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23. Abu al-Hawl

I had everything I needed there: maps, music, food, sanitary facilities, amusing art works on the walls. In the gift shop there were games, books, trifles aplenty, even T-shirts with my own likeness?weathered countenance, sandblasted by a myriad storms, pecked by shells from MP 40s, jimmied block from ashlar and jammed with concrete in dullard "restorations"?cum space hat, in day-glo pink. Enough truck for my long passage beyond the realm of the living. At the rear of the main funerary chamber were twin rows of sacred fountains, one beyond the sign of "MEN," one beyond the sign of "WOMEN," swirling water eternally present at the touch of a silvered lever, the symbol of the devotion of Isis for Osiris, or of the Queen of Punt for Me. I had entered the Stream, neutral hydrogen smeared by tidal forces across two hundred thousand light-years between the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way.

Wherever My gaze falls, if the soil be fertile?this is what I realized?beings spring up in My likeness. Their thoughts are but foam on the waves of My mind. Each little creature is a door into Me. Seeking Me, they seek their true self. Invoking My name, they will come home in Me.

Come, then, Queen of Punt, ring my loins, receive My pollen. I will open into you. I crawled toward Nora over Gypsys slithering hulk. Shaman was pinned underneath him. "Im you!" he pleaded in a tinny, squeezed voice. Nora opened her flower around me like Ganeshas shakti. Lo, I destroy you from inside. "Bodies arent important," she moaned. Mine is the maelstrom you have sought. I swirled into her. You could not hold Me on Sanduleak. You could not detain Me in the Magellanics. My life is greater than that.

Gypsy coughed and spat black blood. Shaman struggled out from under him. "Youre still down there, still in Giza, still on Earth," Shaman told me. "Im you. I stopped you there, Abu al-Hawl. Im you. I held you as a man holds a morsel with his fork, then cuts and eats. Im you. This being here is a flake of your dried flesh, a leaf trembling in your wind. Im you. This being here is Mel, little Mel, will-less Mel, the hitchhiker through New Mexico?Im you?through whom my pipeline has been laid. I speak to you, Sphinx, as one shouts through a cavern to a man buried in stone. You are not here."

The sun burned my back. Desert afternoon. I was seated in a huge limestone ditch. Between my paws, where Tuthmosiss stela used to rise, tiny creatures teemed. They stared up at me, and I felt the pressure of their dreams against my stone skin. I had pressed my dreams into Tuthmosis (now Shaman) two thousand years before: Uncover Me, Noble One. Remove the sand that girdles and swallows Me. I shall make you king. He had dug me out, I made him Pharaoh, then he betrayed me, anchored me to this claustrophobic world by the very power I had dreamed into him. Now his stela was gone, its ground defiled by vulgar feet, but Tuthmosis still lived.

He was speaking to me in a mosquitos voice, from an impossible distance: "I speak to you, Sphinx, as one shouts through a cavern to a man buried in stone. You are not here." Little people shuffled, jabbered, clicked and flashed in the shadow of my headdress. For the thousandth time, I perceived, Tuthmosis had changed his name. Like snake skins or like locusts hulls clinging emptily to the barks of trees, his old names polluted history. Now he was "Shaman."

"Im you," Shaman said. A huge block rumbled and fell from my shoulder. The tourists scattered. "Sanduleak couldnt hold you, but Earth will. I will. You are not in the Stream, Great One. You are in the desert near Nazlet El-Semman. Gypsy and Nora are the grave robbers, not I. They want to take you back to Gypsys galaxy, Abu al-Hawl, but you are so happy in the sand! You are so happy to be my sun, my blood, my radiance, my eternal source! The little brown man in the starship humping Nora is Mel, not you! Its Mel, and the child he is making in her is a pitiable monster, a monster, Great One, and not the child of your Mind, not the vehicle of your mind seed, not the vessel of your radiance. This was a mirage. I am that. Tuthmosis is that. Shaman is your vessel. Im you."

I felt heavy, very heavy. I had no desire to move. I was being slowly drained. Perhaps that was good. Perhaps it would lighten me. I scanned the crowd of little people skirting the chunks fractured from the fallen limestone. They were hysterically running east toward the tourist buses. Only one person remained at the site of the ancient stela. With great difficulty I focused on the small man between my paws. He was wearing a T-shirt with my image in day-glo pink, and behind that, the pyramids of Cheops and Chephren in blue. He wore Bermuda shorts and a pith helmet. There was a camera hanging by a thong over one shoulder and a canteen over the other. In one hand he held a shopping bag that said "Nefertiti Bazaar."

Large wraparound sunglasses covered his eyes and part of his forehead and nose. He peeled them from his face, and I saw the brow, one brow arching over both eyes. "Well," he shouted, "its been a year, just like I told you, and here I am, Melly-belly. Dont time fly!"

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