The Great Beyond



“Continue exploring. Never stop searching.” JSM

Chapter Twenty One

Trees of Knowledge (Cont.)

Turn around and walk away. Pretend you were never here. If dad finds out, you’re in trouble.

Heart racing and mind scrambling I jumped out of my skin when the thin wooden door creaked closed behind me. The contents of the room were an assault on my senses.

I whipped my head back to the walls and darted my eyes around the cramped space, attempting to take it all in as fast as possible.

Pictures and posters overlapped one another. A single bulb dangled from the center of the roof, dimly lighting the room with a dull white glow yet revealing bright and colorful tapestries splayed across the ceiling and wooden floor.  In the corner, a cassette player whispered music I didn’t recognize from the speakers mounted to the corners of the room. Books crammed spine to spine covered a shelf nailed to a wall, and below the makeshift bookcase was a derelict recliner.  The handholds of the old chair covered with duct tape, holes worn into the fabric and a frayed brown blanket was draped across the back cushion.

Trinkets and statues and figurines littered nooks and crannies in the available spaces. Watching me from their hidden spots. Some hand painted, pewter or carved from wood. They sat on low shelves and end tables made from scrap materials, and tucked inside what appeared to be a milk-crate resting on the floor was a tightly packed assortment of LP records. Across the room from the crate, was the record player.

My parents owned a record player.  I was allowed to use it and listen to what we had on hand. Growing up, our collection was mostly gospel music, but I could lay on my parents bed and listen if I wished.

While my curiosity guided my every move at this point, I didn’t play any records in the black shack.

I pushed the milk-crate back into it’s cubbyhole and turned my attention to the walls again.

Depictions of ancient Egyptian deities, golden temples in lush forests illuminated by the setting sun, and bizarre mythical creatures and carvings. Bright yellow chariots soaring above a great city. Dante’s Inferno. Hand sketched renderings of fantastical worlds and mystical locations. Science fiction magazines and comic books were scattered across a centralized table surrounded by incense burners and scented candles. Pictures and drawings of other realms and places that only exist in the mind. A black trunk beside the chair, housed a variety of Dungeons and Dragons material.

Astrology and numerology. Maps of the Milky Way and the planets. Buddha and Shiva. Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead. Pink Floyd and psychedelic musical artwork covered every square inch of the room.

I was in a candy store.  I couldn’t get enough. The newness and intrigue of what I was being subjected to opened my mind and sparked adventure.

As if I was an observer in a new museum my eyes dragged across each piece of foreign artwork, up high to down low, all the musicians, paintings, and archaic illustrations, knick knacks, novelties, ancient maps from books stapled to the walls in random spots, and my young mind tried to make sense of it all.

Utterly fascinated.

I was once introduced by a member of the church to an author named, Frank E. Peretti.  A supernatural fiction author. The two books were titled, This Present Darkness, and it’s sequel, Piercing the Darkness.

The story of the realm of angels and demons fighting over humanity.

I read each book multiple times and was drawn deep into that story.  The idea of angels and evil demons flying above a person and battling it out. Invisible to those they’re trying to protect or destroy.

A human driving through a mountain pass drops his wallet on the floor of the car and while reaching for it, the demon gets the upper hand and the car veers towards the shoulder and certain death over the edge. As the angel fights back, sword clashing against sword, the demon backs off and the vehicle jerks back onto the road to continue on.

I loved it. My first favorite book series.

After scouring the inside of the black shack and leaving no stone unturned, I approached the door to leave hopefully unnoticed. Nestled within the corner to my left, hiding in shadows on a short table was a book with a marker sticking out of its center.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit.

I withdrew it from the surface as if it would crumble in my hands and turn to dust.

I’ve heard of this.  I think the library has it. I opened it to the first page.

That’s when the door ripped open and a tall man appeared, blocking the afternoon light from fighting it’s way inside.

He towered over me and bellowed in a thick, gruff voice, “What are you doing in here!!??”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,  I’m leaving.  Don’t tell mom, OK?” I dropped the book back on the table, looked to my feet and stuffed my hands in my pockets.

Totally busted.

The door closed behind him and a chuckle came out. “I’m just kidding, Jeremy, come on in, come on in.  Have a seat.”  He pointed to the recliner and dropped down to his haunches.

He withdrew the box holding the records and reached to the center of the pile. Eyes still soaking in my surroundings I continued browsing the room while he pulled out Ozzy Osbourne’s, The Ultimate Sin.

In all sincerity and honesty, it scared the crap out of me.  I’m laughing while typing this because I must have seemed like a fool with my reaction, but the cover was terrifying to this kid, who had never experienced something like it before.

Everything about it, based on my upbringing, screamed evil.

He saw my reaction, flipped it over out of sight, and placed it to the side. His hand raised as if to say, no, no, it’s OK.  I’ll get something else.  His face devoid of expression and his lips never moved.

His next pull was Stairway to Heaven.  Because of my approval of the title and artwork, I nodded my agreement and he half smiled his reply. He understood my train of thought.

Pushing from the floor, he gingerly removed the record from the sleeve and handed me the cover, “Yeah. I like this one.  You know something cool about these guys?”  He placed the LP on the turntable and flipped it on. “Some of their music talks about Tolkien’s characters and the world he created.”

“Like from the book?”

“Yeah.  Like from his books. Neat huh?”

While the record spun and played the songs he showed me a map of Middle Earth, talked about his experience with the author’s work, topics he and his friends discuss and we chatted about surface mythology, unique ideas, ancient religions and authors I’ve never heard of.  He explained the backgrounds and history of some of his collections and meanings behind some stories and art work. Most of his replies beginning with, “Some believe that… I’ve read in a book… I learned this in school…” Never saying what he observed or learned was true or false.  Only that he garnished some knowledge and attempted to express it in that way.

“I learned/read/researched/saw…”

Before I left, and he swore never to speak a word to the folks of my intrusion, I was unfortunately denied the borrowing of The Hobbit.

But I smiled and thanked him when he handed me a different novel in its place and told me it was a gift. Early in the summer of 1987 I was introduced to Stephen King’s, The Eyes of the Dragon. (I know he’s not reading this, but Mister King’s book was with me for years and years.  It never left my side.  Literally a part of me)

Having only moments earlier, a conversation about dragons in the ancient world, symbolism and alternate ideas and Tolkien’s dragon character, a nervous chill tingled through me while staring at the book’s cover.

I felt as though I was breaking some unorthodox rule. Treading on some seemingly forbidden territory. Will I get in trouble for reading this?

That book for me was like an iPhone for others.  You couldn’t pry it from my cold dead hands if you tried.

A whole new universe was opening up.  I was ready to explore that great beyond.

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