Song of the Red-Legged Birds: Chapter 12: Learn to fly
a Replay of The Event at The Center
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Last week, in chapter 11, Holly gave Takeda the news at The News
Chapter 12: Learn to fly
Takeda watched Holly jump off the Flyer. Her step was quick as she hustled past the alley and up the front steps to the apartment building. He tried to catch a glimpse down it as the Flyer came to a stop and thought, no tree men tonight. He believed her, but there’s something to seeing a thing with your own eyes that makes it seem more real.
Holly tried to convince him to go to The Center tomorrow with her instead, but he’d made up his mind. He wanted to see if he could get any clarity on his weird day with a Replay of The Event.
They pulled up in front of The Center about ten minutes later. It was in New Somerville, off of what used to be Route 93, which was now mostly rubble, graffiti, and garbage. The building was nondescript and huge. A sprawling one-floor structure that could have been any business at all, except for a small black and white sign above the front door that said ‘The Center.’
As always, there were a handful of protesters out front. A mixed bag of nutjobs with signs ranging from “STOP EXPLOITING THE MESSAGE OF GOD” to “BEHOLD THE END IS NIGH” and “GOVERNMENT MIND CONTROL INSIDE!”
They were a sluggish-looking lot, sitting down and seeming to be on a smoke break. Their weather-beaten signage lay on the ground, and the bouncer sat shooting the shit with them. He was a giant man with a natural smile that said, ‘I wouldn’t cause trouble if I were you.’ He got up slowly when Takeda got off the Flyer, crushing his smoke on the ground.
“Welcome to The Center. Pre-Event, Post-Event, or here to party?” the man said without inflection.
“Post-Event,” Takeda said.
“Alone, or would you like to join a group?”
“You sure? It’s a little bit of a wait tonight for a single. Lots of room for groups, though.”
“I’ll wait. I’m in no hurry.”
“Put out your arm, please.”
Takeda did, and the man pressed a stamp gun to his forearm. It left a red impression of the number one for a moment and then faded away.
“Spread your arms and legs,” the man said. It had all the enthusiasm of his millionth repetition of the command. He gave him a quick pat-down.
“Head inside to buy your ticket. Happy birthday, dude,” the man said as he pulled a candy bar out of his pocket and started to unwrap it.
“Thanks,” Takeda said, reaching for the door.
“Miiiiiind control, dude!” one of the protesters yelled.
“Shut up, Scott,” the bouncer said with a mouthful of chocolate.
“Don’t oppress me, Sheila; I’ve got a right to say shit!”
“I said shut it, Scott, I’m not above beatin yo ass tonight.”
Takeda turned. “I’m sorry, your name is Sheila?”
The big man sighed. “Yeah. I was born in the wrong body, dude. My parents named their lovely daughter Sheila. Out of respect for them, I kept the name after I transitioned. Plus, I kind of like the contrast if you dig,” Sheila said with a menacing smile.
“Cool. Have a good night, Sheila,” Takeda said, opening the door.
He entered a small room, completely dark except for the dim light coming from a podium in front of him. It lit the face of the hostess.
“Welcome to The Center, happy birthday,” the hostess said in a monotone. She glanced away from her phone to look at Takeda’s arm. “I see you’re looking for a single; that’ll be $175. Swipe your phone for payment and click yes to agree to the terms and conditions.” Her gum smacked like a gunshot.
“Busy night?” he said, swiping his phone, for some reason trying to engage the hostess.
“What?” she said, ignoring him. “Payment accepted, and you’ve agreed to the terms. Your Replay’s scheduled for 9:15 in Pod 42. Feel free to enjoy the rest of The Center until that time.” She pressed a button, and a door behind her slid open. Thundering music, loud conversation, and multicolored lights spilled into the room like the contents of an overturned bucket.
He hadn’t been to a Center in years, and it took a few moments to get his footing. ‘Birthday’ by the Beatles was playing. Was this on a continuous loop? A couple of twenty-somethings seemed to float by on a cloud. They yelled as he passed down the hall, “Hey man, all the love for you, all the love for all!” He smiled a thank you, then watched as they kissed. The couple drifted to where the lights grew bright, and the glow-in-the-dark stardust decorations on the wall seemed intent on leading him.
He felt a pulse on his forearm and looked down to see that his label had changed to a countdown clock. It displayed 45 min 30 sec Pod 42 with the faint ghost of a map below. The noise got louder as he approached the center of, The Center.
It was an expansive room that seemed to be without edges, filled with people dancing, playing, and laughing. Entrancing hypno-funk electronica filled his ears, and giant video screens projected images of peace, love, and joy. On the screen nearest him, a baby crawled with boundless pleasure through tall grass, chasing after a puppy. To his right, birds soared over snow-capped mountains. To his left, a mother leaned down to present a birthday cake with a comforting smile. He had the sensation of walking on soft and warm grass. Looking down, that’s what he saw. Several steps later, it turned into sun-kissed sand that shimmered underfoot. The air smelled of jasmine one minute and lily of the valley the next, then apple pie.
The whole effect was dizzying.
“Sir, care for a drink?” a voice behind him said.
Seeing him looking a little off, the waitress put a steadying arm on his shoulder.
“Yes, thank you. Could I get a beer?”
“Please try this. It will relax and prepare you for your Replay in,” she turned his arm over, “thirty-two minutes.” She handed him a tall glowing beverage.
“Random drink. What could go wrong?” Takeda chuckled and took a long sip. All at once, he felt like he’d dropped a heavy weight. His spine felt warm; was that possible? Takeda was urged to touch the waitress’s face to say thank you. A part of his brain chimed in from the haze. What the fuck are you doing?
Before his hand could complete the task, she seemed to evaporate into the crowd of partiers. He realized that he had moved, or been moved, closer to the center of the floor. He looked up and couldn’t discern if there was a ceiling. It was a vibrant, liquid night sky, filled with galaxies and constellations punctuated by shooting stars. Every few moments, it turned azure blue with the sun piercing lazy clouds that caressed his face. A warm, refreshing summer rain began, and a rainbow shot out from the sky, one end landing in his palm. Letters appeared on the rainbow that said, ‘Have fun Tak, love Holly!’ A reflex pulled his hand away, and the rainbow jumped to his other one. She must have ordered this while I was on the way over.
He continued to drift to the center of the room, where a mass of people danced. The music, mist, and floral smells filled up his senses. He was thirsty again. A waitress took his empty glass and deposited a drink in his hand before the thought completed itself. She then disappeared into the waves of the crowd. He glanced at his arm and saw a fading drink symbol with a checkmark; the countdown clock displayed 24 min 11 sec.
“That’s some service,” he said loud and dreamily.
“Come on, let’s dance!” A playful brunette grabbed his hand and led him into the gyrating multitude of partiers.
As they approached the center of the room, the floor began to glow red and pulse.
“Oh boy, get ready for the lift!” she giggled.
She’d barely finished her sentence when Takeda felt himself rising off of the floor. He’d heard about this but hadn’t experienced it yet. A patented technology called M-LEV, short for Micro Levitation, had recently become the rage. Its most prominent use was in nightclubs. Everyone in the center of the floor rose off the ground about eight inches to loud shouts, screams of approval, and exuberant laughter. It was well timed with the sound of a rocket taking off and an electronica remix of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man.’ Vapor clouds billowed, obscuring the ground.
The girl who had led him to the floor said something he couldn’t hear. Then she took him by the hand and spun him effortlessly like a top. When he stopped, she motioned for him to do the same to her, and he did. When her twirling finished, she jumped up on him, which sent them both spinning across the floor laughing.
‘Learning to Fly’ began playing while the colors changed to a misty purple and pink. Something tickled at the edge of Takeda’s mind. Didn’t I hear about this random old song recently?
As he finished that thought, the brunette slipped an arm around his waist and planted a deep wet kiss. He kissed back as time seemed to slow. She whispered, “Happy birthday, sweetie,” into his ear and disappeared into the crowd like an apparition.
Takeda felt a slight buzzing on his arm. The countdown clock said: ‘5 min, please proceed to Pod 42.’ He tried to get his bearings. It felt like the floor began ushering him in the correct direction. Ahead along the wall was an arrow stating ‘Pods 35-45.’
He walked, although it felt more like floated, down the hallway. It wasn’t a feeling of intoxication but something more elusive. As if walking in a dream. Warm muscles and joints knew where to take him without conscious thought. Moreover, he felt genuinely relaxed and deeply centered.
He remembered that this was what the center of The Center was. The more you were prepared for The Replay, the more enjoyable it would be. The Replay may not work if too much time passed and you weren’t in the correct frame of mind. At least, that’s what he’d heard. He’d never met anyone that tried it in that state; it was almost impossible not to be in a receptive mood if you’d experienced The Event. Like trying to be pissed off when a puppy is licking your face.
He came to his door, which had a slightly pulsing black number 42. “Welcome, Takeda. Please step inside,” a silky, pleasant, and disembodied female voice said.
The door slid open with a whisper.
“Step forward into the chamber and place your chin onto the rest in front of you - then stand naturally and relax while the door seals. The chamber will begin shaping to your form. Note that you may experience a slight tickle,” the voice echoed.
Takeda did as instructed, settling his chin into the rest and noting that it tickled when the chamber started to mold around his body. As it did, the room filled with profound darkness. It was more of a void than merely dark.
“Please be aware that you won’t be able to move your arms and legs for a few moments. This restriction is temporary for the final preparations. Taking a few slow, deep, relaxing breaths through your nose and out through your mouth will help if you’re anxious. If you need to stop at any point, say, stop, and the chamber will release. We appreciate your patience, and please note the countdown timer in front of you.”
A red timer appeared in the air hovering in front of him in the darkness. It started ticking down from twenty seconds.
“We at The Center appreciate your patronage today. Now, please enjoy your replay of The Event. Happy birthday Takeda,” the voice said with what felt like a smile.
He watched the clock tick down past ten seconds,
There was no sound at all.
He didn’t feel the chamber disengage, but it wasn’t there anymore. He could move his arms and legs but had no sense of up or down. It was just black. If black could feel safe and warm, that’s what this black did. He wondered if this was what it was like before he was born. He was simply a life in infinite space, and that thought was comforting instead of terrifying.
A warm feeling started as a tiny pinpoint in his chest, almost as a warning. Then it spread to his limbs, organs, fingernails, and hair follicles. He had a sense of his whole being as a single entity, no longer connected parts. His consciousness flowed throughout like waves rushing up on a beach. He enjoyed this new sense of being as the space around him brightened. The sky and ground were all equal and swirled with brilliant blues and purples backlit by a glorious revitalizing sun. He found he could move about this space and passed through and with people, animals, birds, trees, and insects. All things which have lived, and have yet to be, greeted Takeda as their offspring. He felt a shift in his being as it melded with all things and welcomed it. It enveloped and comforted him. He couldn’t recall struggle, fear, or pain.
A thought floated into his head and melted any residual worry in his lifeform.
Welcome, Takeda; you are we, we are you, all are one, we are all.
Time ceased to have meaning.
He couldn’t remember arriving here, and it didn’t matter. This was bliss. It was joy.
Entwined with other expressions of consciousness, he stopped thinking of himself as Takeda.
He was all.
All and everything.
He tumbled, spun, and twirled. One moment connected with other forms, the next on his own, flying forever, seeing all, without edges, without boundaries. Stars, galaxies, moons, and suns, were constellations of atoms and dust; they spun around him and were somehow a part of him. A low and sonorous voice began to speak, filling space and time with its message.
All is well - all is god.
He felt as if he had burst apart and joined with all matter that had ever existed.
He became joy.
He had no sense of time on earth, though his body rested comfortably in the chamber for just a few seconds. Roused by a gentle pulling away from infinity, he began to regain an impression of his existence. He remembered he was called Takeda. It wasn’t jarring; he was filled with light and safe in the knowledge that he could bring it with him when he returned.
A feeling like he was liquid filling up a form washed over him as he returned to his body. He pulsed with energy as he filled up his mortal consciousness, each cell of his body expressing gratitude.
In the final moments before his reawakening, he felt a gentle pull on his pant leg. When he looked down, she looked up at him as brightly as when she told him her name.
She wore a bright red dress.
She smiled innocently and said, “Hi, Takeda.”
He awoke in the chamber.
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Next week in Chapter 13, “Menehune,” we take a trip to Maui and the PDCO