A Story by Richard Leon (Copyright 2016 reprinted here for personal use!)
After a wild night at a local bar in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Robert wakes up for work to remember his friend Jason and all those drinks he devoured.
Today is an important day as a powerful couple from Innsmouth, Massachusetts would be coming in to buy some property. Robert knew this would be the sale of a lifetime.
Yet reality is not cooperating.
Memories of Cynthia, a doctor he once knew, swims across his mind; along with potent, reality breaking, visions of hell.
Follow Robert on a trip “The Morning After”.
I wish it would hang the fuck up.
Out of bed now, stumbling into the bathroom down the hall, my hand flips on the fluorescent light. Time to brush the fangs. Fingers part the small, mirrored doors to the cabinet, grabbing a white plastic package. That is definitely not floss; it’s my ex-girlfriend’s birth control. I groan and throw the package back in the cupboard. Lucid and displaced, the night before rushes into my mind—drinks, lights—distant flashes of strangers grazing up against my memory. Did I punch someone? My hand hurts. I begin the ritual of oral cleansing using a battery powered robotic instrument designed to destroy the plaque invaders, and then a distinct face finds me. Yes, I remember now. Stunning perfection in an oval setting, with high cheekbones…red dress…I should have—
Damn toothpaste! All over my jacket! God, morning grooming is such an arcane dance, anyway. Who am I impressing? Those walking banks of cash? So they may piss loving streams of money into my boss’s account? Meanwhile I get the yellow overflow.
Scrubbing off the toothpaste, I look into the mirror, remembering that face. I think I’d seen her before, in a white smock, maybe hospital garb. Intelligent, beauty like a Latin-soap opera star. A shy, inviting smile. Yes! That smile! She appears in total focus now. Cynthia. I know her.
Oh, right. It all comes back, hitting like a hangover.
Dr. Cynthia Garcia-Lopez. She treated my ex- girlfriend for endometriosis.
Out of my league? Possibly. But hell, worth a shot…
“Confidence can take you far son,” Dad would say, “but it will not land you on the moon.” Right now I feel like a dead space monkey coming back to earth. After all those drinks last night it was a wonder I was even awake…or sober…I know I did about 10 shots of Jager and a twelve-pack of Shiner all by myself. Well, my friend Jason bought the first round at the bar, a local Irish pub named Shamrocks. Jason has such a shit-eating grin, especially when something is up. He had a huge one when he bought the first round. I swore I saw bird feathers poking out of his mouth. Then we moved to somewhere and…it was a great concert, live band, beer flowing down so smooth. I saw her, man she had such great curves, it made my eyes pop out. Jason told me “Don’t drool on the floor man.” I had to stop staring, get some nerve up and talk to her. So I did…
Man, I need to quit thinking and drive to work.
I got the call in last week from the owner, a power couple from a small town, Innsmouth, Massachusetts. Lucy Frankincense and Ferdinand Myrrh were coming into town, with their old money passed down from wealthy families in the area. This could be my lucky break, an extra splash of piss overflowing into my coffers. About fucking time.
In the truck, I can smell everything—the weed we smoked, perfume from my ex blending in with armor-all and a cherry flavor that I really hate. Time to put some Armani cologne on…fuck those smells. Usually I cannot smell much but things seem to be in detail. Like the fact I still have yet to turn on the ignition.
Down the road from the high mountain, cruising around 50 through the twists and turns, a few people are on the road like me, going to work, usually for the big bases White Sands or Ft. Bliss. Wow, this old truck is driving so smooth. It’s like running your hand on wet glass. Now the road is turning in on itself, hmm…seems like the road is going down at a bad angle… well, there are some road constructions signs up…. Let me kick this thing down a gear and get out of this. Shit!… this is not how I remember the road…now I am up on a small, one-car lane road driving in the air…like a hot wheels car and things are just so… damn smooth. Oh, I can see it so clearly now…giant bats flying by, with little green men piloting them, leather helmets and goggles, too. They are waving…I need to wave. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back on the road, Rob!
Coffee. Must get some damn coffee. Starbucks is on the way. I should stop there, yea.
Slamming on my breaks, I slow from about 60 to 25 at once. Fucking traffic. I should have hit a 7/11, but it’s not the same as that fresh, sweet, bitter reward at the end of such an exhausting morning work effort. Like I said, it’s all a dance, and the java keeps me moving. My Power-Up potion. Yup, I signed my soul away to that heavenly brew, enriched with mystical cow fluids and strange sugary powders that enhance my reaction times and increase my vibrations within my work domain. Just thinking about it in gaming terms, traffic into morning places are just like those pesky guards in video games when you are trying to get into the temple for the goodies. Just swerve around, honk like you are blasting them to bits, signal for the good guys and pretty much cut in front of any bastard getting in your way. Fuck them! The gold is mine!
I perform the ritual of turning off the beast, shift to park, ignition off, keys in hand and good mag to read It’s an old sci-fi magazine from the 70’s I picked up from my friend Cecil; over the past 50 years he’s collected thousands of books, magazines, comic books and other readable paraphernalia to include pamphlets, business cards and even small fliers. Only half of his house is organized into bookshelves, the other half is still in boxes six years later after the divorce. With so many hidden treasures to read, I go there often, to sip a brew and bum a book.
Finally. My goal is within sight, the doorway into heaven approaches, my Power-Up awaits!
Damn dog needs to quit yapping. I turn around and see an old lady with her Yorkshire terrier stuffed inside a handbag making her way in, quick on my heels. I do the gentlemanly thing, respecting my elders and cursing under my breath all at the same time. I hold the door open, the smooth glass door parting for me.
Into a starry abyss.
As I hold the door open, I stare in dumbfound belief at the galaxies beyond, stars winking in and out of their fixed patterns. My mind forms more patterns from the shimmering expanse: a crab, two lovers, an archer, all connected by twinkling dots. Something glowing purple lies near the bottom close to welcome mat into Starbucks. The old woman walks in nonchalantly, without any emotion or loss of stride, the dog goes off yapping crazily and then whimpers. Both of them fall down, and I stare at their decent, hairs standing up on my neck. “Every time you open a door the possibilities are endless, bro.”
I could feel his smile behind me, like a heat lamp. Jason.
I whirl around “What the fuck is going on, man?”
“Shut the door bro and open it again.”
I do just that, with a speed fueled by fear. Inside lays my goal just like before. The baristas are making brew in their nice green aprons, a long line of over a dozen customers await to make orders; even more sit around their tables, with tablets, phones and the occasional laptop powered on, also waiting for their Power-Up for the day. Energy crackles in the air, smells from exotic South American and African locations reach me, giving me promises of much needed energy. The taste is almost there. I ignore what happened earlier as something from a dream and walk right in. There she is, right in the corner reading her tablet. A yellow nimbus surrounds her and she looks right at me. Cynthia’s smile washes over me like fresh, cold water. Her warm eyes hold mine. Fuck it, I am walking over there and claiming a seat next to her.
“Hey, how are ya?” I say.
“Doing well, Rob, doing well. Are you OK? You look pretty pale…”
I pause for a second. Am I okay? My memory goes back to the night before when I had just arrived to Shamrocks and saw her instantly, at the bar, laughing with a girlfriend. Angels laughing at god’s jokes would sound like her. We locked eyes. For a moment I felt something stirring within me. Opportunities opened up, things yet to be explored loomed before my inner field of vision. It was just her and me. I needed to get closer this time. It was different from the last time we met. She was treating my ex and I was just the loyal boyfriend waiting in the doctor’s office, anchored to this relationship. Now it would be different. Then Jason came up to me right from the other side of the bar. “Hey, Bro! What took you so long? Here have a drink on me.” He blocked my vision, interrupting the entanglement that was taking place between Cynthia and me. I went over to Jason’s table and forgot about the incident at the bar for the rest of the night. It was as if the encounter didn’t happen. That sly little shit, always cock-blocking.
“I will be fine after this coffee, listen, do you mind if I sit here?”
“Not at all.” She looked at me and the same feeling from last night hit again, this time with a double punch to the third eye. My heart fluttered for a second and a leaping lizard just tried to crawl out of my belly. A warm shiver ran down my spine, like a new sock put on for the first time. Here she was, a doctor sitting at Starbucks in a white lab coat, name tag, aqua green hospital scrubs, white reeboks with pink and white socks, French manicured nails tap on a Kindle Fire HD smiling at me with a perfect set of teeth, parting succulent lips. Warm brown eyes engaged me, holding me close. I needed to get closer to her. I place my magazine on the table near her. I was not about to sit across from her. Something told me that was right.
Back into the line, right with the other gamers waiting for their Power-Up. I should’ve got a waitress to order for me so I can bask in Cynthia’s radiance, but there are none. Ears popping now, with a weird ringing in my head, a smell, like a rotten fart moves towards me, engulfing my senses as I walk. I tighten my stomach, pulling back my gag reflexes. And then he shows up again, this time with a serious look on his face. I could still see a small feather poking out of the corner of his mouth. Lights in the room darken; a small fog clutches my final footsteps into the line right behind Jason.
“What are you doing up so early man? You don’t have a job. Fuck, you cannot even afford to replace those old glasses you keep taping up. How the hell did you afford that round of shots and beers last night? And what was that bullshit at the door?”
“Don’t worry bro, things are working out for me. You’ll see soon.” He smiled again. Heat washed over me, but this time the heat was coming from everywhere. I could see the fog thicken on the floor, rising up.
My sight wavers, shimmering like a vision in the desert. Things go back to the Starbucks universe. Jason is gone, and I am next in line to order.
“What would you like today, sir? Care for our new strawberry, demon quiche?”
“What did you say?”
“Would you like a taste of hell?”
“Eh, not really, I just want my usual Venti Café Mocha with Real Milk, and caramel topping.”
“Coming right up, sir. That will be $4.95.”
“So I get a nickel back?”
“What a coincidence, I bet you play Nickel-back in your song list. Even in hell they give change and play crappy bands?”
“Thanks for the taste but it smells just like Jason does now.” A wave of power comes over me. “The coffee better be on point or I will make sure Satan has your genitalia on a roast pit.”
That did not make sense at all. I have to be dreaming still. Possibly tripping, but if I was, I should have some other side effects right? I would never say this stuff in public. Hidden thoughts, what I think are not for public consumption. I need to do what my mentor Patrick taught me. Meditation, combined with a simple incantation, thought process and deep yoga breathing. It is almost ritualistic except there are no corny robes, flashy daggers or mumbo jumbo. The real deal enables you to control your own reality, shaking off all bad external influences. Reality is blurring and I am losing it. Jason did something to me, either in the drinks spiked with drugs, or possibly worse. I can feel these hallucinations coming from him. There are worse possible explanations involving sorcery and dimensional summoning from fragmented realities. Either way it stinks of his work. That’s it, Jason is a fucking asshole.
In my imagination I summon a blue, glowing, glass panel tetrahedron in masculine form to surround my body. Energy pulses across the object, beating to my heart rate. I sit down in my head, cross-legged. Slowly I take several deep breaths, exhaling forcefully. My breathing turns shallow after the seventeenth breath and I chant:
Calmness descends upon me,
I breathe in the wealth of the world, everything good and important to me.
Chaos has no place in me,
I breathe out the poverty of the world, everything terrible and trivial to me.
I am whole in spirit.
A clean breeze washes over me, removing the leftover disturbing images from earlier. The taint of Jason’s meddling leaves my mind and body. The coffee shop comes into clarity.
“Well, that worked.”
“What worked, sir?” The female barista looks at me with her frumpy face full of pain and sorrow. Envy shines in her eyes as she sees the calmness in me.
“Oh nothing, I had to get my bearings again.”
“Very good, sir. Here is your coffee and six cents back.”
“YES.” I go back to sit down with Cynthia, smiling the whole way with my eyes and heart, shining. Then my wrist watch starts to beep at me. 9 am. Crap.
I go to the table and tell her “Sorry, Cynthia, running late. Would you mind if I call later?”
My anxiety doesn’t affect her. “Sure,” she says, calmly. “My shift starts in two hours and I go on break at three. Call me then.” She grabs the napkin from the bottom of her cup. With an elegant pen in hand she writes out her number on the scratch paper in bold lettering. Then she folds the napkin in half and kisses the fold with her mouth. I take the newly created scroll with care, folding it several times before stuffing it in my pocket. It smells like her. I think she was preparing for this moment. Nice, man, and I had nothing…I could have brought her a Danish or something, but, no, I was being harassed by a douche.
I glance back one more time to see her; my breath catches a bit as she sits poised in her chair, mouth pursed to take a sip, eyes lowered at the electrical device containing her interest. I do remember she reads a lot of romance novels; fantasy ones with elves having sex with humans. I can be an elf. I just need some pointy ears and a little bit of magic….
I open the door slowly, hesitating, in case Jason has a trap. Nothing.
Sunlight warms the air. An occasional breeze floats down from the mountains giving crispness. I move towards the beast with my Power-Up, other hand reaching for sunglasses that are smashed in my pants pocket. This is much better now that the light is filtered out. Everything feels right. No more crazy shit going on, no deep holes into outer space, no more quick visits to hell. I got her number, unlocking the achievement, ‘You Got Her Digits.’ Nothing can go wrong.
On the road I put on some music as I drive to the office. I work right across the street from Big’uns which is mighty convenient. The place has a few babes but the service sucks. Who waits for 45 minutes on an order of ten wings and a cold beer? Better luck at Shamrocks.
The radio buzzes in: “Hey bro, I see you got her number. Good for you, you always get her number.”
“Jason? How did you get into my radio?”
“Don’t worry bro, I just wanted to let you know, it will all be over soon.”
“Yea? What do you mean?”
“I am going to break your reality, Rob. Smash it into itty-bitty pieces. Nothing will be left of you or your sanity.”
I turn the knob trying to find anything on, nothing. I pop in my Zune player that is over five years old. Still nothing.
When I see Jason again I am going to break that smile on his face with my fists.
I pull up to the shop, a local real estate office, rented out and fixed up with landscaping, proper well-lit sign and beige bricks. The place looks as bland as a cup of black, generic coffee. No character at all. But then again if you look closely you can see the fresh dog shit in the nearby groomed holly bushes and the many cracks in the sidewalk due to the growth of weeds which were killed just two days ago. Some parking places have faded lines so people park in all kinds of crazy positions, some taking up to three parking spaces. I work for a typical mom and pop operation, barely making the bills, especially in this economy. But I love it here.
People who come to Las Cruces either A. work for Uncle Sam, B. worked for Uncle Sam or C. crazy with a side of lunatic. I met a man from Canada who owns two thousand acres out in Nova Scotia. He wanted a place on the side of the Organ Mountains near the base. I told him I can get him near but there are parks at the base. He said “Fine, but I better be able to get very close to the Organ Mountains. My birds need the mountain air and the cliffs to dwell in.” Turns out the man breeds vultures and other large carrion birds. Locals who are too poor to eat at the grocery store complain about the “lack of roadkill” now. Today I get to meet a couple also interested in land up near the base, Lucy Frankincense and Ferdinand Myrrh. I had to read the names twice to make sure I was not getting played. Besides being filthy rich they might be religious nuts; I don’t know. I do know they have money in the bank and their credit score is around 800 which is fantastic. It seems almost too good. There was a catch I bet.
The parking lot had several cars, the receptionist’s Honda Accord, one of the owner’s, Cadillac from the 80’s pink and gaudy and a very odd car, no it was more than a car, six wheels with a low body style like a Lamborghini but less angled and more curvy. The front of the car looked like the face of an old totem pole, wide with an evil grin. I think it just winked at me. Shaking my head I walk into the office, hearing the jingle of bells on the door.
Smells of iron, sulfur and shit mixed in the air with piss and fear. I need to get out of here, but I have to see what is going on. Blood splatted in small Jackson Pollok style strokes decorate the tile floor. The reception desk was empty and all of the adjoining rooms to the main reception area were open. The sound of a copier whirring away with a large amount of fliers was the only motion, except for me. Moving closer to the reception desk, I see handprints in blood on top of the desk. There she was, poor woman who smiled every day when I came in, crumpled into a ball with blood in front and behind her. I moved her body and stare at a hole right in the left side of her chest and another in her eye socket. I could see right through her. My lips tightened. Who would hurt this poor woman?
A single set of footprints ringed down the hall, coming from owner’s office.
“Hey bro, want to have a chat?”
“Not really, I would rather smash your face in with my fists.”
“Not this time, bro. Time for you to check out.”
From one of the meeting rooms, Lucy and Ferdinand walked out. Slick and angular they came forward with a smooth gait, as if they floated towards me. Dressed in all black, they seemed like the power couple I imagined with pale white skin and dark hair. A rich, arrogant gothic look draped over them complete with ornate jewelry and even fancier clothes. Armani suits and Versace dresses are not cheap. Sulfur rammed up my nose with a blend of exotic spices, Middle Eastern in flavor. I never smelled frankincense or myrrh, so it was very odd to my nose. Jason was on the other side of me. All three stared at me. I stood up but could not move. Trapped, I could twist my body but my feet were firmly planted.
“Alright, Jason, tell me once and for all what are you doing to me?”
“It’s simple, Rob. You will not exist in this universe anymore. For that to happen I had to acquire some last minute souls in exchange for your existence on this plane, so those two piggies will work.” Jason held up two bloody hands with small vials filled with some type of shiny, glowing, silvery-blue liquid. “Originally you were supposed to become lost at Cecil’s place but you found the Magazine…the only anchor you needed for this world. I altered reality with a spiked drink that should have led you to fall into the abyss but you had to be all gentleman-like and open the door. Finally I had enough and I brought hell to your door-step only to have you get out with some type of mystic mumbo-jumbo. And once again you are getting the girl and I am having none of it!”
“What do you mean I get the girl?”
“You and I have been rivals and friends in many existences, mostly rivals, friends when it was my turn to wait for a good opportunity. Finally I summoned two lords from the demon planes and I made a pact with them. I arranged this meeting as a final effort on my part. You will not exist here anymore, Robert Mendez. Goodbye.”
The main door opens up. Cynthia comes strolling in and stops three feet in the doorway, magazine in hand. Her face turns white and looks right at me. I stare back at her, helpless.
Lucy and Ferdinand hold hands and make strange gestures with their opposite hands. Red, shiny mist floats towards me, engulfing my body. Things start to fade slowly, Except for Cynthia. As I fade the last sound I hear is cursing from Jason, “It is not supposed to work like that, dammit! Why is she fading too? You lords of hell are supposed to take him! Not her!”
The gothic strangers reply in unison, “They have been fated to explore the universe together, and no power on heaven or earth can separate them.”
Everything is white now as the universe is no more. I still see her floating next to me with that shy smile. As I begin to move, not of my will but with a pull much greater, she also moves, closer to me. A yellow glow radiates from her, flooding my whole being with warmth. Our bodies shed all garments, revealing our true forms. Embracing one another, finally, it all becomes clear. Yes. Cynthia. I know her.