CHILD OF FORTUNE
And so as Belshazaar's sun arose over the Bloomenveldt the next morning, so did we -- equipped with floatbelts, filter masks, beacon receivers, kits for collecting floral essences, a full month's worth of concentrates, the assurances of the previous afternoon's apparition, and a plan of action which would seem to be foolproof.
We would proceed due westward into the interior for five days. At the speed we could make bounding across the treetops, this should be long enough to penetrate several hundred kilometers into the Bloomenveldt, so if we spied no humans after five days of this procedure, it could fairly be said that the mystics, libertine or otherwise, were wrong, and the scientists, crabbed of spirit though they be, were right, and no significant human population was to be found.
At which point, we would simply return from whence we came. Even without the beacon receivers, there would seem to be no danger of losing our way, for toward sunrise was the coast, and once the beach was attained, one could not follow it in either direction for more than two or three days without reaching a dome.
The only peril would seem to be that of the spirit, for we knew all too well the state of discombobulation that could be attained by wandering the Bloomenveldt unmasked, courtesy of the object lesson of Meade Ariel Kozuma. Therefore, at my insistence, if not without some resistance, Guy acceded to a further procedural pact. We would both go masked as we traveled inward, and if we paused to sample the offerings of any flower along the way, we would never unmask together -- when one of us played the role of psychonaut, the other would always be there to serve as ground control.
We did not inform Marlene Kona Mendes or her staff of our intentions, but simply gathered up our gear and left, for on the one hand we had already been informed in no uncertain terms that we could expect no rescue mission from that quarter in the event of difficulty, and on the other, Guy's professed goal, or at any rate his pecuniary rationalization for this adventure of the spirit, was to steal a grand commercial march on these selfsame mages by returning from the deep interior with samples of psychotropics which would put their pathetic efforts to shame.
We did, however, bid a fond and secret farewell to Omar Ki Benjamin, for it is difficult to embark on such a grand adventure without a bit of boasting into a sympathetic and reassuring ear, and from the quarter of this self-styled mystic libertine, we knew we could count on a moral support entirely in contrast to the hectoring we no doubt would have been subject to had we broached our intentions to the gnomes of the research dome.
Nor were we disappointed by the spirit with which Omar greeted our announcement. "Ah!" he sighed grandly. "And I style myself the mystic libertine! Vraiment, I am tempted by the song of my spirit to join you ... But no, this is a venture for two young lovers, ne, a romance for a dyad, hardly suitable for the sort of menage a trois we would form together. But know that Omar Ki Benjamin is with you in spirit, and as a bona fide thereof, the following oath: should you safely return, I will compose a paean to your triumph; if such should not be the case, your memory will be honored in a tragic ode. So from a certain perspective, you cannot fail, my brave kinder, for one way or the other, you will live forever as the heroic or tragic protagonists of high art!"
With this supportive if somewhat egoistic benediction, and the bright morning sun at our back, we set out westward across the endless green veldt of the treetops, proceeding quite literally by leaps and bounds toward our unknown destiny deep within the Bloomenveldt, though of just how deep into the mysteries at its heart we would penetrate, and of just how strange our divergent destinies therein would become, we were cruelly and mercifully ignorant.
* * *
We passed the first day of our journey in entirely locomotive pursuits, bounding in great soaring leaps across a treetop landscape that assumed a certain oceanic if lovely sameness as soon as we had lost sight of the actual sea. The great arboreal meadowland rolling and tossing in the breeze extended as far as the eye could see, and since the only geographical relief was that of the occasional tree crown which grew a few meters taller than the generality of the veldt, the eye could see in a great unobstructed circle from horizon to horizon.
While in a certain sense the ambiance of our passage was therefore not unlike what I had upon occasion experienced power-skiing on Glade's ocean beyond the sight of land, the endless vista of the Bloomenveldt induced none of the visual ennui of a featureless sea, for far from presenting a boundless surface of featureless green, the Bloomenveldt was a splendid carpet of more colors than the memory could count or the eye resolve into anything but a wild prismatic smear, for the flowers grew everywhere, and the hues and forms thereof seemed, if anything, more profusely diverse the further inward we traveled.
Then too it was possible to catch glimpses upon occasion from the apogees of our leaps of the denizens of the treetops gathered around their favored flowers, though these creatures never failed to scatter into the foliage upon any attempt at closer approach.
After countless hours of springing from leaf to leaf with my conscious attention all but subsumed in the repetitive if delightful mechanics thereof, engulfed in the endless green sameness and equally endless floral variety of this universe in the treetops, I began to feel like a natural creature of the Bloomenveldt myself. Guy and I, like the creatures of any forest, soon enough came to tell the passage of the hours by the movement of the sun across the sky, for only when the disc thereof began to slide down past the sharp green line of the western horizon, sending pale streamers of purple and orange across the blue of the heavens and deepening shadows across the Bloomenveldt, did we feel any sense of fatigue.
And even this was not so much a soreness of muscles, which in fact might have easily enough pressed on far into the night given the feather-lightness provided to their burdens by our floatbelts, but a certain self-satisfied if somewhat tremulous psychic fatigue in the face of oncoming night.
Of our first night on the Bloomenveldt, there is little to relate in terms of outre visions, but much to relate in terms of unsettling sounds and the impingement thereof on our spirits.
As twilight began to come on in earnest, we sought out a leafy bed well beyond any floral sphere of influence, for our pact to the contrary notwithstanding, it would have been impossible to consume our meal of cold concentrates through a mask, nor did the prospect of remaining masked while the other ate have much appeal given the less than festive nature of the fare to begin with. Moreover, it had not occurred to me until I was faced with the actual practical reality that sleeping in a filter mask was hardly the sort of physical discomfort or psychic claustrophobia that I would wish to inflict on either Guy or myself alone in a strange forest in the blackest of nights.
By the time we had found a neutral enough leaf, there was just enough light left to unpack our rations by, and by the time we had gobbled down fare that differed little from fressen save in the addition of unconvincing ersatz flavorings of anonymous vegetables and meat, the Bloomenveldt lay in the full thrall of night.
Under a mighty canopy of coldly luminescent stars, the world of the treetops lay in convoluted blackness, illumined pallidly thereby only sufficient unto transforming the dark shapes of the tree crowns into enigmas which the eye might populate with an abundance of fantastic and mayhap frightening forms. These phantoms of the night were given voice by the wind brushing through the leaves, and the chitterings, scrapings, and rustlings of unseen creatures.
Then too, the vagrant breezes blew ghostly wisps of floral perfumes to our unmasked nostrils, so that faint traces of chemical imperatives teased and swirled just beyond the conscious apprehension of our brains. Tendrils of torpor, fading mists of pheromonic lust, vagrant dying traces of indefinable sublimities ...
Guy and I huddled on our leaf in each other's arms. Little was said. for there was little to say and much to feel, as we lay there in the velvety darkness under the glory of the stars, rocked by the wind shaking the treetops, listening to the vague murmurings and chitterings, inhaling faint fragrances that moved our spirits to contemplative torpors, and at length to slow and languorous lovemaking that arose seamlessly from the vapors of the night, and subsided just as imperceptibly into a sleep informed by exotic unremembered dreams.
In the morning we arose, blinking and stretching in the all-too-brilliant actinic light of dawn. After a cold breakfast of concentrates and water from our canteens, we donned our filter masks and pressed on to the west.
The second day on the Bloomenveldt differed little from the first, save that by late morning clouds began to form, and by early afternoon they burst forth with a brief but drenching warm rain, which forced us to take cover until it had passed. Ah, but even as the storm subsided into a lingering mist, the sun burst through the dissipating clouds, and for perhaps fifteen minutes a great rainbow formed, overarching a Bloomenveldt whose every leaf and flower glistened with a diamond sheen of moisture.
More to the pragmatic point perhaps, every depression in every leaf filled itself up with water whose chemical purity approached distilled perfection, in contrast to the suspect fluids to be found in the cups of many flowers, allowing us to top off our canteens, drink our fill, and ablute ourselves before traveling on.
Nor did our second night on the Bloomenveldt differ in any significant aspect from the first, and on the morrow we were awoken once more by the first full light of day, breakfasted, and went on. Once more the sky clouded toward noon and rained its life-sustaining moisture on the Bloomenveldt in an early afternoon shower of some strength but little duration, though this time we were somewhat disappointed when no rainbow formed as the sun overcame the mists.
But whatever disappointment we may have felt at the failure of this meteorological grace note to appear was soon forgotten, for it could not have been more than an hour after the end of the rain when at last we spotted humans.
I had ended a leap half a bound ahead of Guy, and was awaiting his landing before jumping off again when he came down beside me shaking his head and waving his arms. "Wait Sunshine!" he cried. "I do believe I've seen Bloomenkinder! Or at any rate, something human."
He pointed off to the southwest. "No more than four hundred meters," he said. "By a yellow flower streaked with red. Let us proceed cautiously, for they may be as shy as the animals of the forest."
And so we did, jumping from leaf to leaf in short shallow arcs, rather than bounding along bumptiously at the full stretch of our powers. Soon we could make out three human shapes, raggedly clothed, but clothed nonetheless, gathered about a large open yellow bloom with red- veined petals and a cluster of short, fat, black stamens.
"How should we proceed ...?" Guy mused.
I shrugged. "A sudden approach might startle, and stealth might signal treacherous intent, so let us simply come upon them at an easy walk in plain sight like the friendly innocents we are."
And so we stepped out from concealment and strolled boldly but deliberately across the leaves toward the yellow flower. Far from fleeing at the sight of us, or taking any umbrage at our approach, or contrawise calling out greetings, the three habitues thereof seemed to all but ignore us, even after we had made our way to the edge of their flower.
Two men and a woman, all of them sleek with fat, reposed supinely on the flower's petals, their backs resting against the black stamens from which they were languidly clawing handfuls of crumbly black pollen which they proceeded to stuff in their mouths with complete disregard for the niceties of table manners. The tatters of cloth clinging to random areas of their corpulent bodies gave clear evidence that they had once been citizens of civilized realms, but their vacantly dreamy eyes and slackly torpid grins did not exactly bespeak an urbane awareness.
"Greetings, Bloomenkinder," I finally said, for want of any more cunning conversational ploy. I was rewarded by a certain mildly interested focusing of dim attention in our direction, which is to say they deigned to look at us, and the woman plucked a handful of pollen from the stamen behind her and held it forth in a rather indifferent gesture of offering.
"Mangia ..." she suggested in a peculiar voice that seemed somehow befuddled at its own existence, as if this might have been the first word she had uttered in weeks.
"No, thank you," Guy said uneasily. "We've already dined."
The fatter of the two men stroked the surface of the petal beside him in a gesture that, under the circumstances, seemed quite obscene.
Guy and I glanced at each other, entirely taken aback by this unwholesome spectacle of human reversion. "Uh ... have you dwelt here long ...?" Guy asked in an inanely conversational tone whose normality seemed utterly inappropriate to the situation. But then what manner of discourse should one adopt to extract information from such creatures?
"How ... long ..." the woman muttered in an uninflected monotone, as if unsuccessfully attempting to grasp a concept whose meaning had long since fled. The three of them exchanged slow, befuddled glances.
"Bitte, are there other humans in this area?" I essayed.
In some exasperation, I pointed in turn to the three of them, Guy, and myself, then counted off five fingers. "Human," I explained. "Here. Five." I swung my other arm in a wide arc as if to encompass the nearby forest, wriggling the fingers of that hand speculatively. "More? More humans?"
At length, this seemed to penetrate the perfumed fog to some small extent. "Humans ..." mused the less obese man. He held up a hand and stared at it stupidly for a moment. Then he began to wriggle his fingers. He raised his other hand and began to wriggle the fingers thereof as well. Soon all three of them were wriggling all available fingers, giggling, and chanting "Humans ... humans ... humans ..."
"Around other flowers?"
They gave over their gesticulating and peered at me dimly, as if wriggling their fingers and pondering a second word was a bit more than they could manage at the same time.
"Flower," I said, pointing to the bloom which so obviously held them in thrall, then holding up a single finger. I held up my other hand and wriggled my fingers questioningly. "More flowers? With more humans?"
Once more the three of them began to wriggle all of their fingers. "Humans ... flowers ... humans ... flowers ..."
When after another bout of giggling they had exhausted their interest and lapsed into silence, the woman regarded me with what under the circumstances passed for an expression of some intensity and at length summoned up what was no doubt an impressive skein of words, given the source. "Humans ... flowers ..." she said, spreading her arms wide and wriggling all of her fingers. "Red ... blue ... white ... purple ..." Then she ceased this flurry, stroked the yellow petal on which she lay, and painted an expression of orgasmic ecstasy across her slack features. "Yellow ..." she purred emphatically. "Yellow, yellow, yellow, ah! ah! ah!"
"Ah! Ah! Ah!"
The three of them commenced to moan softly in rough unison, lying flat out on the petals now as if exhausted by their mighty intellectual efforts, and evinced no further interest in our existence.
"Higher forms?" I sniffed contemptuously to Guy. "Noble flowers? Merde!"
Guy shrugged. "Mayhap unknown inner bliss lies within these seemingly decadent corpuses ...?" he suggested ironically.
"Bien," I told him. "Then perhaps you care to unmask and smell the pretty flower ...?"
Even Guy Vlad Boca blanched at this jocular invitation. "There is a bright side, however," he pointed out. "We have proven that there are humans in the deep Bloomenveldt. We have proven that the gnomes of the research domes know not whereof they speak."
"Have we? Or have we merely discovered the handful of poor pathetic wretches of which they speak?"
"Quien sabe?" Guy admitted. "Far too soon to tell. Let us tarry awhile in these environs and see what further close exploration may discover."
Vraiment, further explorations in this area over the next two days did prove fruitful, if less than exalting, for we encountered upward of a dozen flowers attended by small groups of apparently formerly civilized human revertees, and, given the wide scattering of our discoveries, the random nature of our search, and the profusion of flowers in the vecino, no doubt we failed to discover a good many more.
As for the Bloomenkinder tribes of which the tales told, these were nowhere in evidence, for nowhere did we encounter more than three or four humans in attendance at any bloom, and by the tattered rags still clinging to their bodies, it was evident that these were all folk who originated in civilized realms, rather than being the mythical offspring of generations of indigenous savages, noble or otherwise.
For the most part, they were no more verbal, and sometimes less, than the first group we had encountered, though the nature of their devotions varied with the flowers they chose to attend, or more aptly put perhaps, with the variety of flower that had captured their spirits.
As well as three more examples of the yellow flower with black stamens, we encountered acolytes of a certain puffy black bloom who exhibited a mild form of territorial behavior, locking hands to form a circle around the object of their affection at our approach, and devotees of a certain species of brilliant pinkish flower who, by pantomimed gestures, invited us to join them in the energetic if inartistic orgiastic figures which they seemed capable of sustaining indefinitely under the influence of this bloom of animal lust.
Not even Guy was tempted to personal experimentation with the psychotropics offered up by the flowers we encountered in those two days, for it seemed all too clear that these revertees had fallen under the thrall of molecules originally evolved to evoke the rude mammalian drives of the native fauna, so that the states of consciousness induced thereby could hardly be said to be elevated above the human norm.
Nor might any of these psychotropics be said to be marketable, save perhaps as less than subtle remedies for anorexia, sexual ennui, insomnia, or worse, as agents of unscrupulous behavioral control.
On the afternoon of the third day, however, we happened on a new variety of flower which tempted us sorely indeed.
Making our way via a series of short shallow leaps, we rounded a hillock of a tree crown to find ourselves directly confronted with an overhanging bell-shaped bloom whose pale and translucent violet petals cast an all-but-ultraviolet glow over the mossy green pollen bed beneath it. Upon which two human figures were languorously copulating side by side in a slow, steady rhythm.
Indeed, to call this copulation would seem to be unjust, for the gaunt rag-clad man and the equally gaunt woman, while anything but appetizing in our eyes, were manifestly perfect each to the other in their own. For in the face of their beatific smiles, their tender gazes, and the very rhythms they offered up to each other's delight, one would have had to have been an utter churl to deny that, beneath the violet canopy and under the pheromonic influence thereof, they were truly making love.
Vraiment, Guy and I found ourselves holding hands and speaking in hushed whispers as we stood before this somehow charming, not to say arousing, tantric figure.
"We can hardly intrude upon such dyadic bliss ..."
"Indeed, let us wait until they have reached their final cusps, ne ..."
As it turned out, the latter stratagem proved as fruitless as the former politesse proved superfluous, for their passage d'amour went on interminably, which is to say that the rhythm thereof seemed designed to prolong the tantric exercise into infinity by the eschewing of any climactic cusp.
At length, Guy's mounting impatience overcame his gallantry. "This could go on forever," he whispered, securing a vacuum vial from his pack. "I must have a sample of this psychotropic!"
So saying, and against my hushed protestations to the contrary, he stole close upon them, vial in hand.
Hola, it was as if he did not exist! Their passage d'amour continued unabated and untrammeled as he crawled around the flower gathering vapors, nor did they pay him any heed when, seeing this, he experimentally exposed himself to their full vision. Indeed, not even when I strode boldly up to Guy and tugged him away by the sleeve did our presence have any discernible effect.
Vraiment, not even when we forgot to hush our speech in our excitement did our existence intrude upon the perfect dyadic consciousness of the lovers on the flower.
"We must try this, you and I, ne!" Guy exclaimed.
"I long to experience such bliss as well," I agreed tremulously. "But if we do, will we not be lost?"
"To all save each other, mayhap ..." he said dreamily.
"We must think on this before we lose all capacity for same," I told him sharply. "Though certainement it would appear we have found a hint of floral paradise out of which poetry and romantic legend might justly arise ..."
Eschewing other objects of exploration, we discovered three more of the violet blooms d'amour during that afternoon and the next morning, and on each we found dyadic figures similarly enraptured in perfect tantric bliss, indeed a bliss which seemed quite indefatigable, for we had yet to encounter such lovers engaged in eating, repose, or any other activity save endless love.
Guy, for his part, grew more and more displeased with my refusal to unmask with him and share such preternatural pleasures, while I demurred under the guise of unwillingness to eject lovers from their flower by main force. In truth, however, while like any natural woman my spirit, not to say my flesh, grew more and more desirous of knowing such erotic ecstasies, my mind rang bells of warning, for if such was the puissance of this flower's pheromone of passion that in its thrall lovers eschewed all nutriment or rest, how long before such tantric demons expired in blissful famishment in each other's arms?
Inevitably, we finally discovered such a bloom unoccupied, a vacant boudoir bathed in violet light, awaiting only two wandering creatures such as we.
"A sign, nicht wahr?" Guy insisted. "A clear signal from destiny, ne?"
"Mayhap from fate ..."
"Pah! When imbibing wine, do you stop short of intoxication? When engaged in sexual congress, do you take care to avoid orgasm?"
"To quote the same source, I am a mystic libertine, not an imbecile."
Guy regarded me with an expression somewhere between contemptuous anger and a sullen thwarted pout.
"Very well then," I declared. "I invoke our pact. Which is to say that one of us must at all times play ground control to the psychonaut. Therefore, let us repair to the flower of your desires, one of us unmasked, and when that personage has fully experienced the naked joys thereof, the functions shall be reversed."
"This is the meanness of spirit in which you propose to conduct a passage of transcendent amour?"
"No meanness of spirit is intended," I told him crossly, in token of which, and in the absence of any masculine gallantry to the contrary, you may have the honor of removing your mask first."
To this open-hearted gesture, Guy could hardly make any further demur, and so he nodded in silent agreement and began to doff his clothes. I did likewise, and in not much more time than it takes to tell, we stood naked before each other, or rather adorned only by the filter masks covering our noses and mouths, a spectacle inducive of a good deal more mirth than lust.
But no sooner had Guy removed his mask than the ironic grin which this bizarre vision had smeared across his face vanished, to be replaced by a beatific smile of priapic though not untender lust, unmistakably counterpointed, as it were, by the all-but-instant erection of his insistent lingam.
In truth more bemused than aroused, I allowed him to seize my hand and lead me forthwith into the shaft of violet light beneath the translucent canopy of the flower. In this venue I thought not to activate my ring of Touch, for while Guy had never voiced wonder at my preternatural erotic puissance, putting it down, no doubt, to his own preternatural capacity for the enjoyment of pleasure, it seemed to me that chemical enhancement would be more than sufficient without resorting to the electronic.
From my point of view, there is little to report of this opening movement of our two-part duet save the seeming endlessness thereof, the mighty duration of Guy's phallic prowess, and the ironic fact that it was Sunshine, the ground control, who experienced cusp after cusp via the ministrations of her pheromonically enhanced psychonaut. For once, it was Guy who was given over to the granting of pleasure without thought or rhythm designed to bring about his own orgasmic completion, and I who surrendered sweetly to the abundance of my own ecstasies.
Vraiment, to the superabundance thereof, for Guy went on and on and on in the same even rhythm, long after sweet ecstasies had given way to a surfeit of pleasure and delight had given way to fatigue, and even fatigue had given way to a boredom of orgasms, if such can be imagined.
When I could tolerate this tender and loving selfless performance no longer, I at last activated the Touch and seizing him by the very root of his lingam, brought him to a moaning, shuddering, piercing conclusion, which I felt sure would leave the mightiest of lovers incapable of proceeding further.
But no, quelle chose, no sooner had he brought his ragged panting under some semblance of control, than his still triumphant phallus was at it again, determined to fill me with yet more unwanted pleasure.
There seemed to be only one thing for it, even though I was certain that no power in the worlds of men or elsewhere could now provoke me to further desire. I tore the filter mask from my face and affixed it over Guy's by main force.
How wrong I was!
No sooner had I taken my first unmasked breath than a pungent, sweet, musky aroma went straight from my nostrils to the very back reaches of my brain, from which it flowed like a living serpent of fire down my spine to ignite a veritable kundalinic explosion in my lower chakras. Vraiment, a rosy, languid explosion which billowed upward, outward, and inward from the base of my spine to fill my loins, and my limbs, and indeed my cerebrum, with roiling clouds of sensuous pink smoke, which in less time than it takes to tell had completely consumed all other aspects of my being.
It seemed to me, or at any rate to the extent that there remained a "me," that my body had become an ecstatic outline of passionate fire, like the fabled burning bush, aflame yet unconsumed.
I seized Guy in my arms, rolled over upon him, and impaled the quick of him in the rosy translucence of my flesh. Ah, oh, he was beautiful! The flesh of his body had the warm sleekness of silk before a bonfire. Each ecstatic tremor of his flesh sent crystal fragments of achingly tender joy down my nerve trunks, the sounds of his pleasures ignited sparkles in my heart, and his face was that of a veritable deity, a mask of tantric perfection auraed by the glow of his marvelous spirit.
There was nothing in the universe but the exquisite texture of satiny flesh and silken sighs, nought existed but the rose-colored breath of his flesh against mine.
How long this persisted, memory would not bind. There were cries, and moans, and tremors, and wordless shouts, and then a thin and agonized voice crying "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
Then the mindless creature of fire that I had become found itself being borne through the air like a weightless cloud, something vile and rubbery was forced onto my face ...
And the sentient human that I had been found herself seated on a leaf gazing wildly at Guy. Both of us were masked, both of us were panting with exhaustion, and both of us were redolent with passionate effluvia and sweat.
We stared at each other, blinking, for a long while before either of us managed to speak.
"Vraiment, you were right, unmasked together, we would have been lost forever," Guy finally breathed.
"It would almost have been worth it ..." I sighed.
But not even Guy Vlad Boca was ready to suggest that we repeat this experiment mutually unmasked, nor did the notion of enjoying such dangerous ecstasies again as alternating psychonauts and ground controls much appeal to either of us. For while in a certain sense it could be said that the ground control drew as much erotic benefit from the psychonaut's chemically augmented tantric puissance as he did, the sexual disjunction cut both ways as well. For under the influence of the flower, the masked lover would always be pleasured to the point of boredom or pain, while the lover in thrall to the flower quite literally could never be sated.
Clearly this flower was only for lovers to whom mutual erotic seppuku was an acceptable ultimate consummation, and expiration via terminal fatigue or famishment was an acceptable price to pay. For such samurai romantics, the perfume of the violet flower might be a great boon, and indeed, under controlled conditions it might be a sovereign remedy for impotence, libidinal ennui, and even conjugal fecklessness, or so Guy believed.
Certainement, here was a product that Interstellar Master Traders should have no trouble marketing at a considerable profit. As for the morality of such an enterprise, Guy declared, the nature of the psychotropic's effect should be forthrightly delineated to the purchaser, whose destiny thereby would be placed entirely in his own hands.
Be that as it may, what we had experienced had demonstrated that there could be more to the Bloomenveldt's blandishments than crude appeal to simple mammalian tropisms, for the violet flower, certainement, produced an intense state of erotic arousal in which the spiritual dimension was not absent, as if somehow there was indeed a floral intelligence at work on the Bloomenveldt whose biochemical sapience was capable of the subtlety necessary to touch the human heart.
Mayhap we would have been able to put it all down to chance conjunction between Belshazaar's floral biochemistry and a randomly evolved human congruence therewith in certain isolated cerebral centers had we not soon thereafter encountered another mode of human and floral chemical convergence which affected what one would have thought were entirely spiritual levels of human sapience.
Consciously or not, whether simply carrying forth our original plan or being drawn deeper into the Bloomenveldt by the natural order of things, we drifted slowly westward during the next two days. Here we continued to find small groups of humans in thrall to what we had bizarrely enough begun to dismiss as quotidian blooms, and here too dyads blissfully bewitched by the flower of violet passion were also in evidence.
But now for the first time we encountered solitary humans in psychotropic communion with their own flower.
The upright petals of the flower in question were always blue, though the tint thereof might vary, and the stamen consisted of a large flat mound covered with fist-sized grains of soft white pollen. Upon this pallet the human devotee sat motionless with nourishment ready at hand gazing wide- eyed not at the glories and wonders of the Bloomenveldt but at entirely subjective vistas within.
Male and female, they were all in those terminal years of their lifespan when the hair grays and thins, and the skin dries into parchment, and the vital energies may no longer be reignited by the Healers' arts. But if their bodies were dismaying reminders of ultimate mortality, the spirits which peered inward in their limpid empty eyes, were, if the same are truly mirrors of the soul as the poets contend, in blissful transcendence of the limits of temporal linearity, at least from their own point of view.
Even such callow mystic libertines as we could not summon up the crudeness to attempt to rouse such living buddhas to discourse by insistent hectorings, nor would such a stratagem likely have succeeded, for all such hermits that we were to encounter in the next two days moved only their hands to convey the occasional pollen grain to their mouths, and otherwise might have been temple icons of stone for all the awareness of or interest in the external realm they betrayed.
Whether such buddhas were drawn to the lotus, or whether the flowers were capable of granting ultimate enlightenment to ordinary human dross, or whether for that matter, these living icons in fact contained the spirits of which they spoke at all, we could in truth know not, for total vegetative nonsentience for all I knew could produce the same visual effect as transcendence of maya's veil. And indeed certain cynical wits have been known to contend that the mental states themselves are much the same.
"It would seem there is only one method of discerning whether these ancients are enlightened beings whose spirits soar in realms of grandeur beyond maya's tawdry veils or whether their sapience has been extinguished leaving only vacuous protoplasmic shells behind," Guy opined the night of the second day among the babas of the Bloomenveldt.
"Namely to inhale the lotus breath ourselves and learn whether we become bodhis or zombies ..."
"Guy! Surely not even you would lay such a wager!"
"Of course I spoke in jest," he said, laughing rather unconvincingly and hugging me to him. "Still, if one knew matters were what they seem, what reason would there be to dally with lesser amusements endlessly if the ultimate were truly available for a mere breath of perfume?"
"This for one" I declared pettishly, thumbing on the Touch and pulling on his lingam, for while Guy's mood was hardly one which aroused me to erotic passion, I knew no other more immediately puissant means of changing this unwholesome subject.
But as it turned out, on the afternoon of the next day we came upon a baba of the Bloomenveldt who at last deigned to address us.
Bathed in a golden beam of sunlight streaming through a break in the foliage behind as if the whole scene had been deliberately lit with thespic intent, was a great fan of petals whose hue was a blue that was almost black, the hue of that region of a planetary atmosphere where sky becomes space, or of that celestial moment between sunset and night. Upon the flat stamen covered with white pollen sat a naked man with hair and beard of the same color, his legs folded under him in the classic lotus posture, his back to the floral halo like a figure out of primeval temple art, and his lips creased in a beatific smile.
But, far from being lost in internal vistas, his great brown eyes tracked us as we approached with a clarity and sentience impossible to deny.
Nor, it seemed, could our eyes break their lock on his, as, without consultation, Guy and I strode hand in hand toward this baba and seated ourselves before him like dutiful acolytes before their guru. Mayhap it was the ambiance which so compelled us, mayhap there was true power in this ancient's eyes, or mayhap we both had the same thought, namely that since this hermit so manifestly acknowledged our existence, such an approach might at last induce one of these sphinxes to speak.
"Speak to us, bitte, baba," I said in a firm but respectful voice, "and show us that someone at least is at home beyond that sage facade."
The smile broadened into something more like a grin. "I have never been more at home behind my eyes," said a calm, clear voice.
"Why then do the other hermits remain silent?"
"Only they may tell you, kind, and they choose silence."
"But you do speak to us," I said. "Why are you different?"
"Are not all humans different, each from the other?" the baba said. "In the worlds of men, I was a dedicated pedagog, so mayhap before my final flower do I choose to speak to young spirits in the manner of a loquacious bodhisattva ...
"If this is so, why do you sit passively awaiting death, rather than return to the worlds of men and go up and out doing noble deeds like a true bodhisattva?"
The old man's eyes widened, and his permanent smile strayed for a moment from beatitude to the mundanely specific, to wit that of his former pedagogical self happening suddenly on an unexpectedly sharp student.
"In the worlds of men, I would expire raging against the dying of the light," he said. "Only within the celestial sphere of my perfect flower may I know my final moment in the Tao."
"Hola! Then this is indeed the perfect lotus of ultimate enlightenment!" Guy exclaimed, fingering his filter mask in a most unsettling manner.
"Many flowers grow on the Bloomenveldt. Here each of us may find the flower of their perfection."
"Mayhap this is mine ..." Guy said breathlessly, and made to remove it.
But before I could move to stop him, the old man stayed him with a sudden instant upraising of his hand, a puissant gesture indeed in light of his previous utter immobility. And when he then spoke, the tranquil certitude of the bodhi was married to the authority of the teacher.
"Seek first your own full blossoming, young spirit, before you contemplate this final flower!"
"Well spoken, well spoken indeed!" I was moved to enthusiastically declare.
And at this, by signs so subtle as to be perceivable only en gestalt, the spirit animating the withering body evinced a preparation to withdraw from further worldly discourse.
"Wait!" said Guy. "At least tell me then how I am to know the flower of my own perfection!"
"Let the Perfume of Paradise come unto thee, Mohammed."
"Vraiment, of course, we can only find our way by losing it, ne?" Guy exclaimed. "We must breathe in the spirit of this enchanted forest, we must seek our destiny bravely unmasked, that is what he is telling us, Sunshine!"
"This koan affords me no such unequivocal satori," I told him sourly.
"Merde, tell this groundling in words she may comprehend, bitte!" he demanded quite boorishly of the silent bodhi.
But the old man quite ignored this unseemly cajolement. His spirit had long since departed to the untrammeled contemplation of regions within. No effort of ours could conjure it to speak again.
Guy, on the other hand, was far from being at a loss for words.
"Look at the Bloomenveldt, Sunshine"' he proclaimed after we had withdrawn a decent distance, and I humored him to the extent of staring out across the endless rolling vista of foliage and flowers. "Can your eyes tell one part of it from another? Regard the sounds of the Bloomenveldt! Can you discern anything more informative than the whispering of the wind through the treetops or the chittering of unseen fauna?"
"Bien, the cogency of your discourse has convinced me that it all looks and sounds the same ..." I said sourly.
"But we know it is not all the same, do we not? Is it not quite obvious?"
"Isn't what quite obvious?"
"Merde, that you cannot use your eyes and ears to track down the inner mysteries of the Bloomenveldt, of course," Guy exclaimed as if addressing a dimwit. "you must use your nose to follow that which rides upon the wind! Surely you can see that?"
"I am not an imbecile, Guy!" I snapped back pettishly ... But can't you see that we would like as not lose our way therein if we attempted to doff our masks and follow a floral piper?"
"But you yourself have said we can always find the coast by following the sunrise," Guy pointed out slyly. "There will be little danger if we adhere to the terms of our traveling treaty. One of us to be the psychonaut, and the other the ground control. Remember! It was your idea, ne?"
"My idea? It was never my notion to travel unmasked, only to insure that one of us always retain reason if we paused now and again to sample the perfume of a flower!"
Guy stared angrily at me.
"What do you suggest then, that we give over our quest just when we have finally caught the scent of our quarry?"
I regarded him with no less pique, but when it came to formulating a cogent rejoinder, my wits failed me.
"Does the silence of the sphinx signal assent?" he persisted sarcastically. "Vraiment, enough, I take your silence for assent, whether that is your intent or not!" And so saying, before I could protest, he doffed his filter mask, took a deep breath, and regarded me triumphantly. "Voila, the intrepid psychonaut!, he declared. "Come, Sunshine, surely by your own lights, you cannot allow me to proceed without a ground control?"
And with that, he bounded off to the west, leaving me no choice but to follow him, muttering futile imprecations under my breath.
For the rest of the afternoon, Guy never paused long enough for me to hector him, but led us on a ragged zig-zag course generally westward, which is to say the direction logic had been taking us in the first place, before he decided to allow the backbrain to follow where the nose might lead it. And while I found his puissance as a tracker less than overwhelming, and his cavalier unilateralism boorish in the extreme, at length I was forced to admit that I could discern no obvious sign of danger.
Guy would drift down onto a leaf and kick off in his next leap apparently without conscious thought, though the direction of our vector would almost always alter slightly. In this manner, with Guy at the helm, did we proceed westward, like a sailboat tacking across unfelt breezes.
As the afternoon wore on, my anger attenuated as my curiosity began to come to the fore. What arcane scent was my foolhardy psychonaut following? What visions were wafting through his brain on the pheromonic wind? Or were we tacking this way and that to no coherent purpose?
Vraiment, if truth be told, by the time night began to fall, and prudence constrained even Guy to seek out a leaf well clear of any floral influences, my curiosity had taken on a certain envious tinge, for while I was not an imbecile, had I not readily enough owned to being a mystic libertine? Which is to say that I had never been one to stop short of orgasm in the throes of tantric bliss, nor, even in Nouvelle Orlean, had I been much for allowing even the most venturesome of swains to boast that they could go where I dare not follow.
As soon as we had broken out our concentrates, therefore, I quite forgot the ireful tirade I had been rehearsing to myself during the hot-blooded afternoon's journey, in favor of satisfying the curiosity which had come on with the glorious soul-stirring colors of the Bloomenveldt sunset.
But Guy, alas, from this vantage beyond the olfactory visions of the flowers, was hard put to render the memories thereof in the sprach of the poor quotidian ground control.
"It was as if ... It seemed as though ..." He shrugged, bit off a mouthful of concentrate, and chewed it down slowly before he tried again, as if trying to masticate some coherent verbal juices out of it. "Dilute residues of numerous faint far-off psychotropics in a liter or two of fine white wine and sip steadily at it as you gambol freely in the gardens of paradise ..." he declared extravagantly.
"While that may serve as an excellent recipe for achieving a simulation of the experience, it leaves something to be desired in the way of descriptive imagery," I complained.
Guy gave me a strange look then, a sad look, the look of someone struggling to regain the fading memory of a moment of satoric enlightenment.
"It cannot be described in imagery, no matter how puissant," he told me. "Vraiment, it would appear that the memory of what it was like cannot even attempt to express itself in the realm of maya, for now does it all seem like a wonderful dream, existing on a plane of consciousness one cannot even quite remember down here with the groundlings ..."
"With the groundlings?" I exclaimed. "Who are these groundlings to whom you are referring? There are only Guy Vlad Boca and Sunshine Shasta Leonardo alone here in the forest."
If truth be told, I was doubly vexed, first at his arrogant proclamations of visionary superiority, and worse, at the extent to which his characterization of my role as ground control cut at the truth.
"Is this the mystic libertine who now speaks?" Guy taunted challengingly. "Is this the true Child of Fortune's spirit? Will you now take your rightful turn as psychonaut on the morrow?"
"Certainement!" I declared without thinking, though not without wondering as soon as the words passed my lips whether I spoke with the true Spark or whether I was merely foolishly but inevitably rising to the bait of reckless masculine challenge.
Be that as it may, in the morning, after we breakfasted quickly and abluted ourselves with morning mist condensed in the cup of a nearby leaf, Guy donned the mask of ground control, and with a gallant little bow, invited me to assume the lead, and I took up the gauntlet.
As always, we had chosen our leaf for the night to be well clear of any strong floral eflluvia, so that when I inhaled deeply in search of a sign, I sensed little more than the rich odor of abundant greenery, the dawning savor of mist evaporating in warm sunlight, and vague undertones of hidden complexity to the vintage well below the sphere of conscious apprehension.
For lack of any more promising course of action, I put the rising sun at my back, adjusted my floatbelt to .1 g, and took off in a soaring leap to the due west.
As I rose upward, the heavy background odor of the greenery fell away like the thick shielding layers of a planet's lower atmosphere, and I found myself sniffing the rarefied ions of the psychostratosphere. In truth the molecules thereof were so dispersed up here at the apogee of my leap as to make the air seem almost odorless in contrast to the leafy aroma of the Bloomenveldt's surface.
But on the other hand, up here every flower seemed to have contributed a bit of its perfume to an incredibly complex but attenuated brew in which no single tropism could dominate. This melange of phantom odors seemed to go directly to the brain centers themselves, where it manifested itself as a faint psychic scent, the breath of the Bloomenveldt entire, like the whisperings of a million distant voices.
Vraiment, it was like a sip of well-diluted psychotropic wine, for there were exhilaration and unvoiced promises in the savor of the breath of the Enchanted Forest entire, though no pheromonic imperative stood out far enough to reach the conscious level of the mind, and none held sway long enough to be coherent even to the backbrain. Thus the spirit that chose to ride this most ethereal of breezes might be deflected this way and that by the molecule of the moment, like a monomer film riding the solar wind.
Which is to say that when I came down on a leaf, I twisted my body in a movement that would seem to have been derived from the ballistic inevitability of the moment, but which I nevertheless found to be deflecting my previous vector when in the same motion I pushed off.
The movement felt right, is all that I can really say about it, it seemed an inevitable step in the dance of faint floral essences in my mind, and in the dance of my spirit through the forest of flowers.
As the day wore on, I felt more at ease following the perfumed wind streaming through the unbound hair of my mind, more in harmony with Guy as well, indeed thankful to him for daring me to follow his brave example, for now I found myself trusting the caring spirit of the Bloomenveldt.
What reason was there to mistrust the spirit of a vegetative sapience whose own self-interest led it to design essences contrived to entice our delight? Why would such a symbiote do its partners harm ?
For in the complex perfume high above the Bloomenveldt one could sense the moral neutrality of the flowers. If, as the baba said, the Bloomenveldt eventually offered each spirit its perfect flower, then did it not also follow that one could not succumb to other than the bloom of one's own perfected destiny?
Thus did I flitter vaporously for untold golden summer hours through the treetops of the Bloomenveldt like a blithe butterfly dancing joyously among the great and noble flowers.
But as the sun began to slide down from its zenith, I came down from the apogee of my latest porpoise leap through the psychotropic clouds, suddenly seized by a compulsion that had me twisting my body in an attempt to alter my ballistic trajectory in midair, which is to say a powerful odor had all at once emerged from the background, a wonderful aroma that beckoned insistently to the back reaches of my brain with extravagant promises of both perfect peace and sexual ecstasy, as if this perfume were compounded of both lotus and forthrightly erotic musk.
I came down on the next leaf somewhat clumsily, for my attempt at midair course correction was less than totally successful, just as my awareness of what I was doing had not quite yet caught up with the act itself. I bounded off again, not for maximum distance, but on a shallow arc which I now comprehended would take me to the source of the perfume, though as to why I would want to do such a thing, this was a motivational nicety which at that moment I could not quite conceptualize.
I landed on an apron of leaves upon which grew three flowers of the same species, separated each from the other by some dozen meters. Each was a towering tubular bloom whose tall and partially folded petals were colored a vibrant rose streaked with markings of an equally vibrant royal blue. The pollen-heavy blue heads of stamens peered up through the pursed floral lips at the apexes of the flowers like buds in the mouths of tall elegant vases.
This botanic detail by way of considered hindsight, for I noticed hardly anything at the time save an overwhelming bouquet of belonging and the humans clustered around each flower.
There were more of them than we had yet seen together on the Bloomenveldt before, a least a dozen, four or five to a flower. More of them than not were still adorned by scraps of civilized rags and had the overstuffed look we had so frequently seen.
But there was a far more splendid breed of human among them, nude and lithely perfect examples of both genders of our species, who stood with a proud erectness and moved with an animal grace which made it quite clear that they had never known the clothes or malaises of civilization. Vraiment, they were like a brood of avid athletes innocently chiding a congress of sybaritic gourmands with their noble bodily perfection.
All this I perceived in a gestalted instant, along with the overwhelming longing to be one of their company. Fortunately, however, Guy had caught up with me, and before I could lope forward, he had me in an embrace as much of triumphant joy as of restraint.
"You've done it, Sunshine!" he exulted. "You've found the Bloomenkinder!"
So it would appear I had. As I stood there struggling against Guy's embrace which was preventing me from achieving my joyous floral destiny on the one hand, and grateful for same in the higher centers of my mind on the other, I was enabled thereby to both sense the reality with nostrils entirely under its pheromonic thrall, and view it from another perspective as a forcibly detached observer.
Two of the Bloomenkinder, if such they were, and two of the civilized revertees, sat around the base of one of the flowers gorging on clusters of large, purple, ovoid fruit, and my mouth watered its demand to gobble its succulence. A similarly integrated group seemed to be waiting at the base of the furthest flower for some unimaginable event. More of both styles of humans dozed hypnogogically around the base of the third flower, whose perfume spoke to me of the pleasures of dreamless slumber. Then all at once, or rather with a rapid but stately vegetative grace, the furthest flower peeled open to lay itself out into a luxurious carpeted mat before those humans who had apparently been awaiting just this occurrence. Forthwith, they laid themselves down on the floral carpet, and began copulating in varying figures with gay abandon, and while what reason remained found this performance a less than artful spectacle, my loins were possessed of an entirely more avid opinion.
Vraiment, my nostrils were assailed and enticed by a roil of conflicting imperatives, and mayhap it was only the concern now evident in Guy's eyes, or the power of his embrace, or some inner reservoir of resource which both gave me the moral will to possess, that enabled me to make my hands put on my mask.
I stood there hyperventilating for several moments as the perfumes cleared like a dense fog bank under a hot rising sun from the hollows and copses of my brain.
Then I saw that Guy. perhaps taking this as a sign that I merely wished to exchange functions, was about to remove his own filter mask.
"No!" I shouted, clawing his fingers away from the straps. "Under no circumstances! I was only barely able ... I was about to ..."
Confronted with the force and anguish of my determination, Guy for once relented. "Are these not the fabled Bloomenkinder?" he said in a poutish puzzled voice. "Is this not the Perfumed Garden?"
"These may be the fabled Bloomenkinder," I told him with all the firmness I could muster, "but certainement this is not the Perfumed Garden! Far from being exalted or subtle, these flowers exude overwhelming perfumes which induce crude and basic desires no more enlightened than the fulfillment thereof which you now observe. Only if your notion of perfection is to spend the rest of your life cycling between gorging on the same fruit, torpid unconsciousness, and brute mindless copulation, should you breathe this unfiltered air!"
"But at least these may indeed be true Bloomenkinder!" Guy insisted. "At the very least, we must attempt to question them!"
This I could hardly deny, though I was a good deal less than sanguine about our ability to entice these tribespeople of the Bloomenveldt into coherent discourse.
At first, we took the path of least resistance, and attempted to rouse the sleepers from their torpor with halloos, and then shouts. But the most we could induce by these methods was the heavy peeling of an eyeball for a brief indifferent moment.
Since intruding upon an abandoned orgy for the purpose of prying away participants to willingly submit to interrogation seemed hardly practical, we repaired to the banquet of purple fruit in hopes of inducing some idle table talk.
Four tribespeople squatted on their haunches devouring great mouthfuls of fruit by the less than elegant procedure of holding the juicy ovoids up to their mouths with both hands, chomping off bites of the dripping fruit as large as their jaws could encompass, and wolfing them down with an energetic series of gobbles. Two of these were obese men still festooned with raggy tatters, whose manner of dining seemed slobbery and distasteful. Yet the other two, male and female Bloomenkinder, who by any ergonomic measure were performing precisely the same movements to precisely the same practical effect, seemed no more ill-bred in the act thereof than moussas methodically dealing with berries.
None of them reacted to our approach with startlement or flight or territorial outrage, nor, on the other hand, did any of them offer food or greeting. The long and short of it was that, despite the appearance of these bizarre auslanders in their midst, they all continued to eat in the same tranquilly obsessive manner.
"Any brilliant bon mots, Guy? I confess that I am at a loss for a suitable conversational entree into these social circles."
Guy shrugged. "Manners, at any rate, would seem to be redundant." So saying, he fairly thrust his face upon one of the fat fellows and spoke loudly, insistently, and slowly, as one might address a very young child or a rather recalcitrant parrot. "The ... Perfumed ... Garden ...We ... seek ... the ... Perfumed Garden ... Do ... you ... know ... the ... Perfumed ... Garden?"
The man went so far as to raise his gaze from the fruit to meet Guy's, though this did not at all disturb the gulping rhythm of his feeding.
"The Perfumed Garden! The Perfumed Garden"' Guy chanted, hand-signaling me to join his efforts. "The Perfumed Garden! The Perfumed Garden!"
At length, indeed at considerable length, our chanting drew forth a tenuous echo, much as the same procedure might eventually provoke mimicry from a talking bird or enhance the vocabulary of an infant. "Perfumed Garden ... Perfumed Garden ..." But rather than seeming to acquire a new sound, the man, blinking rapidly and giving over his chewing for a moment, seemed to be struggling to regain the sound of a distant memory.
"The Perfumed Garden," I said syncopatedly, and then added two more beats to the rhythm. "We seek the Perfumed Garden ..."
"We ... seek ... the Perfumed Garden ... Seek ... the ... Perfumed Garden ... Seek ... the ... Perfumed ...Garden ...Seek ... the ... Perfumed ... Garden ..."
Meaning seemed to slowly leach into his parroting of the syllables and a certain dim sapience seemed to return to his eyes. He had stopped eating now, and the dripping fruit lay limply in his hands. "Seek the Perfumed Garden," he seemed to say more decisively, nodding his head almost imperceptibly as if agreeing with the wisdom of this proposition.
Having given our venture this blessing, it would seem that he had dealt with the matter to his own satisfaction, for he forthwith returned to his single-minded devouring of the purple fruit.
"The Perfumed Garden"' Guy cried, shaking the fellow back into attention by the shoulders. "Where is it?" The obese fellow seemed to exhibit no ill temper at this admittedly boorish behavior, nor did any of his table mates pay the matter any more heed than they had our verbal hectoring. indeed, the tribesman almost seemed to manage a sort of smile.
"Bloomenkinder ... Bloomenkinder ..." he chanted, directing our attention via a glance of his eyes to the nearby examples of same.
"Ask the Bloomenkinder?" Guy demanded. "Ask the Bloomenkinder? Is that your meaning, ask the Bloomenkinder?" "Ask the Bloomenkinder! Ask the Bloomenkinder"' the tribesman chanted, and then, having delivered up this advice, if such it was, he returned to his fruit and could not be roused to speak again even by shouting and shaking.
Shrugging, I addressed the nearest of the Bloomenkinder, a lovely female creature with taut bronzed flesh, long streaming blonde hair, a beatific smile, and lambently vacant blue eyes. "We seek the Perfumed Garden," I said, feeling rather foolish. "Is it true that you know where it lies?"
The sound of my voice caused her to look up at me for a moment, but for all the sapient response I saw in that transcendently tranquil face, I might have been addressing one of the equally beautiful and equally vapid flowers.
Nor did the male of the species prove any more responsive, though no doubt had the petals of the flower at that moment opened and the perfume d'amour blown forth, it would have been an entirely different matter. And despite my intellectual repugnance for sexual congress with insensate creatures, I almost wished they would, for seldom had I seen such a specimen of obvious animal virility.
Be that as it may, the injunction to ask the Bloomenkinder seemed some kind of dim Bloomenveldt irony, for the true Bloomenkinder seemed totally beyond responding to any verbal interrogation.
By this time the sun was beginning to sink toward the horizon, and the deepening shadows of impending twilight were beginning to spread across the foliage, casting a definite waning westering perspective over the endless veldt, in which all the dappled shadowy paths led toward sunset.
"Ask the Bloomenkinder!" I declared. "One might as well ask a marble statue!"
But even as I spoke, even as the leafy glade and its three flowers were bathed in the slanting amber light of late afternoon, the petals of the flower of copulation began to slowly fold upwards as all tantric exercises ceased. The humans left their floral boudoir to stand before it in motionless silence. So too did those among whom we stood cease their masticating, let fall the remains of their fruit, and rise slowly to their feet.
A few moments later, all those who had come to the Enchanted Forest from the worlds of men moved measuredly toward the flower where five such folk were already sleeping and joined them in the land of nod in less time than it takes to tell.
But the Bloomenkinder! Ah, the Bloomenkinder!
Wherever they had been when the floral clock had rung down day's end, so did they stand there now, and so would they stand until the sun's disc had bisected the horizon. And all of them stood there like sunflowers, staring due west along precisely the same vector, transfixed by the sunset, or mayhap turning toward that Mecca whose direction we had indeed been told only the Bloomenkinder knew.
And when we too had found our own leafy nest for the Bloomenveldt night, Guy proclaimed his unshakable conviction that the Bloomenkinder had indeed answered our question.
"Certainement, these Bloomenkinder must be in spiritual rapport with some lost Eden of theirs to the west," he insisted.
"Mayhap their genes are merely coded with some kind of tropic memory ..." I suggested dubiously.
"La meme chose, for the further into the Bloomenveldt we penetrate, the more highly evolved the floral forms in terms of their intimate involvement with the psyches of their humans, and since these Bloomenkinder are clearly more perfectly attuned to the spirit of the forest than any other folk we have yet encountered, they must therefore derive from lands to the west. At any rate, we must certainly proceed in the direction they commend to our attention, for if such as the Perfumed Garden exists, who but the Bloomenkinder can possibly show us the way?"
"No doubt," I said, "but the way to what?"
"To what?" exclaimed Guy. "To the most puissant psychotropics the Bloomenveldt has evolved from contact with our species! To the Perfumed Garden!"
"If such in fact exists," I replied, not by now sure whether I wished to attain this ultima Thule of his or feared that we would.
"Well then at least to the heart of the matter," Guy said, finally seeing that my enthusiasm in no way matched his own, though in no way giving it over for an instant. "In any event, it is my turn to be the psychonaut when we travel on tomorrow."
Thus did we indeed journey onward in the morning, with myself masked and following Guy, and Guy following whatever it was that came to him on the wind.
Until some time past noon, he bounded from leaf to leaf with long, high, straight leaps calculated to cover as much distance as rapidly as possible, and we proceeded in this manner due west with no tacking at all, as if by act of will he had determined to steer this steady course through the vapors.
Then, in the early afternoon, his leaps began to shorten, and the path we followed became more erratic. Several times he would leap directly upward, hang inhaling deeply at the top of his arc, and come down not a dozen meters from his point of departure. At length, his leaps became shorter but surer, and now we were running over the leaves like explorers loping over the low- gravity surface of an asteroid, zigging and zagging this way and that without any logical consideration, as if Guy were following some invisible trail like a hound on a scent.
Then all at once he slowed, and then stopped, and then stood there on a leaf peering motionlessly at something obscured from my vision by a dip in the terrain as I came up beside him.
And beheld the village, if so such a thing may be styled, of the Bloomenkinder.
Within the shallow dell of great branches immediately below us, an entire subbranch supporting as many as a hundred leaves had burst into bloom. There were at least a dozen flowers growing within meters of each other, so that the effect was almost that of a flower bed planted in an overgrown lawn. And there were several species of flower intermingling in this Bloomenveldt garden. There were brilliant pink cups like enormous open mouths whose petals were streaked with black, and flowers which were the inverse color image of same. There were flowers that consisted mostly of conelike mounds of yellow pollen, and flowers that were mostly tall white petals. There were hanging clusters of lavender bells, and puffballs bursting with a profusion of rainbow hues.
And there were Bloomenkinder moving amongst the flowers, perhaps two score of them, engaged in what at least from a distance seemed almost like the varied quotidian tasks of typical village life.
Guy stood there with an utterly tranquil bliss painted across his face. "Beautiful ..." he sighed. "Perfect ..." I caught him by the hand as he began to drift forward.
"Guy! Guy! What's happening to you?"
Guy seemed to struggle with his words, even as he struggled against my restraint.
"Can't you feel it, Sunshine?" he burbled ecstatically. "The rightness of all creation ... The great wheel slowly turning in harmony with the music of the spheres ..."
He paused, blinking. He turned to favor me with the most radiant smile. "Fear not, ma chere," he said softly and with utterly tranquil certainty, "no harm can come to us in this Garden of Perfection."
Never had I seen Guy Vlad Boca so seemingly at peace with his own spirit, vraiment such was the calm clarity he fairly exuded, and such was the undeniable visual beauty of the village of the Bloomenkinder, that I allowed him to lead me forward among the flowers, among the perfect Bloomenkinder, with their clear and empty eyes, their magnificent unveiled physiques, and their innocent animal grace.
The Bloomenkinder moved about from flower to flower slowly and gracefully, never seeming to impede each other's movements, yet never seeming to need to step aside to avoid doing so, as if moving as parts of a single organism, or more aptly perhaps as if following a carefully crafted choreography in their waltz among the flowers.
Their eyes betrayed awareness of us just as they betrayed a certain positional awareness of each other. They seemed to regard us as natural obstacles, to be adroitly avoided with calm adjustments of their dance, but paid us no further heed. Vraiment, I too believed now that no harm could come to us here, for it was as if I were walking down a street in a dream, wrapped in a voyeuristic cloak of invisibility, incapable of being harmed on the one hand, and incapable of social intercourse with the citizens of this land of nod on the other.
But certainement, never in my dreams had I ever wandered through such a venue as this.
Here, as in our previous experience, there were flowers where tantric exercises were taking place, flowers serving as refectories and floral dream chambers, and a pheromonic clockwork could easily enough be perceived circulating the Bloomenkinder between the phases of the cycle.
But here the flowers were so many and the species thereof so varied, and the resultant complexity they evoked in the I behavior of their humans so recomplicated that one could not be entirely certain that the dance of the Bloomenkinder was not informed by sapience.
Three different fruits and at least two nectars were offered up by the flowers of this garden. Clusters of head-sized black berries grew at the base of the lavender bells. Both the pink cups and their black negative images grew amidst shaggy white melons, and both were filled with syrupy fluid. Long tubular fruit grew from the base of the tall white flowers. Some of these same flowers were exuding perfumes of lazy repose, so that Bloomenkinder dozed amidst the fruit, and some of them were the venues of abandoned yet somehow stately tantric tableaus, figures of considerable complexity being enacted without crushing so much as a single berry.
Moreover, the floral sequences seemed to cycle with balanced regularity, as if, like conscientious parents, the flowers sought to discourage bouts of obsessive excess. Rather than gorge themselves to torpor on a single fruit or nectar, the Bloomenkinder would wander from that flower to this, sampling the various courses and sipping at the vintages, like diners at a buffet.
Even in the sexual realm, variations were in evidence which at least raised the question of sapient style. There were short, intense, recomplicated figures involving any number of participants in frenetic multiplex interpenetrations, which sustained themselves for only a few minutes. There were smaller and more stable groupings which might go on at some length, and even dyads of conventional lovers.
"One might almost believe that these are revelers at some abandoned fete circulating between the smorgasbord and the boudoir," I whispered to Guy as we wandered wonderingly through this Bloomenkinder garden.
"Well spoken!" Guy declared grandly. "For do we not behold that very paradise of which the bodhis speak, where perfect innocents enjoy an endless soiree of tantric and sensual delights and strife and toil are forever banished?"
"The bodhis speak of a spiritual parameter to nirvana as well," I reminded him. "For surely there is more to it than endless toxicated carnival."
"Vraiment," Guy said. "Can you not smell the state of perfect spiritual harmony in which these fortunate people exist, the animal grace of every move, their beatific visages. Is this not the ultimate state all men seek?"
"Je ne sais pas ..." I said. "I see harmony and grace, vraiment, but I have no wish to become a member of this perfected company."
"Nor I, alas," Guy said quite regretfully, "for since we can never be innocently perfect Bloomenkinder, these cannot be our perfect flowers." His visage brightened. "But does it not promise a Garden of more sapient Perfection for such as we further on in the psychic interior? Ah, Sunshine, I can smell it on the wind ..."
Vraiment even I could at least dimly perceive the allure of this promise, for who could deny that I indeed beheld the possibility of a certain sort of human perfection?
For the Bloomenkinder, if one granted them awareness at all, must indeed exist in a state of perpetual bliss. Had not their desires been reduced to sex, food, drink, and repose, were these not met with immediate gratification as soon as they were aroused by the perfumes of the proprietors? Did they not sleep and eat and make love with the perfect wu of zen archers?
Which is to say that even masked I could feel the beneficence of the Bloomenveldt, the care it seemed to take for the animal happiness of its charges. Who was to say that somewhere deeper in its heart that puissant concern did not extend to the sapient spirit, for had we not already encountered flowers which would seem to have gifted the dying babas with the vision of enlightenment to illumine their final hours?
So did I slide into a dreamy state myself, so was I almost tempted to remove my filter mask and breathe the perfume of this fairyland garden, so did I consider asking now for my own turn as psychonaut, so was I all but seduced by the forest spirit.
Until at length we happened to pass close by one of the great rainbow-hued puffballs.
Upon close inspection, this flower proved to be compounded of thousands of tiny blooms of red, blue, green, yellow, or mixed tints thereof, gathered together to form a round fluffy hedge atop a short thick stalk surrounded by an apron of thick, mossy, yellow pollen.
Upon this floral blanket crawled two chubby, torpid, naked human infants, entirely unattended, which struck me as the height of parental irresponsibility and hardly indicative of enlightened beings.
But when I examined the stalk of the puffball more closely, I saw the ultimate extent to which the Bloomenkinder had surrendered their spirits to the flowers.
Around the circumference of the stalk grew a ring of bright pink mounded protuberances which dimpled out at their centers into tiny tubular carmine teats. And teats they were in more than metaphor, for suckling on three of them, eyes closed in gurgling pleasure and squirming slowly in delighted contentment, were three more human infants.
Upon confronting this ghastly example of vegetative motherhood, I fairly dragged Guy away from the flower. "Put on your mask!" I hissed. "We must talk at once in the cold clear light of day."
"I have no wish to put on my mask," Guy said airily.
"That is exactly the problem," I snapped, in no mood to take no for an answer, and I reinforced my words with tugs and kicks and frowns and gesticulations, as I shepherded Guy out of the village of the Bloomenkinder, and if he had not been persuaded by the agitated determination of my will, I might very well have essayed a resort to brute force.
"Mask yourself!" I demanded when I had gotten him to a leaf well clear of floral influences. "I do believe this has gone more than far enough!"
"Certainly not"' Guy replied in a tone of infuriating tranquility ."Indeed, why do you not toss aside your own forthwith, for upon so doing, you will never wish to filter out the perfumes of paradise again ..."
"Merde, Guy, just listen to yourself!" I fairly snarled. "Proof enough that it's time we gave over this mad quest and returned eastward to the coast!"
"Quelle chose!" he exclaimed. "Return to the coast? Give over our quest? When we are this close to attaining the ultimate object thereof!"
"To attaining what?" I snapped. "Surely not even you wish to become an empty Bloomenkind of the forest, blissfully content to mindlessly copulate, eat fruit, and sleep, while your sentience is given over to the pheromonic massage of your backbrain, and your offspring suckle at vegetative teats!"
"Of course not," Guy said airily. "Here I smell only perfect flowers for perfect Bloomenkinder. The Perfumed Garden of our perfection must surely lie deeper within."
"Phagh!" I snorted. "How much more such perfection do you require? Do not these Bloomenkinder satisfy your criteria of perfect symbiotic union with their flowers? They eat, sleep, and copulate at the behest of their floral overseers in a state of blissful surrender thereto, and rather than drink the milk of imperfect human sentience, they are weaned on the sap of the lotus!"
"Vraiment, the flowers lovingly husband the welfare of their humans ..."
"At the price of their human spirits, a pact known to be a devilish bargain since our ancestors climbed down from their trees!"
"Devilish bargain?" scoffed Guy. "Have we not seen flowers who offer molecules of enlightenment to dying humans in their hour of need? How much more proof of the Bloomenveldt's love for our species can you require?"
"Merde!" I exclaimed, having long since had enough of this futile dialectic. "Will you not return to the coast with me now?" I said, knowing full well the answer, for all too clearly his vaporous whim was set in iron.
"Will you now refuse to go forward with me into the glorious promise of the Bloomenveldt's heart?"
We stood there alone in the Enchanted Forest, each attempting to stare the other down at this fateful karmic nexus.
"If I insist on turning back, will you go on alone?" I at length demanded in a fury.
"If I insist on going forward, will you return alone?" Guy rejoined in a smug tone of tranquil sweetness.
"Will you not at least don your mask?" I pleaded despairingly.
"Will you not now doff yours so that as comrades, lovers, and true Children of Fortune, we may breathe the perfumes of paradise as a single perfect spirit?"
"Hijo de caga, nom de merde"' I snarled, admitting with as perfect a vacuum of good grace as I could muster that he had won.
For while Guy may have been bluffing, while he might in the end have followed me had I turned my back and strode eastward boldly, I knew full well that I could not fail to follow him if he turned his back on me. For not only did my cowardly aspect dread the thought of lone travel on the Bloomenveldt, but my more heroic nature could not abandon a comrade spirit in the jungle whether or not that spirit would have been ready to abandon me to follow his star, and no matter how much ire I now felt against him.
And to turn the screw of my frustrated fury a notch tighter, I knew full well that Guy had been able to win this contest of wills precisely because he knew this too.
And so I found myself following Guy ever deeper into the Bloomenveldt, or rather being dragged along like a small girl leashed to a large hound hot upon a scent.
For the rest of the day, Guy bounded along in great leaps to the west, pausing only to take his high hanging jumps from time to time to sniff at the air, like just such a hound following a pheromonic trail through a realm of perception wherein the bold relief of the olfactory topography belied the apparently featureless plain of the eye's vision.
By the time we stopped for the night, I was in a foul and sullen humor indeed and hardly in any mood for discourse with the likes of him, mystic or otherwise.
But Guy Vlad Boca read nothing of this in either my mien or my silence. Vraiment, he hardly gave over his blissful babblement even while eating and drinking, he noticed not the perfect one- sidedness of the conversation, indeed I could not be entirely sure that he even noticed my existence, so toxicated was he with the glories of the perfumed visions with which his brain was so thoroughly besotted.
"... I know it is there now, for I can taste it calling to me on the wind, faint but surging with power, as one may sense the life-giving waters of a mighty river flowing unseen and unheard not so far away in the forest, the great river of the Bloomenveldt spirit flowing around me and through me, carrying me away in the loving embrace of its clear blue waters ..."
Und so endless weiter. Indeed by the time we had finished our meal and I could look forward to the nighttime surcease of consciousness, it was hard to be sure who or what spoke, for Guy by now was not even looking at me as he declaimed, rather did his eyes abruptly shift randomly from focus to focus like those of a nervous rodent, or worse, like the eyes of a man in the throes of some arcane possession. So too did his voice take on a deep and almost syrupy timbre which I had never heard before, and the pronoun of the first person had vanished from the repertoire of his Lingo.
"... home to the spirit's safe harbor in the ancestral forest, back to the long-lost garden, forward into the perfume of perfect bliss, when you were Bloomenkinder of the Earth in the innocent spirit's grace, the great wheel turns, and the rain returns to the sea, and the many return to the one from whence they came and that moment is forever ..."
There I lay in the darkness longing for sleep while Guy, or whatever dybbuk of the wood spoke through him, assailed me and the night with these visions in a hypnogogic voice which at length had me finding myself hearkening to them, hearing in them the whispered blandishments of some long lost lover.
Vraiment, I found myself erotically aroused, as if about to be enthralled by some incubus. Alors, when I became aware of this state, my present distaste for the person of Guy Vlad Boca was overcome by both endocrine imperative and the need to do whatever had to be done to still that insinuating voice.
Which is to say, I thumbed on my ring of Touch and forthrightly applied it to the handle of the natural man.
But the same would not rise to the occasion, my own best efforts and the puissant craft of Leonardo to the contrary! For all my efforts, I might have been massaging a carrot. Indeed such a tuber would in fact have been an improvement when it came to firmness of form.
But when at limply endless length I had succeeded in falling into a frustrated, fearful, and petulant sleep, I was rudely awoken by Guy, who had already set to work with a virile vigor and not so much as a by-your-leave.
Never had Guy Vlad Boca been such a puissant lover, never had he taken unto himself such a machismo of command, for he persisted silently and remorselessly against my outrage, which was soon somewhat diminished in conviction by my hours of sexual constriction and the entirely uncharacteristic tantric mastery of his assault.
Vraiment it was an overweening assumption of the most primitive masculine prerogative, but under the circumstances, it became rather difficult to maintain the proper feminine outrage in the face of an endless succession of mighty ecstatic cusps, each one a greater relief than the last, each one propelling me further down the merciful black velvet path of sweet oblivion, until I expired into the arms of sleep and my demon Bloomenveldt lover.
The morning after, naturellement, it was quite another matter. "What got into you last night, Guy Vlad Boca?" I shouted at him upon awakening and disentangling myself from his embrace with a vigor that entirely disregarded the sanctity of his slumber. "How dare you force yourself upon me against all my protests to the contrary!"
Guy, upon awakening to this loud indignation, favored me with a smile of radiant innocence.
"Alors," I said angrily, but not without a certain ambiguous embarrassment, "now you will grin at me like a simian and tell me how much I enjoyed it!"
"Enjoyed what?" Guy said, regarding me with the same shining visage of innocent ignorance.
Could it be that this ignorance of all unchivalrous behavior was not feigned? Vraiment, did Guy Vlad Boca have this perfect power to artlessly dissemble under even the best of circumstances?
"It's really true, Guy?" I said, studying him closely for any sign of irony. "You remember nothing?"
Guy slowly rose to a sitting position. Still smiling the same bodhi smile, he turned his face from me to look westward across the endless ethereal Bloomenveldt, pastelled to ghostly luminescence as the rising sun only began to burn away the morning mist.
"I remember what the Bloomenkinder know," he said in that same strange basso profundo as he clumsily scrabbled to his feet, still gazing fixedly to the west like a Bloomenkind at sunset.
Entirely distractedly, he began cramming his effects into his pack, not for a moment giving up his visionary fixation.
In a panic, I stuffed my own pack as best I was able, for Guy was already hoisting his in less time than it takes to tell, and poising for a great leap westward.
Then off he went without so much as another word, and I was reduced to catching up as best I could, bounding along in Guy's train once more as he sniffed and snuffled across the Bloomenveldt. Vraiment, and in the canine manner, he seemed to grow ever more excited as he bayed along the trails of scent.
By midafternoon, he began to veer off to the southwest in a jerky series of tacks. And then, two or three hours later, his behavior grew even more frenetic, like that of a hound brought the first full whiff of the scent of his quarry on a change in the wind.
He came down from one of his leaps with a rigid, narrow-eyed alertness, and stood quite frozen like that on a leaf, as if to await my arrival. But as it turned out, a sudden return of his lost gallantry had nothing to do with it, for when I arrived at his side he entirely ignored my presence and continued to stare fixedly along the vector of his own nose. No doubt had he been equipped with a tail, it would have pointed out straight behind him.
"What is it, Guy?" I demanded. "I see nought but the usual endless leaves and flowers." For indeed that was all there was to be seen, not even a Bloomenkinder garden was in evidence.
"A grand and mighty spirit summoning its true children home," said that dybbuk voice through Guy Vlad Boca's lips. "The spirit of once and future flowers."
"Quelle chose, Guy, before you succumb to such a puissant tropism as you describe, put your mask on at --"
But without another word, he was off in a great leap directly along the point of his fixed vision, and I was constrained to follow at once or risk losing sight of him entirely.
Nor did I have much space for thought for the next hour, for all my efforts were of necessity dedicated to negotiating leaps of sufficient force and rapidity to keep Guy in sight as he bounded across the Bloomenveldt at the greatest speed of which his efforts were capable. Nor did he seem to have any further doubts as to the precise vector of his destiny, for his course now had the geometric inevitability of a ballistic trajectory .
And then, at the apogee of one of my own leaps, I thought I spied an anomaly on the horizon exactly on the compass point toward which Guy was heading, no more than the first hint of land that one perceives after a voyage on an open ocean.
I made my next leap shorter and higher, trying to gain as lofty a vantage as possible without being left behind. Vraiment, there was something there, just on the line of the horizon, a splash of colors and shapes.
But I had no time to pause for thought when I alighted from this crow's nest in the air, for Guy was pulling away from me already, and I had had to maximize my speed to catch up to him, indeed to merely keep him in sight. So I paused not for another clear view of whatever it was we were approaching by leaps and bounds until after quite a chase across the treetops, and indeed I only managed to catch up with him at all when he was brought up short by a sight that transfixed us both.
We stood together on a tall hillock of foliage looking out over a long shallow dip in the Bloomenveldt. The center of this plain in the treetops rose gently into another highland formed by the elevated crown of a single great tree.
In an overwhelming display of floral exuberance, the entire great treecrown had burst into flower, like a proud peacock displaying his full brilliant glory among the quotidian arboreal fowl.
"Behold, oh ye true children of the Enchanted Forest," said a voice that in that moment seemed to speak for both my by-now-long-lost lover and that which had claimed him. "Behold the Perfumed Garden."