“I hate to say this Billy but I think you should consider going to the police.”
Billy looked up, “Um…”
A wave of nausea hit him so hard that he grunted and sat down heavily into the sofa. His vision wobbled and jagged lines strobed in his peripheral vision. The pressure mounted, pushing his thoughts into the periphery and his vision grew cloudy as the pain grew into a fractal, animated aura. A small soft dot of white appeared in the center of his vision and expanded, the room flooded with saturation and light, bleaching his vision until he was blind. He lost his sense of up and down. He was aloft, floating in a brilliant white cloud of pain and his breath was cold and sharp, whistling through his teeth. Curling forward into a fetal position his closed his eyes and covered his ears with his hands. Dimly he was aware of Geoff shouting but the sound was muted and warped, a stretched tape cassette left too long in the sun.
Behind the bubble of pressure there was a presence, a malignant intelligence applying its will against his. Billy felt the shadow maneuvering, testing the resolution of this will and probing for weakness, tender places in the barrier of his psyche that could be penetrated and exploited. The attack came so suddenly there’s no time to consider what was happening. Billy’s reaction was instinctive, the product of years of abuse. He did what he had always done when he was pushed. He resisted.
Dormant anger surfaced and he used it to fill the gaps in his emotional wall. The nerves and emotions that wove around those memories were well worn paths so his response was immediate and stronger than the presence anticipated. Billy fought the intruder the same way he confronted a physical opponent. He was slippery and wild, unpredictable and on the offensive. He slashed and battered, luring the intruder into gaps then viciously assaulting the presence after it commited to the a path. Their wills clashed, the shadow a half beat behind Billy and probing for weakness but unable to commit its resources to an attack. Billy pushed it steadily backwards to the outside edges of his mind and he could sense the intruders frustration, a thin sheet of seething, quivering fury.
He focused on breathing slowly, steadily, to regain his composure then he visualized a police officer. The intensity of the shadow’s vibrations increased and the headache flared but Billy had thwarted the deeper attacks. He pushed the officer away. A lone cop in blue fading into the horizon and as the image receded Billy injected into his thoughts a resolve to avoid the police. As he anticipated, the pain begins to ease. The attacks came on two fronts: the migraines and the emotional attack. While he successfully defended himself against the emotional attack he was still vulnerable to the physical symptoms. Thankfully, the intruder was only reacting to thoughts that viewed the police favorably. His life would become difficult, indeed, if the shadow broadened its interests.
The migraine aura receded into the periphery of his mind, a momentary detente, but his head rang like a bell from the assault. He gently uncurled and lay back on the sofa, letting his heart rate normalize and his breathing soften. Slowly he opened his eyes and the light was full of sharp angles and hard planes. Geoff resolved into a messy wash of color. Billy placed his feet on the floor and eased forward, leaning with his head hanging down, shielding his eyes from the light pouring through the windows.
Geoff handed him a glass of cold water and Billy drank it tentatively. He felt brittle. He knew where the headache was coming from and what triggered it but he didn’t know why. What other surprises were waiting for him? His body no longer belonged to him. And neither, it appeared, did his mind.
“Are you okay?” asked Geoff. He was sitting opposite the sofa on giant, reclining chair covered in red velvet.
“No. I’m not.” Billy rested his head in his hands. The pain was fading but present, waiting to see what he would say so he chose spoke carefully, weighing the risk of every word. “Beth’s in trouble and the...police,” he waits for the migraine but they don’t come, “will slow things down. They’ll fixate on the drugs which means trouble and questions for me. If I go to them they’ll find out about the stone. They’ll either see it or frisk me or...something. I don’t know the legal precedents but I’m pretty sure they’ll hold me until they figure out what the hell is going on.”
He can’t tell how much of this represents his actual beliefs or what he thinks the shadow wants to hear but the pain was slipping away. For the moment the stone was appeased. He looked at Geoff, nervous about the potential consequences of sharing his thoughts.
“And honestly,” Billy said, “every time I think of going to them I’m hit so hard by a headache that I can barely move. It’s like something is sending me a really clear message not to go there. I’m not sure I’d survive the trip.”
“What do you mean, something?”
“At first I thought it was just stress but it only happens when I think about going to the...cops.” Billy waited and when the pain doesn’t return he continued. “I know. It sounds crazy, but I think it’s listening and trying to...control me.”
“What’s trying to control you?
“The stone.” Billy explained. “I think it’s aware.”
Billy couldn’t pinpoint how he knew the headaches came from the stone but he was certain it was the source. During the attacks he felt something...shift...in the stone. “Yeah, like it knows what’s happening around it.”
“I know what aware means.” Geoff sites back in his recliner. “But it’s just a stone.”
“Just a stone?” Billy’s laugh was dry and humorless. “You believe in all of this...we’re living on multiple planes, we can be healed through ayahuasca and we have spirit guides. That a plant, for crissakes, gives a rip about us and wants to be our guide to better understand ourselves. But you don’t believe a rock that appears in my chest while taking ayahuasca couldn’t be anything but a stone?”
“Okay, point taken. We all pick and choose what we want to believe in.” Geoff gives a little bow. “I’m just saying...don’t take this the wrong way...you might be confusing signals. The ayahuasca is probably still in your system and your interpretation of reality may not be the most reliable. There’s a chance you’ve had a psychotic break triggered by the ayahuasca and some of what you’re experiencing could be delusional. I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it might be. That doesn’t explain the stone, but the stone could be the reason for the break. If someone...implanted...that in you while you’re hallucinating it would be enough to create a reaction.”
Billy’s realized his fists were balled and he relaxed his hands, shaking them out. The pressure was still there, pushing him towards anger but he was aware of it now, and pushing back. “Sorry. You’re probably right. All this stuff is bouncing around in my head and none of it makes sense.”
It’s been years since he lost his temper and he felt unhinged. He wondered if this was the work of the stone but Geoff was right that he isn’t functioning at a normal capacity. Perhaps he’d been pushed to the breaking point, just beyond his control. Darkness was welling within him and he worried what he would say or do if he relaxed. He’d have to suppress the impulses, even if it meant throttling down his other emotions.
Billy realized he was starving. Thankfully there was no reason he could see to resist that urge. “Do you have anything to eat? I’m starving and maybe that’s got me a little extra on edge.”
“Yeah, it must be the hunger. It couldn't have anything to everything else,” said Geoff. “C’mon, I’ve got something in the fridge.”
Minutes later Billy was wiping a bowl with a wedge of artisanal bread, sopping up the remains of Geoff’s mom’s maple chili. Geoff seldom spoke with his mother but she communicated her love and support by sending him seasonal foods. Among their friends her chili was famous. When the weather chills she mailed her son gallons of the stuff and throughout the fall and winter Geoff hosted potlucks featuring his mom’s concoction. It was sweet, savory and served with salty tortilla chips. the flavor trifecta for the hungry stoner.
“I’ve been thinking,” Geoff said. “I don’t know what the Peruvian extradition laws are like but if I was Don Raul I’d probably head straight for the Amazon.”
“Yeah,” Billy agreed. “I think they’re going to skip town. My money says they’re going to straight to Detroit or O’hare so they can catch a flight and save their own skins.”
“You don’t have any money.”
Billy ignored him. “They could be halfway to an airport by now and I’ll never find them if they leave. That doesn’t give us much time to figure out where Beth is. I doubt they’ll be taking her with them.”
Geoff pulled out his phone, held up a finger to Billy then pressed a button. The phone beeped and Geoff said, “Find me flights from Detroit to Lima, Peru.” There was a pause before the phone replied that it found flights and it prompted him to visit a website. He ignored the prompt, pressed the button a second time and told the device to find him flights from Chicago to Lima. Again the pause and confirmation.
Geoff put his phone back in his pocket. “If they’re going to an airport we’re equidistant from both Chicago and Detroit and both airports offer flights to Lima. if only one of them offered flights I thought maybe we could either meet them there or find out from the airline which flight they were on. Seems like a longshot.”
“Agreed,” said Billy.
“Listen, it sounds like the…boys in blue...aren’t an option for you,” Geoff began. “How do I say this,” he looks at Billy’s chest and raises his eyebrows, “maybe someone else could go to them on your behalf? Do you know anyone else who could drop them a line?”
“I....don’t know.” Billy answered slowly. The shadow in his mind wavered, undecided. Perhaps, Billy thought, this was a workaround. Maybe it only react to thoughts when he was the point of origin. He took the gamble and forged ahead. “You mean an anonymous tip?”
“I’m not sure those are truly anonymous,” Geoff answered, “but yeah. Either that or someone walks down to a station and reports a missing person. I’d do it but, for obvious reasons I may not be the best person to contact the police.”
“Right. I don’t want to put you at risk.” Billy paused to think, “I know someone, my boss at Glassamazoo. You’re off hook.” He glanced at a clock hanging in the kitchen. It was an old Lite-Brite that’d been hacked to display the time in animating numerals. “It’s 10am now and she’s usually at the studio by eleven on Saturday.”
“The tattooed chick? Angela? Why don’t you just call her?” Geoff asked.
“She doesn’t have a phone.”
“What?” Geoff looked annoyed. “That’s crazy.”
“It’s a lifestyle choice.”
“Okay, whatever.” Geoff shook his head. “So you have an hour before she gets to the studio. What’s next?”
“Well,” Billy said, “I was thinking we need to figure out what’s going on.”
Geoff stared at Billy. “Easy as that?”
“I’m not saying it’ll be easy but I want some answers.”
Geoff clucked his tongue and ran his hands through his hair. “Man. I’m trying to figure out whether you know what you’re doing, and I just don’t know. You’re a freaking glass-blower, for cryin’ out loud.”
Billy stood, “And an art historian.”
Geoff drank the remains of his beer in a series of long swallows then tossed the bottle in a chrome recycling bin. “Not really inspiring but I’d rather beat my head against a wall then try talking you out of something.” he sighed, “Got a plan?”
“Of course I have a plan.”
“So, maybe you can share it while I get my coat?”
“Sure,” Billy grabbed his worn, brown leather jacket from the bar stool where it was draped. “We’re going to find Don Raul.”