Chapter 9966

My little wagon chugged up the mountain late that evening, through an overwhelming green gloaming and trees with glowing gold leaves.

It wasn't that late, but I was. 

I was twenty-seven years old and driving into the woods for an unpaid internship, coasting on the fumes of my last paycheck (from March) and I still didn't know what I was doing with my life. 

Time is made up, age unimportant, but I'd wasted most of both up to this moment. The road narrowed to one lane. I sped on faster just the same.

And I've always had bad dreams about this. Usually, I wake, sweaty, to find myself running late or nearly there. Maybe worrying about it causes the dreams, which saves my ass -- or, maybe I'd wake up in time regardless.

I woke this way earlier that morning in L.A. and the 101 had been as slow-going as the 1, so I got to Santa Cruz a bit later than I'd planned.

In town, I checked the map and phoned the co-director of the center.

"Are you here?" He asked.

"Almost," I said, and hung up.

A dotted line, Amigo Road, brought me to the front gate of the writer's retreat center in the redwoods called the Wellstone. The black of the road met rounded stones at the drive, my wheels waited on the line. 

Once we -- my lovely red car, Wendy, and I -- passed through the gateway, the pull became magnetic. We parked, I hesitated at the wheel, she hummed under the hood, and the property sprang forth from the grounds around us: a round hilltop of garden, farm, and home surrounded by woods on the coast. 

I stepped out of my bubble and the aura engulfed me immediately. 

Goats were making goat sounds. Two hummingbirds hovered into view and clashed beaks, then vanished. An orange fell from one of the orange trees in the orchard.

There was no sound of hurry.

This place was a sideroom, outside of spacetime. It was an alternate dimension, where an hour spent meant a whole day down the hill, in society. The weight of it all waited at the top of a wide stone staircase, set on a solid foundation.

The front door opened as I approached and the co-director, Steve, appeared with a small child in his arms. He smiled. She did not.

"Sorry I'm late," I said, pointlessly.

"Nonsense," Steve told me. "You're right on time."