He calls the retreat center. The lady on the EastCoast phone is perky. Kewe on West Coast time is still mostly asleep, but she’s concise:
“Sound pulses may enhance an ability to move outside the body.”
“People come to the retreat center for many reasons. The events that take place depend upon the person, nothing is guaranteed. Yes, classes are available. The earliest opening is in seven weeks. The retreat lasts a week.”
Kewe orders the audio for home use. He places a tentative booking for the class the week before the Memorial Day holiday. The home audio when it arrives does bring a sense of calm and he tells his friend Rick about the booking. He sends a check to confirm the class reservation.
At night when he gets home from work, he listens. On the weekends, most of the day, way beyond time the instructions recommended.
“I’ve listened to all the tapes,” he tells his friend Rick the day before he leaves to attend the retreat. “I’m looking forward to going. Get me out of the routine.”
. . .
The steward has cleared away his food. His computer on the tray in front of him, he had intended to play a computer game, but drowsy from the meal he’s drifting into a dream. So real is the dream that Kewe thinks he is on a plane with his computer open:
A key on the computer needs pressing. He sees images of his face. Images on tiny icons. It surprises him, not because the icons show his face, but because they are not the icons that he expects to see. He stares at the tiny pictures.
One looks as if he’s an old man. There is a young man in a strange hat. A woman with a decorative spot at the center of her forehead.
He presses one of the pictures, a photo-image of him when he is very small. Computer script comes rolling down and a door opens. He must be only two.
Running around he is making his mother laugh. The movie clip ends.
New script down the screen and immediately he recognizes the ship taken with three of his friends. Eighteen years old, on a trip and a new life that sees him spend two years in South Africa.
The screen goes blank, and waves of electric energy surge through him. New icons start to appear. One in particular sends a chill up his spine. He presses the button and here on the screen is a stack of modern buildings.
Then the screen is flashing and he sees himself in some sort of box. Wood surrounds him.
He watches himself trying to push himself into the wood. He’s telling himself there’s a problem because he cannot pass beyond the wood. He can touch the wood but he cannot go through it.
Kewe moves fretfully in the airline seat. He lurches and wakes, listens to the drone of the engines. Looking at his watch, he’ll be arriving soon.
. . .
Flying into the city airport and renting a car for the week cost the same as an extra flight to the nearest town’s airport.
Kewe is glad he decided to rent the car. Glancing at the map on the seat the trip is a hundred and more miles, but now rushing by the trees and streams, by the small field estates, the view is worth the drive.
The hot spring day feels so alive. In no time he’s reached the university town, and once past the town he’s cruising through new, fresh, scenic countryside.
When he leaves the highway, turning off into a country farm road, grassy pastures surround him.
It’s not long before he sees a sign pointing to an uphill lane. Passing a secluded glen, the bends turning narrow enough the hedges on
each side seem to touch.
One small building in a clearing has a sign pointing him onwards. More bends until upland country that is flat.
There’s the center, a cluster of white painted buildings, tucked back into a meadow. Into the parking lot, he switches off the ignition. The place is absolutely quiet.
Opening the door of the car, the fresh scent of new cut grass, and a hint of wildflowers is in the air. An eagle soars above him, glides away.
Quite a surprise seeing the raptor with its sturdy wings. If that’s an omen he hopes it’s a good omen.
Kewe grabs his bags, carries them to the door of the lodge. The door partially open, as he labors he notices two men talking in the lobby. One seeing him comes to the door.
“Hi, I’m Eric,” the man says, picking up one of the bags. “I’m the porter at the moment. Glad to see you made it.”
As they begin climbing the stairs, Eric tells Kewe he knows the room the center has placed on reserve for him because he was just looking over the sheets. They kept a room so he didn’t have to share as he had requested if possible. They had extra space. It wasn’t a problem.
The door to his room wide-open they walk inside. “I really appreciate you doing that,” Kewe plops his bag on to a chair. “I’ve lived so long on my own I don’t think I’d get any sleep if I had a roommate.”
“We have eighteen people signed up for the retreat,” Eric says, opening the closet. “That’s eighteen including Charl and me.”
“The other facilitator. Charl and I don’t live here. We fly in like you do.”
Eric looks around. “Everything seems to be in order.” He opens the closet door. “Let either of us know if there’s anything we can do.”
“I will,” Kewe smiles. He stands looking at two cubicles, at the enclosed beds just like ship’s berths.
Eric, opening another door on the far side of the room, is pointing down a long corridor. “The bathrooms are this way.” Kewe follows him, peers down the empty corridor.
Finished with showing him around, Eric is now standing by another set of stairs. “Please come and join us below when you are ready. This stairway is an entrance into the lounge. We have drinks and refreshments waiting.”
“Thank you.” With both doors of his room closed, Kewe looks around him. One half has enough space for a table, two chairs, a closet and a chest of drawers. The other half has the two, built-in sleeping cubicles.
The sleeping enclosures have wood paneled walls on three sides. The open area, where you get inside to the bed, each with a curtain folded back, attached with a cord, ready to be let down. They do look like ship berths, Kewe thinks, like those which he shared on the two week voyage from England to South Africa.
Peeking inside one of the cubicles, upon the pillow a headphone is placed, its wiring neatly tied. Attached to the inside paneling a board with an assortment of switches, a headset plug and a small inset speaker. The audio must be relayed to these individual units through an
electronic central feed.
Moving closer to check out the switches, a faint breeze wafts through, gently cooling his skin. Fresh air is filling the cubicle. As he steps back and begins unpacking, excitement creeps over him. Something, something he’s felt in the past, but when, just passed through him.
Before going downstairs he needs to clean up, take a shower. Towel in hand he opens the door to the corridor, voices from below.
Peeking over the top of the banister at the stairs that lead into a downstairs lounge, the realization hits him that he’s going to have to talk and meet with people. Kewe never a social animal is beginning to connect that the retreat is not just for him, it means having to be with numerous strangers for a week. Did he really set this up for himself?
He picks a bathroom. The shower finished he returns to his room hangs his clothes. After filling drawers, unpacking everything, there’s nothing remaining to keep him from meeting the group he will be with for a week.
Standing uneasily waiting at the head of the stairs, the sound of raucous laughter drifts up.
Taking a deep breath, he slowly treads down into the room.
Eric spots him first. Eric is sitting at a large round table with a bunch of people. “Welcome to the party,” Eric leans back on his chair. “On
the counter over there, goodies.” He points to a table filled with rows of decanters and dishes.
The table is on the side of the lounge that, thanks to glass doors and full-sized windows, has a panoramic view: fields and woods and beyond mountains. A veranda runs the length of the building.
“We’ve been praising the water,” Eric calls over to him. “We have our own supply from the well. The taste is great but we’re not sure if we’ve decided what it gives you.” He lets out a long belly laugh.
Kewe smiles, not knowing what to say.
Fortunately, the veranda door opens and a woman enters. She takes one look at Eric and at Kewe’s bemused face, and almost as if she’d been listening, says, “Don’t listen to him. He will tell you anything. ”
Eric straightens in his chair. “Oh, hello,” he stares at the woman with some surprise. “I was not expecting you see you here today.”
The woman winks at the people at the table. “I had a nudge,” she says. “I was across at the house and next thing I know I’m coming over
to meet you guys.” She walks over to a sofa near the table, sits.
Kewe at the refreshment stand looks over all that is offered, pours himself a glass of iced tea.
Eric holds up his glass. “Folks, I want you to meet our new director, the daughter of the founder of the retreat center. The loss of her father was overwhelming and she has stepped in to give invaluable help. I give a toast to the man who is no longer with us, and to our new director.”
. . .
The crowd around the table have dispersed to prepare for dinner. Kewe standing out on the balcony is watching the changing sunset thinking about the former director. Being told the man he heard on the radio has died has come as a quite a shock.
Charl the other facilitator gave him a tour of the building not long after Eric’s toast. Kewe mentions listening to a radio program just a couple of months ago. That was why he was here. He expected to meet the man talking on the radio.
tells him the radio program had been a repeat broadcast of a telephone conversation two years previous. The radio station decided to replay the interview on St Patrick's day as an encore presentation. At the beginning it had been mentioned as a tribute program to the Institute's founder. After some commercials also.
Kewe said he'd removed his earplugs when the commercials were playing.
Some part of Kewe feels let down. It’s as if this should not have really happened, as if somehow he has become suddenly out of sync.
Charl had emphasized he should enjoy the week, get on with whatever purpose he came for. He understands her words but now out on the veranda, Kewe is wondering why the death of the man is hitting him so hard. They had never met. A good-sized portrait of the man is propped on a corner lounge chair and
Kewe, staring at the eyes, at the way the eyes flashed, found himself reaching for memories he couldn’t quite grasp. As if he knew the man and yet didn’t.
Was it just a fancy, or where memory seemed to be from him doing stuff when he might have been asleep? Why does he think this? Was this some other reality he could access only a little?
“Beautiful evening.” Eric has walked up to him on the veranda. “I love the mountains how they reach across to you at sunset. Don’t you think?”
Staring at the odd, wispy cloud formations that rise over the distant uplands, Kewe has to search for an answer. “They do seem to be included in all this,” he says. Their beclouded mystery in this sun setting did seem to become a component of the place.
“Eric, I know you’re going to think me as somewhat stupid, but I came here because I thought I would meet the man I’d heard on the radio program. It’s especially confusing because I know his face. Don’t ask me where or when, but I’ve met him.”
Eric, pointing across to the land that stretched out before them: “He was like a dad to me, in many ways. I’ve always thought of myself as fortunate, meeting him the way I did.”
. . .
Not everyone listed for the retreat came in the afternoon, and so during a ‘getting to know you’ dinner there are more introductions. Eric with his quips, great one-liners coming one on top of the other, manages to turn the perhaps unduly formal atmosphere into laughter.
After dinner, Kewe exhausted with the busy day returns to his room. He expected to be asleep by now but all he’s been doing is toss
and turn. His watch is telling him it is two in the morning and he is still awake.
He hears late straddlers climbing the stairs, hears doors open and close. He waits, counts the minutes. All falls silent again.
They must be the last from downstairs, he thinks. They must be people like me, still on West Coast time. People came from all over the country to be here. They came from Europe, from Mexico.
Talking to people at his table, they all seemed eager for the session in the morning to begin. Most volunteered they were here on a special,
personal mission, as if they had come here on a search for themselves and for everything else they might find out there in the universe. Kewe thrashes back and forth, unable to sleep.
He thinks again about the portrait that is still on the chair, memories not remembered. All over his body energy is flowing. He had not noticed at first, but now he does. He can feel the surge as he lies there.
If he had to make a picture in his mind, he would see little light streams swirling around him. He swears itfeels as if he is being charged. He lies in this strange cocoon for hours. Then music begins.
Softly, from the speaker at the side of his bed, a melody begins to play. He listens, lies there while the music gradually gets louder.
It is already morning. Wake up music. He has to get up.
Stumbling out the door, he heads towards one of the bathrooms. After dressing in his day clothes, at the coffee stand in the lounge he asks a couple if they slept well. They had a good night they answer.
Walking across to the photograph propped on the chair, Kewe reviews again the smiling face.
Someone approaches him, a conversation of last night’s introductions to meeting the new guests. The bell rings and he strolls with the
rest along the veranda to the breakfast room.
After the meal, for the first session they are shown into a thickly carpeted sunken room off the lounge. People prop themselves on padded cushions, some against small foam chairs. Eric and Charl give guidelines on the best way to listen to the audio.
They say the idea is to mind wander, to do free-style imaging. Kewe figures he won’t do much imaging. He’s exhausted from being too excited, being awake all night. He thinks when the tapes begin he’ll surely fall into a sleep.
The retreat guests settle in their rooms. Kewe lies back in his cubicle, listens to the audio. The strange force is there again. Now it seems
more like a charging wind. The wind seems to be concentrating just inside the cubicle space because when the sound through the headset ends, and he gets up, the charging wind does not follow.
Before returning to the sunken lounge, in one of the bathrooms he splashes water on his face, to try to release some of the pent-up energy.
There’s a discussion about inner experiences people have seen or felt or heard during the sound played. No one talks about a charging wind. Kewe thinks he’ll wait, say nothing.
They listen to another tape before lunch. A break to mid-afternoon, Kewe uses the time to walk across the fields. After dinner, the group meet at an auditorium next to the retreatlodge. Here they listen to a guest speaker. Questions follow. When the group return to the main lodge, Eric and Charl bring out the machine that makes popcorn. Kewe lies on a couch at the far end of the lounge, on a corner section of sofas. He is so tired, only he cannot sleep. He listens to the others talking as if in a dream. Somebody says, “We receive and send via the brain. It’s about being connected on the same message channel, like a radio channel.”
“Sending messages, or receiving messages,” the voice is saying, “is a learning experience. We are seeking answers and our thoughts are merging with other being’s thoughts. We hear the thoughts, and most times we think we’ve suddenly become inspired, that the thoughts are ours. The brain interprets the thoughts as ours. All it means is that for a moment we’re on the same channel as some other being who has the answer.”
Kewe, back in his room, it’s been hours since he came to his sleeping enclosure. He keeps thinking about falling asleep but never does.
The energy is here. Pulses keep sweeping over him. The energy seems much stronger, much more powerful. He’s in some strange windstorm where the wind spreads so much around him that he cannot tell any longer that he’s in the bed. He’s flying and the wind force increasing in velocity is charging him. More than that, changing him, transforming him in some way.
Turning and twisting, he has to get up. There is too much energy, too much buzzing.
Kewe heads down to the lounge, grateful a lamp remains lighted on one of the tables.
The room without any people looks so still. He glances at the portrait on the chair. The man smiles. Why the picture is on a chair and
not on a wall, he hasn’t a clue, but the more he stares at the portrait the more he knows the man is staring at him.
He opens the veranda door, walks into the fields. The further he walks the darker it gets. When he can’t see where he’s placing his feet, he decides not to continue. He returns to the path that takes him around the lodge. In the parking lot his car is waiting.
Not having the keys, not really wanting to drive, he walks past the car, treks down the narrow, curving lane where he drove two days previous upwards. In the middle of the night, with the hedgerows looming, shadows of all kinds seem to emerge. Kewe keeps moving. Full of energy, at the marker pointing back to the lodge he continues onto the farm road.
Dawn light is beginning to break and a cock crows from a nearby farm. In the first light of morning, he hikes all the way to the highway
before he turns back.
On the return journey there’s increasingly a sense of him doing this before. It feels like some strange no-time where he has been here but not he, himself a sort of déjà vu, but where he’s meeting himself for the first time. As if these thoughts floating across his mind are not of him, walking as he’s doing along the road, but another him, an unknown version of him who’s visiting, and he had been in a dream.
Back at the lodge people are milling around the coffee table. Kewe pouring himself a cup asks if anyone else has experienced any type of energy before sleeping last night. He gets only puzzled shakes of the head in reply.
Out to the veranda he takes the coffee mug, allows the morning sun to cover him.
George, an elderly man whom he’s spoken with a few times, walks up to him. “Your name is the same as ‘Q’ in Star Trek,” George says cheerfully, too cheerfully for early morning. “I cannot remember anyone else addressed that way before.”
“It’s unusual,” Kewe replies briefly. “There are some people called Q being used in other movies. It’s used as a nickname I think. There’s an old village now attached to London called Kew. Mine has a E on the end.”
Then he remembers the man mentioning to him previously about his working with a group of children as a child psychiatrist. Kewe asks about the job, about the challenges faced with children.
The man tells him he’s been playing sound pulses recorded on tape to the more disturbed children. There was a change of behavior. It did seem to benefit them. The sounds seemed to pacify in a good way as well as energize the children.
Kewe grills him with questions about that, and this keeps them both busy until the bell rings, until they go together to breakfast.
During the midday break a few people take off for a swim. There’s a lake perhaps a mile or more trekking through the fields and Kewe would go except he’s thinking a drive might be better. He hasn’t used the car since he came and this would be a great opportunity.
Minutes into the drive, passing one hamlet then another, he knows he did the right thing. Somehow just getting into the car seems to be releasing a little of the pent-up energy.
At a bridge, the start of what looks to be a moderately sized city, he turns into some side streets. Not knowing where he’s going, a sign for a museum is ahead. He parks, gets out, sees a building, an old southern courthouse.
A woman in her forties is standing waiting by the entrance, a surprise to find the place open. The lady greets him, hands a brochure: ‘Welcome to our courthouse museum.’
Kewe looking bewildered, the lady, the only person who seems to be in the building, offers to show him around. Kewe thanks her and she guides him through the various displays.
She talks about the Quakers who settled in this area, about the Civil War. Showing him displays of the battle flags, the uniforms, the medical supplies dispensed in the war, there is always an interesting story.
By a photograph of a group of soldiers, he‘s told, “Local boys who fought in the war. The people around here still refer to the war as the ‘War of Northern Aggression.”’
She smiles broadly with the remark.
Kewe has not really been noticing, but each time he has passed one of the larger artifacts, those not protected by glass, instinctively he has placed his finger or his palm lightly upon the ceramic pot or the metal piece. A ton of energy seems to have been drawn away from him, into the objects he’s been touching.
He begins to feel clear-headed, as though all the pent-up energy he’s been absorbing the past few days the energy that has been making him crazy has gone, has been drained. The strange force somehow has been released into these artifacts.
When they return to the main room, a room with a domed ceiling, the woman points at the upper floor and its metal balcony.
“That’s where people would stand when they watched their loved ones being sentenced.”
Kewe, scanning the gallery, tries to imagine life dramas that must have taken place here.
It’s the end of the tour and the lady and him walk towards the door
Kewe comments that he’s really enjoyed the visit. “I’m at a seminar and I’m sort of playing hooky,” he says, “but this adventure has been a charm. Your stories have made the people come alive. Thank you so much.”
“I’m an afternoon volunteer,” thelady smiles graciously. “I love talking to people about the war, about the sacrifice of the men. These items hold such dear memories. I don’t want any of the men to be forgotten. Talking about them always takes me back into their world.”
Back in his car, Kewe feels almost normal. He’s late for the afternoon session, but after some discussion with Eric about driving in an
altered state, Eric arranges for him to listen to the tape he missed.
That night in his room the energy returns. The ethereal wind is energizing him again. He could say it is as if being inside a cocoon. He
has no idea how to describe the happening.
He tries the other cubicle, to see if it is the one bed, but the wind follows.
He sits upright, crosses his legs and sits yoga style with his back propped against the pillow. The strange current of air doesn’t abate.
Now in the dancing wind he begins to see strange images. Colors flood his vision. Vivid crimsons, deep purples saturate all around him. At times this becomes sudden intense flashes.
Kewe tries to be calm, relaxed. He swears the wind is curling, curving around him. He swears he is hovering.