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Cursing Isabella

Dreamed 1992/8/19 by Chris Wayan


The Heart's Desire Brigade has finished its biweekly meeting. The progress reports are over, and each of us has proposed homework for the next two weeks. The calls to make, the people to see, on our various quests to reach our hearts' desire.

Now it's time for gossip, salsa and chips, yoga stretches, and everyone's second favorite cult show (since for logistical reasons we can't convene on Simpsons' Eve)... We watch Star Trek in the dark.

Which Star Trek was it? I'll tell you. You'll need to know. Clara, an 11 year old on the Enterprise, has an imaginary playmate: Isabella. Her father worries that the many transfers his work has required may have kept Clara from having any real friends. When the ship enters a strange nebula, Clara's playmate suddenly becomes visible. She's gotten bossy too, and curious about the ship's power sources... Isabella seems to be an energy being. Clara's alarmed, but the grownups won't listen. Isabella finally attacks an adult who sees her, and threatens to kill them all. She seems like a real monster; yet in the end she turns out to be partly just outraged by the restrictions put on Clara. Not being a material girl, she can't see why her friend can't play with antimatter or vacuum or energy beams... She sees human adults as monsters! Having chosen a child's form, she gets a child's-eye view of humanity. And the adults around her, with few exceptions, did act like jerks: Clara warned them for thirty-eight primetime minutes, and did they listen? (C'mon, scriptwriters! Centuries of progress, humans have outgrown racism and sexism, but not agism?) I'm fascinated by Isabella's ambiguous character--her judgment of humans was distorted, but their judgment of her was too...

I drive home and fall asleep with three ballpoint pens by the bed--backups. I want to be sure to get the dream I sense is coming--the dream about my heart's desire. Or how I ignore my heart's desire--as it tries to warn me for thirty-eight minutes.

2: THE TOWER Scowling girl, Isabella, with dark hair whipped by the wind; behind her, clouds and the sea.

I'm walking along a waterfront, at night. Quiet, lonely, miles long--just a seawall with huge sheds behind it, where the Santa Cruz Boardwalk used to be. The depression's hit hard, I guess. I hope that's all it is... I hope it's not because of the Tower.

A sad place, now. Just me, birds, wind. Rocks at the near end. Birds perch. They seem crowlike at first. But they swim, diving for fish, and they have huge narrow albatrossy wings. Some have trailing decorative feathers, curling at the tips into spirals. Definitely two kinds, with and without. Male and female?

Hey! Some of them have fish tails too! Fish fishing for fish...

A long sterile stretch of breakwater ahead with few birdfish... Was it always this barren here? Or is it the Tower? Maybe there's life I don't see, below the surface?

Now I see my goal ahead. The Tower. On the top floor is a twelve year old girl named Isabella. She's trapped there, alone, desperately trying to get out.

It's my job to keep her trapped.

Isabella is the strongest sorcerer in the world. And she wants to rule it.

Maybe she'd only order universal ice cream and MTV. Maybe she'd do better than Bush. But no one wants to risk finding out just how bad the world could be, run by a 12-year-old dictator. And she could do it. She can change shape. She can kill you with a finger. She's really good.


The magician who used to be responsible for keeping Isabella in her tower by the sea was another little girl named Clara. Clara has always been a bit shy. She grew up with her father who moved around a lot. She acts obedient--when grownups push her, she goes inside, into the world of magic. She's quite good, though not as good as Isabella. Clara lacks that all-out recklessness that makes you great. Or dead. Or both. Isabella was working the spells loose, crowbarring them word by word, picking at their ambiguities like a lawyer. Clara could feel the tower chipping away. Someday soon she'd have to fight. Since Clara knew she'd lose, face to face, she saw only one way to stop Isabella: surprise.

So one day, Clara climbed the dark tower to the room below the top and cast a spell up through the ceiling. A preemptive strike! And it worked. Caught Isabella off guard. The spell ran up her feet...

Her feet got soft and her legs got soft and her stomach got soft and her head got soft. And Isabella turned into a set of pillows. Big sofa pillows.

Clara snuck those pillows out of the tower, and hid them in the apartment of one of her best friends--on the sofas. She mixed them with regular pillows, so Isabella's followers couldn't easily find her and put her back together. Without all the true Isabella pillows, a counterspell might get them a half-Isabella-half-sofa, which would probably kill even her. All the wizards sat on the news story, so Isabella's supporters would stay focused on freeing her from the tower--the empty tower.

So we all sat on Isabella. I can't feel too sorry for her, with her grisly reputation. And you have to admire Clara's courage--if the wizard had caught on and counterspelled in the moment of transformation, Clara would have been a poodle or a president or a porkchop. Not a fun life. Jean-Luc Picard and Guinan sit on a sofa discussing a sorceress, Isabella, who's been turned into the cushions they sit on. Admittedly, I can't draw Patrick Stewart or Whoopi Goldberg worth a damn.


This is a fairy tale, of course. Picture several adults in an elegant room, reading the tale of Clara and Isabella aloud from a picture book--sitting, of course, on sofas. I watch their big fat adult butts on pillows... which can't complain... as they discuss the story so far. "Well," says Captain Picard, upright and formal, his bones poking Isabella's ear, "I don't think Clara's a believable character. Little girls aren't that disciplined, not at eleven, and they don't have that kind of responsibility placed on them, either."

"This book" says Whoopi Goldberg, leaning back, enjoying the nice soft pillow of Isabella's stomach, "I think this book was written by someone who was abused as a child, on alert all the time. Doesn't know what normal human kids are like."

"Maybe," I suggest, "Clara is supposed to be an abused kid. Maybe she's had to take responsibility for everything."

"But if Clara were abused..." says Deanna Troy, "She's shown as very disciplined, very brave, but she'd never be stable enough internally to defeat a world-class magician, precisely because of her abuse. The same neglect that made her precocious would also make her fragile, even self-destructive. You can't work strong magic from a weak psyche--"

I butt in. "I was a child prodigy and I was battered... and Clara seems quite familiar to me. Clara has a gift, and difficult responsibilities come with that. Prodigies don't necessarily fall apart. She was extremely brave and resourceful and you're belittling her achievement."

They're sitting on it, in fact, and I'm beginning to feel sympathy for poor old Isabella, sat on by grownups.

Grownup therapists, sitting on a couch! Something ironic there. And psychoanalyzing the couch's worst enemy, unsuspecting...

I wonder. Can Isabella hear them? If so, I'll bet she's getting mad. You can't sit on a girl like that forever.


My sympathy didn't last long though. Because some second-rate sorcerer friend of hers--very dedicated, I admit--AND sneaky--somehow managed to scan every sofa in San Francisco, for traces of power.

And reassembled Isabella!

She was caught again--not by Clara alone--she'd done her best--but by a whole firetruck-full of lesser magicians... It was a close thing, but they threw enough at her to knock her out briefly. Isabella was returned to her lonely tower. Maybe it's better than being sat on, at that. At least she can watch the birds and the sea, and the sunsets are nice. But of course they just mock her, in a way. The whole world spread out before her, unreachable. She has ambitions. At least as soft pillows she didn't feel that itch of the gifted.

She's really determined to break out now. And this time, I'm the one who's supposed to stop her. It's serious. She's even changed herself into a grownup, a man, and he's reading every magic book in the library.

My big worry is the birds. If he goes fishing for birds, and snares a hundred or so, ties a line on each one, and then becomes Isabella again... she's not heavy, she could fly from the tower! Or at least fall gently enough to survive. If even I can think of that trick, which doesn't even need real magic, just some fishline from a bait shop... I mean, who knows what Isabella will think of?

When I walk up the sea-wall, past the birds, and reach the tower, it's dead. No throb of magic. I may not know spells but I feel things. Already too late. Gone. Isabella found some trick--whether the birds or not, I never did learn.

But Isabella's on the loose. This is not gonna be fun. Though she has one weakness: she's SO strong she leaves a trail as shining as a snail, for those with eyes to see. She can't help it.

So I begin stalking Isabella.


Human armor's always the best in these cases, so I wait outside the California Book Company, hiding in the mob of students fighting to get at the discount textbooks inside. I wait for a rib-crushing mass to really gum up the doorway--and then I fight my way in, anonymous--and insulated. It may give me a few seconds. I spot Isabella right away--she's a he still, a white male, mid 20s, no distinguishing marks. Pretty good job for a twelve year old girl. Unless Isabella was the disguise, and this is his birth form. He, she, who cares? The aura's a giveaway. All that power, it oozes out like PCBs from a bad transformer. Astral gunk. That's her all right, a bad transformer.

He's flipping thru a copy of Huckleberry Finn. English 1A. Just above the Twain books, on a super-discount shelf, they're selling baskets of plain old huckleberries for half price. The Finn wore off I guess. They have to sell 'em cheap now of course--once they've worn down to huckleberries, they have a short shelf life, way less than paperbacks, before they get that white mold... Swirly oil painting of a gigantic blueberry on a white table. Image from a dream, 'Cursing Isabella', by Chris Wayan.

Or maybe they're blueberries. I never could tell the difference.

He's more powerful than I'll ever be. I gotta use this moment before he knows. I walk up behind him and grab a blueberry, cup it in my palm in front of me. Not looking directly at him--using the berry as a lens--I quietly start the curse. "No one will ever love you. No one will ever fuck you..." He turns as the spell hits. I say to his face "Because you're gonna smell SO BAD that no one can STAND to touch you."

I start shaking as I wait for his counterspell. But he says nothing. Bothers me, everyone told me Isabella's vicious when it comes to getting even. She, he... just looks at me.

"That's permanent." I say. "Whatever you do to me, nothing'll take it off." Loud and firm--cause I don't quite feel that way. Where's his counterattack? Is this magician really what I was told?

They all warned me.

"The huckleberry here isn't to blame, though. It was just an energy lens." I add, irrationally. "You can eat it, in fact. Here."

And I offer the arch-sorcerer a blueberry!


I wake up stinking. I smell SO BAD... I smell like fear. All night... the deadly child, the grownup wizard... nightmare figures I had to fight. Or did I?

What did Isabella ever do to me?

The tower... wizard locked in a tower... birds flying him free... my eye catches on a book on the shelf: the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf! Locked in the top of Orthanc, asking the eagles to free him.

Tower, child trapped in a tower by the sea... Poe? no... Patricia McKillip! In HEIR OF SEA AND FIRE, that's it: Ylon, jailed by his father for being a changeling... One by one the references click into place... Childe Rowlande and the Dark Tower... Star Trek. The Lady of Shalott? Le Guin's Earthsea... Doris Lessing... Phil Yeh's Blueberry Desert, where they film the ads for No-Stink deodorant. Hints from tale after tale--in every one, a feared or hated being who does not deserve to be locked up.

Clara and I fought dirty, ambushing Isabella, never giving her a chance to tell her side, or even defend herself...

Whose dirty work were we doing?

I need to re-enter this dream! And find out for myself who this so-called monster is.

And undo that curse. It's operating. I stink of fear right now. Isabella is me. I cast a curse on me. So I'll smell bad, so...

So that no one will ever love me.

LISTS AND LINKS: Star Trek dreams - mages - towers - loneliness - therapists - dream humor - healing from abuse - Jungian shadows - outcasts - duty - berries - Huckleberry! - spells and curses - lenses and focusing - smelly dreams - oops! dream goofs and slips - Whoopi Goldberg in: Misfits on Mars

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