“Mystical Shorts” is a collection of short stories showcasing a series of transcendental adventures I’ve had over the years with my rainy day friend, Simon Birdsong, a fictional character of dubious credential, who I now credit for everything relevant ever derived.
Our first story, “The Forgotten Tale”, was passed to Simon sixty years ago while high on a plateau above the San Gabriel Valley by his beloved, yet equally fictitious Grandfather, Martin Birdsong……. After completing the share, Martin made it clear to Simon that he was allowed to pass it along only to ONE OTHER of PURE HEART.
Over these tested times, we’ve become quite certain that neither of us have the capacity to judge anyones heart and therefore have decided to offer this merged collection of recollections to anyone making or remaking acquaintance.
With that said, should you opt to partake in this “literary experiment”… remember you’re always welcome here to join Simon and me in summoning up the great Santa Ana wind, to help lift us together onto our next plateau.
“And on it may go, as on we may go.” – Simon Birdsong December/2021
Once a year “The Great Mestolio” glides into the Coachella Valley from high above the peaks of the San Bernadinos. At summer’s end, he leaves the shaded sanctity of the alpine mountain lakes for the more predictable terrain of his earlier years. With one gust, the Santa Ana lifts him in flight…..
Using the updrafts provided by the Southern California desert wind, he gracefully descends to the warmth and familiarity awaiting below. With each degree of heat, Mestolio’s eyes are synced to the angle of his wing. The weave of increased temperature and landmarks, help exact his flight plan to the place reserved only for him. All instincts tell the Mestolio to fly past the giant fans and billboards to the cliffs of the San Jacinto. He must, as ever before, craft his accelerating glide along the mountainside, drafting beyond the natural desert springs and cacti until reaching the El Paseo, where rest and contentment await him.
After the three hour journey Mestolio refreshes in the small water overflow of the palm tree planter on Tommy’s second story patio. The views to the El Paseo are bent like images in fun house mirrors. Everywhere outside there is no escaping the heat waving grip of the desert, but this does not bother the Mestolio. He is proud, having again found success in locating his personal oasis. The patio now is Mestolio’s domain, his castle alone.
The cool, but quickly evaporating water, soothes his hardened cracked feet. From claw to wing, from feather to head, Mestolio delightfully refreshes, and is emboldened enough to fix a new position atop a nearby table of glass and iron. He does not care about being observed by those inside Tommy’s casa. The two toned bird regally struts to the table’s center and slowly and symmetrically extends his large wingtips to the heavens until his back is reverse arched. Finding satisfaction in his realignment, the Mestolio tilts his head from side to side until he shakes like a happy wet dog. With two more steps forward, his bulging bb eyes methodically survey the environ. Lifting his tail feathers, he provides sufficient room for exacting his “personal signature” on the table top beneath him while being in full view of those inside the casa. Mestolio remains aloof and without shame. For now, and forever he is the reigning king of Tommy’s patio.
For a fraction of a second, my eyes are diverted, and when glancing back, like the sweetness of the mango in November, he is gone. Looking to the horizon, I site three, maybe two impostors, side by side on a bar hosting a traffic light above the Paseo. I pondered, could one of them be Mestolio?
My beautiful bride of one day and twenty years approaches our table inside Tommy’s casa. I look into the sparkle of her deep brown eyes and with one breath…..the Great Mestolio no longer exists.
Typically, darkness prevails at the opening to most caves, but this night, from a small hole in the side of the vast San Jacinto, a spectrum of glowing slivers leaked outward into the open night air. From far away it may have looked like a powerful star on the horizon exploding into another galaxy, but closer observation would reveal an equally magnificent event occurring within five miles of the desert city’s small central plaza.
A gentle breeze sails through the large boulder and palm singing to the creatures standing alert under the dark blanket covering the sleepy Coachella Valley. Animals indigenous to the area surround the den’s entrance, finding their posts, alertly guarding against any intrusion to what is evolving inside the bright cave.
It was twenty years ago today, that the two impostors left Mestolio alone to face his fate on the street light above the El Paseo. Since first flight, The Mestolio had known this day would arrive. His claws wrapped about the steel girder as he braced for the inevitable. His expectant eyes fixed straight ahead into the heated vacuum of the desert floor. He saw the soccer ball, just as he had dreamed since youth, hauntingly without kick, picking up speed, moving across the vacant playing field toward his perch. It would soon all be over. It would soon all begin.
In a fraction of a second, a single great wind fan whirled in a blur of white, a lone yucca tree suddenly bent to the ground and popped back upright, a cluster of sand blew across a small section of highway 111, the great gust slammed the lone soccer ball waiting at the field’s edge bordering Tommy’s casa. This unique chain of events, like dominos falling, revealed the wind’s singular intricate path that would draft the Mestolio into an involuntary sideways vanishing act.
If two decades ago, I hadn’t diverted my eyes to notice the approach of my beautiful bride, I may have noticed my newly acquired winged friend giving into that incredible force of nature. For that split second I may have seen the Mestolio zip out of sight like a gnat atop a robust stream.
Who could have known that nature’s elements could have aligned to create such an exacting force, capable of instantly transporting a single defenseless pigeon to a small cave five miles away without witness.
Now, far off the El Paseo, away from the comforts of Tommy’s upstairs patio, in a hole at the base of the San Jacinto, Mestolio would lay dormant for twenty winters until making his return.
As with the wind before, for the years that followed to present, the Ancients had guided the sacred underground waters of the living desert to flow to and through the Mestolio’s ravaged beak. The secret waters, which had eluded dinosaurs and the entrapments of the post cambrian for millennium, were finally finding reprise in their timeless flow. All that is or will be, was left to the awakening.
But typically, like a man of my years, I’m rambling and getting ahead of myself.
The small hole in the earth expanded with each thrust of the Mestolio’s now healthy beak. The cave which had been his embryo for the past two decades had become too confining for his revived frame. Each demolishing peck outward opened the desert starlit sky he had known since first nest, familiar scents returned to his dusty nostrils. Mestolio now longed to breakout and expand his wings. He wanted to glide again along the vertical cliffs of the San Jacinto and feel the warm air caress his feathered wings. His strong beak and claws worked frantically in sync, pushing aside the rock and dirt, making way for sweet flight.
In the early spring, my beautiful bride of forty years and I began our annual trek inland from the edge of the Pacific until reaching the trailhead leading up to the shaded lakes of the San Grogornio. We climbed the ribbon road until everything below was miniaturized. I took joy, fishing in the perfected art of conversing with her, looking for the rewards in her infectious smile. Every year invited this venture out, to feel the mountain chill of the last snow melt until we would ultimately defer to the warmth of the Coachella Valley below.
After two days and nights we descended back down the mountain towards the desert floor below until the tiny landmarks again found proper scale. The highway east, would again bring the kiss of the desert sun and new fishing grounds for conversation.
We travelled past the billboards along highway 111. Signs promising heaven, directing how to get there. Signs in the middle of nowhere, promising paradise amongst the dirt and tumbleweed…..so many perishable signs.
After the first big bend in the road, the majesty of the San Jacinto came into full view. Flowered below the base of the enormous mountain, between the signs and yucca trees, was a large farm of wind fans dotting the landscape. As we passed through the twirling swath of fans, our sense of normality shifted.
Several of the fans had been severed or torn along a true straight line as if by a giant ruler. A quarter of a mile further east we were slowed to a stop near the banks of the Whitewater River. The authorities instructed all to remain calm. Within seconds a military convoy was waived through, as all others bewilderedly watched trying to explain the commotion to whoever would listen.
Everyone’s eyes drew upward towards an incredibly amplified echoing koooooo on the side of the mountain to behold a giant bird trying to maintain its balance on the steep mountainside 2,000 feet above. Some of the onlookers screamed as if for their lives, others hooped or yelled, some actually seemed to be angry for being inconvenienced. The dust trail behind the rushing convoy lead straight to a plateau near the wondrous creature. As the convoy began to establish position, the great bird drafted into a glide eastward along the jagged cliffs towards Cathedral City until out of sight.
Earlier, with the rising sun, when Mestolio sat perched atop the San Jacinto all appeared normal. The vast Salton Sea, the San Grogornio, the Paseo, all laid before him, innocently extending invitation. Now in desperate flight towards the refuge of Tommy’s second story patio, simple geometry displayed the futility of his effort. Mestolio’s wing span exceeded the width of his memory, he now clipped buildings on each side of the paseo as he had inadvertently done with the wind fans earlier. When trying to land on Tommy’s patio, one extension of single claw caved in the railing on the second story balcony. His heart beating faster and faster, the Mestolio mustered his might to maintain flight, but he knew he would soon need to land. He yearned for water to sooth his hardened claw and feather. He needed to slow down his heart to find space between the beats to understand what was happening.
Above the Whitewater River, the sky filled with thin vapor trails, lining up behind a dozen rumbling, fast moving shadows. Their speed defied imagination, the loudness pierced one’s very sole. The shadows efficiently merged from different directions to form a hive that would follow the giant creature’s flight east.
The sky cleared with the diminuendo of sound. Being temporarily removed from the immediate drama of events my bride and I stood by the banks of the Whitewater not understanding anything, but that we were being included in something we could never have imagined. Our hands separated when we heard an incredible explosion downstream toward the end of the mountain range. We were ordered to turn back and head west toward the sea. At that moment, the cool ocean breeze by the Pacific was more inviting than ever before. We gladly turned around to follow the late afternoon sun home.
Legend has it that once a year, every year until twenty years ago, the Great Mestolio would glide down from the high alpine lakes, past the giant wind fans, signs and yucca, along the vertical cliffs of the San Jacinto until finding his domain on the outside second story patio of Tommy’s casa on the Paseo.
Today, legend requires that a freakish huge bird was successfully destroyed while sitting on a perch above the main stadium at the Coachilla Valley Tennis Garden. After what was left of him was swept up, the blood stains on center court could never be washed out or painted over.
His confiscated heart is still rumored to faintly beat inside a massive vacuum sealed, stainless steel room, at a laboratory in New Mexico, not more than five miles from the village center of Santa Fe.
Santos was born on the La Pampa, where he spent most of his youth with the others meandering in the tall grass bordering the cool Atlantic waters. Like his peers, most of his thoughts encompassed filling his stomach and taking the easiest path to the day’s end. Such was the life of the Santos in his early and uneventful years.
One December morning, with the coming of the warm Argentinian sun, a bulgy eyed bird of silver and gray, landed directly on the young bulls head. The feeling of weight and movement above his eyes seemed foreign, but he quickly acclimated, and rejoined the others, eating the sweet grass and swishing his tail until nightfall.
The gauchos could always pick out Santos, because he was the only one in the herd with a bird on his head. This made them smile and want to keep them around. Perhaps they made the gauchos’ day more pleasant and this explained why year after year, when the others were gathered for market, Santos and his companion were left behind again to feast on the next spring’s succulent offerings.
Seven years from when the bird first arrived, a great wind blew ashore with such strength that the herd panicked and began to run away from the sea for shelter. There were many ravines at the base of the mountains, but to the gauchos’ delight, most all followed each other into the same boxed canyon, making their retrieval very easy.
Santos, however, had lost his vision as his companion’s wings had fanned out over his eyes during the stampede. When finally stopping, they found themselves alone in a narrow canyon, much farther north than the others, somewhere along the eastern base of the great Andes mountain range.
The canyon was so narrow and straight that Santos, plump from eating the tall green grass, could not even turn around. His only option was to move forward westward through the small crevasse in the mountain, with the bird jumping on and off his head, until reaching a sandy Chilean beach on the Pacific side of the Andes.
Gazing at the calm waves, Santos yearned to again eat the green grass of La Pampa, but he had lost his sense of direction. Aimlessly, he began a slow graze northward, past the Tropic of Cancer, eating everything between there and California. The Pacific Ocean, now a constant to his left, became his new internal compass. Absent the laughter of the gauchos and the tall grass of La Pampa, the only link to the past was the bird jumping continuously on and off his head during the long journey north.
This continued for countless sunsets. Each ended with the same insatiable hunger, the bird and the sun disappearing into the darkness over the water to the west, leaving Santos again alone with the cold nightfall.
One day, in the south of California, the bird landed heavily on Santos’s head and began incessantly pecking away. This caused even the Santos to become very annoyed. He swished his tail as fast as he could, to no avail. The pecking continued. He rocked his head up and down, the pecking increased in tempo. In his frustration, Santos ran away from the water toward a low hanging branch on a nearby tree. This finally rid him of the bothersome companion prompting the birds flight high into the air towards the far off peak of the San Jacinto.
The young bull was so relieved to be freed of the pecking, he did not notice his directional change inland. Without the ocean to his left, he would slowly wander into the vast vacuum of the Southern California desert, towards the deceiving mirage of shade and water at the base of the great mountain before him.
Now not having seen the bird for days, Santos was on his own, chewing on the tumbleweed and cacti as he meandered through the hot, barren desert towards the distant landmark. Over time, his legs grew weary, his lips and chin became bloodied from eating the various scrubs. The constant desert sun had now beaten down his body into a frail silhouette of its past. The evening brought only temporary relief, until the predictable bitter cold would sweep in and engulf Santos promoting what felt like forever until dawn. He was now lost and alone. Without the bird on his head, he could easily have been invisible.
Possibly, seeing his last sunrise, too cold to even enjoy the rewarding warmth of the early desert sun, the lost creature’s knees buckled as he slowly caved into the earth beneath him. He looked out of habit to the sky for his winged companion, only to find himself under a large billboard. About to close his eyes, perhaps for the last time, Santos thought he could smell the tall green grass of La Pampa and hear the faint laughter of the gauchos.
His instincts fading into vague memories, Santos prepared for his final nap on the floor of the barren valley surrounding him. Dreaming his last pictures slowing down towards complete darkness Santos was strangely calm and at last content to end his journey, until his demise was interrupted by something gently dragging across his forehead.
Eyes opening, the clouded image of what Santos thought was a gaucho, caressed his head with a damp cloth and then wrung it out providing small droplets of water near the bull’s caked chapped mouth. Not knowing what else to do, he took in the water and slowly gave chance to this new restart.
Time, water and the shade of the giant billboard brought on more clarity. The “gaucho” was a short man wearing glasses so thick that his eyes were blurred beyond recognition of intent. Even though Santos had never peered into the eyes of a human being at such close range, he had no option, but to follow the tugging rope and the man with no eyes to an awaiting trailer, roadside.
The strange fresh flake of compressed grass availed on the ledge at the front of the trailer was so delightful to Santos he hardly noticed being in motion or the chestnut horse traveling in the stall next to him. Together, they both chewed away on their flakes, drank water and swished their tails as the turning wheels below them rolled eastward out of the Coachella Valley, leaving behind his bird companion and the high peak of the San Jacinto, flowing onward into the early evening stars towards the land of enchantment and the small village of Santa Fe.
Before becoming the custodian of the heart, Dr. Klaus Baumann was content in his pursuit of science. He managed to retain a rational perspective on life while searching for its origin. Every day a gift. Every day revered.
This night, like all others before, Klaus would set down his thick glasses on the nightstand next to his bed and welcome the familiar blur that enveloped him. His thoughts often returned to his childhood in Katmandu and the chronology of events leading to the present. Recently, since returning from the Coachella Valley, the quantity of events and vivid depth of detail surrounding them, began to bombard his blur at an alarming pace.
Rather than worry, the doctor embraced the abundance and rapidity of his new recollections. How could he have forgotten so much of the space between the benchmarks? The people he merged with, the scents, tones and emotions that helped form him, were all swiftly coming at him. Each episode fitting perfectly in synch with the prior and following scenes. Even his life’s regrets now lay before him with new perspective.
The string and pattern of visuals for the past four nights, although expanding and accelerating with each new eve, kept ending abruptly on one of two separate events not logically fitting his timeline. He would open his eyes and anxiously reconstruct the chain, trying to derive the logic in the pattern.
In his fifteenth year, while at school in biology class, Klaus was debating with his professor the ethics of dissecting a live frog, which over the course of the semester, the majority of the class had come to affectionately know as Minu. Student Klaus Baumann, felt that without respect for life, indeed without humanity, how could there be honor in science. Science, he felt, was a nobel pursuit, and although it could be used to unravel several queries, could anyone ever expect to attain any finality? If taking life, meant getting closer to the impossible, it was a path, for him, that would remain untraveled. There was a small, but profound victory for Klaus that day, as the class cheered with him on the decision to forgo the demise of their green friend living at the back of the classroom. The doctor laughed to himself that of all the scenes in his life, this one had emerged as being so significant.
Now wide awake, out of habit when needing sleep, the man with no eyes gently tilted a small glass figurine of a top hat on the bedside table to one side, letting the hat rock back and forth, doubling in speed with each sway. Click…Clack..Click..Clack.ClickityClackityClickityClackity…..with each half sway the top hat got faster and quieter in tandem as it accelerated toward the infinite. His life’s timeline was now in fast forward, becoming vividly clearer until he was sitting at his parents dinning room table at the age of seventeen, rocking the same glass top hat in wonderment. As the hat rocked faster, it now synced with the present, taking him into an enormous crescendoing white blur.
Launched past the point of no return, he was strangely content with his incredible passage into the unknown, only looking back once, seeing his saved bull eating hay and swishing his tail in the field next to the laboratory/home of the great heart. His own heart now ached and was too heavy to carry on the journey ahead. With his last breath, the man with no eyes let go and flailed into the mystic.
The next day, no one was at the door of the laboratory to welcome the lost and curious. No one was there to announce to the public that the incredible heart of the largest bird ever seen, had after seven years on life support, suddenly stopped beating.
On our last assent to a remote peak of the San Gabriel my Grandfather and I decided to take a new path along the eastern fork of what we called the “Little Creek”. The water played in and out of random boulders and branches that provided safe crossing when the trail required. The morning sunlight filtered through the green foliage by the water’s edge and danced across my Grandfathers lean frame, accentuating the familiar labyrinth of colors in the tightly rolled up indian blanket above his backpack.
I remember the depth of of my love for him and the joy of being outside and included in his pilgrimages. With our steps and sometimes miscalculated crossings of Little Creek, we would laugh when our feet slipped on the moist boulders and found the water deep to the knee. Our laughter always interwoven with comfortable silence between topics ranging from continental drift to the virtues of corn nuts and Dr. Pepper. I loved my Grandfather.
Sensing his age, I marveled at his determination to lead us upstream to our eventual vista. I didn’t want these adventures to end, but knew it unfair to expect our sojourns to continue. This likely would be the last time to spread the colorful blanket under the stars together, and although feeling this, we both anticipated a profound occurrence this night in our shared lives.
Unusually early to partake in the pipe, my grandfather reminisced about the blanket beneath us. He shared that it was given to him by his grandfather on their last hike in Santa Fe, and how it had served to lend ceremony to their sharing of the tales. He recalled the various storylines one after another until they merged together loosely like the thin vapors of smoke swirling from the base of his pipe into the heavens.
I knew this night was to be special and although trying hard to stay attentive I finally succumbed to the long hike’s deep sleep waiting at the end of our trail……my last memory that night, being my grandfather smoking and laughing at the stars, his voice diminishing to the sound of the wind and warmth of being fireside. I loved my Grandfather.
With the rising sun, I went to the stream’s edge for some water. When I returned, I found the colorful indian blanket tightly rolled up, affixed to the top of my pack.
The Santa Ana joined my father and me on our trek along the eastern face of the Sierra Madre canyon. Bringing with him the warmed scent of the eucalyptus trees that bordered the hardened dirt pathway downward to my grandfather’s small bungalow below.
We flowed in trio, along the small creek that gently passed the front porch where my grandfather would usually sit to whittle, play guitar and smoke his pipe.
I anticipated the melody of my grandfather’s welcome, his sparkly eyes and generous smile. My father’s stride picked up pace as the vacated silhouette of the house begin to appear, his back and frame pulling away from me, I began running to keep up.
Today differed the norm. The porch was empty except for the guitar leaning against the wooden stool, an envelope intertwined through the strings. On the floor, next to the stool, was his pipe and a half finished wood carving doing its best not to be taken by the Santa Ana.
With our first steps up to the porch, Santa Ana disappeared taking the shavings around the wooden block without notice, leaving us behind with only the sounds of the water gently caressing the creekside rocks and my grandfather’s familiar heavy “breathing sounds”. We looked into the one room cabin to see our common thread in deep slumber, singing randomly between his non rhythmic breaths. My father felt it best to leave him to himself to complete his “conversation with the whales”. When we retreated to the porch, we sat in the absence of the Santa Ana, listening to the melody of my grandfather’s moan/sing/speak concert, trying to figure out what he could possibly be saying to the kings of the ocean. The crescendo of one run was so incredible that we turned to each other and began laughing uncontrollably, mimicking the same patterned laughter learned over the years from our adored sleeping host.
As quickly as Santa Ana’s exit, the singing/moaning abruptly stopped forever…..
By weeks end, my father and I travelled to the white sands along the Pacific Ocean, carrying with us my Grandfather’s pipe, guitar and unfinished wood carving.
My father awkwardly, but in earnest, attempted to replicate the melody of my Grandfather until giving into tears. The salted water flowed heavily from our hearts and eyes, raising the tide with what must have been the tears of the whales.
Surrounded by strangers, the shade of the San Jacinto blended with the tinted windows of the Greyhound as we all rolled through the darkness about the Coachella Valley. The seat next to me, occupied by my grandfather’s backpack and blanket had no words for me. Without my fishing companion, I sadly travelled alone, my void being filled only by the voice of a now too familiar ghost.
The annoying spirit, recently and often reminded me that as designated keeper of the “Forgotten Tale”, I must have it. Out of habit, I reached into my coat pocket for reassurance that I still possessed my Grandfather’s letter of introduction, hoping that upon arrival to the village of Saint Francis, his prose would deliver the tale to me.
For nearly a decade, since I stopped fishing for my bride’s smile, I had, on occasion, tried to decipher the content of his letter, wondering why my Grandfather chose to be so mysterious about it…..why my father had taken so long, before his passing, to give me his father’s directive.
Traveling across New Mexico’s rich red clay, in my one hundredth year, as instructed, I followed, the stars and green shrubbery eastward to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo, still sensing that finding a blanket matching the color and pattern of the one given to me, seemed as unlikely as finding someone with it that would lead me to the “Forgotten Tale”.
With a heavy sigh, I tucked letter into my pocket, and with one breath, I imagined……..
Slivers of light pierced the greyhound’s darkened cocoon as the last expellation of air pushed the doors open to the outside. In the background I could hear my ghost friend engaged in conversation with another spirit off the isle to my left.
They argued in different languages over what to call where we were. “Agah Po’oge, Yooto”, as well as several other options were being considered. Both somewhat liked “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi”, but agreed it took entirely too long to pronounce.
Each spirit grabbed my arms to assist me in standing and lifting my backpack. I accepted their help in escorting me towards the steps into the light. My hands were bruised from carrying the extra weight. Even for my age, they looked foreign to me…these hands certainly could not be mine.
I was happy earlier for the darkness in the greyhound creating an absence of my reflection off of the glass, allowing no confirmation of how lost and disoriented I really was. Immensely tired and alone, except for my now two ghosts guides, I momentarily questioned the importance of finding the tale at all and seriously considered going back to my seat and surrendering to this life’s ordeal.
Once the three steps to the mid day sun were cautiously navigated, my acquaintances begin tugging on each arm beckoning me to go with them in different directions. Stubbornly, I trekked north towards the village center, content that I was accommodating no one, except my Grandfather.
Giovani, the newest spirit, slowed as we passed the Cathedral Bassicilica and insisted we all stop at the San Miguel. My ghost on the right was angered that our path missed the plaque commemorating Dr. Baumann and the burial site of the giant heart he cared for. So on it went, as on we went.
We passed numerous trinkets and opportunities to eat, the abundant colored crafts and warm smell of corn tortillas didn’t curtail our pursuit along the path towards the Palace of the Governors. About to collapse, the spirits helped me push on until together we all converged on the blanketed isle described in the letter of my Grandfather.
Now with second wind, my eyes sharpened as we reviewed the various blankets displaying the wares and crafts of the local artists. I examined each blanket in detail for the entire length of the block, looking for a match in color and pattern, without success. I asked anyone that would listen, if they had ever seen a blanket similar to mine before or a carving that resembled my Grandfather’s half finished piece……..I may as well have been invisible.
Ready to give into the heat of the sun high above the Sangre de Cristo, the spirits now assisted in unison leading me to a seat shaded by a simple awning next to a small bubbling fountain.
My eyes closed, I yearned for sleep’s end. I had done the best I could do, it was all I had, this Tuesday afternoon…..I was ready, at last, to let go and flail into the mystic.