I had this strange and wonderful dream last night and this morning, and somehow can remember it as though I were watching a movie. The story is incomplete and doesn't translate well to poetry, so here is the story so far. Perhaps, I will dream an ending...or maybe just make one up!
Tuesday, October 2, 2017 dawned like most Autumn days in the Keweenaw—cold, grey, and windy. I didn’t want to crawl out from under the covers, but my cellphone was making a racket and it doesn’t ring often—especially at 6:30 AM.
“Hullo,” I coughed into the phone.
“Mr. McKellar?” asked a cheery, vaguely foreign sounding voice, “Mr. Elvin McKellar?”
Close enough. “Yeah.”
“C o n g r a t u l a t i o n s!” she shrieked, in a voice custom designed to pierce the veil of early morning turbidity. “You and your wife, Muriel have won a week’s stay at the Grand Hotel in Tilapia, Colorado.
Muriel? Close enough. Time for some intelligence: “Who are you? I don’t remember entering any contests, especially contests involving tilapia.” A sudden pun pounded into my thoughts, and I added: “This sounds fishy to me.”
“My name is Sharon, and I represent Whale Sweat Products. You were entered when you visited our website a couple of months ago.”
An errant click? What the hell is Whale Sweat? She didn’t laugh at my pun! I growled: “This is some kind of scam, right? I never heard of you, much less entered your contest. What do you want from me?”
“This is a courtesy call, Mr. McKellar.” Sharon breezed on, “A certified letter will arrive in a few days with all specifics. Do you have any questions?”
“Do you have an hour?” I barked.
“The letter will explain everything, Mr. McKellar!” she laughed, and almost in a whisper she added, “Read it carefully. Bye, now!” The last two words were loud and strong, followed by a click and silence.
Stunned, I sat on the edge of my bed and stared at the caller ID: Whale Sweat. The number was masked. I filed the experience under: Unexplained Weirdness and immediately forgot about it. Until a week later, when the letter arrived.
I told Marian about my phone call and she asked if I was dreaming. I said I wasn’t, but wished I had been. We laughed. A week later on another Tuesday, a shiny, Cerulean blue envelope arrived, and required my signature for delivery. The return address said, Whale Sweat Products, Inc., Tilapia, CO 81613.
We looked at each other and I pulled the tab that said, “Pull Me!” Things got fuzzy for a few seconds, and I remember feeling tired, so I slept.
“Better finish that, we’re landing!” Said a voice over the roar of wind and engine noise.
I woke up holding a cup of instant coffee to my lips, in a plastic cup. I was strapped into a tiny seat in a deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver, and staring at a wall of rock flashing by. I gulped the tepid, bitter liquid, and called out: “All gone.” I stared at the pilot. I knew his name was Al, but I didn’t know how I knew.
Outside the window, a frozen sea of ice and snow crashed into sea cliffs that soared above our plane. On the surface of the white sea, huge white creatures were moving gracefully through the snow, on the snow, and even under the snow. They were chased by people on power sleds. Some looked like snowmobiles and others resembled swamp boats with the big fans on them. They had nets to entangle the white creatures.
The people on the snowmobiles would poke long needle-like probes into the creatures and seemed to be drawing out something...blood? What the hell was going on here, and where were we?
“Tilapia station ahead, touchdown in three...two...one!” The pilot shouted as lurching and bumping shook the plane. We landed on skis! “Welcome to Tilapia, folks!” He said as he taxied to a hangar-like structure, built on the edge of a cliff. He spun the plane around, facing away from the hangar and shut down the engine. A small tractor grabbed the plane from the rear and pulled us inside, facing toward the doorway. “So, I can taxi out in an emergency.” Al said, “Extracting whale sweat is a dangerous business, and emergencies are common. Everyone out!”
Reflexively, I looked at Marian before I moved. She was smiling and nodding for me to move, so she could get out. I was feeling unwell, but only slightly.
“You OK with this?” I asked. Her response was a grin and a push. Her eyes, though, seemed a bit unfocused, as if she were seeing something else, something she really wanted to see. I climbed out of the plane and helped her down to the floor of the hanger.
Another couple was with us. Charlie stood about 6’2’’ with a slight hunch, skinny, grey eyes, and dusty brown hair. His face looked like it was uncomfortable with his vacant grin. On his arm was Cory, tiny by comparison to Charlie, with short, dark hair, and vacant, dark eyes. She had perfect teeth in a massive smile.
“We made it!” She squeaked, in a voice that should have been irritating as fingernails on slate. She and Charlie followed the pilot. We followed them. Uncertain what to do, I smiled. Weirdly, it felt like the right thing to do -- at least for now.
Check-in was at a beat-up, old garage desk in a corner of the hangar. We showed the ID cards clipped to our parkas, and the short, dumpy, curmudgeon of a desk clerk, also named Al, pointed to a door marked: Accommodations for Guests.
Through the door was another hangar space with a couple of old double beds against opposite walls, near doorways to the women’s loo on the left and the men’s loo on the right. A card on a stand showed our names with arrows, McKellar to the right and Conway to the left. Free-standing dividers separated the two “rooms.”
Cory said: “Lovely!”
Charlie said: “Wow!”
Marian said: “Nice.”
I said nothing, and was catching on to the fact that I was seeing something other than what they were seeing. Until I figured out what was going on, however, I thought it best to smile and play along. The place was not any dirtier than any garage I’d ever seen and I have slept in more primitive campsites. I even smiled when I washed up in the rather dingy 1950’s green tile bathroom. The huge, industrial space heater near the distant ceiling blasted comfortably warm air on us, so I calmed down and patiently waited to see what would transpire next.
Our tour guide arrived in about an hour. His name, of course, was Al. He directed us to their “Sight-Seeing Vehicle” which appeared to be my old Dodge Caravan, now even rustier than before. Charlie said something about nice looking SUV’s. As they piled in, Al pulled me aside.
“I know you can see what is actually going on, because some of us arranged for you to get pure water in your hydration bottles, so your head should be clear by now. We’re taking an awful chance, but this has to stop before any more guinea pigs get hurt or killed. I’m going to say I twisted my ankle, so you are going to drive. OK?”
He limped to the passenger door, and I climbed behind the wheel. “I talked Al into letting me drive!” I announced. “Where to?” I asked Al.
“Past the tennis courts (heavy equipment parking) and to the right. We will drive through the front gate and down the scenic route to the town below. We waved at the security guard as we passed (his name tag read: Al) and we bounced on down a rugged, rutted mountain road. All the while, Al described what the others were seeing and how the ancient, twisting, corduroy road was part of the local charm. I listened as best I could while fighting with the wheel and dodging debris and potholes. Al suggested everyone put headphones on to listen to a pre-recorded tour, except for me -- he had to give me directions and I had to hear both him and traffic noise to drive safely.
When everyone else was isolated, Al spoke to me: “Your envelope from us contained a sedative and your first dose of Whale Sweat. Whale Sweat makes you extremely susceptible to suggestion. On your trip here, the others were exposed to programming to help them see exactly what we wanted them to see. A group of us altered your programming to let you slowly wake to reality. You see, we need your help. Some of us want the world to know just what Whale Sweat is and what is going on here.
“Why? And why me?” I whispered.
“In short,” he said, “Chemotherapy and pain. You have already been through hell and nearly poisoned to death as a treatment for your leukemia.”
“The effects of large doses of Whale Sweat are well documented, and the effects wear off in a few days. Problems start as the sweat leaves your cells. Until it is gone, which can take up to two months, the user experiences wave upon wave of extreme pain, at the cellular level. It is excruciating! I would never go through it again!” The pain and horror in his voice made me cringe away from him.
“You’ve been through withdrawal?”
“See my ID?” I nodded. “Al isn’t a nickname. It’s an abbreviation: AI means Already Initiated. Only those who have survived it once are allowed to work here, because the risk of accidental exposure is too great. If you survive once, you can survive again. However, the memory of that journey into darkness makes one doubly careful not to risk exposure again. There are a lot of mothers working here. Because of the trauma of childbirth, they can block and control much of the pain. You also have endured pain at the cellular level and will likely survive. This made you a likely guinea pig candidate.”
“There are plenty like me. Why me, particularly?” I was getting frightened.
“I read your social media postings about your accident at age 18 months. The boiling of your hands and feet was the clue. You learned to compartmentalize and control pain was a toddler. You rather unwisely bragged about it online. And now you have proved our choice fully.”
I winced, and demanded, “What are you talking about?”
“If you remember, I said that when you opened the envelope, you both were dosed with a sedative AND Whale Sweat?”
“I was dosed? And I’ve had none since?
At that point, I realized what was bothering me. At some level, I was feeling unwell, but as usual, I simply disconnected from the pain. Somewhere, deep inside, agony was going on, but on a conscious level, I simply felt a little unwell.
“Call me AI!” I said.
“My true-name is Jed-AI.” He said, “And we need your help.”
And I woke up this morning.