Return of the Orange Virgin

Chapter Six—Morgana and the Eidolon

There was a summoning and, distracted, Morgana lost her raspberry dream. She was wrenched through a curtain of red ruin to a place where a universe waited to be born. There was nothingness. But not quite. Spinning. Forgetfulness and no sense of self. Spinning and an awareness of something gone wrong. Everything was gone but a throbbing that would have been pain. Now that was silly, either it was nothing or it was something. A wanderer in the void, she caught at it, held it, cherished it, and felt the pain, drowning in a firmament of agony.

The throbbing now came in waves, and in the interstices, grateful for the relief, a sliver of self-awareness glimmered and made itself known.

This, then, must be death. I am dead. But I am something. The nothing is not me. Whoever I was before whatever happened must have possessed a fine sense of irony; that at least, has survived. And unless I am mistaken, more than an irony has come through whatever catastrophe precipitated this nothingness, for I appear to be an “I” and the “I” I appear to be is consciously cogitating.

The accretion of smugness that was these thoughts winced, cowered and forgot as the pain struck.

The agony rolled in waves, surrounding her. There was only the pain, obscuring tantalizing wisps of memory at the edge of consciousness. Yes—a loss! She had lost something precious! If she could only hold back the pain long enough to remember. The paralyzing pain rolled in another wave, mocking her, leaving her numb and empty. The pain! And with the pain a sense of futility and mockery that obscured tantalizing recollections.

Yes, she had forgotten a precious thing; if only she could get a handle on it. She was a hiccup in the cosmic process and she was bewildered. There had been a familiar, comforting presence, and it was missing. Power! That was it; she had none. Power defined by its absence gave small comfort. She had had it—now she didn’t. The Fata Morgana felt a melancholic longing for her departed power. Not power to do anything in particular—threaten, coerce, destroy: illuminate a city, tighten the skeins of a siege engine, or wind up the bowels of a child’s clockwork toy—just power to have around. Just in case. There was this feeling—what had been hers, was now not, and that troubled her. There was that in the emptiness that defied a firm grip. Just the familiar, reassuring bulge of potential, there to quiet her unease was not much to ask. But who to ask?

In the permeating emptiness, a bland, featureless wall announced it would be pain again if she would but allow it. In measureless time awareness returned, and with it discovery that the pain had lessened to a throbbing which, in turn, as stars were born and galaxies defined, diminished to an annoying tintinnation. Born anew, the universe boiled, simmered, and went off to cool—just past the edges of her perception, to wait. She awoke.

Now that was strange, I distinctly remember nothingness. All this would appear to be a somethingness. But where is it? I recall Chaos through the fumes of sleep, and Chaos, at least, is something. “Where am I? Who am I?”

“Very appropriate,” said a voice close by. “Your utterances, that is, for you remember nothing and you want some answers. At the moment you are a point, a very big, very heavy point—a point with a past—but still a point, and an awareness, not much more. But at least you are someplace, and that is considerably more than what you have left behind can say for itself. Being someplace is what a point is all about,” the voice added gratuitously. “Even Eternity’s gotta start someplace, right? Don’t worry, be happy.”

She looked about and saw a shimmering curtain, an aurora borealis of dancing pinks and fuchsias backlit in blue. A bird poked its head through a rift in the curtain. “Poetic, isn’t it? A beaded curtain in a house of pleasure, seen through the haze of passion, a forest fire just over the horizon and always out of reach.” It was the voice. “You will never see the real thing. You may only infer its existence from secondary manifestations.”

The bird, a duck, motioned her over, and to her surprise, the goddess discovered she possessed a volition. The wanderer stretched and felt her strength, small but there. She approached the bird.

The bird flipped a coin, a considerable feat for a duck.

“What happened? I remember nothing, but there was something: pain, a great noise...”

“You have an admirable facility for understatement. What you have just witnessed and cannot remember is the end of everything and a new beginning—the Big Bang. Yearnings, struggles, joys: all the paradigms, apotheoses, covetousness, sloth, envy, etc., along with dandelions, cabbages, butterflies—the hotel reservations and weekend painting projects of a googolplex of individuals are over, caput, finis—sucked through the eye of Eternity’s needle, pushed out backwards on the other end, and here you are. Simple, really.”

The goddess was spinning and dizzy, and the ringing in her ears encompassed the cosmos.

“No excess energy,” said the duck, “but sufficient to your needs. We remember what went before, but when the Big Bangs come, all else is lost. You have made it through a Big Bang. You are the only recorded case of a redundancy. There is nothing done without a reason, except ever so often to keep us on our toes, and there is a reason for this, too. You are an anomaly, my friend, so keep a low profile.” The bird snuffled about under a wing as it groomed its feathers; it flipped its coin.

The coin spiraled into the air, an upward silver waterfall. “This is money. Look and remember it. This bit of money will be ever buried in the flow of commerce, known only by the transient, nugatory phenomena that follow it—a stuck abacus ball, a well-formed formula that won’t factor out. A bump, a blip, a nit, a nubbin, a trifle—the snake that can swallow a goat has gulped down a cherry pit. Few will possess the coercive intent to lure it out into the open, for seeming to have value, it has none: it is a symbol, a marker, a pretty bauble that I picked up and for which I have discovered an affinity. A token of sentimental value exclusive of its intrinsic worth—detect its contrariness against the passive background of commerce. The money is an allegory, all money is an allegory, do not be deceived by what it seems to mean.”

The duck carelessly flipped its coin and looked meditative. The coin accelerated up and away. The Orange Virgin, Fata Morgana, etc. and the duck waited for its return. It did not return.

“They, the raisers of temples, the populations who sought to forestall your rages and propitiate your insouciance—a bother and a needless drain of public monies considering where we stand today—they have happened to you no less than you have happened to them.” The duck produced a large, thin sheet of a crinkly stuff and spread it flat between them. “This is a newspaper picture, a representation of something else—not it, but it. Get it?”

“I forget. Refresh my memory.” The goddess had seen pictures before, but where eluded her; the gate to yesterday was locked.

On the page a giant railroad engine billowed steam and cinders, tall sticks with looping wires that lined a traction system of parallel rails were a blur as it sped past. “Look closely, for this is an allegory; if you are going to be of any use, I must explain you to yourself and allegories are easy and fun.”

The picture was in shades of gray except for a blazoning of orange letters on the barrel of the steam train’s plated boiler—‘Santa Fe.’ The great machine was going at a pace to somewhere off the page. The land it traveled was a desert, but distant green mountains gave a promise of verdant rainfall and hospitable conditions. Orange letters proclaimed ‘New Mexico—Land of Enchantment.’

“Don’t worry about the content of the picture, the representation is meaningless. Look close.” The page filled more of the available cosmos, nudging accretions of stellar gas out of the way.

“It is made up of dots,” said the goddess dutifully.

“Those are the people,” said the eidolon. The paper once more lay manageably between them and spiraling clouds of incandescent gas rushed back to fill the place it had been. The dots were no longer observable as when ‘New Mexico—Land of Enchantment’ filled the void.

“Follow the dots. Hmm. Dots are an algorithmic convention for chance. Fate, my exemplary Fata Morgana, is a straight black line, unbroken. The dotted line represents some small hope for a future. For you, at least. And the pathetic groundlings with which you populate your creation. They worship you, old puissance. The morons do love to have their heroes. That’s an H. L. Mencken quote.”

“Who?”

“The Doctor or the pronoun? Picky, picky, picky. I could quote Mark Twain, if you like. Shakespeare should have something appropriate to a disenfranchised goddess. Let’s see…”

The eidolon pretended to fuss with the New Mexico poster.

“We were talking about connecting the dots.”

“The dots make the picture,” the duck thrummed. “People are the dots. You are the picture. That is a metaphor. Get it?” The duck studied nothing in particular.

A yearning to be once more alone subsumed her fears and gnawed her being. There was a thought that at another time she would have wiped the duck to Limbo with a wink. No. Its voice was annoying, but it was all she had and she clung to it for fear of being left alone in Chaos with the yearning.

“Who am I? Who are you?”

“You are dead, old puissance. But for my intervention, as dead as planked mackerel. It’s all over for you and you are as blotto as the most tenuous ephemeron. But don’t let this get you down. Keep busy. When you’re dead you tend to let things slide and that is a regrettable sloppiness. Stop keeping up with things and they go all to hell. I am an eidolon, an image on the edge of things, and you are one very fortunate prime mover who has been granted a second beginning. Don’t ask me why, I just work here. And there.” The voice indicated a place beyond the present absence of anything.

“A prime mover?”

“And spectacularly lacking in wisdom and restraint. For one all-wise and all-powerful, that is. Your intransigence precipitated the inevitable. The end came early because of you, but don’t be glum. Inevitable, right? Just early. The reality plateau just blown away might have bumbled along unconcernedly for just-about-ever, but all that has been precluded by you. You just don’t remember it because it’s all gone. I am here; you are here. All because you dived snoot first into that raspberry compote you love so well. Got it?”

The voice signaled a shrug and the goddess sensed a preparation to depart. “No I don’t ‘Got it’. Please stay and explain.” There was a pause, largely for effect, and the eidolon continued grudgingly.

“You are here today and alive because a pig has died; a human has shot the Morgana’s prize pig. ‘I’ll bet the Morgana didn’t even know she had a pig, but she is sure to do something impulsive, running madly in all directions and that.’ That’s what they’re saying, you know. The pig didn’t know it was yours either, my dear, but ignorance is what makes bacon. Nor did the man who pulled the trigger know what he was about. He was drunk at the time, no excuse.” The voice became businesslike. “‘A pig has died and she will be fair puggled,’ that is what they are saying.”

A pig. The goddess felt the inner passages of her nose tingle at a full aromatic assault: piquant overtones of sizzling bacon—spicy fat with wood smoke seasoning. And salt. Salt—she squirmed with pleasure at the evocation of taste. There were fleeting images of sausage curled into ropes. A curly tail. Four legs and pink.

“You have wrapped yourself in an institution and, seeking the safety adoration brings—incense, offerings and prayers, find instead your radiance eclipsed, obscured by a body of commentary. The giver of light and law, you are now defined by the faithful, and your obsequies expropriated by them; you are lessened, codified and trivialized, and eventually absorbed into the body of the faithful who made you and whom you made. The dots have called the picture back for an accounting. They have co-opted your coercion. You, oh Great One, have failed them, and they turn upon their creator. Dots and goddesses—money talks and nobody walks. They are the parts but you are the power and will not be diminished. In one final blaze of glory you extirpate your constituency. Silly girl, there has got to be a better way. It would be pusillanimous to say that you and the humanity that worships you are beneath our notice. We just hadn’t bothered with you or them till now. Unfortunately, we have inadvertently waited for the last minute, and it is nearly too late for a fix. Now, of course, is a moderately subjective concept; and since you are here in a robust good health lingering on at my pleasure, we shall use my definition of what, where, when and why now is. This is no small thing, I hope you appreciate this.”

The smugness was becoming much to bear. Hoping to get close enough to throttle the creature, the goddess nodded her appreciation.

“Good,” the bird went on, “It is not our agency to become involved. You will be our agent.”

“Agent? A hireling, an employee?”

“Of a certainty, for there has been a collision of interests and we must all swallow our pride. The Orange Virgin will be returning to the Earth of her exile to look after her pigs and her passions. She will be a royal pain in the ass—this is what they say. This much I will reveal to you,” said the duck. The creature made to depart.

“Wait! You raise more questions than you answer. Who is this Orange Virgin?”

“Somebody. Oh, yes, definitely somebody. An old friend—you perhaps. Meanwhile, you wait. Sit back and enjoy the view. But don’t be taken in by externals, things are not always what they seem. F’rinstance, here I am a duck. Think about it.”

The goddess pondered that.

“You are not a duck.”

“And you are a crafty, incisive schemer and have seen right through my little artifices. We understand each other. Keep the lid on things for me and you will live. ‘The Morgana is returning,’ they will say, ‘...all wrought up over her stupid pig. She will want to change things.’ I like things the way they were. Baseball has been very good to me...”

“Baseball?”

“The local idiom, you’ll get used to it. Things have changed since your departure; I am all you have, remember that. You were once called by a plenitude of names in as many tongues. Men held you in their hearts and prayed to you in their despair. But all that has changed. They are gone who worshiped you, their fountain of mercy and well of grief, and all the books and movies too, that glorified your name glorify Mine. Ah, yes, your Name.”

And the Orange Virgin remembered who she was.

“You! El, you double-dealing, patronizing, duplicitous conniver. You are no eidolon; you are flimflamming me.”

“Tush, tush. Morgana, please... Remember where we are.”

“I remember very well where we are. Nowhere. This is neutral ground. We speak as equals here.”

“I need you in place, in the world of men.”

“You are contaminated by your constituency. You are even talking like them.”

“Darling girl, it’s your pig. Do you want to live on through eternity and never know what went wrong?”

Silence, then a sigh. “You’ve got a point there. What has happened?”

“Very well, then—plain talk. I haven’t the slightest idea what happened but I am prepared to cut you a deal.”

“You want me back. To pull your chestnuts from the fire. I remind you, I did not seek to be reinstituted. On the world of the Dancing Lords I am no threat to you, sky demon.”

“Nor I to you. We are both playing our parts. Well, just see what we have here.” The flipped coin returned, spiraling down from an extended absence. The eidolon reached out and caught it.

“Parlor tricks. I would have expected something more elaborate. I had not finished speaking. I have demands upon my time.”

“Which is unlimited. Spare me that, Morgana. You were romping with your honeypot. The golem is symptom, and not the malaise. Seduced by comfort you have risen to the bait. You have lost the game and you didn’t even realize. The penalty is to play out the events of someone else’s choosing.”

“And you are that someone. Don’t make me laugh. Ha-ha.”

“If you inflected your laughter it would sound more sincere.”

“Ha-ha. There again. You want me to wander in a shadow play of linear existence among the poor bozos who walk your Earth? This is indeed a chuckle. What do I get out of all this? It is to be a comfort to me in my sunset years to know that you have so graciously conceded to me a part, however small, in your master plan. Who am I, after all, but the mother-creator of the object in question?”

“Please, we are discussing a situation, not an object.”

“Any situation must be an outgrowth of your incredibly convoluted machinations. El, you were always such a schemer.”

“You belittle the universe with your spurious profundities, my chickadee. I defer to you because you were here first, so figure it out for yourself. If you had been paying attention you would have known this and saved yourself the bother of a call. Have a nice day.” There was a boreal trembling indicating imminent departure.

“Wait! You called me.”

“So I did. The eons must be catching up with Me. I will allow you in to straighten things out. With your looks you could be anything; how’s about a little collie dog?”

“Beg pardon?”

“A dog. The acoustics are a mite shabby here at the birth of creation, I concede, but you heard me clearly.”

“I hear you well enough, my old and rare. A dog will be fine—a spirit-beast as my aspect. I can relate to this. It is the race and flavor of said canine to which I object. A little collie dog is so redolent of Lassie and Timmy. Something big and yellow, I should think. To go with that snowplow or the red truck which I was promised but never received.”

“Fine. A big yellow dog, then. De gustibus non disputandum, as they say. You are invited over—no strings. Only a few conditions—the dog thing among them. It won’t do, after all, to have you charging back all naked and glorious and grabbing up everything that isn’t nailed down for yourself. Someone would be sure to recognize you. I need to know if this is an accident or if there are other hands at work. If we make this a mutual effort—yours and Mine—there can be no question of hanky-panky if the Great Author calls us to account.”

“Aha! I get it. You think you are being audited. Have things gone that poorly then for humanity in your patch?”

Comme ci, comme ça. Iffy as always. They meddle with the building blocks of creation, but they are ever the same. They think they have discovered the principle that drives the cosmos. What do they do with it? They play electric guitars and boil tea. Now, I ask you... They are such monumental bunglers as to present no immediate threat. To Me.”

“But to me. Ah, I see. You have a problem. And you want me to negotiate an elucidation.”

“Yes, Lilith Mine. You are still accomplished at your dream-sendings? I have just the companion for you. A noble chap. I have a name for you. A name and a location. Harry Pease. Harry Profitt Pease. Your priest. Prepare the way, then.”

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