A faded rock star wakes in a cell at a religious cult compound, with the voice of a long dead member of his band telling him to go into the desert to seek a vision.
Randall Kingsland awoke in the dark, his name finally coming to him. His own history came to him too, only in dribs and drabs. He needed to focus, and the dark helped; he couldn't see a thing so there was nothing to distract him. And yet, he couldn't remember how he'd come to be in the dark. That was the first item of business, it seemed; to remember.
This was how it had gone down. He joined them, a friendly group led by a friendly prophet. There had been some bad trouble, something to do with money, or a betrayal, or both. Never mind. That might be the second order of business, or third, or fourth, or twenty-seventh. Anyway, he'd joined them a week ago, or was it two? Or was it a month? He needed something only they could provide, or so he thought at the time. And they gave it to him, at first. They gave him something else too; a drink of something. Yes, a drink. And it had made the world go away for a while, which was fine and dandy to him - Randall Kingsland, former... former... what? Skip that for now, Randall.
At one point they'd told him that he needed to deny himself, deny his own ego. He'd spent years pandering to it, and now it was time to let it go, said the prophet. They'd cut his mid-length, graying locks of hair. They'd taken away his sunglasses. Yes, his sunglasses. He had an uncommon sensitivity to light from childhood. Strange that this would come to him now. Yet his dependence on his shades accentuated his image as ... a musician; that was it, and a famous one, in the 60s and a part of the 70s too. But the year was now... what? It was a long way down the road from the 60s and part of the 70s. It was the 21st Century, wasn’t it?
Wait, Randall. That isn't important right now. What is important now is to get out of here.
What? Did somebody say something? Was that me?
No, it wasn't you. If it were you, you'd be insane. You're not. And it's not the drink they gave you, either. That brew was to make you forget. I'm here to help you remember.
Who are you?
It's Paul, Ran. It's Paul Rose.
Rose? You're dead. Are you sure I'm not insane?
You're sleep deprived, malnourished, and you've been drugged by people who want to steal your money. But, you're not insane.
Fine. Are you a ghost, then?
No. Well, I don't think so.
Where are you?
Not sure. This is going to sound crazy. But, I think I'm in your pocket.
You're right, that does sound crazy. I really do need to get out of here, don't I?
Yes. And you need to do it fast. They're going to wait until morning, and then they're going to drug you again. Then, they'll have you declared mentally incompetent, and claim all of your assets, which you turned over to them legally in a state of religious ecstasy.
That wasn't too smart of me. What happened to me, anyway?
You got tired, that's all. It happens. Remember what happened to me?
Well, you will once the drugs wear off.
I remember one thing, Rose.
You were a hell of a singer.
I know. And you were a hell of a player yourself, Ran. I even liked some of your solo albums after I died. But, there'll be plenty of time to wander down memory lane. You should get up now. You can leave this cell anytime you want to. They didn't figure on me leading you out, so they didn’t lock you in. They figured the drugs would be stronger, too, forgetting how many you’ve taken in your life.
OK, let’s go.
Then, Randall groped for the door, turned the knob with ease, and stumbled into the hall, which was dimly lit and featureless. He remembered what Paul Rose had said about being in his pocket, and felt for it. The pocket itself was deep, a part of the billowing robe he'd been given when he'd been initiated. And at the bottom of the pocket was a flat, smooth object. Randall's fingers curled around it, and drew it up towards the gloomy light.
It was a CD, a copy of his band's first album, his and Rose's. It was self-titled; The Dust. And Paul Rose's pale face stared out at him. And then the young, fresh-faced Paul Rose winked at him. And Randall knew that when the haze of the drugs wore off, he would remember to be adequately freaked out.
“OK,” said Paul Rose, former 60s pinup, singer and organist for legendary psychedelic-soul-rock heroes, the almighty Dust. “Go down that hall, and make a left. And go slowly; your legs haven’t been used for a while.”
It was true. He felt the pins and needles almost instantly, having not noticed them before. Rose had always been the leader, always was a step ahead. Randall had followed him from Niagara Falls, all the way out to San Francisco. When was that? It was 1965. His history was coming back. And this was the year 2001. He was fifty-three years old. He could barely believe it.
“Keep going, Ran. Now, when you get to the door at the end of the hall, I want you to count to twenty, slowly. One of the faithful is in the hall, a guard I guess. By the time you’ve counted, you’ll be safe enough to open the door cross the hall, and head down the stairs to the lobby. Then, you’re home free.”
In 1965, Rose had taken his keyboard, and put it into the back of his second-hand station wagon, and had come by Randall’s house at 2AM, just as they’d planned. Randall threw his guitar, his amp, and his very small suitcase into the backseat, and scurried into the passenger side. Then, Rose leapt into the front seat, behind the enormous wheel of the station wagon. He smiled at Randall, who smiled back. They were boys then. And they were escaping, stealing away on an adventure.
In 2001, Randall walked, his legs in agony from pins and needles, as if dozens of invisible wasps were having at them. He was escaping now, too. Somewhere under the layers of years and burdensome experience, he was still that boy stealing away on an adventure. He had always been that boy. Yet, now the conditions were unexpected to say the least. Paul Rose had died in 1969. He was found dead in his car, his veins full of heroin. It hadn’t been in the station wagon. It was in a silver Corvette. In just a few short years, the station wagon was long gone.
Randall found himself saying “fourteen” in his head, and then going on to “fifteen” and so on. He’d thought about 1965 as he’d begun to count to twenty, just as Rose had told him to do. He’d always listened to Rose, although other voices crowded in before the end. They’d written songs while driving, written them as easily as drawing breath. And they were good. Eventually, some of them would end up on their record. But, that was a long way away from the time they drove from Niagara Falls to San Francisco. That trip was a world, an age unto itself.
Suddenly, Randall was in the hall, heading toward the stairs. He descended, hit the landing, whirled on the balls of his feet, and continued down the second flight. He thought about the first time he met Buck. They didn’t call him Buck until much later, though, when he began to obsess about royalty checks. He was Richard Mulligrew then, from Texas, but he’d lost the accent. He played bass, knew people, and could sing. We stayed with him in his small apartment where you could see the Coit Tower out of the window. Rose thought he was an jerk from the start. Randall thought he was OK. He was certainly ambitious. Randall could appreciate that. They formed the band with Buck on bass, and with that psycho Harry Trask on drums, although Rose always said that the band was formed during the trip, in the desert, when Rose had seen his mother.
His mother died in 1959, when Rose was eleven. But, she’d appeared to him in the desert, in a vision. They’d taken peyote, bought from some local drifter in Colorado. It was a vision quest they were on. Randall had seen nothing, and had been sick. But for Rose, the dust motes in the desert had swirled and swirled into the shape of Rose’s mother. She had told him things – secret things, disturbing things. But, she had told them that their course was true, that they would find what they were looking for. And so they were the Dust from that day onward, in Rose’s mind, just the two of them.
Back in 2001, Randall flung his hands against the aluminum bar of the double doors of the compound’s main hall. Rose told him to count to ten before proceeding into the courtyard, because someone at that moment was looking out the window, having heard something below. How did Rose know so much?
“Because I’m dead,” he answered. “ Dead people know everything. Well, a lot of things anyway.”
“…eight, nine, ten,” thought Randall to himself, or possibly to his dead friend. He was no longer sure. But, it felt right in believing it really was his friend talking to him. Maybe it had taken this long to receive his own vision. Or perhaps his vision was still to come. He stepped out into the night, crossed the courtyard, and walked until he felt the grass brushing up against his feet.
He looked behind him. The compound rose up against the night like Castle Dracula. He thought: “When morning comes, I’m going to be blind without my shades.”
“That’s the least of your problems, Ran,” said Paul Rose, co-author of the smash hit Better Know What You Got Before It’s Gone, number one on the pop charts in 1966, and a breakthrough to the big time for a little band called The Dust. “This is only the start of the journey.”
“It’s just like old times, buddy. Remember the trip out west? We were seventeen and invincible then. Now, we’re not. I’m dead. And you’re addled. But the more you walk, the less addled you’ll be. I won’t be any less dead.”
“Where are we going, Rose?,” asked Randall, out loud this time in a scratchy voice that sounded strange to him.
“Back to where we began, of course.”
“No, you moron. We’re going back to the desert”
“Oh. Sure. What for?”
“You need to get your vision. I got mine early, when I was young. I’ve had my time, and made my mistakes. You. You’re lucky. You get a shot at it now, when you’ve lived some. That’s the best time to get a vision. C’mon.”
“Why the desert? Why not right here?”
“It doesn’t work that way. Don’t ask me why. But, it doesn’t.”
“Am I going to die?”
“Eventually, Ran. But will you die chasing your vision into the desert? I have no idea. You’ll just have to start walking, and find out for yourself.”
“Fine. Let’s go.”
And he did. The CD of the Dust’s first album, inexplicably present in his pale robe, went along with him.