Serendipity or Something Like it
I was restless. My girlfriend, Eliza, had recently been shipped away to a military academy in Booneville , Missouri and in a few short weeks I was planning on heading to Lincoln , Nebraska for my first attempt at college. So we were cutting our calls short and had completely dropped any notion of phone sex.
Others in my shoes may have wanted to go out and find a new dish with which to spend a few weeks before the inevitable exit. Not me. I was content to bide my time for a college girl or two; choosing instead to find solace in the company of friends and family who were often in the company of various intoxicants. So, as my weeks in Davenport drew to their close, I decided to spend some money on acid.
Rumor had been circulating that a dealer named Freak Boy had come into a hefty supply of Spider-Man acid. Spider-Man acid just happened to be the kind of acid that only came to my region every once in a great while. When I heard about it I pictured a magical rainbow bus, perhaps piloted by Tim Leary and Ken Kesey, pulling up to a station full of pixies and elves on a river of sweet wine that only few could see. Kesey saw all the people come to gawk at his colorful contraption so he put on a Spider-Man mask, hopped out the emergency exit, and flipped up to the top of the bus, throwing sheet after sheet into the crowd. And I wished I was in that crowd. If the closest I could get to visiting that fantastic bus station was by visiting Freak Boy, then I had to do it.
Now, I did not like visiting Freak Boy. I did not even particularly like Freak Boy. None of us did. But Spider-Man acid was thought of as such a treasure that my twin sister Maddy, her boyfriend Jake, and our friend Scott agreed to make the long trek out to his house. Freak Boy literally lived in the middle of nowhere and the trip always seemed longer on hot, humid summer days with four people crammed into my basic model Elantra. His house was down a long dirt road that veered off the end of a long gravel road and the only scenery was made up of thousands of seven foot tall, dark green corn stalks. He always said he liked the isolation. It was good for privacy.
But when we would drive down his lane and his imposing, white house with chipped paint and a slightly slanted front porch would stare at us, I could not help but feel the pit of my stomach begin shaking and the sweat on my brow go cold. It was like being in a “B” movie. When we parked the car and stepped out, I was always careful to let someone else walk in front of me. I felt there was a distinct chance that a hockey mask wearing mad killer was waiting in the shadow of Freak Boy's rusty black van. There was just something about that Grim Reaper painted on its side. And Freak Boy's name was not just a clever moniker. The man was freaky. He was six and a half feet tall and rail thin. He had permanently greasy, long blond hair and was always wearing dirty, tight, blue jeans and an old Ramones tee-shirt, sans sleeves, so we could see all his prison tattoos. But his most disturbing feature was his mouth. He had grimy, yellow buckteeth that made him look inbred; like a scarecrow King of England; some twisted prince whose father was also his uncle. And I did not like the way he looked at my little sister. I did not like it at all.
Then again, it was Spider-Man acid. So we did it. We drove out there and we even hung out for a while and talked to him when all we wanted to do was get our shit and leave. Then, when we finally left, our journey on those back roads was long and paranoid. As was always the case, many questions raced through my head. Were we being followed? Had DEA agents been monitoring Freak Boy's house? Was the acid really worth all the drama? Would I hear the bullet that rips through my little sister's head, but not the one that rips through mine? I didn't want to end up one the news. And that time, I didn't.
When we returned home to my parents' more comfortable, red, suburban split-foyer, we retired to the basement and ceremoniously placed the small red and black squares on our tongues, and waited. We flipped through the channels on my dad's big screen television and basked in cool air conditioning. After the unnerving trip we felt the comfort and relaxation was well deserved. My parents, other sister, and niece were out of town for the weekend so we were free to do as we pleased. But once one begins to trip; once a person begins to feel the top of his brain tingle with the Strick-9 induced euphoria, he does not simply want to watch television in a tomb-like basement.
I flipped through the newspaper, trying to find something we could do. We were all too young to go to a bar but too old to go to an all ages club. What were we to do? It was not going to take the acid much longer to really take effect. If we were going to go somewhere, we had to get going. As I scanned the paper, Scott, who was sitting across from me, shot up and grabbed it from my hands. “We should do this!” he pointed at the movie page. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was playing at the cheap theater across the river in Illinois .
The trip to the theater was not as long or as stuffy as the trip to Freak Boy's house, but half way their, the humidity broke and a storm front moved in. As the clouds, which were all but absent moments earlier, turned into black ominous sky-monsters predicting our doom, I flipped the CD player off and tuned in the first radio station I could pick up. Apparently we were in the middle of a tornado warning. I remembered back to the time, as a five year old, I was given one duty when my family returned home from a trip to Wal-Mart where we had purchased our first tent. I, being the oldest and only child who could read, was given strict and direct instructions to go inside, turn on the television and see if there was a small red blurb in the right bottom corner of the screen warning us of an impending tornado. The day had been ripe for one; much like the day we went out to Freak Boy's to get our acid. When I checked, I did not see the word “warning” flashing, but the word “watch” and I reported it to my parents like the most patriotic soldier that ever lived. So they put up the tent in the front yard; in front of our trailer house on the top of a hill, surrounded by other, oddly silent trailers. Yes, we lived in a trailer house then—I haven't always been upper-middle-class. Chance had it that half way through the production of the new tent, my mother had to use the bathroom. It didn't take us long, after her return from the trailer, to learn that I had read incorrectly and a tornado was indeed fast approaching. Two feelings filled me that night as my parents rushed taking down their half-way put up tent and threw their three children into the backseat of their little gold hatch-back and sped to the nearest shelter: fear for my family and loathing for myself. “How appropriate,” I thought as I pulled my car onto the bridge.
Maddy looked out from the passenger window over the Mississippi . “She's an angry river today,” she observed and looked down at her hands.
Scott was quiet, since as far back as any of us could remember, he had been afraid of storms. When the rain started he could no longer contain himself. “We gotta go back,” he said, “I can't do this. Not now. Not while I am tripping.”
“It's okay, Scotty,” Jake leaned over and nudged him. “We'll be there any minute and anyway, when has any kinda tornado ever hit the Quad?” he smiled a broad smile that I thought looked a little maniacal as I peered at his face through the rear view mirror. But he was right. Since I had moved to the Quad Cities years before I could not remember one time a tornado had hit the area. Some thought it was because the river ran east and west where we lived instead of north and south. Some said a priest had blessed this particular area of the Mississippi years earlier. I didn't know or care which one was true, but I depended on one of them to make it safely to the theater and back. And as I focused on the road, trying hard to drown out all other noise, I managed to get my car safely pulled into the parking lot. And without really realizing it, I put the machine in park and announced, “We're here.”
When we ran through the downpour toward the grey building I felt as if I was in a dream. The acid was beginning to take a stranglehold on my mind and I could feel my senses growing stronger with every step I took. By the time we reached the doorway I was counting the rain drops as they fell all over my tingling body. The smell of the thunderstorm begged me to stay outside. It was fresh; the freshest sent I have ever smelled and it seemed to have a color of light blue and pink. But I was prodded on by three others who were hell bent on seeing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas . We had quite a trip that day and none of them wanted to one day look back thinking that their only reward was to stand in the rain in front of a movie theater in Moline , Illinois . So I followed them in, we paid for our tickets, and sat down in the theater with handfuls of popcorn, pop, and candy.
Shortly after the lights dimmed and the movie previews were running, we began to peak. Maddy was the first. Some sample of some insipid movie aimed at fifteen-year-old boys was running when she began to laugh and laugh and laugh. She looked at me, her older brother, with pleading eyes asking me to make her stop. I reminded her of the cat she lost, of ex-boyfriends, of babies dying in Africa ; anything I could think of that was sad, but her laughter rolled out like a tank driven by a lunatic down some suburban street.
Noticing that Maddy had discarded her candy and pop, Jake took it. As he began to peak he battled a case of the munchies unlike anything weed had ever caused. When he finished all of the food he stood straight up and left the theater for a return trip to the snack bar. When he came back empty handed he tried to tell me about how the restroom door turned into a mouth and prevented him from ever making it to his desired destination. It was a sentry, guarding the food from the likes of him.
But I wasn't listening. The strange colors and sounds emanating from the large screen had me in its insidious grasp. I was unable to listen, see, or feel anything else. I had become one with the screen. It had surrounded me and I felt as though I was sitting right next to Hunter S. Thompson (or was it Johnnie Depp?).
Scott slumped back in his seat to my right and felt nothing. As the movie progressed he was beginning to get agitated. His three compatriots were off in their own worlds; seeing their own hallucinations. We were resting comfortably in Spider-Man's web; caught but unconcerned. Time passed and the movie continued. Maddy, Jake, and I were absorbed. Scott was fidgeting and hardly paying attention to the film, eyeing us with evil jealousy, when Spider-Man's web fell and the acid finally hit him. I heard a cry as if from far away and turned to see sweat pouring down his cheeks. His dark black hair was matted to his forehead and his thick sideburns seemed to be sticking out; charged with static electricity. “We can't stop here, the bats ‘ill eat me!” he was shouting at the movie. “Lizards! Lizards everywhere!” Sensing that I was staring he turned and looked into my dilated pupils. “Worse than pigs! Worse than pigs in the desert!” he shouted. People around us were telling us to quiet down and more than a few had thrown popcorn and candy. Quickly, I pulled him out of the seat and dragged him outside. The storm had passed and the warm, wet summer air helped pull Scott back from wherever the acid had taken him. After a few minutes of calming down, we returned to the movie and all seemed to be forgotten.
But as the movie neared its ending, Scott leaned over to me and whispered, “I think I need some a that fresh air again.” He stood and moved past me only to walk half way up the aisle and fall on a cute, strawberry blond lady sitting near the exit. Again I moved faster than I thought I could and wrenched him off of the cute woman, offered an LSD soaked apology, and yelled for Maddy and Jake to help me. We left the theater, Hunter S. Thompson, and the cute lady behind. Scott's feet were dragging as we wrapped his arms around our necks and carried him to a fountain. Maddy splashed water on his face and he opened his eyes and mumbled something about wanting liquid. We let him go and he tumbled into the fountain, cutting his face on the hard porcelain. The heavy red blood poured over the shining white and I began to think of another movie; Psycho . I began to loose myself in black and white memories. I could actually hear the music from the most famous murder scene in movie history when my little sister's shrieking voice broke into my fantasy, “Max! We gotta go!”
I snapped out of it and we almost had Scott to the exit when that cute, strawberry blond lady ran up behind us shouting, “I'm a nurse, I'm a nurse! What's wrong with him? How can I help?”
The three of us stared at, her with our mouths agape, through a long and uneasy silence. Then she shook her head and raised her palms up, using her hands to ask again what was wrong with our friend. For the quickest second we locked eyes and I shot my glance to the floor, trying hard to come up with a plausible story that would help us avoid any blue involvement. But while I was thinking, the carpet, a red and black design I thought would look more appropriate in a pizza parlor, began to climb up my shoes and onto my pants. I began shaking my legs in short jerky motions like I was trying to get loose from a rabid toy poodle and exclaimed something about markers being my only hope.
“Markers?” the nurse asked, incredulous. “You've been huffing?”
“No!” I shouted, insulted by the very thought of it. Huffing, after all, was something I graduated out of many years earlier. I was dancing around the carpet as it lunged at me when Maddy and Jake took Scott and ran out the doors. My eyes were two black holes on my face. I had Scott's blood from his fresh cut on my hands and shoulder. I was babbling incoherently, trying hard to defend my actions and avoid being eaten at the same time; when it happened. I looked up and noticed the cute strawberry blond nurse had brown eyes so big and inviting that I wanted to sink into them.
“Do I know . . . Do I know you?” she asked as our eyes met again and this time we held each other's gaze. The second stretched and the lobby around us darkened. The floor fell from my feet and we were in outer space. Around us bright orange and red comets were flying and stars were being born and dying. She was glowing like a radiant angel. Her shoulder length strawberry blond hair was flowing about her. The tee-shirt and jeans she was wearing slipped away and she was nude for an instant. Then a nurse's uniform wrapped around her. She smiled and I forgot everything else as enormous white angel wings emerged from her back. I forgot about the movie, Scott, the carpet eating my feet, the acid I had taken, or even how I had come to this beyond the world place to stare at the first and only celestial being I had ever seen. An old, brown phonograph from the turn of the century floated past us, playing that song, Dream Weaver . I reached for her, wanting nothing more than to give her the longest, wettest kiss any man had ever given any woman.
But my celestial angel stepped back as I approached and I fell from space; returning to the lobby of the cheap movie theater and hitting my body with such impact that it took me a moment to regain myself. Panic over the possibility that she might intend to call the cops took hold of my feet and I darted out the door, not looking back.
When I caught up to the others, they were waiting for me at my locked car. Scott was walking and talking like nothing had happened. He was holding a dirty rag to the small cut on his face and I snatched it from him, wiping his blood from my hands. He laughed uneasily. We had an unspoken agreement that, while the movie was not over, our time at the theater indeed was. So we piled into my car and drove out of the parking lot. As we passed the entrance of the theater I stole a glance in the lobby, hoping to see the nurse with her hand on the window. But the lobby was empty. Scott apologized a number of times, no one else spoke.
We started to drive home but after we crossed the bridge back into Iowa , a second storm came up out of the empty sky and the strong rain forced us to park at a Village Inn to wait it out. We went inside the brightly lit restaurant, sat in a window booth in the smoking section, and ordered drinks. I should have been smoking, but I didn't feel like it. Instead, I was inhaling Maddy's second-hand smoke and looking out the window, feeling lost. It was storming pretty badly. I could hear the wind blowing. And every few minutes there was a big boom and the sky turned bright blue. I thought we were deep under the ocean and we were never going to make it to the surface and I was the only one who knew this was a problem. I could not get the image of that cute nurse out of my head. That is when I saw the lights of several cop cars whiz into the parking lot behind an all too familiar van.
There were five police cruisers behind it. And as it squealed onto the Village Inn black top and tipped up on two wheels, the Grim reaper staring through the wet windows of the restaurant, I began to pray that Freak Boy would not pop out. Then he did. My muscles grew taught and I tried to tell everyone to look outside, but my voice was lost as other people noticed the fiasco and many shouted. Freak Boy started slipping around on the wet pavement through the rain and ten officers chased him, sliding and banging into each. All they were missing was the black and white coloring and the funny hats and they would have been the Keystone Cops from those old silent movies. It was almost funny until they caught Freak Boy and proceeded to pound him like they had taken several serious classes on the subject. A part of me wanted to stand up and say something. But, despite my inclination toward hallucinogenic drugs, I wasn't a hippie and this was most definitely not the 1960s. So I watched, palms sweaty, hoping that no one knew we were friends and hoping that, when they got him down to their station, he wouldn't say anything to the cops about the four stoners who bought some choice acid from him earlier that day.
Eventually, the Village Inn patrons and employees went about their business, but the four of us were unable to tear our eyes away from Freak Boy's arrest. After they decided they had spent enough time “subduing” him, they snapped on the handcuffs and one of the officers came into the restaurant apologizing for the disturbance. That was it. They towed his van and took Freak Boy to jail. I never saw him again.
The night was officially over so we quietly left the restaurant. On the ride home Scott told us he was swearing off acid and has held true to his word. I thought of the nurse with the strawberry blond hair and wondered if she did know me. Jake and Maddy were holding hands in the backseat; wanting nothing more than to forget any of it ever happened.
After I dropped Scott off and arrived home, still tripping, but no longer peaking, I left Jake and Maddy in the living room and retired to my bed. But I could not sleep. I gazed at the blue light of infomercials and the soft plastic glow of the fake stars stuck to my ceiling. I tried to call Eliza, but her line was busy. I tried to write and read but the light hurt my eyes. I kept playing the night's events over, wondering what they all meant, or if they meant anything at all. The time was lost as I drifted in and out of the physical reality but did not quite fall asleep. As the sun came up, shining through the half open blinds on my bedroom window, I finally succumbed, dreaming about the cute nurse with strawberry blond hair.
Max Dinkman is a writer from Davenport, IA. His work has been published in With the Three-Legged Cat (1 and 2) and Again! With the Three-Legged Cat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.