach you about self-reliance and maintaining humility under great acclaim.   Maybe that broken bone was the result of some previous life action where you hurt someone else, and now you’re learning to deal gracefully with pain and living gently.

Everything that comes into our lives are lessons that we need to learn in order to evolve.

So that means that nothing is either good or bad.  It’s just a tool to help us grow.  And when we can see each event with equanimity – neither rejecting or desiring its occurrence – we become healed.

If we can stay open and grateful for every experience, then those little pockets of energy dissolve and we might never have to experience those events again.  If we form an emotional attachment – wanting more or less of it – the event will keep reoccurring until we finally let is happen without interference.  In this way, as these pockets dissolve, we become gradually more open, free, and happy.

Seldom in life is any experience solely good or bad.  Something that starts out as a great deal of fun might eventually turn into a nightmare.  Maybe that Academy Award that you so long strived for causes a family member to be robbed.  Maybe that partner you begged to come back into your life becomes abusive.

Similarly, highly unpleasant experiences can become great sources of joy later on.  That hardship you went through might have proved how lasting and wonderful your friendships with your siblings could be.  Maybe that broken bone prevented you from going on a trip where you would have become deathly ill.  No one can predict the outcome of events.  In the words of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So this provides us with the tremendous opportunity to just be grateful for every life event.  The fun and the not so fun.  The painful and the blissful.  Everything in the universe has been conspiring to bring you your highest growth and sincerest happiness… if you can just hang on to the state of equanimity.

Every morning I start off my day by feeling gratitude in my heart.  I send text messages to people I love, letting them know how happy I am that they are in my life.  When harrowing events occur, I simply say, “Thank you for my healing.”

I’m trying to reach a state where every moment in my day, every breath I inhale, reminds me to be grateful.  I still have a ways yet to go, but I’m inching continuously closer.

And, oddly enough, it isn’t so much the happy times that are helping me most on this journey.  It’s the really hard stuff, where I prove my mettle, prove that I can remain grateful, that shows me how far I’ve come.

Each day, breath by breath, I get a little closer to the goal.  One day, I will live in a state of complete thankfulness for everything in my life.  I hope to meet you there.

Words and Photo by: Kaelan Strouse