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Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized.

If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as unsold or destroyed and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it. Published by E.K. Sweet Copyright 2006 by E.K. Sweet All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the US by E.K. Sweet. ISBN 978-1-4116-9601-3 Manufactured in the USA First Edition: May 2006

CLEAN is dedicated to the memory of my greatgrandmother, Mabel W. Geary, who can never die, for she will forever live in our hearts. We love you, Ocean Nana. A special thanks to the special people who made this book possible: My mom and dad, who taught me that if I could dream it I could do it; my supportive and talented editor, Talia Philips; Dennis Downing, who helped me recognize the true beauty of Britain; and of course, Tracy Davis, who has served triple-duty as my fiance, my biggest fan, and my best friend.

-PROLOGUEI believe in getting in hot water it helps keep you clean. G. K. Chesterton I always knew in my heart that it existed, but it took me a great quest, twenty years, a failed marriage, a great romance, exceeding joy and grievous suffering, to discover it. And when I finally found myself standing there, in that quiet clearing, in a tiny copse of trees, with the morning sun streaming down upon the mossy stones, there was no doubt in my heart that this was the place. I collapsed to my knees and I wept. I saw the faces of everyone I had hurt upon my journey friends and enemies alike. I was confronted by the absurdly joyful smile of my ex-wife, photographically captured in a moment of perfect childhood bliss by a well-timed snap, and then heard her heart-wrenching tears and protests as our marriage came to a close by my own hand. Every indignity I had ever borne, all my selfish and greedy actions, my anger, lust, and jealousy, and even my most secret and terrible fears flooded my soul with a great wash of emotion and reduced me to a sobbing infant. Humbled, dirty, unworthy of life itself, I flung myself desperately forward toward the opening, but

CLEAN merely managed to sprawl heavily across the hard-packed dirt in front of it. With great effort I lifted myself up and crawled the last few feet to the steps, sliding down them on my rear end, one step at a time, into the darkness below, until the cold water covered everything but my head. Then I closed my eyes and sank deep into the water, submerging my entire body in its dark, cold emptiness, sinking and turning until I no longer knew which way was up or how far under I was. And when I emerged, I was Clean.

Ken Sweet

-THE VISION OF CLEAN-

When I was 8 years old I became very ill with pneumonia. The doctors sent me home with instructions for my mother and a prescription for penicillin, but I developed allergies from overexposure to the antibiotic, and the brief time without it, while they decided what to do, allowed the bacteria to take over. I awoke one night hot with fever and to bring my temperature down to safe numbers my mother immersed me in a bathtub full of cold water. To my overheating skin it felt like the tub was full of crushed ice. My dad held me down in the water as I screamed and thrashed, struggling to break free. My mother called the doctor. By the time I was admitted to the hospital my lungs were awash in thick mucus. I had staph pneumonia and my body burned with a dangerously high fever. That terrible month in 1982 is hazy now, more than twenty years later, but I remember images, impressions, and a few lucid moments. My hospital room was dim and surreal and the IVs dangling from my arms made me feel like a broken machine. I soiled the sheets when my mind wasnt there, only to come around 3

CLEAN later feeling shamed and disgusted by my mess. The nurse was sympathetic. My parents brought me A-Team comic books and a stuffed gorilla. I could see the city lights outside my window. There were many dreams, some while sleeping, and others while I was still awake. These became hard to distinguish from reality. Helicopters hovered outside the window. Were they spying on me for nefarious purposes or did they mean to protect me from harm? I came to believe that I was going to die. I was convinced of it. During my lucid intervals I would listen carefully to the doctors or nurses for any sign of the truth. They betrayed nothing. Of course, they werent going to let me know. They didnt want to panic me. They would only tell my parents. Mom, I called to my mother one night, through a mask of tears and snot. Am I going to die? Mom twitched perceptibly and looked like she might start crying, but she quickly steeled herself and took my hand. I sucked in my breath and waited to hear the news. No, honey. She spoke forcefully and convincingly. Youre not going to die. Everything is going to be ok. I smiled and wept tears of relief, through sobbing laughter, and hugged my mother. At that moment, she was my hero, my deliverer. They shipped me home a few days later, alive. I was alive, but far from well. The doctors said there was nothing more to do for me in the hospitalI was on the road to recovery and I could continue at home more comfortably and with fewer expenses. The drugs and my breaking fever kept me in a state of perpetual unreality, wandering aimlessly in the borderland between sleeping and waking. Mom took out a book from the libraryThe Three Musketeersand began reading it aloud at night. 4

Ken Sweet I was told that I slept on the pullout sofa the first night and mom slept beside me. I dont remember that at all. The second night we were already well into the book and although my mind was too lost to comprehend it, I found it comforting. I was recovering, and I had even kept down some soup and crackers that day. I no longer felt like I was drowning when I tried to breathe. Things were getting better. I fell asleep quickly that night, as my mother read to me. She woke me once to give me some medicine and feel my forehead, but I scarcely noticed. I was completely under until 3 oclock in the morning, when I raised myself clumsily from the pullout to go to the bathroom. My mother didnt notice. This seemed odd at the time, since my mother was typically fraught with concern over my welfare and a very light sleeper too, but she had her hands full taking care of me, and I assumed that she must be in a really deep sleep, recuperating. I shuffled toward the hallway, using the wall to steady myself, and turned left to go to the bathroom, which was at the end of the hall, past my own bedroom door. What I saw when I turned the corner astounded me. People were lined up along the sides of the hallway, all of them luminescent and incorporeal, staring at me through eye sockets ablaze with white light. The hall seemed much longer than it had before, and it was filled with a light mist. At the very end of the hall was the bathroom doorway; a light brighter than any I have ever seen spilling out into the mist. I shielded my eyes from the blinding glare. I was not afraid, just astounded. I felt a longing to discover what was going on in the bathroom, what was causing that light, and why all these people were here. I looked at the faces of the people5

CLEAN -they were mostly old, with kind faces. They beckoned me forward with smiles and gentle motions, and somehow, through their silent gestures, I began to understand that the white light represented healing. If I could just reach it, I would be cleansed of my disease. I took my first step forward. As soon as I did, a man stepped out of line at the end of the hallway, blocking off the bathroom. His eyes were unlike the rest instead of blinding light, there were only dark holes. This man was different than the others and he frightened me. I turned and stumbled quickly away, back to the pullout, where I began urgently shaking my mothers shoulder. Yes, honey? she mumbled. I had to go to the bathroom, but I couldnt. I was embarrassed, but I needed to get to the toilet. She began to sit up. You couldnt? There are too many people, I cant get past them all. When we went back into the hallway, mom didnt see the people. I didnt either. No dark-eyed man tried to bar our entrance. There was no light in the bathroom except for the small nightlight above the sink. I couldnt understand what had happened, but I wanted to. My mother sensibly attributed the phenomenon to a combination of my fever and the medicine. My father wasnt so sure, brushing it off with a noncommittal comment about some things being inexplicable. I argued that it was real and assured myself that I would someday find out what had really happened. My great-grandmother, who I had affectionately dubbed Beach Nana when I was very young because she often took me to the ocean, came to visit us every year. She stayed in my room on an extra bed we set up just for her. She was the single greatest rock in 6

Ken Sweet our familyher faith in the Lord and her love for her family, no matter how far extended, held us together with strings that stretched across the nation. She smelled like old people, a smell I have always found mildly pleasant, and she always had butterscotch candy in her pocket and a constant readiness to give it away. To me she was magical, wise, and wrinkled, like Yoda. Unlike the few others I had bothered mentioning it to; Beach Nana didnt dismiss my vision lightly. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, she said simply. When she saw that I had no idea what she was on about, she explained. Being clean has always been important to God. It represents purity and righteousness. So if I keep my room clean and take a bath every night? I trailed off in confusion. Beach Nana laughed. No, Benny, but thats important too. But I like getting dirty. All the young want is to play and get dirty and all the old want is to relax and be clean, she said softly. No, Benny, its not really about actually getting dirty. Its the state of your soul what is inside you that makes you youthats what needs to stay clean. You need to think clean thoughts and live a clean life. That helps you not get dirty. But the only way to truly be cleansed of all the filth that festers in your soul is by God Himself. Why? I wanted to know. Youre the window through which you must see the world, she told me, and I had the impression she was quoting someone important. Best keep yourself clean and bright. So does the vision mean I need to be cleaned by God? I was puzzled. I dont know what the vision means, she confessed. But 7

CLEAN youre too young to have a dirty soul. I think for now you should just listen to the Lord, pray, and let Him guide you. Hell show you what your vision meant when the right time comes, and Hell show you what to do about it. I thought about this for a while before asking: Will you teach me how to pray? Beach Nana was delighted. Yes, Benny. Of course Ill teach you how to pray. It took nearly a year to put the event almost completely from my young mind, and as I grew older I came to believe my mother was rightthe whole thing was a drug-induced hallucination. I prayed regularly, but my great-grandmothers words, whilst well intentioned and probably accurate, didnt apply to my vision. The Lord may very well exist, but certainly He was not the kind of Guy who would show me something and then not follow up on it. By the time I was an adult the whole affair was just a neat story to tell people when the conversation turned spooky or metaphysical. The encounter was, in the grand scheme of things, impossible to understand and entirely insignificant. But you dont have to understand something, or even believe in it, for it to affect you.

Ken Sweet

-A NEW CHAPTER-

My world collapsed on a Tuesday morning in early August. Approaching 30 years of age, I suddenly realized that everything was wrong. Forced happiness, an endlessly frustrating dead-end job, 8 years of a strained marriage, and a growing sense of guilt overtook me and became more than I could bear. I was caught in the joy consuming quicksand of deep depression. Life had become burdensome and old, repetitive and exhausting. I needed an escape. Alone in the middle of the night, sitting on my patio in the cool air under a clear summer sky, I decided that I was no longer in love with my wife and I hadn't been for half a decade. Oh, I loved her. I did love her. Very much. But the relationship was simply wrong. We were companions, good friends who happened to sleep in the same bed, but it was a bad marriage. There was too much bitterness. Bitterness over things past and present, which led to rebellious refusals to fulfill each other's deepest needs. There were too many screams and fights, too much icy resolve, and not enough humility. It was the same old story 9

CLEAN we had married young, for the wrong reasons, and then dutifully accepted a bleak future as set in stone. Then I broke. Snapped in two, like a brittle bone, shattered by a weight that I had never been prepared to shoulder. I began to cry one night on my way home from work, filled with the pain of guilt and misery, and a voice was suddenly saying: Jean is a good wife. She loves you more than anything. You mean the world to her. She's not the problem. You're the problem. Make it right. The voice was mine. Make it right became my mantra, and I faked happiness with renewed vigor, hoping that acting as if something is true can make it so. In truth, the crying at night only intensified, but my eyes dried by morning and no one was the wiser. Make it right. I maintained this ruse for another year. The process nearly killed me. My health, physical and mental, went into an uncontrolled nosedive, until I broke again one warm August night, and this time the damage was irreparable. All the memories and trips and songs and laughter, all the things we'd bought for each other out of love and all the things that made up our home, all the plans we'd made, and even the names we'd carefully selected for our future childrenthey weren't enough to save our hearts from the impending crash. I fancy myself a writer, so I had long believed I knew a few things about words, like how to use them diplomatically and effectively. When I decided to leave Jean, this theory endured its test. There are so many ways to say the same thing, so many possible approaches to a dilemma. All I had to do was choose the right words, say the right thing, and maybe I could minimize her pain and my guilt. At least I could do that. 10

Ken Sweet I chose all the wrong words, ending our eight-year marriage in a reckless whirlwind of vicious words, desperate tears, and bitter emotions. We fell apart as the burning autumn leaves began to drop from the trees, and suddenly everybody we knew seemed like leaf-peepers there to witness the spectacle. I met Lazarus three months later. Jean and I were still living together as I saved money to move out and leave her with enough to pay our few outstanding debts. She was shattered and miserable, begging me to let her sleep on the floor beside my bed in the den, begging me to reconsider my reckless actions. Any relationship would do, love or friendship, as long as we were together. I could learn to love her like she loved me. It was becoming so unbearable that I could barely stand to look at her, scarcely open my eyes in that place without collapsing from the torment. I loved her and I desperately wanted her to be happy, but I stayed focused on the need for change. We had breakdowns every night. Then, outside of our rental townhouse, crying in the cold rain, my life coming apart in my hands, I rounded a sharp corner of the building and crashed into a tall stranger, falling heavily back onto the wet grass. The man swiftly recovered and fixed his crushed cigarette with a baleful stare. Then he held out his hand and pulled me to my feet. I tried to not let on that I was crying. It must not have worked, because he looked confused for a few seconds and said: Hey, come on now, it's just a little fall. It can't have hurt that bad. And then it happened. In that weakest and most vulnerable moment, I told him everything. Everything. The floodgate opened there in the drizzling rain and wasn't shut until 6 hours later, around midnight, when I suddenly realized that I was in a strange 11

CLEAN apartment full of fringe-culture books, punk-rock posters, and tattered skate gear, my boots drying by the heater, telling my life story to a total stranger. I'm sorry, I said. I didn't mean to, well, you know, unload all my troubles on you. God, I dont even know youre name. Lazarus. And its too late for apologies now. Lazarus flicked a glance toward the clock and ran his fingers through a thick tangle of blonde hair. Lazarus looked a lot like mewiry, with short blonde hair and blue eyes, although I was easily a few inches taller than him. He also had an easy demeanor and kindly gaze, and I wondered if this sort of thing happened to him a lot. At least I can say my day wasn't boring, he went on. Now, do you want some advice? I nodded desperately, but couldn't help harboring grave doubts that this scruffy young skateboarder could possibly have any insightful words of wisdom for me. In fact, I began to wonder if I hadn't made a mistake coming here. But I listened to what he had to say, and those words changed the course of my life forever. Britain. That's where Lazarus wanted me to go. He said a guy like me could get sorted out there, in a land of ancient ruins and holy sites. Hed visited there twice before. He even told me he had friends I might be able to stay with for a couple of nights now and then. He didn't want me to go for a couple of weeks either. He wanted me to go for at least a month. I had never been to Britain before, but I'd always wanted to go. My ancestors hail from England and Scotland, and it was a lifelong dream to visit those primeval homelands and immerse myself in their rich culture and history. 12

Ken Sweet Still, I was reluctant. I had a job, a situation to sort out, belongings to go through, and new accommodations to find. I said as much to Lazarus, but he waved me off like a mosquito. To hell with that stuff. Give anything that's not important to her. You don't need it. Stuff owns us, not vice versa. Don't let it own you. I agreed with his theory, but putting it into practice seemed much harder. How do you decide what's important? Take what you can't live without. The rest is excess baggage. You don't dive off a sinking ship wearing a backpack loaded with rocks. What if she doesn't want it? Give it away. Throw it out. Have a frigging yard sale, for Pete's sake. This seemed like crazy talk at the time, like he wanted me to sell off a huge portion of my life, but it's what I eventually did. In actuality, it was both sad and liberating. I can understand getting away Laz, but why Britain? I asked him. Why not Canada or, I dunno, France? Lazarus snorted in disbelief. Do you want to go to France? Hell, no. We laughed. I was almost convinced, but I still had as many excuses not to go as he had reasons to go. It usually came back to money. Laz has strange views on finances, and whenever I'd bring it up he'd wave his hands in the air and say something like, Yeah, not enough money, right, got it. There's never enough money, Ben. Get over it. We talked off and on over the next week, and Lazarus helped me through those incredibly turbulent times. My other friends did, too. Especially Aimee. 13

CLEAN We had a long history, and although Aimee was five years younger than me, she had been a family friend for years. She was a gorgeous, voluptuous young woman, full of vigor and mirth, freckled and fair, with azure eyes that sparkled like an oasis in the desert. I knew Aimee quite well. Hers was the only female friendship I had maintained throughout the course of my marriage. Our mothers had worked together at a nursing home when we were growing up, so I had known her years before I ever met Jean. Though she was 5 years my junior, our lives had intersected often, even before we officially met. My mother used to give Aimee's family our overplayed Nintendo games, and Aimee and her brother grew up competing with high scores I had saved onto the cartridges. They only knew my name from the games I was BEN, the older kid with the outrageous scores they struggled to surmount. We especially loved when youd save games and leave them on there, Aimee told me years later. Because then we could pick up where you last saved, usually right at an end boss. You did the work and we reaped the reward. Perhaps it was no surprise that when we finally did meet we had a lot in common, and Jean knew her and also knew that we could be trusted together, so our friendship prospered on camping trips and movie nights. Most of my friends enjoyed an occasional night of heavy drinking, and Aimee was no exception. A big group of us would head out to the local pub to drink, eat, and play at being rowdy. Aimee was pretty funny when she was drunk, and sometimes remarkably keen and insightful. She was drunk the night I told her about my problems, a month or so before the breakup. We were alone in the living room. Jean was already asleep upstairs and everybody else had gone home. 14

Ken Sweet Listen. If you guys are still unhappy together after this long, it's never going to get any better, she advised after deliberating for so long that when she finally spoke it caught me off guard. It'll just be harder to do it the more you wait. Either that or you'll settle for misery. Its no good to set unrealistic expectations, but its really bad to settle for less than you need. My friends Nathan and Brandon were supportive as well, calling and emailing frequently to see how I was coping, but I tried not to bother them, since they lived a half hour away. For years I thought you two were all wrong for each other, Nate, who had been my friend for twenty years, told me on the phone one evening. But you put on such a good act that you eventually fooled me. Brandon was simply shocked. When I first met Brand he was a pudgy little kid, the younger brother of a friend. Now he was a 24year-old perpetually unemployed underachiever. Its been you and Jean for as long as I can remember, he wrote in an email. It seems so strange, you guys being apart. But you two definitely seemed tense for, oh, the last couple of years. Still, I didnt see them as often as Aimee, whose job working with the mentally handicapped usually had her in the neighborhood. When I needed help and Lazarus wasn't around I went to her. She thought Lazarus's ideas were sound, and even volunteered that she'd like to go with me if I went to Britain. I didn't know then whether or not she was serious, but she had recently broken free from an abusive relationship and thought maybe her life could use some sorting too. Ooh, and Id really like to visit Cadbury World, she moaned, referring to the British chocolate-making companys factory, 15

CLEAN which offered walking tours and free samples of their sweets to visitors. Aimee smiled dreamily. That would be worth the trip itself. Aimee and Lazaruss encouragement and understanding emboldened me and steeled my resolve. Lazarus hammered the final nail home on Halloween night. The three of us were sitting in the living room, drinking booze and waiting for trick-or-treaters. Laz was decked out like a rejected extra from the Harry Potter films, replete with a pointy hat and long robe. He was trying to convince me to go to Britain, as usual, and I was at the end of my excuse list. To make matters worse, Aimee was taking his side. I think it sounds exciting, Aimee said. And a change of setting would do you good. Besides, you always talk about traveling. Yeah, but I wanted to do it when I was settled down. You know, later. Lazarus laughed. That's ridiculous and you know it. The time to do things is before you settle down, not after. There was an uncomfortable pause after this last statement, as I tried to think of a good comeback. Aimee burped, giggled, and excused herself to the bathroom. Lazarus leaned over to refill my drink. Every knight needs a quest. He said the words softly and almost to himself, as if he were repeating a mantra or recalling some bittersweet memory. Then he settled back into his chair. What does that mean? I asked. Just what it sounds like. This line of conversation was getting on my nerves now, so I pulled out the big guns. 16

Ken Sweet Listen, Laz. I appreciate your help and all, I said testily, but it's easier to say stuff like this than it is to actually do it. Think about it, man. You've got a good paying job as a website designer, a sweet little apartment, a couple of different girlfriends kicking aroundaltogether a seemingly idyllic life. Would you give it all up for a crazy jaunt through Britain, knowing that you're going to come back to nothing? This seemed to actually affect him, and for once I thought I'd made some kind of progress. He swirled his drink and thought for a long moment. I could see the gears turning in his mind, or at least I thought I could. I knew that he was weighing it out and concluding that it was simply too much to ask. Finally, he spoke, but his words were not at all what I expected. I just did. I'm going to England and you're coming with me. I dreamt of Clean that night. At a time when my soul felt filthy and broken, the time when I hated myself the most, the whole concept of Clean came flooding back. In the dream I was burning up, and I knew instinctively that the fire inside represented guilt and despair, sin and vice, wickedness and anxiety. I did not have long to dwell on it, though, for I was falling quickly, splashing down into cool, clear water that covered my body and quenched the flame. I was conscious of a tingling, exuberant sensation of ecstasy and purity washing through my very core. This was itthis was Clean. For a moment I felt perfectly right. Then I awoke and saw Jean asleep on the floor, clutching the stuffed rabbit I bought her when we first started dating. All was the same. I wept. The vision did not return, though I prayed that it would, and that this time the feeling would stay. The next few months were a 17

CLEAN violent hurricane of emotions, and even now looking back on them is acutely painful. Quitting my job was the easiest part. The tech firm that owned me for the past 6 years had provided the expected series of ups and downs. Lately it was all down. I had also become more disillusioned with my supervisor, an empty-headed moron, appropriately named Dick, who called himself my friend and showered me with patronizing compliments while speaking poorly of me to his own superiors. Dick was an expert at keeping me out of the spotlight when I'd achieved anything good, and handing me petty assignments well below my level of ability to keep me from outshining him. I can understand that last bitoutshining Dick is like trying to smell better than a fresh turd. Although I meant to give a long notice and work it out until the end, I changed my mind one day when Dick pulled me aside for one of his talks. Listen, Ben, he started, and I could tell by the look on his face it was something bad. Dick made a face like he was constipated when he was trying to emulate the human emotion called sympathy. I know you've been going through a tough time lately, but hey, you need to decide where your priorities lie. There's a lot more to being senior tech in charge of customer service than wearing a name tag, handing out business cards, and attending meetings. I gritted my teeth. Dick was dicking me around. What exactly are you driving at, Dick? He paused uncomfortably, dramatically glancing around as if to ensure our privacy before he spoke again. Some things were said at the meeting today. The numbers are down. I can't cover for you anymore. 18

Ken Sweet He meant he had said some things; nobody else on the board would ever bother to look at the numbers from my department. Dick typically avoided the paperwork as if touching it might give him anthrax, but I had made the mistake of opening up to him a little at the beginning of my ordeal. He impersonated a human being very well sometimes, and in my weakened state I was caught off guard one day when he approached me in my office just to ask me how things were at home. I later found out he'd hit up all fifty employees present that day with the same query. Morale building exercises. When I opened up he smelt blood and now he was coming in for the kill. The numbers are down at this time every year, Dick, I emphasized his name as an insult, but he seemed oblivious. And I seriously doubt you've ever covered for me, so I guess I won't notice if you stop now. Dick squirmed uncomfortably, then put on a hurt expression that made me want to vomit. I'm your friend, Ben. I'm only trying to help you. You really want to help me? I asked. Yes, he answered slowly, sensing a trap. Then fuck the fuck off and stop bothering me with your stupid Goddamned bullshit. He flushed at my profanity and rudeness, and then mutely shuffled away. I quit a few days later, citing some of Dick's lessthan-ethical activities as one of my many reasons for leaving. I made sure to fax my resignation letter to everyone in management, as well as the company executives. There was pandemonium at the firm on my last day and, God forgive me, I savored every minute of it. 19

CLEAN The separation was intensely emotional. I moved out of our spare bedroom and into my own tiny apartment, starting work at a highpay, high-stress, third-shift factory job. Jean was devastated, acting as if somehow she was blindsided by this sudden turn of events, and clinging desperately to the belief that I might change my mindthat maybe we just needed to uproot or have some time apart. She was willing to sacrifice anything to save the marriage, but it seemed to me that the marriage was long-since dead. Although she was barely eating or sleeping, she refused to seek professional help or rely on friends and family for support, since such reliance would mean admitting that the marriage was not so perfect as we had led others to believe. Her naivet and subsequent self-destruction caused me more pain than I could possibly describe here. I was long past caring how outsiders felt about what I was doing. All that concerned me was how the break-up affected two peopleus. I gave up most of our mutual friends just by falling out of contact with them, and only kept those who were my friends before I ever met Jean. I encouraged her to latch on to the others, because I felt that she needed them more than I did. I let her take nearly everything we owned, everything she wanted, from the car to the furniture, and then we had a yard sale. It was a beautiful fall Saturday as Jean and I sat in the yard with all the things we had accumulated over the last 10 years, and not one bit of it was without some sentimental value, however small. Gifts for each other, things bought for us by people who loved us, and items we once enjoyed togetherall ready to go home with the highest bidder. It was a heart-wrenching experience and we both knew, sitting there in the folding chairs that we had taken to so many beaches, camps, fireworks displays, and cookouts, that this was the end. 20

Ken Sweet However, in a strange way each item that we sold was like a weight off my back. For better or worse, these were bits of my old life that had now been effectively deleted, removed from existence, and they no longer could hold me back. I dont know how Jean felt, but to me this was forward movement, and like most things worth doing, it was both painful and exhilarating. But make no mistake; I would sooner die than go through it again. These things that we pawned off, they were suddenly transformed from treasured belongings to the unwanted things, the Velveteen Rabbits of our lives. I had no room for them, and Jean wisely had no desire to keep them, which is just as well. Nobody wants to live their lives surrounded by reminders of their most bittersweet memories. Many of our things ended up in a big storage unit downtown. Jean kept the wedding rings and the photo albums. Lazarus had a painting hanging above his radiator in the living room of his tiny apartment. A print, more precisely, and one I have never seen before or since, but I can still picture it in my mind, almost as clearly as if I were looking at it now. In it, two men are locked in mortal combat on a hilltop in the midst of a great battle, fighting beneath two opposing banners. One of them has the badge of a black goat's head over a gray field; the other shows a golden lion over a shimmering blue field. The fight is nearly over, most of the soldiers lying dead or severely wounded at the bottom of the hill, but these two stubborn warriors fight on. The fighter under the goat's banner seems dark and dangerous, and you can see something sinister in his deep-set eyes, glaring from under his battle-damaged visor, which dangles loosely from his helmet. The other fighter's features are lost in his gold21

CLEAN enameled armor, which is now beaten and obscured by dirt and blood. Their swords clash and their faces are practically pressed against each other. It was impossible to gauge which of them had the upper hand in that duel. Still, whenever I looked at it, I couldn't help thinking that for some reason, perhaps known only to the artist, the golden knight was doomed. Around Thanksgiving, when a carpet of fall leaves laid thick under the frost, Aimee and I made love. It wasn't planned, nor was it expected, a late night walk in a local park somehow turning into a sexual encounter. It was not planned, but it was wonderful. Our relationship blossomed then, and our times together were incredible, like nothing else I had ever experienced. Not even during my eight years of marriage. There were still tears. Jean suffered as I recovered. To prevent ill feelings and further pain, the new relationship remained secret to all but a few trusted friends. It brought me out of my funk, if only for brief and startlingly exuberant interludes. During those moments I felt like my life had started over fresh, like I was a boy again, and the whole world was filled with light and adventure. For a time, there was a sort of ignorant bliss for all parties involved, Aimee and I carrying on like teenagers in a forbidden relationship, and Jean choosing to disbelieve that there was anything going on. Whether she knew, I cannot tell. Aimee and I were spending a lot of time together, but I had my own place and saw Jean only a couple of times a week. I think she may have suspected, but her way of defending her fragile heart was to pretend everything was fine and not ask questions that may have brought unwanted answers. I never lied to her; I simply didn't bring up the subject. 22

Ken Sweet Yes, I was having an affair. But it wasnt because I wanted to hurt my wife and it wasnt like we were still a couple. I had continued, from the moment I had first told Jean of my discontent, to push strongly for divorce, but she wouldnt agree to it. I dont want to divorce yet. Why cant we just take some time off from the relationship? she begged me time and again. You can do whatever you want, travel if you want to, and maybe youll change your mind. I can wait as long as you need me to. On other occasions, she was more direct. Im not divorcing you until Im ready to. I need time. Four months after I had broken the news to Jean, Aimee and I were together. She helped me through the difficult times, and she helped me do the most important thing of allI could finally begin reinventing myself in a supportive environment. I could work at being the person Id always hoped I would be. I started by buying a brand new pair of shoes, old school Adidas soccer sneakers, made of black leather with sleek white stripes up the sides. The few friends that I still had were happy for me. They had always secretly believed I had more in common with Aimee than my own wife and when I nervously told Nate and Brand about our new relationship, they were far more accepting than I had imagined they would be. By Christmas we five amigosLazarus, Brand, Nate, Aimee, and Iwere nearly inseparable. We spent most of our time drinking or playing games. Aimee's friends were not as thrilled. Especially my ex-wife's younger sister, Ann. She had been very supportive of me during the separation, offering to let me stay at the apartment she shared with her fiance until I could get back on my feet, but was far less than enthusiastic about this new relationship. Ann says its too fast, Aimee told me one night. She says 23

CLEAN that if you can just up and leave her sister on a lark, you can do the same thing to me. I understood what Ann was driving atI was damaged goods. A bad apple. No good for anybody. Inside I knew she was right and the blow struck me like a punch in the gut. I suddenly wondered if Aimee harbored the same feelings. What did you say to her? I asked after I had reigned in my emotions. I told her that shes going to have to learn to deal with it if she wants to keep being friends. Aimee doesnt usually mince words, but her strength surprised me. They were friends since they were toddlers. I tried my best not to interfere with that. I still naively believed that someday we could all get along againJean, Aimee, Ann, and I. On October 4th, our wedding anniversary, I went to see Jean and hang out for the day. We were trying so hard to be friends, struggling to keep that much of the relationship alive. I was worried about her and wanted to help her through this. I had worked overnight and not slept in nearly 24 hours, but I knew she wanted to see me, so Aimee dropped me off. Be careful, Ben, she told me as I stepped out of the jeep. Dont let her I cut in before she could finish. Dont worry. Im just going to make sure shes ok and then have her drop me off at home. Aimee forced a weak smile and I walked to the porch of the building that was my home and refuge for the past 5 years, now strangely intimidating, depressingly empty, and most of all, not mine. It wasnt until that moment that it hit meI had no home anymore, no real roots. My life was in upheaval and I had no idea how to land on my feet. 24

Ken Sweet I walked past clay pots filled with dead herbs and flowers that we had picked out and planted together in the early spring, now little more than dried husks strewn with spider webs. The duties of watering and caring for them had become too much to bear and they had become the first victims of our separation. I looked at the house keys in my hand and wondered why I hadnt given them back yet, then rang the doorbell. Jean opened the door and her eyes were red and swollen, her cheeks glistening with hastily wiped tears. Whats wrong? I asked as I came in. Jean burst into tears and began to sob, No, no. I didnt know what to do, so I just held her and told her it was ok. At first she hugged me tightly and buried her face in my shoulder, soaking my shirt with tears, but then she pushed me away violently. Tell me it isnt true, she cried. Tell me shes lying. What are you talking about? I asked, but even as I spoke my mind put it togetherAnn had opened her stupid trap and let the cat out of the bag. She said youre fucking her! Are you fucking her? she screamed through her sobs. Happy anniversary. What timing. I couldntno, I wouldnt lie. I opted for a policy of truth instead. We decided to go for a ride and spent the day crying and screaming, saying things we never would have believed we could say, stabbing each other with dagger-sharp words, and defending ourselves the only way we knew howby ripping each other to shreds. By the time Jean brought me home I was speechless and felt empty, like my soul had been torn from my body. I dont think we should see each other again for a while, Jean said as I slumped out of the car. 25

CLEAN Yeah, I agreed. We both need time to recover. In truth, it seemed to me that the wounds we incurred that day could never heal. I told Aimee everything that happened as soon as I got up the stairs. She listened patiently as I broke down into tears and she held me in her arms afterward. Everything will get better, honey, she whispered, stroking my head as I drifted off to sleep. When we get to England everything will be fresh and new, youll see. I didnt know if it would be better, but it couldnt get much worse, and I couldnt wait to get as far away from here as possible. Three weeks later Aimee gave her notice and we ordered three roundtrip tickets to England. We left on Tuesday, March 8th.

26

Ken Sweet

-THE ARRIVAL-

Do you want insurance for your bags? the National Express lady asked in a cockney London accent. No thanks, I answered shortly. I was annoyed with having to pay at all. We were supposed to be on a Great Western train, but a gigantic flight delay in Boston had caused us to miss it, and the company didn't do refunds on the sort of advance tickets we had purchased. So Aimee and I had spent a collective 120 pounds of our precious converted currency on those, and we now had to pay 105 more for the bus. At the current ungodly exchange rate, that was a grand total of around 600 American dollars for a bus ride. What a deal. The bus trip from Londons hectic Heathrow Airport to our Lazarus-approved destination of Penzance was, as expected, long and uncomfortable. The three of us had to sit apart since, although the bus was just half full, nobody was willing to move, each trying to boggart two seats for themselves. Instead, we all ended up sitting with strangersAimee with a snoring elderly woman, Lazarus with a chatty gay male, and me with a twenty-something 27

CLEAN surfer who reeked of marijuana and made a point of playing his headset so loud that I could sing along. The London-Penzance trip is nine hours long and it only stops once, in Plymouth, just long enough to stretch and grab a bite, a whopping twenty minutes. The short break was a welcome relief, all the same. The three of us sauntered into the small bus stop caf, appropriately named The Bus Stop Caf, and grabbed some sandwiches. We were still eating when the bus started loading again, and in my rush to get back onboard I left my small daypack on the table. It took me nearly a half hour to realize that I had lost it, and with it all of my valuablesmobile phone, PDA, camera, mp3 playereven my passport. It had everything of value I had brought except for my wallet. Panicking, I told the bus driver and asked if I could hop off for just a minute to call the shop and tell them to set it aside for me. Too late, he grumbled helpfully. Nothing for it til Penzance. All my valuables are in that bag, I complained. The driver seemed to ignore me. Cant you radio someone? The bus company wont have it. Call the caf when we get to Penzance. Now take your seat, please. It seemed like he drove slower after that exchange, and my heart sank into my stomach as I came to realize that there was very little hope of recovering my things. They were probably on their way to a scummy pawnshop in the hands of some punk kid who'd use the money to buy drugs or booze. And I hadn't bought insurance. What a wonderful start to our vacation. Four grueling hours later, at 9 o'clock in the evening, we disembarked. A cold rain began the moment we stepped out onto the pavement, streaming down to soak our backpacks and clothes. 28

Ken Sweet The darkened bus station was quickly deserted as the other passengers met their loved ones or zoomed off in taxis. We huddled under the canopied shelter of the bus stop and Aimee and Lazarus slipped into their ponchos. Mine was in my carry-on. I noticed that Aimee was as aggravated by the whole situation as I was. Of the three of us, only Lazarus remained cheerful. So where is this friend of yours? Aimee asked impatiently. Huh? Lazarus was staring off into the darkness. Oh, you mean Walter. Well, I never called him or anything. I figured we could stay in a campsite or bed and breakfast tonight and drop in on him tomorrow. I cursed under my breath, scanning the area for a payphone. Lazarus must have read my mind, because he said: Not around here, come on, and walked off into the rain. We trailed behind him, chilled and wet, until we reached a cramped red phone booth. After a while on the phone I was a few quid lighter and no closer to retrieving my daypack, so I hung up and we wandered off to find a place where we could crash. The rain came down in streams as we walked up Market Jew Street, the main road in Penzance, our weighty backpacks made even heavier by the water they soaked up like huge sponges. I offered to take Aimees pack, but she shook her head irritably. My feet were swimming in my sneakers. After a few grueling minutes of walking uphill, past a variety of closed shops, Aimee stopped short. Hold on, she said between breaths. How do you know we'll be able to find a place on such short notice? How do you even know we're in the right area to find a place at all? We don't, Lazarus admitted, then paused a moment before continuing. But I'm keeping a positive outlook. It's fun. You 29

CLEAN should try it. Sometimes they really seemed like brother and sister, bickering and provoking, but they got along more often than not. Whatever, Aimee muttered, shooting me an irritated frown. A young couple stepped out of a pub in front of us, so I stopped them. I could hear raucous laughter and the tinkling of glasses from inside as the door slowly shut. Excuse me, do you know where we can find a bed and breakfast around here? I asked. Were from upcountry, sorry. I'm sure someone inside would know, the boyfriend said before the pair hurried off to their car. We took shelter under the door stoop of the pub, a little joint called the Star Inn. I have to go to the bathroom, Aimee snapped suddenly and marched into the pub. Lazarus shrugged and went inside. I followed, ducking in from the rain and pausing to shake dry like a wet dog. Lazarus slipped off his backpack and ordered a pint of something nasty, sitting down at the bar to drink the stuff and chat up a pair of girls, obviously sisters, who had taken note of his sexy American accent. The bartender, a fat old woman with garishly dyed red hair, asked me what I'd like. A place to sleep, I answered. In walking distance and preferably cheap. She considered for a moment before responding. The racks behind her were full of ales, meads, and lagers Id never heard of. Well love, you've got to go back down bottom of town. That's where the cheap B&B's is, isn't it Colin? Colin, a weathered old man with a neck as wide around as my upper arm, looked supremely disinterested in our whole conversation. His yellowed eyes remained fixed on his mead. 30

Ken Sweet Aye, Colin sighed. Reckon you'll be able to get a room for twenty quid, even on such short notice, the bartender went on. What do you think, Colin, twenty quid down bottom? Aye, he answered morosely. She gave me directions to get there, back the way we came, not more than ten minutes walking. Lazarus hadn't caught any of the conversation and Aimee was still in the bathroom, so I ordered two half-pints of Guinness and waited for her, commandeering a chair at a secluded table. The pub was mostly quiet. Raucous cheers from a small cluster of younger patrons enjoying a televised soccer game occasionally interrupted the low drone of conversation. The Europeans love their soccer, but they call it football. I always thought the term 'football' made more sense the way the British use it. Certainly there's more actual foot-to-ball contact than in American football. Aimee eventually came back out of the bathroom, visibly relieved as she sat down to join me. Here's to Britain, she said, raising her glass. It can only get better from here. That statement couldn't have been farther from the truth, because ten minutes later fate would find me slowly bleeding to death on the side of the road. It happened in the blink of an eye. We had just left the pub, dragging Lazarus out with us in our haste to find lodgings. It was still raining, just a sprinkle now, but the air was filled with thick tendrils of mist that seemed to slither around us like a mass of serpents. We turned left, as we'd been instructed, and began our descent back down the street. The patter of water dripping heavily from the 31

CLEAN stone-shingled shops and onto the cobbled sidewalks echoed loudly in the still air. I stepped off the curb to avoid a rubbish can that had suddenly appeared in front of me, and opened my mouth to speak, but instead of my voice there was a loud noise, like a train had rushed by, and I felt something slap the back of my head. It hit me hard enough to throw me forward onto the ground, but it wasn't at all painful. The back of my head felt suddenly warm, and when I reached back to find out why, my hand came back covered in wet, sticky blood. I heard Aimee screaming for help, but she sounded very distant, as if she were standing on the other side of a great gorge. And then there was darkness. I called out but nobody answered, so I cautiously climbed to my knees and looked around. All was black. I was blind! Lazarus! Aimee! I yelled. There was still no answer, no sound at all. I crawled slowly on a soft ground that felt almost padded, arms scrabbling to find something, anything. There was nothing. I felt the back of my head again, but it was dry now. Help! I screamed frantically, and the effort of the shout was such that I slumped to the ground afterward, exhausted. There, lying alone in the dark with only my thoughts as company, I began to wonder if I was dead. I was not afraid, but I felt utterly alone, and that was far worse. Then there was a sudden flash of light and I saw a bus. It was just an instant, but the bus frightened me, hurtling in my direction like a ferocious steel dragon. Another flash and I saw it again, and this time the bus was almost on top of me. It was a dark bus with bright headlights and a shadowy driver. Then darkness. The sudden roar of the engine was deafening as I dove and 32

Ken Sweet twisted away, hoping to avoid the now invisible vehicle. When the light exploded again the bus had passed me, and in the steel framed mirror jutting out from the side I could just make out a pair of narrow, dark eyes and angular features. The driver. I fell back to the padded ground, exhausted and terrified. And then I slept. I slept the dreamless sleep of the dead, and it seemed to me that when I awoke, lying there in a narrow bed surrounded by white curtains, it had only been a matter of minutes since I had fallen asleep. There was beeping just above and to the right of my head, but when I tried to twist my neck to see where it was coming from I felt resistance and a dull ache. Giving up on that, I glanced around at what I could easily see instead. Okay, there are railings on my bed. This must be a hospital. An IV dripped into my left arm. A chair beside the bed had no occupant, just a book, laid flat open on the seat to mark the reader's place. My mood brightened. A Bernard Cornwell book, I noted. Aimee is here. But why am I here? I struggled to remember what had happened. My vision was slightly blurred and I felt groggy, almost drunk, but I was in one piece. I could hear bits and pieces of a hushed conversation from somewhere nearby. The speakers, a man and a woman, both had British accents. We're in England. Of course we were. I closed my eyes. The drip from the IV sounded like a raindrop in my head. 33

CLEAN Rain. Yes, it had been raining! I remembered the pub, the red-haired woman, and even the skinny old drunk, Colin. I had obviously slipped on the wet cobblestones and hit my head. Something else, too - something was missing from my recollection. Where the hell is everyone? Help, I tried to speak, but it was just a hoarse whisper. Help! My cry sounded more like a ragged cough. Still no one came. Then I noticed the call button for the nurse's station on the rail by my left side, so I lifted my bandaged arm and poked it repeatedly. I could hear it buzz somewhere in the distance. A pretty white-capped nurse swept the curtain aside and smiled when she saw me. Glad to see you're awake, Mr. Whyte. You're in Royal West Cornwall Hospital and I'm nurse Minnie, she said as she busied herself checking my vitals. Can you hear me all right? Yes, I croaked. Brilliant. How many fingers? Nurse Minnie tried to fool me by holding up just one. Eleven. Brilliant. Do you feel any pain? My neck hurts some, I said. Nurse Minnie chuckled as she checked my IV drip. Well it would, wouldn't it? You're lucky it isn't broken. That bus knocked into you something fierce. A bus! Yes, I had seen the bus and the driver. How long have I been here? I tried scratching an itch on my scalp, but my fingers found a thick turban of bandages. Dont scratch, she admonished me. You came in an ambulance late last night, and now its noon. Your friends are downstairs getting sweets in the cafeteria. 34

Ken Sweet Nurse Minnie smiled and scribbled a few notes on my chart, then hung it from the end of my bed. Ill get the doctor to come in and see you, but I think youll be just fine. You have a mild concussion and a few stitches on the back of your head. Youre a lucky man, Mr. Whyte. Funny, I dont feel lucky. I smirked weakly and shut my eyes. Moments later I was asleep. Honey, wake up, the soft voice whispered in the darkness. Wake up. The voice sounded like Jeans and for a moment I thought I was in bed in my old house. I opened my eyes slowly, and as they adjusted to the light I saw Aimees beautiful visage gazing down at me. She smiled brightly and kissed me. Hi, I croaked. Hey there Mr. Hit-by-a-frigging-bus! Lazarus seemed very jocular today, considering the circumstances. Welcome to the land of the living! Hi, Laz. Aimee supported me as I pulled myself up to a sitting position. There was little pain. What time is it? I asked. Aimee looked at the wall above my bed. Six oclock. Theyre bringing your dinner any time now. Hooray, I said cynically, in anticipation of some flavorless hospital mush, but a moment later I realized that I was voraciously hungry. Good news, Aimee said. They found your backpack and National Express said theyre sending it along on the next bus. Oh, good. 35

CLEAN Aimee brushed hair off my forehead with her fingers and the traces of her touch left my skin tingling. Your mom wants you to call her as soon as youre awake enough. Shes worried sick. She chuckled softly. She actually wanted to fly over here, but we tried to talk her out of it. Your dad called, too. I laughed. My mother had always been a smidgen overprotective, especially when it came to injuries. Once, when I was seven or eight, I fell off the jungle gym at school and scraped my leg up pretty good. The nurse patched me up and never called her. When I got home and showed her the wound she was irate. How dare they decide what warranted my mothers attention? What if she wanted to take me to the doctor to get it looked at? She came into the school the next day and lit into the nurse and principal. The shouting could be heard all through the halls. They called her right away when I had a bloody nose later that year. Now there was actual cause for concern and my mothers panic had risen proportionately. My parents had divorced after thirty years of marriage, but they kept in touch. I had no doubt that he was one of the reasons she hadnt already hopped a plane. I asked for a phone and had Aimee dial her number. Laz said something about going for a walk and strolled out of the room. Are you all right? my mother cried. Ive been worried sick! Come home, Ben. Ill pay the charges to get your tickets changed. Just come home and recuperate here. I sighed. Im not sure if I need to, mom. Let me talk to the doctors first and see what they think, ok? Im fine, mom, dont worry. I wanted to fly over to see you but your father talked me out of it, she said bitterly. You should call him, too. I will. 36

Ken Sweet She barraged me with a thousand questions about my current state. Any blackouts? Could I feel all my limbs? Did I have marked drowsiness or grogginess? My mother can give the third degree better than any doctor or lawyer on the planet. After the interrogation was over and I had successfully calmed her down a bit, I said goodbye and took a few deep breaths. It would be terrible to have to cut the trip short, but it wasnt worth risking my life over. If the doctors said I should go home, I needed to do it. Aimee looked up from her book and asked me what was wrong. Nothing, I lied. Just tired. She put the book down and gripped my hand for a moment. Youre going to be fine. I talked to the doctors. I smiled and relaxed a bit. The door opened abruptly and a young doctor with a good-natured grin marched into the room. The bustling sounds of the activity in the hall followed him in. Cheers, Mr. Whyte. Im Dr. Stan. Hows your noggin? Dr. Stans voice was upbeat and he waved his arms about in a lively manner. It doesnt hurt much at all, I said as Dr. Stan began checking my vitals. Thats surprising. Youve suffered from a third grade concussion. That bus driver sure did you a good treat, mate. Bloody public transportation give them an inch and they try to take your head. He shined a bright light into my eyes and I winced reflexively as he continued. Good. As I was saying, youve suffered from a somewhat severe concussion accompanied by a brief period of sustained unconsciousness, as well as contusions to the jaw and bruises to the ribs and hip. Lots of blood loss, but youre a tough nut. X-rays show no serious fractures. Do you know what a concussion is? 37

CLEAN I nodded my head. Yeah, I guess. I mean, kind of. No, not really. The doctor smiled. Your brain is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, a sort of hydraulic shock system, which helps prevent it from bashing against your skull. When a person experiences a head trauma as serious as say, getting hit by a bloody big bus, the fluid just isnt enough cushioning and the brain is injured, thus voila, concussion. Most concussion victims recover fully from their injuries over time, and you may very well be safe to leave now, but we prefer to monitor concussions for 24 hours as a precaution. A wave of relief swept through me. It wasnt that bad. I was going to recover. Well prescribe some pain relievers if theyre needed. You may experience some drowsiness, slight memory loss, or mild confusion, but these should pass quickly. In the unlikely case that you experience anything more pronounced or severe than this, you need to let us know, right? The doctor waited until I nodded and then continued. I am actually more concerned about your neck an accident like this can give you whiplash. He took my head in his hands and twisted it lightly, then did the same thing in the other direction. Does that hurt? I shook my head and he continued. Ringing in the ears or blurry vision? No? Good. Were going to keep you here for at least one more night to monitor your progress and see if youll need additional treatment. I think youll be fine. Nothing some rest and a bit of backseat mothering wont sort out. Dr. Stan smiled at Aimee when he made this last comment, then turned back to me and frowned. Now, there is a detective on his way who wants to talk to you about the accident, and youre bound to see a few 38

Ken Sweet parasiteserm, I mean lawyersbefore all is over. Just let us know if you want to be alone or call off the visits for the day and well toss them out, right? I thanked him, but my stomach began to knot up after he left. How am I going to pay for this? I wondered. I dont have insurance. Aimee ordered me not to worry when I voiced my concerns. The emergency part of the care is taken care of because of the free National Health Service here. Well still have to pay for the overnight, but the nurses told me it wouldnt be anything crazy, since they are just monitoring you. The x-rays and other stuff will cost us, but your mom said the family is putting together money to help. Plus, we dont have to pay it off until later, after we get home. Theyve agreed to bill us. I noticed that, for the first time, Aimee was saying we and us instead of you and I and I liked it. Are we going home? I asked. We had just arrived. It seemed a waste to leave. Abso-freaking-lutely not! Lazarus answered from the doorway, all chipper. Weve got things to do, pal. Places to go! Its not working out very well so far, is it? I growled. Lazarus silently took a seat as that familiar thoughtful expression suddenly washed over his face. I could tell he was going to say something, so I just waited. Listen, Ben. A bus hit you. I know that sucks I really do. Then he launched into his story. It was my birthday. I was skating down the sidewalk mom had bought me this new board and I was just dying to try it outand a car piloted by this drunken old biddy swerved up onto the sidewalk and smashed me from behind. Broke one of my legs compound fracture. It sucked something fierce, 39

CLEAN man, let me tell you. The bone was sticking right out of my leg, the old biddy was screaming at me, trying to say that it was my fault, and neither of us had cell phones. It took an eternity for anyone to stop. And as I was lying there I began to get scared. Im gonna die here, with this old hag screaming at me, my bone sticking out of my leg, blood everywhere, and nobody around who cares about me. Laz paused to allow me to digest the tale so far, or perhaps he needed a moment to shake off the intensity of the memory. It was easy to imagine him lying there, scared of death, and terrified that he might be alone when it happened. I had experienced the same fears myself and the idea hit home hard. Lazarus continued. I remember it all so well. The sun was shining down so warm, the sky was blue, my new board was broken, and the old lady smelled like the inside of my moms pantry. Then I started to pass out and no matter how hard I tried I couldnt stay awake. I figured that was itI was dying. When I woke up I was in the hospital. He paused, somewhat melodramatically, I thought, before continuing. I was terrified to skate after that. Heck, I was scared just walking down the sidewalk. Wow, Aimee interjected. Thats crazy. How long did it take you to start skating again? I was skating again as soon as I could walk. I was puzzled. But you said you were really nervous about skating again. Terrified, Laz corrected me. While I was in the hospital, all screwed up and in pain, I decided never to skate again. I told my mom, thinking shed be happy about it. You know what she said? The same thing Im about to tell you: life is inherently dangerous. 40

Ken Sweet You cant eliminate danger, but you can overcome your own fears. Dont degrade your life by spending it frozen in awe of death. Are you advising me to be reckless? I snapped. No, Ben. Im advising you to be alive. Lazarus finished his lecture by taking one final noisy slurp off his soda and tossing it in a metal wastebasket near the door. Nothing more was said on the matter. That night I dreamt of Jeans sobs, and when I awoke my face was slick with tears.

41

CLEAN

-CORNWALL-

I decided to stay. We checked out of the hospital the next day, after the detective badgered me with questions about the incident. I had very few answers for him, although I did describe what I saw in my head. He seemed to take that with a grain of salt I dont even think he bothered writing it down. I had the nurse tell the lawyers that came in to sod off and, incredibly, they did. Even bloodsucking lawyers are more polite in Cornwall. I was sore and worse for the wear, but I was alive. I was instantly glad to have made the decision to stick around. The Cornish countryside is a beautiful place full of fantastic people and incredible antiquities. I was instantly smitten. While I was laid up, Lazarus and Aimee had found us lodgings at a weird little retreat called Sancreed House. I wondered at the changes in scenery on the back roads as we bused from Penzance to Sancreed, a fifteen-minute ride that took us between ancient hedgerows and under great trees, from sun to shadow and back to sun. When we stepped off the bus the heady perfume of wildflowers and budding trees filled our nostrils. 42

Ken Sweet The grounds rest back from the road, beside an ancient church in a tiny village with no shops, two bus stops, and a single payphone. The house and chalets were contained in a beautiful walled garden that used to belong to the church. In fact, the whole lot was an old Georgian vicarage. The artist John Miller purchased it in 1958, a deeply spiritual man who lived and painted there with his lifelong friend Michael Truscott. It switched hands again when he gave it up to move to St. Ives, to a studio he called home until his death in 2002. Now it belonged to an eccentric woman named Grace and her two dogs. Through all these changes it retained its spiritual usage, but Im not sure if the Franciscan John Miller or the old vicars would have approved of the current mystical undertones. As it is now, the place is a regular gathering place for artists and people from all sorts of spiritual persuasions. Classes held at Sancreed House range from sculpture and music improvisation to animal healing and circle dancing. The property is adorned with strange mystic carvings and new age decoration. The gardens are manicured in a wild, natural manner that makes the luxuriant grounds seem larger than they are. A wonderful old conservatory in the midst of the place cries out for repair and renovation, but the chickens that now live there have no complaint. Lazaruss friend Walter lived nearby, and Laz assured me that we would get on well when we were finally introduced. Meanwhile, Grace showed us around. Grace was the nervous type, quite shy and perhaps a bit flighty, but very kind. She was maybe 50 years old and seemed like a hippie who hadnt realized her chosen lifestyle was no longer in vogue or simply didnt care. It didnt stretch my imagination to envision her in her youth, protesting Vietnam, wearing tie-dye, and smoking weed. 43

CLEAN Maybe it was a fair assessment, maybe not. Regardless, I liked her immediately. If you need any firewood for the stoves, you can find it in piles out front, Grace explained timidly as she led us through the garden to our chalets. Lazarus had paid for his own room in the main house, but Aimee and I were going to share a chalet in the garden. We followed through a door in a wall that led into a tiny courtyard. Unlocking a pair of glass doors, Grace showed us the cramped chalet. No shower, but theres a tub in the water closet. If you need a shower, come into the house. Electricity is metered, theres a coin box there. Stove operates on gas; the woodstove is best for heat. You can try to cook on it if you like, but its not easy. If you want any breakfast or a ride into town, come into the main house and Ill take you if Im around, right? The two single sized beds were pushed together to form one bed just big enough for two. A cast-iron fireplace sat between the bedroom and the kitchen in a tiny living room. The chalet was quaint, old, and most importantly, cheap. Before Grace left I asked her about the local holy well, which we had read about on the Internet, and which was partially why Lazarus had decided to use tiny Sancreed as our base in west Cornwall. Artists and holy men throughout the ages were said to receive mystic visions there, and the radiation levels in the small cavern of the well were recently tested at 200% above normal levels. A small ruined chapel next to the well was built by one Saint Credan, a swineherd who killed his father in a farming accident and retired to a life as a hermit in penance, caring for the well for the rest of his days. Since reading about the odd and spiritual nature of the site I had 44

Ken Sweet wondered if perhaps this was the place I was searching for. Perhaps this place would hold some answers for me. Or maybe it could get rid of the pounding headache Id been fighting since the bus dropped us off. Oh, you want to visit the holy well? Its across the street, in a little wood, and its quite easy to find. Theres a sign pointing the way, she said as she turned to leave. Cheers. Aimee was still unpacking our luggage and she wanted to take a shower after, and Lazarus had decided to spend some time alone relaxing in the garden, so I left by myself. When I found the well, I was stunned. The whole location was possessed of an unearthly quiet and mysticism. Here, beside the ancient ruins of a sacred chapel, was the grove of gnarled hawthorn trees, the stone steps, and the cool spring water, all enclosed within the peaceful confines of a magical setting. The hawthorn that stood sentinel over the well was festooned with colorful ribbons, or clouties, as Grace would later tell me they were called. It was also hung with various ornaments, reflective sun catchers, pieces of yarn, and small wind chimes. Other trinkets laid on the ground at its roots, like offerings. Later, when I asked her about them, Grace told me that hawthorn trees were one of the three Celtic mystic trees, the other two being ash and oak, and to this day many Britons still respect them and revere their magical qualities. Perhaps this stems from the many legends surrounding the plant. The burning bush witnessed by Moses has been called a hawthorn, as has the crown of thorns that was put upon Jesus head. In medieval England the tree was believed to be a dwelling of the fairy folk. A sprig of it in the attic would help keep evil spirits away. 45

CLEAN Clouties, strips of cloth rubbed on or worn against a diseased or afflicted portion of body, could be left upon hawthorn branches with a prayer for healing to summon the remedial powers of mother earth. As the cloutie dissolved from weather and time so, says the ancient lore, would your affliction. I was surprised to discover that so many Cornish folk still believed in the power of this sacred Celtic ritual. The site of the holy well filled me with a deep sense of awe and respect. Here people had worshipped and sought communion with the higher powers, whatever they may have called them, since time immemorial. Here those afflicted with disease or handicaps sought miracles in the cold water. There was no doubt in my mind: this was a holy place. I was immediately taken with the site, awed by it, but no more so than I obviously should have been. I did not shake, nor did I cry. I felt no less human, with all the misery that entailed, than I had before. This was not the place. I stooped low and walked down the steep steps to the bottom of the dimly illuminated well, which was covered by a half foot of water. Flowers, candles, and shells were tucked into natural shelves in the rough walls. A few scattered coins and pebbles shined from under the water, offerings to attract and appease whatever higher powers the place may hold. A robin chirped a merry tune nearby, and I suddenly remembered my pennywhistle. Ive played around with pennywhistles for years, mostly Irish and Scottish tunes, and it seemed natural to bring one to Britain. I sat on the altar in the ruined chapel, unzipped my pack, and slid the black plastic flute from its leather case. I knew no tune that seemed appropriate for the place, so I 46

Ken Sweet settled on my favorite, a lively Irish jig called Whiskey You're The Devil. The song echoed enchantingly from the well and carried on the heady breeze through the wood, but when it was through all was just as before. There was no moment of revelation, no searing white light, no piskies or faeries come to greet me, and no holy mystic offering words of enlightenment. I was simply alone. For some reason I suddenly remembered the concept of the wishing well and fished in my bag for a shiny copper penny. Wishing for enlightenment, I tossed the coin into the cave where it plunked into the water and settled unevenly on the bottom, Abe Lincoln's head reflecting in a ray of afternoon sunlight. Then I trod off back to Sancreed House, where Lazarus was sitting by the garden and petting Grace's lazy dogs. Find what you were looking for? he asked. I shook my head and retired for the night. Inside the chalet, Aimee and I gobbled down some oatmeal she had cooked on the gas stove. Getting some food in my belly seemed to relieve the headache. I told Aimee about the holy well and we made big plans for the morning. The well sounds beautiful, she said. Youll have to show me tomorrow. I cant wait to get up and do some exploring! After we ate we collapsed onto the bed and made love to the distant beat of drums and chanting echoing inside Sancreed House. Then I fell into a deep, dreamless slumber. It was a beautiful day, a bit cool, perfect walking weather. Unfortunately, the journey and the cold rain must have weakened Aimees constitution and she had woken up under the weather. She 47

CLEAN felt awful about being ill on the first real day we had a chance to explore, and at one point she started to cry, so I comforted her. We do have three months, after all, I reminded her gently. Do you think you could maybe get me some medicine? she sniffled. We hadnt packed any cold medicine, just Tylenol for headaches, and Grace could offer no help but some Irish breakfast tea that Aimee drank greedily. I decided to go downtown. The next bus comes at half one, Grace suggested helpfully. Id take you, but I have a class coming. I wondered what kind of class it was and what half one meant, exactly. A few minutes spent fruitlessly banging on Lazaruss patio door convinced me that he wasnt in, so I finally grabbed my daypack and took off down the road, past the red phone booth, to the little housing complex where the bus had dropped us yesterday afternoon. A laminated timetable stapled to the telephone pole reassured me that I was in the right spot at the right time. I met Walter Holcomb while I was standing alone there at the village bus stop, or at least, I thought I was. The little white-haired man was eyeing me from across the street, smiling and singing to himself under his goofy knit cap. I wondered if maybe he was a bit odd in the head and looked away nervously when he started across the road toward me. Hello, he beamed. Waiting for the number 9? Yeah, I answered. This seemed an odd question to me, since I was obviously standing at the bus stop and only one bus was listedthe number 9. Youre in the wrong spot. Its across the street to go into town, over where I was. This stop is where it lets off coming into Sancreed. 48

Ken Sweet I thanked him and we crossed the road, where Walter introduced himself and struck up a conversation. He lived across the street from the church and Sancreed House, in an old schoolhouse. Walter was a kindly Methodist minister whose wife had recently passed on. It took me a minute to figure out that this was the same Walter that Lazarus told us about. When Walter found out Lazarus was in town he was thrilled. He welcomed the opportunity to chat and seemed excited that we had traveled all the way from America and ended up in little Sancreed. How did you settle on Sancreed? he queried incredulously. I mean well, its not exactly London is it? So I decided to tell him our entire story. I jabbered all the way to Penzance, where we parted ways, but there was still much to tell and he was an excellent listener. What do you think about stopping in for dinner tonight, if you can? he invited, pulling his cap down on his head as the bus came to a stop. If Aimee is feeling better, that is. I agreed. It was nice to make a friend so quickly. Walter was exactly what Id always imagined someone in a small British village might be like friendly, caring, and wise. When I hopped off the bus I was treated to an incredible view of Mounts Bay, in the center of which sits the castle island of St. Michaels Mount, accessible by foot only at low tide. The blue sea swirled around the rocky island and the unclouded sun reflected off the water in the foreground. A few windsurfers did their thing on the beach, which stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction, curving south to create a sheltered bay. I took it all in for a few minutes before walking up into town. Penzance was different in the day, bright and busy, but I had little trouble finding my way around the compact market town. I 49

CLEAN paused on my way up Market Jew Street to look at the spot where the bus struck me down. It was a dangerous street, with mere inches between the rushing automobiles and the sidewalk. The center of town smelled great, the pleasant aroma of fresh baked bread and treats from the bakeries and pastry shops wafted thick in the air. Id eaten a granola bar for breakfast and the scents made my stomach growl, disgruntled with its fare. I ducked into Warrens, a popular chain of pastry shops, and stared at the hundreds of fresh-baked goodies. Cant make up your mind, love? asked the paper-hat wearing woman behind the counter. I shook my head. Ive never been in before. Everything looks so good. Ah, youre an American? she asked. I nodded. She asked me if Id eaten breakfast and I shook my head again. She grinned widely, and I noticed she was missing a few teeth. The goofy smile was infectious and I grinned, too. Then I recommend you try a pasty, she advised. Local Cornish thing. Kind of a meal-in-a-pastry. It still took me a couple of minutes to decide, because there were so many varieties of pasty, all wrapped up in thick pastry shells containing anything from steak and potatoes to apples and black currants. I opted for a lamb and rosemary with garlic and grabbed a fizzy lemon Fanta. The pasty, which I devoured while sitting on a planter outside the shop, was enormous, tasty, and very filling. The plethora of shops and cafes on Market Jew Street were small and colorful, offering all the usual and some quite unusual wares (I passed more than one place selling colorfully packaged marijuana seeds), priced in the customary British Pound. Some 50

Ken Sweet shops had signs declaring that they accepted only the British Pound; others came straight to the point with handwritten signs posted on the doors stating NO EURO. The British were stoically trying to refuse the European Unions monetary unit and I felt for them. I wouldnt want the American dollar replaced by some newfangled upstart currency. Continuing along the sidewalk, past a homeless man hawking copies of some magazine called the Big Issue, I noticed a pharmacy called Boots and stopped in for some cold tablets. The medicine had a strange name and looked herbal, but it claimed to stop colds in their tracks, so I shelled out the cash. I also picked up a few Cadbury crme eggs, Aimees favorite sweet. The pretty cashier made note of my accent and asked if I lived abroad, and she was tickled pink when I told her I was from America. Tourists dont normally come until later in the year, she told me. Its real busy here in the summer. Youve come at a good time, when you can really see what its like here, with none of the upcountry people. Upcountry is the term the Cornish, and particularly the Cornish who resided on the tiny Penwith tip of West Cornwall, reserve for anyone visiting from anywhere else in the country. It is geographically fitting, as this is as far south and west in Britain as one can go, and it fits another way as well; upcountry sounds sophisticated, whereas life is simpler in West Cornwall. From everything I had seen so far, I quite liked Cornwall. The people were polite, the area was quiet and seemed safe (aside from rogue phantom buses), and the town was ancient, beautiful, and somewhat quirky. I took a few moments to enjoy the cheery sound of a lone street musician, hobbit-like in appearance, who was smiling widely as he strummed his guitar. He was good. I tossed a pound into his case and continued on my way. 51

CLEAN When I finally made my way back to the chalet with Aimees medicine she was fast asleep and Lazarus was gone. I gently roused Aimee and administered two pills and some cold water, walked over to the ancient churchyard next door, and set myself down upon a bench, just soaking in the incredible sense of calm serenity in the air. For the next couple of hours I heard no traffic, no human voices, and no machinery. The breeze made the trees speak in a rustling murmur, the sun warmed my face and arms, and the sky glowed cerulean blue. I felt no stress and no pain. I felt good. Things are different in West Cornwall.

52

Ken Sweet

-WALTER-

My great-grandmother resembled Yoda in many respects, tiny, wrinkled, and wise, but Walter could have been a substitute ObiWan Kenobi. He was old but healthy, religious but not pushy, prudent, and of a kindly spirit. Walter had experienced tragedy recently, with the slow and painful loss of his beloved Wanda, who was buried in the churchyard across the street. Despite his loss, he maintained a joyful and positive outlook on life and love, owing largely to his faith in the Lord. Walter took us in like grandchildren and we dined with him regularly in the coming weeks. Lazarus knew him from a previous trip, a short jaunt to England with his parents when he was younger, when Walter and Wanda both lived upcountry. To Lazarus, Walter was an old friend of the family, and the two got along just fine. Aimee also enjoyed his company. Her cheery smile and inquisitive mind delighted Walter, and he often made sure to point out how lucky I was to have her. We all loved Walter, but I think he and I developed a special 53

CLEAN bond that went beyond what was expected. Talking with him was always a pleasure, maybe because he reminded me of my Beach Nana. I even went over alone a few times, while Aimee slept or showered. We had real heart-to-hearts during those interludes. It didnt take long for the old man to drag my whole lifes story out of me, much the same as Lazarus had done last summer, and he found my vision of Clean fascinating. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness, he said after taking in my tale. I was immediately transported to a different time, a time when my Beach Nana had uttered those same words. A shiver coursed through my body. Did somebody famous say that? I asked. Yes, Walter smiled. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Its my denomination, you know. I preach on the Methodist circuit. My great-grandmother said the same thing when I told her about my dream. Walter began pouring us another cup of tea. I think you know that dream isnt really the right word. Vision suits it better. He went on to tell me that God really doesnt require much of us, but He does require clean hands to do His work. And God has a special plan for everyone, Ben. Im certain that the vision, and even our meeting, is all part of that plan. Did he think I could find the actual place from my dream here in Britain? You may or you may not. It may be a real place, but then again it may be figurative. God may lead you to it Himself or He may require you to find it alone. Its impossible to know anything for sure, but one thing is certain you were given that vision for a 54

Ken Sweet reason. Believe in it. You owe it to yourself to search for the answers. I promised to keep an eye out and my heart open. Aimee, Lazarus, and I spent a lot of time doing the normal things you might do on vacation in Cornwall. They were mostly things involving food. We walked or bused into Penzance a lot to have snacks and pasties from Warrens. Pasties make great meals, the kind that stick to your ribs for quite a while after you eat them. Theyre also pretty darn cheap. We learned to love them. Aimee became thoroughly addicted to the thick Cornish scones and the rich Cornish cream that accompanies them. Fish and chips smothered in ketchup became another favorite for Aimee and I, while Laz enjoyed the English version of an American hot dog, which was similar to a giant sausage. All three of us sucked down more than a few pints of Guinness at the local pubs, which usually ran specials on good home-cooked food, too. The two-for-one meal deals we found in some of those little holes-in-the-wall would put any back-home special to shame. Sometimes we ate by the restaurants or downtown, other times found us sitting on the breaker wall overlooking the sea and that mystical castle, Saint Michaels Mount. The castle is on an island united to the ancient village of Marazion by a natural causeway, but when the tide is high the stone walkway disappears under the sea and only the ferry travels to the island and its tiny village. The stretch of rocky land was a trading site in the times before Christ, was stolen from seafaring merchants by Julius Caesar in 56 BC, and was a place of historical significance for its role in events such as the English Civil War. The island was also home to many supernatural legends, from rock-hurling giants to a connection with the tragic lovers Tristan 55

CLEAN and Isolde. In 495 AD the archangel Michael is said to have appeared to a local fisherman high on the rocky cliffs and it quickly became a place of pilgrimage for Christians all over Europe. The mount also contained its own holy well, this one attached to a tale of Saint Keyne. When she set foot on the island a spring gushed forth and has been named for her ever since. According to tradition, the goodly Saint Keyne used to bless a stone seat on the island with the power to grant dominance in a marriage, depending on who managed to set their bum upon it first. Seems a strange qualification for the laurels of sainthood, but those were different times. The National Trust maintains the castle and the quaint village on its grounds, so a small admission was charged to visit, but the experience was well worth the fee. We toured the grounds and the castle, grabbing a few fresh crab sandwiches in a small seafood restaurant run by the locals. The ancient stones of the buildings seemed to glow with long-forgotten history and primeval power. When I finally approached the small spring it was with some anticipation, but it quickly became obvious that it was not the one from my vision. Too small, I told Aimee, splashing my face with the cold water. Nothing like it. We visited a few other historic places and sites of natural interest, such as Carn Euny, the startlingly well-preserved remains of an Iron Age settlement. There was no one around when we hiked out from Sancreed one foggy morning; there was no one around when we arrived at the mist-covered settlement. The site was incredible. Even Lazarus gasped in awe as we crouched down and made our way through the ancient fogou, a long underground tunnel leading to a beehive-shaped ceremonial chamber. 56

Ken Sweet Do you think they did human sacrifices in here? Aimee frowned. I chuckled, but who knows? Theres a reason things so old are called pre-historic. The element of the unknown adds to the mystery and charm of such places. As the days passed I was having a grand time exploring the countryside but, despite the encouragement I received from Aimee, Lazarus, and now Walter, the vision seemed a distant dream. And there were still regrets; the burden of Jeans sobs echoing in my dreams, an odd feeling of worthlessness, like a vital component had broken inside of me and I was in need of repair or disposal. I wasnt right. I brought up my feelings to Lazarus as we sat in the garden late one night. Aimee was fast asleep and I was my usual insomniac self, feeling inexplicably alone and depressed. Laz was a night owl so he was glad to give me company. When all this started I was excited, I said softly. Now, I feel kind of ridiculous. It was just a dream, Lazarus. What's the sense in wasting the trip? Why not just enjoy the vacation and not worry about childhood hallucinations and stress-induced dreams? The whole thing is crazy. I kicked a rock across the path leading to the conservatory and we listened to the orchestra of night birds and crickets for a long moment. You need to have a little faith, Lazarus said finally. Your trouble is that you're not honest with yourself. You know the place is real, you know it deep inside your soul; otherwise we wouldn't be here. Maybe we'll never find it. Maybe we will. It won't be easy, that much I'm sure of. Even so, the real waste would be if we never even searched for it. 57

CLEAN I hesitated for a long time. I wanted to believe in the vision of Clean, but it was something that, to my soul, seemed too good to be true. Like winning some cosmic lottery. Yet the way Lazarus talked he believed in it, even though he had never actually seen it. In fact, he acted kind of like I was the crazy one for not wanting to look for it. I wanted to search for Clean, but what if I never found it? What if it didnt exist? I could spend my entire life searching for my own Holy Grail only to be disappointed. Its not like you have to look forever, Lazarus stated softly, almost sheepishly, as if he were reading my thoughts. But shouldnt you at least try while youre here? Wont you regret giving up your one chance to see if it was real? I knew he was right, and so were Walter, Aimee, and Beach Nana. But Britain is vast and I didnt know where to look. There was a baptismal font in Walters home, an elaborate affair built into the floor of the old schoolhouse. Volunteers did all the work. Four foot deep and five foot long, the small pool was tiled with a cross and had been used to baptize dozens of souls. The Lord always supplies, Walter liked to tell us. He always gives us everything we need to do His will. He was humming hymns and filling the pool with a garden hose, run in through the window, when we came for dinner one cold and drizzly night. Having a baptism? Aimee asked. Tomorrow, Walter answered happily. A young couple, just about to be married. Then, as an afterthought: Would you three like to come? Yes, I said, almost without thinking. Id like to see this thing in operation. 58

Ken Sweet Aimee nodded. Walter laughed and looked at Lazarus. What about you, Lazarus? Lazarus looked a bit uncomfortable and shook his head. Nah, I have to go into town tomorrow. Theres this thing at the library I want to check out. Aimee and I exchanged glances, wondering what on earth he could be talking about, but our host let the matter rest. Then it was on to dinner, a typical gut-warming Cornish meal of fish pie with pepper and potatoes. Walter liked to cook, and seemed to enjoy watching our faces as we gobbled down his concoctions. He always made enough for everyone and pushed seconds on us, which I didnt mind at all. I love feeding people who like to eat. Walter had eaten little. My Wanda could never abide people who poked at their food. I remember if someone wasnt eating fast enough shed say, Are you going to eat that before it grows legs and runs off, dear? She sounds nice, Aimee said. I wish we could have met her. Walter beamed. Youd have loved her, and shed have loved you right back, my Wanda. If Wanda was anything like her husband she must have been a beautiful person. Walter was always giving, but never taking. He seemed to enjoy that. To him it was a lifestyle. It was tough just to get him to let us do the dishes after dinner. Youre my guests, hed protest. You just sit down and Ill take care of all that. In the time Id spent with Walter, I had taken note of the condition of his backyard, or garden as he called it, which was in dire need of pruning. The shrubs had overreached respectable limits, and a thicket of dead brush and weed covered what was 59

CLEAN once a playground. Once, Walter said that Wanda would have scolded him if she could see the state of their garden. My Wanda never would have stood for it, he commented offhandedly. She liked things tidy. I get caught up in the day and never get the time, you see. Now, sitting around sipping tea by the electric fire, I sensed an opportunity. Youve been very kind to us, I said. Could we do some work in your garden to help out? My grandparents own a landscaping company in Florida, and I used to do work for them. Walter practically choked on his tea. Oh, no, he blurted. You should be out exploring. This is your vacation! I could use some more exercise, myself, Lazarus put in helpfully. Yeah, it would be fun, Aimee added. Walter relented once he realized that we had made up our minds, but he made us promise to only work for a couple of hours in the morning so that we still had time left in the day to go out and do fun things. So, the next morning found the three of us dressed in our hiking clothes, sweating in the garden. We outfitted ourselves with old gardening supplies and thick gloves from the shed. After a brief survey of the situation I set to work on a huge azalea, trimming away the dead ends like a hairstylist. Aimee and Lazarus cleared brush for what promised to be a magnificent bonfire that evening after the baptism. Walter was ever the perfect host, bringing us fresh-squeezed lemonade and helping us pile up brush. It was good, hard labor for a fine cause, and the more grime that accumulated on my skin and clothing, the more I sweat, the cleaner I felt inside. When the sun was high and hot Walter ushered us all in for lunch. 60

Ken Sweet Youre making some real progress out there, he commended us as we devoured the sandwiches, which to Walters amusement, we decided were some of the best wed ever had. We didnt know why at the time, but we later realized that it was the cheese. Natural, aged British cheese puts our pasteurized and processed junk to shame. Heck, the two most popular cheeses in America, American and Velveeta, arent even real cheese theyre cheeseflavored food products. Walter insisted that we use his shower, bringing up a time that hed overheard us talking about the low water temperature and cramped shower at Sancreed House. Theres plenty hot water, he told us. I take cold showers in the morning, and have done so for years. We took turns. The showers were searing hot, a welcome change from the cool baths in our chalet and the tepid showers at Sancreed House. Lazarus took his leave after a quick rinse. I tried to ask him about the library event, but he waved me off and changed the subject. Lazarus was always doing that. Aimee and I both had the impression that this library thing was an invented excuse to skip out on the baptism. Maybe religious events made him uncomfortable. Regardless of Lazaruss perceived misgivings, we enjoyed the baptism. At first being present for a religious ceremony involving two complete strangers seemed strange, but we were welcomed as honored guests and treated like friends. The baptism was beautiful, with the couples pastor leading the service and Walter assisting, all while a skilled guitarist strummed joyous hymns for us all to sing. The event made me remember my own baptism, which was held in an outdoor pool in the middle of October, and the events leading up to it. 61

CLEAN For a few years during my youth I attended a little Baptist church, Trinity Baptist, it was called, which my great-grandmother favored on her visits. I was only twelve, but the church was across the street, so my parents let me go even when great-grandma wasnt there to take me. They never attended, but they also didnt oppose my going and seemed to take some comfort in the fact that I was finding pleasure in church rather than going out looking for trouble. When Beach Nana and I started going to the church, the pastor was an older gentleman named Herbert Spruce, but he was on his way out, transferring to another church. A new, younger pastor, Tuck Coombs, took his place. Pastor Coombs was charismatic and soft-spoken, but his sermons were clear, relevant, and full of passion. In his office one afternoon he led me to Christ. A few nights later I asked him to baptize me. The church arranged everything the use of the pool, the snacks for the attendees, and the white robes for the ceremony. My parents attended. My great-grandmother couldnt be there, but she wrote to tell me how thrilled she was. I dont recall it perfectly, but I remember that it was very cold, and I also know that I felt an enormous sense of relief upon arising from the water. I believe I wept. The young couple baptized before us in the old Cornish schoolhouse also wept. We met several lovely people at the baptism, including a retired couple from Newlyn, a hard-working fishing village just down the road from Penzance. Their names were Alan and Alice, and they immediately took an interest in our adventure, peppering us with questions and concerns. It was like wed been adopted into a new British family. Walter was a substitute grandpa; Alan and Alice made a mom and dad. Before 62

Ken Sweet the event was through, wed been invited to Friday night supper at their home. Soon enough everyone had filed out and we began helping Walter tidy up. Lazarus showed up just in time to eat. The bonfire we lit that evening was glorious. I visited other holy wells in the coming weeks, but all of them were the same. Powerful sites, enchanted even, but not quite right. Not the place. A proper, friendly old Irishman named Ryan, who dwelt at Sancreed House, led us to Madron Well. Its worth visiting, he assured us. Makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time. The well is reached via an eerie trek through gnarled woods, where you feel as if a thousand invisible eyes are watching you. The archangel Michael is said to stand by a boulder guarding the entrance of the path. The well and ancient chapel there certainly seem to hold some mystical power, and I carefully scooped some of the clear running water from the baptistery into an old plastic water bottle to bring home as a souvenir, but this wasn't it either. We snapped a few photos and Ryan took one of me sitting in the chapel, looking introspective, but feeling a bit silly. We made fast friends with Alan and Alice. Alice was having back problems, and Alan was so tender to her helping her up the stairs, into the car, always diligent and concerned. They were funny, too, and laughter came easily when we were together. Alice got on especially well with Lazarus, who shared in her LP recordcollecting fetish. It surprised me to hear that this kind-hearted gray-haired Christian was once a hardcore Def Leppard fan. 63

CLEAN We had only supped with them twice when they offered to take us on a few days out. First came a jaunt to Truro and the Cornish Goldsmiths shop, which doubled as a museum. They had a lot of cool pop-culture exhibits, like the Delorean from Back To The Future and James Bonds Aston Martin from the movie Goldfinger. The jubilant young curator seemed excited to let us sit in the Bond-mobile and be photographed, probably breaking half a dozen rules in the process. Alan and Alice offered to take us on another trip the next weekend. This trek would take us farther upcountry, most of the way up Cornwalls considerable length. It was to be an Arthurian tour and my hopes were running high. I went to the Penzance Public Library to do some in-depth research before we left. I scoured the Internet using a guest pass, and I delved into the numerous volumes of Arthurian lore in their collection, scribbling down locations of interest in the Cornish countryside. There was justifiable cause for my excitement. I was positive that my vision was guiding me to water, and many of the sites were watery spots. A mystical pool in the middle of a moor, a magical cavern that fills with seawater at high tide, and a gushing cliff-side waterfall. All of them sacred, all of them places that held great significance in the Merlin-Arthur tales. Perhaps one of them would be the place I was searching for. I bottled water from Dozmary Pool, a haunting and lonely lake on Bodmin Moor. Many believe the pool is where the Round Table knight Sir Bedevere tossed Excalibur as King Arthur lay dying on the field of battle at Camlann. I can certainly envision it Bedevere hesitating one final time before casting the shining sword out over the lake, and a lady's arm shooting up from the still water to grasp it by the hilt and take it back to the land of enchantment from whence it came. 64

Ken Sweet Regardless of it all, standing there in the sucking brown mud at the edge of the lake, Lazarus and Aimee waiting for me in Alan's car while a persistent wild pony nuzzled me for food, I was confident that this wasn't what I was searching for. I doused my head under the enchanting and horridly frigid waterfall at Tintagel Castle and plodded through the puddles in Merlin's Cave at low tide, looking for signs of the great wizard. He was not there, or if he was he certainly didn't reveal himself to me. All of these bodies of water, which I so fervently researched in my quest, and which I felt might have some special relationship to my vision, eventually disappointed me. Not that they were to be looked askance at, no, I believe that they all may very well be spiritually charged holy places, both Pagan and Christian, but when you're searching for the Holy Grail, finding any other artifact, no matter how significant, is a disappointment. My mind was focused on the one thing and nothing else mattered.

65

CLEAN

-SHATTERED ILLUSIONS-

I saw him, you know, Nelly said. We met Liam and Nelly Marley on the bus during one of our days out. They lived ten minutes walk from downtown Penzance, in a tiny inland village called Heamoor. In typical Cornish fashion we were invited for tea after a few minutes of banter. Always pleased to make new friends, I accepted immediately. They were fun to talk to, and we munched on scones while debating the political situation in America, and they enlightened us to the United Kingdoms own political and social woes. After tea the conversation at the Marley's house turned down more mysterious roadsghosts, gods, holy sites, and finally to my most favorite obsession, King Arthur Pendragon. I raised an eyebrow in her direction. Had I heard her correctly? Did she really just say she had seen a king who may or may not have existed over 1500 years ago? I did, she went on, unfazed by my incredulous gape. Her eyes were wide and round through her granny glasses. I saw him at Tintagel, up a steep hill, on a horse, with his sword raised over his head. 66

Ken Sweet A few people actually saw him, Liam chimed in. It was the eeriest thing. I looked at Aimee, who seemed bemused, and then at Lazarus, who was looking out the front window at some rowdy rooks. I turned back to Nelly and Liam, unsure how to respond to this bizarre revelation. Aye, we'd just passed through this great big arch, and of course there's no roof at Tintagel anymore, just ruins, so we could see up on the hills and cliffs. And there he was, Nelly raised her hand in the air, wielding her teaspoon as an imaginary sword. Aimee giggled. Just like so. You could just feel that it was him. Uh, wow. It was the best response I could come up with, and I proceeded to sit there dumbfounded while Aimee rescued the conversation, picking up my slack. They had seemed so normal! They had a nice house, two charming daughters, and grandkids. By all outward appearances, Liam and Nelly were responsible, sane senior citizens: who just happened to have seen the Pendragon himself hanging around at Tintagel Castle. The rest of the visit was perfectly normal and very pleasant. I made no inquiries, but inwardly was both desperately curious and viciously cynical. Maybe they saw the Grail King in the psychedelic sixties, with the help of a little green buddy named Herb. Or maybe they mistook some sort of re-enactor for the real deal. Or maybe but no. Impossible. As we walked home, I asked Lazarus what he thought of the whole affair. He seemed to give it careful thought before responding. She's pretty lucky, I guess. King Arthur isn't someone you meet each day, is he? Not exactly one of the people in your neighborhood. 67

CLEAN I ignored his Mr. Roger's reference and took silent, but my face must have betrayed my thoughts. After a moment he stopped chewing his gum and laughed, nearly choking. I don't believe it. Lazs voice was inappropriately incredulous. You think she's crazy! You, of all people, can't even accept that maybe, just maybe, she saw King Arthur, can you? Maybe it was a re-enactor. I tried to sound reasonable, and instead felt foolish. Yeah, it couldn't be real, could it? he said. Not at all like a glowing white light coming from your bathroom that can magically wash away everything bad that's ever latched on to you. Not like that, right? It's different. My protest sounded flimsy and forced. It's not different at all. And for the record, he went on as he stepped into a shop, presumably for some cigarettes, I believe her. I turned to Aimee to try reading her thoughts on the matter, and her face betrayed them even before she spoke. I believe her too, she said softly. I sighed, frustrated, because deep down I believed her too. Tales of King Arthur have enthralled me since I was a wee tike. Something about all that chivalry, romanticism, and magic cast a permanent enchantment from the moment my mom read me the Golden Book, ever so loosely based on Thomas Malory's 15th century take on the legend, Le Morte de Arthur. Never one to ignore the supporting cast, the various Knights of the Round Table captured my interest, particularly the Grail knights, Galahad, Perceval, and Gawaine. To be so pure, to quest for something so important, to suffer for a perfect cause, to have such a powerful and pointed meaning for livingI envied them. 68

Ken Sweet I read the stories, watched films and documentaries, researched the historical truths, which were always shrouded in the mists of myth, uncertainty, and rumor, and I even created role-playing campaigns about the Pendragon times. Avalon, Arthur, and his knights were an obsession. Most of my meanderings around Britain were, in a way, led by the Arthurian legends. When I heard that a place was said to have connections to Arthur, Merlin, or one of the knights, I had to go and see it for myself. Tintagel, the ruined castle where Malory places Arthur's birth, was indeed incredible. I saw no Arthurian figure, just vicious hordes of French tourists, but Tintagel was only one of a multitude of places with connections to these timeless legends. Dozmary Pool, St. Michael's Mount, Bodmin Moor, and the Tristan Stone - before long I had seen a variety of breathtaking Arthurian sites, and envisioned the historical events at each vividly in my mind. I wanted to connect to the legends, and I wanted the legends to connect to my quest, and in some mystical way it seemed to me that they did. But I didn't understand how, and my quest was far from over. Darth Vader was single-handedly responsible for the most crushing blow my imagination would ever receivethe moment I stopped believing that anything was possible. For many children Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy usher in this new and desolate era, but for me it was the dark Jedi himself. I loved Star Wars, and as an 8-year-old child I had amassed quite a collection. Action figures, play sets, sheets, cases, comic books, and even the special Emperor figure, who could only be acquired via Proof of Purchase seals neatly cut from other 69

CLEAN packaging by my mom and sent to Hasbro with a dollar to cover the shipping and handling. It isn't the Emperor that would use his tremendous Force powers against me, though. It was Vader, or more specifically his 3-inch tall plastic action figure. The galactic civil war was in full swing. A great battle had started that afternoon and had waged on fiercely until half past 5, when a shaky ceasefire was enacted until dinner was eaten, but the killing had begun again after dessert and didn't finish until 9 o'clock, when Admiral Mom ordered a strategic withdrawal. This hasty and unwelcome pacification pleased no one, and the night ended with the Emperor promising young Skywalker that the war was far from over. After registering a brief and useless complaint with the Admiralty, I put the Rebel and Imperial armies in their respective C3PO and Darth Vader carrying cases, as any respectable Star Wars fan would do, and figured that would be the end of it until tomorrow afternoon. I was wrong. After a brief and satisfying bubble gum-flavored brushing of teeth, I went back to my room to change into my pajamas and do a precautionary boogeyman checkand ran back out a few moments later screaming. For just as I opened the closet door I heard a rustling noise from within and there was the Dark Lord himself, floating in the doorway with outstretched arms, staring at me through his black helmet, obviously using the Force to stay afloat, just as he must have done to escape the carrying case. Darth Vader had come for me! Surely the Imperial forces were close behind himstormtroopers, bounty hunters, and the dreaded Emperor. I ran, screaming bloody murder, to my bemused parents. 70

Ken Sweet Dutifully, they examined the situation. Vader, it seemed, was hanging by the invisible nylon thread of a blanket alongside the carrying case on the shelf in my closet. He had only escaped the case due to my poor tidying up skills, not his supposed Force powers. It was all a big coincidence, a silly mix-up, a joke. Darth Vader was not real. Of course he wasn't. Nor was the power of the Force. I never truly believed they were, but until that moment anything was possible. As I went to sleep that night I was relieved, yet profoundly disappointed. I couldn't help wondering what else was a sham. The Tooth Fairy just had to be a fake. What possible reason would a pudgy old fairy have for billions of teeth? And how could she afford such a ridiculous investment? The Easter Bunny? His whole story had always seemed a bit dodgy to me. Who'd ever heard of a 6-foot tall pink rabbit? And why in the world would a rabbit deliver eggs, anyway? Santa Claus seemed only slightly more believable, though Rudolph was certainly right out, with his silly red light-bulb nose. Certainly God was real. I knew that Beach Nana was incapable of lying, so He had to exist. So, I prayed to Him. I prayed that magic would exist, and that He would help me recognize it when I saw it. I knew Jesus when I was very young. Not in a vague, ephemeral way, but in a manner that felt and seemed perfectly natural. He was my friend and guardian, and if you told me then that He wasn't real, I'd have laughed my head off at your ignorance and patiently explained that I knew He was real because we swung together most days on Beach Nana's swing set. You may laugh or nod, depending on your religious or atheist habits, but I vividly remember the cloudy spring day that I first came to this realization. 71

CLEAN There were three, of an original four, swings on the rusted old swing set in Beach Nana's cozy front yard, the poles vined round with roses. It was there that we'd sit and eat candy after our walks to Woolworth's. The candy, and whatever dollar toy she happened to treat me with, was usually bought with the money my mother was paying her to baby-sit me. So there we were one day, munching M&M's (well actually, great Grammy could only suck them, since she had no teeth), and sitting on the swings, when the conversation turned to God, and more particularly the difficult concept of a Holy Trinity, which my five-year old mind was having trouble digesting. Beach Nana was doing her best to explain it, and after a while I was satisfied. Then I happened to look right, at the empty swing. It was swaying back and forth, although I could sense no wind. Nana, I asked: If God is in Heaven, and the Holy Spirit is in us, where is Jesus? Jesus is always with you, everywhere you go, helping you and watching you. I looked over at Beach Nana and back again at the swing. With a smile, I set myself into motion, swinging, while I prayed a quick 'hello' to Jesus, just in case He was there now. Just then, a bright ray of sunshine shot down through the clouds, illuminating only our swing set. It was warm, peaceful, and somehow I knew just what it meantthe Father was showing me that His Son was there, right beside me, on the swings with my Great Grandma and me. Nana, I said. I think He's here right now. I know, Benny. I know. Gradually all of my illusions about life, and especially the unknown, were put to the test. I wanted to believe in all of it, but it is very hard to keep a childlike imagination alive in a world of 72

Ken Sweet harsh realities. There were a few desperate times, particularly after the death of my beloved Beach Nana when I was 15 years old, when I wondered if anything that could not be seen or measured existed at all. Those were dark and terrible days, when I felt tired and abandoned by God. In my desperation I turned to the occult for guidance, becoming particularly fascinated by witchcraft and spiritualism. A family trip to Salem, Massachusetts, where 19 witches were executed in the late 17th century during a ludicrous puritanical witch-hunt, captured my attention and flamed those fires. Interestingly, my father did some family research years later proving that one of our ancestors, a sad man named Samuel Wardwell, was one of the so called '9 Firebrands of Hell' hung together during the witch trials. Perhaps this accounts for my bizarre interest in this area, or perhaps it's an odd coincidence. Regardless, my explorations into Ouija and witchcraft stirred up trouble and led to further confusion. I became convinced that some sort of malicious spirit had latched on to me, and several frightening occurrences helped my friends believe it, too. This, while seeming to prove something, was not exactly what I was searching for. So there were no ready answers to my questions from the shadowy world of the occult, and it seemed to me that most people in that movement, be they psychics, Wiccans, or silly kids gathered around a cheap Milton Bradley Ouija Board, were no wiser than me. Just lost souls hoping to find, or perhaps be found by, something. It sometimes seems to me that the world is a magical labyrinth full of beautiful and secret doors, each one promising wondrous 73

CLEAN treasures, and once each door is unlocked we see the ugly truth behind it, which is usually nothing at all. Worse yet, once we've opened them we can't shut them again, so in the place of the beautiful door we have only emptiness. Maybe it could be different, if we'd only stop opening all the doors and just admire them for what they are. But I suppose that such patience and wisdom isn't in our nature. It certainly isn't in mine.

74

Ken Sweet

-KNIGHT OF THE RUINED CHAPEL-

Three weeks after we arrived in Sancreed I was eager to move on. Not that I wouldnt miss everyone there. In three short weeks Walter, Alan, and Alice had become like family. It just became obvious that I wasnt going to find Clean here. It was time to ship out and begin the search anew someplace else, but where to look? I was wrestling with this dilemma one Sunday morning as Aimee and I sat in church, waiting for Walter to preach. Walter had no car of his own, but parishioners gave him rides when his services were required at their church. Today the Newlyn Methodist pastor was away at a seminar, so Walter was filling in. Lazarus was conveniently away, presumably at one of the many area pubs. Aimee took hold of my hand and smiled as Walter stepped up to the podium. He wasted no time getting down to business. The sermon was surprising. The word clean, he began, appears exactly 133 times in the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Walter paused a few moments to let this fact sink in, smiling 75

CLEAN meaningfully at me. My spine tingled with anticipation and I prepared to listen carefully, lest Walter have words of wisdom to guide my quest. If Id had a tape recorder just then I wouldve hit record. In addition, the word unclean appears 235 times, he continued. Thats a lot of talk about cleanliness 368 instances. By contrast, the word joy appears just 165 times and the word faith appears in a mere 247 passages. The word Lord appears a whopping 7,234 times, but that is to be expected. The book, after all, is about Him. I stifled a chuckle. An elderly woman glanced over and I expected her to shush me, but she cracked a toothless grin instead. I beamed back at her in response, glad to see that humor was allowed in Methodist churches. Aimee peered at me quizzically and I shook my head, turning my attention back to Walter. John Wesley, founder of our movement, once stated that cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness. Benjamin Franklin listed cleanliness in his 13 virtues to live by. If we look further back, the idea appears in ancient texts of all persuasions, from Babylonian teachings to Hebrew religious tracts. Why all this talk of cleanliness? Walter was on a roll, coming down into the main aisle to better address his flock. Why does the Lord seem so obsessed with clean? Walter paused. I imagine he did so to let the question take root in our minds, or perhaps to give us time to think of an answer. This was information I needed to know. I suddenly realized I was bating my breath waiting for Walter to continue, so I tried forcing myself to breathe normally. Black has always been evil and dirty, Walter went on. Whilst white is clean and good. When the Bible describes our 76

Ken Sweet salvation, the Lord is offering to wash us whiter than snow. To cleanse and to purify us. To make us clean. In turn, we respond as strongly to this offer as if somebody offered to clean our house; we either thank them for the much-needed help or become selfrighteously indignant and claim that we dont need outside assistance our home is perfectly fine the way it is, thank you very much. We may even claim we like it this way. We may even be telling the truth, but probably not. I nodded to myself, remembering the disorderly nature of my ex-wife and all the fights it caused. I like no, I need things clean and readily admit it. It seems to me as if people who claim to like an untidy home, which they usually prefer to call comfortable or lived-in, are just making excuses for their own laziness. I know cleaning isnt easy, but to me at least, the end result is worth the effort. When my Wanda was sick, after she had her stroke and the doctors let me take her back home, we had a tough time keeping things tidy, Walter choked up a little here, as he always did when he was remembering Wanda. Wanda could never abide a mess, but looking after a stroke victim is a full-time job and seeing to Wandas needs and her comfort was far more important to me than a sink full of dishes or some dust on the sideboard. A man in the front row murmured his agreement and I presumed he must have been taking care of an ill loved one. Or perhaps he had once. After a few months the situation deteriorated beyond Wandas ability to cope. And I dont mean her health. Walter smiled. One day, when we were at the table having dinner, she wouldnt open her mouth. I kept raising the spoon to her, but she was just staring off, so I was concerned. Wanda, my darling, what ever is wrong? I 77

CLEAN asked her. And then I followed her gaze over to the kitchen sink, where dishes from two nights ago were still piled up. She couldnt talk anymore, you see, but she could still get her point across quite well, thank you. A few people chuckled. They had obviously known Wanda, and it made me wish I could have met her before she passed away. Walter continued. Ill do those after we eat, I told her, but Wanda shook her head no. Ill do them before we eat, then, I said in exasperation, but she still shook her head. Then what do you want me to do, Wanda dear? Then she glanced over at the phone and I understood. So we hired a cleaning lady. She was a little thing named Doris, a few years older than us, Cornish through and through; always late, but very thorough. She was a blessing for us, worth every penny, and Wanda and I were both a lot happier and more comfortable after that. The story was touching, but I had no idea where he was going with it. Thats how Walter talks in these big circles. They start out on the subject, then travel away from it until youre absolutely lost in this new story of his, wondering what one thing has to do with the other, and suddenly he brings it all home with a sharp point that makes you remember what he was talking about in the first place. I wish I could write like that. Then he zeroed in on the point. Is there some basic fiber in our souls that recognizes cleanliness as much more than a virtue in household management? We all want to be clean, you see, but sometimes we cant do it ourselves. There are times when things may become so overwhelming in our lives that we may need help. We may need to listen to somebody elses advice, at a time when our own judgment is flawed. We may need to let someone else into our heart to help clean up the mess. Let us pray. 78

Ken Sweet Walter asked the Lord to come into each of our hearts and heal us, to make us Clean. I tingled with anticipation and felt renewed and invigorated leaving the church, thanking Walter for his continuing guidance. Youre welcome, he said, but then warned me: It isnt over yet, Ben. The Lord has a plan for you far beyond a quick sermon and prayer. Keep true to your quest until you find your answers. Never give up. We were, all three of us, completely pissed. Aimee, in her neverending quest for reasons to get hammered, came up with the conceptto celebrate St. Patrick's Day we were setting out on an epic three-village pub-crawl. We were going to use the main road and have a half-pint of anything in every pub we could spot along the way. This was probably not the Lords plan that Walter was talking about, but it was part of my journey nonetheless. We primed ourselves with three full pints of Guinness at the Ship Inn in the sleepy fishing village of Mousehole. It was noon. Then we hiked a short, dry spell to Newlyn, pondering what part of Britain we might visit next as we hit three more pubs in short succession. When we strolled into Penzance it was drizzling outside and we already felt pretty toasted, but we ducked in to the Godolphin Arms to do our business like good troopers. We could have moved on safely to the bus stop from there, but instead we walked further into town and hit two more wonderful little watering holes, finally calling it quits at the Star Inn, where we closed off the night with another full pint. I was seeing stars. Lazarus was talking about the prophecies of Nostradamus, and Aimee was having trouble crawling. We were rotten drunk, it was raining buckets, and we barely managed to get 79

CLEAN the right bus home. Somehow we managed to find the chalets in the dark, crawl into our beds, and fall asleep. It was the sleep of the dead. At least it was for Aimee and me. That's why I was so surprised that Lazarus was shaking me awake. Rise, he commanded in a clear voice. There is no time to waste. Shove off, Laz, I slurred. I'm busy. Lazarus grabbed a handful of my t-shirt and yanked me into an upright position. Listen, this is important, he whispered urgently into my ear. Don't make me get water. He sounded serious about that last bit, so I wiped my eyes and stumbled out of bed. Aimee didn't move, even when I accidentally knocked over the lamp while putting my pants on. Lazarus ushered me out the door and tugged me along through the garden. Azalea branches slapped my arms and spider webs tickled my face as he pulled me down the driveway and past the walls, out into the street. I stopped him short once the crisp night air brought me to my senses. Where are you going? I demanded. I'm not going anywhere. I'm bringing you somewhere. I was really sick of Laz's wordplay, but I resisted the impulse to hit him. Instead I asked: Ok, where am I going? Lazarus stopped and stared at me, grinning. The moonlight, my drunkenness and the whole situation seemed surreal, like a scene from a Tim Burton film. After a long pause he gripped my shoulder. He seemed proud, excited, and not at all drunk. To be knighted, he told me. You're going to be knighted. Rather than question him further I decided to humor him. Besides, I had come to realize by this time that although Laz was obviously insane, I trusted him. 80

Ken Sweet Lazarus led me under the single street lamp, where an army of moths fluttered in their search for the light, then alongside the old schoolhouse, dark inside. Into the shadowy woods we thrust, and at this point I understood where we were goingthe ruined chapel by the holy well. We arrived suddenly and I gaped in disbelief at the sight of a young woman, stunningly beautiful in the moonlight, draped in a billowing white cloth with the translucency of spider-web. Her platinum hair was tied back in long braids and her pale skin shone in the moonlight streaming into the chapel. Beside her, balanced against the wall with the tip on the altar, was a gleaming silver sword. What the who is she? I stuttered in awe. Shush and go on, Laz whispered to me, pushing me forward. I stumbled clumsily forward, and for some reason I felt compelled to kneel, crouching awkwardly. The lady in gossamer smiled at me, and her eyes seemed to twinkle and dance in the moonlight. Who are you? I asked after a moment. The lady hushed me and picked up the sword. I felt a bit nervous about that, but stayed down, reassured by the idea that Lazarus must have organized this whole affair as some kind of therapy. Benjamin Whyte, she said in a lilting British accent, holding the sword over me. I charge you to be a good knight. Honor women, protect children, defend the weak, and let your lips bring forth no false charges or slander against the innocent. Bring glory to God by choosing right over wrong in all matters, and never dishonor your name by cowardly deeds or other evil ways. She paused and searched my face. I couldnt tell if I was supposed to do something. 81

CLEAN By my oath I swear it, I suddenly said, remembering words spoken in an old film about King Arthur. She tapped my left shoulder and then my right with her sword. The headiness of this strange experience, coupled with the massive effects of the alcohol, caused me to sway and feel faint. I felt Lazaruss firm grip on my shoulders as he steadied me. Then rise now Sir Benjamin, the Knight of the Ruined Chapel, she said, extending her hand to help me to my feet. Her skin was cool to the touch. I staggered up, feeling renewed and different than before, as if a gossamer veil had been suddenly lifted and I could see everything more clearly. The nausea and heavy eyelids of a moment ago were entirely gone now. A knight with no quest is no knight at all. Her statement seemed familiar. So go now and receive yours. With the sweep of a porcelain arm, she motioned towards the well. I looked hesitantly toward the well, dark and foreboding in the shade of the trees. A patchy swath of moonlight filtered through the ancient hawthorn, tied with colorful clouties, and across the entrance, but inside all was dark. I scanned the area for Lazarus, but he was gone. When I looked back, the maiden had disappeared into the trees. This was madness, but a beautiful kind of madness. I was nervous, but also eager to find out what would happen next, so with some trepidation I descended into the cold damp womb of the earth. It was seven natural stone steps down to the water, little more than a cold puddle tonight, and I sat down gingerly on the second to last step. A steady drip splashed rhythmically from the ceiling into the water, echoing hypnotically in the small cave. I closed my eyes and waited, remembering what I had read about the radiation 82

Ken Sweet levels in the cave and how artists and seers sometimes came here to receive visions. With my eyes closed, I was able to pick out and identify each of the several scents surrounding me. The earthy aroma of the moss on the slick stones mingled with the damp odor of the well. The night flowers in bloom outside the well smelled just like a woman's perfume. Still, I waited. I childishly pondered my title with no small amount of enthusiasm. Sir Benjamin, Knight of the Ruined Chapel. It had an authoritative ring to it. A nearby cricket startled me and I opened my eyes briefly, but all was as before, so I closed them again and waited patiently. What kind of quest will I receive? I imagined, in fleeting imagery, battling dark forces on heroic quests to recover powerful artifacts. A flash of axes and broadswords heralded the ringing of steel on steel, a sound which echoed in my head, muffled and far away, as if it were coming from a distant place. The imagery slowly became broken and confusing, and in time I fell asleep. I awoke suddenly, still inside of my dreams. I am dreaming, I thought, glancing down at the silver sword in my hand. This is a dream. The feeling was one of pure exhilaration. Id experienced lucid dreams before, off and on since I was a young adult. I had even researched them and tried to increase their frequency, with limited success. This dream, however, was the first time I had been lucid since my divorce. I was standing at the mouth of a dark cavern, in the midst of a 83

CLEAN forbidding gray terrain of craggy cliffs and boulders, rocky shores and sweeping sandy beaches. I was somehow familiar with this place, but I couldnt recall how. Dark clouds swirled violently in a violet sky, like purple and black paint being stirred together. The situation seemed ominous, like the beginnings of a terrible nightmare, but my control in lucid dreams was such that I was unafraid. Rather than attempt to change the scenario or fly away to a better place, which I was certain I could have done, I decided to enter the cave and find out why I was here. In the back of my mind I remembered the knighting and entering the well. Did this represent the well? Was this my quest? The cave was cold and dark, and water dripped from the long stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. Torches burned on the walls and I took one of these from its sconce, thrusting it forward to illuminate my path. The dripping stopped and the silence seemed to grow and intensify as I delved deeper into the tunnel. Eventually I could hear nothing except for my own footfalls and the comforting crackle of the torch. A dark shadow slowly emerged far in front of me, seeming to suck some of the darkness from the immediate area to form itself. Still I continued, pressing on toward the figure, until I finally could make it out with some clarity. The shadow was a knight, there was no mistaking that, for he was dressed in black plated armor and wielding a huge spiked mace. His face was shadowy and angular in the torchlight, his eyes were dark windows that bared his evil soul. It disturbed me to think that he seemed vaguely familiar. The knight's boots echoed loudly, the sound of clashing metal, 84

Ken Sweet as he took a few steps forward. I raised my torch defensively, suddenly frozen in fear of this unnatural apparition. The torch wavered in my quivering hand. He was within arm's reach when he raised his own weapon high into the air. The dark warrior was not huge, not much larger than myself in fact, but something in the way that he carried himself, some cruel indifference reflected in his eyes, told me that this man was a talented and heartless killer. I could not possibly hope to overpower him. And there was no mistaking his intentionhe meant to kill me. I tried desperately to shake off my fear, at least enough to run, but I could not. This is only a dream. It didnt matter. A very real sense of terror gripped my soul. The torch slipped from my hand, clattering noisily on the cavern floor, and the sound jarred me and brought me to my senses. I ran. When I awoke, I was alone and ashamed. I went back to bed, not speaking a word of my experience to Aimee. Lazarus never asked me what happened. The whole thing would have been a wash, save for one thing: I now knew where to go.

85

CLEAN

-THE CAVE-

The goodbyes were surprisingly emotional. We had only known our Cornish friends for a few short weeks, yet we truly cared for them and they us. Alan, Alice, and Walter all came to see us off at the bus stop. Walter gave us a wool blanket to keep warm with while we were camping, and Alan and Alice thoughtfully packed us some cheese sandwiches and a bottle of blackcurrant juice concentrate, a sweet drink they had addicted us to. We all promised to keep in touch, and that we would see one another again if we could. Off you go on your quest now, Walter said as he embraced me. Well meet again, Lord willing. Lord willing. I hugged his bony frame tightly. I wished we could stay. We couldnt, of course. Not if I was going to continue my search for Clean. The dream had been an obvious indication of the next location in this strange playWhitesand Bay. I happened across photographs of the bay repeatedly while surfing the Internet in Penzance Library, and even in my research 86

Ken Sweet before we had come to Britain. It was a beautiful place, a haven for surfers and photographers, and full of small communities. Although it seemed obvious that the dream may have simply been my subconscious filling in details to answers I desperately sought, I decided to try playing the role of believer rather than my normal doubting Thomas. And so it was that a month after arriving in Penzance, we left for Whitesand Bay. It wasnt far, just 10 miles in fact, but when you have no automobile 10 miles is a universe away. Couple this with the fact that we had no idea where we might go next, and it became painfully obvious that we were unlikely to see our friends again anytime soon. Alice, ever emotional, cried the most. Remember, she said as she dabbed at her tears with Alans hankie, Jesus loves you and nobody can ever take that from you. Alans advice was more practical. Stay out of the water, its cold and rough this time of year. And if you get into any trouble at all call our mobile. I laughed. This was Britain, and from what Id seen so far the only danger around here came from stray buses, and Id pretty much conquered that one. Barring an attack by a wild rabbit or a herd of sheep, I couldnt imagine what could go wrong, but I thanked him anyway. If I knew just how much trouble we would actually get into, I never would have left. What a magnificent sight awaited us at Whitesand Bay! Deep azure seas growing into mighty, white-crested waves, crashing noisily onto intensely white shores. Surfers had been coming here for decades; man had been 87

CLEAN coming here since time immortal. Or so Laz told me, as we slowly wound our way down between the rocky cliffs via hundreds of natural stone steps. Why did they come? I asked him as Aimee and I took a quick breather. The seascape was enthralling, the stone-hedged fields of ancient farmland descending in dramatic steppes beside and above us, great cliffs and a mile-long stretch of pristine beach below us. I could just make out the surfers from our heightthey were the tiny black dots bobbing in the waves. Laz lit a cigarette and the wind blew the smoke directly into my face. I grimaced and he casually stepped to the side so that it would billow safely past me. Why do you think? he asked me. I detected a hint of impatience in his voice. Look at the place. Aimee was ready, so we continued our descent. It's the kind of thing you see in travel magazines or big-budget films, through filtered lenses and color-corrected, digitally retouched imagery. Then you go there and it's great, but never as good as the image that inspired you. Whitesand Bay was the opposite that daya photograph could never take it all in or do it justice. I whipped out the digital camera and we proceeded to take a few dozen photographs anyway, knowing full well that nobody would be able to understand what it was like by looking at them. Lazarus walked off shaking his head sadly and sat on an enormous boulder to watch the receding tide. The next day we hiked down to Sennen Cove, the local village, where we spent a good stretch of time milling aimlessly about before settling down on the beach with some pasties and soda. There were a fair number of people on the beach, although the water was still too cold for swimming. A young couple flew a neon 88

Ken Sweet kite over an elderly couple picnicking on a blanket, while others simply strolled or sat and enjoyed the view. An old man with an Adidas jacket sat in a folding chair reading Patricia Cornwell's newest thriller and two young brothers worked on the second of a pair of impressive sand forts, strategically placed and designed to withstand the incoming tide. It is to these industrious lads that my attention was drawn. It didn't work for Canute, it won't work for them. Lazarus was the offending voice, offering his typically puzzling thoughts. Noting my confused expression, he explained himself. Set your time machine for way way back. Canute is the king of England. His overly obliging admirers think he's a god, and they figure he can hold back the tide by commanding it. The word spreads, some think he can, but some, bless their traitorous souls, think its hogwash. Pressure mounts, so Canute, believing his own hype, decides to give it a go. So there he is standing on the beach with his arms stretched out, hooting and hollering at the sea, commanding the rising tide to recede. Can you imagine it? Aimee snickered at the story. Like the fool I am, I had to ask: What happened? The tide receded and everyone realized kings actually are gods, Laz retorted with just a hint of sarcasm. What do you think happened? The tide came in, Canute looked like a noble moron, and people recognized that their leaders and heroes were regular human beings, just like everybody else. As much as I appreciated the history lesson, I didn't appreciate the cynical outlook. I was indignant. I couldn't say why, but I wanted their fort to work and maybe even, just a little bit, believed it could. With a last glance at Lazarus and Aimee, I hurried off down the beach to help the boys build a sandcastle fit to withstand a tsunami. 89

CLEAN There's just something about castles. It floors me to think that such grand and impressive stonework could be designed and constructed without the aid of computers or heavy machinery. Even more fascinating are the historiesusually bloody, frequently sordid, and always exciting. From Caerphilly Castle in Wales, a massively dominating 12th-century fortress with some of the best water defense systems in all Britain, to St. Michael's Mount, privately owned and lived-in, perched dramatically on top of an island in Mount's Bay, they all have their own special appeal. Deep gray Tintagel Castle, perched atop the cliffs of a peninsula and attached to the land by a narrow land bridge, seemed almost as if it had grown from the earth itself. No two castles are the same and none of the ones I saw failed to impress me in some way. I wish I could build one. Sometimes I daydream about what it would be likehow tall the keep, how many towers, would there be a moat, what kind of stoneand then I imagine all the impressive parties that could be heldthe reunions, events, and even just role-playing sessions or storytelling on dark, stormy nights. But it's all just a fantasy. It's a lucky man who can afford to build a small house nowadays, much less a gigantic, entirely pointless, castle. Imagine the heating bill, and the cost and time that would go into the maintenance! Imagine the taxes on the huge piece of property you'd have to buy, not to mention the zoning and building laws you'd have to overcome. And the stone! You'd have to be filthy rich just to buy the materials to build the darned place! Times aren't the same, and even when they were you'd have to be a royal or noble blood even to entertain the thought. This is a new age, an age of tiny modular houses, efficiency apartments, and 90

Ken Sweet mobile homes built to last 40 years. Nobody in his or her right mind would attempt to build a castle now. Still, I would if I could. In case you were wondering, it didn't work. Good for you if you were holding out hope. I certainly was. We worked tirelessly for hours. The two budding engineers piled up the breaker walls while I worked on the outer perimeter, but our best and most ingenious castle-building efforts, though they led to one Herculean fortress with 3 moats, 3 walls, and an elaborate canal system for water drainage, were all for naught. The icy tide crashed in after an initial period of success, dragging away our fortress and leaving us on a tiny island, surrounded by freezing ocean water as deep as my stomach. I had to swim the short people back through the treacherous water to their angry mum, and I returned, soggy and cold, to Aimee and Laz, who were, unlike the mum, quite amused by the whole affair. That evening, over a pint at the cozy Last Inn, the three of us laughed ourselves silly over the day's events. You're crazy, Aimee snickered. For a few seconds I thought about calling 999. I smirked. The number was Britains 911. Did you really think it could work? she asked. I don't know, yeah, I guess. Well, did you learn anything today, Canute? Lazarus asked. I thought for a moment and then nodded. The drainage system was completely inadequate. The whole structure needs to be elevated next time. Aimee and Lazarus laughed, and Laz held up his pint. Here's to the ones who never learn, God bless 'em. 91

CLEAN I love camping. I used to go with my dad when I was a kid, and continued the tradition by hiking deep into the rugged and rocky terrain of the White Mountains, tenting in the wild. Jean would go with me sometimes, often I would take friends, and sometimes Id go alone. The perceived hardships of sleeping on the ground, cooking over a fire, and surviving in the wilderness have never perturbed me. I like to think of them as a challenge, one that when overcome leaves your soul soaring and triumphant. Camping at Sennen was not like that. A short hike from Whitesand Bay, up hundreds of steep stairs set into the hillside, Sennen Campground was cold and windswept at this time of year. Salty rain pelted our tents every night and there was a bitter chill in the air. We came somewhat unprepared, packing just a two-season tent and some thin fleece sleeping bags. Packing three months of gear is tough. I had even elected to forego sleeping pads, imagining that the campgrounds would be cushioned with soft grass and warmed by bright sun. My research had told me that Cornish weather, whilst unpredictable, was generally mild. In this case, my research couldnt have been more wrong. There beside the sea at night, on the windswept promontory, the cold sunk straight into our bones. Even with the addition of Walters warm wool blanket, Aimee and I spent the first night in misery, shivering uncontrollably, until I tore open our emergency poncho and laid it across our bodies. Then came the moisture. A poncho or any other waterproof thing is great for holding in heat, but lets out no moisture at all. My head ached and my toes were numb. We woke up in the early morning, soaked and frozen. The morning sun glared down, 92

Ken Sweet thawing the frost in the grass and turning my mild headache into a throbbing migraine. Lazarus crawled miserably out of his tent nearby. Frigging cold, he commiserated. We need to do something about that. The farmers who owned the campground and the hundred cows that roamed the property took kindly to us when we shivered our way into the camp store, giving us free pasties and offering to lend us a few foam pads to use as an insulating layer and keep our bodies off the chilled ground. It was an offer we couldnt refuse. Aimee told the mother our story while the daughter, a pretty young blonde, went into the house for our bedrolls. You heading up Lands End way today? asked the mother, a smiling round-faced woman. Lands End was the celebrated series of monstrous cliffs overlooking the sea at the westernmost point in England. Well, wed like to, but were not quite sure how to get there, I confessed. Oh, its easy, she laughed, and immediately began sketching us out a map. The sleeping pads were in our arms before she was through. These will really help. I gave the pads an approving squeeze. Thats very nice of you, Aimee put in. My heroes, Laz offered. An hour later, after some time in the shower blocks, we were on our way. It was a lengthy, stunning trek through a thatch-roof village, across high cliff tops overlooking the bay, and through narrow paths bordered by thorny gorse. Lambs bleated in the pastures, snails clung to the posts in thick blue clumps, and puffy white clouds sailed across the blue sky. Lazarus snapped photos of 93

CLEAN us in some of the more breathtaking spots. The land was gorgeous and it made me jealous of the people lucky enough to live there. How nice it must be, waking up and staring out your window, down the cliff, at the white sands and the deep blue sea. Occasionally we passed other hikers and exchanged warm pleasantries, immediate compatriots in our shared experience of natural beauty. I was reminded of the words of the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, when he wrote: Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much. Our walks in Britain were proper walks. Another writer, Miriam Beard, once said that travel was more than seeing sights; its a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. I didnt realize it just then, but my ideas of living were changing dramatically. My mind was painting a picture of my future, and it was not a future that could be bound by the narrow confines of everyday life. After seeing such glorious sights I could never again allow myself to believe that I couldnt afford to travel, that I should keep my job no matter how terrible it was, that you ought to settle for relationships that dont work, or that fanciful dreams must be suffocated at birth. I began to recognize that the beauty the Lord made in the world was there for us to appreciate. It seemed outrageous and silly to have squandered so much precious time in front of a computer screen, watching a television, cramped into a cubicle, or lounging on the couch. Lands End was grand, a line of enormous rock walls under constant attack from a truly relentless sea, although a sudden change in weather worked hard to diminish the experience with a steady drizzle that clouded our vision. My research on the Internet 94

Ken Sweet had turned up a lot of legends regarding the cliffs, so I related them to Aimee and Laz. There were sightings of ghost ships, tales of a lost kingdom that sunk into the sea long ago, and glowing lights that danced upon the rocks, leading ships to their doom. For better or worse, Lands End was practically a theme park. The owners of the property had developed several museums and multimedia areas, along with the usual assortment of gift shops and eateries. Entry fees to the individual museums were expensive, but a bit of good luck was coming our way. We had a great day out heedless of the cold drizzle, watching taffy spun at the candy shop, exploring the working farm on the property and feeding the goats and ponies, peering over the edge of the cliffs, and grabbing a small lunch in the cafeteria. It was midafternoon and we were about to walk home, when an old man in a golf cap waved us down. Beg your pardon, he said, and I thought he was going to ask us a favor. Instead he produced three tickets. These are for all attractions in the place. We only used the Relentless Sea ticket, the rest are unmarked. Would you like them? Yes I said hesitantly, wondering how much this was going to cost. He thrust them into my hand. There you are, lad. The wife is faint, so we have to go. Now I felt bad. Can we give you some money for them? He shook his head. No, no. Enjoy yourselves. Go on and enjoy yourselves. I detected an Irish accent. Thank you, sir! Aimee gushed. The old Irishman blushed. No trouble, lass. No trouble at all. The park was closing in two hours, so what followed was a whirlwind tour of the attractions Lands End offered. I was 95

CLEAN particularly fascinated by one called the Mystical Sea, a multimedia experience that explored the legendary connections of Lands End. A holographic Merlin narrated tales of Tristan, Arthur, Avalon, smugglers, faeries, giants, pirates, ghost ships, witches, and the lost land of Lyonesse. The display was impressive. Monsters glowed in the walls as Merlins ghostly image guided us through their legends. Mist bellowed from hidden sprayers as a huge ship wrecked in an artificial storm. There were many historical shipwrecks in the treacherous waters surrounding Lands End, as we discovered during the experience, so much so that many blamed the wrecks on fairy lights in the cliffs that guided sailors to their doom or the curses of some terrible hag. A friendly ticket-taker informed me that many locals still believed in the legends, especially the old-timers. Traditions die hard in Cornwall, and Lands End was one place where magic was still strong. I hadnt forgotten the cave. After a couple of days settling in and exploring the typical tourist traps, it was time to begin my search for the dark cavern in earnest. Aimee and Lazarus both offered to come along, Aimee seemed uncharacteristically concerned, but this was a challenge I needed to confront alone. Its kind of like Star Wars, Lazarus empathized. Hes Luke Skywalker and this is that cave where he saw Vader, the one that he needed to face in order to learn to harness the Force. Aimee wasnt buying it. What if you get hurt out there and theres nobody around to save you? Im sure Ill be fine, I lied, and then lied again to reinforce the previous lie: I wont do anything stupid. 96

Ken Sweet Sure, right, she retorted sarcastically. How will you do that? The whole thing is stupid! She looked on the verge of tears, so I hugged her and kissed her head. I have to do this, honey. Ill come back, I promise. You better, she whispered. Her lips pressed against mine, and I could hear Lazarus making busy talking to a nearby cow. I let go of Aimee and turned away to begin gathering some essentials. Every knight needs a quest, I muttered cryptically, and Lazarus smiled. This is part of mine. I packed everything I thought I might need on the expedition, stuffing a couple of granola bars, a bottle of water, my digital camera, a small flashlight, a slicker, and a homemade first-aid kit into my satchel. Under Aimees orders I also slipped the mobile phone into my pocket just in case. The campground owner sketched me a quick map to some caves she used to visit as a child. One of them is quite large, she told me. They say pirates and smugglers use to keep treasure there. But it fills with water when the tide comes in, so youll be very cautious, right? Caution is my middle name, I quipped, remembering the bus that nearly took off my head. Short of a few headaches and a single dizzy spell, I had suffered few ill effects from the incident, and for that I was thankful. What is it youre looking for down there? the daughter asked. Im not sure, I answered honestly. Hopefully Ill know when I find it. As I followed the map down the steep hillside toward the rocky beach below, I began to get excited. What treasure might I find in the cave? Why was I being led there? Was this the place where I would finally find Clean? 97

CLEAN I imagined a crystal clear pool in the back of the cave where I would splash under the sparkling water, the pain and guilt of a lifetime magically washed away as I emerged. The dreams, the depression, and the darkness would all fly from me and my world would be white and good. I would feel fresh and free, like a child at the beginning of summer vacation. And I would find a way to keep myself that way. The idea was thrilling, and it carried me all the way to the rocks at the northern end of the beach. The tide was pretty far out and wouldnt be back in for two hours, according to the campground lady. I would have to scramble across the rocks to find the caves, and I would have to get in and out quickly, before the tide came back in. It would be dangerous. I set foot upon the barnacle and seaweed covered stones and nearly slipped. They were treacherous, and I began to think of the dangers. What if I didnt make it back in time? What if the dark man truly waited in the cavern for me, ready to stop my progress? I hesitated, searching for a long stick to steady myself, but found nothing. Cold waves crashed heavily against the rocks farther out. I was alone. This is stupid. I said it aloud; there was nobody around to hear me anyway. I could die here. I glanced over my shoulder, back the way I had come. I could turn around, go back, and forget about it. Aimee would be glad to have me back safe. Id never hear the end of it from Lazarus, but thats tough. This was lunacy for the sake of an alcohol-induced dream, or even a hallucination from a nasty bit of brain damage brought on by a severe concussion. These other explanations suddenly seemed infinitely more plausible than my having received some Holy Quest from On High. I laughed in 98

Ken Sweet scorn and turned away, ready to leave. Keep true to your quest until you find your answers. Never give up. Walters voice was in my mind, but it was as clear as if I had been wearing headphones. This was a crucial moment and I was about to give up. I wagged my head. I dont even know if its real. Suddenly I was with Lazarus in Sancreed garden, sitting on the bench in the moonlit night. Its not like you have to look forever, his soft voice echoed. But shouldnt you at least try while youre here? Wont you regret giving up your one chance to see if it was real? I knew then that I had to try, and I even turned back toward the rocks, but fear seized my muscles and stopped me from going any further. The tide was creeping in and I had wasted precious minutes deciding what to do. Of all the ways you can die, drowning seemed to me to be one of the absolute worst. I read about it in a book once. You hold your breath, hoping to survive the ordeal, and meanwhile your body is wracked with pain as the oxygen is depleted. Finally your bodys natural need for oxygen forces you to breathe involuntarily, and your lungs fill with water as you take a great gasp. Thus begins the extremely painful process of suffocating to death, and you are unable to effect your situation in any other way than flailing around trying to reach air. After a few more agonizing minutes brain death ends your suffering. Minutes later I was still standing, terrified, entirely unable to mount those rocks. It took an entirely different turn of thought to help me find the courage I needed. I am Sir Benjamin, the Knight of the Ruined Chapel, I 99

CLEAN steamed. I am descended from heroes. This is my quest, and mine alone. And I am NO COWARD. I scrambled up the sharp rocks quickly and without fear. A few minutes later I was staring into the face of death. I have faced death before. I first came to understand the concept of dying when I was very young. I accompanied my mother to my aunt Emmas funeral. Em was a close friend of Beach Nana and we spent many afternoons at her house, watching her cuckoo clock or playing dominos. Emma was a sweet old woman whose house smelled like gingerbread and I enjoyed her company. My mother tried to prepare me for the event, but I clearly remember that it didnt sink in until I was at the back of the viewing room, staring at Emmas body resting in her casket, hands folded across her chest. Our Em was there, but she wasnt there. I could see her, but I couldnt wake her up and say hello. She was forever lost to us and I remember thinking, Oh no. This will happen to Beach Nana too, someday. And mom. And me. I didnt weep until later that night. Ill miss her too, mom told me, misjudging the reason I wept. But Em will always be watching over us, and like Beach Nana said, well see her again in Heaven someday. I wasnt mourning Emma, beloved though she was. This was a preemptive mourning for the future loss of my family, the deaths of everyone I loved. At some point they would all die, or perhaps I would, and we would be separated indefinitely. I went through this process many times in my life; grieving over losing something I had, in fact, not yet lost. I nearly did die, more than once. The pneumonia that had 100

Ken Sweet started this mad vision-quest was the first of many close calls. A few years later a bizarre illness named henoch schonlein purpura sent me to the hospital with a sort of natural blood poisoning that afflicts one in a million children and can in rare instances prove fatal. My appendix nearly exploded shortly after that. When I was a teen, and my lifelong depression was at its worst, I toyed with suicide. And there were the normal accidents and close calls associated with an active lifestyle. Once, while on a hiking trek in the White Mountains, I had nearly been swept into a raging white river during what my friend and I thought would be a relatively simple crossing. I knew the boulders in the river would dash me to pieces if I didnt drown or die of hypothermia. The current was pulling me swiftly downstream when my ankle wedged painfully between two rocks. The sudden stop permitted me a split moment to react, and I was barely able to force myself upright with my walking staff and lunge for the safety of the shore. More recently, that bus in Penzance could have easily broken my neck. Each time, when I realized that I was going to live, I wept for joy. When life gives you a second chance, you latch on to it with all your might. Each time I vowed to live differently, to be a better person, to love more freely and make every moment of my life count. Sometimes I even upheld that promise for a little while. The routine normalcy of everyday life inevitably allows you to slip back into lackadaisicalness, and soon you begin doing all the things you promised not to. You tell lies, you lust and envy after what isnt yours, you no longer appreciate what you have, you dont spend enough time with your family, and you dont show enough affection to the people you care about. The world becomes centered on you and you are a God unto yourself. Soon you have nearly forgotten your religion, your spirituality. You begin feeling 101

CLEAN inexplicably lonely and depressed. The slow process of losing your soul has begun. It is a delicate condition, where a sudden blow may push you over an invisible edge into the darkness, into a place where you may never feel true joy again. Oftentimes it takes a brush with death to bring you back from that precipice. I have faced death before, but at Whitesand Bay I confronted it on my own terms. And I was victorious. The cave was deeper and darker than I imagined. Razor-sharp barnacles clung to the walls and slick seaweed covered the floor. The afternoon sun shed scant rays of light into the 6-foot tall fissure, which currently stood a few feet above sea level. I scrambled into the hole, carried by my courage, and sat on the edge, fishing through my pack for the flashlight. Turning, I began a careful descent into the narrow cavern. The floor was slick and yielding from a thick rug of seaweed. Staying upright was a challenge and I teetered around, slipping and sliding, trying to steady myself against the walls of the cave. My efforts were in vain. Halfway through the cavern my feet went out from under me and I began sliding down; slicing my hands open on barnacles as I tried to stop myself. My grip loosened for a moment and the thick seaweed swallowed my flashlight. My slide was halted abruptly by a large rock, slick with moisture, protruding from the floor. I rubbed my hip where I had smashed into the stone, and clambered to my feet. All was dark save a narrow shaft of light landing on the surface of the big rock. And there, in that half-light, I saw the purpose of this adventure, and I knew immediately what it was. I snatched it up, for it was quite small, and thrust it into my pocket. The cave 102

Ken Sweet ended a few feet behind the rock, so there was no point in going further. It was time to get back to the beach, before the swelling sea overtook me. Climbing out of the cavern was trickier than getting in. It was a natural death trap, and I wondered how many men and women had drowned here. My bloody hands grasped at the slimy seaweed as I thrust myself forward. The salt stung my wounds and I shivered in my soaked clothing. I didnt search for the flashlightthere was no time. The water was lapping over the threshold of the cavern even as I emerged. When I looked south the beach had all but disappeared. The water had come up quickly, and many of the rocks I used to get here were now covered in knee-deep water. To my back stood a monstrous cliff, to my front the raging sea. North of me the cliff went on forever. South was the only way out. I knew Aimee was waiting for me back at the camp. I knew how frightened she must have been, wondering if I was all right. I stumbled out of the cavern and into the water. The pounding surf tugged at my legs, making it hard to keep my balance, and I fell almost immediately, crashing heavily upon a barnacle-covered rock. A tear opened in the side of my jacket and I felt a searing pain there. Ignoring the pain, I grasped the rock and pulled myself upright, wishing I had found a walking stick. My hands bled freely. I began weaving my way as quickly as possible through the rocks. The water was so very cold, and I remembered the last time I had felt this frigid, when my parents had submerged me in icy water to drop my fever. The memory sent an extra chill through my shivering body. The tide continued to rise and the salt stung my wounds. 103

CLEAN I was halfway there when I hit a critical obstacle. What had been a high series of stepping-stones was now a deep pool of water, the once useful rocks now threateningly submerged beneath the white-crested waves. The idea of attempting to swim across the pool seemed foolhardy, but what choice did I have? Nobody was coming for me, and staying here meant certain death. But the water, and the rocks, and the cliff it seems like suicide. My mind raced. Im going to die here, alone. No, honey. It was the strong voice of my mother, as I lay in the hospital, somewhere between life and death. Youre not going to die. Everything is going to be ok. Now swim. I jumped into the churning pool and began floundering across, legs smashing painfully on the rocks. In the blink of an eye the opposite side was within reach. I could tell that I had done some damage to my legs, but I also knew that looking down would only make it worse, stalling me and causing panic. So I just kept going, onward, into the swells and across the rocks, through the crashing ocean spray. The water was so cold now that I could no longer feel the individual cuts and bruises my entire body ached. My backpack pulled against my efforts so I ripped it off and flung it into the sea. The sun was dipping below the horizon. I spun going under a big wave, was turned around, and lost my bearings. A sudden cry grabbed my attention, so I turned toward it. The beach was finally in sight. Someone was there, waiting for me, calling and waving to me. It was an old woman, and I was certain that it was my great-grandmother, my Beach Nana, ushering me to the shore. The waves drowned her words, but I could imagine her calling, Benny, come on. You can do it, Benny. My heart leapt and I plunged forward into the deep sea, forced 104

Ken Sweet to swim for shore, the rest of the rocks submerged in the sea. All the muscles in my body ached as I was alternately pushed in and sucked out by the tide, battered by underwater stones. Thrice I went under, imbibing copious quantities of salt water, but I wouldnt give up. Swim. Suddenly, my foot touched sand. My shoe and sock must have been ripped off by the tide, because I felt the stuff sliding between my toes. This was a good sign. I planted my foot in the sand and used the purchase to thrust myself inland, then did it again. The water grew shallow, but I concentrated on the task at hand, knowing that one slip could still be deadly. When I finally reached the shore I collapsed onto the soft white sand. The old woman was gone. When I returned to camp Aimee took one look at me and screamed, one of those short, horrified yelps. Do I look that bad? I gasped between breaths, dripping wet and covered in blood and sand. Lazarus appeared from his tent yawning, but his eyes widened when he saw me. Oh, honey! Aimee cried as she rushed to my aid. How did your clothes get torn? Wheres your shoe? It doesnt matter. I told you Id come back. I flashed a grin that must have seemed strangely inappropriate, what with the blood and all. I know what were supposed to do next. You do? Lazarus queried. I reached into my pocket and withdrew a soggy, crumpled, unreadable wad of paper. Whats that? Lazarus asked. A candy bar wrapper or something? 105

CLEAN Aimee shot him a menacing glance and he shrugged. I unfolded the paper slowly, carefully, and laid it out on the top of our tent so that they could see it clearly. Its not a candy bar wrapper, I whispered breathlessly. Its a flyer. Were going to Bath.

106

Ken Sweet

-NEW SHOES-

My body took a worse beating than I imagined, and it took a few days of bandage changing, aspirin popping, and fighting off a nasty cold, before I felt well enough to get up and move about on my own. This process was mightily uncomfortable inside our chilly tent. With little else to occupy my mind, I had recurring dreams of Jean. They were full of guilty and unwanted images of better times, always closely followed by her terrible sobs. Laying there in my fleece sleeping bag, sweating off a mild fever, I prayed that she was well. I didnt miss her. It made me feel guilty to think it, but I realized I wanted to forget about her. I wanted to bang my head until she went away or take a pill and start over, to never again dwell on the pain I had caused her. Perhaps if the parting had been more amicable I wouldnt have felt this way, but it hadnt and I did. Finding Clean took on a whole new level of importance. I loved Aimee and I wanted our relationship to feel right. I needed to do away with my old life for good and usher in the new one, unhindered by any leftover emotional baggage. 107

CLEAN I took control of the situation as soon as I was up and about. The looming specter of death itself wouldnt stop me from seeing this quest through. My camera was broken, I had one shoe, and my body ached all over, but I felt fresh, exhilarated, and fiercely proud of my accomplishments, although I did warn Aimee not to tell my mom anything. Shell just obsess over it, I said. No need to keep her up nights. Aimee gave no argument. We had a far bigger problem to worry about than my aches or keeping secrets from my motherwe were running out of cash. The situation was likely to get worse as time went on, but I took solace in Walters staunch belief that the Lord always gives us the tools we need to accomplish His will. We had enough money to buy three tickets to Bath, at any rate. First, I needed some new shoes. I thought long and hard about saving that surviving Adidas sneaker for posterity before finally tossing it in the dump. I felt sad doing it; those sneakers were the first thing I had purchased for myself after breaking up with my wife, and it felt like they had helped define the new me. Yes, Ive always been overly attached to my footwear. I asked Laz if I could borrow his sneakers, but they were way too big, so I gave them back and decided to hike barefoot into town. If you have oddly sized feet like me (mine are a 9 EEE Wide), youll know the value of a good pair of shoes. Just a smidge off size and your shoes become your worst enemy, creating a constant supply of aches, sores, and blisters. Get the right size and walking is a beautiful thing, just as it was meant to be, painless and enjoyable. The trouble comes with finding the right pair. You may think its easy, but give it a try go into your local department store and ask for EEE wides. They dont even know what EEE means. 108

Ken Sweet As I shuffled down the rough road in my bare feet, trying to avoid any shards of broken glass or sharp rocks, I was reminded of a quote Id once read: I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet. I still had my feet, so there was really nothing to cry about. And soon, with any luck, Id have another pair of shoes. My only prerequisite was that they had to be cheap very cheap. There was no shoe shop, and the little secondhand shop offered only one pair close to my size. They were atrocious. You look like an old-time golfer. Aimee wrinkled her nose in displeasure. Absolutely goofy. She was right. The shoes were white leather with blue and yellow stripes, thick rubber soles, and red laces. The toes were rounded and scalloped, like a frilly blouse. I imagined that they were designed in the 1960s and wondered what poor fool had last worn themand which disco club hed frequented. They were tatty and ugly, but when I slipped them on, they were miraculously comfortable. The yellow price sticker said 4 pounds, so I bought them. A bargain-hunting trip to the local grocer yielded a few blocks of mature cheddar, a dozen containers of yogurt, a handful of Cadbury chocolates, and some more blackcurrant concentrate. The bakery next door gave us their end-of-the-day leftovers for next to nothing, since the British cant stand two-day-old bread. It was a blessing. Our funds were depleting faster than we had expected, and now, a month and a half into a three-month journey, we could tell that we needed to go on a diet for the rest of the trip if we were going to make it. If Aimee and Lazarus had any doubts about the meaning of the flyer and my experience at the ocean, they kept them hidden. To 109

CLEAN anyone else I imagine it would have seemed absolutely insane, but my companions didnt question my plan. In fact, they were excited. Bath is close to many touristy hot spots, such as Stonehenge, Wells Cathedral, and the Chalk Horse, and was in itself a popular destination. The Romans, during their days as stewards of Britain, had constructed elaborate underground baths and spas that survived beneath the little city to this day. Of course, I was snared by the lure of visiting Arthurian sites such as Glastonbury Tor and the chalice well, both of which lay in close proximity to Bath. Alan and Alice had kept in regular touch with us since we left Penzance, and they were excited too. Theyll be up that way this weekend, Aimee told me when she got off the phone with Alice. Theyre going to visit a friend who lives outside of Wells. We should meet up. It was a plan. We also borrowed the camp girls laptop to hunt down some lodgings. The campground we settled on was a couple miles outside the city, and rather more expensive than we might have liked, but it was the best we could manage on such short notice. A few days later, we hiked down to the bus stop with all of our gear, lighter now without the things I had lost at sea, and waited for our bus to come.

110

Ken Sweet

-THE ENEMY-

I have given you the shoes that you need. I have given you the words to communicate and the mind to discover that which you seek. The reward you seek will be yours, but you need to step forward and claim it in My name, for I AM THE LORD, and I have purposed these things. The words echoed loudly in the hall. A few minutes ago I was sitting dutifully on the floor in the back of the room, but not so far back that people would think me aloof or disdainful, where I was staring at my shoes and waiting for the eccentrically evangelical service to end. Aimee and I were there with Alan, Alice, and their friend Glover, who had served us all a hearty dinner earlier, stuffing our eager bellies full of traditional fare like Yorkshire puddings, roastbeef, and blackcurrant juice. Most of the dinner had been spent poking polite fun at my new shoes and discussing the crazy neardeath experience that had preceded them. Laz had taken supper willingly enough, but graciously declined their invitation to church. He was an expert at sliding easily and 111

CLEAN inoffensively out of things other people might feel obligated to do. I envied him. On the way to the evening service, an informal interdenominational affair held in the basement of a Methodist chapel outside Wells, Alice asked me if I'd be willing to give my testimony to the people there, an honor I summarily refused. It isnt because I dont believe in God. I prayed nightly after all, I figured, better safe than sorry. At one point, as a young adult, I had rejoined the church with a passion. During that time I was on fire for the Lord. I toyed with the idea of entering the ministry as a career, and I even became legally ordained so that I could assist in the church I was attending at the time, but eventually I decided to call it quits. I saw too many things that were wrong. Pastors and deacons misappropriating money, hurtful gossip being spread about those most in need of help, a lack of caring. It began to seem as if many churches were full of hypocrites, blithely pretending to be better than other people because they attended Sunday service, Mass, or what have you. I still believed in God He didnt make people do the wrong thing, and He had no hand in the misbehavior of His church. It was a personal choice not to enter the ministry and I never thought God would fault me for it. My road was of my own choosing, and my choice was to steer clear of participating in organized religion. I don't mind going to church once in a while, and I'll always pray, I said. But I'm not cut out for the work. Not strong enough to change things. Aimee protested, but I changed the subject quickly. There were more than just moral and ethical reasons for my decision; the ministry just wasnt my cup of tea. It had been a passing phase. Its 112

Ken Sweet tough enough struggling with bipolar disorder and depression without worrying about a flock of parishioners. Now it seemed painfully obvious that the Lord was letting me know He had heard my comments and wouldn't let me off the hook so easily. This frightened me. I had heard the call of the Lord many times since my childhood, and I recognized it immediately. My smug self-assurance dropped into my stomach and I felt faint. I knew I couldn't just ignore it this time. He meant business. The messenger was a traveling evangelist I didn't know from Adam, yet he came over to pray for me, laying hands on my head. I felt an odd tingling sensation spreading from my head down through my body. Lord, bless this young man. You have created in him some particular purpose, something above and beyond his greatest expectations. Let him go forth in The prophet stopped as he was interrupted. What about me, sir, what does the Lord have to say to me? a petulant and slurred voice demanded. The interrupter was a middle-aged man in reading glasses, wearing a concerned frown and a five-o'clock shadow. He looked, and I can describe him no better than this, like a hybrid of my father and a schoolteacher. I had taken notice of him during the service because he seemed indescribably out of place. Now he was interrupting God's messenger and I am ashamed to say that I was more than mildly relieved. I'll come and speak with you in a minute, sir, just let me finish with this young man, the prophet, whose name I later discovered was Jacob, said diplomatically. No, sir, now, in the moment. I just heard what you had to say to this boy, and begging your pardon, it scares the Hell out of me. 113

CLEAN Jacob tried again to reason with him, but the man went on. I want to know what the Lord has to say to me. I've had a few drinks earlier on, but I'm no threat, and I'm thinking clearly. I'm not a churchgoer like yourselves, so what is God's message for me? He was getting angry now, and you could see the redness flushing his face. The pastor cut in. Sir, we'd be glad to talk with you and pray with you after the service. Just relax Jacob was praying over me now and my eyes were shut, but my ears were open and taking in the escalating situation, as the drunk cut the pastor off, demanding to know if only Christians go to Heaven. Yes, said Alan, just as the pastor said: No. This surprised me, and I opened my eyes. Jacob was wrapping up his prayer, of which I'd not heard a word. A brief argument ensued, but the drunk seemed sinisterly satisfied, as if his disruption had been a great achievement. He seemed smug, yet acted humble with his next comments, not a hint of enmity in his voice. That's fine, I'll go now. I just want to say, lovely place, really, I mean it. A pleasure, it's been. Goodnight. Then he left. And as he left, he glanced back at me. When I glimpsed those dark, deep eyes, a sudden, startling realization overcame me, and a dozen meaningless memories instantly joined like pieces of a puzzle. The room filled with terse conversation, while my head spun round like a top. I could vaguely hear the pastor defending his heretical statement against his angry flock, and then the guitarist began a new hymn. Aimee rubbed my back supportively, obviously wondering what was going on behind my glassy stare, 114

Ken Sweet which remained fixed on the door. I had finally recognized the enemy, and I was afraid. I don't remember the ride back. Lazarus was sitting on a picnic table outside our tents when we arrived. I ignored his inquiries, crawled into the tent, and laid down, leaving Aimee to explain, if she could, the night's events. The memories replayed over and over in my mind all night. The black-eyed man who had barred the bathroom doorway, the bus driver who'd nearly decapitated me in Penzance, and now the drunken nuisance interrupting the church service: all of them were the same man. He had been there all along, in so many of my darkest moments, and now he had come to interrupt a message from above. I wondered how many times he had appeared in my life, turning over other situations and predicaments in my mind, trying to remember the faces of other antagonists. Was he the substitute teacher who humiliated me in front of my fifth-grade class? What about the frightening apparition that appeared in the window of the decrepit house in my old neighborhood? That one gave me a nasty fright and nightmares for weeks. It seemed likely that he was both and more. But why did he pursue me? And how? The memories seemed so fresh now that I could make out the details of what was hazy before. The man looked no older than he had the first time I saw him, and that was over twenty years ago. Then, lying there in the early morning hours, I had another bizarre revelation. I recognized the dark-eyed man from one other, even more inexplicable, place. He was the black knight. 115

CLEAN I dreamt that the black knight had come in the form of the dark lord himself Darth Vader. He glared down menacingly from a high platform, perhaps someplace on the Death Star, and Walter stood beside me in ObiWans robes. It took me a moment to realize that I was lucid I was in control of myself in this dream. Is that the dark man? I asked Walter-Wan. Yes it is, he answered gravely. I felt my belt for the reassuring comfort of a light-saber. It was there. This is a light-saber, I stated, pulling the silver grip from my belt. Yes, Walter-Wan repeated. This is it. I was unafraid; this was my destiny. Im going to kill him. I took a confident step forward, but Walter-Wan put a hand on my shoulder. Wait, Ben. Only a fully trained Jedi knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his emperor. If you end your training nowif you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader didyou will become an agent of evil. Walter-Wan paused here for dramatic effect, before saying: You will become Vader. But Im supposed to do this! I protested. Im ready for this! No, he corrected me. Not here, not now. This is his domain; he has drawn you here. You must fight him on your own terms if you are to be victorious. Where? I demanded sullenly, brimming with frustration. And when will I finally be Clean? Walter-Wan smiled and laid his hand upon my chest. Here, he answered cryptically. Soon. Where did you get the picture? I asked Lazarus bluntly the next

116

Ken Sweet morning, after we had washed up in the shower room. He was in the middle of brushing his teeth, so I waited for him to spit and rinse. What picture? The picture in your apartment. Lazarus continued staring blankly at me, so I expounded further with a hint of impatience. The painting of the two knights. Lazaruss face lit up with recognition. Oh, that thing! Yeah, its pretty cool, huh? Yeah, sure, I said. Where did you get it, though? Lazarus shrugged and began packing up his toiletries. My parents gave it to me when I moved out. I always liked it. He peered up at me. Why are you asking about that old thing, anyway? Do you know where your parents got it? I inquired, ignoring his question. Lazarus pondered for a moment, scratching his freshly shaved chin. Yeah, yeah. I think they bought it at some flea market in Salem. We used to live close by there. Salem, New Hampshire? I asked. I lived there a long time ago. No. Salem, Massachusetts. The witch trial place. Lazarus stopped and folded his arms, staring at me. Are you gonna tell me what this is all about? I think the black knight in that painting is real, I answered. Laz looked amused by the outlandishness of my claim, but it sounded reasonable compared with my next statement. And I think hes trying to kill me.

117

CLEAN

-AVALON-

About two months into our journey I began writing everything down. The whole story, pure and unadulterated, tapped out on my shiny silver PDA. It isnt easy to hunt and peck long stories with a tiny pointer and a two-inch LCD screen, but I found that doing so was a cleansing experience, and I began to look forward to my writing sessions, usually at night as Aimee nodded off by my side. I drew inspiration from the incredible places we visited during those days. Bath was a beautiful area constructed largely in Roman architecture, with tan-brown limestone quarried from nearby sites, and soon after our arrival we took a wonderful and enlightening free walking tour around the city. The steamy underground baths captured our imaginations and we also paid the voluntary entry fee to the Bath Abbey, a bit steep for us just then, but not truly voluntary either. The graceful structure was labeled an abbey but was definitely more in scale with a grand cathedral, towering over us with masterful stonework. On this site, in 937 A.D., Edgar was crowned 118

Ken Sweet the first king of England. A brass plaque at the rear of the church marked the occasion. I sat in the front pew, head bowed, praying for guidance on my mission, as I imagined thousands of questing knights and pilgrims had done before me. I received no vision, no instructions, but a sense of placid calm overtook my anxious mind. Whatever was in store for me, I knew I couldnt rush it. I decided to take advantage of the time in between, to concentrate on enjoying our vacation. We splurged on an inexpensive tour in order to visit most of the nearby Arthurian sites. The small tour group met out back of Bath Abbey, on the sidewalk beside a pull-off, tickets in hand. Laz noticed an American accent and wandered off, striking up a conversation with a college student and her mother from New York. He introduced us a few minutes later. Lauren and Lorraine were nearly as adventurous as us, shooting off on an ill-planned whirlwind tour of Britain. They were having a blast. Mom didnt plan a bit of it, so finding good hotels has been kind of tough, Lauren said, shooting a playful frown at her mother. But were having a great time. Weve already been to London, Dover, Bath, and Stonehenge. Next up is York. Were camping out in the cold for three months, Aimee grumbled. Shed grown increasingly annoyed with camping out on the cold ground, but she was doing her best not to complain. Aimee rarely voices her complaints, unless something is really bothering her. Thats not true, I corrected her. We spent a few weeks in a cold chalet, too. Aimee stuck her tongue out at me and Lauren laughed. Lorraine pointed to a compact purple bus. 119

CLEAN A bright, cheery young lady hopped down from the bus and introduced herself as Mary MacGregor. Pleasant, talkative Mary took our tickets and welcomed us aboard. Then she whisked us away to various hot spots in Glastonbury and Wells. We visited Glastonbury first. The small market town rests on what is perhaps the most mystical patch of land in all Britain, with connections to the Holy Grail, King Arthur, Merlin, Saint Patrick, and even Joseph of Arimathea. Even the geography doesnt fail to fascinate, as Glastonbury actually surrounds a former island in the Somerset Levels. This area was once known as the Isle of Avalon, if you believe the local lore. Regional sites of mythical proportions abound therethe Chalice Well where the Holy Grail may or may not lie, Glastonbury Abbey where King Arthur and his Queen may or may not be buried, and Glastonbury Tor where Merlin and other druids may or may not have practiced their religion are a few examples. The town, we discovered by the many leaflets and fliers posted about, is also home to music festivals, carnivals, various religious conferences, and lots of strange new-agey shenanigans. So, of course, I found it absolutely fascinating. You must be in your glory right now, Aimee panted as I gazed out from the top of Glastonbury Tor. It had been a steep climb, but I had raced ahead of the others in my excitement to summit the hill. This was Arthurs country. All of it. I knelt and collected a few pebbles and some dirt, stuffing them into a zippered pocket. Merlin, Arthur, Galahad they may have trod on these very stones. There was a Christian church here once, but it was destroyed 120

Ken Sweet in 1275 AD, Mary explained, delighted by my interest in the Tor. On September 11th, oddly enough. That old tower is all that remains of it. The ancient tower seemed crooked and out of place from the top of the hill, but was the defining feature from below. What was here before the church? I asked. There was a druids college here umpteen eons ago, were pretty sure about that. Mary glanced around to make sure the others in our party werent wandering too far. There was a schedule to keep. In fact, legend has it that this was a meeting place for the dead. It was the area where spirits passed on to a new realm. It was even claimed to be home to the Lord of the Underworld and many of the fairy folk. Lots of people still hold fast to the belief that this hill harbors mystical power. I didnt tell her, but I thought they were probably right. The grassy hump of earth felt overpoweringly spiritual to me, and I didnt try to discern why or how; I just reveled in it. This pilgrimage was worthy of a knight. We left Glastonbury Tor all too soon, and our little purple bus shot around the tight curves of the country roads and landed us at the Chalice Well and Gardens in Glastonbury, purported last resting place of the holy grail. There was an admission fee, which we had not anticipated. The money was in our debit account, but we hadnt thought to make a withdrawal before leaving on the trip, hoping all tickets would be included in the tour cost.I scrounged through my pack for loose coin. Lazarus had enough money for himself, and Aimee and I had enough for one person between us. You go, Aimee insisted. This is your thing. It felt wrong to go without her. I turned to Lazarus so that I could hand him our camera. Take lots of pictures for us, ok? 121

CLEAN Jiminy Cricket, Laz moaned. You guys are breaking my heart. Take my money and you both go on in. Lorraine suddenly approached us. Listen, were going to pay for you guys. I began to protest, but she cut me off, saying: No arguments, Arthur-boy. We showered them with thanks as they purchased our tickets, and our company of five entered the walled garden. Mary and the lone other passenger on our tour, a tired-looking Korean gentleman, waited at the bus. The garden was green and red, naturally elegant, like a fairytale forest. The water from the well flowed down a gradual incline in streams and small waterfalls, and I was surprised at just how much water was there. 25,000 gallons per day, Aimee read from the thin guidebook. Even during drought. I whistled. That was an impressive amount of water for such a small well. We stopped at a small wading pool, where a few people were dipping their feet. It looked like a good idea so I kicked off my shoes and joined them. Nice shoes, Lauren laughed as she pulled off her sandals. Enter any good bowling tournaments lately? I smirked. The water was refreshingly cold and it felt great after the long climb up the Tor. Lorraine and Aimee climbed in behind us and we all just soaked and reflected for a minute. The water was running down into the pool from a clean clay gutter that diverged from the well, so I took an empty bottle from my pack and collected some of it, as I had been planning. I sipped a bit before capping it, and Lorraine asked if it was any good. 122

Ken Sweet Its great, I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. Crisp and clean. Can I try some? I handed her the bottle, which was then passed around our little group. Everyone agreed with my original assessment; the well runoff tasted quite fresh. Lorraine frowned. I hope no animals pooped in there or anything. You never know. Well, its supposed to have curative powers, Lauren said, reading from her guidebook. I raised an eyebrow. What, animal poop? I hope it prevents fatness, too! Aimee laughed. The British have way too many yummy pastries and chocolates. Americans dont know what theyre missing. I dont know, Lorraine put in. But if were going to see the well, wed better get up there. Mary said we have twenty minutes. Scarlet flowers, holy thorns, and moss-covered walls surrounded the brick path to the well. A golden-haired child with a wreath of flowers on her head sat on a bench in the shade of an arch of holly, reading a leather-bound book. The girl lounged sideways on the bench, head resting on her knee. She looked the part of a mystic elf and I stopped to snap her picture despite myself. Her head tilted toward me for a moment, an expression of relaxed boredom on her face, and then she returned to her book. I wondered if this happened to her often. Other pilgrims prayed or meditated in various nooks and corners of the foliage. A few Japanese tourists chattered excitedly to one side, pointing at some bright blue butterflies. I found myself wishing I lived here, and that I could just stop by whenever I needed to unwind or get my spiritual bearings. Growing up I had 123

CLEAN imagined that the Garden of Eden must have looked, smelled, and felt a certain way, and this was exactly it. The jewel in the crown of this Eden was the Chalice Well, which I approached with some trepidation. If the legends were true, that the Holy Grail had rested in the bosom of this well, or perhaps still did; that the blood of Jesus Christ was forever mixed with these waters, well what could be more sacred than that? Walter had told us tales of the first time he and Wanda had visited Jerusalem, how overwhelmed they were as their bus approached the city, and I wondered if the spine-tingling anticipation I felt now was a small-scale version of those same feelings. After all, this too was a holy place. We spent our remaining time sitting by the well, staring through the leaf-covered grate, imagining the past. Then it was on to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, where monks are believed to have found the graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the 1100s. We paid homage there and took fallen twigs from the Glastonbury Thorn, which many believe to have sprouted from Joseph of Arimatheas staff when he stuck it into the ground. The story is interesting, but was it true? I asked Mary about it. Well, youre an inquisitive one. Thats good, Mary teased me. This much is certain. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy Israelite described in the gospels as a good and just man. He was also a follower of Jesus Christ, a dangerous occupation in those days. After the crucifixion, Joseph boldly strode up to Pontius Pilate and asked for the body of the Lord. Pilate mustnt have cared either way, because he acquiesced to the request and Joseph wrapped the corpse up in linens and laid it in his own fancy tomb. A healthy crowd had gathered around us, but Mary took no 124

Ken Sweet notice and continued her story, which was moving on to less credible, but not entirely unbelievable events. Years later, Joseph, now a genuine big-shot holy-guy, is purported to have traveled from Israel with the chalice used at the last supper and a staff grown from the Crown of Thorns. Significantly, the chalice was the same used to catch some of Christs blood during the crucifixion, and it is said that it still contained some of that blood, although I imagine it must have been pretty dried up and icky all those years later but then again, maybe not. I had been fishing through my pack for a notepad and pen, and when I finally found it I scribbled furiously to keep up with Marys fascinating tale. I didnt want to forget this. So Joseph sails into the marshy areas of Glastonbury, one way or another, since the area was largely underwater back then, and his ship lands hard against a hill. Joseph walks to the top of this hill and wearily leans on his staff. For some reason Mary decided to dramatically pantomime this action for us as she spoke, replete with a long sigh, and her dramatic reenactment elicited a few titters from the peanut gallery. Where, blammo, it instantly takes root and becomes the first Glastonbury Thorn. A few people applauded and stared at the scraggly thorn tree behind Mary in newfound awe. I wondered where their tour guide was, the slacker. If this is all true, Joseph must have taken it as quite a sign. I sure would, Mary laughed. Getting right to work, he ends up forming the first Christian church in Britain, for better or worse, depending how you see it. So this tree may be from the Holy Land, I mumbled, touching a leaf gently. 125

CLEAN Mary coughed. Well, no. Not exactly. I glanced up in shock. What do you mean? The original thorn was cut down and burned for some reason during the English Civil War, back in the days of Cromwell, which took place exactly, ah, a whole lot of years ago. The trees you see today are grown from cuttings off other trees in the area. I think its safe to say that everyone looked disappointed. I know I was. Thats not to say that all those trees, including this one, dont stem from that one original tree, Mary reassured us. I mean they had to start somewhere, aye? The crowd started to thin, and I asked her if there was anything else she knew about the thorn tree or Joseph of Arimathea. Well, yes, I do. Mary smiled. Oddly enough, the thorn blooms with beautiful pale flowers, but only during the Christmas season. Mary paused and squinted, trying to remember if there were any details shed missed. Oh yes. Joseph, in case I didnt mention it earlier, eventually decided to stick the Holy Grail deep inside the Chalice Well for safekeeping. Mary caught her breath and narrowed her eyes at me. Are you satisfied now, Mr. Curiosity? I was, at least for now. But the tour wasnt over. We piled into our little purple bus and zoomed off to our next stop, Wells Cathedral. The stop had nothing to do with Arthurian legend, but Mary told us it was a little bonus, and that a tour in this area wouldnt be complete without it. Wells is a tiny city with a massive temple. Over 300 sculpted religious figures of varying sizes adorn the front of the towering 126

Ken Sweet cathedral. These icons stare protectively down onto the vast lawn and the visitors assembled there. The awesome building, completed over the lifetimes of many architects and masons, is nearly a thousand years old. The squat woman at the door said it was free to walk around, but if we wanted to take photos we needed to give a donation, so we forked over a few quid. It was worth it. There are incredible details in the stonework of the enormous hall and the individual chapels and crypts offer lifelike busts of the honored dead. There were more striking images than I could ever commit to memory, and all of them were worth remembering for a lifetime. The ancient nobility, patrons of the church, revered religious leaders, and knights of old had chosen this holy ground as their final resting place, and they were still being honored here today. The cathedral took centuries to complete, and millions of troubled souls (for we are all troubled souls) had prayed and worshipped here over the course of many lifetimes, seeking guidance and inspiration, seeking cures and miracles. This house of God had been built to last forever. The whole concept seemed strikingly grand, permanent in a way that is unlike anything attempted in the modern world. I sat down on a wooden pew to contemplate as Aimee and Lazarus continued exploring. Then I prayed: Thank you, Lord. Thank you for this incredible adventure. Thank you for keeping us safe. Please guide me to find what you want me to find, to be who you want me to be. Soon we return to America, Lord. Please help me to complete my quest before then. We decided to return to Glastonbury a few days later. There hadnt been enough time to soak in the atmosphere of the ancient sacred 127

CLEAN sites and the charming town. I wanted to relax in the tranquil garden at the Chalice Well, picnic atop the Tor, and wander the holy grounds at Glastonbury Abbey. Aimee felt the same. The tour was great, but it was too short, she told me. We should spend a whole day there. The three of us roused from our slumber early the next morning, when the chilled mist was still slithering through the campground, and we boarded the first bus, yawning and stretching our exhaustion away. There were just three weeks left of our trip and I was growing anxious. With each passing day, it seemed more likely that we would run out of time or money before I could complete my mission. This nagging train of thought made me miss our stop. I only realized this because the tortuous landscape we had been traveling through suddenly became familiar: we were heading into the center of Glastonbury. Mary had stopped there during the tour so that we could grab a quick lunch, and Lorraine had insisted on buying us each a pasty. From my front seat on the bus, I could now see that same pasty shop, dead ahead. Did we pass the Chalice Well already? I asked the driver suddenly. Aye, he answered. Ill let you off at the next stop. Youll have to walk back. Its about one kilometer. You guys didnt notice I began, turning to Aimee, but she was fast asleep beside me. When I looked back at Lazarus his head was resting on his chest. Come on, guys, I sighed, prodding them each in turn. Time to go. 128

Ken Sweet The advertisement was small, the size of a half sheet of standard notebook paper, but the letters printed on it were bold and effective: MERLINS MAGICAL FAIR The words were colored neon pink, and the text beneath them was smaller and bright blue: Thursday the 21st at the Green Field Rides, games, and fun for all ages A garish image of a ludicrously garbed wizard, looking much like Lazarus did last Halloween, adorned the remaining space. Aimee saw it first, taped to a telephone pole, right after we jumped off the bus and started walking back toward the Chalice Well. Oh, fun! she exclaimed, tugging my arm. And look, Merlin! Can we go? I wasn't keen on the idea. Our funds were still precariously low, even more-so after our whirlwind Arthurian Tour, and I knew any attempt to go cheap at a fair was likely to end badly. On the other hand, I knew Aimee was passionate about fairs and I already felt bad for not taking her to Cadbury World. The fair started tomorrow and we had no other plans, and the whole Merlin theme sounded entertaining, so I relented. Well hop the same bus tomorrow, I said. And take the last one back. But we cant spend too much money. Yeah! Aimee cheered and fifteen years slid away from her face, as did the tired eyes she had exhibited since reluctantly crawling from the tent. She was bright-eyed and cheery for the rest of the day. Aside from a lunchtime jaunt downtown we spent the entire day in 129

CLEAN the Chalice Garden. Aimee read a new Bernard Cornwell novel shed picked up at W.H. Smiths, and Lazarus wandered around inspecting the little details of the garden and striking up conversations with other tourists. I spent the time sitting still on a comfortable patch of grass, reflecting on my journey. It seemed obvious that things were coming to a climax. My experiences so far left no doubt there had to be a point to all this, a final goal, a finish line drawing near. Some time ago, in that outlandish Star Wars dream, Walter-Wan had informed me that this climax would come soon. He had also told me where to look, when he tapped my heart and whispered: Here. I tried to piece everything together, from the original vision to our Arthurian tour, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle, and to do a jigsaw puzzle in your mindwell, thats pretty much impossible. Still, some pieces were beginning to fit into place. Walter-Wan had warned me that I could turn into the Dark Man if I followed the wrong path. That, coupled with the bit about my heart, led me to believe that the enemy was within me. Perhaps the enemy actually was me, a projection of my shadow self onto those who would do me harm. I no longer believed that any of this was related to the concussion. I felt fine, even the headaches were gone, yet I continued to have bizarre and inexplicable experiences. When Beach Nana appeared on that beach in Sennen she had offered me her strength. She was helping me along, she knew what I was doing, and she approved of it. She came to help me find Clean. Just that glimpse of her, the sound of her voice carried on the wind, emboldened me to heights I had never imagined. I would walk into fire to find Clean, if I just knew how to find it. I closed my eyes and tried to turn all my thoughts inward, tried to meditate a path to 130

Ken Sweet that final confrontation, but there was nothing. Then I felt Aimees hand on mine, and it seemed to me that in that tender touch, with no visual distractions, I felt nothing less than the purest, truest love. The fair was, as you might expect, a traveling carnival loosely themed around knights and wizards. Thrill rides bore outlandish names like The Dragon's Flight, Merlin's Fire, and The Black Knight. The Black Knight will slay you, a loud voice boomed threateningly as we boarded the twirling monster. That actually freaked me out a bit, and I half expected it to malfunction or explode. You scared? Aimee asked, gripping my hand. I just stared at her. I dont really like fast rides. Just before my stomach dropped out from under me, Aimee squeezed my hand and said: Itll be ok. The Black Knight didn't slay me, but it was my last ride of the day, and I sat down to stop my head spinning. Lazarus was more adventurous, and he splurged on the 'allrides' ticket, proceeding to hit every attraction at least twice. To our amazement, he never once was sick. Aimee snatched up some cotton candy and I bought some sweet popcorn, a British favorite. We started gorging ourselves on junk food when we first came to Bath and the fun hadnt stopped yet. Bath, unlike Penzance, is a modern area with all the restaurants an American needs to fatten himself up some more, from McDonalds to Pizza Hut. Our diet in Cornwall had consisted of fresh food with the occasional fried fish, now we were eating worse than we had in America, but I think our bodies were crying out for the calories, begging us for more fat and sugar. 131

CLEAN We strolled around the fairgrounds, playing pusher games, slot machines, and cranes, avoiding the hawkers who tried to tempt us to their booths. Artwork on the side of a huge trailer caught my eye a knight couching a long lance in his arm. It was a mobile funhouse, and it was wonderfully airbrushed into a fairytale castle Camelot. Shining knights jousted from the backs of muscular steeds, a dozen warriors gathered about the legendary round table, and a gorgeous white castle gleamed from high atop a hill. Aimee saw my eyes twinkling and understood at once, so we handed the hooded carny our money. Whats this fer? he intoned in a drearily heavy Scottish accent. He had shifty eyes. I looked at Aimee and we exchanged smirks over the guys ignorance. The funhouse, I said. You dont wanna go in there. Its for the ankle-biters. Why not try Merlins Fire instead? I sputtered in disbelief. We had just watched a dad take his three kids in, so it was obvious that adults were allowed. Who was this guy to tell us what we couldnt do? Besides, we had already agreed that Merlins Fire looked a little too spinny-swirly-fast for our tastes. We do want to go in there, thank you very much, Aimee countered. The carny seemed to positively leer at us from beneath his hood. Then he thrust the money into his shirt pocket and sneered. Right, in you go. But dont come cryin to me fer yer refund. We wont, I said flatly. Was that the dark man? Aimee asked as we clambered up the metal walkway to the entrance. 132

Ken Sweet No, I laughed. Just a mangy Scot hick. I heard that, you fockin bastard! cried the carny. We hustled over the narrow drawbridge, laughing nervously. The inner hall was a maze of mirrors, but they werent nearly as disconcerting as they should have been because they were all smudged and dirty. Little kids fingerprints mostly. We made our way quickly through that section and into a small room with a round table. Looks like Formica, I snorted, and Aimee sniggered. On top of the round table was a cheesy looking sword-in-astone that looked suspiciously like a piece of wooden fence spraypainted silver. I want a picture of you trying to pull it out! Aimee exclaimed suddenly, reaching in my pocket for the camera. I dont know, I said warily. It could break. That guy outside is nutso. Just grab on to it and pretend to pull. You wont break it. I moved forward with some trepidation. My hands grasped the hilt of the wooden sword and I pulled back lightly, trying my best to look like I was straining. The flash was bright in my eyes and I blinked. There was a loud bang at the same instant and Aimee screamed. I opened my eyes. It didnt take long to see that the room was dark. For a few seconds I thought the flash had blinded me, but when my eyes didnt readjust I could tell something was wrong. It was pitch black in the funhouse. Aimee? I called. Then I felt her groping for my arm. I grabbed her hand. The power? Aimee trembled. Must be, unless that carny decided to play a prank on us, I 133

CLEAN answered, uncertain which was more likely. Dont be afraid. Well just wait for it to come back on. What was that bang? she asked. I dont know. I sat on one of the chairs surrounding the round table and pulled Aimee onto my lap. The noises of the carnival, which were penetrating the thin walls of the funhouse moments earlier, were gone. Get your picture? I asked. I think so. We sat in absolute silence, holding hands for what seemed an eternity. Voices began to rise from somewhere outside. Testing one, two, three. A voice crackled and hissed from a speaker somewhere nearby. Checking, checking. Were in here! Aimee yelled in my ear. I lurched back and rubbed my head. A few moments passed before the static-filled voice returned. Can you hear me in there? Yes, we hear you in here, I answered calmly, before Aimee could yell again. Can you hear me in there? the voice repeated dumbly. Yes we hear you in here! I yelled. Ouch, my ear, Aimee complained. This PA systems rubbish, the voice mumbled, then: Which bloody breaker is it? The lights flashed back on an instant later and we exited the funhouse, back the way we came. A toothless old man with a flannel cap waited outside. Make it to Camelot? He greeted us with a gummy grin. No, I answered. Wheres the Scottish guy? Were all Scottish guys lad, he laughed. Excepting the womenfolk, of course, and maybe even some of them. 134

Ken Sweet Ah. We searched the fairground for Lazarus, wondering if he may have been caught on a ride somewhere. We found him leaning against an ice cream stand, chatting up a chubby teenaged girl. You guys see that? he asked us as we approached. See what? Lazarus motioned with his ice cream cone and we turned to see what he was pointing at. That. One of the cars, cleverly disguised as a red dragon, had broken off Merlins Fire, sailed halfway across the fair, and crash-landed on a ticket booth. The car was intact, but severely dented. The ticket booth was in splinters. Laz told us that both had been empty, but the close call unnerved us. We searched briefly for the hooded carny and asked if anyone had seen him. Nobody had. In fact, it was as if hed never been there at all.

135

CLEAN

-LUCID DREAMS-

The Lord wanted to meet with me. That's what the homeless guy outside Wells Cathedral told me, anyway. We had been in the Somerset area for over a week and this was the first I'd heard of the Lord calling a meeting. When? I asked. Now. He had a voice like a choking rook and twice as many teeth. Why? You know why. I frowned and wondered what his angle was. He wasn't selling the Big Issue, the philanthropic cultural magazine printed especially so the homeless could hawk them on the streets and earn cash, so when was he going to ask me for money to use a phone or buy a cup of tea? Where does he want to meet me? I queried cautiously, looking around for Lazarus. Aimee had stayed at camp that morning, her body weary with aches and cramps from the long hike and longer bus ride the day before. 136

Ken Sweet There. He answered without hesitation, pointing to the enormous cathedral. I noticed then that he was blind. Lazarus still was missing, but I already knew he had an annoying tendency to disappear for indeterminate amounts of time. Once, in Penzance, when we all went to a pub for a few drinks, he excused himself to the bathroom and didn't come back out for two days. At least, he never told us where he went, although it was probably to some local girl's flat. So, knowing better than to wait on my friend, and afraid to ignore the situation lest it be authentic, I went into the cathedral. The rays of colored sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows accentuated the peaceful atmosphere in the dim chamber. I was alone. I walked up the aisle and sat in the front pew, closest to the rood screen and altar. I looked up at the life-sized crucifix. You wanted talk to me? I'm here. My voice echoed until the hall had swallowed it up. Unsurprisingly, there was no response. I sighed and then stood up to leave. As I stood, my head swam and I began to black out. I sat back down to avoid passing out and wait for my eyesight to return, assuming I must not have slept well the night before. Scotland. I gasped. The deep voice was resonant and vaguely familiar, and I quickly noticed it had no echo. My vision brightened and I swiveled around to see who had spoken. A solitary figure was standing at the back of the church, holding the door open and letting the blinding sunlight spill in around him. As my eyes adjusted I realized it was just Lazarus. 137

CLEAN There you are, finally, he said. I was wondering where you'd run off to. He strolled to my pew and sat down next to me, casually glancing about, nodding at this or that impressive piece of medieval ornamentation. Quite a place, he said after a few minutes. Well, I'm ready if you are. I'm starving. The momentary spell the situation had cast was broken, and I arose quietly and followed Lazarus back to our camp in a silent march. I didnt bother asking if the voice was his, he'd certainly deny it regardless, and I really didn't feel like talking to him about it anyway. The whole thing seemed senseless and frightening. Why Scotland? And where were we supposed to go, exactly? Scotland, after all, is a pretty big place and our trip was nearing its end. Why couldnt the finish line be here in Somerset? I told Aimee everything that night in the tent. She pondered for a moment, clearly weighing the situation in her mind. We're almost broke, she said. I don't think we have enough for the bus tickets. If God wants us in Scotland, that's fine, but He's going to have to find a way to get us there. Maybe we shouldn't go, I suggested quickly. It may have just been Lazarus, playing games with me. Or the old bum. Besides, we just got here! Aimee squinted at me and pursed her lips. Weve been here almost two weeks, she corrected me. Maybe you should ask Laz if he said it. Yeah, right. He'll just deny it, I said, shaking my head. It's useless. Ok, then, she said with a hint of irritation. The real question is this: do you want to visit Scotland? 138

Ken Sweet Yes I do, I answered confidently. I had wanted to visit Scotland for years. I had some Scottish ancestry and loved going to the Highland Games every year back home. It just hadn't seemed feasible until now that going to Scotland was a possibility. Then if we find a way to go, we'll visit Scotland, she said abruptly. And if that's really what we're supposed to do, we'll kill two birds with one stone. I agreed with her logic and we made a pact that, in the unlikely event that such an opportunity presented itself, we'd go to Scotland. We both knew that the odds were extremely slim, that it would take a damn-near miracle to get there. This made me wonder why I wasn't surprised when we found a way to go. The mountains glistened white with fresh snow. Hail reflected noisily off the pavement. We bundled up tighter in our jackets, trying to block out the frigid wind howling in great gusts. It was mid-May in the Scottish Highlands. We traveled to Scotland using a new special the National Express service was running for a limited time any ticket between major cities on the British continent was a bargain at 10 pounds per seat. Aimee found the fare while checking her email on the free computers at Bath public library. We went, ostensibly to be able to say we had experienced all four separate cultures on mainland Britain, these being Cornish, English, Scottish, and Welsh, but we all knew the real reason. This journey was part of the larger quest into which we had been drawn. We based ourselves in the city of Inverness, the gateway to the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the highlands. Our campground sat in the middle of a huge recreational area, beside parks, a 139

CLEAN playhouse/cinema, an indoor water park, and even an ice-skating rink, just on the outskirts of the city. Despite all the amenities, it was peaceful at the campground. It was not as peaceful in town. Although Inverness is normally a lovely city full of friendly locals, our arrival fell during a rather trying time. The cold and wet weather, which seemed rather unseasonable to us, was apparently par for the course in the highlands at this time of year. So were the busloads of annoying European and American tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster, and if she didn't show up on the loch, to get drunk enough to see her at Hootenannys Pub downtown. Rude and rowdy was the order of the day, rousing the locals from their peaceful winter nap, and everyone was on edge. Aimee and I were alone. Lazarus had wandered off early that morning, and we had no idea where he might have gone. We decided to spend the day strolling around Inverness. I also had a hidden agenda: since the Lord (perhaps) had communicated with me in the cathedral at Wells, I would try sitting in each of the local churches to see if it might happen again now that I was here. The plan was easier to imagine than pull off. There are 50 houses of worship in the small highland city, and most of them are locked up during the day, which I found abnormal in my experience of Britain thus far. Then again, Inverness was a real city, not a quaint little town like the gray fishing villages in Cornwall. The one church I did get into, a small Catholic affair, offered only a fat cleaning woman and an annoying larch that had somehow stuck itself up in the rafters. Still, we were enjoying ourselves and enjoying the city for the first few hours. A cold wind had picked up early on, but we were hale and hardy from months of sleeping outdoors. Then, at the furthest point of our meandering, the hail had begun. 140

Ken Sweet Aimee was not a happy camper. This is ridiculous. I pulled her under the awning of a small caf and brushed some ice off her fleece hat. Wanna wait it out or just start walking back? We may as well go back, she sighed in a voice thick with defeat. But were going to get soaked. The hail continued to hammer us as we hastened back, catching in the folds of our clothes and melting into bone-chilling ice water. By the time we reached the River Ness, across which laid the park where we were camped, it had let up a bit, but the wind was still strong and cold. Look at those guys under the footbridge, Aimee giggled, pointing to a group of young guys drinking from paper bags. I smiled too, not because of the wet ruffians under the bridge, but because she was smiling. It dawned on me then that when Aimee smiles she becomes as radiant as the sun, and it never fails to warm my soul. The guys were climbing out from under the footbridge when we approached it. There were three of them, all laughing, all loud, and all drunk off their asses. They were speaking in German. They were debating something as we approached. One of them turned and waved at me with his bottle. Are you Scottish? It took me a moment to decipher the heavy German accent. American, I answered. His next words were slowly enunciated and clear as a bell. Your girlfriend has big ass, American. I like fucking big ass. I stopped short. What did you just say? One of his friends was trying to get him to shut up, the other one was laughing hysterically. I say your girlfriend has big ass, American. Big fucking ass for fucking. 141

CLEAN My muscles tensed and I surveyed the situation while they laughed. The speaker was a short fellow, wiry and fit, holding a bottle. The laughing idiot was a big, stupid-looking ox. The other one, a curly-haired boy with an embarrassed look, seemed to want nothing more than to stop this scene from turning ugly. Aimee tugged at my arm, trying to get me to move away. Are you going to apologize now or are we going to have a problem? I kept my voice even. No problem, we apologize, the embarrassed-looking lad replied quickly. The short one snorted in disgust. I dont want your apology. I want his, I stated, pointing out the offender. Say sorry, Emmerich, the curly-haired kid insisted naively, bless him. Aimees insulter was having no part of it. Fuck- he started, but I didnt give him a chance to finish. My fist caught him square in the mouth and he went careening back on the slick ground, slamming into a thick oak tree next to the bridge. Aimee gasped. The stupid one was strong. His fist caught the side of my face like a mallet, and although the icy weather had numbed my skin, I distinctly felt the inside of my cheek slice open on a sharp tooth edge. The world was black and red and spinning. The little one had climbed to his feet and now he took full advantage of the opportunity, throwing a punch that bounced ineffectually off my rib cage. My vision was only gone for a matter of seconds, and when it began to return I didnt let on. Instead, I staggered toward the big 142

Ken Sweet fellow, rubbing my eyes and acting blind. He laughed uproariously at my predicament and wound himself up for the haymaker. I threw my elbow up and forward, smashing it hard against his nose, which snapped with a satisfying crack. The laughing stopped as the big guy fell to the ground, blood from both nostrils pouring out onto his shirt. The little guy wheeled toward his pacifistic companion, who was shaking his head in disbelief. I charged. He had half turned around when I slammed into him like a linebacker, lifting his body off the ground and carrying him fully six feet to the steep bank at the waters edge, screaming all the way. The little guy could do nothing but flail as I threw him out into the cold river. When I turned around his curly-haired friend nodded respectfully. You should go now, he said, glancing at the small crowd gathered around us. Before someone calls police. Sorry. There was nothing but shock on Aimees face as I walked to her. She hadnt realized I was capable of such brutality. It made me feel ashamed. I grabbed her hand and pulled her away. We walked in silence for a few minutes before Aimee gathered enough sense to ask if I was ok. Yeah, I answered. But I think the big guy broke my wisdom tooth. I stopped and took Aimee by the arms, making her face me. How are you? Aimee looked down for a long moment. When her face turned up again there were tears in her eyes. The sight of them made my stomach drop. Then she wrapped her arms around me tightly. I was so scared. I love you. I love you, too. Later that night Lazarus and I brushed our teeth in the washroom. I 143

CLEAN prodded the inside of my cheek with my tongue. The sharp edge of the broken tooth had left a deep wound and I reminded myself to stop by McDonalds tomorrow and grab a few salt packets to disinfect my mouth. Laz glanced at me and grinned. How are you feeling, warhero? My tooth is broken and it sure as hell doesnt tickle, I told him. Small price to pay. Come again? I said small price to pay. He looked over, found me still puzzled, and explained. Small price to pay for your honor. That wasnt honor, I snapped angrily. It was anger. I shouldnt have done it. I could have killed one of them. I could have been killed. Lazarus shook his head and fell silent. I was supposed to be out looking for God, I continued. And instead I beat the crap out of some drunk German guys. A look of disgust clouded Lazaruss visage. You act like a man, but sometimes you talk like a little girl. I spun toward him. Just what the hell is that supposed to mean? What do you think you should have done? Let those morons piss on the honor of your woman? Slink away with your tail between your legs while they laughed at you? Is that what a man does? Is that what a knight does? Do you think you should have turned the other cheek? Thats what the Bible says to do, I snapped. Do you know better than the Bible, oh wise and holy one? Lazarus sighed and shook his head, clearly exasperated. If you 144

Ken Sweet were twice as smart youd still be an idiot. Do you think God is some hippy pacifist? Its been a long time since Sunday school, but I seem to recall a whole lot of violence in the Bible, and more than a bit of all that killing was done by the good guys. Hell, some of the Judges may as well have been Gods chosen assassins. Do you think God is up there right now, getting all pissy because you defended the honor of the woman you love? Do you think hes marking that down in Ben Whytes own personal Book of Vile Deeds so that he can use it against you later? Keep thinking like that and the dark man is gonna kick your conscientious ass. How would you know? I demanded defiantly, though I suspected he was probably correct. Lazarus exhibited an annoying habit of being right most, if not all, of the time. Are you an expert on my inner demons? Do you have some hidden insight into my soul that I dont? A dark look crossed Lazs face, just for a moment, and it frightened me to see my normally placid friend angry. The look passed almost before it came and he laughed, turning back to the mirror. Dont be a tool, Ben. Shut up and brush your teeth before I punch you. My dream that night may have been induced more by brain damage than anything else. I prefer to call it a holy vision, but opinions are like well, you know what theyre like. Im sure that some people are going to tell me that this whole crazy tale is just a whacked-out mind trip with no bearing on reality. Whateverto each his own. Lazarus was standing at a pulpit in a grand medieval church, I thought it might be Wells Cathedral, reading announcements to the 145

CLEAN handful of faithful parishioners. The church was decorated for Easter; although that holiday had already passed, spent listening to Walter preach the Resurrection. Lazs voice echoed in the still air of the hall. Id like to remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and communityyou know who you are. This being Easter Sunday, Id like to ask Ms. Bowen to come forward and lay an egg on the altar. Aimee? Aimee dutifully rose from her seat, which for some reason was enormously distant from my own seat, and walked to the altar. I half expected her to squat down and lay an egg dreams can go any which way, but instead she reached into her pocket and withdrew a beautiful gem encrusted Faberge egg, placing it delicately on the altar. Laz nodded and Aimee returned to her seat. Lazarus continued droning on. Tonight theres a meeting of the Expectant Mommies Group. All ladies wishing to be Expectant Mommies should come to my office. I stifled a guffaw, and then glanced around to see if anyone else was getting these. They werent. They were just stupid dream people. My next sermon topic will be What Is Hell Like? Come in early and listen to our choir practice. Lazarus laughed after he said it, which struck me as odd. He seemed somehow more real than Aimee and the other parishioners, corporeal. Lazarus, I called loudly. Nobody turned toward me, except for Lazarus. Oh, hey Ben, he said. He looked surprised to see me. Whats going on? Why dont you tell me? I asked. 146

Ken Sweet I suppose youre dreaming. He pointed at something high above our heads. I looked up and saw that there was no ceiling, just a deep purple sky studded with twinkling sapphire stars. You suppose correctly, I quipped. Which means that none of this is real. Lazarus floated up out of his pulpit, then down the aisle to join me. He was wearing a long priestly robe. You ever hear of Philip K. Dick? he asked me. Obviously, I answered. Since this is all taking place in my own mind. Ok, smarty-pants. So you must know what he said about reality? I cant recall just now, but I bet youll remind me. Lazarus seated himself lightly upon the arm of the pew. His robe creased gracefully as he folded his legs. He said that the way you know reality is that, when you stop believing in it, it doesnt just go away. Do you believe that? I considered the statement carefully for a moment, lost my train of thought, and then decided to see if I could make myself fly like Lazarus just had. I was beginning to hover up off the seat when I heard him sigh. I glanced down. What? I asked. Ben, listen to me. This is important. Do you think any of this is real, right now? I shot him an annoyed glance. Of course not. This is a lucid dream. Lazarus smiled. Then why isnt it going away? I asked Lazarus about the dream the next morning while he was clipping his toenails. 147

CLEAN Are you implying that I weaseled my way into your dream last night? Lazarus asked me as he casually flicked away a bit of toenail. Or that you got into mine? I just wanna know if you dreamt anything strange last night, I explained. I mean, doesnt it seem weird? Lazarus nodded. Yeah. Yeah what? Yeah, it seems weird, he answered. There, finished. And? And what? I was exasperated. It seems weird and? I never said and. You did. I said I was finished. What the hell are you guys talking about? Aimee croaked as she clambered out of the tent. She looked pricelessly outlandish, hair sticking out in all directions, face puffy, eyes squinting in the morning light. Lazarus and I laughed hysterically until Aimee finally stuck her tongue out at us and disappeared back into the tent. Actually, I think we laughed about that all day. I didnt bring the dream up again. Regardless of whether Lazarus had invaded my mind, the meaning seemed clear. Like Walter-Wan had told me in a previous dream, my final battle with dark man would take place inside. The duel would happen while I was asleep.

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-THE BATTLE-

Planning for a dream fight is pretty much impossible. I speak from experience. Over the next few nights I went to sleep imagining myself as a great warrior, heavily armored and armed with fearsome weaponry, wandering a barren wasteland in search of my foe. My attempts at inducing the battle were futile, and all of my subsequent dreams were mundane and forgettable. The end of the trip was less than a week away when we finally walked downtown to buy bus tickets to London. Our funds were gone and we would have been forced to scrounge for food and beg for bus tickets if my mother hadnt wired us some emergency cash through Western Union. Scotland was good to us all the same, but I was growing increasingly agitated. The journey was ending and this fact gave me an intimidating sense of urgency. The phone calls to friends and family back home became more frequent. Aimees parents arranged for a day off to pick us up from the airport. My mom and dad were excited about getting together and sharing stories and photos. Nate and Brand told me about a new bar they found with free pool tables and suggested that we all go out drinking as soon as the jet lag wore off. 149

CLEAN I missed everyone, maybe even missed New Hampshire a little bit, but I wasnt ready to go back yet. The whole purpose of the trip was the pursuit of my quest, but time was slipping away, the dark man wasnt coming to me, and I still had no idea where to find Clean. Insurance for your bags? the National Express lady asked us. Absolutely, I answered without hesitation. There you are, she said as she handed us our tickets. Three tickets to Victoria Station, London. The bus leaves at 6am and arrives at 6:35am the next day. Aimee sighed. The last bus trip had left her cramped and irritable and this one was longer. There are no quicker buses? Afraid not, deary. We stopped by Pizza Hut for a budget lunch and I tapped out a few lines on my PDA as we waited. The words flowed naturally, hindered only by the hunting and pecking necessitated by an awkward stylus. I would have killed for a laptop with a proper keyboard. Hows that book coming? Lazarus inquired. I hadnt really thought of it as a book until that moment. In my mind it was just a little collection of notes and memoirs for my own edification. I tapped the word count feature out of curiosity and gasped. I had already written about 20,000 words just under half of the length of a short novel. Was that a good gasp or a bad gasp? Aimee asked. Good, I told them. Its coming good. Lazarus nodded. Are you going to try publishing it later? I almost laughed but then I thought: why not? Getting all this down on paper, sharing it with others a guy could exorcise some demons that way, and heck, maybe some other lost souls could get 150

Ken Sweet something out of it, some speck of wisdom or insight that inspired them in their own journeys. I just might do that, I told him. But I guess I wont know for sure until I come up with an ending. And they all lived happily ever after? Aimee suggested. I hope so. I tried to hide my doubts. I really hope so. And they all lived happily ever after. The phrase is the hallmark of a fairy tale, an outcome that has no basis in reality. In truth, life is depressing. Pain and suffering are more common visitors than ecstasy or bliss. Anxiety and stress have more place in the rush of modern society than relaxation or contentment. The world is a dark, filthy cesspool full of hatred, violence, and torment. We squeeze what joy we can out of life, although that joy is usually overcast by the gloom surrounding us. For many life is a never-ending trial, a game where the object is simply survival. We know we are going to die eventually, so we seek out some comfort while we are here, a bit of love and support to make it bearable, and even those precious gifts will eventually be taken from us. We console ourselves with the hope that the afterworld holds better things. Life is a great big hospice program, God is the doctor in charge, and were all patients waiting to die. And they all lived happily ever after. Yeah, right. The dark man came to me not at some holy site, not even in our tent. The final struggle was fought on a National Express bus in the middle of the night, somewhere in the long stretch between Inverness and London, and it was no duelit was a full-fledged battle. 151

CLEAN We boarded early in the morning. The day before had been fine and warm, and we had blown most of our remaining money in one lump sum for a daylong cruise on Loch Ness. The trip wasnt overpriced the vast Loch and steep hills surrounding it are breathtaking. Our guide made a stop to visit the ruins of an ancient castle on the shore. It was a heady experience and we returned to the campground in high spirits. The next day wasnt near as much fun. A torrential downpour started early that morning and we were forced to pack our tents and all of our belongings in the cold rain. Everyone was a little tense, even Lazarus. The hike to the bus station was interminably long and my muscles ached with fatigue. Aimee moaned and grumbled to herself, stopping every so often to wring the water out of her hair. By the time we boarded the bus I was ready to go home, Clean or no. We had one day of travel, one day in London, and then an early morning flight back to Boston. There was nothing more I could do. The bus snaked through the Scottish countryside, tightly hugging the curves as the driver struggled to keep his schedule, heedless of the posted speed limits. I was motion sick almost immediately. Youre probably just exhausted, Laz told me. Try to get some sleep. Aimee was already snoring lightly on my shoulder, lulled to sleep by the low hum of the engine, so I pulled down the shade, popped a Benadryl, and closed my eyes. The hills rose like waves under a crimson sky and an orange sun burned fiercely on the horizon. The hill before me stood much 152

Ken Sweet taller than the others and a single stone tower surmounted it, casting a long shadow in the afternoon light. Even with these visual clues, it took me a moment to realize where I was. I was standing in the Somerset Levels at the base of Glastonbury Tor. Im dreaming, I thought excitedly. This is a dream. I glanced around for any sign of the dark man, my eyes scanning the hill, but I saw no one. A tap on my shoulder startled me. When I turned around I nearly screamed. There was an entire army there, dozens of men and women, clad in golden armor that reflected the glaring sun, glinting long swords hung from their hips. The badge of a golden lion on a shimmering blue field waved from a banner overhead. The warriors all wore great winged helmets on their heads, but their faces were clearly visible. Some of those faces were instantly recognizable, others seemed vaguely familiar, and I was certain that a few of these warriors were complete strangers. Here, front and center, was my great-grandmother, my Beach Nana. Where she had seemed small and frail in life, she now seemed as if she were made of steel, a great blade at her side. Behind her I could see my father, my mother, Walter, Lazarus, Aimee, Alan and Alice, Brand, Nateeven Jean stood in the crowd, a determined look on her face. In my dream, at least, she still cared for me. Indeed, it seemed as if this were a gigantic reunion of everybody I had ever cared about! I continued scanning the crowd in awe. Some faces were less familiar, although I am certain one of those was my sweet aunt Emma. Another face sent a shiver down my spine my grandfather and namesake, Leonard Benjamin Whyte, standing proud and tall by my father. At first I thought I was looking into a mirror, and then I realized who it was. Grandpa Whyte, by all 153

CLEAN accounts a perfect father, had died of a heart attack several years before I was born. If I could have one wish, my father had told me one day, it would be that my father could have lived long enough to meet you. Now they stood before me, together, and even if it was just a dream it was immensely powerful. The strangers were a mystery to me. Perhaps they were others who had come and gone in my life when I was younger, without my ever knowing or remembering. This was all rather much for my emotions. I could feel the tears pooling in my eyes. Beach Nana, I sobbed, hugging her tightly. I noticed that I too was wearing golden armor, and it clanged against hers. I miss you. She smiled, eyes glistening. Dont miss me. Im here, in your heart. Time doesnt heal wounds, Benny. Love heals them. What are you all doing here? We love you, Benny, she told me. We all do. Were always here when you need us, when the burden is too much to bear alone. Is this it? I asked. Is it time to fight the dark man? Walter stepped forward and laid his hand on my shoulder. Turn and see. I gasped in fright. The hill, previously bare, was surrounded by a snarling army of grotesque demons in black armor, waving rusted sickles and thick spears. At the very top, standing in the archway to the old tower, was the dark man himself. A flag hung over the tower: the badge of a black goats head on a gray field. I spun back around and came face to face with my mother. How am I going to get to the tower? I asked in a small voice. Theres a huge army between us! 154

Ken Sweet Well clear a path to the top, my mother told me. From there its up to you. I knew that I was dreaming. I was even aware that my actual body was asleep on a National Express bus, but that didnt make this experience seem any less real, any less dangerous. There was no reason to believe in any of this, but it didnt go away. By Philip K. Dicks definition, and I was starting to believe this myself, this was reality. If I die here I started to ask, but my mother placed a comforting hand on my face. You arent going to die here, honey. Everything is going to be ok. Time to kick some evil ass, my dad said suddenly. A terrible wailing cacophony arose from behind me and I turned to face my fears. The demon army was charging at us, all teeth and daggers. Charge! I screamed at the top of my lungs, forcing myself forward. Id always wanted an excuse to do that and it felt good. My people, my army, ran forward with such enthusiasm and energy that they overtook me, my resurrected grandpa flashing me a playful grin as he passed by. He cut a dashing figure, not much older than me, and he looked youthful beside my father. The two armies smashed together like a bad car wreck. The force of our charge crushed the first line of demons and the rest seemed startled by our ferocity. Brand and Nate slammed into the enemy line like rampant bulls, knocking bodies into the air. My tiny great-grandmother hacked the head clean off one of the infernal wretches in one fell swing and I wondered at her strength. My father and grandfather fought side-by-side, stabbing and hacking at the retreating enemy. My ex-wife fought alongside my 155

CLEAN new girlfriend. Any doubt that I was dreaming disappeared when I saw that. My friends and family were fierce warriors when it came to protecting me. The hissing black-faced demons could scarcely stand against our onslaught. We were winning and it was a slaughter. Suddenly, a dire horn sounded from the hill and the demon army, still vast in numbers, turned back on us with a vengeance. Im not sure what I was expecting to happen next. People die in battles. These may have been dream people, but I loved them, and they seemed pretty damn real to me. I guess I hadnt thought of that, but the idea was driven home hard when my grandfather fell nearby, a deep wound in his chest. NO! I screamed at the top of my lungs, slashing wildly at a nearby demon. It struggled to deflect my furious blows. My fathers sword flashed in the sun, biting deep into the demons skull, and black blood sprayed across my armor. I knelt down beside my grandfather, whose own armor was slick with blood. Its all right, Benny, he said hoarsely. I noticed that the lines of his brow formed up in the same distinctive V as my own. Its not forever. This is your fight. Your soul. He raised his arm and pointed at the aisle that was slowly forming, a fissure in the enemy army, split open by our swords. Go! My father helped me to my feet before rejoining the battle with a righteous fury burning in his eyes. A trio of demons shrank before his blade. Glancing around the battlefield, I noticed more casualties my great-grandmother, my aunt Helena who had died some years earlier, Emma. Others were gravely wounded with gruesome injuries, including Lazarus, who now staggered to join me. 156

Ken Sweet This is a tough one, Benny boy, he panted. Come on now. Lets get you up that hill. You dont look so good, I informed him. Yeah? I guess I forgot my mascara at home. Come on. He grabbed my arm and pulled me forward and we broke into a sprint, striking at stray demons that broke through our lines. My friends and family had effectively created two shield walls, holding the enemy at bay so that I could summit the hill. We were halfway up the hill when an arrow struck Lazarus in the leg, just below the kneecap. He went down heavily, snapping half the arrow off in the process. I tried to help him up, but he waved me off. No! Youre on your own now, Knight of the Ruined Chapel. Get up there and kill that son of a bitch. I nodded, suddenly hoping that these wounds and deaths had no correlation to our lives outside the dream. It struck me then that the only people who had died thus far were, in reality, already dead. I looked back at Lazarus. Youre going to be ok? Dont worry about me. Im eating Doritos and doing crosswords on the bus right now, remember? he smirked. Now go! I clambered straight up the steep side of Glastonbury Tor as fast as my shoes would carry me, ignoring the winding path. Thorny underbrush bit through the spaces in my armor. The dark man stared down menacingly as I closed in on him. I could feel his evil, growing more and more intense, until it was nearly unbearable. I am the Knight of the Ruined Chapel, and I am no coward! The mantra fortified my nerves as I raced forward. The journey seemed endless, my legs ached, my body screamed from exertion. I was still afraid. To keep myself moving I 157

CLEAN reminded myself that my goal was far greater than my struggle. If I could kill the dark man, I could find Clean. I ran faster. And then I was atop the hill. The view there gave me pause. The dark man, beneath the gaunt skin and dark eyes, was no less than an amalgamation of my sins, fears, doubts, and regrets, all the worst that was inside me. This awful entity that I had struggled to overcome represented me. Those people I had imagined him to be were normal villains in whom I had seen some hated and secret piece of my own soul, my own darkness. His demons were my own, an army of darkness that I had unwittingly birthed, each one a living manifestation of my nightmares, sins, and woes. All this time I was my own tormentor, an inescapable nemesis, and this war was one that I would have to fight over and over until the day I died. The similarities between the Arthurian climax and this one were clear. I instinctively understood that, in this scenario, I was Arthur and the dark man was a black piece of me, like Arthurs bastard son Mordred. This knowledge emboldened me. I, I screamed, slashing wildly at the dark villain, am sick and tired of you! My adversary backed off, parrying my blows, and then raised his sword, sweeping it at my neck as I came at him, but I ducked the blow and thrust my blade at his side. It was a glancing blow and he quickly recovered, punching me in the face with a mailed gauntlet. I reeled back for an instant, blood streaming down my chin, and then swung fiercely at his neck. The dark warrior was too slow to block and my attack struck high, damaging his visor, which now hung limply from his helmet. I suddenly remembered the painting in Lazaruss apartment. This was it. 158

Ken Sweet I had little time for pondering the information, because his next blow struck me hard in the chest, crushing in my breastplate and knocking the air from my lungs. I struggled to breathe. It felt like I was having an asthma attack. My enemy raised his black sword high in the air to strike the killing blow. Did you think a few thousand miles could set you free of me? he gloated in a voice that dripped with malice. His fingers were hooked round his hilt like talons and they flexed as he spoke. There is no happily ever after for you. Time to die. The pause was a fatal mistake. I finally managed a quick breath, and then fell to the side as his sword came down where my head was an instant earlier. Grasping the hilt with both hands I pushed the sword upward with all my might. The blade entered through his mouth and popped through the back of his skull, knocking the helmet onto the ground. Blood as thick and black as oil ran down the blade, and I let go before the glutinous mess covered my hands. The dark warrior stood choking on the sword, staring blankly down the blade into my face. I leaned back, raising my foot, and his eyes widened. You first. Summoning every bit of strength in my body, I kicked the pommel of the sword. It slid forward with a satisfying hiss until only the hilt protruded from the dark mans mouth. My enemy crumpled to the ground. I gazed down at the base of the hill, where the last of the demon army was fleeing, defeated by an army made up of my friends, family, and ancestors. Victory was ours. 159

CLEAN There was darkness. Im not sure when I closed my eyes, and I expected to awaken on the bus, but when I climbed to my feet I was standing in a shady copse of trees under a cerulean blue sky. My armor was gone and I was naked. A short set of steps led to a shimmering pool of clean water before me. This is the place. I collapsed to my knees and I wept. I saw the faces of everyone I had hurt upon my journey friends and enemies alike. I was confronted by the absurdly joyful smile of my ex-wife, photographically captured in a moment of perfect childhood bliss by a well-timed snap, and then heard her heart-wrenching tears and protests as our marriage came to a close by my own hand. Every indignity I had ever borne, all my selfish and greedy actions, my anger, lust, and jealousy, and even my most secret and terrible fears flooded my soul with a great wash of emotion and reduced me to a sobbing infant. Humbled, dirty, unworthy of life itself, I flung myself desperately forward toward the opening, but merely managed to sprawl heavily across the hard-packed dirt in front of it. With great effort I lifted myself up and crawled the last few feet to the steps, sliding down them on my rear end, one step at a time, into the darkness below, until the cold water covered everything but my head. Then I closed my eyes and sank deep into the water, submerging my entire body in its dark, cold emptiness, sinking and turning until I no longer knew which way was up or how far under I was. And when I emerged, I was Clean. I woke up with a bloody nose, something that hadnt happened in twenty years. And I was crying. 160

Ken Sweet Are you all right? Aimee gasped. I wrapped my arms around her so tightly she nearly suffocated. Im great, honey. Ive never been better. I love you so much. I love you, too.

161

CLEAN

-EPILOGUE-

I once read that the average walker needs a new pair of shoes every 8 months. If thats true, and if Im at all average, it took me 34.5 pairs of shoes, worn down over the course of 23 years, to finally do what I said I was going to do. Thats a lot of walking. It was worth every step. The money was spent, all except for a 20-pound note Aimee found in her backpack. We all suspected Glover had slipped it in there when we werent looking, since he had offered us some money to help us through our trip at one point, but it really could have been anyone. We knew we wouldnt be able to do much during our short stay in London except stroll around and munch on cheap snacks. That was finewed all agreed to come back next year and explore some of the things wed missed. Once we settled into our hostel I excused myself and took a stroll down the road to Hyde Park, where I sat on a bench and reflected. An aspiring juggler dropped bowling pins on the grass nearby, two lovers pecked and groped on the lip of a fountain, and 162

Ken Sweet a trio of squirrels pranced across the sidewalk in front of me, collecting fallen nuts. A gentle breeze carried a cool mist from the fountain to my face, and I basked in the peace, surprised to find such a place in the thriving metropolis that was London. After a time I took out my PDA and pecked out the following words: The intellectual novelist Marcel Proust once wrote: We dont receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. But what is wisdom, and how do we discover it? Most things in life, especially in our day and age, can be measured, quantified, and labeled, so we know scientifically and beyond a reasonable doubt that they exist. But not all things can be sampled and photographed, not everything fits neatly under a microscope, and in the rational and logical thought processes of the scientists, anything they cannot document must not actually exist at all. They are wrong, of course, and thank God for it. For scientists cannot easily bottle and categorize a great many of lifes most important things the all-powerful emotion of love, for instance, or the existence of a higher power. Yet we know in our hearts that these things are real. Who would deny the connection that causes a widow to wake up sobbing in the middle of the night, certain that something is horribly wrong, only to discover the next morning that her only son died in a motorcycle accident at that same hour of the night? Could this be a connection that transcends death? 163

CLEAN What inspires us to call people we havent spoken to in months or years, only to discover that they were just thinking about us or wishing we would call? Is there, perhaps, a connection that is far more powerful than our physical lives a connection of souls? These apparently inexplicable links across time and space are just part of a much larger web of mysteries that has always fascinated mankind, and at the same time, frightened us. Some of us are more than willing to accept that strong premonition or lucid dream as a message from God, that extraordinary stroke of luck as the hand of Fate, or that perfectly-timed call from our beloved as the bonds of love, while others are all too quick to dismiss these things as mere coincidences. So we react strongly to these things or not at all, perhaps because their very existence is too difficult for our minds to comprehend. But you do not need to understand something in order for it to affect you. I believe things now that I never would have considered before going to Britain. For instance, I think that no matter where they are, whether dead or living, near or far, the love of our family can help us through. I also believe that we are all knights and we each have our own quest, a unique purpose, and an ultimate goal. Finding out what it is, well, thats the most difficult thing we could ever hope to accomplish. Searching our souls to root out the badness and try to become a better person is a challenging and fearful experience who knows what dark matter we may be forced to confront? My own journey was fraught with danger, both real and imagined. All that time I kept myself going by convincing myself that the goal was greater than the adversities I faced, that 164

Ken Sweet the ultimate payoff would bring sweet bliss to my life, perfection to my existence, and forever cleanse me of the grime my soul had collected in the course of a lifetime. I focused on the goal and only the goal. Clean was my goal. Nothing else mattered. I found Clean, but like a nice hot shower, it cant last forever. Ive finally realized that this journey can never end, that I had tried to make a finish line out of a milestone. I was a fool. The journey is the goal. Oh yes, I nearly forgot: And they all lived happily ever after. THE END

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