Dreamtime
By Jeff Robinson (6,800 words)

DREAMTIME
By Jeff Robinson
(6,652 words)

I arrived at the Canberra Hospital in New South Wales, Australia well after midnight.  Despite the thirty hours I had spent onboard airplanes or waiting in airports, I felt quite wide-awake and alert.  My biological clock insisted it was early morning and it would be days before jet-lag wore off enough for me to adjust to local time.

The parking lot was dark and deserted and, when I entered the hospital lobby, the registration desk was unattended.  Peeking into a back room, I spied a nurse drinking coffee at a desk.  I feigned a cough to attract her attention and she rose, approaching me with a glare on her face.
“Can I help you, sir?” she said.

Backing out of the doorway, I walked back out to the correct side of the counter, and dug into my suit coat for my identification.  “My name is Dr. Robert Crawford, and I’ve come to see my brother, James.”  I showed her my passport, but she waved it away. 

“It’s all right,” she said. “This is a hospital, not an airport.  I don’t need to see your papers.”

Flinching, I put my ID away.  Presenting my passport had become a habit with all the security checks and connections I had traveling from New York.   With layovers in Dallas, Los Angeles and Sydney, I felt like I had been traveling for days. 

Ignoring me, the nurse typed leaned toward a computer console on a nearby counter and peered at the screen.  “Let’s see, Crawford, James,” she said.  “Third floor, room 382.  I’m sorry, though, visiting hours aren’t until 8:00 am.  You’ll have to come back in the morning.”

Gritting my teeth and fighting back the first half dozen responses that came to mind, I said, “Excuse me, “I’ve just flown over ten thousand miles to see my brother and only arrived at the airport a few minutes ago.  I haven’t even checked into a hotel yet, because I was told to get here as soon as possible.  All I was told was that he’s dying.”
The nurse crossed her  arms, untouched by his plea.

“Look, I’m a doctor myself.  I specialize gastrointerology at Good Samaritan Hospital in New York.  Are you sure I can’t at least get some information on his condition?”

The nurse frowned and started to say speak, but looked up at the wall clock instead and her demeanor softened.  After a moment of indecision, she said, “Go on up.  The elevators are around the corner to your right.  I’ll phone the charge nurse upstairs and tell her you’re coming.”

I mumbled insincere thanks and hurried to the elevators, before she could change her mind.  The elevator arrived and ascended with agonizing slowness.  A florescent light inside flickered annoyingly and scratchy music droned from speakers overhead.    When the doors opened, I stepped out and almost ran over a nurse directly in my path.   
She smiled and extended her hand in greeting. “Dr. Crawford, I presume.”
 
“Uh, yes,” I replied, reaching for her hand. 

“I’m Dr. Janet Wilkes and I’ve been handling your brother’s case.”

Blushing and embarrassed, I’d assumed she was a nurse.

“I’m glad you were able to get here so quickly,” she said.  “You must have had a long trip.  It was wise of you to come right up.  Your brother isn’t doing well and may not last the night.”

“What happened?” I asked.  “The message I got in New York was cryptic.  It only said he was dying.”

She paused and her lips tightened as she obviously struggled on what to say.  “Your brother, James, was transferred to us from a regional hospital north of Coober Pedy in South Australia.  A lorry driver found him staggering along a deserted road in the outback and took him to a nearby clinic.  Unfortunately, your brother lost consciousness before he arrived, so they couldn’t question him.  At first they thought he might have been bitten or stung by a spider or a snake.  Australia has quite a variety of some of the most lethal animals in Earth.  James was covered with mud and filth and it took a quite a while to clean him up to examine him.  Unfortunately, although he had numerous cuts and abrasions, they couldn’t locate a bite or puncture site, so they didn’t administer any anti-toxin. 

“The staff watched him for a day, documenting his symptoms, but when his condition worsened, they sent him here.  We have one of the best toxilogical facilities in the country.”

“So what’s wrong with him?” I asked

“He’s suffering from high fever and an infection of unidentified origin.  We haven’t identified any treatable toxilogical ailment, but his condition has continued to deteriorate.  We’ve administered high doses of broadband antibiotics, but nothing’s proved effective.  His fever’s dangerously high and he’s grown weaker.  If he weren’t in such good physical condition, he’d probably be dead by now.”

Damn it, Jimmy, I thought.  Everyone’s always told you if you chasing danger like a roughneck would get you killed someday.  I grimaced at the news.  “James, wrote periodically about his adventures down here.  He did  mention the dangers in the outback.  I think that was part of the thrill of being here.”

The doctor nodded.  “Unfortunately, we only have antidotes for a fraction of the poisonous species.  Ironically, some of the anti-toxins are as deadly as the venoms they treat and we can’t administer any unless we know exactly what toxin was involved or the treatment could kill him even faster.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” I asked.


“Not really,” she said. “We’re not even sure anymore that he was poisoned.  Some of his cuts and wounds have become infected.  There’s a particularly bad one on his arm that’s turned septic and he may just be in toxic shock.  Whatever the cause, his body is fighting something that’s ravaging his system and with his failure to respond to antibiotics, we suspect it’s viral in nature.”

“Well, can’t you treat him with anti-virals?” I asked

Dr. Wilkes shrugged.  “Again, we’d have to know the type of virus.  Wide-spectrum anti-virals are nearly as hard on patients as the diseases they treat.  Besides, in his condition’s, he’s far too weak to handle any of them.  If we tried any one at random, we’d probably kill him.  All we can do now is adminster massive injections of gamma-globulin to boost what’s left of his immune system and try to manage his temperature.”

“How long has he been here?”

“Coober Pedy Regional medical center transferred him here three days ago.  When we realized his condition was deteriorating, we contacted the authorities and, since you were listed as next of kin on his immigration papers, we notified you.”

“Thanks,” I said as I thought about the last time I’d heard from my brother.

James and I had been quite close as boys, but we’d grown distant over the years.  I’d gone on to medical school and started my residency in New York, while he’d gone off adventuring and having fun.  Jimmy was just the kid brother, who never grew up.  Even at twenty-eight, he’d never settled down, held a steady job, or had a long-term relationship.  He always promised to visit the folks at Christmas, but all we ever got were postcards and pictures from exotic locations around the world.  The last the family had heard, he was gallivanting down here in Australia and had deliberately adopted the mannerisms of Diamond Jim Ladlowe, an entrepreneur and gambler of the Barbary Coast in the heyday of the 1850’s gold rush.  All the most recent pictures of James portrayed him wearing the white hat, coat and cane of his new hero.  But now, he was dying.

“Can I see him?” I asked. 

“Sure,” replied the doctor.  “Come on.”

“Has he regained consciousness at all?”

“Oh, he comes around from time to time, but he’s usually delirious.  I’m not sure he even knows where he is, or how bad his situation is.  If he’s awake, don’t get him too distressed.”

She escorted me down the dim hallway.  With the corridor lights dimmed and room lights off, it was hauntingly quiet, like walking the length of a morgue.  At last we came to a room with a lone occupant. 

Dr. Wilkes gestured for me to enter and then waited silently at the door behind me.

I nearly gasped when I saw him.  His face was drawn and gaunt.  His illness had sculpted deep, black circles beneath his eyes, and he gasped weakly for each shallow breath.  He seemed far too old and frail to be the vibrant younger brother of my memories.  Taking a seat in a chair by his bedside, I grasped his hand.  It was dry and hot. 

I glanced back at the doctor and she nodded softly in response to my unasked question.  “Jimmy,” I said.  “Jimmy?  Can you hear me?”

His fingers flexed gently and his head turned marginally.  His eyelids opened a fraction and red-rimmed eyes peered out at me.  “Rob?  Is that you, Rob?” he whispered.

Still holding his hand, I leaned closer.  “Yes, Jimmy.  It’s me.  I’m here.”

Sighing, he smiled weakly and said, “Good.  I was just dreaming about you.  I wanted to talk to you and… and now you’re here.”  He chuckled weakly and coughed.

“How’re you doing?” I asked. “Can you hang on a little longer for me?”

Grinning more, he whispered.  “No problem, Rob.  That’s what I do best.  I always hang on.  I never let go.”  With that, he squeezed my hand with unexpected ferocity and a grip that was strong and hard.  As young boys, we had always competed with each other, comparing the strengths of our hands.  Strangely, despite being two years my junior, James always managed to out-muscle me and made me cry uncle first.  Tears welled in my eyes and I felt a surge of hope that he’d be all right, but his vice-like grip slowly faded, until his hand lay limp and unresponsive in my own.  Slowly closing his eyes, James grew quiet.

“Jimmy, what happened?” I asked.  “Where were you?”

For a moment I wasn’t sure he heard me.   Then he opened his eyes and peeked at me again.  “I found it, Rob.  I heard about it years ago, but everybody else thought it was just a story.”

“What did you find, Jimmy?”

“The secret of Tjukurpa, the aborigine Dreamtime.”

“What are you talking about, Jimmy?”

James struggled to turn toward me, but failed and collapsed back onto his pillow with the effort.  Closing his eyes, he spoke softly but with an urgency that surprised me.

“Three years ago, I met an aborigine named Oodnadatta, a famous local storyteller.  He recounted exotic myths and stories that tourists always pay to hear.  He spent several days weaving tales of the ancient Anangu aborigines, but when he was finished, I didn’t go away.  I asked him to tell me more.  At first he wouldn’t talk to me anymore, but I still hung around.  Finally, he started telling me the real stories about his people.  He was a shaman of the old ways, though no one knew that secret. 
It took months, but eventually he told me secrets rarely shared with outsiders.  Oodnadatta told me about how their heroes became Dreamwalkers.  To him this was no tale; it was sacred mystery.”

James’ breathing grew shallow and soft.  It seemed as though he might’ve fallen asleep in mid-sentence, but after a moment, he sighed deeply once more and continued.

“My friend said a mystic lived in a cave near Kantju Gorge south of the holy rock, Uluru.  The holy man was reportedly thousands of years old, and he periodically gave their high priests and warriors the secrets about Dreamtime.  Those gifted with the ability to Dreamwalk became immortals and heroes to the local tribes.  That’s what I went looking for, Rob.  The secret of immortality.”

Oh my God, I thought, he’s gone and killed himself looking for the local fountain of youth myth.  Poor Jimmy’s wasted his life searching for a cure for mid-life crisis.

“Rob, listen,” he insisted.  “It’s true.”  James turned his head and his eyes grew wide.  Those inflamed, bloodshot eyes pleaded urgently for me to believe.  “It took me months to search every damned cave in a hundred square miles of mountains, but I found it.  The cave’s half-hidden by a rockslide and the entrance is barely wide enough to squeeze through, but inside there’s a huge complex of caverns.  Even then, Rob, I had to go back over an over again.  You see, the shaman only appears when there’s a full moon and he only shows up for a few minutes precisely at midnight.  It has to be at night, you know, because the caves are full of bats and you can only enter safely, when most of them are out feeding.  Still, there are plenty left behind to behind defend their cave.”

Chuckling, he wrinkled his nose.  “Would you believe I had to rub bat guano all over myself so the bats wouldn’t attack me?  The smell was go bad I had to plug my nose and breathe through my mouth or I’d start gagging.””

Turing my head back toward Dr. Wilkes, I raised my eyebrows in silent query.

She shrugged.  “It would explain the cuts and infections, “ she said.  “The hospital staff at Coober Pedy did report he was covered in filth.  That part of his story may be true.”
Returning my attention to my brother, I said, “Go on, Jimmy.  What happened then?”

James coughed.  “The shaman, an ancient priest named Wurumwaddu, appeared in the back of the cave.  I swear he just materialized out of thin air.  One moment no one was there; the next he was squatting on a ledge overhead staring down at me. 

When I got over the shock of his presence, I explained why I’d come, but he didn’t reply.  He listened like he understood, but wouldn’t respond.   I repeated my request and pleaded.  Soon I bargained and demanded, but the shaman continued to stare at me like I was an inanimate curiosity.  Finally, I got angry and threatened to come back with explosives and blow up his cave, if he didn’t give me his secret.” 

James laughed weakly.  “Frankly, Rob, I’d decided he didn’t understand English, but he must have, because he jumped off his rock and approached me.  His face was painted and streaked with gray ash.  His hair was wild and ragged, but his skin was the darkest black of any aborigine I’ve ever seen.  All he wore was a loincloth and his only possession was a long thin spear with a shiny black stone at one end.   His eyes narrowed as he leaned close, and he sniffed at me.  I didn’t move.  I wasn’t afraid,  I simply didn’t know what he was going to do next.”

James paused and took a few shallow gasps before proceeding.  Even this short conversation was a great strain on him.  “I thought he might attack,” he said.  “But the shaman just smiled.  Then, with complete calm, he lowered his spear and drew the black spearhead across his palm.”

Sucking in a deep breath, James said, “Rob, that spearhead must have been as sharp as a razor, because it cut his hand all the way to the bone.  I watched in horror, as blood poured from his hand to the ground, but the little guy kept on smiling like nothing had happened.  Then, before I could react, he whipped his spear forward and cut my arm.”

Jimmy reached over with his right hand and touched the gauze on his left forearm.  “Here, I’ll show you,” he said.  Without hesitation, James hooked a finger under the dressing above where I held his hand and pulled it back.  It was an ugly wound.  The gash was at least eight inches long and two inches deep.  His forearm was cut lengthwise from elbow to wrist and the open wound was badly abscessed.  The infection was severe and the arm was red and swollen to nearly twice it normal size. 
The doctor swore under her breath and hurried over to his side.  “I told you we have to leave it open so it can drain, but it must be kept lightly covered.”  She glared at me, as she reapplied the dressing, but James didn’t resist her efforts to tape the gauze back down.

Ignoring her, James continued his story.  “Anyway, when the shaman cut me, I jumped back in shock and pain, but the damned little guy was faster than me.  Before I could move away, he grabbed me with his hand, the one he’d cut, and held me by my arm.  God, it hurt.  I screamed and tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let go.  His grip was incredible.  I thought he was going to rip my arm off. 

“I fought to get away.  I screamed at him and hit him, but for a little guy, he was pretty tough.  He never flinched, even though I must have struck him more than a dozen times.  At last, I stopped struggling and he smiled.  Slowly, very slowly, he relaxed his grip, and blood from both our wounds began to drip through his fingers.  He held me there for several minutes, fixed by his icy eyes and his iron grasp.  Finally, he let me go and stepped back.  I grabbed my arm and tried to apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding. 

“The little fellow, however, simply jumped back up to his ledge.  When he was crouched down again, he shouted something and flung his hand up at the roof of the cave, spraying blood all over the bats on the ceiling.  They scattered in a frenzy of activity.  Then he held his hand up before me and slowly made a fist.  I nursed my own arm wondering what the little guy was up to.  After maybe a minute, he carefully opened his fingers and revealed his hand.”

Horror radiated from James’ eyes.  “Rob, I swear, there was blood everywhere, but the cut on his hand was gone.  His palm was as smooth and unmarked as a newborn baby’s.  I gaped in awe and examined my own wound.  Blood dripped continued to seep through my fingers and pooled on the dirt below.

“The shaman laughed and then stood and shouted.  At his command all the bats took off from their perches and darted around the cavern.  I ducked and dodged their attacks, and glanced back toward the ledge, but the shaman was gone.  The bats started hitting me then, and I figured the smell of the blood was exciting them, so I ran from the cave. 

“Once outside, I got lost.  Clouds hid the sky so I couldn’t find my direction.  I guess I was weaker from blood loss than I thought.  I must have passed out somewhere and someone found me.  Next thing I knew, I was here.”

James gasped and lay back on his pillow once more.  “That is, except for the dreams.  God, what incredible dreams I’ve had.”  He managed a small feeble smile, but a grimace quickly displaced his grin, and his eyes clenched shut with a shudder of pain.  Soon his whole body shook. 

I looked to Dr. Wilkes.  “Is this because of his fever?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “but he’s not shivering.  He’s having another seizure.  The convulsions are caused by the prolonged fever, his brain is starting to die from the high temperature.”  Dr Wilkes shouted for a nurse and hurried to a nearby cabinet to prepare a syringe.

“What’s that?” I asked, backing away to make room for the nurse who hurried in through the door.

“It’s mytilotoxine,” the doctor answered, as she injected a yellowish liquid into his upper arm.  “It is a muscle-relaxer similar to curare.  It’ll stop his spasms before he hurts himself.”  The nurse held James down, as his convulsions steadily grew more intense.  The doctor withdrew the needle and set it aside.  Then she placed a leather strip between James’ his teeth and helped the nurse restrain him.  As she steadied him, she said, “I’m sorry, Dr. Crawford.  You’d best wait outside.  I’ll call you when he’s resting again.”

Backing out into the hall, I took a seat in a nearby chair and waited in silence as I wondered what to do.  Hopefully just being there would give James strength, but worried I was too late.  After a short time, I tried something I hadn’t done, since my Grandmother’s funeral many years before.  I closed my eyes and prayed.

*****

Sometime during the night, I fell asleep.  About dawn, an attendant rolled a cart full of food past me and the rattling plates and glasses woke me.  Standing, I stretched and rubbed sleep from my eyes.  Looking around I was Dr. Wilkes working behind the nurse’s station, filling out paperwork.  She smiled when she noticed me.  “Did you have a nice sleep, Dr. Crawford?”

“I guess so,” I said stretching.  “How long was I out?”

She glanced at her watch.  “About three hours.”

“Has there been any change?” I asked.

“His temperature’s dropped some and he’s resting more peacefully, but he’s not out of danger yet.”  She put down her pen and turned toward me.  Her eyes bore the weariness of the long night shift.  “Why don’t you go back to your hotel?” she suggested.  “You’ve got to be exhausted and you won’t help your brother by killing yourself.  Leave your number with admissions downstairs, and we’ll call if there’s a change in his condition.”

I nodded and grabbed my bag.  The light from the sunrise, which glared through the windows, was painfully bright and I squinted at its many reflections off the shiny chrome all around the room.  A tiny bell announced the arrival of the elevator and the doors drew back inviting me to leave. 

The admissions clerk gave me directions to a nearby hotel.  I found it, checked in, unpacked, and ordered food from room service.  While I waited for my meal, I took a badly needed shower and shave.  Then, when the food finally arrived, I ate.  Afterwards, I called the hospital and left my phone number with admissions. 

Lastly, I called the States to tell my wife I had arrived safely.  With some difficulty, I told her about James’ condition.  By the time I finished, it was nearly 11:00 am local time and I chose to lie down for a short nap. 

I fell asleep almost immediately and slept without dreams, until the phone woke me.  As I woke, the unfamiliar surroundings left me confused and disoriented.  It took a moment to remember where I was.  As I lifted the phone off the cradle, I noticed the clock on the nightstand by the bed.  It read 9:00 pm.  I’d lost the whole day due to jet lag. 

“Hello,” I said. 

“Dr. Crawford?” asked a familiar voice.  “This is Dr. Wilkes.  I’m calling to let you know there’s been a change in your brother’s condition.”

I held my breath half expecting the worst news.

“His fever’s broken,” she continued, “and he’s awake and lucid.  I think he’s beaten the infection and he’s going to make it.”
A wave of relief washed over me. “You’re sure?  Could I…can I come over?”  I asked, realizing I’d missed normal visiting hours once again.

“Sure,” she replied.  “I’ll tell the admissions clerk to let you right up.  I just got on duty myself and I’ll meet you here.”
“Thanks,” I said and hung up.  Then I changed my clothes and drove back to the hospital.

*****

As I entered James’ room, I found him sitting upright eating hospital food as fast as he could shovel it into his mouth.  Noticing my arrival, he paused and looked up at me with wonder.  Despite having a full mouth of food he shouted, “Rob!”

Swallowing awkwardly, he said, “For God’s sake, I thought you were a dream there for a while.  I’m glad you’re really here.  Did you actually come all the way from New York just for me?”

“I sure did, Jimmy.”  I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt, and I hurried over to him to give him a gentle hug.  His response, however, was anything but gentle.  His bear-hug took my breath away and he pounded me on the back as he told me what a good big-brother I was.  When he finally released m, I took a seat and he resumed his meal. 

The sound of a knock behind me made me turn and I discovered Dr. Wilkes standing in the doorway.  “Quite a spectacular recovery, wouldn’t you say, Dr. Crawford?”

“Ah, yes.  I’m amazed,” I said.  “I take it this isn’t usual.”

“By no means,” she said.  “I’m told he woke about an hour before my shift complaining only about acute hunger.” Gesturing at his unhindered display of eating, she added, “You should know this is his third full meal, since he woke.” 

She grinned.  “I told him to take it easy for a few days and recommended a bland diet, but after he inhaled what I ordered and claimed he was still starving, I let him have whatever he wanted.”

While he ate, I examined James more closely.  He eyes were clear, without any sign of redness.  Though he was thin, as one would expect after days of fever, if his appetite was any indication, be was well on his way back to normal health.

“If you don’t mind, James,” said Dr. Wilkes, “I just want to take your vitals for my charts, then I’ll leave you two alone.”
James continued to eat while Dr. Wilkes took his pulse and blood pressure.  He finished the last of his meal just in time to have a thermometer placed in his mouth and he grinned like a Cheshire cat until she took it out and read it.

“ 37.0” she announced.  “Perfect.”

I realized she was using Celsius and remembered that was 98.6 Farenhiet.

James spread his arms comically, as if expecting acclaim and said, “Well, there you go.  Would you expect anything else of your little brother?”

Dr. Wilkes shook her head in disbelief and left the room.

James pushed the empty food cart away, settled back on his bed and crossed his arms, his steel gray eyes focused sharply at me.

“So, you remember me being here last night?” I asked.

“Absolutely, Rob.  I remember every word.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure.  You seemed a bit out of it.”

“True,” he said.  “I wasn’t at my best, but I’m back and better than ever.”

“So,” I asked, “Can you remember what happened?”

Blinking, his eyes narrowed.  “Of course, but I told you all that last night.”

“Jimmy, last night you were delirious.  You ranted on about magic shamans, immortals, and man-eating bats.”

James laughed in a thunderous roar that reminded me of his high school football days when he tried to out fight and out party everyone around him.  “Well, then you weren’t listening to me, bucko.”

I grimaced.  He knew I hated it when he called me by that nickname.

“What I told you was I found the ancient shaman Wurumwaddu and he gave me the secret to Tjukurpa, Dreamtime.”

“No,” I replied.  “You told me you were searching for the Australian fountain of youth, but got stabbed by a short aborigine with a sharp stick instead, and nearly died of blood loss and infection.”

James’ gaze didn’t falter, but neither did his smile.  If anything, he looked condescending.  This was the way it always was with little brothers, I thought.  They never do anything straightforward.  Everything’s always a contest of some sort.  After a few seconds of silent staring, James said, “I guess that’s how you would interpret it, Rob, but he was Wurumwaddu and he did give me what I sought.”

“What?” I said guffawing at him.  “You actually believe you met a thousand year old shaman with the secret of immortality?”
James smiled and nodded slowly.

Now I was worried.  “Come on, Jimmy.  Don’t play with me this way.  I know your fever was awfully high for a long time, but don’t go bonkers on me.”

“I’m not, Rob,” he replied with uncharacteristic seriousness.  “Come here, I’ll prove it.  He reached over and started peeling the surgical tape to the bandage on his left arm.

“Oh, don’t do that, Jimmy,” I said.  “You’ll just get it infected.  You have to give it time to heal.”

“Give what time to heal?” he asked innocently as he lifted off the gauze.

I stared at his arm, stunned.  While the inside of the bandage was red and bloody, there was no mark of injury on his arm at all.  I approached and examined his arm where the horrific wound had been the night before.  At first I touched gently, then I poked and prodded.  There wasn’t even find a scar where the cut had been.  I clearly remembered the brachioradialis muscle split and exposed almost to the bone the full length of his forearm.

“No, Rob, you’re not going crazy.  You did see it.  It was an awful wound and it almost killed me.”

“But… but how?” I stammered.

“I healed it.  I didn’t know I could, at first, but my dreams kept showing me how. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand.  I fought against the dreams and almost died.  I guess I had to get weak enough that I couldn’t resist them anymore.  When I finally accepted the dreams, I learned what Wurumwaddu gave me and how to use it.  Then I healed myself and woke up.”
“What do you mean?  What did he give you?”

James sighed deeply once.  “Rob, you remember, the story I told you last night?  About how the shaman cut himself and then me?  You recall how he grabbed me by the arm with is wounded hand?”
I nodded mutely.

“What he gave me was his blood, or rather what was in it.  He cut us both so his blood would mingle with mine.”
“His blood?”

“Yes, listen.  It’s hard to explain since not all of the things in the dreams translate well into words, but you’re a doctor so I’ll try to put them in terms you’ll understand. 

“Consider the human genome.  It changes over time, and diverges.  Over generations, the genetic code decays.”

“No,” I said interrupting.  “There’s no evidence that evolution has stopped.  It’s carried us quite far along.  Who’s to say it’s not still advancing the species”?

James glared.  “Rob, I don’t want to argue.  Just listen or I won’t bother with explanations at all. 

“Look, the aborigines descended from people who were actually quite advanced.  They learned that the human genome was incomplete and…well, they figured out how to finish it, to make Man into what he needed to become, or what he was… once long, long ago.  I’m still not sure which. 

“In any event, a component of the shaman’s blood contained this missing piece of DNA.  It activates a lot of those gene sequences your fellow scientists claim aren’t used any more.  The only reason they’re inactive is that man’s DNA has degraded over millennia.  Entropy has corrupted the genetic design so much that some essential pieces are missing.  Whatever was in the shaman’s blood mixed with mine and infected me.  I almost died, but the virus, or agent, or long-chain protein-fragments altered selective pieces of my own DNA and…well, they changed me.”

I frowned and glared.  “That’s impossible,” I said  
“Hey, bucko.  I’m living proof, it’s possible.”

I gritted my teeth involuntarily, until I realized he was doing it deliberately again.

“Look,” he said.  “Life is special in this universe.  Where the rest of reality is subject to entropy so that everything runs down and decays, life renews and opposes entropy and the death of the entire universe.  Life is, by its nature negentropic.”

“Yeah?” I said.  “So? And where do you get off throwing all this scientific jargon around?”  One thing I had never received before was a science lecture from my kid brother.  After all, I was the one who’d gone through college.  He’d dropped out after only one semester and gone off to party for the rest of his life.

“This is what I learned from my dreams.  It’s what Wurumwaddu was trying to tell me while I was sick.  Think, Rob” he said now seemingly sincere.  “What does negative entropy really mean?  While everything else in the universe gradually decays from order to disorder, life creates order from chaos.  It reverses the flow of the whole universe, in every cell of everything that lives.”

“So?” I asked again.  “What of it?  This negative entropy, as you call it, is localized.  The universe will still die anyway.  And what does all this have to do with your… miraculous recovery?”

James nodded.  “What Wurumwaddu gave me was the missing piece of the human genome that we need to become what we were meant to be.  Most life barely generates enough negative entropy to replicate itself.  However, the more complex life is, the stronger the negative entropy it generates.  That’s why higher life forms live longer.  Most people’s damaged DNA, however, doesn’t enable them to be fully negentropic.  The negative entropy human cells do create is insufficient and they decay over time.  People grow old, age, and die.  What I’ve been given fixes the genetic code and allows me to do more, far more.”

I squinted at James, suddenly suspicious.  “What? You have more tricks than miracle healing?”  Spontaneous remission and tissue regeneration aside, I was now worried that James’s mind was seriously affected.

“Oh, yes,” replied James.  “If I understand it correctly, I’ve gained much more than mere control over my body.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, stalling for time and hoping that Dr. Wilkes would return.

“Well,” James said.  “It’s not completely clear, though Wurumwaddu tried to explain it to me.  You see, fully negentropic life forms aren’t bound by some of the more immutable laws of physics.  That’s what the aborigines mean by Dreamtime.  Such beings can exist outside the normal flow of time and can travel against that flow if they want.  Beings enabled with this missing fragment of the human genome can effectively alter the flow of time.  That’s what reversing entropy means, reversing the flow of the universe.  If I want, I could grow younger or go forward or back in time.”

“So you’re some kind of god or superman, now?”  I asked.

“Well,” he said, chuckling, “I guess so.  Though, it’s not really being superhuman.  It’s what being human was truly intended to mean.”

“You mean Man was made this way? Are you turning into a creationist now?” I asked.

For the first time, James paused and looked puzzled.  “That’s a good question,” he said.  “That’s something Wurumwadu didn’t explain.  I guess I’ll need to go check that out.”  With that he yanked the IV out of his arm, threw back the bed sheets and jumped out of bed.

I started to panic and headed for the door.  James, however, simply gestured with his hand and the door to the room slammed itself shut.  I grabbed the handle and tugged on it, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Oh for God’s sake, stop” said James.  “Leave the damned door alone and help me find my clothes.” 

Dumbfounded, I stood looking at him blankly for a few seconds. 

James, however, said “Ahh, they don’t have them here.  They must have removed them at the Coober Pedy.  Well, I should be able to go get them and…”  He stopped again and thought for a moment.  “Come to think of it, they wouldn’t be in very good shape.  I do recall smearing them with guano and bleeding all over them.”

Then an odd grin appeared on his face.  “Well, I might as well give it a try one sooner or later.”  He winked at me and said, “Be patient, Rob.  I’ll be right back.”

He squinted his eyes and clenched his fists.  For a moment nothing happened and then, before I could say anything, his image shimmered and a bright glow appeared around him.  With a soundless flash of light, he vanished. 

I blinked and rubbed my eyes.  Getting down on my hands and knees, I looked under the hospital bed.  Returning to the door, I tugged on it, but it was still jammed.  

There was another silent explosion of light and I heard a familiar chuckle behind me.  I turned to find James standing in a pressed linen suit with a matching wide-brimmed hat.  His outfit was off-white, somewhere between a soft cream and a light-beige.  Somehow, he seemed far healthier than a moment before and appeared to have a tan.  In his hand he held a long dark wooden cane with a large gold knob on its end.  He smiled and posed in a motionless swagger.  “So? What do you think?” he prompted.

I was speechless.   Wrestling to collect my wits, I finally managed an inarticulate, “Where did you get those?”

Pirouetting slowly, he said, “These?” and then lowered his arms and struck a pose as he thumbed his hat.  “1852, Brisbane, on the Gold Coast.  It took me a while to figure it out, but time-sliding is actually pretty easy, once you get used to it.   To be honest, I’ve been gone several subjective months, since I left you here.  When I time-shifted, I really did intend to return right away, but then realized I had all the time in the world and could return to this instant whenever I wished.  Still, I knew you’d be distressed, so I brought you a gift.”

Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a flask.  “This is for you.  It’s a sample of my blood and contains what I received in that cave in Kantju Gorge.  Analyze it, study it, but don’t use it on anyone.  I’ve learned that it will kill most people who try.  If their DNA has degraded too far, they’ll die.  That’s why the shamans give it out so rarely. 

“Oh, by the way.  I’ve found there are other immortals, besides the shamans.  Actually, there are quite a few of us dreamwalkers.   Most of them, however, hang out in the remote past.  I guess there are fewer people in those time periods to bother them.”

I just stood there staring at the vial in James’ hand, wondering if it was really he claimed it to be.  He shook the flask at me.  “Good ahead, Rob.  Take it.  It’ll give you something to think about while I’m gone.”

Reaching out, I carefully took the glass tube.  Examining it, I found it did in fact seem to contain about 20 cc’s of human blood.

“I know you’re hesitant,” he said.  “You won’t do anything with it for a while, but eventually you’ll test it and see that I’m right.”

“You sound so certain of yourself,” I said.  “What if I just decide you’re crazy and just throw this away?”

“Ahh, but you won’t,” he said  in his deep bellowing voice.  “You see, time-sliding allows for travel in both directions.  I’ve already peeked to see what’s up ahead and I’ve seen what you do so trust me… you’ll give in to your doubts and that’s when things will get interesting for you.”

He lifted his heavy cane and twirled it in his fingers at if it were as light as a matchstick. “Well, I’ve got to go. I have an appointment.”

Shocked at the speed at which everything was happening, I sputtered, “Wait… what do you mean?  Where are you going?”
“Back to the Brisbane, 1852.  I have some new friends I have to meet.  One of these days I’ll have to take you there.  You’d love it.”  He smiled and winked.  Then he gestured with his cane and the door slowly drifted open.  “Be good, bucko.  I’ll see you at Christmas.”

Tipping his hat, he vanished as quickly as a popping soap bubble.  A single curl of mist, like a warm breath on a cold day, drifted up from the place where he had been standing a moment before. Then  it faded and was gone as well. 

Looking about, I was quite unable to accept what had just happened.  Then terror washed over me as I realized I had no credible way to explain Jimmy’s absence to Dr. Wilkes.  As I walked out into the hall, I pocketed the vial and hurried toward the elevators, uncertain if what I’d just experienced was real or a hallucination from too much jet lag. 

Still, even before I left the hospital I started thinking about tests I might perform on Jimmy’s blood and wondered which researchers back home I could really trust.

If you like what you have read or would like to send me your comments on this story, please feel free to contact me by clicking on the following link robinson_ja@q.com