Jay’s Interview with Dan, 4

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)


Jay bought Dan a fourth, final pint of stout. Dan had started slurring, but still drank most of his glass at once. “As I brought the bong back to my apartment, I debated whether or not I actually wanted to smoke from it. What I really wanted was to undo chasing Lio and finish my bug-stick with Beatrice… but wasn’t I supposed to be learning to live without her approval? I had to try smoking on my own.”

Jay opened his notepad to another fresh page. “Did you really have to, though?”

“Well, maybe I felt a little Lio in me. But Lio’s bong was disgusting. You remember what it looked like, right?”

“Yeah.” Jay sketched a glass cylinder a foot tall with an erect stem poking from its bottom chamber to hold a bowl of powdered bug-bits. The top chamber had a percolator like a tiny tree with five hanging branches. “Like that?”

“Exactly, but…” Dan took the pen and scribbled all over the sketch. “It was opaque with crust. Cleaning it meant cleaning inside that glass tree’s five little fingers. No wonder Lio never bothered—it was Sisyphean. A punishment!”

“And feeling responsible for correcting Lio’s behavior, you cleaned it for him.” 

“Of course. Wearing rubber gloves and a surgical-mask. I didn’t want to touch or smell anything in there.”

“How do you clean a water-pipe like that?”

“I had to look it up: rock-salt and isopropyl alcohol. You pour ’em both in and shake. The salt spins like flakes in a snow-globe and scrapes the gunk off.” Dan mimicked shaking the bong up and down. The action looked a tad masturbatory to Jay. “I did that for twenty minutes, and when I emptied the bong, most of the crust sloughed out. I refilled it again, shook it again, and emptied it again, and again, and again, until the glass was clear as a window. Then I filled the bong with water so smoke would have to bubble through the tree’s five fingers from the bottom chamber to the top chamber.”

“Like a multilayered sieve?”

“Sure. Then I smoked the bug-bits Lio had left in the bowl.”

“Was it as good as smoking with Beatrice?”

“It wasn’t cricket in that bowl, Jay. I had a nightmare of an experience.” Dan wiped tears from his cheeks. His black gloves were soaked by now. “Lio had tried tricking Beatrice to smoking centipede. What would he do to her if she’d been so incapacitated?”

Jay wrote some final notes about Lio and flipped to another fresh page. “Can you tell me about that nightmare-experience? What did that centipede do to you?”

“Oh, it was just awful. I was… some kind of… orange… amoeba? The size of a man? All I could do was blorp and wriggle, wishing I didn’t exist. My fear turned into little white flecks floating in my translucent body. The flecks combined into teeth which ripped my insides apart.”

“In Sheridan, they mentioned tooth-balls.” Jay supposed Dan’s father’s worms didn’t mesh with the worms he got from Lio. “Did you have eyes? How’d you know you were orange?”

“I felt orange. And, I felt a shadow pass overhead. A giant bird landed next to me like thunder. It was blue, like sapphire or lapis lazuli.”

“How’d you know it was blue?”

“I was hallucinating, Jay, I just don’t know. The bird had eyes like emeralds, too, and aquamarine robes. ‘You’ve dropped upon the Mountain,’ it said—I was an amoeba on a mountain, apparently?—‘but I won’t make you a Zephyr with screeching teeth. My assistant will bring you to…’ ” Dan shuddered. ” ‘Anihilato, the longest worm, the King of Dust.’ “

“Anihilato.” Jay’s eyes widened and he took more notes. He swore he’d heard that name once, in a dream, and he worried he would hear it again. “Doesn’t sound like a nice guy.”

“I was fucking horrified,” said Dan. “I didn’t know what Anihilato was all about, and I didn’t want to know. The bird sort of oozed into the red mountain, leaving me behind, and I freaked the hell out wondering what would happen next. The more I panicked, the more teeth spawned inside me. The teeth ripped me open and cracked each other with this awful screechy sparkly noise, like loud TV-snow. For a while I was a cramping gonad the size of a beach-ball, completely covered in canines sadistically crunching on sensitive gums suffering silently inside.” Dan slurred every S. “Then a spinning narwhal tusk drilled out of me, twenty screeching feet.”

“Goddamn.”

“The tusk helped, actually. It let some air reach my gums, so I was almost able to breath again. When I was a kid, my mom always told me to focus on my breathing when I panicked.”

Thank goodness, thought Jay. “Did you panic a lot as a kid?”

“I’m constantly panicking, Jay. I never stop. Mom blamed my dad for telling me all about different Hells. But anyway, when I focused on my breath, I sort of inhaled the teeth back inside me, leaving pores which gasped for air. Each wheeze pulled the tusk back in until I was just a ball of gums. My gums relaxed, and I dissolved into a puddle of mud.”

“You fixed your own teeth. Maybe the bird wouldn’t take you to Anihilato?”

“No, no—I still felt the teeth inside me, struggling to manifest. The teeth danced out of my mud as worms, like goop on a subwoofer. Each time a worm left the mud, the mud became a little clearer, and when it was just a puddle of water, thousands of worms were tangled in pandemonium like one worm the size of a dog.”

“Were you the water, or were you the worms? Or… both?”

“The water, I hope. The worms didn’t seem to enjoy being on the red mountain, because they kept squirming on the hot, dry dust. They crawled to the mountain’s edge and jumped off—but suddenly this white fox dropped out of the sky and grabbed the worms like a snake, by the neck.”

“Huh.” Jay rubbed his chin while he wrote. “When I smoked centipede, Faith was a fox made of snow. We were on a red mountain, with a bird, and I puked teeth. Our trips have lots of overlaps.”

Dan rolled his eyes. “You mean people smoking the same entheogenic bug might have similar hallucinations? Color me surprised. Foxes are dirt-common iconography—Inari ookami‘s got white fox messengers—but in hallucinations? Impossible.”

“Point taken. Go on.”

“The fox beat the worms senseless against the mountainside by whipping its neck back and forth. Worms tried escaping individually, but they’d tangled too thoroughly to separate. When the worms went limp, the fox let them go and breathed on them to freeze them whitish-blue. Then the fox turned into a cloud, picked up the worms like a tornado, and lifted them away!”

“Where?”

“I dunno. Just… away.”

“Was your red mountain in a desert, Dan? Were there sandy dunes?”

“I was a puddle of water, Jay. I had no clue. But I wasn’t water for too long: the fox’s icy breath left a fern of frost across me, and each time a frost-leaf melted, it left a little bubble. The bubbles drifted into a fetal shape, then soaked the water up. I was me again.”

“Wicked.”

“It wasn’t perfect. I had to spin my head 180 degrees and swap my legs. Somehow it didn’t seem weird to do. At this point, I didn’t even remember why I was here. I just sat on the mountainside. And now I had eyes, so, yes, Jay, I was in a desert of sandy dunes.”

“Oh ho. Did you see worms raining from the mustard-yellow sky?”

“Yeah, a few. I watched them while I waited to bake to death, but then that white cloud reappeared on the horizon, and I thought the fox might be coming back to pick me up, too. I ran and hid behind some rocks. The fox clawed at the mountain and a cave opened, and the big blue bird climbed out. The fox and the bird had a conversation, but I couldn’t hear it. The fox tried diving into the cave, but the bird blocked it and reached into the cave with ten blue human arms, endlessly long. It pulled out a golden wing. The wing lined the cave like a thick rug and heavy curtains, so the fox and the bird could climb into the cave without touching the rocky walls. The cave stayed open, so I crept up to it to peek inside. It breathed like a beast, and the golden wing adjusted itself like an uncomfortable tongue. When the cave started closing, I realized if I didn’t jump in now, I might be trapped on the red mountain forever. At least if I was inside, I’d have a bird to talk to! I threw myself onto the golden wing and the red mountain swallowed me like a pill.”

“Then what?” asked Jay. “What was inside the red mountain?”

“It buzzed like hornets and locusts. Everything was green haze.” Having finished his fourth pint, Dan struggled to hold his head off the bar. “The golden wing became a path to the green distance. I tried to walk that golden path, but the green sky flickered and nauseated me. The buzzing was so loud I covered my ears—my elbows felt wind, pushing back on my left and forward on my right. The wind was spinning me. I walked against the wind and the green sky separated into yellow and blue, like videotape of a propeller syncing with the frame-rate. The desert’s yellow sky was above me and Earth’s blue sky was below.”

Jay sketched the scenario in consideration. “So maybe the golden wing was spinning, and you counteracted the spin by walking at an angle?”

“Or maybe the skies were spinning. I don’t want to think about it,” Dan murmured. “On the green horizon between yellow and blue, I saw a white light like the sun. As I approached it, the buzzing died down, but the path veered away! I left the sun behind and the buzzing came back. Luckily I came across another golden path, stuck out of mine like this.” Dan shook a hand diagonally. “Next thing I knew, I was walking up that new path directly toward the light. The buzzing died down again.

“When I got close enough, I saw objects orbiting the sun-thing. Their periodic shadows made it look like the light had a heartbeat. I couldn’t tell how big the objects were, or how far away, so I was surprised when one smashed on my forehead. It was an egg. There was a blue fledgling inside, with a beady eye on one side of its head and a hundred human teeth on the other. I couldn’t bring myself to look away, or even wipe yolk from my face, but then the yolk slid off on its own. The white shell, scattered in three dimensions, scattered back around the bird. The egg kept orbiting like nothing happened.

“I kept walking to the sun-thing. The golden path went so close I could’ve reached out and touched the fire, and I really, really wanted to, for some reason. Just before I jumped in, the big blue bird swooped behind me and restrained me in its wings. The bird told me that inside the red mountain you see all of reality at once. The sun in the center is her throne, where reality originates—an ‘indefatigable meristem,’ they called it—and if I’d touched it, my worms would’ve scattered across the cosmos.”

“An indefatigable what?

“Meristem. It’s the part of a plant where all the new cells come from. The bird also explained that our reality’s shape is an infinite-dimensional torus, circles swept in circles swept in circles and so on. Then the bird said it was going to put me in a box and bury me in the desert. When I turned to beg the bird for forgiveness, I woke drooling on my couch. My throat felt painful and raw, so I drank six glasses of orange-juice and puked. I cleaned the bong for an hour. It wasn’t dirty. I just felt dirty inside.” Dan slumped over the bar, conclusively and concussively.

Jay capped his pen and closed his notepad. “This is fascinating. In Sheridan, Virgil Jango Skyy told me the afterlife was a desert where our worms had to find a mountain, just like Uzumaki’s mountain in LuLu’s. And the bird’s description of reality as a torus is just like how Akayama describes the Wheel.”

“Duh. You told me yourself Tatsu ripped LuLu’s from Sheridan. Centipedes probably make everyone see just about the same stuff, because the mechanics of cognition are basically indistinguishable from person to person.” The sentence was almost incomprehensible through Dan’s drunken slur. “We have different personalities based on our different backgrounds, but underneath, everyone is alone in a desert. Maybe Tatsu got bug-eyed, too. I don’t care. I haven’t smoked centipede since, and I never will again.”

Jay pat him on the back. “You don’t have to. I won’t even ask you to visit Sheridan if you don’t want to.”

“Take me to Sheridan, Jay. Please. I have to do something with my life.”

“Okay.”

“But… tell me… honestly… When you and Faith came to my apartment to smoke centipede, was Beatrice actually on-call at the hospital? Or did you three conspire to give her that excuse in case I made her uncomfortable?” Jay didn’t answer. “That’s what I thought.” Dan clenched his eyes shut. “I’m hopeless. Hopeless!”

“You’re not hopeless, Dan.”

“I keep wondering if Lio’s better off than me, making figs, strategically ignorant, busting into women’s bedrooms trying to score some tail.” Dan turned his head to face the other way. “Did you know I’m a virgin?”

“I wouldn’t wish Lio’s state-of-being on anybody,” said Jay, “and I’m a virgin, too, but I don’t mind.”

“That’s different,” said Dan. “You’re trans.” Jay pursed his lips. He’d respond, but Dan was now snoring. Uncle Featherway entered from the wake. Jay waved him to a bar-stool.

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