The Death Defier’s Gifts: Gifts of Total Perception

(The Art of Dreaming)

The Woman In The Church

Don Juan and I sat in silence. I had run out of questions, and he seemed to have said to me all that was pertinent. It could not have been more than seven o’clock, but the plaza was unusually deserted. It was a warm night. In the evenings, in that town, people usually meandered around the plaza until ten or eleven.

I took a moment to reconsider what was happening to me. My time with don Juan was coming to an end. He and his party were going to fulfill the sorcerers’ dream of leaving this world and entering into inconceivable dimensions. On this basis of my limited success in dreaming, I believed that the claims were not illusory but extremely sober, although contrary to reason. They were seeking to perceive the unknown, and they had made it.

Don Juan was right in saying that, by inducing a systematic displacement of the assemblage point, dreaming liberates perception, enlarging the scope of what can be perceived. For the sorcerers of his party, dreaming had not only opened the doors of other perceivable worlds but prepared them for entering into those realms in full awareness. Dreaming, for them, had become ineffable, unprecedented, something whose nature and scope could only be alluded to, as when don Juan said that it is the gateway to the light and to the darkness of the universe.

There was only one thing pending for them: my encounter with the death defier. I regretted that don Juan had not given me notice so that I could prepare myself better. But he was a nagual who did everything of importance on the spur of the moment, without any warning.

For a moment, I seemed to be doing fine, sitting with don Juan in that park, waiting for things to develop. But then my emotional stability suffered a downward swing and, in the twinkling of an eye, I was in the midst of a dark despair. I was assailed by petty considerations about my safety, my goals, my hopes in the world, my worries. Upon examination, however, I had to admit that perhaps the only true worry I had was about my three cohorts in don Juan’s world. Yet, if I thought it out, even that was no real worry to me. Don Juan had taught them to be the kind of sorceresses who always knew what to do, and, most important, he had prepared them always to know what to do with what they knew.

Having had all the possible worldly reasons for feeling anguish stripped off me a long time ago, all I had been left with was concern for myself. And I gave myself to it shamelessly. One last indulging for the road: the fear of dying at the hands of the death defier. I became so afraid that I got sick to my stomach. I tried to apologize, but don Juan laughed.

“You’re not in any way unique at barfing out of fear,” he said. “When I met the death defier, I wet my pants. Believe me.”

I waited in silence for a long, unbearable moment.

“Are you ready?” he asked. I said yes. And he added, standing up, “Let’s go then and find out how you are going to stand up in the firing line.”

He led the way back to the church. To the best of my ability, all I remember of that walk, to this day, is that he had to drag me bodily the whole way. I do not remember arriving at the church or entering it. The next thing I knew, I was kneeling on a long, worn-out wooden pew next to the woman I had seen earlier. She was smiling at me. Desperately, I looked around, trying to spot don Juan, but he was nowhere in sight. I would have flown like a bat out of hell had the woman not restrained me by grabbing my arm.

“Why should you be so afraid of poor little me?” the woman asked me in English.

I stayed glued to the spot where I was kneeling. What had taken me entirely and instantaneously was her voice. I cannot describe what it was about its raspy sound that called out the most recondite memories in me. It was as if I had always known that voice.

I remained there immobile, mesmerized by that sound. She asked me something else in English, but I could not make out what she was saying. She smiled at me, knowingly.

“It’s all right,” she whispered in Spanish. She was kneeling to my right. “I understand real fear. I live with it.”

I was about to talk to her when I heard the emissary’s voice in my ear. “It’s the voice of Hermelinda, your wet nurse,” it said. The only thing I had ever known about Hermelinda was the story I was told of her being accidentally killed by a runaway truck. That the woman’s voice would stir such deep, old memories was shocking to me. I experienced a momentary agonizing anxiety.

“I am your wet nurse!” the woman exclaimed softly. “How extraordinary! Do you want my breast?” Laughter convulsed her body.

I made a supreme effort to remain calm, yet I knew that I was quickly losing ground and in no time at all was going to take leave of my senses.

“Don’t mind my joking,” the woman said in a low voice. “The truth is that I like you very much. You are bustling with energy. And we are going to get along fine.”

Two older men knelt down right in front of us. One of them turned curiously to look at us. She paid no attention to him and kept on whispering in my ear.

“Let me hold your hand,” she pleaded. But her plea was like a command. I surrendered my hand to her, unable to say no.

“Thank you. Thank you for your confidence and your trust in me,” she whispered.

The sound of her voice was driving me mad. Its raspiness was so exotic, so utterly feminine. Not under any circumstances would I have taken it for a man’s voice laboring to sound womanly.

It was a raspy voice, but not a throaty or harsh-sounding one. It was more like the sound of bare feet softly walking on gravel.

I made a tremendous effort to break an invisible sheet of energy that seemed to have enveloped me. I thought I succeeded. I stood up, ready to leave, and I would have had not the woman also stood up and whispered in my ear, “Don’t run away. There is so much I have to tell you.”

I automatically sat down, stopped by curiosity. Strangely, my anxiety was suddenly gone, and so was my fear. I even had enough presence to ask the woman, “Are you really a woman?”

She chuckled softly, like a young girl. Then she voiced a convoluted sentence.

“If you dare to think that I would transform myself into a fearsome man and cause you harm, you are gravely mistaken,” she said, accentuating even more that strange, mesmeric voice. “You are my benefactor. I am your servant, as I have been the servant of all the naguals who preceded you.”

Gathering all the energy I could, I spoke my mind to her.

“You are welcome to my energy,” I said. “It’s a gift from me to you, but I don’t want any gifts of power from you. And I really mean this.”

“I can’t take your energy for free,” she whispered. “I pay for what I get, that’s the deal. It’s foolish to give your energy for free.”

“I’ve been a fool all my life. Believe me,” I said. “I can surely afford to make you a gift. I have no problem with it. You need the energy, take it. But I don’t need to be saddled with unnecessaries. I have nothing and I love it.”

“Perhaps,” she said pensively.

Aggressively, I asked her whether she meant that perhaps she would take my energy or that she did not believe I had nothing and loved it.

She giggled with delight and said that she might take my energy since I was so generously offering it but that she had to make a payment. She had to give me a thing of similar value. As I heard her speak, I became aware that she spoke Spanish with a most extravagant foreign accent. She added an extra phoneme to the middle syllable of every word. Never in my life had I heard anyone speak like that.

“Your accent is quite extraordinary,” I said. “Where is it from?”

“From nearly eternity,” she said and sighed. We had begun to connect. I understood why she sighed. She was the closest thing to permanent, while I was temporary. That was my advantage.

The death defier had worked herself into a corner, and I was free.

I examined her closely. She seemed to be between thirty-five and forty years old. She was a dark, thoroughly Indian woman, almost husky, but not fat or even hefty. I could see that the skin of her forearms and hands was smooth, the muscles, firm and youthful. I judged that she was five feet, six or seven inches tall. She wore a long dress, a black shawl, and guaraches. In her kneeling position, I could also see her smooth heels and part of her powerful calves. Her midsection was lean. She had big breasts that she could not or perhaps did not want to hide under her shawl. Her hair was jet black and tied in a long braid. She was not beautiful, but she was not homely either.

Her features were in no way outstanding. I felt that she could not possibly have attracted anybody’s attention, except for her eyes, which she kept low, hidden beneath downcast eyelids. Her eyes were magnificent, clear, peaceful. Apart from don Juan’s, I had never seen eyes more brilliant, more alive.

Her eyes put me completely at ease. Eyes like that could not be malevolent. I had a surge of trust and optimism and the feeling that I had known her all my life. But I was also very conscious of something else: my emotional instability. It had always plagued me in don Juan’s world, forcing me to be like a yo-yo. I had moments of total trust and insight only to be followed by abject doubts and distrust. This event was not going to be different. My suspicious mind suddenly came up with the warning thought that I was falling under the woman’s spell.

“You learned Spanish late in life, didn’t you?” I said, just to get out from under my thoughts and to avoid her reading them.

“Only yesterday,” she retorted and broke into a crystalline laughter, her small, strangely white teeth, shining like a row of pearls.

People turned to look at us. I lowered my forehead as if in deep prayer. The woman moved closer to me.

“Is there a place where we could talk?” I asked.

“We are talking here,” she said. “I have talked here with all the naguals of your line. If you whisper, no one will know we are talking.”

I was dying to ask her about her age. But a sobering memory came to my rescue. I remembered a friend of mine who for years had been setting up all kinds of traps to make me confess my age to him. I detested his petty concern, and now I was about to engage in the same behavior. I dropped it instantly.

I wanted to tell her about it, just to keep the conversation going. She seemed to know what was going through my mind. She squeezed my arm in a friendly gesture, as if to say that we had shared a thought.

“Instead of giving me a gift, can you tell me something that would help me in my way?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “We are extremely different. More different than I believed possible.”

She got up and slid sideways out of the pew. She deftly genuflected as she faced the main altar. She crossed herself and signaled me to follow her to a large side altar to our left.

We knelt in front of a life-size crucifix. Before I had time to say anything, she spoke.

“I’ve been alive for a very, very long time,” she said. “The reason I have had this long life is that I control the shifts and movements of my assemblage point. Also, I don’t stay here in your world too long. I have to save the energy I get from the naguals of your line.”

“What is it like to exist in other worlds?” I asked.

“It’s like in your dreaming, except that I have more mobility. And I can stay longer anywhere I want. Just like if you would stay as long as you wanted in any of your dreams.”

“When you are in this world, are you pinned down to this area alone?”

“No. I go everywhere I want.”

“Do you always go as a woman?”

“I’ve been a woman longer than a man. Definitely, I like it much better. I think I’ve nearly forgotten how to be a man. I am all female!”

She took my hand and made me touch her crotch. My heart was pounding in my throat. She was indeed a female.

“I can’t just take your energy,” she said, changing the subject. “We have to strike another kind of agreement.”

Another wave of mundane reasoning hit me then. I wanted to ask her where she lived when she was in this world. I did not need to voice my question to get an answer.

“You’re much, much younger than I,” she said, “and you already have difficulty telling people where you live. And even if you take them to the house you own or pay rent on, that’s not where you live.”

“There are so many things I want to ask you, but all I do is think stupid thoughts,” I said.

“You don’t need to ask me anything,” she went on. “You already know what I know. All you needed was a jolt in order to claim what you already know. I am giving you that jolt.”

Not only did I think stupid thoughts but I was in a state of such suggestibility that no sooner had she finished saying that I knew what she knew than I felt I knew everything, and I no longer needed to ask any more questions. Laughingly, I told her about my gullibility.

“You’re not gullible,” she assured me with authority. “You know everything, because you’re now totally in the second attention. Look around!”

For a moment, I could not focus my sight. It was exactly as if water had gotten into my eyes. When I arranged my view, I knew that something portentous had happened. The church was different, darker, more ominous, and somehow harder. I stood up and took a couple of steps toward the nave. What caught my eye were the pews; they were made not out of lumber but out of thin, twisted poles. These were homemade pews, set inside a magnificent stone building. Also, the light in the church was different. It was yellowish, and its dim glow cast the blackest shadows I had ever seen. It came from the candles of the many altars. I had an insight about how well candlelight mixed with the massive stone walls and ornaments of a colonial church. The woman was staring at me; the brightness of her eyes was most remarkable. I knew then that I was dreaming and she was directing the dream. But I was not afraid of her or of the dream.

I moved away from the side altar and looked again at the nave of the church. There were people kneeling in prayer there. Lots of them, strangely small, dark, hard people. I could see their bowed heads all the way to the foot of the main altar. The ones who were close to me stared at me, obviously, in disapproval.

I was gaping at them and at everything else. I could not hear any noise, though. People moved, but there was no sound.

“I can’t hear anything,” I said to the woman, and my voice boomed, echoing as if the church were a hollow shell.

Nearly all the heads turned to look at me. The woman pulled me back into the darkness of the side altar.

“You will hear if you don’t listen with your ears,” she said. “Listen with your dreaming attention.”

It appeared that all I needed was her insinuation. I was suddenly flooded by the droning sound of a multitude in prayer. I was instantly swept up by it. I found it the most exquisite sound I had ever heard. I wanted to rave about it to the woman, but she was not by my side. I looked for her. She had nearly reached the door. She turned there to signal me to follow her. I caught up with her at the portico. The streetlights were gone. The only illumination was moonlight. The facade of the church was also different; it was unfinished. Square blocks of limestone lay everywhere. There were no houses or buildings around the church. In the moonlight the scene was eerie.

“Where are we going?” I asked her.

“Nowhere,” she replied. “We simply came out here to have more space, more privacy. Here we can talk our little heads off.”

She urged me to sit down on a quarried, half-chiseled piece of limestone.

“The second attention has endless treasures to be discovered,” she began. “The initial position in which the dreamer places his body is of key importance. And right there is the secret of the ancient sorcerers, who were already ancient in my time. Think about it.”

She sat so close to me that I felt the heat of her body. She put an arm around my shoulder and pressed me against her bosom. Her body had a most peculiar fragrance; it reminded me of trees or sage. It was not that she was wearing perfume; her whole being seemed to exude that characteristic odor of pine forests. Also the heat of her body was not like mine or like that of anyone else I knew. Hers was a cool, mentholated heat, even, balanced. The thought that came to my mind was that her heat would press on relentlessly but knew no hurry.

She began then to whisper in my left ear. She said that the gifts she had given to the naguals of my line had to do with what the old sorcerers used to call, the twin positions. That is to say, the initial position in which a dreamer holds his physical body to begin dreaming is mirrored by the position in which he holds his energy body, in dreams, to fixate his assemblage point on any spot of his choosing. The two positions make a unit, she said, and it took the old sorcerers thousands of years to find out the perfect relationship between any two positions. She commented, with a giggle, that the sorcerers of today will never have the time or the disposition to do all that work, and that the men and women of my line were indeed lucky to have her to give them such gifts.

Her laughter had a most remarkable, crystalline sound.

I had not quite understood her explanation of the twin positions. Boldly, I told her that I did not want to practice those things but only know about them as intellectual possibilities.

“What exactly do you want to know?” she asked softly.

“Explain to me what you mean by the twin positions, or the initial position in which a dreamer holds his body to start dreaming.” I said.

“How do you lie down to start your dreaming?” she asked.

“Any which way. I don’t have a pattern. Don Juan never stressed this point.”

“Well, I do stress it,” she said and stood up. She changed positions. She sat down to my right and whispered in my other ear that, in accordance with what she knew, the position in which one places the body is of utmost importance. She proposed a way of testing this by performing an extremely delicate but simple exercise.

“Start your dreaming by lying on your right side, with your knees a bit bent,” she said. “The discipline is to maintain that position and fall asleep in it. In dreaming, then, the exercise is to dream that you lie down in exactly the same position and fall asleep again.”

“What does that do?” I asked.

“It makes the assemblage point stay put, and I mean really stay put, in whatever position it is at the instant of that second falling asleep.”

“What are the results of this exercise?”

“Total perception. I am sure your teachers have already told you that my gifts are gifts of total perception.”

“Yes. But I think I am not clear about what total perception means,” I lied.

She ignored me and went on to tell me that the four variations of the exercise were to fall asleep lying on the right side, the left, the back, and the stomach. Then in dreaming the exercise was to dream of falling asleep a second time in the same position as the dreaming had been started. She promised me extraordinary results, which she said were not possible to foretell.

She abruptly changed the subject and asked me, “What’s the gift you want for yourself?”

“No gift for me. I’ve told you that already.”

“I insist. I must offer you a gift, and you must accept it. That is our agreement.”

“Our agreement is that we give you energy. So take it from me. This one is on me. My gift to you.”

The woman seemed dumbfounded. And I persisted in telling her it was all right with me that she took my energy. I even told her that I liked her immensely. Naturally, I meant it. There was something supremely sad and, at the same time, supremely appealing about her.

“Let’s go back inside the church,” she muttered.

“If you really want to make me a gift,” I said, “take me for a stroll in this town, in the moonlight.”

She shook her head affirmatively. “Provided that you don’t say a word,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.

“Because we are dreaming,” she said. “I’ll be taking you deeper into my dream.”

She explained that as long as we stayed in the church, I had enough energy to think and converse, but that beyond the boundaries of that church it was a different situation.

“Why is that?” I asked daringly.

In a most serious tone, which not only increased her eeriness but terrified me, the woman said, “Because there is no out there. This is a dream. You are at the fourth gate of dreaming, dreaming my dream.”

She told me that her art was to be capable of projecting her intent, and that everything I saw around me was her intent. She said in a whisper that the church and the town were the results of her intent; they did not exist, yet they did. She added, looking into my eyes, that this is one of the mysteries of intending in the second attention the twin positions of dreaming. It can be done, but it cannot be explained or comprehended.

She told me then that she came from a line of sorcerers who knew how to move about in the second attention by projecting their intent. Her story was that the sorcerers of her line practiced the art of projecting their thoughts in dreaming in order to accomplish the truthful reproduction of any object or structure or landmark or scenery of their choice.

She said that the sorcerers of her line used to start by gazing at a simple object and memorizing every detail of it. They would then close their eyes and visualize the object and correct their visualization against the true object until they could see it, in its completeness, with their eyes shut. The next thing in their developing scheme was to dream with the object and create in the dream, from the point of view of their own perception, a total materialization of the object. This act, the woman said, was called the first step to total perception.

From a simple object, those sorcerers went on to take more and more complex items. Their final aim was for all of them together to visualize a total world, then dream that world and thus re-create a totally veritable realm where they could exist.

“When any of the sorcerers of my line were able to do that,” the woman went on, “they could easily pull anyone into their intent, into their dream. This is what I am doing to you now, and what I did to all the naguals of your line.”

The woman giggled. “You better believe it,” she said, as if I did not.

“Whole populations disappeared in dreaming like that. This is the reason I said to you that this church and this town are one of the mysteries of intending in the second attention.”

“You say that whole populations disappeared that way. How was it possible?” I asked.

“They visualized and then re-created in dreaming the same scenery,” she replied. “You’ve never visualized anything, so it’s very dangerous for you to go into my dream.”

She warned me, then, that to cross the fourth gate and travel to places that exist only in someone else’s intent was perilous, since every item in such a dream had to be an ultimately personal item.

“Do you still want to go?” she asked.

I said yes. Then she told me more about the twin positions. The essence of her explanation was that if I were, for instance, dreaming of my hometown and my dream had started when I lay down on my right side, I could very easily stay in the town of my dream if I would lie on my right side, in the dream, and dream that I had fallen asleep. The second dream not only would necessarily be a dream of my hometown, but would be the most concrete dream one can imagine.

She was confident that in my dreaming training I had gotten countless dreams of great concreteness, but she assured me that every one of them had to be a fluke. For the only way to have absolute control of dreams was to use the technique of the twin positions.

“And don’t ask me why,” she added. “It just happens. Like everything else.”

She made me stand up and admonished me again not to talk or stray from her. She took my hand gently, as if I were a child, and headed toward a clump of dark silhouettes of houses. We were on a cobbled street. Hard river rocks had been pounded edgewise into the dirt. Uneven pressure had created uneven surfaces. It seemed that the cobblers had followed the contours of the ground without bothering to level it.

The houses were big, whitewashed, one-story, dusty buildings with tiled roofs. There were people meandering quietly. Dark shadows inside the houses gave me the feeling of curious but frightened neighbors gossiping behind doors. I could also see the flat mountains around the town.

Contrary to what had happened to me all along in my dreaming, my mental processes were unimpaired. My thoughts were not pushed away by the force of the events in the dream. And my mental calculations told me I was in the dream version of the town where don Juan lived, but at a different time. My curiosity was at its peak. I was actually with the death defier in her dream. But was it a dream? She herself had said it was a dream. I wanted to watch everything, to be super-alert. I wanted to test everything by seeing energy. I felt embarrassed, but the woman tightened her grip on my hand as if to signal me that she agreed with me.

Still feeling absurdly bashful, I automatically stated out loud my intent to see. In my dreaming practices, I had been using all along the phrase “I want to see energy.” Sometimes, I had to say it over and over until I got results. This time, in the woman’s dream town, as I began to repeat it in my usual manner, the woman began to laugh. Her laughter was like don Juan’s: a deep, abandoned belly laugh.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, somehow contaminated by her mirth.

“Juan Matus doesn’t like the old sorcerers in general and me in particular,” the woman said between fits of laughter. “All we have to do, in order to see in our dreams, is to point with our little finger at the item we want to see. To make you yell in my dream is his way to send me his message. You have to admit that he’s really clever.” She paused for a moment, then said in the tone of a revelation, “Of course, to yell like an asshole works too.”

The sorcerers’ sense of humor bewildered me beyond measure. She laughed so hard she seemed to be unable to proceed with our walk. I felt stupid. When she calmed down and was perfectly poised again, she politely told me that I could point at anything I wanted in her dream, including herself.

I pointed at a house with the little finger of my left hand. There was no energy in that house. The house was like any other item of a regular dream. I pointed at everything around me with the same result.

“Point at me,” she urged me. “You must corroborate that this is the method dreamers follow in order to see.”

She was thoroughly right. That was the method. The instant I pointed my finger at her, she was a blob of energy. A very peculiar blob of energy, I may add. Her energetic shape was exactly as don Juan had described it; it looked like an enormous seashell, curled inwardly along a cleavage that ran its length.

“I am the only energy-generating being in this dream,” she said. “So the proper thing for you to do is just watch everything.”

At that moment I was struck, for the first time, by the immensity of don Juan’s joke. He had actually contrived to have me learn to yell in my dreaming so that I could yell in the privacy of the death defier’s dream. I found that touch so funny that laughter spilled out of me in suffocating waves.

“Let’s continue our walk,” the woman said softly when I had no more laughter in me.

There were only two streets that intersected; each had three blocks of houses. We walked the length of both streets, not once but four times. I looked at everything and listened with my dreaming attention for any noises. There were very few, only dogs barking in the distance, or people speaking in whispers as we went by.

The dogs barking brought me an unknown and profound longing. I had to stop walking. I sought relief by leaning my shoulder against a wall. The contact with the wall was shocking to me, not because the wall was unusual but because what I had leaned on was a solid wall, like any other wall I had ever touched. I felt it with my free hand. I ran my fingers on its rough surface. It was indeed a wall!

Its stunning realness put an immediate end to my longing and renewed my interest in watching everything. I was looking, specifically, for features that could be correlated with the town of my day. However, no matter how intently I observed, I had no success. There was a plaza in that town, but it was in front of the church, facing the portico.

In the moonlight the mountains around the town were clearly visible and almost recognizable. I tried to orient myself, observing the moon and the stars, as if I were in the consensual reality of everyday life. It was a waning moon, perhaps a day after full. It was high over the horizon. It must have been between eight and nine in the evening. I could see Orion to the right of the moon; its two main stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, were on a horizontal straight line with the moon. I estimated it to be early December. My time was May. In May, Orion is nowhere in sight at that time. I gazed at the moon as long as I could. Nothing shifted. It was the moon as far as I could tell. The disparity in time got me very excited.

As I re-examined the southern horizon, I thought I could distinguish the bell-like peak visible from don Juan’s patio. I tried next to figure out where his house might have been. For one instant I thought I found it. I became so enthralled that I pulled my hand out of the woman’s grip.

Instantly, a tremendous anxiety possessed me. I knew that I had to go back to the church, because if I did not I would simply drop dead on the spot. I turned around and bolted for the church. The woman quickly grabbed my hand and followed me.

As we approached the church at a running pace, I became aware that the town in that dreaming was behind the church. Had I taken this into consideration, orientation might have been possible. As it was, I had no more dreaming attention. I focused all of it on the architectural and ornamental details on the back of the church. I had never seen that part of the building in the world of everyday life, and I thought that if I could record its features in my memory, I could check them later against the details of the real church.

That was the plan I concocted on the spur of the moment. Something inside me, however, scorned my efforts at validation. During all my apprenticeship, I had been plagued by the need for objectivity, which had forced me to check and recheck everything about don Juan’s world. Yet it was not validation per se that was always at stake but the need to use this drive for objectivity as a crutch to give me protection at the moments of most intense cognitive disruption; when it was time to check what I had validated, I never went through with it.

Inside the church, the woman and I knelt in front of the small altar on the left side, where we had been, and the next instant, I woke up in the well-illuminated church of my day.

The woman crossed herself and stood up. I did the same automatically. She took my arm and began to walk toward the door.

“Wait, wait,” I said and was surprised that I could talk. I could not think clearly, yet I wanted to ask her a convoluted question. What I wanted to know was how anyone could have the energy to visualize every detail of a whole town.

Smiling, the woman answered my unvoiced question; she said that she was very good at visualizing because after a lifetime of doing it, she had many, many lifetimes to perfect it. She added that the town I had visited and the church where we had talked were examples of her recent visualizations. The church was the same church where Sebastian had been a sexton. She had given herself the task of memorizing every detail of every corner of that church and that town, for that matter, out of a need to survive.

She ended her talk with a most disturbing afterthought.

“Since you know quite a bit about this town, even though you’ve never tried to visualize it,” she said, “you are now helping me to intend it. I bet you won’t believe me if I tell you that this town you are looking at now doesn’t really exist, outside your intent and mine.”

She peered at me and laughed at my sense of horror, for I had just fully realized what she was saying.

“Are we still dreaming?” I asked, astonished.

“We are,” she said. “But this dreaming is more real than the other, because you’re helping me. It is not possible to explain it beyond saying that it is happening. Like everything else.”

She pointed all around her. “There is no way to tell how it happens, but it does. Remember always what I’ve told you: this is the mystery of intending in the second attention.”

She gently pulled me closer to her. “Let’s stroll to the plaza of this dream,” she said. “But perhaps I should fix myself a little bit so you’ll be more at ease.”

I looked at her uncomprehendingly as she expertly changed her appearance. She did this with very simple, mundane maneuvers. She undid her long skirt, revealing the very average mid-calf skirt she was wearing underneath. She then twisted her long braid into a chignon and changed from her guaraches into inch-heel shoes she had in a small cloth sack. She turned over her reversible black shawl to reveal a beige stole. She looked like a typical middle-class Mexican woman from the city, perhaps on a visit to that town.

She took my arm with a woman’s aplomb and led the way to the plaza.

“What happened to your tongue?” she said in English. “Did the cat eat it?”

I was totally engrossed in the unthinkable possibility that I was still in a dream; what is more, I was beginning to believe that if it were true, I ran the risk of never waking up.

In a nonchalant tone that I could not recognize as mine, I said, “I didn’t realize until now that you spoke in English to me before. Where did you learn it?”

“In the world out there. I speak many languages.” She paused and scrutinized me. “I’ve had plenty of time to learn them. Since we’re going to spend a lot of time together, I’ll teach you my own language sometime.”

She giggled, no doubt at my look of despair.

I stopped walking. “Are we going to spend a lot of time together?” I asked, betraying my feelings.

“Of course,” she replied in a joyful tone. “You are, and I should say very generously, going to give me your energy, for free. You said that yourself, didn’t you?” I was aghast.

“What’s the problem?” the woman asked, shifting back into Spanish. “Don’t tell me that you regret your decision. We are sorcerers. It’s too late to change your mind. You are not afraid, are you?”

I was again more than terrified, but, if I had been put on the spot to describe what terrified me, I would not have known. I was certainly not afraid of being with the death defier in another dream or of losing my mind or even my life. Was I afraid of evil? I asked myself. But the thought of evil could not withstand examination. As a result of all those years on the sorcerers’ path, I knew without the shadow of a doubt that in the universe only energy exists; evil is merely a concatenation of the human mind, overwhelmed by the fixation of the assemblage point on its habitual position. Logically, there was really nothing for me to be afraid of. I knew that, but I also knew that my real weakness was to lack the fluidity to fix my assemblage point instantly on any new position to which it was displaced. The contact with the death defier was displacing my assemblage point at a tremendous rate, and I did not have the prowess to keep up with the push.

The end result was a vague pseudo-sensation of fearing that I might not be able to wake up.

“There is no problem,” I said. “Let’s continue our dream walk.”

She linked her arm with mine, and we reached the park in silence. It was not at all a forced silence. But my mind was running in circles. How strange, I thought; only a while ago I had walked with don Juan from the park to the church, in the midst of the most terrifying normal fear.

Now I was walking back from the church to the park with the object of my fear, and I was more terrified than ever, but in a different, more mature, more deadly manner.

To fend off my worries, I began to look around. If this was a dream, as I believed it was, there was a way to prove or disprove it. I pointed my finger at the houses, at the church, at the pavement in the street. I pointed at people. I pointed at everything. Daringly, I even grabbed a couple of people, whom I seemed to scare considerably. I felt their mass. They were as real as anything I consider real, except that they did not generate energy. Nothing in that town generated energy. Everything seemed real and normal, yet it was a dream.

I turned to the woman, who was holding on to my arm, and questioned her about it.

“We are dreaming,” she said in her raspy voice and giggled.

“But how can people and things around us to be so real, so three-dimensional?”

“The mystery of intending in the second attention!” she exclaimed reverently. “Those people out there are so real that they even have thoughts.”

***