Jake had long prepared for this moment. He’d learned all about the Cro-Magnon. He’d learned all about the laws on trespass and unauthorized entry. He’d learned how to pick a lock, beat a motion detector and how not to set off alarms. He’d learned all kinds of new things, including memorizing the phone number of his attorney, and how long he might expect to sit before making bail…
Jake was taking all kinds of personal risks.
The whole thing was just plain nuts, and yet it was like he just couldn’t help himself.
That included his entry into some rather secure premises and the exit, which must be soon.
He knew it wasn’t very smart, and yet he laughed every time he contemplated it.
It was one of the few museums in the world, where the security guards didn’t do routine rounds with a punch-clock.
He was deep in the bowels of the earth after months of research, training, meditation and yogic exercises.
“Who are you?”
“I am a man, just like you.”
“Where do you come from?”
“I come from across the sea, and from another time and place.”
“Who are you? Why do you come here?”
“That is a very good question—”
Why was he here?
Jake pondered the question.
On the face of it, it looked quite mad. It would be seen as nothing more than a stunt, and so he had no choice but to do it on his own.
He had to do it secretly, quietly…and illegally, which his new friend would simply not be able to comprehend.
Jake wanted to sit naked in the innermost galleries, the sanctum, deep in the caves of Lascaux, high on LSD, originally derived from the mold ergot on wheat. He thought the ancients would have had it or something like it. Or mescal, or peyote, or psilocybin, any of the known psycho-active drugs that might have been available to the ancients. The ancients would have known what alcohol was, all they had to do was stumble across wild grapes fermenting on the vine and they would have had an experience they weren’t likely to forget anytime soon. Banana beer was made by old women spitting into the mash to get it started; and cannabis would have been burned in a campfire, accidentally or otherwise.
The great moral questions would not have arisen until later in history.
He wanted to make psychic contact with the past. In his younger days, not even particularly under the influence, but things had happened.
Jake had experienced one or two little things that at least had some trappings of psychic phenomena.
Any idiot could take drugs. Plenty of others, scientists, researchers, writers of all kinds had remarked on some kind of spirituality within the caves, upon looking at the images. They all said they felt a kind of connection.
He’d felt it too. Jake had to come here, come into the place more than once, to get the lay of the place. Otherwise, he’d never have been able to find his way around in the blackness and the silence.
The awful silence was like nothing he had ever known, it was almost beyond explanation—what that silence did to you.
To get permission to attempt anything like this would have resulted in ridicule, notoriety and a lot of unwelcome official attention. He had no credentials and no credibility. He was not an archaeologist or an anthropologist, Jake wasn’t even an artist.
Jake was just some guy with an idea that he wanted to try, and that was the hell of it in an increasingly intolerant world.
What might be seen as a religious practice on a southwestern U.S. native reservation would have been perceived more as a desecration to authorities and scholars alike. It would be seen as a crime, which he didn’t think it was. Burning sweet-grass, or smoking anything, was to put a thin layer of smoke on the adjacent walls. That was true enough. Their perspective was not wrong, exactly, it was merely intolerant, perhaps short-sighted. His perspective was perhaps a more selfish one, but he also saw it as an opportunity. This would only be true if he succeeded. To put it into words was one thing, to explain that, using the simplest of thoughts, would be extremely difficult. His friend was not unintelligent, but the cultural divide was vast and they had no common language.
He also wanted to shield Malik in some ways. Jake was convinced that he wasn’t here to do harm—that was not his intention.
One moment he was serenity itself, and the next moment frankly terrified of what he had done.
The disorientation was severe, as shadows danced, water trickled or dripped somewhere off in the distant darkness, and his skin crawled at the thought of wild animals coming in here, creeping up on him silently as he communed or tried to commune, with those long since dead.
The fat lamp sputtered its greasy smoke beside him, sending a lurid glare over the paintings of bison, antelope, and other sizable big game animals. Jake shivered, pulling the buffalo-skin cloak close in around him, his head buzzing with the dope. He had changed in the dark woods, out on the hillside. He’d be damned lucky to find his backpack—and his pants again. He longed for his sweater and better yet, his thick socks. The crude leather sandals were nothing but a liability, he knew that as soon as he got thirty metres away from the bag.
He’d consumed about a gram and bit more of magic mushrooms, and the pulse of his blood in his inner ears was pleasant but slightly distracting. He had plenty of water, a little food, carefully selected so as not to upset his stomach. He’s learned a little bit about hallucinogenic drugs. He’d tested the stuff on himself where it was safe, at home and basically in front of the TV set. The phone was right there and he’d left a note for paramedics, outlining everything he had done, everything he had ingested in the name of science, or spirituality, or discovery—or something. He’d bought a reasonable amount, started off with small bits of mushroom and worked his way up to the sort of trip where the world became much more plastic, much more brightly-coloured and so much more mystical.
Just when he needed to focus, to concentrate, he was all fucked up, essentially, and he giggled. There was a strange sensation of falling, stretching, being pulled or sucked somewhere else. His body was at rest and in motion at the same time. The only thing missing was the stars. The stars were really something in his first hesitant gropings towards a greater awareness.
His new friend, he was sure, would understand. The people of the here and now probably wouldn’t.
What a miracle it was to get something—anything.
The man was probably the village shaman, if they even had villages. His voice was very strong, to be discernible over what had to be twenty or thirty or forty thousand years.
“How can you do this?”
“The same way that you can. I have eaten the magic, and I have burned and inhaled the magic. I have drank in the magic, bathed myself in it, and purified myself, and rubbed it onto my skin.”
“Your paintings are truly wonderful. We enjoy them very much.”
“These are our gifts to honour and remember those who dwell beyond the wall of sleep.”
Jake could almost see that face, dark and probably hairier than him, although his beard had gotten to be a considerable thing in its own right over the last twenty years. His own heavily- greying, mousy brown hair fell all the way to the shoulders, thin on top and frizzy on the ends.
“What is it like on the other side?”
Jake had the impression the guy wasn’t even in the cave. Malik was somewhere much brighter, some kind of canyon. There was the wind whipping by and the squawk of birds or gulls or something in the background. Malik had wet, red paint on his hands and he was working on something.
In what was really weird and unexpected, love was written all over Malik.
It made a kind of sense, the original motivation for magic, for speaking to the gods was first and foremost altruistic—not that it didn’t also convey a kind of power to the individual.
“It’s wonderful. It’s everything that people believe it is.”
What else could he say?
The guy was never going to believe that Jake was just some guy in the future. There was a scuttling in the darkness and he froze for a second. The sound stopped or went away.
“Is there freedom from want?”
“Is there…freedom from fear.”
“Yes, and hunger and disease, and pain and war. Everything is better.” Might as well give the poor bastards some hope.
At least for most of us…
He hoped that those thoughts didn’t leak through, for some of it would be kind of hard to take coming from the gods or whatever.
Something scuffed against a smooth rock and his body twitched in shock. It was off to the left and he couldn’t help but stare that way. The sound came again. While he was hyper-aware already, his natural objectivity told him it couldn’t be anything much bigger than a rat, possibly, and it was likely even smaller than that. It was a cricket, scraping along under a dead leaf or something.
It was his imagination, the atavistic fears inside that were betraying him. It was the dope talking, even as a sick tingle rolled up and down his spine.
It was extremely difficult to be totally objective. He’d smoked some pot, ate the mushrooms and had a bottle of brandy along for the ride. He’d just sipped at the booze, although one could drink up a storm on certain drugs. You felt right as rain, then one little stagger and you over-compensated, falling flat on your face as often as not. Sooner or later, he still had to get out of there. He had to walk to the car, and then drive it out of there. Beer might have been better as he was developing a powerful thirst. It would be just his luck to get popped for drunk driving on the road home. He drank some water, and sipped some brandy. Each small sip sent fresh waves of scintillating, coruscating lights and colours swirling around in the peripheral vision. The water was really good, and he felt new appreciation for this most underrated of liquids.
His lips and his cheeks were numb. He was very aware of his eyes in their sockets and the smell of dirt, wet stone and decay. The paint on his face and chest was dry now, making the skin feel tight and dry, like half-healed wounds.
He stared as the noises came again. In spite of his best efforts to slow it down, his heart raced, and it was getting uncomfortable.
His heart stopped dead in its tracks as there came the glimmer of light. Sand and gravel crunched, a faint golden light glimmered on rocks on one side and the other. Illuminating the top of the passage to his left, the light brought a stark new kind of terror.
Someone was there.
The first thing he saw was a rough stone bowl, wick burning bright, and then a long brown arm coming down and then around the last corner.
Jake picked up his own lamp and stood quickly.
A pair of dark brown eyes stared at him. A tall, powerfully built figure straightened up in the opening. He held the lamp high, and his mouth opened to speak.
Jake stared at a Cro-Magnon. It had to be. He knew enough to know it wasn’t a Neanderthal.
It was Malik. It had to be—but it couldn’t be.
It just couldn’t be.
Malik had bright red paint on his hands, also his feet, gobs and spatters all over his deerskin breeches and a kind of jerkin.
“Ah. My friend. There you are—we’ve been looking all over.” Malik’s eye traveled over Jake’s water bottle, the lamp, the bowl, the leather bag of snacks.
Oh, my God.
“All set for your first lesson, I see.”
Jake’s lower jaw almost hit the floor of the cave. His knees were knocking together.
This was wrong—all wrong.