For Part 1 of this story click here
4. (5:30 am. Solar Plexus)
My body had finally given out from a night of hugging or laughing or sliding around on baby powder slicked sheets of linoleum or bouncing frenetic in front of black walls of thundering tweeters, cones and woofers. I was splayed out in a Bedouin tent that served as the Ambient Chillout Room, kinesthetic sense all jangled—lying still but swaying, spinning inside—on Technicolor bean bags in a cuddle-puddle twenty people deep. The air was blacklight-lit and filled with Black Love incense. Here the nostalgia that led us to dress like children and never stop laughing reached its terminus. The Chillout Room was the child’s blanket fort, the womb.
I was with the girl. Yes, her. Barely touching the tiny, tiny hairs on her earlobe. Her teeth and the lint on her sweatshirt and the whites of her eyes and the pink parts of her ponytails were glowing crazy purple-white. “Romance” with girls had been my natural shortcut to connection since well before puberty.
Someone put their hand on my shoulder, snapping me to. It was Marcus and Beanstock. They were not smiling. Normally, just the sight of these guys made me radiate. Not now.
“Get up, man,” said Marcus in a tone that half-sobered me, extending his hand to me.
“What’s going on?” I asked. I took Marcus’ hand and he effortlessly levitated me to my feet.
“We gotta take care of something, c’mon,” said Beanstock, his huge pupils drilling into me.
We pushed our way out of the tent’s labial flaps with the back of our hands and out into the thinning crowds.
“Alright look,” said Beanstock, when we had reached a place equidistant from two dance areas, where we could hear each other. I had never seen Beanstock shaken like this. “I was out in the parking lot for a while, right? Just partying, you know. And then like I saw that there was someone in Mark’s car, even though, like, the windows were fogged up and shit. So like I strolled up on it, right? So, basically, I opened the door and Stevie was in there and his eyes were barely open, right? Like fluttering and shit, OK? And like his head was like falling over. And like…Mark had his…” Beanstock trailed off, his hands still helplessly describing in the air.
“Mark had Stevie’s fucking pants off, man!” Marcus finished for him.
I noticed the littered, dirty, matted, dying grass, and felt the cold for the first time, cutting through the waves of warmth. The psilocybin was knotting in my stomach. I was spinning, my mind flying off this way and that. I saw us now the way Mark must have seen us: bright pubescent fish swimming without cover; disarmed, drugged, vulnerable; fleeing fucked up homes, searching for something, something we could mistake as something else. How could we have been so stupid?
“I was like high as fuck, right?” Beanstock went on. “So I just kinda froze, and I was like ‘What the fuck you doing?’ right? And Mark just kept being like all ‘nothing, nothing,’ while he was, like, backing out of the truck and then Stevie fell into my arms and while I’m trying to get his pants up—his eyes were like fucking rolled back in his head—Mark just fucking bolts. Just jets his old ass back into the party. But I got his keys. Motherfucker’s gunna be looking for a ride. He’s in here.”
“What the fuck,” I said, genuinely upset, but also worried, as I listened to my own thin voice, that I wasn’t hearing the correct level of activated male toughness. “Should we call the cops?” I asked, regretting the question even while asking it. I felt suddenly like the fifteen-year-old, unprepared boy that I was.
“The cops?” Marcus asked. “There’s no phones here, man. And fuck the cops! I’m gunna go find Mark and I’m gunna kick his fucking ass.”
Instinctively, we looked to Beanstock, who had gone still, lost in thought.
“Beans?” I murmured.
Beanstock stared out.
“No cops,” he said, finally. He spoke calmly, resolutely now.
“Cops don’t give a shit about Stevie. They probably won’t do shit and they’ll probably roll Stevie for being high and tell his parents, who, you guys know, will never let him leave the house again. Why? Because Mark is a pedo and we didn’t fucking see it and he fucking touched him when he was, like, barely conscious and shit? Nah, fuck that. We get Mark. But not for revenge.” He looked at Marcus, who said nothing.
And then looking at me: “We get Mark because family protects family. Because he can never come around us again or think he can get away with this shit.”
Family protects family. I would follow Beanstock anywhere. Plus he was right. I thought of Stevie running down that hill, leading the charge, and of those secret briefly seen depths, and a deep, hot heartburn of rage set in just above my solar plexus.
5. (Deus Does Do the Damnedist)
With mushrooms, there are no similes, only metaphors. Things become things they are not. I knew, for the first time, why humans’ eyes were set in the front of their skulls. We were hunting now, silent flashing wolves—silent flashing wolves in the most uncamouflaged, ludicrous hunting gear imaginable. We moved through the crowds with scanning necks. There were so many people. So much movement and darkness. Such good cover. He could have easily slipped around us and gotten back out to the parking lot. He was gone, cruising to some after party with all new kids.
No, there he was. Behind a DJ booth. Saw us as we saw him. Backpeddled, turned on his heels, gone. Gone again into a syncopated, flailing mass. We were on his trail. Dancers parted and then closed in again behind him, the ancient tribal drums thudding and the crowd skipping in place together, thrusting glowsticked fists into the air.
There he was, exiting the party, leaving a dissolving trail of fractal colors in his wake. We moved together without talking; focused but hallucinating; stumbling but stalking. Family protects family.
In the parking lot he ducked down amongst the cars, gone again. We spread out, Pac-Man ghosts through the maze of Mazdas, Jeeps, Civics. The sky was lightening and a little sliver of moon had come up low. The hoods and roofs of the cars gleamed like the tiny pools of a low tide. Cliques leaned up against them here and there, smoking pot, or laughing eerily. He popped up on the edge of the woods, past the last car. He turned and saw us.
For a frozen beat, Mark stood there, still. With the pale light and the distance, his face was like a white erase mark in a smudged charcoal drawing. He looked sad, scared. He turned—and then, resigned, almost casually, he slipped into the forest.
We followed him. Lucy into the wardrobe, we felt our way in. Spiny smooth bark gave way to massive trunks with soft, suede-like skins. Our eyes strained against the darkness. A hundred yards in the music was no longer detectable. We went still to hear for him. The crepuscular things made faint rustlings. We crept on. We grew dismayed. We were in far enough to actually get disoriented and lost.
“Do you think if we yell out ‘Mark-oh,’ he’ll yell back ‘Polo’?” I asked, not expecting a laugh and not getting one. We looked at each other. We had gone far enough.
Then, from deeper in came the brief report of a snapping branch, a man’s panicked scream, the violent rustling of brush, and, over it all, an unmistakable guttural snarl. We ran toward the sound, pushed suddenly by new primal instincts.
This was the sort of moment that would have been, in some respects, stranger had we been sober. As it was, it was just another in a long list of bizarre things I had been seeing all night, like the faces in the trees.
The cat’s broad haunches were to us. It looked up as we approached, its slit eyes flashing yellow-blue magician’s fire, its white fangs drawn, ears slicked back, its maw matted with black blood. It paused for a brief beat, considered its options, and then walked with soft silent paws back into the trees.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…” said Beanstock or Marcus, I can’t remember which. Maybe it was me that said it.
Mark sat up; wretched, pale, face twisted up.
“Did that just happen? Did that just fucking happen? Did you guys see that? Was that real?” Marcus asked, meaning the questions.
“You saved me.” Blood was dripping from the nipple-tip of a pacifier dangling from Mark’s neck. “You guys saved me,” he said, and then he eased himself over onto his side, hugging his knees, slick and slimy and bloodless-grey like a newborn.
6. (Fish and Wildlife)
An excerpt from The California Department of Fish and Wildlife website detailing confirmed mountain lion attacks on humans in California (you can skip to the third one if you want):
-Sept, 1993, Fatal, Gaviota State Park, Santa Barbara County, Male, 9 yrs. (Separated from family during a family camping trip. Autopsy consistent with Mountain Lion attack.)
-April 1994, Fatal, Auburn State Recreation Area, El Dorado, Female, 40 yrs.
(Long distance runner killed while jogging)
-Aug. 1994, Nonfatal, San Bernardino County, Male, 41 yrs.
(Mauled when he wandered into the forest from a remote, nighttime
nighttime event. Cat scared off by three boys also attending the event.)
Dec, 1994, Fatal, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Female, 56
(Killed while hiking alone)
7. ($1.99? Are You Out of Your Mind?)
“Like why do they even have the rest of the menu? Why the fuck would anyone get anything other than the $1.99 combo? I mean, two eggs, two bacon, two sausage, hash browns, AND two pancakes for a dollar fucking ninety-nine? Like you seriously would have to be out of your mind to order anything else. We ARE like pretty much out of our minds right now, and we still have the wherewithal to order $1.99s.”
Beanstock stopped talking. Marcus was tagging with an orange crayon on a kid’s connect-the-dot dinosaur coloring sheet, not bothering to put the extinct creature back together. Stevie was sleeping or pretending to sleep.
Back at Denies. A circularity; returned but forever changed and all that.
“Hey, you guys hear there was a rave on 90210?” Marcus asked without looking up.
“Pretty wack,” I said.
“Yeah, not kicked,” said Beanstock.
We had all “heard” about it.
The waitress with frizzy brown hair and a thin film of off-colored makeup floating on her face was looking at us weird. Couldn’t blame her. It was 8:45 am and we were wearing huge pants and white plastic wallet chains and rainbow-colored vests and towering floppy mad-hatter hats and we were filthy and, minus Stevie, soaked in blood, looking all stricken and pale and like we had definitely just got done doing a shit-ton of drugs.
It was probably mostly the blood, really. We sat staring under the bright lights; the colors oversaturated and overwhelming. A nice looking family of black Church-goers in frilly hats and gleaming purple suits was looking at us and talking in hushed tones. We ate, and they ate too.
Epilogue (Stevie’s Section: back at 9:35 pm, but generally out of the space-time continuum, so that doesn’t really matter, anyways)
In Beanstock’s parents’ American boat —“The Bue-ee”—floating as if powered by black magic, floating through the night like they were sailing an endless oil slick, Stevie was lightheaded with the smell of the red leather couches, plump and stitched like diner booths, and he felt the weight and warmth of the shoulders pressing in on him, supporting him like bookends, and he felt as infinite and expansive as the shelf-full of atlases, the ones in his father’s basement study, the ones he wasn’t allowed to touch.
Submarining through the streets, now, the lights of LA like outer space and his friends’ hair smelling sweet and bright, a fuzzy stethoscope heart beat of bass buzzing through the blown speakers, a pipe punched out with a pen from a Red Delicious passed without ownership, Marcus screamed and then they all screamed a teenage battle-cry and they drove and drove and the street lamps were like stars and the neon like passing galaxies and they took the turns so that the centrifugal force fused them at one end, and when they did this at a roundabout they took it three times and Stevie let his eyes go closed and they let their bodies go all the way over like sea-plants in a big black sea, pushed by unseen currents, and the car was still, was the center, and it was the world that moved.
They were on their way, come what may.