bus. We’ll follow once we leave Abadeh and go off road. This may add

another hour or so to the drive, but safety first, you know?” “What if we’re stopped?”

“Well … depends on who stops us. If it’s the sepah—the Revolutionary Guard—it could be a problem. If it’s the basij, the militia, we can bargain our way out of it. The key is not showing them you’re a foreigner. To the sepah, a foreigner is automatically a spy under these circumstances. You have no papers, no suitcase, no visa for Iran. To the militia, a foreigner is a commodity. They’ll try to get as much out of us as possible—money, maybe the car—and then turn around and sell you to the Guard anyway.”

Angell’s heart sank. None of these were good options, especially since they all ended up with him in Guard custody and a certain death sentence. After the appropriate show trial, of course.

“We’re not about to let that happen. I don’t know what kind of juice you have but I have orders from ‘the highest level’ as they say to make sure that nothing bad happens to you. My guys back there in the bus are Kurdish smugglers. They do this sort of thing for a living, but usually a lot closer to the Iraq border. We are way inland now, and getting deeper into

the heart of the country. They have a network of smugglers all through Iran, but they’re usually moving medicine, food, like that. Stuff in bags and boxes and secret compartments. You … well, you present a unique opportunity to diversify their business model, let’s say.”

“Well, then at least it won’t be a total loss.”

“That’s the spirit. We should be in Abadeh in a few minutes. If I were you, I would look like you’re sleeping. Pull that cap down over your face a little. That’s it. Don’t worry about a thing. We got it covered.”

Angell closed his eyes and tried not to feel fear. Adnan was reassuring, but then he had to be. Angell went through all the possible scenarios in his mind, imagining each eventuality. It was true he had no identification on him. There wasn’t time for that. They had not known he was going into Iran until that night at Tell Ibrahim. He couldn’t use his US passport in Iran, not without the appropriate visas. So he was a stateless person in a country whose leaders constantly called for America to be destroyed.

What could possibly go wrong?

As he mulled over the pros and cons of this approach or that approach, he found himself falling asleep. He had not slept in days, and running on coffee and adrenaline was taking its toll. On top of that it was getting warm in the car, and the motion and heat conspired to lull him into what had started as a cat nap and then evolved into a full-bore slumber.

He was back in his apartment in Red Hook, but it wasn’t the same. It was somehow vast, as if the tiny studio had concealed more dimensions than could be seen with the naked eye. His desk, which doubled as his dinner table, was large and dominated the center of the apartment. On it was his incantation bowl, his “demon-trap.” The writing was in Aramaic and it spiraled down from the lip of the bowl into its center: a center that kept retreating from sight until the sheer vortex of it drew Angell’s eyes down into the maelstrom of its depths where the ink of the script merged to become an extended blackness, a gateway to another world. The writing had begun as an incantation but had degenerated into gibberish with each successive spiral until it had become a scream, a moan of despair that Angell could hear as well as read.

It was a demon-trap, and now Angell was trapped inside it himself.

Adnan was shaking him by the shoulder.

“Look alive, man.”

His consciousness stumbled from sleep to wakefulness like a drunk after a three-day binge. He opened his eyes and looked around.

“How long was I out?”

“An hour or so. No big deal.” “Where are we?”

“We just left Abadeh and are heading off-road for a little bit. How are you doing?”

“I guess I was more tired than I knew.” “No shit. Okay, here’s the drill.”

Angell looked outside the windshield and saw an expanse of hills in the distance on the left and the main road retreating on his right. The tour bus was on the highway, still heading for Yazd. They were alone on what appeared to be a dirt track of some kind, cut through some low brush and with a stretch of sandy soil and rock after that.

“We’re going to go as fast as we can, but that won’t be much. The terrain around here is hairy. We don’t want to throw a rod or blow a tire, so we are going to be careful. This path is sometimes used by smugglers, and it curves around to the east about ten, fifteen klicks from here and reconnects with the highway.”

He reached into the back seat with his right hand for a large duffle bag, his left still holding the wheel as they bumped along the road.

“Open that, will you?”

Angell unzipped the bag and saw a small collection of weapons. He recognized a Sig Sauer, a Heckler & Koch, an Armalite assault rifle with its 30-round magazine, an old Bulldog revolver. And boxes of ammunition.

“What’s this for?”

“Like I said, this road is used mainly by smugglers. Nice guys, some of them. Some of them, not so nice. Better to be safe than sorry, right?”

“Jesus.”

“Don’t sweat it. They’re mostly for show. When we come upon a jeep or a van we just keep them in plain sight and they’ll leave us alone. They’ll figure us for fellow smugglers and violence is bad for business. Well, unless the outcome is guaranteed in your favor. But even then you don’t know whose clan you’ll piss off if you waste a guy on the road. That leads

to blood feuds, and there have been plenty around here. So easy does it, just remain calm, and we’ll be back on the highway in no time.”

The sun was high overhead now, and there was a reflection shimmering off the rust-colored terrain in front of them. Except for the sound of their engine there was absolute silence, as if they were driving through someone’s living room and there was no one home. The dream still bothered Angell, who remembered it clearly on awaking.

“We’ll get a call on this burner phone when the bus has passed the checkpoint.” Adnan waved a small cell phone in front of him. “They’ll let us know how serious it is and what they’re looking for. They’re probably just looking for smuggled goods and baksheesh. But we need to be sure.”

A question had been bothering Angell, and now was the perfect time to ask it.

“You’re Kurdish, right?”

“Yep. My parents were from a town closer to the Iraqi border, up north of here, called Kermanshah.”

“Muslim?”

“No. I mean, there are Islamic elements. Some people associate us with Twelver Shia, since one of our principal … well, we call them assistants … is Ali, who is an assistant to God for us but the rightful heir to the Prophet’s throne, as it were, for the Shia. We’re a minority sect, pretty much everywhere we go. As I said, the people helping us are Kurds of the Ahl-e Haqq religion. I was brought up in that, sorta.”

“Sorta?”

“It’s not like we had a support group out there in Nashville, son. We were on our own. We didn’t have a sayyed, you know, a religious leader. Each group within our sect is called a khandan. It’s like a tribe or clan. The leader is the sayyed. Our sayyed is here in Iran, in Kermanshah. Still is. But you see only the leader knows all the rituals, the theology, and like that. And has the book.”

“The book?”

“Yeah. It’s called the Saranjam. Well, the main one is called that. There are others, and they’re secret. We’re pretty much like the Yezidis that way. In the west, people think they know about the two main Yezidi scriptures, but they really don’t. What they have is like summaries or abbreviated versions, designed for outsiders. We’re the same.”

“So how do you get along with the Muslims?” Adnan snorted.

“Out here, they’re mainly Shiites. You know that, right? Now Shiites can be pretty out there when it comes to how most people understand Islam. They have some different holidays, and they accept more variation. Like I said, sometimes they consider us a weird branch of Islam, because of Ali. And we have reincarnation, which is problematic for Islam. But everyone hates the Kurds anyway, right? They leave us alone for the most part since we are not really ‘People of the Book’ but we have these, like, crossover elements. Other times, they persecute us. That’s why my parents left Iran around the time of the first Gulf War. They took advantage of all the confusion and crossed over into Iraq, and from there got themselves to the States. It took a while, but they managed it.”

Angell had the distinct impression Adnan wasn’t telling him everything, but he let it slide. He didn’t want to know too much, anyway. You never knew when some information became too much information.

“They kept the language and what they knew and remembered of the religion. They met up with some other Kurds, not all of them Ahl-e Haqq, and managed to hold onto an identity of sorts. I grew up half American and half Kurd, like a lot of us.”

Angell decided to dive right in.

“You noticed weird shit happening out here lately. That was the intel you mentioned earlier. What was it, if you can tell me? I mean, as far as religion and new religious movements are concerned?”

Adnan thought a moment before answering.

“I guess you must be cleared, since you’re the one on the mission and I’m just logistical support. But if they didn’t tell you, I shouldn’t be. You know what I mean?”

Angell nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

They passed in silence a few moments.

“Well, I can’t read you in but I can tell you whatever is open source on the subject.”

“Open source?”

“Yeah, some of it has made the papers around here. You would see it if you were here long enough. Which you won’t be. But anyway. There were some reports of a violent extremist group operating in the central part of

the country, and then an outbreak on the border with Afghanistan. Yeah, it was crazy.”

“But doesn’t that just mean another terror group, or some Islamic fundamentalists?”

Adnan looked over at him and shook his head.

“Not these guys. It wasn’t like they were agitating to overthrow the ayatollahs or anything like that. It wasn’t quite that sophisticated, if you know what I mean. The Guard came down hard against them, though. Calling them infidels and blasphemers, even idolaters. It doesn’t get much worse than that around here.”

“Idolaters?”

“Yeah. That’s what’s got everybody’s panties in a twist. I mean, we got the Zoroastrians here and they’ve kept that flame alive in their temple at Yazd for like three thousand years. They’re tolerated by the ayatollahs. But this … this was worse. Much worse. Some kind of orgy, with dancing, music, and all around an idol. In Iran, you’re just asking for an execution if you are into that shit. A slow execution, after a slow torture. From what I hear, the Guard beheaded like twenty of these guys. Some of them were even Kurds.”

Angell thought back to the eerie night at Tell Ibrahim, ancient Kutha, and shivered.

“The location? Where did this happen, exactly?” “Exactly?”

“Yes. If you can tell me.”

“Oh, I can tell you. But I don’t think you wanna know.”

He looked over and smiled a big, toothy smile that was somehow sinister for all its apparent friendliness.

“It’s where we’re going, my friend. The ritual was at Yazd.”

Renegade remote viewer Jason Miller has stopped to rest at a small village south of Shiraz. He is dressed like an Iranian sheepherder with a full beard and a turban, and carrying a walking stick through the dusty landscape. In the distance he can see a plume of dust and smoke signaling the presence of a motorized army patrol. He judges the distance as about five kilometers. He watches for a minute, and sees that the patrol is heading away from his location. He nods to himself, satisfied.

Sitting on a rock in the hot sun, he closes his eyes and slows his breathing. His mind sees a screen in front of him, empty, blank, but full of a humming presence. Like space itself, a total darkness permeated by invisible particles no one suspected were there.

These particles coalesce on his screen and begin to form images. His breathing has slowed to the point that it is barely there, and the images grow stronger. He sees a crowd of people. He can’t make out their faces. He sees a circle, ever expanding outward from the center of the crowd.

The index finger on his left hand is scribbling furiously in the dirt, making circles, mandalas, complex geometric designs, which are then erased and new drawings, new scribbles replace them as his vision continues.

The particles break apart, coalesce again, form patterns, images, icons, symbols. All language is symbol, is ritual, is art. A train of thought. He hitches a ride on a train of thought. It’s older than civilization, older than the Earth. It’s a train of thought that spirals outward from the center of time, embracing everything, preserving nothing.

Scribble. Scribble. A helix. A moebius strip. A tower.

A tower rising from the desert sands. A minaret. A mosque. No. Not a mosque. But a minaret nonetheless. A wind-catcher. Spirit catcher. Dream catcher.

Train of thought. A long, ancient train of eldritch thought by a creature, a Being, a God … but not of this Earth. A train of thought spiraling … spiraling … now running straight as a laser … running parallel … no, perpendicular … perpendicular to the planet …

The tower again. A spiral rising from the Earth with its roots deep underground. An artesian well of sinister power, drawing on the fetid ichor of a buried coffin, a sarcophagus, and the Being floating within it. A circle. In the center the tower.

His eyes still closed, he is writing in the sand.

Finally, he opens his eyes and reads what he has written. Arabic letters. Al- liha al-ahy ‘ as-sarmadiyya al-qad ma. “The living, the eternal, the ancient gods …”