Journey Within Synopsis
The author, Robert Ross, has stated the idea for Journey Within evolved from a close friend’s similar experience. A chance encounter on a European holiday; a short two weeks of bliss; then a rebirth of those same romantic highs some two decades later, realized once again by mere chance.
Yes, Journey Within is a story of love recaptured, as two people find themselves together, again, on an exotic island, reliving a summer romance of near perfection that happened nineteen years earlier. The reunion is bittersweet, however. Their emotional highs and lows are revealed by the elusiveness of years lost, and the intrusion of the proverbial third party — another woman who, at times, seems an increasingly attractive fit to Mike, the main character, in his more familiar world.
Choosing, ultimately, to walk away from the woman of his dreams, Mike becomes as devastated and dumbfounded by his actions as she. He realizes he must find meaning to his madness… reasons why, and thus is catapulted on a spiritual adventure, a succession of lives that prove to be only chapters in an long journey through the ages, one that will lead him hopefully to growth, discovery, insight, understanding. His journey is not an easy one; not a pure linear progression of enlightenment, because as the book contends, what the spirit can remember over millennia, the mind, within the confines of its various life forms, may not recall.
So the questions persist. Is Mike merely dreaming? Can his present angst have been rooted in some distant time, long ago? Is he just your everyday, garden-variety flake incapable of a lasting relationship? A case probably can be made for any of them.
Now, pointing one last time to the glass jar that held the head of the famous bandito Duncan said, “I guess he didn’t live happily ever after.”
“No, it doesn’t look as though he did, my boy, but let me tell you a secret. The real Jaoquin might have, because that is not him.”
“That’s right, that is not the head of Jaoquin Murrieta. I should know. I rode with him.”
— Mike, a.k.a. Malcolm, in 1896
“What about God? Do you believe in Him,” he asked before thinking about his question. That’s a big one, a personal one. It probably isn’t right to ask that question of someone you’ve only casually engaged in conversation, in a movie theater no less. But what the hell, everyone has an opinion about God (Buddha… Allah… Yahweh… a Presence), so he pressed on, “So what about God?”
“Yes, I believe in Him,” she answered, “in a manner of speaking.”
She’d been right, Mike smiled, thinking back, remembering her gentleness. Even if you eliminated everything — the world, the galaxies, the universe, all the unknowns — what would remain? Nothing? He paused, then continued… And what is that?… What is nothing? An absolute void?… An all-pervasive blackness? But isn’t a void, isn’t blackness something? Certainly a void by definition asserts that something surely exists, if only in concept. And blackness is the absence of color, thereby disproving its nothingness by being what color isn’t. So what is left?… What else?… What could possibly exist beyond all of the unknowns? Could it be something the human mind cannot fully comprehend? Like a primal force?… An unimaginable power? Like God? “Shit yes, it could,” he laughed loudly. I can’t even figure out who the hell I am, much less presume to deny that God could possibly exist! Then, for the zillionth time, he swirled his trusty companion and closest friend around the inside of his drinking glass, staring blankly into the beyond, his mind wandering to that special island that had reached out to him, calling him back after so, so many years.
The coming weekend was welcome. Driving to the beach to see Carole again for more than one night brought memories of happier times. They had always been good together if the subject of kids didn’t enter the conversation. But he knew it would tiptoe into their flowered world once again this weekend, not leaving until it stomped a few more mums and calla lilies.
“I have two kids,” he reminded her, “and you love them almost as much as I do, and they love you almost as much as their mother… so?” So she wasn’t buying it and never would. And she was right. Carole was twelve years younger. She wanted her own kids, her own brood. Once two, now three. Definite brood territory. And definitely territory Mike had no business re-entering. With a girl starting her sophomore year in high school and a boy only two years behind, both in private schools, the economics of starting another family was definitely ulcerous. This is not to say bringing a human being into the world should be based purely on the almighty buck, particularly when he or she is a fat little butterball that smells of talcum and looks a lot like you. But holy Toledo, they ain’t cheap! You want to feed them, clothe them, educate them, house them like you think you should… “Right?” he said to Carole. “Am I right?” But they were at an impasse, and had been for some time. The brood concept and she were Siamese, inseparable, which made it only a matter of time before the permanent break, the final letting go, and Mike knew it.
The sky was gray and blustery on the drive back to L.A. as details of the next few days raced through his head. Gotta check on the Mexico thing — if it looks good, get a creative team working on some concepts, but first get some money from Luis. Gotta check in with Mark about his piece of business. Gotta call Clem and tell her, no, ask her to cover a couple of other potentials (since both would mean a few bucks for her, she shouldn’t mind, but you never know, so check).
RAAAANGG!! Mike always put the phone near him in the early afternoon. It was about the time she would call, considering the eight hours difference and her habit of working late, eating late.
He’d met Dierry nineteen years earlier on an island off the coast of Spain. It was a chance meeting. She was with a group of girlfriends hitchhiking to the beach when Mike and four asshole buddies from college rode by on their motorcycles. He caught a glimpse of her as they passed, and in an instant, stopped, kicked Rob off the back of his bike, turned, and picked her up. It was pure impulse. He motioned for the rest of the guys to get the others, and to this day Mike was quite certain he was driven by some unexplained force to stop. He’d had opportunities before, but somehow, this time, it was right to stop. Even more, he felt he must.
They spent the afternoon soaking up the heat of a midsummer’s day, chatting playfully, flirting, sparring, hoping for a significant sign from a targeted “other,” something that offered more than an arms-length friendliness. It — the day, the group, the feeling — was good, but only Dierry and Mike developed a relationship of any permanence, one that would prove to overstep the bounds of an acceptable holiday romance. As the afternoon sun set over the edge of the bay, she spelled her name out for him — her full name — etching each letter into the wet sand with a slim, brown finger. Finally, very slowly, she looked up, her eyes smiling into his. And the image of her, them, lost together on an island faraway, was at once undeniable, and indelible.
They were there nearly two weeks. While the others drifted in and out of their collective lives, Dierry and Mike shared the days together, only desiring more of one another. They swam and sunned the hours into twilight, then would meet in town for a drink before finding their way to some hideaway’s darkened corner. They grew closer with each touch, each thought of the other. There were occasions when a companion dragged one or the other off to bid them hello, sunbathe, snorkel, share a drink or idle conversation with some imposter, but then later, that first glimpse between the two would bring back a sense of overwhelming warmth, yet always accompanied by a sharp chill, as if a harbinger. This puzzled Mike. He feared the worst, but would not allow it to intrude upon his more perfect world. He shut the thought from his mind, stiff-arming reality like he would some grotesque pursuer. Now, only life mattered. Only today mattered, the two of them using every precious second they could find to be together, to be one together.
The final day arrived, its swiftness crashing in on them. Mike was to leave for Valencia with the boys. The five of them checked out of paradise, strapped bedrolls to the rear of their bikes, and rode over to say good-bye… up the winding, cobblestone streets to the tiny, perfumed apartment in the center of town. As they pulled up, Karri waved from the balcony overlooking the harbor, then came down to greet them. Dierry wasn’t there. She had gone to market. Suddenly, Mike felt alone, infinitely alone. Those few moments he had counted on seeing her left him empty and abandoned, and he walked slowly into the tiny apartment discomposed, wandering away from the happy group to the balcony outside, alone with his thoughts. He didn’t know what he would say to Dierry when she returned, how to resolve their last few hours together. His mind searched for an answer, a solution, some meaning to it all… their perfect week… the remainder of their lives. He saw her approaching, walking up the narrow cobblestone street with white adobe and red tile all around. She was beautiful, the kind that comes to a woman naturally. She held two sacks of groceries, carrying them as if it was her daily trip to market bringing home the evening meal — for them. As he watched, he saw his life with her on the island, the two of them living simply, happily. It was reality and fantasy, and he was living it… had been living it for the past week, and he asked himself, why couldn’t it continue? Why? He wanted… he demanded… to know why.
Mike rushed into the street and they caught each other’s eyes. Dierry ran to him, “Mike, oh Mike, I didn’t think you would be here so soon… I would have been here… I would have stayed.” He told her not to worry and they kissed, and in that moment they realized what was happening, and they didn’t know how to stop it. Their lives were eight thousand miles apart across an ocean, but they would find a solution, a way around the cruelty. He would come to Brussels. Yes! He would stay with her for another week, in her own home, off the island, away from its allure. His boss would understand, he assured her; he would have to. So they promised, and he pledged to see her in Brussels in two days. Nothing could prevent it. As they sat together in the small cafe by the wharf and sipped their wine, he thought he would feel better about their parting. It was a strange feeling, one of sweetness as they recalled the past two weeks, but sweet only if he denied the emptiness accompanying it. Maybe it was that they were merely putting off the only real cruelty, the kind that comes when one realizes there is no hope, only some mask of reality worn upside down turning the tragic faces of two lives into some comic facade. No matter. He was going to Brussels. He could not, not go. So they held each other tightly for what would have to last for the next two days, then waved good-bye forever as the boat pulled away from the dock.
Mike had a dream last night. He was driving in the city and suddenly found himself stopped in front of railroad tracks while lights flashed a warning that a train was coming. He was second in line, but before the train had passed, the car in front of him bolted across the tracks. For some reason, the barrier wasn’t down, so he nudged his car up to the tracks to get a better look at how far away the train was. Without seeing it near, he started to cross. As he attempted to accelerate, the car suddenly felt as if it was in neutral. The motor was revving, but he wasn’t moving. He realized then he wasn’t looking out of the windshield anymore. He was seated backwards looking across the seat back out the rear window. Somehow, he had placed the car in a gear below reverse, apparently the equivalent of neutral. As he sat gunning the engine, he could see the train approaching. Closer…closer it came. It was almost upon him. Then, in an instant, like a quick cut in a film, he was off the tracks and safely on the other side, gliding down a slight grade. Suddenly the car gained speed. He was still seated backwards and losing control. He had to do something! He jerked the wheel sharply making a complete 180-degree turn. It was so sharp, so violent, the car spun underneath him, but he somehow managed to stay in the driver’s seat. Now, finally, looking out of the windshield once again and firmly in control of the car, Mike fell back into the deep sleep of darkness.
The plane flight to the island was tedious as the memories of nineteen years raced through his mind. The only redemption to two airlines and three layovers was that Dierry and he — the two time-travelers willing to jump into the deep end of the looking glass — were to arrive at their final destination a mere five minutes apart. Mike had landed on time, but as he stood waiting to go through customs, he was still unconvinced two small Caribbean airlines (particularly theirs) could arrive promptly when scheduled. The chances, he thought, were about as good as those he had had picking up the phone two months earlier and, after nineteen years, calling information in Brussels, asking for a Dierry Thoreaux, getting a number, and in the next minute hearing her voice brightly on the other end, “Hello, this is Dierry.” He had thought of her over the years… keeping her in a special place within… keeping the fantasy alive. But what motivated him to call, finally, was still a mystery, something Mike already concluded he would never truly understand.
Her life had been much like his, save marriage and children. She had two long, apparently loving, relationships — the first of them four years, the other seven. She was instinctually monogamous, trusting, and giving, although she could at times cast away a lover like so much emotional baggage. Only recently did her work (more appropriately, her career) take a turn for the better. She’d modeled, had been a nurse, had worked in film production, had even apprenticed for a chef (of some repute). Finally, a friend loaned her enough money to open a shop near the Grand Place. Her friend had noticed two things about Dierry: she had an eye for color and style, and she was drifting. If she became successful in business — at something she truly enjoyed — he felt direction for the rest of her life would follow. Over the past four years, “Thor” had become one of Brussels finer boutiques for fabrics and women’s and children’s apparel. Her success had been written up in the local press so often that she dismissed it now as “— much too boring.”
Mike was holding out his passport to the official when he heard more engines. Another plane had landed. There…over there…Dierry was getting off the little Air Liat, two-engine prop (there is a God!). She looked the same as she had in the pictures they had exchanged since November — tall, thin, light hair shoulder length…beautiful. The years had been kind. But nineteen of them had passed and now the two were about to enter into a nine-day vacation together, alone, on yet another island. Mike had high hopes, mixed with extreme curiosity, along with a generous amount of insecurity about just exactly how might be the most appropriate way to approach their first meeting — whether to shake hands politely, kiss her as he would a dear friend, simply say hello, or offer some well rehearsed, innocuous greeting one makes to an old acquaintance. As she was getting her baggage, waiting her turn to go through customs, he picked his third option, walked up behind her and said simply, “Hello, Dierry.”
She turned, smiling widely, “Oh, Mike…,” and kissed him on the cheek. It felt good… very good… better than he had hoped. He felt like this new start, this first instant, these first few seconds that would set the tone for the next nine days had gone better than hoped for…making all the hours talking by phone, all the planning, all the letters, all of it well spent. That first instant’s answer was a resounding…Yes! She does look terrific! He did the right thing! Now he only prayed the feeling was returned.
“What if she shits on you,” whispered Mike’s alter ego, the little anti-Christ that hides deep in all of us (he hoped) and suggests from time to time that we should spit in someone’s face, or drive off a cliff, or reflect upon some wild dreamscape that comes from somewhere deep inside. Mike was hoping now, praying that everyone had these same pseudo-psychotic flashes of life’s underbelly that defied any relation to social order, and he smiled wryly over the vision of his former boss in the middle of a new business presentation, naked, with a miniature billboard attached to his equally miniature dick that read, “My Ideas Are Only As Exciting As This!”
Then just as quickly as it came, the little devil crawled back to its secret place within, and reality returned. Ah, blessed reality. It always has to spoil things, doesn’t it. Spoil things? Ruin it all? Not so. Not this time. Reality means spending the next nine days on an island with a dream, a fantasy… a storybook, fairy tale lover lost for nineteen years!
Nineteen years. Shit, Mike thought, in that time he had moved from Seattle to San Francisco to New York, experienced an entirely new life, one that was exciting, yet at the same time lacking the final piece to make it all seem right. When he finally moved to L.A., married, and had a family, he thought he’d reached his appointed place in life. His true identity. He felt content. But the contentment slowly gave way to complacency, then ultimately to the realization of an obvious mistake. He was stuck with a silver-spooned, inert recluse, choking in a marriage that was perceived by all (except the two atop the cake) to be perfect. The end came after an eighteen-month slow boil that led to separation, then ultimately to a two-year simmer deoxygenating into divorce. When they separated, the two children were very young, not yet four and two. That was the only good thing about it — the fact that they had kids, that they were still young, and that the estranged bedmates didn’t try to save the marriage for them. If that had happened, Mike was sure he would be locked away by now. But things worked out; they all survived; the kids are great, and he’s not in a padded cell somewhere in the fetal position drooling on himself. Hey, it is a wonderful life! Particularly the reality of it.
When they arrived at the hotel, Dierry and Mike were greeted with a surprise, and a problem. She had no room. He had one; it was confirmed. Hers wasn’t. Her confirmation was never received, and there were no other rooms available. Worse, they had not devised a “plan B.” They simply stood there, presented all too soon with the inevitable… can we?… should we?… Now?! They fidgeted, looked at one another, and smiled… stupidly. After an awkward silence they once again asked as politely as possible, “We would like to be accommodated as originally confirmed…,” because there was no way, not now, not yet, that either of them could comfortably move into one room with the other. It was entirely too premature. Maybe in a few days, if the promise of how they felt about this risky business developed absolutely perfectly. Right now? No.
The desk clerk saw their concern, understood immediately, and at once began searching for the elusive extra room, shuffling papers, walking briskly to and fro from the front desk to the back office and back again, when one of the maids standing nearby stated gingerly, “Why don’ you take da one room, it’s cozier.” Her name was Fannie and she was to become very close to them. They would see her watching, yet without intruding. She simply liked them. After Dierry had told her their story, Fannie could not keep from fluttering about. She was constantly smiling and winking at them, encouraging them, praying they would discover the proper ending to a true fairy tale romance, which was, of course, simply living happily together. She was at once their housekeeper, their friend, their confidant, and the two listened quite attentively to everything Fannie had to tell them over the course of their stay. Everything, that is, except for Fannie’s unabashed first notion. They got the two rooms.
The days passed slowly that first weekend, however the two welcomed the languid hours, staking out a table, taking to the task of reacquaintance while the rain that danced upon the faded, blue umbrella overhead dampened all but their spirits. On the third day however, they were feeling housebound. They needed to escape, to flee the little hotel, and the eyes of, by now, every employee who had heard the tale of their special guests, which was of course everyone. By mid-afternoon the weather was clearing, so they readied themselves for a trip to town. Fannie told them they could take the bus that passed right in front of the hotel. “Jus wave it down and the two of you jump in,” she had said. “It’s only one E.C. — ‘bout forty cents U.S.”
Mike and Dierry stood in a light rain looking up the empty road as it snaked around a bend disappearing into the mist, and they waited, and looked, and waited. At last a van approached, brightly colored, filled with people, exploding with a kind of frenetic reggae music. One of the locals standing nearby motioned, “Dats it, dats da bus, go ahead an’ wave it down, mon.” They waved and it screeched to a halt, the driver gesturing them aboard and indicating there was plenty of room. They plopped in the back just as he sped off with music blaring, children bouncing up and down on mothers’ laps, people waving out of windows to friends along the roadside, everyone having quite a good time riding the bus.
“Ya goin’ to da concert tonight,” Faith asked them when they returned from town. She sat at the front desk and always smiled a wide grin to them through the gap between her two front teeth. She said everyone was going to be there to see — ”da hottes’, bes’ jukin’ kaddas ban’ anywhere. Dey be playin’ in da socca fiel’, an’ if you ain’t goin’, you ain’t nobody tonight.”
Deciding they were certainly not nobodies, the hotel’s two special guests quickly took up the gauntlet. Dierry bought tickets, and precisely one hour later, as instructed, they waited in the lobby in jeans, sweatshirts, jackets, and old shoes. Soon it began to rain, then pour. After a short bus ride to a muddy field with Faith, a girlfriend, and some of the stage crew, Dierry and Mike jumped ankle deep into the muck and shuffled in with the crowd. A row of food and drink stands made of plankboard, driftwood, pieces of tin and scrap metal, nailed together here and there with colorful, homemade signs advertising a variety of fare, greeted them to their right. They found shelter under one of the overhangs, ordering Guinness between legs of grilled chicken dipped in brown mustard. With two more bottles of the dark, rich ale for dessert, Mike and Dierry found a comfortable railing and waited for — da hottes’ kaddas ban’ aroun’ to heat up. They didn’t wait long. When the lights dimmed, the crowd began to cheer. Then from a tented stage, slowly building through the wet, veiled darkness came a blend of drums, guitars, horns, synthesizer, and song capturing all within the frenzy, carrying them into the night. And there, in the eye of the storm stood the two time-travelers, screaming with three thousand locals — dancing, jumping, laughing with each beat of the music — going back, back to where they had been nineteen long years before, back into another world, another life.
“Let’s get mobile,” Mike announced after three days of confinement on the bus. They needed their own set of wheels, so he rented a little red moped to fly them to town, to the jungle, to lunch, to the falls, to the beach. They discovered a small restaurant on the second floor of an old hotel, where they would sit for hours washing down chicken Creole, mounds of vegetables and boiled yams with Red Stripe. They wandered a bay where the French and British had fought nearly two hundred years earlier. At the very top, on the point, stood a cannon weathered with time. It was hard to imagine this serene place erupting with smoke and gunfire as Mike shot Dierry with her Nikon in the afternoon light, as she lay across the huge weapon of war still at its battlement pointing to the entrance of the bay. There are some things that last, he thought. Maybe iron and steel are in fact stronger, more resilient, than the human spirit — or what the spirit can survive.
The end of the week came abruptly, like a bartender’s last call rudely interrupting two people in a darkened corner drunk with the moment. Fannie saw them. They were sitting on the porch in front of their room, Dierry cozied into Mike’s lap watching the sun drawing its final shade of darkness. As she approached, Mike could almost make out the thoughts racing through her mind… how she might suggest, ever so delicately, a continuance, a stay for the two lovers’ long-lost but now recaptured romance. Out of character Fannie blurted out, “It don’ matta if one o’ you live way ova’ here and one way ova’ dere… Love is what matta, chile… You pick up an’ go… You be wid da man you love.”
Fannie had it right. She was the source of all knowledge in these matters. Only thirty-six years of age, she’d already given birth to five children by three men. Her eldest was a young man of twenty, in college on the island, her youngest a girl of nine. If Fannie didn’t know what love and life was all about, no one did. So Mike and Dierry talked and dreamed and lied to each other again, unwittingly.
He was basking in the glow of their fantasy, a magical bubble he’d re-invented and now dwelled within, and he invited Dierry to join him. However, as bubbles are, it was fragile — one that in time would surely burst. But before it did, before the two fell back to earth careening into their separate lives in separate worlds, Mike would make their bubble bigger still.
“In his middle age, Mike wonders if life is just too long for permanent relationships…
He divorced when his children were four and two respectively. Now teens, they seem adjusted, but he questions what is happening in his love life. He sees Carole, much younger than he is, but she wants more than he can give. Mike’s thoughts wander back to Dierry, his ‘dream girl’ from his salad days when he believed that there was more to life than his experiences have since found.
A weary Mike recalls the memory of an elderly woman who insisted he had an old soul filled with past lives. That elderly woman ‘escorts’ Mike on a journey along an astral plane into the past lives he lived and the women he loved crossing the ocean to Ancient Gaul and later existence. However, these flawed relationships seem to reverberate the problems of present day Mike.
This is a great look at human relationships including harmony within oneself via superb vignettes that are part of a powerful story line that takes the reader on a journey of the mind. Robert Ross allows the audience to believe what we want as he never sets in concrete whether the astral trip is a genuine time travel trek or whether Mike even lived those previous lives.
Regardless of which theory the reader accepts, fans will agree that JOURNEY WITHIN: A TALE OF ASTRAL TRAVEL is a triumphant one sitting reading experience along the cerebral yet entertaining plane.”
– Harriet Klausner, Blether Book Review
“JOURNEY WITHIN IS A NOVEL THAT’S WORTH THE TRIP – Past and present collide in this introspective, first novel, JOURNEY WITHIN, by Robert Ross. Surely a romantic himself, Ross takes his readers on an astral voyage through the eyes of his main character.
As the book opens, we find Mike riding an emotional roller coaster as he struggles to make sense of his overwhelming desire to rekindle a love affair of nearly twenty years ago. During a summer in Europe with his college buddies, Mike met Dierry. After a whirlwind romance, their bittersweet departures left a void for Mike. Just as in real life, time slipped away, as the two of them drifted into the confines of an ordinary world: careers, lovers, marriage, children, and divorce. So why now, does he feel that he must see Dierry again? As the sweet memories continue to haunt him, he acts on his emotions. As if it were meant to happen, Mike finds himself in the arms of Dierry in the sensual environs of the Caribbean. But afterward, as he wrestles with these re-ignited feelings, the book catapults the reader into a series of complex and fascinating adventures in time travel.
Ross hits the mark as he capably describes the evolution of Mike’s pursuit of self-discovery. Not so much a historical voyage, though the periods described are lush in detail, instead the underlying thread of reincarnation lets the reader explore a more subconscious and ethereal kind of journey through time.
As Ross juxtaposes the past with the present, the reader is offered the rare opportunity to investigate what drives his main character and even us to search for our true identity. After a final encounter with his astral mother, our character’s spiritual transformation comes to an end, and a newly rejuvenated Mike feels better equipped to meet the future, happier and more content than ever before in his life.
With a pizzazz for historical accuracy, a gentle and respectful treatment of women, and the imaginative and dreamy prose, Ross has succeeded in weaving a sometimes unsettling, but thought-provoking and intriguing first novel.”
– Patti Pocsik, Green Meadows Reviews