Billy kicked the sleeping bag off his legs and crawled to where she had been laying on the floor. Nothing. Her purse, sleeping bag and water bottle were missing. Looking towards the front door he saw her sneakers were gone. The hardwood floor where she had lain was dark, stained as if it had been burned. He stood on weak legs and padded across the room in socked feet. His chest bloomed with pain.
Billy entered the kitchen, propping himself in the doorway and half hoping to find them all sipping coffee and chatting in whispers but the kitchen is empty.
“Hello, anybody here?!” he croaked.
The apartment was empty.
Stumbling back into the living room he stood with the tangle of his sleeping bag at his feet. In daylight the room was innocent, filled with the impersonal knick-knacks of a furnished room for rent. Lived-in furniture, a large framed photograph of Lake Michigan at sunset, a small book shelf and a stack of DVDs. The owners had set aside towels and instructions for making coffee. The wifi password, GOSPARTANS, was written on a small, magnetic dry-erase board stuck to the refrigerator.
Okay, he thought, possible explanations. They all went out for food and coffee. No, he and Beth had made plans to discuss the experience over breakfast and she wouldn’t have left him alone.
Billy opened the blinds of a window overlooking the driveway and the rental car was missing. Next option: Beth was kidnapped and they’re holding her ransom. But why her? Why them? We can barely pay rent, why not go for someone with money?
He examined the hole in his t-shirt. It was irregularly shaped but roughly the size of the stone in his chest and the edges of the hole were blackened as if they’d been burned. A memory tickled at the back of his mind but refused to let it take shape. What had happened? It didn’t make sense that someone would take the time to...implant...a stone in his chest but they wouldn’t bother to remove his t-shirt. And why the burns? Despite the warmth of the room he felt a chill.
He went into the bedroom. In a dresser drawer he found a pile of t-shirts, neatly stacked and rolled into cylinders. He stripped off his shirt with the hole and pulled a black tee off the top of the pile, checked the size, instinctively smelled the shirt, then gingerly he slipped it on. The fit was tighter than he liked, the cotton catching on the facets of the stone, and did little to hide the dome of rock in his chest. In a closet he found a gray hoodie and shrugged it on.
Billy inhaled, a deep breath to help him remain calm and suppress the bubble of panic forming in his gut.
He knew he should to go to the police but had no idea what to tell them. We hired a Peruvian shaman to guide them us through ancient ceremony using illegal hallucinogens and I woke to discover my girlfriend missing and a massive crystal in my chest. He didn’t like the potential outcomes of that conversation.
As the police formed in his thoughts he felt the seeds of pressure swelling behind his eyes. He’d never had a migraine but his mother suffered from them when she was alive and he understood their characteristics well enough to know he was experiencing the initial stages.
Thoughtfully he considered the mounting pressure. Perhaps the cumulative effect of the stress was taking its toll. Maybe it was a reaction to the ayahuasca. As his mind poked at this new phenomenon the pain begins to recede. Billy observed the fading pain with a sense of relief. Tentatively he considered action he could take. The pain faded to a subtle, coarse buzz behind his eyes. He needed to find Beth and answer questions about the stone in his chest. What was it? How did it get there? Why would anyone take the time to do implant a stone into another person?
Again, he considered going to the police and and pain behind his eyes reacted, bloating sharply and triggering aura in his vision, floating white spots that clouded his sight. Instinctively he retreated from his line of thought, the police, and the pain slowly settled to a manageable state.
What the hell? Was the migraine connected to thoughts of the police? As an experiment he visualized a black and white police car with an officer sitting behind the wheel. Nothing. No pain. He imagined approaching the officer and there it was, the blossom of pain expanding behind his eyes. Gently he pushed away thoughts of the police, the black and white receded into the distance and the headache faded.
If something happens twice it could be coincidence, three times makes a pattern. The message was clear, he shouldn’t think about the police but he doesn’t know what impulse is sending the message. Why? How?
The migraine trigger was a mystery but it was low on his list of immediate concerns. For the moment he accepted the limitation the headache was imposing and let his mind wander in other directions, looking for clues and explanations.
Organ harvesting? As far as he knows he wasn’t missing anything. Hell, he’d been given something. Am I being used as a mule? It was the only explanation that fit his understanding of the world but the shapes didn’t fit exactly. If I needed a mule I’d make sure the thing he was transporting was hidden. He looked at himself in a standing mirror next to the sofa. His short, brown hair was its usual mess, his eyes were red and the shape of the stone could be seen clearly through his t-shirt. It was roughly the size of phone and at its apex it stuck an inch or so out from his chest. And if he was going to use a mule to transport something he’d make sure the mule knew where to go and what to do.
Walking back into the living room he stopped and slowly surveyed the scene. His bag was missing, the green army duffel with B. WEATHERS written along the side in chunky faded letters.
During the hallucination he had moments of lucidity and he remembered writing feverishly on a legal pad that he’d slipped into his sleeping bag. Before the ceremony Cesar had told them phones, cameras and video recording weren’t allowed and Billy assumed writing notes was also on the list of forbidden activities so he hadn’t asked for clarification. He didn’t give them the opportunity to tell him it was against the rules.
Billy picked up his sleeping bag and shook it out. A black sharpie clattered to the hardwood floor followed by some coins that had fallen out of his jeans pocket. Billy unzipped the bag, turned it inside out and found his socks with the legal pad pushed to the foot of the bag. The pad of yellow paper had been crushed and mangled at the foot of his sleeping bag. Cupping the dome of rock with one hand he reviewed his scrawled notes from the night before. The handwriting was large and messy, a note takers equivalent of a blind contour drawing. Lines overlapped one another and there was no punctuation or regard for aesthetics.
Billy remembered trying to write in the dark, fumbling with his marker, aware of Don Raul’s gaze and worried that the shaman would stop him. It was a struggle to read his own writing.
eyes snake eyes everywhere feel exposed
giant snake HUGE coiling around me squeezing suffocate
a mouth with rows of teeth Lamprey? swallowing me
He remembered the lamprey - pink gums, convulsing gray flesh and the needles of a thousand white teeth. The mouth consuming his vision and the magnetic pull of the creature’s throat drawing him inward.
forest jungle more eyes in the bark and roots
seeing everything like flashlight no shadows
laid bare small want this to end never again
jungle asking me who am I? who am I?
The eyes were spotlights baring every ugly facet of his character in a flood of inescapable light. He had seen his flaws, his gifts and his potential in stark relief. It was terrifying but empowering to see his scars illuminated so brightly they cast no shadow. In that brilliance they couldn’t lie, hide or manipulate. They were objects to be observed, broken down and cataloged. Without their mystery they had little power over him.
cave with black mist dark cold
man with antlers too big for cave where am i?
cave in man?
shadows holding me can’t move
helpless watching her too weak eyes are watching me she is watching
too much pain
the shadows are coming
Billy read the notes a second time. Then a third. He sat heavily on the sofa. The notes nudged his memory and things slid into place. The dream came back to him in a sickening rush. His memory was clear and the vision had the weight and details of reality - the cool moisture on his skin, the crunch of gravel under his boots.
He was struggling against shadows that wrapped around his limbs, pinning him against the wall and swallowing his screams so the sound was faint and impotent. A whisper buried in black waves of oily mist. His muscles ached from the strain and his throat was raw. He could barely see Beth through the blur of tears. He didn’t know how long he struggled, how long he watched the slow, artistic dissection of the one person he ever loved. The one person who ever forgave him when he screwed up and gave him the strength to be more than he thought he could be.
A thin blanket of the black mist pinned her to the flat surface of the obelisk and insectile things with fat, glistening bodies push shards of sharpened black rock into her yielding body. Her expression was slack and she stared at him with mute eyes. The insects seemed to mutilate her needlessly over the course of hours and, to his shame, he grew numb. He sagged against the shadows and the world went dark.
He woke to the smell of sizzling fat and blinked at the crust in his eyes until Beth, or what remained of her, swam into focus. A faint blob that resolved itself into a pile of coal black, shimmering rocks, between which ran veins of flesh. Heat radiated from the pile in waves and the flesh bubbled, chunks of the rock growing soft and globular. The insects were gone but the shadows sensed that he was awake, tightened and drew him spread-eagle against the wall. The pull was smooth and irresistible but not unsympathetic, as if the darkness understood his grief and restrained him with a gentle, tidal force.
In a haze he watched her melt away and the rocks that had pierced her flesh drop to the floor and wobble like beads of mercury. They quivered in the heat and began moving, rolling tentatively towards one another, guided by some dark law of attraction. Wherever two blobs of molten rock met they deformed by pressure and surface tension until something gave way and they merge into a soft glassy ball. Again and again these beads fused until they formed a single, massive ball that shook like malevolent jello.
It had no eyes but Billy knew he had become the focus of the thing. It began rolling towards him and, as it advanced, he saw it’s surface growing harder. Inch by inch it shrank and grew more dense until it was the size of an eggplant and it stopped by his foot. Emotionally he was depleted and didn’t think he had any remaining strength until it rolled onto his foot, molded around his leg and began to climb. The shadows tightened their hold as he fought, kicking and thrashing, croaking in fear. The blob was hot and burned as it climbed, leaving his clothes smoking and his skin blistered. It stopped, settled into a position lying flat against his chest and began to dig.
Elements clicked into place: the stone, the blisters leading up his torso and the black burn marks on the floor.
Finally, he began to panic.