Sunday, October 23, 2011

Coming soon: "The Fountain of Eden: A Myth of Birth, Death, and Beer"

I love mythology. Myth, and story in all its formats tugs at something intrinsic and true lodged deep in my mind that cannot be seen directly or grasped or fully explained but is alive and pulsing and there.

I love beer too. Who in the sixteen lesser hells doesn't?

I plead the Fifth on the whole "birth and death" issue, though I doubt the Fifth helped me on the way in and I know it won't on the way out.

"The Fountain of Eden: A Myth of Birth, Death, and Beer" brims over with creatures and characters drawn from world mythology and folklore who converge on a modern-day Virginia tourist town when a local brewery concocts a beer called Hoppy Heaven Ale.

Hoppy Heaven Ale's main ingredient: the Water of Life.

In the "flashback scene" below, the novel's protagonist, Jack Whiskey (aka Wesakaychak), realizes that he is a mythological being who has been pretending to be human for so long that he has forgotten his mythical origins. The "earth-diver" and "World Turtle" motifs found in the segment can also be found in various American Indian Creation myths.

He awoke on the shell of a turtle, surrounded by water.
Finally awake, I see,” said the turtle.
Y-yes.” He sat up, still with no clue as to who—much less what, where, when, why, or how—he was. “The last thing I remember was this giant wave washing over me, and then . . . nothing.” He looked around. “Where am I?”
You’re lying on my shell,” said the turtle.
I know that.” He waved his arms around and about at the endless expanse of blue-green water. “What I meant was, where are we?”
We’re drifting upon the Great Ocean, which now covers the entirety of the Earth. The Great Wave sent by Earthmaker has destroyed the First World and the First People—except for you and me, that is. But perhaps there’s someone else around here somewhere or other.”
He looked around. There was still nothing in sight but sea.
And who are you?”
My name is Turtle,” said Turtle.
So, Turtle, do you know who I am?”
You’re Wesakaychak, or Wisagatcak, or Wisakedjak, or Weesack-kachack. From what I understand, you go by many names.” A mischievous twinkle flared up in Turtle's eye. “What—you don’t remember?”
Wesakaychak shook his head. “No. I feel as though I’ve just woken up from a long, confusing dream.”
Turtle smiled. “Well, perhaps it will all come back to you in time.”
The conversation dried up not long after this exchange. Throughout the passing days there was really nothing to say except: “Hey, do you see that massive whitecap over there?” or “Oh, wow, there’s a big fluffy cloud in the sky!” or “Man, is that sun hot today, or what?”
So Turtle floated on, Wesakaychak upon his shell, and let the ocean currents take them wherever they might. They drifted for days on end, which turned into weeks on end, which turned into months on end, without sighting the merest pinch of land.
Just when Wesakaychak was beginning to consider flinging himself overboard and going through a quick death by drowning rather than drifting forever upon the endless ocean on the back of an uncommunicative turtle, he spied a speck of something in the distance, floating above the waves.
Hey, do you see that?”
Indeed,” said Turtle. “I wonder what it could be?”
Let’s go check it out.”
Turtle swam towards the speck, which turned out to be a beaver, swimming atop the crests, splashing and playing and slapping his big fat tail on the water.
Hey,” said Wesakaychak, “what’s going on?”
Just chilling out, having a swim,” said the beaver.
What’s your name?”
Name’s Beaver.”
A fitting name.”
Thanks, dude.”
Say, Beaver, do you want to come with us? I’m Wesakaychak and this is Turtle, and we’re looking for land.”
I guess so. But I don’t think there’s any land anymore. I think it’s all just ocean now.”
Well, you never know,” said Wesakaychak. “There might be some somewhere. Keep hope alive, my toothy little brother. So are you coming?”
Beaver shrugged and scrabbled up onto Turtle’s shell.
A week or nine later, long after Wesakaychak had grown bored with Beaver’s company, Turtle spied another speck in the distance. The speck soon formed into an otter, another creature who had survived the Great Flood. The furry one floated with its back on the sea, taking a nap on the blue-green water.
Ahoy there,” said Wesakaychak. “What’s up with you?”
Nada, broseph,” said the otter, wiping sleep from his eyes. “What’s up with you kids?”
We’re drifting on the Great Ocean looking for land. What’s your name?”
Otter,” said Otter.
Well, I guess I should’ve seen that one coming,” said Wesakaychak. “Do you want to come with us, Otter? We could use the company; perhaps it will enliven the conversation a bit.”
Otter shrugged and scrambled up onto Turtle’s shell with Wesakaychak and Beaver.
After another spell of aimless floating, Wesakaychak was again growing bored with his present company. But just as he was again contemplating willingly walking the shell, he spotted another distant speck. It soon formed into a small green duck with an orange bill, floating upon the swell of the sea.
Hey there, little buddy,” said Wesakaychak. “What’s shaking at this end of the pond?”
Not a thing. Isn’t it obvious?” said the duck, looking around at the endless ocean. “What are you jokers doing?”
We’re searching for land. Wait, wait, let me guess. Your name is Duck.”
Wrong, friend. My name is Bill.”
Well, I didn’t see that one coming,” said Wesakaychak, rolling his eyes. “Anyways . . . Bill . . . do you want to kick it on the shell with us?”
Bill shrugged and flapped up onto the shell.
A few weeks later, Wesakaychak was growing sore and stiff because he no longer had room to stretch his legs. He had tried to do so on multiple occasions. On one attempt he had tripped over Bill and fallen into the ocean, and had to be rescued from drowning by his shellmates. Afterwards, everybody had a good long laugh at his inability to swim.
Hey, move over a little,” he said to Beaver, laying across his legs.
Hey, get off me,” he said to Otter, leaning on his arm.
Hey, get out of my hair,” he said to Bill, taking a nap atop his cranium.
The three creatures shrugged and dived into the sea for a swim, and Wesakaychak sighed. He stretched out on Turtle's shell, stared up at the bluer-than-blue sky, and thought bluer-than-blue thoughts. He hoped they would find land soon, because he wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on pointlessly drifting on the Great Ocean before he went insane with boredom.
Turtle noticed his friend's moroseness and said, “Wesakaychak, you do know that you can make land, don't you? If that’s what you really want to do.”
What’s that?” said Wesakaychak, only half-listening. “How can I make land?”
Well, you can’t create something out of nothing—only Earthmaker has that power. But you do have the power to expand something that’s already been created—make it bigger, you know.”
Is that so?”
Turtle nodded. “It is.”
Wesakaychak thought for a moment. “The problem with your theory is that we’ve been drifting across this Great Ocean for months on end without seeing the merest speck of dirt or twig of olive. And if there is no land to expand, there is no way to expand the land.”
Turtle chuckled. “Sure, there’s no land on top of the water, but what about beneath it? What about the ocean floor? Why, if you could find some sand and some seaweed, you could create a new land and new vegetation in one go!”
Wesakaychak watched the lazy clouds drift across the sky and pondered Turtle's statements.
An hour later, when Beaver, Otter, and Bill clambered back onto the shell, a thought struck him. “Hey fellas, I’ve got an idea.”
What is it, Wesakaychak?” intoned Beaver, Otter, and Bill in unison.
Well, Beaver, you’re a beaver. So that means you’re pretty good swimmer, right? And you have webbed feet, and you can hold your breath for a long time, right?”
I’m the best swimmer in the world,” said Beaver, to a small smile from Bill and a guffaw from Otter.
Well, if you can dive down to the ocean floor and get me some dirt and some seaweed, I could possibly”—Wesakaychak raised his eyebrows and glanced at Turtle, who ignored him—“create a new land where we all could live.”
All right,” said Beaver. “I think I could pull that off.” And without another word he dived into the ocean and swam downwards.
He was gone for a long time, so long that Wesakaychak began to worry that the kind, dam-building creature wouldn’t be coming back.
But then Beaver floated up to the surface of the sea, unconscious. Otter and Bill jumped into the water and dragged him aboard the shell. Otter pounded on his chest, and Beaver coughed up a gallon of sea-water.
I couldn’t . . . I couldn't make it,” groaned Beaver. “It was just . . . too far down.”
That’s okay,” said Wesakaychak. “You did your best, and that’s all we could have asked for. Get some rest and you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
The next day, Wesakaychak turned to the other mammal. “Hey Otter, you’re a good swimmer too, right? That’s what you do, isn’t it? Well, that and fish, but you know what I'm saying.”
Otter preened at the praise, while Bill watched with a twinkle in his ducky eye. “Yeah, I didn’t want to say anything about it yesterday to avoid hurting the poor guy’s feelings,” said Otter, “but I’m a much better swimmer than any beaver could ever hope to be.”
Well,” said Wesakaychak, “why don’t you give it a shot, then?”
No problemo,” said Otter, and dived into the Great Ocean.
Otter was also gone for a long time, much longer than Beaver, and Wesakaychak began to wonder if they would ever see the poor furry creature again.
But then Otter resurfaced, dead to the Worlds. Beaver and Bill dived into the sea and hauled him aboard Turtle. Otter hacked up a keg’s worth of saltwater.
I tried, Wesakaychak,” mumbled Otter. “But it’s just . . . I’m sorry.”
Don't apologize. If anything, I should apologize to you for asking you to undertake this impossible task. I’m just glad to see you’re okay. Now rest up so you can regain your strength.”
The next day, Wesakaychak glanced at Bill, who was peering at him with a wide smile on his feathered face. “I already know what you’re going to say,” said the duck. “And the answer is . . . sure, I’ll give it a whirl. Third time's the charm, eh?” And he dived into the Great Ocean.
Bill was gone for an eternity, much longer than Beaver or Otter, and Wesakaychak was almost certain the brave little duck had not survived the dive.
But then Bill floated up to the surface of the sea, just as insensible as the other two had been. Beaver and Otter jumped into the ocean and dragged Bill onto Turtle’s shell. Beaver pumped on the duck’s stomach, and Bill vomited up his weight in seawater.
Then Bill opened his eyes. He unclenched his feet—and clutched within one webbed foot were a few bits of sand! And held within the other was a thin strand of seaweed!
I . . . did it, Wesakaychak . . . didn’t I?” asked Bill, his eyes half-closed.
Yes, Bill, you did it,” said Wesakaychak. “Today, you have helped create the world.”
Bill smiled at this, then passed out from exhaustion.
Later on, when Otter, Beaver, and Bill were sleeping, Wesakaychak looked wistfully across the Great Ocean and said to Turtle, “You know, in a way, I think I’ll miss the sea.”
You don’t have to make the new land if you don’t want to, Wesakaychak. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if it stayed like this for a few more millenniums. Of course, I'm a turtle. You’re the one who can't swim.”
Wesakaychak sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I do miss having solid ground under my feet. So I’ve got the mud and I’ve got the seaweed. How do I do this whole ‘expanding-the-land-and-creating-the-vegetation’ thingamajig?”
Turtle shrugged. “Try wishing it into existence. Try bringing your dreams to life. Create by expansion.”
A sudden thought smacked Wesakaychak upside the brain. “Say, Turtle, how do you know all this stuff about me? You knew my name, and you know all about my supposed powers. If it wasn’t for you, I never would’ve known what to do!”
Turtle's eyes sparkled. “You haven’t figured it out yet?”
And then it hit Wesakaychak like a ton of buffalo dung had fallen from the sky and landed on his head, and he knew that Turtle was Earthmaker, here to supervise construction of the New World.
B-but w-why are you h-helping m-me?”
Turtle's face grew stern. “I was very angry with you, Wesakaychak. You were supposed to help the First People and show them the correct paths to take in their lives. Instead, you thought only of yourself and filling your belly and satisfying your . . . baser urges. But after I sent the Great Wave, I got over this anger. Plus, I heard your prayer when the water washed over you.” The sternness faded, and Turtle smiled like an ever-forgiving father. “Just don’t blow it this time.”
I . . . I won’t,” said Wesakaychak—and meant it.
Good. Now go ahead and make the world already.”
Wesakaychak closed his eyes. He thought of the land and the gritty, wonderful feeling of the dirt between his toes. He thought of trees, shrubs, bushes, vines, flowers, and herbs, and of how this flora, down to the lowliest grasses and weeds, had in various ways helped the First People, be it by giving the gift of good medicine, filling people's bellies and helping them stave off hunger and famine, or blooming colorful, sweet-smelling flowers that mesmerized the senses.
What seemed an aeon later, Wesakaychak heard Bill’s voice. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Wesakaychak opened his eyes—and he was no longer on Turtle's back, but stood on solid ground! The countryside stretched off into the distance—wild, untamed, and brand-spanking new. Full-grown, flowering vegetation covered the Earth in all directions.
It had worked.
Trickster, with a little help from Beaver, Otter, Bill, and Turtle, had made the world.
Damn, Wesakaychak!” said Otter. “And I didn't think you had it in you!” He glanced at Bill and whispered, “I'll get you your fiver tomorrow, duck—no cash on me now.”
It's a very good-looking land,” said Beaver, looking around in approval. “But do you think there’s a stream somewhere where I could build a nice dam?”
Hey, where’s Turtle?” asked Bill.
They searched the area, but Turtle was nowhere to be found. It was as if the shelled one had vanished into thin air.
Well, I guess he’s gone,” said Beaver.
It’s a shame,” said Bill. “He was a real nice dude. Kind of quiet, but . . . nice.”
Yeah, I just hope he’s all right,” said Otter.
Wesakaychak looked at the thriving Earth, then back at his friends, and grinned like the Trickster he was. “Well, wherever he is, I think Earthma . . . I mean, Turtle . . . will be just fine.”

Cover art by Rich DiSilvio.

Just remember, like in the old Hindu tale: "It's turtles all the way down!" The paperback and e-book will be available on Amazon and elsewhere in a couple of weeks.