|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
With his late-night meditation session coming to an abrupt end, Sam jolts awake on top of the boulder overlooking the smoking fire pit at his campsite, called The Hillside Commons by the way, the pit still slightly aglow from the slowly whispering embers of a once roaring fire. His butt kind of hurts, and tiny little pebble fragments deroot themselves from his bare ankles as he stands up without using any hands. Tyler’s still fast asleep, doubtlessly exhausted from today’s Acidic highking trip, but Sam’s having some trouble getting there. It’s not the visual snow or the slight ringing in his ears that couldn’t stay on pitch to save its life, nor is it the feeling of his brain being so exhausted it can’t stop arbitrarily firing neurons for the hell of it. Those things all contribute to tonight’s insomnia, sure, but what’s really keeping Sam awake is the WHOOP he heard in the distance shortly after Tyler hit the hay.
There’s an old story about the woods of Quarryville, and the details always shift around regardless of who you ask. The only part that stays true is this: where there is now the Skunksville Reservoir, there was once the village of Skunksville.
As one man’s version of the story goes, before the unsuspecting residents of Skunksville had their land forcibly bought out from under them to be flooded by the US Government in the 1980s, there was this little circus attraction of sorts that loved to set up shop in the sleepy valley. In the final days before the flood, in an attempt to squeeze the last specks of evaporated milk from the shriveled udder of Treering’s favorite heifer, the circus’s owner Mister Bahrleigh purchased a very expensive bipedal ape creature, named Tiny Tim of all things, from some rich dude who was somehow able to procure said ape creature back then. On the night before the flood, Tiny Tim is said to have escaped the circus, and according to the legend, still resides in the forests bordering the reservoirs to this very day.
The creature, which Sam always thought was Treering’s made up version of a bigfoot, is said to communicate with its kind by whooping, and if you were ever hiking around in Treering’s forests after dark and you heard a whoop, it meant you were being hunted by a tribe of bigfoots (bigfeet?). But, if only one specimen of this invasive species was introduced into the local environment, and said specimen was male, as beings named Tim often are, how would it reproduce? How would there be more than one bigfoot if there was no lady bigfoot for Tiny Tim to practice his multiplication with?
This plot hole hatched the frankly asinine bar top rumor of the forest bride; the bigfoot, feeling the urge to pay forward its genes and promote the survival of its species, would spend its time lurking around the shallower parts of Treering’s forests, constantly on the lookout for any female human it felt was capable of bearing the load, so to speak; this woman was usually abnormally tall, rotund, and very hairy, which is a coincidentally accurate description of the wife of the man who was telling the story the one night Sam snuck in to the local watering hole. Humans are monkeys, just like bigfi are, so it totally makes sense, right?
It certainly did to Mister Daniels anyway, so he kept on telling the story. Until, that is, Sam interrupted him to bring up the fact that the entire premise of the forest bride was idiotic and it would never work because if bigfoot, or, sorry, if Tiny Tim was real, and it came from a tropical island off somewhere in the Specific Ocean, then its genetic makeup would be waayyy too far off-center to splice with that of a human’s, and the baby would come out a wet lump of snot-looking stuff. If it came out at all.
Neither Mister Daniels, the crowd around him, nor the bartender took kindly to Sam’s thrashing of one of the town staple’s favorite drunken rants, so the suddenly underaged boy was immediately thrown out of the establishment, along with quite a few empty beer bottles, the sandy remnants from which are still scattered in the parking lot to this day. That night, Sam walked home through the woods, being too young to drive legally, and was very unsurprised when he wasn’t hunted down and eaten by any bigfoots, or their forest brides, or their trademarked whoops. From that night on, he made it a point to go night hiking at least once a week, just to see if he would ever run into the fabled Tiny Tim, but in the years since he’s started this tradition, he never has. He’s heard the yelping of coyotes, sure, but never a bona fide whoop. Never even heard so much as a wip.
Until, that is, hardly an hour before the transition from the night of April 21st, 2020 to the morning of April 22nd, 2020, after he had spent his day cortex-deep in an LSD trip, the same trip in which he encountered a band of insect-like alien creatures in the woods that his tripping buddy Tyler has no memory of seeing.
Yes, it’s undoubtedly a fear that’s keeping Sam awake on this most average of nights. Not the fear of being eaten, not the fear of being mistaken for a skinny female bigfoot because of the long, unkept hair sprouting from his head, arms, and legs, but the fear of plummeting into insanity.
Years ago when Sam was still young and trapped in high school, his Principal would hold an annual assembly detailing the risks of taking drugs; he especially warned of the dangers that lie in wait for users of hal-yew-cinnogins, also known as Psychedelics, with a capital P because Sam likes them so much. Sam was warned that ingesting this Universe’s version of his favorite author’s Moksha Medicines could cause schizophrenia time and time again, but he never listened. The disease is considered the worst-case scenario as far as the mental health industry’s professionals are concerned while, at the same time, being considered the best-case scenario as far as the pharmaceutical industry’s professionals are concerned. His entire family is pretty crazy at baseline, and it’s not like he’s never felt any of the symptoms; unshakeable paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations, coming off as an asshole to everybody around him and being treated as such, insomnia… hell, he’s felt all of these symptoms in the past twelve hours! Could it be that his sporadic drug use over the past few years of his life has irreversibly changed how his brain works… forever?
Sam begins to cry, unsure if the tears spilling from his eyelids are real or not. Then, self-aware over the fact he’s standing alone, in the dark, in the middle of the woods, crying by-and-to himself whilst his unparanoid friend sleeps soundly in a tent, he crouches down in the fetal position and continues to cry, sobbing all over his favorite tie-dye shirt and dribbling snot all over his exposed knees that are stretching the frayed holes of his favorite pair of jeans just a little bit wider. He can hear the words of old Mister P in his head now, almost as clearly as they sounded back in his straightedge days at Hoffman High: ‘Your neurons will catch on fire and burn out if you try them even once, the resulting sizzling causing you to see and hear things that aren’t actually there!’ Well he definitely hears the WHOOPs, ‘Oh fuck, there it was again,’ and he definitely thinks they’re real. He also thinks those eyes looking directly at him from up the trail are real. Those glowing, yellow eyes, hovering about eight feet off the ground… wait… what?????’
Sam takes off sprinting down the side of the hill away from The Hillside Commons, light on his feet and gaining speed as heavy, unlabored footsteps begin to follow him. Meanwhile Tyler, sitting on the throne of a kingdom in his dreams, is explaining to a machine elf why his buddy Cassio was allowed to fly so close to the sun.
Sam hits a quad trail that was once used to transport logs via horse-drawn carriage and skids, drifting so hard his bare callused feet begin to bleed – he feels every second of it, too. It’s not like when he wears those five-fingered toe shoes that runners love to hate; he likes to say that running in those feels like running barefoot, but the truth is, even with the minimalistic design, there’s still a hearty layer of rubber sole and cotton toe-sock between the flesh of his feet and the unforgiving crust of the planet, the same rubber sole that isn’t here to protect Sam’s exposed feet from the jagged rocks, splintering twigs, and rusty horseshoe nails that jut out from the dirt that makes up the unforgiving crust our soon to be mental patient prays doesn’t give him lockjaw as he beats feet away from his pursuer. The very pursuer that, as Sam reminds himself over and over as his feet grow rawer and rawer, might not even be there.
Whether or not Tiny Tim is actually chasing him down right now, Sam knows beyond any reasonable doubt that the dismay in the pit of his stomach is real. He legitimately feels like he’s going to be captured, maimed, and likely roasted over the campfire at his campsite until Tyler wakes up and meets the same fate, and maybe that’s all that matters. Maybe the splashing of bipedal ape feet through the muddy stream that Sam just leapt over isn’t real, but the dread that’s inching up his chest in the shape of a beefy, callused hand just dying to rip the heart from his chest is real. There are two ways to face fear at the end of the day, and they’re both conveniently hardwired into the human brain: one can fight it, or one can take flight. And, facing the fact that there’s a very tiny (Tim) chance this towering ape creature actually is real and attempting to fight it would be the textbook definition of a fool’s gamble, Sam has one option: take flight.
He bites his bottom lip to distract himself from the foot pain and focuses, putting into action all the bodily control techniques he’s learned through his self-guided meditation practice. ‘See only with the third eye,’ Sam says in his mind, ‘let it all fade, see only with the third eye.’
These symbols, meaningless in ninety-nine percent of the other times Sam’s repeated them to himself, activates something inside him tonight; he feels a pressure, like someone was poking him in the forehead, and he senses what feels like a torrent of fluids rushing up his spinal column. The forest brightens just enough for him to see the log that’s fallen across the trail ahead of him before he trips on it – he hurdles the bastard, landing on his feet that suddenly don’t hurt anymore.
Sam picks up speed and the hot breath he felt on the back of his neck a moment ago backs off. The stomping doesn’t slow down, but it quiets, the distance between the two monkeys growing until Tiny Tim can hardly see the human who he’s just trying to have a simple conversation with.
Tim WHOOPs in succession three times, hoping to convey to the human boy that he’s an intelligent being and not a bloodthirsty cretin as he tears down the trail in hot pursuit. Tim leaps across a stream, not wanting to get more mud caked in his already matted leg fur, and mounts a hill just to be taken by gravity as he carries himself deeper into the forest. Eventually the old logging road delivers Tim to a graveyard, the relocated (as detailed by the nearby sign that he reads) graveyard of the family that founded the town which held that blasted circus attraction that stranded him here in the first place. Maybe stranded isn’t the right term – it’s not like this is a terrible exchange for the island home he can never return to on account of the indigenous fruit having trouble growing from charcoal – but the isolation is beginning to wear on him. One can only talk to coyotes so much before one feels that dire itch of mange.
Tiny Tim searches around the wall lining the graveyard and finds no signs of humanity. The trail ends here, where could humey possibly have gone? Gah – questioning himself has never gotten Tim anywhere, why should he start now?
Always a bit sketched out by graveyards, Tim-nah’tee does one more sweep of the perimeter before giving up and finding a suitable stick to carve a circle into the exposed dirt around him. He then sits down in that circle in the lotus position and starts throwing hand signs, ending with a loud clap that causes his entire hulking figure to be swallowed by a radiant orb of white light. The orb then floats off the ground and shoots into the sky over Bored Mountain, taking a sharp turn and flying over the forest until it lands on that strange mountain that Tim can only sometimes find when he’s exploring around back here.
Back at the campsite, as he’s engulfed by the foul-smelling smoke that billows from the fire pit as he pisses on the embers that he figured Sam would have extinguished before he packed it in for the night, Tyler sees an orb flying through the sky and lets his dick dangle, rubbing his eyes and immediately regretting the decision when he feels a light drizzle on his feet.
The same orb that Dakota, sleeping alone in his bedroom as he does the entirety of his nights, confuses for a robot, giving him an excuse to late-night-text Isabelle.
The same orb that Isabelle sees from her bedroom window moments after ignoring yet another weirdly provocative text from Dakota, causing her to debate late-night-texting Jack. She wimps out and texts Tyler instead, asking if he convinced Sam to teach her some of his magic tricks yet.
Tyler doesn’t answer this text, just like Sam doesn’t answer Tyler’s Goodnight, asshole grumble as he crawls back into his tent. Sam would have clapped back with an equally grumbly Goodnight, holeass if he was half-sleeping in his tent, but he’s on the other side of the woods right now, peeking out from behind the metal tower marking the grave site of the late Mary Skunks who passed away at the young age of eighteen years, ten months, and eleven days back in the early 1900s.
Now, more than a century later, this little lady’s burial ground was used as a hiding place for a boy who isn’t even sure that he just witnessed an otherworldly orb rise into the sky, and she’s none too thrilled about it, either. Her family built their town from the ground up on one principle – certainty. Nobody else had the vision of her dad, saw the potential he saw, but nobody else needed to, a sentiment that Sam feels as it emanates from the dirt that fills the gashes in his feet as he walks over the decomposed casket that holds Mary’s bones on his way out of the graveyard.
On his walk back, this newfound yearning for certainty in his life inspires Sam – while he doesn’t know why his family is so broken, he decides right then and there that one thing is for certain: he doesn’t want it to be broken anymore. And what’s the one thing that his family feels separates them? His drug use, specifically the Cannabis. Don’t get him wrong, if Sam’s family knew about the LSD they wouldn’t exactly throw him a party, but he’s managed to keep those papers out of his mom’s filing cabinet that she uses as a bottle stash this long. Our lost wanderer takes out his cell phone and, after setting up an alarm to go off a half hour before the ass crack of dawn, he brings up Jack’s contact page. Sam formulates a text that he knows will get his brother’s attention, regardless of the fact that he’s sleeping up at Dakota’s house tonight.
A Minute Before Midnight
One period of time equal to the delay between the sender sending and the receiver receiving a text message, Jack walks out of the bathroom in Chuck’s skunky bedroom with his hands clenching his stomach. He feels his pocket buzzing and takes out his cell phone, the nausea kicking right back up when he reads Sam’s name on the screen. By the time the phone bounces against the carpet, Jack is heaving into the toilet once more, wishing his body would just finish cleaning itself of that nasty CBD shit that he didn’t mean to drink earlier so this dreadful rebound anxiety can stop.
Out in the office, Fleurna is keeping a very close eye on Chuck, still peacefully sat in his lotus position, showing no signs of having a bad trip. Ace and Sigmund enter through the office doors, the former walking and the latter waddling because their jaunt around the roof exhausted him so much. They’re engrossed in a very loud conversation, which at least one of the pair obviously wants the entire room to hear, about Ace’s lack of any fucking idea regarding a transmitter…
“…or whatever you called it. That’s not why we came here. If you looked up to and respected my species as much as you claim to, you would have listened earlier when I told Chuck that we came here specifically for him to trip on our space drugs.”
Sigmund’s proverbial tail is dunked between his legs and held there until it drowns. His plan of peer pressuring Ace to admit that they came here for Sigmund and not Chuck failed miserably.
“Well… whatever happened to it, then? Your satellite sent me coordinates, which I followed to the twentieth decimal point, may I add, and there was nothing there. I just don–”
“That’s not my problem, humey. If it weren’t for that hippie kid earlier, I swear to Energy I would be harboring a whole new disdain for your entire species. Ugh!” he ughs, slowly watching himself become the very thing he would hypothetically disdain. Catching himself before his frequency drops too far, Ace approaches Fleurna and sits on the opposite side of the circle to face her.
“How’s he doing?”
“Well, the building hasn’t collapsed, so that’s a good sign. When he commanded the Dee-eff-
Zee-Tee with such ease earlier I thought he would go in and out, twenty-minute trip. But it’s literally a minute before midnight now and he’s still wading through it.”
“Wonderful. Well, at least the planet isn’t finna rumble again. That shit was… I mean, what the hell? What could that have been?”
“I don’t know…” Fleurna wonders, sensing Jack’s gastro-intestinal distress. “At least Jack’s back to his old self. I liked the Moksha version, but I suppose true enlightenment has to be earned.”
“That it does, that it do. Hey, at least he’s in some form aware that he doesn’t have to be so neurotic all the time.”
“Yeah… hey, maybe it–