Swan Dive! Ch. 24: Returning to Earth

Gulls don’t think critically.

Witches can’t cast crippling spells.

Oh, yeah?

Wait until a witch turns you into a bird and you’re flying around thinking about how to become human again.

The paranormal world is only a dream away. Are the dead real when they visit us in our sleep? Does the universe inhale and exhale? Does that same energy comprise birth and death? These quirky questions made conversations between Ruby Arenas and Sam Bennett great fun for both dear friends. Sam had opened his mental doors to perception decades ago, volunteering for LSD experiments at the Navy base hospital when he was stationed briefly in San Francisco. Ruby learned the dark arts of life and death from her mother and other ancient cultural traditional Mexican influences.

Sam knew he would fly. Ruby, too, believed Sam would soar. An unlikely team, they conspired with nature – human and otherwise – to save the planet and themselves.

At 5:30 a.m. on this Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos, when mostly Mexican believers and their families welcome the departed back into their lives, Ruby stood alone on the beach. Calling softly to Santa Muerte, the pagan Mexican death saint, she sensed a changing black sky and even the shifting sand grains between her toes. With all her senses alive, Ruby beckoned to all living creatures that carried in their existence the eternal energy of the dead.

How would she cure Kim whose internal demons possessed her every waking moment, hijacking her mind and controlling her increasingly bizarre behavior? How would she help free Sam from being hunted for his defense of nature that put him at risk because the system saw him as a terrorist rather than a freedom fighter? How would she save herself from society that cared little if at all about the simple peasant tradition of kindness?

Holding her arms aloft and closing her eyes, she extended good energy from her fingertips as she summoned her friends the gulls. Answering her call, countless gulls flew toward her like an invading army. Circling quietly above her head they seemed to look to her for instruction.

Not wanting to interrupt or impose on this sacred scene, Sam Bennett watched from his hiding place behind a tan dune. Resisting the urge to flap his arms, Sam settled in to watch Ruby work her magic.

Gliding through thick clouds on a misty morning of fog and occasional rain, one particular gull Sam had named Margot climbed high into the sky, then turned abruptly to dive almost straight down before pulling up from her descent.

Ruby spoke her name.

“You hold nature’s power, Margot,” Ruby whispered. “Teach me.”

As acrobatic as any gull in the air, Margot loved to fly. Ever since her mother first taught her to take off and land, Margot took to the sky throwing tail feathers to the wind as she dipped and rose, flipped and slipped air currents in as composed a picture of aerodynamic beauty above the horizon as possible. Each day after her morning exercise she usually went looking for Sam Bennett who always had some special treat for her breakfast – a few fries with cheese, the remains of a grouper burger or on special occasions half an order of crab claws.

Now as she glided above Clearwater Beach, Margo searched for Sam. Something in his regular routine had misfired. For the past few weeks his absence from his personal patterns unsettled her. Not at his apartment, not on the beach and not at the wharf where the grouper boats docked, Sam’s nonappearance concerned her not just because his was the hand that fed her.

Margot the gull loved Sam Bennett the human.

Hundreds of other gulls felt the same about Sam who reciprocated their love. Just watching the birds when Sam came around convinced even the most scientific skeptic that love was in the air. The gulls preened. They strutted, excited to share his presence and his company, not just because he fed them, but because he respected them. Sam Bennett recognized their power in the natural pecking order of life. Walking taller among his gulls than he did among people, Sam sent the birds into a friendly frenzy whenever he flapped his arms and acted like he was about to fly.

So far, though, Sam had stayed on the ground.

Without that supreme gift of flight Margot never would have escaped the maniac who surprised and attacked her and her mother outside Sam’s door at the Spyglass Apartments a few weeks ago, about the same time Sam disappeared. Margot and her mom were just relaxing, waiting outside for Sam to bring something good to eat when the maniac kicked open his door, burst from his house and tried to kick them.

The next morning he threw a bottle at Margot. The morning after that he chased her screaming curses in a language different from the one Sam Bennett spoke. Then the wild man caught her mother when she got trapped deep inside a garbage can where she rooted through eggshells and coffee grounds looking for some nice coconut shrimp or pineapple that got tossed after a tourist’s beachy feast – something sweet for her and Margot to share. Slamming the lid on the can, the man left her inside to die. Margot refused to fly back to the colony where she and her mother lived. Instead she stayed in visual contact of the rusted metal trash can to see if her mother could break out.

She couldn’t.

She didn’t.

Margot waited and waited, warning the scores of other gulls that showed up looking for them that danger lurked nearby. The other gulls, all friends and relatives who foraged and hunted together, eventually persuaded Margot to come home where she now lived as a rebel gull with a cause. Not only had this terrible human who smelled of rancid vegetables and sour milk killed her mother, he seemed to have something to do with Sam Bennett’s disappearance.

Where was Sam? Margot needed to find him. Sam needed help.  Sam needed Margot to teach him how to fly.

Back on Earth, opening her arms wide like winsome white wings of a guardian angel, Ruby Arenas felt light, as if she were slowly rising on the wind into a fresh morning sky. Feeling weightless she sensed herself ascend higher and higher, above the gulls and the clouds into vast openness and beyond, soaring past the stars and planets of her solar system, beyond the total emptiness of cosmic matter floating higher and higher into a celestial void from which everything came and went with no beginning and no end.

Lofty above the ground she drifted, deeper into space above a pinpoint planet beautiful in its splendor, color and consciousness – a globe of metabolisms and organisms, an existence brilliant in breathing beings and beating hearts that one day would disappear and stay dead forever.

Ruby vowed to do whatever she could to protect our world as long as she could.

Returning to Earth, Ruby heard a small voice behind her.

“You almost did it,” a breathless Sam Bennett said. “You almost took off.”

 As he spoke, Margot swooped.

The young gull sounded like she was laughing.