Keith blinked a few times before the glass came into focus under his nose. There was something golden and frothy bubbling in it like live amber. Beer? Hazily he tried to recall where he'd been, how he'd gotten here, and where "here" was.
After a moment he realized he was sitting on a high stool at one end of a long glossy bar. A handful of other humanoids were seated along the length of it, two of them, nursing drinks. The other three were clustered together near a machine that looked like an old fashioned cassette player, the sort he remembered seeing in a classroom in his youth, back in 1983.
That was his youth wasn't it? Presently it was difficult for him to identify who he was and sort through which memories probably belonged to this person.
He shook his head a little and focused again at the triad at the other end of the bar. It did look like an old fashioned cassette player, flat with broad white keys, but in the window where a cassette would have been there were touch screen controls, and instead of wearing headphones, all three were connected to the device with an output that jacked in behind an ear. They were all smiling dreamily, and occasionally one of them reached out and struck a series of keys which caused them all to shiver in apparent ecstasy and they would smile and nod to each other trough veiled eyelids. Then the next person would try their hand at manipulating the keys and the scenario would repeat.
This did not seem to Keith like a familiar activity. Instinctively he reached behind his ear and felt for the jack. Shock rippled through him and his jaw dropped a little when his fingertips encountered a small round opening there. Apparently, it should be familiar to him.
Vaguely he noted a curtained stage upon which a woman with black make up smudged all over her eyes was performing a rendition of Blue Velvet, singing in charmingly dusky tones while accompanying herself on a theremin. Her tangerine colored hair leapt up from her scalp ala bride of Frankenstein but curled so that it resembled a wave or a flame. A clingy white sequined evening gown, designed with gashes all down the torso through which her pale flesh peeped, was only slightly distinguishable in hue from her complexion. Individuals were scattered around a handful of tables spread through out the establishment. Most attended the tables closest to the stage, drinking or snoozing or examining liquid crystal tablets.
Suddenly, Keith was aware of the bar tender looming over him from the other side of the bar. The big bald man cleared his throat. Keith glanced sheepishly up at him.
"You asked for this." the bar tender said and pushed an LCD pad towards him, the muscles of his arms rippling under the tattoos. The words "Madam Blagva's Celestial Calculator" flashed over the screen accompanied by an entourage of sparkling shooting stars.
"Uh, thank you." Keith said and smiled. He couldn't believe that he had asked for this. He had no idea what it was or how it worked. He sat and gazed numbly at it. The bar tender was watching him. Keith squirmed.
"It's been a while since I've used one of these..." he ventured in an attempt at explanation. The bartender raised an eye brow.
"Just plug in your spider" he said.
Keith tried not to look too horrified or perplexed.
"I lost mine." he answered. Now the bartender raised both eyebrows to dubious heights.
"It's been a rough couple of years." Keith supplemented his original statement.
The bartender sighed and reached over and taped the pad with three fingers.
"Without direct interface you won't have any privacy, but it's your call."
A gritty electrified granny voice intoned mysteriously from the pad,
"Ask your question."
Keith stared at the pad. There were no alphanumeric keys. Timidly he cleared his throat and said,
"Uh…I've been going nowhere career wise and have felt stuck in a rut."
He paused and looked cautiously at the bar tender, hoping that he had done the right thing. He nearly sighed with relief when the gritty little voice encouraged him,
"Well, I discovered a book called 'Earth Sun Moon' put out by Wooden books and I drafted a 'celestescope' that charts the moon, sun, mercury, venus mars, jupiter, saturn... I found that saturn has been in retrograde in my sign since 2007 and is getting ready to leave, finally, as far as I can tell, sometime in July, and resume its usual motions through the rest of the signs, not to land in mine again for around another thirty years.”
“And?” the pad croaked. Keith swallowed hard.
“I guess I'm asking... is there light at the end of the tunnel? I guess I already am feeling free-er, less restricted..."
He trailed off and waited for an uncomfortable moment. The bartender, he was a tad chagrined to notice, was still watching and listening intently from the same location while polishing glasses with a white towel.
The gritty voice erupted from the pad once again.
"There is always light at the end of the tunnel; though sometimes it is a train.", it cackled crone-like while an image of a train sprang into motion on the screen and then cut away to another image of saturn and its rings which faded into lady justice dancing backwards away from him. The video collage continued while the hag voice narrated;
"Saturn did go into Libra, and has now retrograded back to Virgo. It will be back to Libra in late July. Getting Saturn off your Sun sign may well free up essential energy for you. Anything that feels better, freer for you, is worth exploring. Saturn can be a useful teacher. Putting aside the frustration, consider whether this time of inertia has left any lessons learned."
Keith sat pondering as the bar tender withdrew to refill a drink.
"The light is always everywhere."
Keith was startled by the voice. One of the triad who had been jacked into the device at the end of the bar had left her companions and was now standing at his right shoulder. She was short and lithe. One half of her head was shaved and white hair hung down to a length just past her chin on the other side. Her irises were bright crimson and her naked flesh was a sort of powder blue hue. She wore what looked like a white buckskin skirt and moccasins and nothing else. Her breast were very small and the nipples were bright, almost as crimson as her eyes.
"The tunnel is our own creation." she concluded and smiled at him.
The woman seated a couple of stools to his right snorted over her drink. Her hair hung in stringy mouse brown lengths about her face and shoulders. She resembled a glob of clay that had been carelessly slopped onto the stool and now threatened to spill out in every direction. Her back and shoulders were slightly hunched, perhaps being tugged mercilessly by the weight of her considerable breasts and belly, all of which was wrapped in what looked like a hot pink Snuggie that hung off of one shoulder exposing her freckled flesh.
"I had a ten year Pluto transit to my natal Saturn/Pluto/Sun-Mercury T-square." she said without looking up from her glass. He noticed that something like tiny live fish seemed to be swimming among the bubbles in the aquamarine tinted elixir. "The T-square is a big, impossible, nasty combo in my chart that will never stop giving me grief and the period of that Pluto transit nearly killed me, quite literally."
She made a sound that might have been limp laughter and took a swig of whatever it was she was drinking, swallowing several of the fish. Keith strained to get a better look at them and was aghast to discover that they resembled itsy bitsy mermaids more than fish. One pressed its all too human hands against the glass and seemed to look at him imploringly with its blinking hyper round eyes. He deduced from that look and the frantic way its fins twitched that it was cognizant of its situation.
"Oddly," the woman continued, "I married a man just prior to the onset of this transit whose Sun was conjunct his Pluto and Mercury at one point of my T-square and had a daughter who had her Sun/Pluto-Saturn/Mercury at the Saturn point, conjunct the transiting Pluto."
She paused and drained her glass. Keith felt sick, like he might scream or cry or vomit, or all of the above. She swiveled around on her stool and regarded him squarely.
"In other words, my own actions, perhaps influenced by the transit, worsened the astrological aspect -- or perhaps just embodied it. The marriage was a disaster - he was extremely psychologically abusive to both me and our daughter, and the daughter was, even apart from him, THE most difficult person I've ever had to deal with. It turns out she has Asperger's Syndrome." She turned back around and tapped her empty glass on the bar nodding to the bartender.
"Anyway," she said as he replaced her drink with another swarming with the little mer creatures, "my point is that these slower moving transits can cause tremendous trouble, depending on how they impact your natal planets. Saturn is one of those that, in my opinion, can cause some of the worst trouble. Not only is it restrictive, but it's known as the gatekeeper to Pluto -- to the Underworld."
She took a drink and coughed, Keith imagined, as a result of some of the little creatures struggling on their way down the hatch. She recovered after a moment and pointed a finger at him.
"By the way, almost to the day Pluto left the sign of that transit, Scorpio, I took a ten-day trip overseas without notice to anyone. I literally ran away -- and interestingly, Pluto had gone into Sag., the sign of travel, and the placement of my Moon in a Grand Trine with Pluto and Mars in my chart -- a very powerful and favorable combo for me."
Satisfied, she returned all of her attention back to her drink, dipping her finger in and stirring her terror stricken captives into activity before swallowing them alive.
The blue girl, whose hand was on her hip now, bit the corner of her lip while starring at the other woman and said, "As the Cosmic Muffin used to say, 'It's a wise man who rules the stars and a fool who is ruled by them.'"
The woman didn't seem to hear.
"I was born September 16, but I'm no Virgo." a voice piped up behind Keith. He had to look over his shoulder beyond the blue girl to find the speaker. It was a man in a fedora and vest sitting at a table with an old Chinese man and someone that looked like the Egyptian god Anubis with six naked teats lined up in neat pairs. He had a fine stubble coming in all over his chin and his sleeves were rolled up above his elbows. His hands were busy with the business of shuffling a deck of cards and a cigarette hung from his lip.
"I'm not a Virgo because I don't believe that constellations, that by the way, are only crude dot to dot drawings, influence my life at all. Sure," he said shrugging and lifting his hands slightly, still holding the cards, "I could not be here if there weren't stars, but that specific ones influence my life is superstition born of desire." he began to deal the cards as he spoke. "The desire to find a cause, a reason, a measure of control for good and bad. It's hard to accept that good and bad things happen accidentally for no reason at all. We roll the dice every minute. Sometimes we win a cigar, sometimes we get burned by one. Chance is in charge.” He winked, “Bets to you Nita."
The Anubis headed bitch pushed some chips into the pot and the Chinese man with long white catfish whiskers responded in a similar manner. The man in the fedora raised.
"But take heart," he said grinning to the other players, "good and bad things happen to the same 'no one.'"
Keith felt himself reddening a little. So what if he wanted to consult the stars? He knew it wasn't a science, but somehow, he suspected, it had brought him here.
"Yes indeed," he heard himself say before he could master his indignation, "but there is this old maxim 'as above, so below, as within, so without' that has made itself known to me."
The blue girl put her hand on his shoulder and started rubbing it.
"Correct." one of her companions from the end of the bar said abruptly. The young topless Asian man had a long mane of raven colored hair. He was unplugging the cable behind his ear. The thing that came out of the port had eight delicate legs and stood in his palm. The iridescent cable was a strand spun from this creature’s abdomen. It cut the unneeded connection and walked along the young man’s arm as he said,
" So whatever was within that was out-pictured is worth exploring."
The blue girl nodded emphatically and pressed herself closer to Keith’s back.
"I don't necessarily believe we are 'ruled' by them, but I certainly believe there are synchronicities, meaningful connections that exist between ourselves, microcosm, and the heaven’s macrocosm. Whether that is wise to believe remains to be seen and is subject to change, of course. I can be somewhat skeptical at times." Keith said, a little distracted by the blue girl’s attentions. She was leaning over his shoulder, listening intently and smiling sweetly at him, so close that he could smell her licorice scented breath.
"Everything influences everything." the clay woman sputtered, coming back to life and rejoining the conversation. "No human being lives in a vacuum separate from the rest of the world or the universe and the forces that govern things do so across space and time." she said stretching her hand out in a sweeping gesture. "There does not have to be a human reason for something happening, but the universe works in the way it does, which is its own reason. And we are part of all that, though we feel separate. No scientist believes it all happens by chance. As Einstein said: ‘God doesn't play dice with the universe.’ "
The man in the fedora laughed harshly.
"A cute phrase, but false." he said. "Einstein didn't want to believe in quantum mechanics, but has been proven wrong. God, well, nature, plays dice after all, they’re called quarks." He grinned at his comrades. The Chinese man yawned.
"I frequently provide my liver cells with evidence that I don't care a fig for their individual lives." said Nita, the Anubis bitch, in a silky voice. "But then, I'm not THE God. I am just A god. And I have pressures on me that they will never comprehend. Actually, I only understand them a little better than they understand me. I am capable of recognizing and interacting with them, individually; but I have little call to do so." Thus saying she raised her glass as if giving a toast and then lapped at the drink until her dog-like muzzle could no longer be adequately accommodated by the glass’s shape.
Lumpy was twisting around on her barstool to face the man in the fedora. It looked as though she might slip right off.
"I don't see quantum mechanics as "dice" or chance. Quarks aren't random either. They choose what to do, but we don't yet know completely why.” She was gesticulating wildly as she spoke, teetering and tottering on her seat, “The universe has a purpose, I think, but not our purpose. We are so arrogant to think that something zillions of times bigger and more complex that us should do things our way. But if we can ally ourselves with those forces that are greater than us, it is not chance we encounter, but deep purposefulness of a nature not so much indifferent to humans as equally inclusive of all things, as well as us - meaning we are no more important than anything else. To me,” she sniffed, “ this is far more wonderful than human-guided purposes. Well, let's say human-led purposes are NOT wonderful at all UNLESS they can tap into the greater, wider universe."
Here she stretched both of her arms as wide as she could and nearly toppled over. She barely managed to catch herself by grabbing onto the bar and twisting back around.
The man in the fedora and Nita laughed and turned all of their attention back to their game.
The blue girl was working on both of Keith’s shoulders now.
"How did you loose your spider?" She whispered, "You don't mean that it died do you? I couldn't bear it if that happened to mine. We have a spare if you want to join us."
"Thanks." Keith said, "I think I better finish my drink though."
He tried to focus on the drink sitting in front of him. How did he get here? Was this because of the stars? Or was it because of the book about the stars? Maybe the stars were innocent. Maybe they had nothing to do with his present reality tunnel crisis. This experience may have been induced by a tornado picking up his house… What was the last thing he remembered doing?
Oddly the only thing he could think of was the little mer person pressed against the inside of the lumpy woman’s glass. It was as if it had happened to him, as if their roles had been reversed. He had been swallowed alive and this was what it was like in the bowels of something a zillion times bigger and more complicated than himself.
Desperately he downed the glass of beer. The bar tender brought him another one. Little girl blue was getting really serious about massaging his shoulders and back. He had a feeling she might like to blow his horn. If she was what he was "out picturing" then maybe what was within was worth exploring...
Then he spied her companions at the end of the bar manipulating the “cassette player” and shivering and realized that what she really wanted was to put spiders in his head…
The woman on the stage started a new song, picking delicately at the empty air over the black box of her theremin.
“Moon river, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day…”