I woke outside the Temple of the Snake feeling graceful and lazy. A wakeful morning. Hadn’t someone told me that..? One of the monks had left a tray for me — I yawned and smoked a single cigarette, the first I’d encountered across these travels. It was late afternoon and I still felt a pull — the last thing the journey requested of me. Before my journey could end I would have to find the other. It was as if the universe had breathed the knowledge into me as I slept – I awoke knowing. I sought the Garden of Renewal. I bowed once at the foot of the Temple and felt my mind shed itself of itself as if snakeskin. It felt not unlike pulling off a scab or a layer of skin from a blister. I walked into the darkening forest once more.
Somewhere in the mountains, in the mind, in dreams and in death there is a small clearing that mostly escapes the attention of cartographers. In this clearing is an old shrine, which seems to have lost most of its walls. The remaining pillars are covered in a musty smelling moss which disguises otherwise white stone with its pungent lavenders and dense purple blacks. When I step into the clearing I feel my weariness begin to fell away from my body. I inhale deeply and walk toward the shrine.
Beneath it, the Mother of Owls is waiting for me.
“I must admit,” she hoots softly, “I did not expect to see Sleepy Morning in the Garden of Renewal for many more years.”
Who who who? Sleepy Morning, I remember. Sleepy Morning.
“Have you come so far from the Nameless Village as to begin forgetting your given name?” the Mother asks. I try to tell her I think I have been one other than Sleepy Morning, but I can’t think of how to phrase it properly. Then I think of the the journey I have taken, and I get lost easily trying to recollect the places, the directions, the iterations.
“It is because you turn into two upon trying to rid yourself of the snake,” she tells me.
She rotates her neck, gesturing me toward a table. On it a bowl of fat purple fruit and three streaming glasses of a similarly colored tea. I take a sip and feel the strange warmth enter my body and dissipate my apprehension.
“Now we wait,” the Mother whispers.
I swallow taste and taste again of the pungent tea and sink to my knees beside the great owl and think lightly but thoroughly, sorting through my mind the way a grandmother works calmly on a thousand piece puzzle. I know the Mother does not cast her judgement on me for having been a snake or for trying not to be one. I saw the split, I knew then, and see it now for I am still the split. The thought makes my mind feel like it is coiling around itself — rattler ready to strike.
“Who who who?” The Mother refrains into the evening, calling my attention away from thought to a shadow in the distance. The dusk light slowly reveals a creature of human head, snake torso, and thin, spidery legs. Who who who? I watch it approach.
I am Foreign Dragon, the creature says.
The Mother gives him tea.
Foreign Dragon, I think, as if trying to remember the chorus to a long forgotton song.
I seek the Keeper of the End, Foreign Dragon said finally, sipping his tea. “It wasn’t until I stopped here that I realized this was the place I sought.”
“Whoooo” the Mother intoned into the night.
“Here I can think slowly enough on the past to remember chronology.” Foreign Dragon sighed. “I can feel from memory those things I once felt. A journey upwards, for a short while, as if on wings. Ascension like a strong love or a childhood joy. The vision of the strange stone gods made in my image, the image I have now become. I have been far from the realm of the snake.
Where have you travelled?” Foreign Dragon asked Sleepy Morning.
“Across lands worshipping the view from the grass and the view from the clouds. Through many villages and rituals. I remember hate rolling through my skin like sandpaper, like dirt in the eyes. And I found a way to remember I am only one iteration of the universe singing its existence, this time a Sleepy Morning.”
You are Sleepy Morning, Foreign Dragon says.
I am Foreign Dragon, Sleepy Morning whispers back.
Whoooooo, the Mother sings.
Whooo whooo whooo? the soft refrain floats and seems to fill the spaces between Sleepy Morning’s bones until all else is lost.
The Mother cranes her head around backwards and sees her face in the temple mirror. As she gazes into her own eyes, Sleepy Morning and Foreign Dragon watch as the woods become alive with streaks of gray, brown, white and black wings, swarming the clearing, resting softly into tree branches, bushes, the small stone path. The owls know who they are, the Mother whooos and the owls sleep.
I am Sleepy Morning, Foreign Dragon whispers.
Whooo whooo whooo? the sound swells and feels as if it fills all the space in Foreign Dragon’s lungs.
I have been waiting for your return, Foreign Morning says.
It is finally over, Sleepy Dragon responds.
Whooo whooo whooo, the Mother sings.