This is the story of my travels over the last summer. From England to Scotland and west towards Puerto Rico. Events from present day that echo stories of the past and seem to meet in places so far away from each other in time, distance , and thought.
PART I: STONEHENGE
10 km and 30 minutes to the airport, 4,652 km and 6 hours from Kuwait to London Heathrow, 137 km and 3 hours from Heathrow to the camp site in Wiltshire, and just another 5 km and 3 hours to Stonehenge. Almost a year for every kilometer traveled is how old this monument is. 191 kilometers short of 5000 years. 5000 years ago people got together and navigated over harsh lands carrying stones weighing upwards of 50 tones. 5000 years later- present day. Over 18,000 people gathered to celebrate summer solstice, the longest day of the year, on June 21st 2010. 5000 years, people have gathered at this one place on that one day, so a total of 5000 summer solstices….Incredible.
While the Egyptians built the pyramids an indigenous group of people in what is now present day Britain built Stonehenge, one of the seven wonders of the world, with Bluestone, Sarson, and Welsh sandstone. Taking thousands of people thousands of years to build; they dragged these stones long distances in the name of worship, sacrifice, and or death. Large funeral processions; maybe, no one is positively certain but human remains have been excavated. People still travel from all corners of Earth to ramble on in the fields and celebrate life under the spirit in the sky. Dancing, singing, and watching in anticipation for the break of dawn and the coming of the year’s longest sun. A festival has taken hold and has endured since before the Battle of Bean hill, when the government tried to stop the public from assembly. The smoldering fist of Blackbeard struck down again, the plundering of freedom and thought. Since then the festival has returned again to the revered grounds.
Today, O’er the lea many traipsed towards stone monuments masked in darkness on the hill. Standing like colossal pillars to secrets of the past, mysteries, rumors, and theories. My mate , Dr. Hunter S. Thomson and I had walked over three hours through the English country side in ahibriation from our campground. Beginning at sundown around 11 p.m., we footslogged along narrow roads barricaded with large walls of bush. We passed others in the chilly night through clouds of smoke. They had blank faces covered in cold sweat, quiet sewn mouths, and beady empty pupils. I looked towards my mate with gonzo eyes and Doctor Thomson said, “I think we’re in bat country.” My eyes played tricks on me as my smoke reached its end. Tired, my shins burned and my shirt began to stick to my back. I wanted to lay down on the side of the porous gravel in the ditches under the large bushes. As cars sped by blinding us with their headlights, screams came from the windows sending cringes down my bony spine. they slowly dissipated as they disappeared into the dark,lost in the darkness. Lost, lost, we finally saw great lights coming over a hill in the distance. Small dots emerged from the bottoms and moved towards the light like ants, visions of beings from another world gathering for close encounters from above and beyond inside large crop circles. Circles of pressed wheat and grass, so large they seem to be open uncultivated dead granges of rolling hills. We finally made our way closer as the night became stronger in it’s height and we arrived to the ancient site.
Hours past like minutes as festival go’ers danced to an archaic drum cadence on the hallowed ground upon the heath. I thought I heard murmurs from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin in the early morning as harmonicas played and voices sang, “cryin’ won’t help you, praying won’t do you no good, goin’,goin to Chicago”(Led Zeppelin, when the levee breaks). I had been taken back to the late 60s and early 70s to a place that seemed ripped from the pages of great books. Novels that had been taken off the shelves and put into large piles to burn. Unreadable, atrocious material with unapologetic passages about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Or WAR-Vietnam and napalm dripping with skin off of innocent children, soldiers returning dead, scarred from events following the drafts. The Battle of Chicago- gased, faces bludgeoned by police batons, crowds protesting in the streets for free speech and freedom, pirated freedom from the government Captain Hook. Stonehenge; it seemed, had brought me to these places of horror in history. Yet it was freedom that over-powered me. The people around me, that danced with themselves, were happy in their moment. Moments, went by and I became slowly relaxed and began to enjoy this great experience. I was free, I was alone surrounded by thousands.
And alone under brilliant stars I looked out onto vast expanses of lonely moors undulating under the moonlight like deep green carpets lifted and stretched above the summer’s cool air. On my blanket I laid over wet grass and began to fall asleep on the perimeter of the henge, dreaming of the way things use to be.
It was then, in my sleep, I saw Duke (Hunter S. Thomson) walking away from the stones towards the piers as the song “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum played over the immense billowing clouds. Ships on the high skies carried the sounds of riffs from a buzzing electric guitar, rattling tambourines, snare kicks, and cheering crowds. The sounds headed in all directions voicing freedom. With one last smile I climbed to my feet from the lush grass and peered around at my surroundings, 5000 years old. Over 5000 summer solstices, for I had traveled almost 5000 kilometers. “You haven’t seen it all yet son, you haven’t gone to the edge.” “What is the edge?” I said. “The edge? there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. the others, the living, are those who pushed their control as far as felt they could handle and pulled back or slowed down, but the edge…is still out there.” Dr. Thomson looked at his astrolabe for directions and we then sailed on Moby Dick, a white 1971 Chevy Impala convertible away from our social pirates towards new shores of rest… the edge. The Doctor turned on the radio, looked at me ,and said, “that’s it, that’s MY funeral.”
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
Spirit In The Sky
Millions of years ago two volcanoes spewed ash, rock, and lava into the southern Scottish air. Deep gapping angry bowels leading to Earth’s core began to cool as the Ice Age arrived forming large glaciers. These god-like sheets of frozen water rubbed and filed down the heated jagged peaks. From Magma to fire, from fire to rock. From water to ice, from ice to glacier; mountains to mounts, and hills. Edinburgh City grew, forming from powerful rock. These rocks set the strong foundations for buildings that would stand over half a millennium and guard the “history” told through rocks, told through stone, and stories passed on from writers, painters, and evil-doers bent on tarnishing Edinburgh’s name.
What stories come from cold volcanic rock?
After a long drive through the Lake District in North-West England we crossed over into Scotland on our way to Edinburgh, a city of witches and ghosts. The doctor and I had looked forward to seeing this city in all it’s enchanting glory and hear the stories. Haunting stories and a walk back in time to days of savagely cold hunger, murder, and superstition. A city built on the stories of old, horrifyingly dark alleys lit with lanterns echoing the hum-drums of spirits that refuse to leave memories of the refuse clogged streets that they once walked. Like water poured on a fire, glaciers on a volcano, smoke rises from the city streets…
As we came into the city there she stood like a looming burden of bleak reminders from the hardened past. Edinburgh Castle , stands gothically regal atop a mass of volcanic rock. It was the end of June and the night was briskly chilly as the sun hung in the sky until late evening. Our latitude had increased since landing in London, South- East England. People walked aimlessly down the Royal Mile after drinking their last pint at the pub. The castle’s changing of the guard moved like a ballet under groaning drawn-out notes from bagpipes echoing under a sinister blanket of air, massaging city roofs with numb hands.
The doctor and I parked our car and began our dawdled ascent up to the main street leading down from the Castle, the Royal Mile. We trudged up the pavement toward the ghostly brick building and soon decided to take a right turn down a steep winding street flanked by many dark alleys with high thin steps leading into the dark. The buildings stood at their pinnacle ten stories high. Dotted with lit windows, shadows of people moved like apparitions behind the glass encased by stonewalls. Down this street a long time ago the poor slept and flat owners tossed their own excrement out their windows on the sewage caked streets. A smell pungent and hideous, it drove the average person insane. Cloaks and canes, the sound of a slow gait-clicking heels and the hammering of a walking stick upon the steps of a dark alley. Voices echoed off the walls traveling as they bounced in different directions through the city. The distance of sound cannot be measured amongst the obtrusive ghostly architecture.
We continued to walk. Looking left, “I think he frequents this place”, the doctor said and we pushed open the front door and walked into the pub. A large wooden phonograph began to play Tchaikovsky with 1812 Overture’s weeping violins. Horse main strung bows made long soft and solemn strokes across the strings. Whispers came from the bar and other booths around the pub as glasses clinked as they drank. Bright chandeliers hung above the bar reflecting in the large smoky mirror behind rows of liquor bottles. The bar tender whom had been washing the bar looked towards us with suspicion cocking his head back in disappointment and asked us what we would like. “Pint, Scotch?”he said. He was not pleased to see two foreigners in his bar. We walked towards the end. The doctor slammed his fist on the bar and said, “two Luphroags”.
Looking right, to a booth tucked into the corner there sat a man in a deep black coat. He had long grey hair that sat in messy tufts. Large crow’s feet jetted from each bloodshot eye. His nose was large and red and spoke of many years of drinking. His five o’clock shadow looked more like he just hadn’t shaved in days. He was musty and beaten down, worn out and drunk. He must have been in his late sixties, I thought. With a haggard, throaty voice he bellowed to the barkeep, “One more, mate”, slurring his voice, “Then e gotta git uhhhh mee home to mee wifffe.” He took large gulps of his drink as liquid ran from his mouth down his chin. You could hear each time he put the drink up to his mouth, the glass hit his front teeth and the sound of air and liquid entered a cavernous mouth as beer ran over his filthy gums. He banged his glass on the table every time he put his glass down.
The Doctor and I sat in the booth behind the old man and began to enjoy our drinks when suddenly the sounds of horses galloping down the way smashed down on the streets hammering the cobblestone with shoes made of iron. The horsemen smacked whips against their beasts and hollered with their approach. The bar keep took off running towards the front door smacking off the lights. The record screeched to a halt and the place went quiet. The only noise you could hear was the breath of the outside air on the windows and that awesome clacking of hooves. The old man began to breathe deeply and you could sense his panic as he looked over the side of his booth towards the door. He had large rabid eyes as liquid frothed at the corners of his mouth and dripped off his chin onto the wood floors. He then took his coat sleeve and ran it across his face whipping the mess of mucus and beer off. It was an evening from Jekyll and Hyde.
He then disappeared around the side of the booths and a clamor was heard.
I turned around to look towards the old man and he had gone. The sound of feet pounding on steps and the slam of a door in the back had given away his escape. “Why was he running, and from whom”? The front door swung open and two men entered. One smacked his lips together and removed his hat. They looked like savage men, men with no conscious. Or maybe they were just rusty ol‘ chaps looking for the night’s last pint. The bar man knew these two blokes and said with a broad stutter, “evening D-D-D-Deacon, even-n-ning Mr. Brody”. The rest of what was exchanged I could not hear. Mr. Brody leaned over the bar shoving his finger in the bar man’s face. I looked at the Doctor to see his reaction. He had none.
I imagined they had been looking for a man named Burke. He supposedly has been accused of heinous crimes. He had been hiding in small pubs that lead to Mary King’s Close. Mary King’s Close was a foul place of crime, prostitution, and all other sorts of vile things located below ground. In 1753 the Government buildings were constructed over the old streets. People still lived an impoverished life there for over 100 more years. The Doctor looked at me, “lets follow, it will be a mad adventure,…closer to the edge”. The doctor then leaned over towards me and said, “leave these shifty characters behind, they; here, think us shifty anyway…we’re all mad”. So we finished our drinks with one last swig and with a crack exited the bar out the front doors. Once we had crossed the threshold the record player came back on and back through the windows I could see that normal pub activity had resumed. The patrons at that pub had thought of us as shifty, the doctor was right.
I had heard stories before of this place, stories of awkward shifty people, witches, body snatchers, and murder. It then sounded like the whole cities “engine” was thrown into neutral. Gassed for acceleration but paused in its stillness. People walked with fear down the uneven streets. No one had a face and everyone was a stranger yet they all seemed to notice the doctor and I. The rain began coming down cold, brutally cold, soaking my hair. Large crows circled above blocking the moons light, waiting like vultures for their prey to die. I looked up and I imagined these walls of alleys crumbling around us breaking the ground beneath us and dumping us into an underground pit of refuse. Bodies grouped on top of each other gasping for air with open mouths. Animals pushed below street level and rock laid on top of their heavy heads and hearts. Demons of men were loose in this place yanking on the feet of the poor, pulling them down closer to hell. The smell was rank. Black smoke from burning coal poured from the cracks of broken windows. Not only were there shadows from above in the light but now they came from below, appearing and disappearing with the shoving of the filthy coal smut greased masses. In the distance the sounds of rope and fire crackled as bodies hung, swinging slowly with the breeze from the toll booth gallows and witches screamed as they burnt under high flames at the stakes. A ship on the Firth of Forth struck sail and large fog horns could be heard yawning from the water. People in masses clung to the ship’s old decrepit hull, gun fire was shot into the sky, and it sailed north and westward to the Americas. All that remains are memories of smoldering fires under charred feet and the vague ambiguous flickering light of the lantern hanging from the deck of that ship.
I opened my eyes and Hunter and I were alone. A voice came from a small door behind us telling us to follow. I thought it to be Burke but there was no knowing. People in this city used to woo the unsuspecting poor into warm places and out of the cold only to murder them and sell their bodies to science. I looked towards my companion and he nodded in my direction. We followed the voice.
Why was Edinburgh such a beautifully horrid place? What was it in the volcanic rock that brought people to such madness or had this place made me mad? All I wanted was to leave this place. This nightmare, I had gotten too close to the edge.
“There it is, the door, do you see it slightly ajar”? the Doctor said. When we got to its opening I opened it slowly and we both entered to see a man holding an oil lamp signaling for us to follow. He began whispering to us about a writer who had left for Puerto Rico, who had gone with vial men. He told us about those two men in the pub who rode in on horses. Those men were looking for the writer for reasons he would not tell us but he said that it was only the Doctor who could help him and the writer.
So we headed down to the piers at the Firth of Forth and boarded our ship to Puerto Rico. It was a large black ship with 3 masts and 40 canons. A crew of about 200 was loading the ship with foods, water, whiskeys, and rums. The men grunted and groaned under heavy shouldered cargo loads. It was dark and the rain still poured down onto the cold earth. The rain hit the sea bouncing up onto our pant legs as I looked up to the silhouette of a demonic figure at the bow of the ship. It was the captain, our captain. His shape took an even more sinister shape as lightning strikes over the water. A strange glow surrounded him. Rain water poured from each of the three corners of his hat.
The doctor then looked at me and said, “if you make this journey you must do as I say”, “ok”, I replied. “ok, then, hold still”. He grabbed the side of my face and with a needle pierced my nose. Shoving the long thick piece of metal through my left nostril I let out a howl and my eyes began to well up with tears. “This is tradition, boy. It’s basically acupressure for sea sickness. This is what all the pirates and seafarers do, be a man, damn it”. He took his left hand and hit me on the shoulder. “Jesus, Doc, you could have at least warned me what in the FUCK you were going to do.” He walked away chuckling as he boarded the ship up the long plank and walked towards our captain. As I watched the doctor walk away from me I began to think if I was actually dreaming or whether or not I had gone mad with the last week’s events. Each day, it seemed was spiraling more and more out of control. And if this was all real what year was it?And the BIG question was Who is this Doctor and has he been here before? Where was he bringing me? Am I at the quintessential EDGE, per se?”
Reluctantly I boarded and found a cozy enough piece of the deck to sit and clear my head. Before I knew it I had fallen asleep again amongst all the noise and movement. I had no idea that we had already left port and were on our way to the Americas.
Several days passed and behavior on the ship had gone from bad to downright disturbing. Several of the crew had disappeared in the night and were believed to be over board. The captain seemed not to care as he stood above us, manning the helm of the ship. My eyes connected with him for a short period of time. He smiled at me with a feverous grin and winked. It was utterly disturbing. The Doctor had then come up on the deck carrying a journal by this writer we had heard about. He came close to me; he had been drinking heavily and did not look well. A cigarette dangled from his pale white lips and he began to stutter. “Man, I found something, I found, I found something, man”. “What did you find?” “A journal written about this ship,..it’s basically the ship’s log written by some guy. His name is not here, but all the hand writing is the same up until they approach puerto rico”. The doctor dropped onto the deck and sat down next to me. “You have got to hear this, man”.
He then looked at the book and then back to me. “Oh man, do you know who our captain is? Edward Low”, he said. “What, how is that possible? Edward Low was born in the 1720s in Westminster, London. What the hell does he have to do with Stonehenge, Edinburgh, and this? Where the hell are we, and what kind of sick and demented trip are we on, Doc? Tell me that!” “I don’t know what is happening, son. I have no idea but if our captain is named Edward Low we are in for some real trouble. He was a pickpocket and thief when he was a child, and somehow ended up in Boston after murdering his father. It was then he worked on a ship and tried to murder his captain, but failed. He later became a pirate and captured over 140 ships in a couple years”. “uh-huh”, I replied. Has the Doc lost it or is he just telling me a great tale? He then continued, “Captain Low is known for his torture, he would cut off the ears of his captives and make them eat it. Listen to this”…..
At that point waves began to run across the bow spitting salt in our eyes. The boat keeled from side to side. Buckets, barrels, bowled from starboard to port and back again. The wind howled and the doctor began to read from the journal:
He then snatched his blade gripping his face and said “now bo.o.o.oy, stick out your tongue.” The boy did and with a snarl the captain leaned in, smiled, winked and said “Now try to speak again, I dare you.” Slowly cutting off the tongue with the dull blade like a drunk butcher. Blood began to pour from the boy’s mouth onto the captain’s glove dripping onto the deck. The young man made sounds like a dying animal but could not fight back the brute force of the captain. He then let go of the boy’s face and with tongue in hand looked at the crew and said, “there will be no more talk on this voyage or I’ll have your tongue.” The young boy fell to the ship’s deck spitting out blood as he began to cringe and cry. The captain with his large black boots turned towards the boy, tilting his head as if he felt empathy but with a full thrust slammed his sharp heel into the boy’s jugular crushing his larynx and snapping his neck.
excerpt from the journal of …
The doctor put the journal in his lap and took a large breath. We were approaching the coast of Puerto Rico. Whistles blew and flickering lights could be seen in the distance of El Moro Fort. Canon shots began to fall off our bow. The doctor tapped me on the shoulder and began to sing as he whispered in my ear:
I come for you at low tide
I come for you at high
I pillage from o’front n’ side
I’ll cut your out tongue and skin your hide….
A battle was about to ensue. Men ran from all corners of the fort readying the canons. Small sloops were set to sail in the bay to guard old San Juan. Crowds ran from the bars and cafes dressed in their extravagant evening wear. Fear had come over the town and grasped tight reigns on some of the crew. Captain Low stood at his helm looking through his glass towards shore. Then the Doctor began to read again:
The captain made us believe in him, or he made us fear him. It was fear that his narcissism grew and his pride began to take over his logical seamanship. He had made too many enemies over the years and little did he know that his time had come to an end. Canons from the fort shot straight over us and all around us. We were out gunned and completely out manned. He had killed us all with his hubris. Ships began closing in and our crew began to jump overboard in fear that they would be hung from the gallows. The captain screamed at his cowards and tried to fight off the combatants who began to board our boat. Low put up a fight, slashing several men with the blade of his cutlass until finally he had been exhausted, dropping his sword to the deck…The men put Low on a small boat docked to the side of the ship and paddled back into shore. Captain Low was to be hung at the gallows immediately.
excerpt from the journal of …
“We are at the edge, boy”, he said. The doctor was right. My whole life I tried to be a part of something, to do something that would mean something. But I hadn’t. I followed, like a coward sheep down imaginary roads in my imagination towards nightmares guided by a diabolical reincarnation of a man who had been mad in reality. There is a reason why certain events in history happen in certain places and at certain times. I had conjured up ways to combine these stories with hideous consequences. I had made dire mistakes in these dreams and these writings. I had reached the edge. That’s it, this is my funeral.
The Doctor and I climbed up the mast higher and higher to evade the warm blue seas that were swallowing our ship in the wake of Puerto Rico’s shores.
In the distance on an immense green lawn beyond the white cemetery we could see Moby Dick. The 1971 Chevy Impala was striking its high beams over low mists. Our beast had come to take us beyond, to calmer greener days. The ship lurched and spun round in the sucking sea. The doctor looked in my direction and said, “The writer was with us the whole time, you did this to us, boy. You did this!” I was Burke, I was the man in the alley, I was Deacon, I was Brody, I was Captain Low, I was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I was the writer.
Doctor Thompson looked off with empty eyes towards the shores as the sun set through the breaks in stone that was the henge shaped fortress. People were gathered in the thousands laying in clusters like constellations on the heath. Large drums beat with archaic cadences and violin bows snapped to the sounds of iron hooves from galloping horses mounted by garrisons. Canons belched clusters of sparks that seemed like shooting stars into the darkening sky. The doctor held his chin up and said “So with one last lurch our ship sank under the calm Caribbean waters. Together, Jekyll and Hyde we take our last breathe as we go under to the other side, over the edge.”
From London to the hills of Aubrey and north on to Edinburgh,
From the English Channel, the Firth of Forth, and the West Indies.
Gathered stones were dragged across great expanses-
erected as a henge for ceremony of sacrifice-
spirits and ghosts,
Witches burnt at the stakes in the north and onwards to the Americas
Stevenson pens Treasure Island- pirates and sea farers plunder
the seas of merchants and travelers.
Images depicted in paintings by Pyle and Wyeth
Across oceans to the gateway of the Caribbean.
Isla Encanto, Puerto Rico,
the stories of brutal murderers and thieves
romanticized by Robert Louis Stevenson and Barrie,
Odes to Long John Silver and Captain Hook.