At first, it had only been colours, veering in and out of unformed shapes behind his closed eyelids. More like the formless blobs left behind when your eyes have been momentarily blinded by a camera’s flash attachment than anything else, he thought. But those were just the opening salvos to main event.
He had climbed up to this cave in the hills two days ago, and started the fast yesterday morning. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting to happen, all he knew was that he was hoping to find some sort of enlightenment; a revelation that could help him make a new beginning.
Over twenty-four hours without food and water had left him dry-mouthed and light-headed. Perhaps he shouldn’t have had MacDonald’s as his last meal before going on a spiritual quest, but this had been a spur of the moment decision that had found him pointing his car our of the city towards the wilderness on the day his world fell apart.
He had gone to work as usual in the morning, only to find padlocks on the front doors of his employer’s building. It turned out all its assets had been seized during the night pending an investigation into bookkeeping practices. After a few phone calls on his cell phone assured him that the situation was completely unredeemable, he decided to head for home.
He probably would have found out soon enough, one way or another, but walking in on her with someone else between her legs wasn’t the best way to find out she wasn’t happy with their situation anymore. Not wanting to disturb them, he left the apartment without doing more than ensuring the windows were sealed, the gas stove was on, and a candle was burning in the kitchen.
He was rewarded by hearing a very satisfyingly loud boom from two blocks away as he drove off in her Hummer. She couldn’t complain about him not making the earth move for her anymore, now could she?
All in all, though, things hadn’t boded well for the future at that moment. He was out of work, single, and homeless all in less then half a day’s time. If things didn’t change soon, this downward spiral could continue and who knows where he’d end up.
He needed to make some changes in his life, that much was obvious. The first thing to do was to change his perspective of his situation. That’s what the self–help guru they had gone to see a few months back had said: “Look on every loss as a new beginning, and it becomes a positive instead of a negative” In fact he’d used a scenario similar to Steven’s own that very night.
Steven allowed himself a slight smirk at the thought of wondering what Mr. Self-Help would make of starting over from a couple of pounds of ground round. It had only taken a moment to recognise whose jacket had been tossed carelessly on the floor of what had been their bedroom. Look on that as a new beginning asshole.
But the fresh start thing was good thinking. The thing was how to go about it. You could always go out and get a new job and a new woman; they were all a dime a dozen these days. But that didn’t sound like it would be enough this time.
This was the not the first time his embezzling had caused problems for his employers, or that he’d lost a woman to another man. However, the situations were getting out of hand in the ways in which they were resolved this time. He needed more of a solution than just moving on to a variation of the same old thing.
There had been this book she had been trying to get him to read, just after they had been to see the self-himself. It was all about shaman and dusty old guys like that who had gone into different states of consciousness to help them gain insight into themselves and understanding.
He had picked up the book, if only to keep her happy, and skimmed it quickly. It was all about how most of humanity’s religions and belief systems were born out of people entering trance-like states either through drugs or fasting. Some shit about obtaining a higher state of awareness allowing them to travel to different spiritual planes of existence and making discoveries.
Well, he knew some guys who had obtained higher states of “awareness” some years back, and they weren’t about to see the outside of the psych ward for the rest of their lives. Anyways, he had said, there are enough religions in the world now screwing things up, as it is, why would we want anymore of them?
She had given him a look, like he was being an especially large asshole or something, and said that wasn’t the point. The point was that people weren’t willing to look in side themselves anymore and discover their own personal truths. The ones that could free them from the ruts they were in and allow them to discover what they were meant to be doing.
Well there was no denying he was in a rut right now. Seeing as the only copy of the book he knew of was probably in no condition to be read again, and he wasn’t quite sure what was recommended to help induce a trance-like state except fasting and drugs — stupid book hadn’t even mentioned anything some tea you could only get in Brazil of all places — he figured he shouldn’t take any chances.
He stopped by a local spot he had been able to score at before, and picked up a bag of weed, a gram of coke, some M.D.A., and a couple of grams of magic mushrooms. After smoking a fat one with the dealer he got incurable munchies, hence the stop at Macdonald’s on the way out of town.
He figured he’d hold off on the coke until he needed the extra spurt of energy to get back into town after the fasting, keep the M.D.A. in reserve (he had no idea how clean it was after all) and just focus on chewing up some mushrooms after a day of fasting. He had remembered the cave from a previous trip to the mountains when he had been younger and he and a couple of buddies had sheltered there from a nasty rainstorm that had surprised them.
It had actually been kind of cool sitting there in the cave mouth, watching the lighting, and listening to the muffled sound of thunder from inside the mountain. It had been pitch black in the cave, and the dim light of the storm hadn’t offered much illumination. He could still see how odd their faces had looked when light by the occasional flashes of lightning. Disembodied pale balloons floating in darkness was how he had thought of them at the time.
So now here he was, sitting in pretty much the same space, and bored out of his mind. He had taken the mushrooms over an hour ago and all he was getting still were the colours. Damn if things didn’t pick up soon he’d snort half the coke, which should be enough to get him back to a hotel where he could order room service and sleep this off.
“What were you expecting, visions or something?” said a voice in his head. “You’ve only been out here a day: that doesn’t count for anything in these matters. You’ve usually got to give it three, maybe four days before anything happens, and then its usually so obscure that it won’t make any sense for years anyway.”
Steven snapped his eyes wide open and looked around the cave. His pupils were dilated enough that even in the dim light he was able to make out shapes that he hadn’t on his last trip here, but that didn’t help him locate the source of the voice. He shook his head and was about to close his eyes again when the voice said: “Oh I’m for real all right shithead, but I don’t feel like letting you see me just yet. I’ve been watching you for the last day, and wondering what you’ve been doing in my cave. Most people only stop in for a few hours at most, a quick shag, or for shelter from rain, and that’s about it.
“But you’ve been here more than a day already and so naturally my curiosity is sparked. What you doing in my cave asshole? If you’re meeting someone you can probably assume they’ve stood you up by now”
There was a slight pause in which Steven had the distinct impression the voice was taking a closer look at him.
“Holly crap, what are you on? Look at the size of your eyeballs; they’re like black boulders. You look like someone who’s never seen the light of day.” There was another pause. “Oh crap, you really are here on some sort of quest for eternal meaning, or some such shit aren’t you?”
The voice sounded really pissed-off now, as if that compounded some crime that Steven was unaware of even committing in the first place. For some reason Steven felt a little embarrassed; it could have been the scepticism that underlay the anger, but that didn’t stop him form admitting that’s what he was doing.
“Well I hope you don’t think you’re going to come up with some new religion or something stupid like that. Everybody seems to think that wandering around in the desert or climbing a mountain to sit in a cave gives them the right to be a spiritual leader of some sort or another.
“I’ve got a cousin in the Middle East and he said a few years back, oh a couple a thousand or so, you couldn’t go for a walk in the desert without running into some fool idiot wandering around babbling to himself. Heat crazed and dehydrated. After a while he got so sick of them he began to mess with them.
“There was this one guy, it makes me laugh every time I think about it, really emaciated, must have been out there for close to thirty days, judging by how skinny and flat-out bug-eyed crazy he was. Anyway, this guy was muttering about some Satan dude under his breath. Was getting himself into quite a state over how he was the root of all evil and had to be resisted at all costs.
“Now, my cousin had never heard of any Satan character before, but decided it would be a hoot to pretend he was him. So keeping himself invisible he sidles up to this guy and says howdy. Did he jump, must have been almost ten feet straight up in the air.
“The next thing you know he’s flailing all about him with this staff he’s carrying, damned near brained my cousin with it, and frothing at the mouth. Than he’s standing there, rocking back and forth, praying is what my cousin figured he was doing, with his eyes closed. Every so often he open his eyes a crack and peaks around to see if anybody’s there, and he’ll shout out things like “Get thee behind me Satan” or some such shit.
“Now my cousin is genuinely worried about the guy, thinks he might be going off the deep end from no water and lack of food. So he figures the least he can do is offer him something cold to drink, and maybe a bite to eat; make up for the fright he gave him and all. But he figures the guy must have been really toasted by the sun, because he kept screaming out about temptation and evil, flailing about with that damned staff of his all over the place. Invisibility doesn’t prevent you from getting your skull split open by a deranged loony if he manages to connect.
“Than there was also another guy who thought, he was talking to his god because of a brush fire that my niece caused one day on a mountaintop. She always was a little careless with fire, bit of a pyromaniac if you ask me, but she’s my sisters daughter, so what are you going to do? She ended up covering by telling the guy to chill, made up some nice things for him to believe in, and he went away happy.
“So I’ve got to wonder about anybody who parks themselves out in the middle of nowhere. Are they in it for fame, fortune and fanaticism, or are they just plain nuts? That of course brings us back to you again, and the question of why you are here. If I remember correctly, the answer was “enlightenment”. Is that right?
Steven could only nod his head yes in agreement. He wasn’t sure if an invisible voice could see nods, but he was also pretty sure he couldn’t talk right now even if he wanted to. He hadn’t really known what to expect, but he was sure this sort of experience wasn’t what everybody had in mind when they when they talked about finding a new level of personal awareness. All he had wanted was a few hints about how to get his life back on track and to figure out a way of things not always ending up always starting over.
“Well you could start by not being such a self-centred, selfish prick. Ditch the paranoia as well; if you didn’t think everybody is out to get you than maybe you wouldn’t be out to get them first. I’d also not get addicted to bumping off people you have personal issues with, it ends up getting messy, and you might get caught. You’ll probably get away with it this time, but next time you might not be so lucky.
“Oh what are you acting so surprised about? If I’m a hallucination of some sort or another than I’m coming from your brain and sub conscience, and deep down you know what a piece of shit you are, even if you’re not willing to admit it out loud. If I’m really the voice of some otherworldly presence than I’m going to be able to read your thoughts anyway. So, actually, it’s immaterial whether I’m real or not, because either way it’s all true.
“Quite frankly if I were you I’d just take a running jump out of this cave and hope to splatter myself all over the mountain side, but since I’m not, that decision is up to you. In fact, here’s my big piece of advice for you asshole; you might want to write this down it’s important. No, all right than.
“Everything is your decision and you always have a choice no matter what the circumstances. Take responsibility for your choices and you will live a good and happy life. Blame everybody else for your problems and you become the messed-up dipstick that you are today.”
Steven had been staring open-mouthed into space the whole time the voice was speaking. When it got to the point of jumping off the cliff he started to get himself ready to leave. He’d snort some lines off the dashboard of the Hummer, and find that hotel room. Than he’d hunt down the jerk that sold him the mushrooms, and give him shit for this bum trip they had caused.
He was so busy thinking about that, he barely noticed the voice was done. He had completely missed the last few words said to him, but he figured they made as little sense as everything else that had happened since he got here. Saying goodbye loudly to the voice, he bolted for the cave entrance where he tripped over a bump in the floor he hadn’t noticed before.
His balance was off from not eating and drugs and that probably explained why he couldn’t regain his footing before he tumbled over the side of the cliff that the cave faced out on to. The lump in the floor stood up on its four legs and padded to the cave entrance and to the edge. A familiar voice, at least to Steven’s ears if he was still listening, came out of the very canine-shaped muzzle: “Stupid humans never listen, haven’t in thousands of year, and aren’t about to start now I guess. Oh well not my problem”
(Anthropologists now believe that most major human belief systems came about when people have been in a trance-like state, most likely induced by the hallucinogenic psilocybin.)