He saw the scroll open and heard the Voice- " 'Unless a grain of mustard fall into the earth and die."
The Chorus sounded in unison-"It will never live'"
"Amen." The Priestess said, and closed the ancient scroll.
Phoenix felt alien amidst the crowd of dark cloaked figures. He tried as hard as he could to pay attention to the Voice and the Chorus, but the smell of catacombs was disgusting and distracting. 'How can they stand to sit in nasty tombs, amidst rotting creeps?' he wondered.
The Priestess opened another scroll.
"It is time to make our journey. Close your eyes." She said.
They obeyed- even Phoenix. He tried his best to concentrate.
"Do not concentrate." The Voice commanded. "Let yourself be free. Prepare yourself for the voyage."
'Where are we going?' Phoenix thought sarcastically and tried not to laugh out loud. 'How did I let Dell convince me to come here?'
Dell was obsessed with this "club". He talked about it all the time- in the factory over the hum of the machines, at the Cafeteria between bites. There was rarely a time he didn't talk about it, although it may have cost him friends, or even further trouble. Dell didn't care. He was in his own little world.
Phoenix finally gave in to Dell's insistent invitations, but he refused to wear one of those stupid cloaks, and he swore on the Father's grave that he would not let himself be brainwashed like Dell. But he had promised him he would give it a chance.
" You are in a forest. Do you know what a forest looks like?" The Priestess began her rhetoric. "You are walking among trees- the greenest trees."
Phoenix disobeyed and opened his eyes for a moment to shoo a fly and noticed that the "Priestess" was no longer reading from the scroll. She was sitting Indian-style on the floor amidst her followers. He shut his eyes guiltily after seeing that no one else was peeking.
"You follow a path through the forest, softly stepping on the gentle Earth. The ground feels like a mother's breast to your bare feet. You take a deep breath and fresh *clean* air fills your lungs. You notice that the bright green leaves are dancing in rhythm all around you, and you feel the pulse of life consuming you.
Then, all of the sudden, a beautiful light shines like the sun, without a cloud to hide it. The light is coming from the ground, and you see a beautiful lady- the Mother, with open arms. She is welcoming you. The ground becomes a stairway, leading you towards the Mother. She is farther still, but you run. You run with all your might until your feet begin to burn. You look down, and realize that the stairway is now made of fire- blazing flames- and you shed your feet like dead skin. You are flying into the tender embrace, but you aren't there yet!"
Phoenix was starting to enjoy the little fantasy, but he was having some difficulty. His imagination wasn't nearly as practiced as Dell's.
"As you approach, the Mother begins to speak to you; ' my child, you are a new creation. You no longer have feet to walk your weary path, but wings to fly to heights unknown. If you will descend unto me, I will give you peace that will ascend your greatest fears.' And as you hear her voice it is as a dove cooing into your soul. You cannot help but soar and, finally, you catch her!"
The Chorus exclaims "Rejoice! Rejoice!"
Phoenix is less than a little spooked by this but, nonetheless, returns to the "voyage"
"You are One with the Mother, and she whispers into your ear ' I love you, my child. I have given you life-From my womb you are born anew.' And in the embrace of the Mother, you look at your wings. Your wings are like fireworks! They are brilliant arrays of color and life. Your wings are blood, and fire, and tears. They are green like the trees, and yellow like the sun!"
After an ominous silence the Chorus pronounced "Amen."
And, without warning, Phoenix heard the group of disciples begin to stand up. He opened his eyes and followed suit. Dell was next to him, glowing with the face of an angel. They didn't say anything to each other, but walked together out of the tombs. The rest of the group was silent as well.
Once they reached the open streets, Dell started- "Well, what did you think?"
"Quiet down!" Phoenix whispered. "It's after hours!"
"Ok!" Dell said, quieter than before. "So?"
" It was cool, I guess."
"You *guess*?"
"I mean.I don't really see what the point is."
"You didn't feel it?"
"It was nice and all. I just don't understand what's so great about daydreaming."
" It's more than that! I.I can't really explain it. Wait!"
They both saw her standing there, the Priestess, waiting near the alley in the dark and the rain.
"Talk to *her*!" Dell said.
Phoenix followed Dell's rushed pace up to the Priestess and Dell told her that Phoenix had a question.
"What's your question, young friend?"
Phoenix searched for the right thing to say. " I just don't understand the purpose of imagining things. Isn't it sort of a waste of time?"
"I'd think not." She said. "A waste of time would be leaving time alone. That's what the world does- they let time rule them. We rule time."
"I don't get it."
"Listen, my child. You think of imagination as a waste, because you have been trained to think it's frivolous and unreal. Or not to think of it at all. But we see deeper than that. We are not simply pretending! We have found the only true way to transverse both time and dimension. There is no other way."
" But your body doesn't go anywhere!" Phoenix said.
" You are not your body! You can go *anywhere* and do *anything* with your mind. With your body, you are at the factory or the cafeteria or your bed. You are on earth, or in hell. The only way to transcend is to dream."
He didn't know what to say. He managed to hide his confusion, and utter a word of thanks before they left the Priestess and continued down the alley.
"You mean to tell me that you honestly believe imagining Heaven will bring you to Paradise?" he asked.
"Well...yeah. It's something the Elders call 'faith'"
"But *forests*? Everyone knows those don't exist. And the ridiculous thought of a mother! They're a bunch of foolish myths!"
"But haven't you ever secretly wanted a mother?"
"Well, every one wonders what it would be like sometimes...but to fantasize about it *intentionally*. It's almost vulgar!"
"I want a mother. And a forest. And Wings!" Dell yelled.
"And if you keep up like that, you'll get your feet burned off just like in the fantasy. Only it'll be on a stake with no one to help you!"
"Don't be silly. They don't take us seriously." Dell looked saddened by the thought. "I almost wish I could die as a heretic, punished for my dangerous thoughts. But we pose no threat to them."
"You *are* a Looney. Time-traveling and exploring worlds of insanity! What nonsense!"
"Think what you may." he said "At least I have a reason to live."
This brought Phoenix to a dead stop in the road. He wasn't sure whether he was angry or just plain hurt. "I have a reason to live!" he retorted. "I have food and work. I get rewards. I get to enjoy things!"
"Like forests?"
"Oh! Will you ever be satisfied with reality? There's a word for people like you- Ingrates!"
But as he thought of the dark monotonous drone of the factory, and the mathematical perfection of the dormitories and Cafeteria, he felt a sadness which he knew not a word for. It reminded him of a hole.
"There's one thing I didn't get though." Phoenix said. "What did they mean about the mustard grain, and dying to gain life?"
Dell looked puzzled. "I don't really know."