IN MY NOVEL, DRAGONFIRE DREAMS, the plot revolves, in part, around a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to New York City. The driver of the car, a sleek little vintage Thunderbird convertible, is a character named Peter Skyler. What sends Skyler on his great road adventure is a series of events that begins when a gunman lets loose with a pistol in a nightclub just as Skyler and his band are about to play the biggest gig of their career.
The gunman, it transpires, is fleeing the police for a crime he has just committed and, as a diversionary tactic, he takes out the mirrorball that hangs above the dance floor in the club.
It is Skyler’s girlfriend, Shannon Youngblood, who is caught beneath the exploding mirrorball and almost killed when the bullets go flying.
As so often happens in today’s world that violent episode gets captured on the spot by someone wielding a smart phone.
Almost immediately, an anonymous man somewhere – a self-styled “shock artist” – does the unspeakable after seeing the clip on the news. Captivated by the beautiful Shannon, he edits the piece, sets it to music and gives it an overtly erotic twist. The video soon goes viral over the Internet, becoming a YouTube sensation and an utter nightmare for the striking young woman who, traumatized by events and a few other aspects of her relationship with Skyler, breaks up with him.
What happens next, stuns everyone even further. A man in New York City – a recluse with severe facial injuries – jumps in on the act and begins copycatting the violent episode in the club. Along the way, he inadvertently kills two people and goes on the run. This sparks a police manhunt of epic proportions. Eluding his pursuers, the unrepentant figure brashly reinvents himself as a self-styled “shock artist” too and begins perpetrating, “stunt punk gun fun”, calling himself “Vlad the Imp” – a play on the name of the medieval prince, Vlad the Impaler, of Transylvania, the very man who has gone down in history as the inspiration for Dracula.
Eventually, “Vlad” takes out a crystal chandelier in a swank hotel above a stunning red haired woman and, later, a giant screen TV in Times Square when he happens to see Shannon Youngblood in a news flash there, for he has fallen madly in love with her.
Such exploits bring the police manhunt to an absolutely feverish pitch.
Finally, with the whole world hanging on his every move, the increasingly psychotic felon perpetrates a series of devious exploits meant to ensure his criminal notoriety forever. That includes a bloody, blasphemous sacrilegious act intended to insult the God he feels has abandoned him.
To that end, he succeeds. He also succeeds in cleverly outfoxing the police and making off with Shannon, now the woman of his dreams, for a sizzling night of passion to which she must submit or else…
Skyler, meanwhile, believing that Shannon has finished with him for good, can only tune into the evolving madness surrounding her with horror, even as he tries his best to get a fresh start in life for himself. To that end, he rips out across the country in his T-Bird paying homage to his literary hero, Jack Kerouac, author of the legendary “Beat” novel, On the Road.
There are many ups and downs to the journey, including several affairs, as well as many a party and many a profound moment.
One of those moments of insight occurs when Skyler is passing through Northwest Ohio and hears a man on the radio speaking about the region, saying that in prehistoric times it was an area known as the Great Black Swamp. At once, Skyler muses on how the image of the Great Black Swamp is one that he can easily connect to his study of the ancient art of Alchemy. As he cruises along, he recalls a discussion he once had with a man named Killian McLaughlin (whom he and his friends call “McQuark” due to the man’s interest in quantum physics).
Below is an extract from the novel:
“In spiritual terms,” McQuark had explained, “the first phase, known as the nigredo or the blackening phase, correlates to that time in our life when we are stuck in the mud or when we feel as if we are sinking down into a quagmire that is threatening to engulf us completely. It corresponds, in short, to a time when almost everything seems to go far more wrong than right in one’s life, when there is very little light in sight. Yet, if one does keep slogging through the black muck, staying patient and trusting of the process, keeping utterly faithful and devoted to the higher ideals – even as one battles with his or her own darkest impulses and lowliest desires – then, and only then, can the purification process begin.”
Purification was said to be the second stage of the Great Work and Skyler had learned that it involved overcoming lower emotions such as greed, envy, selfishness and so on. As one purged oneself of such base level sentiments, the albedo, the whitening phase of alchemy, could begin in earnest. If the aspirant single-mindedly pursued the higher ideals of compassion, forgiveness and understanding during this phase, the nigredo could be left far behind. After that, one could grow in wisdom until the reddening phase, the rubedo, of true spiritual passion seized one completely.
This was how one arrived at last at the culmination of the Great Work to claim the spiritual gold of myth and legend. “But never forget,” McQuark had insisted, “without that beginning in the dark and terrible phase in the black muck, amid the fetid putrefaction of one’s own fear, stupidity and ignorance, there can be no purification, no growth in knowledge, no fathoming of the vast contrasts of this world, and no choosing of the higher ideals over the lower, animal and reptilian, instincts. Without experiencing the nigredo, there is no impetus to rise up.”
McQuark had smiled broadly after saying that. “Every life is actually an alchemical adventure whether one is aware of it or not,” he said. “Unfortunately, some never get beyond the swamplands, but that’s why they keep coming back into this world… To learn, to grow, to seek the gold again and again, until finally realizing what life is all about and then seizing that which is precious beyond measure, once and for all.”
Skyler wondered now, as he cruised along, if he had yet shaken off the black muck that had him trapped for so long or if he was still in the midst of it. He hoped that it was no mere coincidence that he was hearing the radio program about the Great Black Swamp as he was passing through.
“Reality mirrors what is going on within us…” McQuark had said.
According to the man on the radio, the region was a “veritable bread basket” now, which pleased Skyler. That particular fact tied in well with how spiritual alchemy had been summed up for him.
“Putrefaction leads to enrichment and enrichment gives way to fecundity,” McQuark had explained. “This is more than metaphor for a very simple reason. That which seems to be the refuse and rot in our lives is actually something of value, for every experience whether good or bad goes back into the mix of who we are and it invariably enriches the ground of our being. Without it, a person would never deepen nor grow, never become better nor more spiritual in nature. People would simply stay at the same base level of existence if there was no struggle. They would never even think to reach for anything higher, for any transcendental level of being, for the real alchemical gold!”
The name of the novel, with its use of the word “Dragonfire” in its title, was intended as a metaphor for the passion that is within each of us and the aspirations that come of that passion. Such passion is spectacularly incendiary, potent and irresistible. It is what ceaselessly impels us to risk life, limb and reputation to satisfy our deepest desires and it is what incessantly inspires one to cast off on a great adventure of his or her own in order to reach true fulfilment.
The ultimate point of the novel is simple enough: We all have our “dragonfire dreams” and we are all in the grip of those dreams.
Which is, perhaps, precisely what makes life so exciting.
There is another aspect to consider, as well, however. Anthropologist, Jeremy Narby, makes the point best when he says in his highly acclaimed book, The Cosmic Serpent, “There, I thought, is the source of knowledge: DNA living in water and emitting photons, like an aquatic dragon.”
In the last analysis, we humans are forever under the sway of our DNA, of our genetics, of our cultural backgrounds, the depth of our personal knowledge and, especially, our deepest impulses, passions and aspirations. How these all play out together determines what we do with our lives, what chances we take and what finally becomes of us.
In short, human destiny and fate are entwined within us exactly like the double helix of DNA and like the twin serpents on the medical profession’s symbolic Staff of Life, the Caduceus.
To use yet another metaphor: We are dealt a hand. That is fate.
How we play those cards is where free will comes into the equation and it is free will that ultimately drives us toward our destiny and, therefore, determines our destiny.