PrologueTony, Mike, and James all sat anxiously around the table as the sun went down, watching Sean carefully weigh out the dried fungi on the small black and silver scale he brought along with him. He showed how the weight measured perfectly, and doled out each person's dose for the night. He was the only one of the four who had ever taken magic mushrooms before, and he was explaining what he'd been told by the guy from work who sold them to him.
“You can always eat more if you want, but you can't make them stop early, so you want to be careful. Especially since you guys are virgins,” he smirked up at them as he set aside his own dose, which he made larger than any of theirs.
“Now, since I paid up front, and we're splitting that four ways, each of you owes me a little cash before we start,” he sat back in the chair and waited for them to hand over the money before handing out the doses.
Tony was easily the most timid about all of it, and he'd been talked into all of it by Mike, who had always wanted to try the things. He was terrified of getting bad shrooms, or having a bad trip, and his fear was all over his face.
“Relax, dude, it will be fine. These are solid product. My source doesn't stock bad shit. They're just a little strong, is all, so you have to take it easy. You'll be just fine. We just need to find some chill music to set the mood, lock ourselves in the house so we don't wander, just in case, and maybe throw something pretty on the TV to watch.”
Tony nodded slowly and eyed the long stemmed thing. “I hear they taste awful,” he began, and Sean cut him off.
“Yeah, they're pretty bad. Some say they're 'earthy', and others say they taste like dirt, still others like actual shit. In any case, it's best to just get it over with fast and eat something to chase the taste away.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a tube of Minties to share, and each person crunched up their own handful of mushrooms.
“Oh my god, these are nasty!” Mike cried and clamped his hand over his mouth to prevent himself from vomiting them right back up again. He reached for the Minties with his outstretched hand, and Sean laughed as he popped a few out for his friend to chew up.
Three hours later, the four of them sat staring happily at different points in the apartment, randomly spouting hilarious and odd comments.
“I love this ceiling. It understands me,” James sighed and pulled a blanket around him. He sipped at some orange juice, then stared at it with a smile, “I love you too, orange juice. And whoever gave you to me.”
“That would be me,” Sean called from the kitchen. “Orange juice is the best. Dude, my cupboards are amazing. I came in here for my own glass a while ago. I'm stuck.” He didn't sound worried.
Excellent music filled the silence for a while, and Tony came out of the bathroom suddenly. “I totally got lost in there. I went in because I had to take a piss, you know, and ended up staring at the floor tiles. Those things go on and on forever. Then I turned back around and saw the mirror, and holy fuck, you guys, my eyes are fucking HUGE. I thought to myself, 'Oh my god, you have to show Mike, and then I remembered Mike lives on the other side of the door. And the door worked again. Look at me, man, I'm like a goddamned tree monkey or some shit!” He leaned in, eyes wide, indeed looking like a tree monkey.
Mike broke away from his gaze on the floor and fell over laughing at the look on his friend's face. “See, man, this was a good idea. I told you!”
“We should go on an adventure!” Declared Sean from the kitchen.
“But, uh, you said we shouldn't go outside,” worry began to creep back into Tony's face.
“Well, we know where we are and can hold a conversation, so as long as we call it an adventure and stick together, we should be fine,” Sean smiled at him, and grabbed a blanket. The mountain air grew cold that time of night. The others shrugged into jackets and shoes, which had been discarded, and the four of them crept out the door and down the stairs, triple checking they had at least one phone and one set of keys with them before they left. But after taking a few steps out into the night, none of them could remember why that mattered.
The brisk air hit them full in the face, and bodies tensed up a little as they got used to the chill. Sean encouraged them to follow him, and he stepped lightly off down the road. He wanted to show them something. He lived downtown in Colorado Springs and there were art displays tucked randomly about in his area, and he said, “ I've always wanted to see this while tripping,” as they walked along.
He took them across a wide road with trees growing in the median, and down a hill to a parking lot. It didn't look like much until they walked closer to the retaining wall and saw the paintings that had been done by the community there. They were odd abstract things, a native with a long pipe, which made them chuckle, and other interesting designs that held their attention for an undetermined amount of time.
“Hey, what time is it?” Mike asked, forgetting who had a phone or a watch, then laughed when Tony pulled it out of his pocket. He wanted a life line, apparently.
He stared at the screen with confusion all over his face. “There's a button... I just... push it...” he muttered, trying to figure out which button was the right one, and when none of them seemed to work, he sighed and handed it to Mike. “This thing doesn't make any sense.”
Mike laughed even harder and sat down right there in the middle of the lot, taking the phone for examination. “I... yep, there it is!” he grinned widely, proud of his success at making things work. “11:48. Is that all!? Really!?” He handed the phone back, shocked.
“Yeah, time doesn't really make any sense with the fungi, but it's okay. Nobody has to work tomorrow, do they?” Sean looked around, suddenly hoping they'd gone over this detail earlier, but honestly having no idea.
“Nope, that's why we chose tonight,” Tony breathed deeply and lay down on the ground next to Mike. He spread out the blanket he'd found at the last minute, on the couch, and the two of them lay back on it, and stared up at the brilliant night sky.
“The one reason I love why we don't have street lamps here,” James grinned and stood where he was to gaze up. The three of them stood there, each staring out into the universe, drinking it all in.
Sean's voice broke the spell. “We should go back,” he said, worry touching his voice.
“What? Why?” Tony was transfixed. “This is a good place.”
“There is another good place I want to show you,” Sean insisted, and reached for Tony's hand. He reluctantly took it and stood, gathering the blanket around him. Mike rolled over and struggled to figure out his own feet for a moment before righting himself.
“Okay, fine, where?”
“Follow me,” was all he said, and he walked ahead, a little faster than the rest of them wanted to go.
“How can you move so fast? You had twice what we did!” James said loudly.
That learned him a stern look and a sharp, “Shhh!” from Sean.
“What?” James asked, not lowering his voice, “There's nobody here to call the cops on us.”
“SHH!” Sean insisted and held an arm out to signal for them to all stop and wait. He peered around the corner for a long moment, and when he was satisfied, he waved them forward.
They walked a meandering path, Sean demanding silence, and hurrying them along faster than they were comfortable going, the world spinning before them as it was. When they finally reached Sean's bright yellow building once more, they climbed the outside stairs of the converted house and clambered into the third floor unit at last. By comparison it was warm and cozy, and the adventurers were happy to be back within the safety of its walls.
Sean locked the door behind him once more, and said, “If anybody wants to go back outside, we go this way,” he pointed the way to a window that looked out over a short rooftop. “We can get the big pillows out of the bedroom and watch the sky from there, smoke, or whatever. But no more wandering,” Sean sat and shook his head between his hands, trying to remove the memory of what he had seen.
“Dude, what is it?” Tony looked over at him, but his friend wouldn't give a real answer.
“Nothing, probably wasn't even real anyway. Shadows,” he muttered, unconvincingly.
“Okay... if you want to talk about it, that's cool. I'm sure you're right. Just shadows,” he said as his gaze fell on the hardwood floors and softened there.
It wasn't long, though, before Mike stood at the window, looking out, and could only say, “Uhhhhhhh...”
James was the first to reach him. “Oh, god,” he shuddered but didn't look away.
Sean crept over to the window and looked down on the street below, and whispered, “You can see them?” The other two just nodded silently. “I thought... I hoped I'd imagined them. Was watching that show, Living Dead, before you guys came over... Thought it wasn't the best idea for a minute or two, but...” he trailed off.
Tony was still staring happily at the floor, giggling at something or other unseen, and absently asked, “What you guys talking about?”
“Nothing,” Mike said all too quickly, knowing if their shared imagination was more than that, they'd know soon enough. And he knew Tony would never forgive him for dragging him into all of it. Thankfully, Tony was too preoccupied to really hear what was said, and he stayed where he was.
Sean stepped lightly across the wood panels and flicked off the only light they had left on, then returned to the window to watch the strange movement of the people that had come out into the moonlight.
They moved through the street, looking around cautiously as they went. No, not cautiously, hungrily. They slinked slowly and noiselessly in the darkness, hunting. Hunting? In the streets? Nobody moved like that, and there was a group of them, all together.
Maybe they were some odd Zombie Enthusiast group, out late at night, creeping in the shadows to startle some pair of lovers walking under the stars. No, they didn't have the zombie look. This was something different. “They look like they're... hunting,” James offered, but it was more of a question than a statement.
“That's how my cat looks when she's outside at night,” Mike narrowed his eyes and looked harder. “Stalking a mouse or a bird or something. That's what it is. Not hunting. Stalking.”
Tony looked up at that, “Stalking? You see some creep out there? My sister had a stalker once. Ruined her life. We could go scare him, maybe,” he offered.
“No, not a creep. Just a cat, it's okay,” Mike smiled over at him, hoping that was satisfying. When Mike looked back outside, the group of them had gone. Just vanished into the night, no sound or sign of them. “What the hell, where did they go?” he whispered to the other two window watchers.
“I... I don't know, did you see?!” James hissed at Sean, who just stood there staring, horror all over his face.
“They... They took him,” he gulped, face draining of blood. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them wide again, pupils nearly eclipsing the blue of his eyes. “A man was walking out to his car, and they just... they took him. Didn't you hear him scream?”
“I didn't hear anything...” Mike leaned in closer. “Are you sure-”
“I saw what I saw!” Sean snapped at his friend. He spun on his heel and retreated to the cave he called a bedroom, and hid there the rest of the night.
Each of the others found themselves a quiet place to curl up for the morning, once the sun began to rise and they felt more like themselves again. Tony crashed out and snored loudly, so Mike and James ended up laying there, staring at walls, backs facing one another beneath their single shared blanket. It seemed safer that way.
“Do you think he really saw... what he says he saw?” Mike managed, voice catching.
“I know he thinks he really saw it... but he took so much, and all we saw were people out in the dark. It could have been anything. Kids playing a prank on their friend. But he thinks he saw it, and that's what matters, really,” James answered.
“I think we need to accept that he thinks he saw it, and not talk about it otherwise. I'm sure it was nothing, but I think he needs that much from us. That was some scary shit, man. Creepy ass people out in the dark? Who knows, man. It might have been what he said.”
“God, I hope not,” Mike sighed and pulled the blanket higher up on his shoulder.
Maybe if they slept, everything would fix itself, and the world would make sense again. Maybe when they woke up, it would all turn out to be a dream. That's what Mike told himself, but even he didn't really believe it.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Sneak Peek! Gondii, my zombie novel
Prologue, just for fun. I'm in editing on this novel and hope to have it up and ready to go within the year. It's well on its way. Content warning: there is drug use and some language in this section.