Why I descend into this bed of death,
Is partly to behold my lady’s face.
Romeo Montague awoke curled in a vast cold desert with harsh gusting winds dancing around him ― and all he loved was Juliet. The air was thin and cool, the ground a caked, muddy volcanic maze, stretching outwards into a vast mesa before him.
“I am a murderer,” he muttered in a hoarse, dry voice. He stared at his bloody hands and remembered everything, his powerful, short-lived love affair with Juliet Capulet ― Juliet, so young, beautiful, and confident, her hair marvelously smooth and long and how it glistened below the Mediterranean moonlight, which came down like a divine liquid, bathing them both and her parent’s orchard in an otherworldly light.
He recalled his own tragic death and the terrible crime of murdering the good Count Paris. Mysteriously now, he felt no pain from the poison of his suicidal vial. His flight into death seemed to have happened just a few minutes ago, or maybe an hour at most. Yet for some reason, lying on this cold unfamiliar plateau felt comfortable to him. Romeo wondered why Juliet wasn’t at his side and felt that all too familiar lover’s pain in his gut. He felt something close to betrayal also.
“Isn’t that what love is all about? When two lovers die together, don't they travel to some better place?” he asked a nonexistent audience, gazing up at the cloudy cold sky, half expecting an answer. After all, he was dead ― wasn’t anything possible?
Well, not in my case, he realized, as only silence answered him. Cold, indifferent winds ruffled his hair as they ran eternally across the silver blue sky pushing clouds briskly by ― shifting images, like the memories of his life in Italy, racing fast but fading into the distance.
Romeo lay still. There was no sign of Juliet; worse yet, no sense of her in his mind’s eye. He felt something had gone terribly wrong. Why isn't she here with me in the afterlife?
Another nagging mystery for Romeo was that he didn't feel dead. Apparently he had been granted a new life under these fast moving clouds. As to why his beloved wife hadn’t joined him in death, he felt that question would be answered in time. His thoughts roamed back to Italy and their beautiful wedding night. Their plans for a new life, full of adventure, passion, and love had seemed so certain. All cut off in death! he lamented. He had been flung into a desperate land.
Young Romeo stood up and brushed the dark volcanic dust from his black wool suit. Drops of Paris’ blood stained his clothing, but had dried in the strong wind. He leaned forward into the blowing gusts and began to walk.
He was at the base of a snowcapped peak of unimaginable height. Maybe one of the Alps, he reasoned and beyond them is fair Verona, where Juliet lies ― still in her family morgue. Yet, a feeling radiated from the cold, snowy summit, which told him even if he could cross into Verona, somehow everything had changed. Verona felt like a dream and Juliet was dead. Who knew where she was in this vast creation?
“Well,” he admitted to himself, “You got what you expected, a new life.” He lifted his head to the sky and laughed. He had been certain Juliet's love would transform him forever; instead, a small vial of poison had been the agent of change in the dark morgue of the Capulet’s. After finding Juliet there, lifeless, how could he have chosen any other fate? He had to follow his lovely wife into death.
Romeo felt watched now, as he strode forward, as if his love for Juliet was respected by the angels in heaven. They now looked over him, maybe with no more than mild curiosity or amusement, but they did watch and listen.
Maybe I am not dead, he speculated. Maybe, I lie in some Apothecary, while a doctor tries to clense the deadly toxins from my body. If that is true, he deduced, this current experience is a dream and this cold plateau, nothing more than the jumbled stuff between my ears.
“If I am lying in some Apothecary, wake me. Hurry and heal me,” he joked to the sky, laughing, shuffling forward against the wind.
Romeo imagined waking in Verona and suddenly the most unbearable emptiness hit him ― he thought of life without Juliet. To survive alone in this world, knowing his angel had died for him, would be a pain too great to endure.
“Oh God no, I can’t go back! That would be hell,” he now pleaded into the wind.
A cold gust buffeted his body, as if in agreement. The wind soothed him, for there was no pain in it, no judgment, only the constant blowing sounds of eternity, roaring in the vast silent spaces he trod.
“Oh, dear God in heaven, keep me here,” he prayed. “I couldn’t go back without her!”
He scanned the horizon with his eyes and blinked, trying to make his current world more real. He was on a high plateau and breathing was hard. Having been to Mantua and then the Alps as a child, he knew how high he was. He noticed the edge of a vast pine forest in the distance and started for it.
He hiked forward and turned again, noticing the fiery sun setting against the snowcapped peak behind him. He walked faster now, atop his lengthening shadow, realizing he needed shelter; for if this wasn’t a dream, his body would soon require warmth and nourishment.
As he moved closer to the forest’s perimeter, a mist crawled on the black volcanic floor and surrounded him. He noticed more than pine trees in front of him. Huge ferns and flowers of unimaginable beauty began to dot the volcanic landscape. How could these things grow in such a high place? he marveled. I am surely in another world.
Suddenly, he heard a roaring sound above him and ducked instinctively. He looked up and saw a shiny object flying very high. It seemed more machine than bird. He thought of Juliet again. What if she is trapped inside one of those things? he wondered irrationally, ducking into the relative protection of the forest’s dense canopy.
The rain forest was thick and maneuvering was difficult. Darkness had crept in between the ferns, as the sun set behind him. The sky became dark blue as he wandered deeper into the jungle's cool glades. Songbirds filled the air with a beautiful sunset symphony. Some of their calls Romeo recognized, birds that flew the world’s trade winds, yet others were foreign to his ears. He was surely not in the Alps. Maybe I am in Africa, he pondered. A gentle mist began to fall.
His wool suit held up well against the moisture; yet Romeo knew it would soon be drenched. The chirping of crickets filled the jungle as darkness surrounded him. He could tell he was moving downward in elevation. The tall forest had effectively cut off the harsh winds of the barren plateau, but the temperature was falling fast. As night gathered, a cold rain began to fall.
Romeo struggled forward, frightened ― not knowing where he was or even if there was even a civilization to find. He realized, with irony, he never expected to be fighting for his life after dying. Somehow, he knew he was. The thought made him feel more alive.
He stumbled into a huge fern. The wet plant seemed to grab him. He struggled to his feet, trying not to panic in the darkness. There was no moon to guide him, no beautiful full moon ― like the one he and Juliet enjoyed less than a fortnight ago, when he had climbed her family’s walls.
Not light, but darkness, a voice told him. Romeo realized he would injure himself soon if he continued further; so he stopped to rest, huddling at the base of a mighty tree to keep himself dry. It grew deathly cold and he grew very tired … .
Eha I ka ‘eha lima ‘ole a ke aloha, a female voice echoed, far above the tall Ohia trees. Romeo was startled awake by the sound and began to shiver uncontrollably in the cold rain.
E hea I ke kanaka e komo maloko e hanai ai a hewa ka waha, another voice spoke in a deep, angry tone. The sound impossibly came from the high branches of the large tree he was huddled under.
Haole Ki Kolea, the first voice spoke loudly, but from a different angle.
Ho’ona ke ola I ka hale o ke akua! the second voice shot back, closer to Romeo now.
He could tell they were arguing ― maybe over him. I am surely in hell, he reasoned. After all, I murdered Tybalt and Paris. These demons will probably rip me from limb to limb. He shivered in the darkness, accepting his fate.
The rain quickly tapered off and everything became silent. Romeo convinced himself the etheric female sounds had only been a hallucination. He knew he had to stay awake so he pulled himself closer in his drenched wedding suit. Dozing off and imagining nonsensical babble in the trees had saved his life; although, he was still cold and hungry and dawn was nowhere in sight.
He sat up, leaning against the large trunk to stay awake. To his shock, before his eyes, was a glowing white hem of a gown, floating above the wet ground. It was dry and impeccably clean. He looked up at the impossible visage and beheld a tan woman with white shimming hair, reflecting against the rising moon.
Yes, Romeo surmised, this is the afterlife. She is an angel taking me to my judgment. Maybe I can be with Juliet after all, even if in eternal hell. I wish ….
“GET UP, HAOLE BOY!” the woman commanded impatiently, looking down at him with disdain. She appeared translucent, supernatural. Her alluring bronze skin and ancient white hair exuded a magnetic warmth.
“Get up,” she uttered again, with a distant gaze. “Do not stare at me! I should stare at you. You are not from this land ― I am!”
Romeo struggled to his feet. Even though it was growing colder, standing before this apparition warmed him.
“Don’t look at me, haole! You’re lucky my sister Pele’ wants to keep you alive.”
Romeo didn’t know what to say. Aside from her strange accent, the angel did speak his language.
“I am lost,” he began. “I woke in this world and am looking for a young woman named Juliet.”
The goddess tilted her head back and laughed, a deep cackle that echoed throughout the dark jungle. Above him, Romeo noticed the clouds parting lazily in the dark. Bright stars dotted the sky. The temperature continued to drop and he shivered.
“I think, haole boy, you are looking for my cabin, my fireplace,” the woman remarked, with a distant smile.
“Please help me,” Romeo pleaded. “I don’t know why I am here.”
Again, as if he was a comedian playing for a captive audience, the tall woman in white laughed loudly to the sky. A gentle wind lifted her long hair. Suddenly, she was silent again and looked piercingly at him.
“Oh Romeo, Oh Romeo, wherefore art thou? Do any of us know why we are on this world ― I don’t.” She then paused and looked up, longingly, at the streaming Milky Way, as if her home was in the stars.
“How do you know my name?” Romeo asked, as politely as he could.
“Everyone knows your name, Romeo ― and the name of your Juliet,” the woman replied with a playful smile.
Romeo abruptly rose and moved toward her, almost threateningly. “Do you know where my wife is?” he desperately asked.
Again, the mysterious woman laughed to the sky. She then turned from him and began to walk downward through the dark thick jungle. “I don’t care about you or your wife. But I do know of a warm fire I’d like to lead you to, haole boy ― so you won’t die.”
Romeo sensed she was luring him somewhere, for something. He shivered and watched her bare feet as she walked, gliding above the uneven ground of the jungle. He realized he had no choice but to follow this magical woman. He wanted to live. He wanted to find his wife, Juliet Montague.
After a few miles of stumbling forward to the meager light of the old rising moon, Romeo found himself facing a small wooden cottage set in a clearing of grass. He was breathing hard and had fallen many times, barely keeping up with the mysterious figure he followed. To his amazement, the woman in white walked through the cottage door without opening it.
“Oh my God, she is a ghost!” he exclaimed. He wanted to run. But before he could turn, the apparition opened the door from inside.
“Don’t mind me. Come inside,” she said in a surly voice. “It’s winter in Hawai’i. You will not survive the night.”
He coughed and shivered again. The shock of meeting this mesmerizing woman made him forget he was drenched, freezing to death. He bravely walked to the cottage door and entered her abode.
“You may call me Lehua,” she remarked, stepping aside as he entered, motioning him toward a small chair by the fireplace. On the other side of the room was a scuffed wooden counter with carefully arranged rocks, feathers, and fruit.
“Let me take off your wet clothing,” she reassured him, as he stood dripping and shaking. She was as tall as him and very beautiful, but in a distant, cold way. Lehua approached slowly and began to unbutton his drenched wool suit.
Romeo began to stutter, but could not speak. A warm fire had sprung up in the small fireplace. When was that lit? he dreamily wondered.
“I … I … I don’t know what you are doing,” he stammered, as Lehua’s hands began to caress his shoulders and muscular chest. She was obviously aroused.
“You don’t have to know anything, Romeo,” the woman whispered, as she ran her smooth hands against his face. “I am seducing you. Normally I would kill you.” She laughed, kissing him hard and deep. She then moved back, sensing his confusion, and poured him some hot tea that had been hanging by the fireplace.
“I am a guardian being,” she explained as she handed him a smooth clay cup. “We guard the inter-dimensional doorways of this land, Hawai’i. You are on an island in your future. Sometimes humans try to leave this world from the high plateau you woke on.” She tilted her head and gestured in the direction from where he had come. “But they have to get past me first,” she added, with a cold smile.
“You have confounded us, Romeo. You came from the freedom of the void into this darkening world. You are like a man climbing prison walls to get into prison. We have never seen this before,” she reflected.
“You must love this Juliet,” she said softly, in a low, almost envious tone. She pressed her body against Romeo's. He felt her large breasts swell against his chest.
“I … I … can’t,” he weakly protested, becoming aroused.
“You like what you see, don’t you?” Lehua asked with a cunning grin. She ripped off his shirt and pushed him onto a white fur-skin rug by the raging fire. Soon both were wrestling naked and he was inside of her, feeling that warmth he needed so, feeling alive again. Sparks flew out in every direction from the fireplace. Romeo felt one singe his black Italian hair as he moaned with wild satisfaction.
Romeo awoke late the next morning curled up on Lehua's white rug as he had the day before on the cold volcanic plateau above him. The fireplace was empty, no ashes, no sign a fire had been lit at all. Maybe it was a dream, he wondered.
It wasn’t a dream, Romeo had to admit. He suddenly felt a deep pain within his heart; he had betrayed Juliet once again. He had been with another woman on the very day they had died together for their love! The gods are toying with me, he realized. So this is what a murderer faces after death.
Romeo stood up naked, his stomach growling. He looked around and grabbed an apple on the counter. There was no sign of Lehua. He bit into the fruit, and paused, hearing the melodious call of songbirds outside the cottage. Peering out a small window, he beheld a perfect blue sky. Ferns and tall trees swayed happily in the morning sun. The same dark treacherous forest that had almost killed him last night was now a beautiful green paradise. The warm light of the morning gave him hope. He was reminded of Eden. The smell of the clear air and wet grass telling him, he was still on Earth.
But where on Earth? he asked. And in what time?
He noticed Lehua had left his clothes hanging neatly by the fireplace and ran his hand against the smooth dry wool. The warm, civilized feel of the fabric reminded him of Juliet. A tear came to his eye. He had killed himself to escape this pain ― the hell of separation from his beloved angel. Now he understood how foolish suicide was, for the pain was still very real. He struggled to gain his composure as he dressed. God, how I miss her already! he lamented.
Romeo knew he had only so many hours of daylight to find his way through the endless jungle. He noticed a leather water bag, hanging from a wooden rafter of the cottage roof. It dripped cold beads of liquid onto the old wooden floor. Maybe Lehua had left it for him. He saw a large leaf attached to the strap of the flask. On it, he noticed beautiful white script that seemed burnt into the dark green matter:
Romeo, beware of Cousin Tybalt. He will strike when you least expect it … .
He was shocked. How does this spirit know so much about me? The ominous warning made sense though, he sadly realized. Maybe Tybalt had awoken a few days earlier on the same plateau. Yet something told him that Tybalt, Juliet, and all the old components of his life were very far away.
He walked outside and secured the leather canteen to his belt. God this place is beautiful, he marveled, as he stepped into the tall green grasses of Hawaii. The forest loomed high in every direction and beckoned him into its wonderful green matrix.
He searched for a trail and started down what looked like one. It was hardly a trail at all, and disappeared into the dense jungle. He needed to walk fast and cover many miles. If Lehua was right and he was on an island, his lungs told him he was still very high. Civilization must be far below, he reasoned. Romeo slung his coat over his shoulder and worked his way through the thick bush, hoping the barely discernible path would lead him somewhere and not peter out ― like everything else had in his short life.