It was a night for him to be away from it all.
He pulled his van up to the brownstone and parked at the curb. Getting out, he took pity on his vehicle. Its opaque rear windshield, he thought, would surely bring him an early death. Or his family, he thought afterward. In the backseat lay a soft case held an acoustic guitar. Beside that lay a small box of baby-food jars: a token from a lost ex-girlfriend—another story from the road. Baby Stephen, the product and perhaps finale of that story, lay tucked away at his grandfather’s. Shaun had the night to himself.
Beside the baby-food lay a few cans of green vegetables and milk formula. The interior upholstery had become old and torn, once new and burgundy, now matted into gray and brown filth. Before shutting the door, he grabbed the guitar case by its strap and swung it around his shoulder. With rusted tire-bolts and a loose piece of jutting metal underneath the chassis; he stood for a moment questioning it all. “Next month…” he muttered, assuring himself that he’d have money saved by then to repair the vehicle. He walked up to the door, rang the bell and waited for his buddies to buzz him in.
Upstairs in their apartment, Aaron and Jonathan stood waiting in the doorway, ready to greet their old friend. It was a narrow place, up four flights of stairs. It smells good though, Shaun said to himself as he climbed the steps. Someone’s cooking dinner in one of these rooms. It feels warm.
“Shaunie Bentley Beethoven!” Aaron yelled as he saw his friend emerge from the hallway. “Get over here. How’s little Steve?”
“Oh, he’s good. Yeah, good. Almost three.” He gave them both a hug. Everyone smiled. They took notice of each other’s needs for haircuts and shaves. They weren’t boys anymore. Aaron had plumped out a bit from his once thinner frame. Jonathan’s face, which Shaun had remembered as clean and youthful, now looked aged, crinkling slightly near his eyes and forehead with each expression he made. Shaun thought, Man, I haven’t seen these guys in months, but we can still see each other in old fashion. “To the carnivalesque,” he said, “now give me a fuckin’ beer.”
“You bring the goods?” Aaron asked anxiously, as he did often when participating in any paraphernalia.
“Yeah, man,” replied Shaun, reaching into a zip-up pouch on his guitar-case, pulling out a small plastic sandwich bag containing exactly three eighths of psychedelic “magic” mushrooms. “Three eighths here, boys—and three of us…” He shook the bag in front of their faces and handed it over to Jonathan. Aaron’s eyes widened as he hunched over Jonathan’s shoulder, like a peeping Tom watching his older sister undress for the first time with an adult body. He even plumped a bit.
Jonathon inspected the bag scientifically, checking for cap size and for a healthy skin-tone on the tops. His blue eyes squinted behind a pair of thin, wire-frame glasses.
“Gimme that, you weirdo!” Shaun said, snatching the bag out of his hands. “Now, Fellas, I brought a flask of Maker’s, but that ain’t gonna last us all night. So, whadda ya got?”
Someone handed him a Bud and they moved into the next room, Aaron’s room—small, stuffy and windowless, but just how he liked it. Shaun saw the pages of dirty magazines curled up from under his bed mattress. He thought to himself, everyone who ever comes into this room knows about them, without questioning—because no one ever needs to hide Electronic Gaming Monthly or Vogue or The Enquirer underneath their beds—only things like Teens Turned Loose!
It was much more spacious in Jonathan’s room, Shaun thought. And neat, almost too neat. To the degree that might show signs of mental disturbances—That’s how neat.
The three of them hunched over Jonathan’s computer for the next few hours, drinking and watching funny, obscure videos off the internet. Videos that the status-quo-world wouldn’t even believe existed—older videos, before media censorship was modernized to the twenty-first century—clips of a low budget cooking show hosted by a portly, mentally handicapped child, or a poetry-slam recorded by the night-staff of a mental institution. Shaun and his friends were very good at finding these, and although desensitized, they found these gems, as they might have called them, to be more entertaining than television. They laughed like boys laugh and passed around the flask until it was finished.
Around a quarter after eleven the boys put on winter coats. They threw on some cologne and figured out where to go for a drink. Aaron paused before the other two and said, “Wait, guys… What about the shrooms, shouldn’t we take those?” He looked at Jonathan and Shaun, who in turn looked at each other and back to Aaron. Well, I guess we could, Shaun thought to himself. I mean, it’s gonna last about six hours, so we should get them started…but man, out at the bars? This much, now, worried him, and he felt a nervous chill, a tightening fear in his chest. He pulled the bag out from his coat pocket. It shouldn’t have been in there, he thought. That’s a sure way to get busted.
He had a life back at home, too, with his three-year-old baby boy, and how would he feel about him spending a night in jail? Then the enormous amount of bail money they couldn’t afford, followed by expensive lawyer fees, family embarrassment, let alone the fact that he was spending his paychecks on hallucinatory drugs.
Aaron and Jonathan had already opened the bag, and Jonathan was deciding precisely which specimens would be his.
“Well, alright,” said Shaun. “You guys go first. I’m gonna get a drink.” He turned to open the fridge, searching for something good to wash down the leathery texture of those dried mushrooms. A cell-phone began to ring; the boys instinctively hid away the mushrooms, unaware of the degree of their paranoia. Jonathan pulled a phone out from his back pocket and answered.
Within seconds they were out the door, on their way to meet a young lady named Jackie, who had previously called Jonathon, and told him to find her and her friend Dezi at a bar called Halos—a place which had recently become popular in the area. The two boys led Shaun as they walked down the store-lit streets.
When they arrived the place was packed. Of course, thought Shaun, who didn’t adapt well to big crowded bars, which were unfamiliar and extinct back in his hometown.
They showed their IDs at the door and entered…and to Shaun the crowd appeared as one—a singular breathing mass, which seemed to open its jaws as they inserted themselves into the crowd; white-noise in the form of bar-talk and loud music meshed together and engulfed them as they entered.
Jackie and Dezi were sitting at a booth along the far-wall. Aaron headed for the bar, while Jonathon and Shaun found seats next to the two girls.
“Hey honey,” said Jackie, smiling at Jonathan. “Glad you could make it. Who’s your friend here?” Jonathan introduced Shaun, who raised two fingers to his forehead and flicked them towards her as a salute. There were already a few empty cups with ice in front of the girls. Shaun liked that. Aaron came back, holding a round of drinks, and they all sat together, talking for awhile about things. Shaun took notice of Dezi, who seemed like a local, noted by the familiar, Madonna-esq attire and a glaze of boredom over her eyes, bordered with thick purple eyeliner and green shadow.
Jackie, however, had a more intriguing beauty—a short, freckled girl with big eyes, auburn hair, and a slight southern-bell accent. “Hello, Dear” she said to Shaun, “you look a little lost in a place like this.” Her voice is quite adorably charming, Shaun thought to himself.
“Thanks,” he replied, “anything’s better than the pen.”
“The what, Honey?”
“Oh, you know. The pen,” he said with a confident grin, “that’s what they call it anyway. Security guards, barbed wire fences, lock-ups and head-counts.”
“You just got outta’ jail?” she said, enthralled. Shaun laughed back as he shook his head, no. She was definitely cute, he said to himself.
An hour or so later, the boys were as drunk as they looked. They had left Halos and gone across town to another bar called The Stairwell. The place was dim with the ambience of candlelight. A vague appearance of large paintings hung along the brick walls. A DJ played some 20’s ragtime-swing, which Shaun admired. He smiled, ordered a whisky-sour and met his friends out for a smoke in the garden out back.
When he got out there he was pleasantly surprised to see Jackie standing between Aaron and Jonathan. He learned that she had apparently decided to dump her friend Dezi off at the subway station and then head back out for more barhopping. It made his chest heave. She gave most of her attention to Jonathan, who was the tallest of the group, however Shaun’s attention was on her anyway.
He noticed new things, like her semi-exposed body, curves poking out of her open blouse. He looked over to Aaron, who he caught blatantly staring no more than a foot away into her unbuttoned shirt. He elbowed him, gave him a curious look and took his spot next to her.
“Hey… Shaun,” Jonathan said with a slur to his speech. “Say Jackie, have you met my friend Shaun over here?”
“Jon!” Shaun smirkingly interrupted. “Slow down a bit, will ya’? Yes. Of course. Why don’t you go inside and get us another round. Make it two PBRs.” He handed Jonathan a five, who dutifully went back inside to the bar.
“You have a great accent. Where’re you from originally?”
“Oh, thanks,” she smiled at him, “well, I grew up in Kansas City,” she said, laughing at herself. “There ain’t really a goddamned thing to do there. Just a bunch of farms with rednecks on ‘em.”
Shaun smiled kindly. “Don’t worry about it. I’m from way-out-east. The suburbs. It’s pretty close-by. We have the same basic situation, minus the accents.”
They smiled down at their feet, reaching for more subject matter. Finally she said, “Hey, you’re glad you got outta there though, right?”
Shaun paused; the words stuck in him. “…Well, actually I’m just out here for the night. Yeah, I’m still living back at home, came here to see my friends Jonny and Aaron.” You’re a shit-head, he told himself. “But, Yeah, I love it here. I’m actually looking for a job so I can move out here, hopefully in the spring.”
“Nice,” she replied. “Yeah—all my old friends still live back in KC, and it’s like, I hate ‘em now; we have nothing in common anymore; they will never leave.” Shaun looked away, looked at his shoes, nodded his head and shut his mouth. He decided to find Aaron and Jon back inside the bar.
The music was now pulsing techno beats. His friends were standing in the middle of the floor, surrounded by couples dancing and grinding. It hurts, he thought. The booze hurts, the music hurts, my life hurts. He wobbled past a group people sitting and laughing at a table. If I don’t find Jon and Aaron, I’m not gonna’ make it. I think I can throw up… maybe I should make myself vomit when we get home. I’ll definitely need this booze out of my stomach before I eat those mushrooms. The mushrooms! He realized. He looked down at his watch; it was now almost two-thirty in the morning. Can we still do it? Should we do it? Hell yeah.
Searching through the crowd, he caught a glimpse of Jon’s head peaking over the mass of bodies. Aaron was next to him, and in a moment they were out the door and onto the street.
“Where’s Jackie?” Jonathan asked.
“I ditched her,” replied Shaun. “Those accents drive me crazy—not in a good way though.” He frowned at himself as they turned the corner.
Soon, the three friends had returned to the apartment. They lit some candles and turned the lights down, gathering around a kitchen table. Shaun pulled out the bag and Jonathan poured each of them a glass of orange juice, known to aid as a catalyst for the active ingredients. Shaun took his caps and stems, and followed the others as he proceeded to eat them one-by-one, taking healthy gulps of juice in-between pieces. The mushroom bits felt clung to the inside of his esophagus, and immediately caused a dirt-flavored after-taste of burps.
The three of them sat there on the cool wooden floor. Someone put on the TV, and they continued to watch silently, watching the screen—an old episode of some detective drama that they were unfamiliar with. Then initial effects began to take hold. They felt mild cramps in their bellies, an intoxicating fuzz all around them—like their bones were warming; it made their breathing slow and deep.
Suddenly Aaron popped up off the floor, “Hey—I got an idea! Let’s go up on the roof!”
“Sounds good.” Shaun replied, causing Jonathan to get up and follow Aaron’s lead in putting their coats and shoes back on. Next, Aaron had the kitchen window open. He stepped out onto the fire-escape and proceeded to climb the ladder. Jonathan followed, first grabbing a pack of cigarettes and pulling his hood over his head. Shaun, now, tying a knot in his shoe, stood up and faced the window, when he heard the ringing of his cell phone behind him. He turned back into the living room, picked his phone up off the couch and answered. “Hello? Oh, Hi Dad… Dad? It’s the middle of the fucking night. Sorry, sorry. How’s Stephen? Everything okay? Yeah… Yeah, Uh-huh… I know. We just got back about a half an hour ago… Yeah, I’ll tell him. Pick up diapers on my way home tomorrow? Okay. Sure. Yeah, I got it, Dad. Goodnight.”
He clapped his phone shut. At the same moment, it hit him hard.
He looked over at the wall next to him, painted white with a shadow from the bedroom door cast down across it; he felt a depth in the shadows, like he could see into them. Crouching, he extended an arm towards the wall, pointed out his two forefingers, and in a jabbing motion, attempted to dip his fingers into the shadow.
“Oh… Ha-ha,” he thought to himself, “Of course not.”
He thought about himself now, objectively; he thought about the wall, the meaning of a wall and the purpose of a wall, and the sheer concept of a wall. He thought about the apartment building, objectively, and how intriguing it was that these types of things are built all over the planet, where human beings are gathered inside—to work, drink, sleep—repeat. The world is so predictable, he thought. So much repetition, especially in daily life, when you look down into it from such a high level, it’s actually quite mechanical, like the inner workings of a clock. He paused on that, the meaning of a clock, and connected it to the existence of humanity—working continuously, perpetually—just to keep time? Can it really be all that simple?
He remembered about Jon and Aaron, waiting for him up on the roof. He scurried over to the kitchen window, prepared himself to exit, but an object caught the corner of his attention. It was a small bottle near the table, labeled ‘Anti-Static Spray’. He thought, what the hell is anti-static spray? He picked it up and examined it: To be used for cleaning LCD screens, he read. Curiously, he sprayed some into the air and sniffed. It tingled inside his nostrils, sprinkling down on his cheeks and lips, which he automatically licked off and patted inside his mouth. Not bad, he thought, although it was fairly metallic and tangy, he wondered…anti-static?
Turning the spray nozzle around to his face, he opened up wide and shot two quick mists down his throat. Immediately, he began coughing, then dropped the bottle and began to flail about the room, twisting his body back and forth. Coughing still, he tried to keep his eyes open but he couldn’t stop them from crying and becoming irritated, red and puffy. He dropped down on his ass and pulled in some deep breaths. Eyes still clenched—he opened them up, and a vision in the form of bright white lights and colorful blurry dots filled his sight.
“Oh, man…” He moaned, beginning to panic, “I can’t see a thing.”
YOU, THERE,he heard a distant voice say. It echoed deeply within the room and filled his mind, consuming it with unbridled fear.
“Hey!” He screamed, searching the room blindly, knocking over the guitar that had laid against a sofa chair. He looked back and forth but could only make out vague shadows in the white light.
YOU… you have come to see the GOD EYE… What are you seeking?
He shook his head back in fright, “The what? The god-eye? What the hell is that? Oh, no… this is bad, man” he coiled up and began sweating. “Bad… This is bad.”
THIS IS ALL, THE WILL OF EVERYTHING, THE MIND AT LARGE. What knowledge do you desire?
“Knowledge? No, it was an accident, a mistake!” He shouted. “I took some bad shrooms or something. I sprayed that cleaner in my mouth! What do I do?” He crawled over aimlessly to the other side of the room. “Am I dying? I’m not dying, right? I’m not dying. I just need some air.” The echoing ceased. The room was once again silent.
He looked into the light and saw the flying shapes of colors and shadows, blurring in and out of different things inside his thoughts. He tried to remember a simpler time, of holding Steven in his arms, the little baby, lost sweetly in a dream. He thought about Jackie from Kansas City, and suddenly she formed in his mind, in the white light before his eyes.
“Hi, Shaun,” she spoke softly. “What’s got you flopping around your friend’s living room?”
Shaun got on his knees, “Oh, Jackie,” he said, attempting to compose himself, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve been left behind; I’ve never left home! I’m trapped! I feel trapped, Jackie.”
“Honey, I see this kid” she says—“he’s closed off from his friends at the bar.
Alone. And he doesn’t feel right. He’s searching for something and it’s eating him up inside, and the last thing he needs is to fill-up his head with guilt. I bet you ain’t nothing like your two friends here in Brooklyn. Are you? Do they have any family out here but themselves? No.”
Shaun felt himself begin to calm down. Or at least the sweating ceased.
“They belong here, and you belong home, cus that’s where you’re needed the most.”
“So, what do I do then? What do you want me to do, I mean… I think I love you. But some of us just weren’t meant to turn out like everybody else… Or at least I’m not ready to. I refuse to pick between my child and myself. I’m getting older; I have a responsibility back home.”
His breathing became calm and took a pace.
“Sounds like you’ve chosen right where you’re supposed to be. That’s usually the way it goes, Shaun.” She gave him a smile as she faded away. “Goodbye, or I’ll see you next time!”
Her presence all but left.
“Thank you, Jackie. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Shaun repeated it as he got up off the floor. “I won’t forget.” He was crying and wiping away the tears with his sleeves.
“You’re welcome. And Shaun, don’t forget the diapers…”
His two friends, Aaron and Jonathon, sat outside on the fire-escape, peeking in through the window, laughing like wild animals—maniacs, watching him hallucinate on their living room floor. Jonathan’s face pressed up against the window, sucking on the glass with his mouth like a sea-creature. While Jonathan, choking in laughter, kept repeating Shaun’s babbling over and over, “Oh, Thank you! Thank you…” he slapped Aaron’s leg. “…and I won’t forget the diapers! I won’t forget the diapers!” They burst into uncontrollable, maniacal laughter.