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Getting Off the Bus
An excerpt from the novel, Beyond the Will of God, a psychedelic mystery about altered states and the power of loud guitar music.
Cecil gets off the bus. Under the mid-afternoon summer sun he has a broad view of sloping fields full of emerald-green crops and a few small stands of trees. A veil of lavender haze softly covers everything in the distance. Two hours before, as the bus lumbered down Interstate 70 through High Hill, he had taken 1800 milligrams of EGG-68, a dose two times as strong as he usually took. He has turned himself into a homing device.
His vision has that vibrating feel to it, like his eyes are being massaged with electricity. His fovea is taken over by the new unrestricted flow of energy in his brain cells. In the distance, through the humidity, ribbons of watery light look like Technicolor shower curtains strung one after the other into 120-degrees of rippling physical distance, overlapping ever so slightly in rainbow flashes, glistening in a sun made for teenagers and movie directors – neon orange, fluorescent lime, metallic blue, purple, aquamarine, magenta and yellow.
It seems for just a moment that, through a copse of trees and wedged in between two hills several hundred yards away, he can make out the faint outline of a large white barn or warehouse. It seems, too, that he is looking at the torso of a vast beast covered with white scabs, sleeping in the shade of trees. This is the part of the drug that gives its allure, but it’s also the most meaningless aspect of the experience. It is eye candy and he knows it’s only necessary to wait it out. It will be gone soon enough. The beast turns back into a barn.
The rippling air is now screaming with neon navy blues, pollenous oranges, and white-yellows. As usual, part of him is instinctively frightened. But another part simply watches with practiced clinical interest. The psychedelic effect of the horizon scrapes up against his thoughts. Bright colors sweat out of the sky like currents of liquid electricity. Actually, this doesn’t seem to be a hallucination. It is just the way things look. It’s the wet Missouri heat that makes everything shimmer this way. He thinks about the paper he completed several months earlier: "Paranoia, Fear and Social Survival: An Examination of Psychedelic Isolation in the Twenty-first Century." The flight instinct is one of the most rudimentary aspects of consciousness – from insect to lizard to human.
He stands on a bone-white cement road. Long cracks with grass growing out of them like hairy fangs snake along the edges of the rural highway. Lumbering now into the distance, the bus is like a dying cow heading into the wavering panorama. He feels that bending over and licking the road might be a simple way to start the festivities, but he can't because his back is stiff from the bus ride and he is thirsty as shit. It’s also interesting to watch the road rise and fall, weaving across the near silent farmland like a flowing finger looking for a hole all the way off into the empty horizon where the groans of the bus have trailed, the road sliding its way through the vehicle’s ass and out its roaring mouth into the unknown and hopeful distance of all who remain onboard.
Between the road and the distant trees is a flat, balding field halfheartedly growing tufts of what he knows somehow to be sorghum. Across a fence nearly two thirds of the way into the field it looks like better-kept alfalfa. The field doesn't ripple like the distant horizon. There seems to be firm ground there.
He loves the way EGG turns the world into allegories. But no veils drop away from reality to reveal new truths, this he is sure of. The mind simply oozes into the open air, covering things with its energy, the world becoming a mold for the infinite possibilities looming up out of the dark, hidden life of emotion.
Wanting to get to firm ground where the undulating road and the scaly, electrified trees can at least be mediated in stereo, Cecil takes a step from the shoulder onto the concrete. Heat blasts off the pavement with thick-tongued hostility, stopping him dead in his tracks.
As if to say, "Where are you going, sonny boy?" the road and trees stop rippling for a moment and listen, wondering, perhaps, at the audacity of his movement. He fixes his feet together after two more difficult steps and roots himself to the road.
In the great, still distance a wooden door slams, and he understands once and for all that the white building is probably a house. But the stillness is becoming nauseating. He realizes his perception of time is faltering, and he wonders then whether the door had actually slammed or if he is hallucinating into the future. He shuffles his feet, and the rippling effect of the road and trees starts in again. His sense of time starts up, too, because a figure, a woman, radiates through the trees and into the open field. She is coming toward him.
The June temperature is as powerful as an emotion. The woman walks across the alfalfa field, her hair is either short or tied in a bun. Her form does not waver with the surroundings. She wears a red skirt and a white shirt. Although it’s hard to make her out in detail, still some 120-yards away, it seems that she is young, but she moves with the assurance of a woman who understands how she fits into the world. She is clearly walking toward him. He lights a cigarette and squints into the sun-whitened sky. Where is Fancher?
The woman slows for a few paces. She tries to make out who he is, then stops. Her body language says she is embarrassed, maybe a bit shy. Then she keeps moving in his direction but with less confidence. By the time she’s fifteen yards off, he can feel that she wants him to be someone else. Her face seems disappointed, but she composes herself as she draws closer.
She appears pretty, with large eyes, tanned skin, and thin brunette hair which he sees now is tied back in a ponytail. But there is also something slightly odd about her appearance. Her nose is long and her cheekbones are pushed up more into the front of her face like two peach pits under the skin. She is very tall, maybe taller than him, and extremely thin, almost gaunt. He can't help looking at her chest as she closes on him. Her breasts are small. The shirt is open to the base of her sternum, and the usual rise of smooth flesh does not exhibit itself.
"You aren't who I thought you’d be," she says. It’s as if they have met before, the way she begins talking.
He doesn't know what to say. She seems not to be bothered by his silence, putting her knuckles to her hips, walking down the middle of the dry, white road.
"What bus was that?" she asks over her shoulder. Her voice has a slight rural twang which is pleasing. The "what" sounded like "wuht." He guesses she’s in her early thirties. He fantasizes about going to bed with her.
"Kansas City and destinations West," he manages a bit shakily. The drug’s effect on social situations will always be a drawback.
She turns to face him. Or is it just to look in the other direction, the direction the bus lumbered some fifteen minutes ago? She is wearing dirty, red, low-cut Converse tennis shoes and short black socks. Her legs are unshaven.
In the sky he sees a black speck circling slowly through the air. With the heat, looking into such distance brings tears to his eyes.
"Is that a hawk?" he asks, feeling stupid as soon as the question comes out.
She doesn't turn to look. "Buzzard."
He nods, though she still isn’t looking at him. He considers saying, it's hot, or that he likes her shoes, anything, but he just keeps nodding. He wonders again where Fancher is.
"I'm waiting for the duck man," she says, finally, but more to the hot landscape than to him. He notices now that cicadas and crickets are screeching and chirping in a jerky chorus. Every once in a while a grasshopper on the embankment off the road spreads its dry wings and floats across the tops of the tall grass, the black and yellow wings cloaking it with superhero grace.
He feels the silence between them spreading out across time, and realizes that no response to her statement might be viewed as an act of hostility. The seconds expand through the air. He is about to lose the timing for any response whatsoever.
"Duck man?" he manages finally, gasping for room, feeling the security of social discourse swell gently in his stomach.
"Guy comes every Wednesday with a case of duck eggs and a box of six or eight new baby ones. I love the way they peep. We’re working on building up our duck business."
She looks at him and finishes with a smile – to herself mostly. He smiles back and takes a last hard pull on his cigarette, then stamps it out on the road.
"You got a spare?" she asks.
"Sure." He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out the Marlboros and a pack of matches.
"Darn. I thought they might be Lucky Strikes," she says, genuinely disappointed but taking one from the pack anyway.
"Sorry," he manages. He thinks to make a joke, that if he wants to get high he wouldn't smoke Lucky Strikes, a joint would be better. Lucky Strikes are strong and raw, like smoking iron filings. But the time spans out between them again. It’s too late to make the joke. She lights up then hands back the cigarettes and matches. He looks into the distance while the trees continue to waver like the Aurora Borealis.
"What do you do with ducks?" he asks while she smokes.
"Not much, really," she replies. "They take care of themselves, more or less. I mean, about a quarter of 'em die, but that's that. You water, feed, and hay 'em; you keep things warm in the winter, pick up their eggs, watch 'em grow and screw and make more ducks...." She gazes in the direction of the metallic click of a flying grasshopper.
"Is that your farm over there?" he asks, pointing.
"It is," she says with a hint of pride.
"I always wanted to live on a farm."
"Yeah?" she half asks, half guffaws. He hears the sarcasm
"Sorry," she says. "It’s just that I’ve heard that quite too many times from people coming out of cities - especially students from Columbia."
"I worked on a farm for several summers once...long time ago," he replies, trying to shake the power of the drug.
"Yeah?" she asks. He can’t tell if she is interested or not. The cigarette and the empty space make her responses suspect. She owes him, since he’s given her the smoke and they are alone together.
She coughs like a child and holds the cigarette between her thumb and forefinger.
"So, are you waiting for someone?" she asks, turning finally to look at him.
He realizes he’s beginning to lose it. The EGG is thumping into his forehead. His bowels move around below his stomach. He needs to take a shit. The only logical thing to do is to ask her if he can use her bathroom. It will sound funny, though. He doesn’t know what to do. She stares at him.
It starts to happen then. He just has to let it keep happening. He realizes he can read her thoughts if he just lets the language go. He concentrates on his breathing. It is a technique he has been using for years and he has nearly mastered it.
She continues to stare at him, then asks, "Uh, did I say something wrong?"
He slips out of it.
"No. I...." He pauses because he doesn’t know what she has said.
"Could you repeat the question?" She probably thinks he’s crazy.
"You waiting for someone?" she asks gently. He likes the warmth of her deep voice.
"Oh. Yeah. Um, guy named Fancher? Lucas Fancher?"
"Oh." She says it with finality. "What do you want with him?"
"I’m not sure, really. It’s a long story. I’m just supposed to meet him."
She doesn’t like the guy. He feels this.
"Well, no one’s really seen Fancher in months, maybe years. I was beginning to think he was dead. Or maybe moved on. Hoping, anyway. What do you want with him?" she asks.
"It’s a long story. I called him from St. Louis a while back and he said to get off here and he’d pick me up." Cecil isn’t about to tell her what really happened. He realizes then that he probably is crazy – seeing himself through her eyes.
"Well, if Fancher’s coming here, I gotta see this."
Cecil doesn’t know what to say. He truly has no idea who Fancher is. He just knows he’s supposed to meet him sometime, somewhere in the area.
"Hey, look," he says, in control of himself now. "I’ve got no idea who the guy is, I’m just supposed to meet him here."
"No need to apologize," she replies carefully. "I actually don’t want anything to do with him."
"I don‘t even know you," she says. "On second thought, I don’t want to see him. I gotta go." She steps off the hot road back onto the shoulder.
"Wait. Sorry. I don’t know him!" He realizes his concern is probably a bit too amplified.
"I heard you. You’re supposed to be meeting him, but you don’t even know who he is. So, how’d you ever get set up to meet him?"
"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you."
"Why is it that everything about Fancher is weird?" she asks.
"Well, who is he? What’s the problem?" Cecil knows he’s about to be hit with another EGG rush. He waits for her answer and looks around for a good hiding place to squat and take a crap. There is a fallen sycamore with large leaves still somewhat green on the other side of the road. Probably out of sight from her house. The leaves are big enough to use for wiping, though they look a bit dry.
"Fancher owns a lot of the land around here. He wants our property because it’s right in between two others of his. It’s understandable, I suppose. But he’s done some weird stuff over the years. And no one knows where he gets his money. We did some research about fifteen years ago when he was really putting the push on with us, and he owned over 12,000 acres around here. He’s just slowly been buying up other farms. It’s a typical farmer capitalist thing, you know? Even bought up a bunch of useless properties the government buried missiles in years ago. We figure he’s buying for some big company like Ag-On or American Earth or Colorado Growth Industries. But no one can tell for sure.
"What’s really weird is the things he does once he buys a property. He does his damnedest to isolate that land from everything else. He re-fences – usually with electric fences and barbed wire. He levels most of the outbuildings and houses, plants huge new sets of trees and shrubs to hide things. In a few cases he’s even succeeded in getting the county to divert roads off his properties. Couple of years ago they needed to put in a new stretch of Route A heading up to Higby near the Hungry Mother Recreation Area, and people say he actually paid to send a four-mile stretch in a bow, way west of the park, off his land and through some rifle range. I mean, it’s pretty clear he’s trying to hide something. He seems to farm it and all, but a lot of crop never even makes it to market, as far as we know. Seems like most of his work is performed at night. We’ve done some jobs for him ourselves, but no one I know can tell me what’s going on. Some say it’s dope, but we’d see that. We’d know. It’s all just really weird.
"My main problem with him, though, is that he won’t stop trying to buy our farm. He’s been at it for years. Goes back to the early 1970s, actually. That’s when he bought the Percie’s and Duff’s places, and when he made his first offer to my dad.
"Now things have gotten a lot worse. Our pond was kind of poisoned by a couple leaking barrels of insecticide the sheriff says was buried years ago up on the road. Runoff carried chemicals down into the water. The state did the cleanup, even gave us money to help with damages. Must have killed four or five hundred ducks, and we had to spend nearly four thousand dollars of our own money in the end to have the others tested and their egg production watched. Most people figured it started back in the fifties when there was a test station put in by the Army at one of their missile silos, but I don’t think so. It was Fancher.
"And it’s not like he’s been doing all of this on the phone or in letters or anything. He used to stop by a couple of times a week just to piss us off and to take advantage of Mother’s good neighborliness, and also, I think, her loneliness."
The woman stops here, flinching at the sound of a car in the distance. A series of odd images passes through Cecil’s head: a face he somehow knows to be Fancher’s; a naked woman looking in a mirror, her face up close to the glass and looking down as if she’s peering into another room; he is the woman. His breasts are small, his thighs thin, his skin the color of winter hay. Something small is moving behind him: a child. He has little feeling, but it seems someone is stroking the insides of his thighs. He turns to see who it is and finds a huge open space in full moonlight, men and women walking slowly to tractors and trucks and several enormous combines, starting all the engines up in unison and driving as if for a long journey in single file across open fields with their lights on. He has a strong sense that he is heading home, that he knows how to play guitar. Fancher’s face comes back into view, a porch at sunrise, the sense of being the only person in the world, and awareness of pure silence, not a bird, not a cicada, not even the wind stirring the leaves with sound. He realizes he isn’t breathing.
"You okay?" she asks, moving closer to him and looking into his face with concern. "You better sit down. I mean, it’s hot and you’re sweating all over. Jeez. You’re really pale."
"I’m okay." he manages. "It is hot though...." His voice trails off as he looks into her eyes. He feels all of her emotions then. All at once. She is very genuine with them. There is nothing there to directly mask her concern. She is strikingly beautiful now. Something in her face is quietly charismatic, something sensual and self-confident, but wary and distant, too. There is also something hidden from him, something the psychedelic cannot touch.
She also feels his emotions and knows he is interested in her. She wants to pull her shirt closer to hide her chest, feels a tingle in her legs, senses something else in her mind just for a moment. Memories of lying on Elvis’ jacket and the sensation of his warm weight thumping down on her give way to the feel of his fingers softly pinching her nipples, his mouth sucking into hers. She blocks these thoughts and turns to look at the house.
"I gotta go," she says.
His disappointment shoots through her like a grass cut. She is stunned. He senses this, too. He realizes that it is the echo of her sensing him.
She turns and heads down the embankment to the edge of the trees.
"Wait!" he calls.
"Can I use your bathroom?" He feels foolish.
Looking back up toward the road at him, she considers for a moment and finally laughs.
"Sure. I guess Fancher will just have to wait. Why don’t you leave your stuff up there so he knows you’re around. He’ll probably honk his horn anyway. We’ll hear him. Put it over there behind that fallen tree."
He places his backpack and duffel bag next to the sycamore. Relieved, he comes down the embankment. As he gets close, she heads into the trees, a slight skip in her stride, her dress billowing in the hot summer wind.
David Biddle is an author and freelance writer living in Philadelphia. His novel and other books can be found through his Amazon Author’s Page:
Check out his web page The Formality of Occurrence to keep track of all the weird crap he’s thinking about and other projects he’s working on.