Encircling the Sea of Cortez...

The Peace of
Forty Days
(La Paz de Cuarentas Dias)

By Stik Mann

Chapter One:

The First Forty Hours
of the Peace of Forty Days

I am on a Greyhound bus on the freeway somewhere east of Ritzville, Washington, surrounded by a thick fog. The globe of visibility moves as we move, and for all I know, this is all that exists of creat ion: this bus, sparsely populated with wrinkled old ladies, frustrated mothers with wailing babies, a young girl who has the constant look of one watching a slasher movie, and me, my face pressed against the window like a smashed peach.

I fantasize about getting off of the bus in Ritzville, hitching a ride back to Spokane with a trucker, and going back home, back to my family, back to work. There is still so much to do before Y2K and the probable fall of society: Do I have enough food stockpiled? How will I cook the food when the electricity fails? How will I protect my loved ones from the mobs in the streets?

I discuss this with a man who boards the bus in Umatilla, Oregon and sits next to me. His name is Len. Len is going to a funeral in Biggs. Len says that I worry too much, and that if he were me, he would learn a lesson from the flowers and the birds. "Do birds worry about where their next meal comes from?" asks Len. "Do flowers worry about what to wear?"

I say goodbye to Len at Biggs and tell him that it was a good point he made about the flowers and birds and all, and that I am sorry about his friend.

"My mother," says Len. "It's my mother." He had mentioned nothing of this before.

The bus drives on. The passing scenery fades into darkness. I close my eyes and try to sleep. As I nod off, these are the images that flash in my mind:

(1) I am home in my easy chair, reading my horoscope (though I never actually read the horoscope). I read that I will die penniless and lonely in a one-room, downtown tenement building. Since this suggests, at least, a minimal survival of civilization, I am temporarily content with the prediction.

(2) People are beating on my apartment door, shouting, "We know you have food in there, Stik. How can you eat when my children are starving?" Outside my window, there are tanks and soldiers in the streets. I am surprised to find that there are still some decent shows on television.

(3) The bus slips on black ice and careens over a cliff, exploding into flames, people screaming, thick black smoke everywhere. But we are not hurt; we rise above the scene in our snow-white bus made of cloud-stuff and our white robes covered with drugstore-glitter, all of us singing bluesy but heavenly tunes.

I switch buses in Redding, California. I sit next to a rather plump but friendly teenage girl who eventually asks if I am a Christian. "No," I say. "But I am a believer." She is confused by this, then asks, as if a test, "Isn't it wonderful knowing Jesus?" "Sometimes," I say . "But not always." She says she will pray for me. We talk some about the Bible, and she is quite knowledgeable. Eventually we are talking about Abraham, and his wife who had a child when she was very old. "Yeah," I say. "She was like 200 or something like that, right?" "No," she says, "I think she was in her nineties." "Oh," I say. "Well, that's still pretty amazing, huh?"

I have a two-hour layover in LA. I am having a cigarette out in the plaza when two young women who were on the last bus approach me. There is a young guy in dark sunglasses with them who I haven't seen before. He behaves as if he is very stoned. The girls say they have a layover as well and ask what there is to do in LA for two hours. I suggest we all split the cost of a taxi and take a quick tour of Hollywood.

The guy and the two girls get in the back seat. I sit up front with the driver. He doesn't speak much English, but is able to understand what we want to do. Soon we are in the midst of Tinseltown, but I see no swimming pools, no movie stars--unless, that is, they are doing undercover research as transients, drug dealers and prostitutes.

Suddenly, one of the girls in the backseat, who could not be more than seventeen or eighteen years old, tells the driver to stop. She grabs her pack and gets out of the cab. "Um," she says, as if somewhat embarrassed. "I'm getting out here." She walks off and disappears into the crowd.

We are all quite dumbfounded by this. We speak little as we return to the bus depot. Just before we get there, the stoned guy in the back says, "I wouldn't worry much. She's cute and young. She'll take care of herself."

As I wait to board my next bus, a fairly well dressed, middle-aged man begins talking to me, nearly incoherently, then asks me to touch a bump behind his ear. "Ah, why?" I ask, being careful to imply as much as possible that I have no intention of touching him in any way. He says someone, "or some thing," has implanted something under his skin, then he looks at me suspiciously, as if perhaps I was to blame. "I'd rather not," I say. "Bet you die in an earthquake," he says.

I sleep most of the rest of the way. I wake. I sleep. I wake and look out the window. There is a car following along the side of the bus, neither passing nor falling behind. Inside, a young lady is crying. Behind the wheel, an elderly man is laughing. I am sad that I will never know why.

I sleep and I find that I am in a cornfield. I am surprised to find rifle barrels sprouting from the earth like the surrounding stalks of corn.

I wake and a man is talking to me. The bus has stopped and the driver is walking down the aisle counting heads. He looks at a clipboard, then back at the passengers. "Something's not right," he says. He shakes his head and we return to the road. "Thanks for not saying anything," says the man next to me.

I sleep again and I am with a group of people in an underground subway station that has collapsed at each end as a result of the social chaos above. We tear into the rubble with our bare hands and finally break through. Beyond is revealed a great underground city. I wake.

I rejoice as we finally pull into the Yuma bus terminal, realizing that I have not been sentenced to Hell via eternal Greyhound travel. It is 3:30 a.m. My mother's husband, Dick, a seventy-two year old, rotund man with hair cropped to his skull and the constitution of a horse, is there to meet me. He asks me if my razor broke, tells me that I smell bad, and reprimands me for bringing the cool weather.

Next month: Chapter Two
"My Brush with Yumanism"