The Last Miracle

© 2000 Donald E. Watson



Chapter 1

Time lay heavily, marked only by the regular plinking of water dripping from the faucet in the kitchen. Paul sat rumpled in his chair, as much a part of his dusky library as his extensive collection of books, staring across the open Journal of Psychiatric Inquiries cradled in his lap. Questioning his perceptions of reality, he was certain of only one thing: The encounter had created a crisis, a turning point that would radically transform his life, jolting him forever from the quiet, scholarly track he had planned for his retirement. He knew what he had wanted before the encounter: to apply his extensive knowledge of human behavior to help humanity survive its own self-destructive impulses. Now he didn't know what he wanted.

Though the encounter had occurred only an hour before, less than a mile away, it seemed to have occurred in a faraway universe over an unframed span of time. He had been strolling through the redwoods along his customary trail near the top of the wide bend in the river, reflecting on the chapter he was writing. October had arrived, and the summer's drought had reduced the river to a playful stream.

As he often did during these walks, he created a surreal mindscape by entering a trance-like state. Alternating shadows and evening light filtered through the trees, nullifying his vision. Melodious currents of the river and soothing aromas from the mist-dampened redwoods captured his other senses.

As he contemplated the natural political behavior of humans--the subject of his new book--his thoughts were unexpectedly interrupted. Was I meant for a set of parents in some remote world? Was I abandoned accidentally on this planet? Though this was a recurring musing, something else happened this time, something distinctly outside his mind. From behind him, a calm voice said, "You were. In a way."

"What?" Paul shouted, whirling to see the source of the voice. He saw a man who looked curiously like himself, about fifty years old, six feet tall, soft featured, with lively dark blue eyes. Dressed in blue jeans, plaid shirt, green wind-breaker, and sneakers, he stood about eight feet away, casually smoking a pipe, its smoke wafting gently toward Paul. Paul thought he saw a mirror image, but inexplicably an image of someone else. He was bewildered.

"You were left here. But not accidentally."

The stranger's tone of voice was reassuring, but his presence was not. Paul had not heard him approach, even though it wasn't possible to walk silently upon the small stones and forest detritus. Besides, he had never before encountered another person in this part of the forest during his evening walks. And nowhere, at any time, had he confronted anyone who could read his thoughts.

Paul froze, mute. As an experienced psychiatrist, he usually listened quietly for information before saying anything. This time, however, he was quieted by wonder and a spreading shadow of fear. His silence notwithstanding, he found himself fully engaged in a dialogue.

The visitor addressed Paul's unstated fear. "Yes, I'm real, and so are you. We're here, looking at each other, communicating telepathically."

Paul tried to speak aloud, but he stammered, unable to organize a sentence to express his thoughts.

"You don't have to speak," noted the visitor without words. "We can continue this way until you've oriented yourself."

Feeling completely out of control, Paul conceded the obvious with a nervous grin, and received a warm smile in return. Relaxed somewhat by this, he started scanning his visitor with his senses. Suddenly, he stiffened.

The visitor smiled and nodded, prompting Paul to speak aloud.

Paul didn't understand his own reaction at first. Then he blurted, "Why don't I smell your pipe smoke?"

"Yes, that. Sorry." At once, Paul smelled the smoke, recognizing the aroma of his own brand of tobacco. "You're right. You hadn't smelled it before. Sometimes I overlook details."

"Sometimes? Details?" Forgetting momentarily the extraordinary circumstances, Paul began to feel comfortable in exchanging ideas, his favorite activity.

The visitor chuckled in Paul's own manner, swept his arm in a large arc to indicate the scope of his answer, and spoke aloud. "Yes, but not before with you. This is the first time we've met. Or, rather, it's the first time you've met me."

Probing his memory for recollections of this face in a lecture audience or his office, Paul thought, He knows me? From where?

"Don't bother," the stranger advised without speaking. "You wouldn't recognize me from any of those places. I've known you for a long time, but not from your public appearances."

By this time, Paul fully comprehended that the stranger was reading his mind and he found the experience surprisingly consoling, like visiting with an intimate friend. He had also discovered that communicating telepathically with this man was far more efficient than speaking. He realized he could switch between the two modes of conversation, noting that the telepathic mode seemed more natural than the verbal. Still, by habit, he preferred using spoken words.

He soon discovered another ability of his visitor, who said, "I want to show you something."

Paul's sensorium abruptly filled with a rapidly changing kaleidoscope of images, scents, and sounds of other times, other lands, and other people. He saw and heard the stranger, each time dressed in the distinctive costume of the time and place, conversing intently with an assortment of individuals. He recognized some of the people and places: Moses in the wilderness, Aristotle in the Lyceum, Buddha in a garden, Jesus on an isolated plateau, Copernicus in Poland, Helmholtz in his laboratory. The identity of others he could not discern: An African elder, a native American, a Mayan holy man, an Indian yogi, an Asian peasant, and a primitive hominid.

After the mental tour, he arrived back where he had started with the stranger--but saw it from a vantage point above himself. Then, as suddenly as they had started, the images stopped.

Stunned, Paul retreated from his visitor, turning his eyes toward the ground to gain time to comprehend his experience. He frantically searched his memory for similar experiences, but all he could identify was dream material. Again, a vague rumble of fear unsettled his emotional base. He knew he wasn't dreaming. Was he losing his mind? Since science wasn't helping him, he searched for a mythological answer.

"Are you an angel?" he asked hesitantly. He didn't believe in angels, but he had to ask.

The man laughed gently. "No, but certain prophets have called me an angel. Poets have thought of me as their muse. Philosophers attribute me to intuition, and scientists chalk me up to a dream. The Dogon accept me as their god. And, of course, you worry that I'm a hallucination."

Curiously, the stranger's words drew Paul back to his senses, pacifying him. He chuckled briefly in relief. His faculties focused again, he reflected on what had happened to him. Instantly, by his own experience, he had become intimately aware of his visitor navigating through time and space, utilizing the beliefs, knowledge bases, and cultural sets of a selection of individuals throughout history, and helping these individuals change the world. He was astounded with the speed with which he had absorbed all this history.

He realized that he, too, had been chosen--but for what purpose, he didn't know.

"You're correct on both topics. Instant education, and you have been chosen."

Then the stranger slowed the pace of information transfer by speaking aloud. "The ability to educate instantly is one of the many things I can show you. But first, you must retreat and organize yourself."

Paul was relieved to hear the man was sensitive to his situation. He was frightened, yet fascinated; overwhelmed, yet eager to hear more. With the visions alone, he had experienced more than he could possibly sort through. Yet he needed much more information before he could begin to make sense of this encounter--if it was indeed a real experience.

Straightening himself to look the stranger directly in the eyes, he decided to risk asking about his primary worry. "How do I know you're not a hallucination? If you're not, who are you? What's your name? Where are you from?"

The stranger smiled knowingly. Though Paul had communicated externally, no human could have understood him. Without knowing it, he had started using another language, one far more efficient than his native tongue.

In the same idiom, his visitor responded, "You couldn't recognize my real name as a name, but you can call me--"

"Mariner!" Paul shouted.

Mariner nodded, then stepped lightly toward Paul, inviting him to shake hands. "You can't feel a hallucination. Try me."

Paul felt the man's hand, then impulsively stepped forward and hugged him. After breaking the embrace, he smiled warmly and stood back to make eye contact with his visitor before speaking.

"You're solid enough. And I feel I've known you all my life. Why do you say I've never met you?"

"That's not easy to answer. In many ways, I am you. It's a genetic thing--sort of. It's part of the basics I hope you'll be able to learn."

Without making another sound, Mariner imparted to Paul the knowledge that they would meet again the next day at the same place, then vanished.

Unnerved, Paul sat down where he had stood. He wasn't tired, he just didn't want to waste any attention on staying upright. Taking a deep breath, he looked about. Reassured by the familiar river and trees, he began to relax. Then he was struck that something was unexpectedly missing. At first, he wondered why he was staring at his footprints; they were not puzzling. It required nearly a minute for him to figure out what was absent. His were the only footprints. Mariner had left none.

An anchor dropped in his stomach, creating a wave of nausea. The implications of the missing footprints were ominous. His visitor wasn't solid. He had been hallucinating, after all. His mouth went dry and his heart started pounding on his chest wall. His mind raced to find an explanation for his bizarre experience.

Perhaps, he speculated, he had felt comfort and familiarity with the stranger because of schizophrenic autism. At a deep unconscious level, he had invented his visitor, patterning his thoughts and actions after himself. Yet, this idea wasn't satisfactory, because schizophrenic creations nearly always express themselves as auditory hallucinations. Besides, he thought, I'm showing insight. I'm questioning the reality of my experiences. And I'm too old to have a first schizophrenic episode, anyway.

He considered another possibility. Visual and tactile hallucinations usually result from brain toxicity. Considering these choices, he could only hope he'd somehow mistakenly eaten a hallucinogenic mushroom. This, at least, would be reversible.

His intellectual attempts to assuage his fear were suddenly interrupted by a faint rustle. As he looked in the direction of the noise, footprints materialized where Mariner had last stood, impressing the moist forest floor with the tread marks of size twelve sneakers.

Paul remained immobilized for a few seconds. Then he cautiously reached forward to feel the contours of the footprints. His tactile sense confirming his visual observation, the anchor in his stomach began to lift, and he sighed in relief. When he regained his voice, he cried out, "Thank you! Thank you!"

He immediately heard a response from nowhere in particular. "Sorry for the scare. My fault. I forgot another detail."

February 4, 2007