A man learns he is the favorite writer of a woman from another world whom he used to know in college, and accepts from her an amazing gift: a trip to a world with an ancient global monorail, which still runs.
THERE WAS THIS ONE young blonde woman back in college who liked to smoke pot and looked like an elf. In terms of pure physical appearance she resembled the quintessential California gal, but claimed she was a Canadian of Norse descent. It was a revelation which diminished her appeal not in the least. We'd play pool at the university pub after class--we shared a lot of those together as English majors--she occasionally looking down to check the view she afforded, me standing there with my stick in my hands.
Checking out the Community Forest together we toked and talked and walked the trails, sometimes holding hands. She was familiar with my writing outside of class. I shared a poem with her about a time I kicked a dude's ass in the library. She had in fact been there for part of it, so I included her in the poem, and she got a kick out that even though the poem wasn't about her and had nothing particularly flattering to say. Probably this response had something to do with a baggie I was sharing. Sounds harsh, but I'm sure her being grateful to get so stoned and to have been considered even peripherally in verse helped tilt things in my favor, though in my poem I acknowledged her having once denied me just to irk me, the giggling little flaxen-haired witch.
One afternoon after classes we decided to head down to Black Sands Beach. This was not exactly nearby. Two and a half hours from the university at least. Being in our twenties we thought nothing of that. Nadia--this was her name--had a boyfriend, kind of. He was a guy who worked at the zoo. Most of us in our group had seen him on the local news for having helped catch an escaped chimp.
Black Sands Beach boasting notoriety for sightings of November whales, Nadia and I stopped by the Co-op to pick up picnic food, a bottle of red included.
No one who ever saw Nadia could fail to fall under her spell. She radiated a knowing mischief, every aspect of her being perpetually compelling. In one of the classes we shared we were studying Moby Dick, so whale-watching was a natural fit. We talked about Herman Melville and I held her tiny hand in mine while I drove. Somehow sitting next to her I saw the world through new eyes.
At the first view of the ocean there's a small pullout where we stopped. Blue bands of ocean stretched out to the distant gray horizon below. Embracing, we beheld one another in the most candid manner imaginable. I felt I truly saw her, and I knew she felt the same because she let as much be known, even going so far as to promise me something utterly remarkable. She said that one day we would meet again. Chalking this up to one of those well-intentioned assurances in which one is best served placing a minimum of faith, I thought little of Nadia's prognostication at the time. But I distinctly recall her saying it. She said that she saw greatness in me. Greatness was the word she specifically used. She said she loved my writing. That I must never stop.
I couldn't have invented a more curious or encouraging speech as the one Nadia gave me in my car that afternoon over the ocean. I can't remember it exactly, nor will I attempt to reproduce it, yet what she said stuck with me.
Only about a year later I lost track of Nadia. Most of us had finished with the program, one way or another. Our lives took different directions. Though many years passed by, in the back of my mind there was always this elfin enchantress who praised my work and promised we would meet again.
Then, sure enough, one day we did. And I had just been thinking of her, because I was standing at Black Sands Beach, high upon a rock, scanning the ocean for whales, literally just then thinking of her, when I happened to look over and see perhaps a hundred yards away on the darkly glistening beach the figure of a woman approaching. I couldn't see her features clearly, only blonde hair whipping and a petite attractive form. No one else was there at Black Sands Beach that day. It was only the two of us. I could see she was looking at me, too. I could see a smile. The closer she got, the more she looked like Nadia. She waved, called out my name. It was her. And she hadn't aged a day. We were twice as old as when we'd last seen each other, yet just like in a story I wrote, she did not look the slightest bit different at all.
Maybe I wrote about bizarre things and had a fascination with bizarre things for as long as I could remember precisely to prepare me for this one crucial moment. Somehow, I just didn't have that much difficulty accepting it. It's amazing, our resilience. As soon as you see something that shouldn't be able to happen but did, you understand. There are people who have no idea what they're talking about who would swear to the grave that you were wrong, and if the proof were presented indisputably to them, they'd only go, "Oh." Then probably say you just got lucky, and that really they knew all along. These people, in considering only their own ego, are to be discounted. But I only say this having considered the nature of the ego better than anyone has ever even dreamed.
In fact, qualities peculiar to the very rock on which I stood played a part in the understanding which I achieved as Nadia neared, smiling her knowing smile. What I found strangest was that look in her eyes I sometimes see when someone recognizes me as that writer guy. I knew she was familiar with my work even before we touched hands at the base of the rock and hugged warmly, very warmly. Even in the ocean breeze she smelled of sandalwood, and lightly of vanilla just behind the ear. Together we climbed back up the rock, a squat chunk that rose twenty feet over the sand like the head of a giant idol.
I felt all sorts of thoughts emanating from her mind. Now I understood that Nadia belonged to a race of beings sometimes called the Watchers. And because I could handle who she was, a Nordic-type alien with access to a vast underground civilization and portals to other worlds, that was when she told me about the Wonder Train.
Nadia broke out some pot. She started going on about how she went into this one portal not that long after our Black Sands Beach picnic, and how she had wanted to tell me all about it while we embraced in the pullout, and tried, but I just wasn't ready. So she had this whole long trip on another world where there weren't many people but they almost all wore bitchin' jumpsuits, with jet packs, and the architecture was gigantic. She said this in her excited surfer-girl way, so petite and blonde and fit and smiling. She always wore these funky little rockin' tunic-type dresses, solid color--this one was orange--with nothing else at all underneath. I couldn't help but wonder what life would be like if Hannah had smoked. Then I remembered that when we first went out, she did.
To accept that Nadia was different was easy. To accept a gift she wanted to give me, right out of nowhere, simply for being myself, made me feel like I might actually faint. She grabbed me. I was, I don't know, kind of ashamed I guess, but then I found myself looking right down at her, and couldn't help but see that, yep, not wearin' anything under that skimpy little tunic at all. I couldn't help myself. Putting one hand behind her head, with her flaxen blonde hair whipping in the wind, and another just as gently around her waist, I looked at her, and then I kissed her.
It was nice. So nice. A magical, otherworldly kiss.
After a bit, alternately speaking aloud and in my mind she conveyed, "Come with me to this special place. You deserve this. You'll appreciate it. Come with me, and have the time of your life. I've read all your work. I know you'll love this. After all you've given me for free, let me do this thing for you. I can take you to a place where you get on this monorail and you get to go around all over the place and see all sorts of amazing things totally for free!"
"What? Really? No way!"
"Yes way!" She shook her head as she smiled with that expression which said I was silly.
"What's the catch?"
"No catch at all," Nadia assured. "The universe gives back what we put out. That's all. Come on," she said, "the cave we go in is just right over there."
There it was. As we made our way down the squat chunk together, Nadia told me about the unique properties of the ore contained within the rock, how they helped get my ability to receive her emanations going. Plodding across the sand toward a weather-worn arm of rock a ways away jutting from the hillside to the ocean, she said she wanted me to record my experiences, adding she had a special device that looked like an old tape recorder which she wanted me to use.
It bothers me to have to talk so much about pot. And so little. Fascinating documentaries on cannabis abound. I don't much like that word for weed. It's a bit pretentious. Trendy titles aside in the rebranding movement, pot is on everyone's mind around here. Mostly people are sick of it all the time. So the best thing to do is just strike up, boast a bone. After a toking on a torpedo, you forget what your supposed "problems" were, per se. And then you're all like, "Oh, whoa, I'm so glad I'm 21 or over, because, wow." Herbal medicine was a big part of who Nadia was in college, as much as anything ever is for anybody. All around town, look in any direction and you couldn't help but see of a weekday afternoon the lounging disaffected, sullen-eyed dropouts looking for handouts. Many is the day I have worked long hours in the sun which took me to the limit of my fair-skinned constitution for ultraviolet rays, only to find stopping in town some dude chillaxin' on the sidewalk, stretched out as though he were leaning back against an old bean bag chair in front of the tube, interrupt me to ask for a free couple of bucks for a beer. That's part of pot around here. Humboldt County is the Silicon Valley of Marijuana. Transients with nothing better to do come from vast distances to panhandle. Why? Who knows? Maybe they'll get some pot. That's better than the other places that let you do it.
"How long have you been back?"
"Only about a month."
"You must have spent that time all by yourself reading."
"Sometimes." I can read your thoughts, she added.
Then you must know I don't want you to.
What had I done? Was that a rude thing for me to say? Did I just offend this lovely elfin woman, this blonde ocean sprite? Didn't want that.
"It's okay," she said, understanding how I felt without having to read my mind. "If it will make you feel safe, you can always block someone from reading your mind. All you have to do is make a hat out of aluminum foil. Then put it on your head."
"A foil hat?"
"That's where they get the word for foil. You use it to foil mind-reading. Duh, where have you been?"
"You're so full of shit."
"We should drive up to the General Store and get some foil right now. We'll make you your helmet. You'll look like Merlin."
"So full of shit," I said, and she laughed while we went into the cave.
"I've been in here before. Lots of times."
"How far in did you go though?"
Already it was getting kind of tight in there...
NOTES [describe wet conditions with dim light, bugs hopping, kelp; we pop kelp, we climb, she leads; we slip over a lip of rock high up a crevice and travel down into an open area barely able to see anything by using the light of my phone; at one end of what seemed to be a chamber there was gap in the rock, very tall, and a trail that stopped at a huge gate carved in the stone...]