John Hibbert is haunted by a lifelong, recurring dream of a beautiful woman, a dream that continues into his adult life and even into battle. As a war veteran, he accepts employment with his service buddies and then is jailed when, as their cashier, he signs blank checks for them. After being transferred to the state penitentiary, Hibbert unwillingly joins Frank Scarlatti, who, with the help of his accomplice Burks, breaks out of prison and takes Hibbert with him.
They flee to the Florida Everglades in order to escape the authorities. They make their way to the swamp shanty of Scarlatti’s girlfriend, Carlotta, who is supposed to guide them safely through the Everglades. Paddling deeper into the swamps, however, they come upon a hidden pool flanked by ruins and guarded by a blue flamingo. Carlotta makes some obscure historical references, from which Hibbert infers that this may actually be Ponce de Leon’s famous Fountain of Youth. As a joke, Burks decides to wade into the pool to test its rejuvenating powers. The flamingo, however, attacks Burks, and Burks shoots the bird and kills it.
Before it dies, the flamingo summons a shining stairway into the sky. Climbing the stairs, the four find themselves at the threshold of Khoire. A booming voice warns them that they cannot stay because they have not been armed with the Sacred Sign, nor can they simply leave. Khoire must and will change them into their truest selves; they cannot hide or pretend to be what they are not. They meet Patur, the keeper of the Central Gate, who gives them the Crystal Mask, the function of which is to reveal the...
(The entire section is 659 words.)