between the lines: acid
[fiction] in between the lines of trauma
This is part of a series of stories of one-sided dialogues, for the reader to make sense of by reading in between the lines. Find two other “between the lines” down below.
I. The Parade
Only dopes need conspiracy theories. The evidence has been here all along.
Well, you don’t need to be a tree-hugger to understand what happens when sulfur and nitrogen dioxide—
Yes. Precisely. What comes up must come down. When it rains it pours. And so on.
Once my brother started really listening to his intuition, it became obvious we’d fucked ourselves over for good.
All this devotion to climate science … a lot of good that did him.
You know, Kurt Vonnegut believed our oversized brains would be the death of us. Do you know how Vonnegut died?
He slipped on the front stoop of his brownstone and bonked his head. Traumatic brain injury. He couldn’t have scripted it better himself.
Of course there was a railing.
Good question. So it goes.
My brother was one of the first to notice what was happening because he was working on those pig farms out west. Have you ever played that videogame? Where the end of civilization starts with the pigs?
I bet you like puzzles, don’t you.
I can tell.
You wake up as a little boy in a forest. Human civilization is clearly crumbling—or maybe it’s already happened. You don’t actually don’t know what’s happened at the beginning of the game. You can’t know if it’s a happy story or a sad story until the very end.
Yes. He loved that game.
The last time? A few hours before the storm hit Lake Eerie.
Oh, well that would’ve been last year in New Orleans, during the Pride Parade. That was the last time I saw him—the only time we ever did acid together, too.
Funny how language works, isn’t it? You’re right, but I don’t believe in coincidences.
We’d decided to reunite there for our childhood friend’s birthday. She was a choreographer, was performing in the parade with her dance troupe, needed volunteers to help run security.
Charmaine and the Cherry Blossoms, or something like that. Come to think of it, she’s no longer with us, either.
No. Unrelated. Or so they say.
Asthma attack. Would you mind if I had one of your cigarettes?
Calling it security might’ve been a stretch. Charmaine told us we’d be following the dancers, handing them water bottles, or otherwise creating a barrier between the dancers and the crowds watching the parade from the curb.
Exactly. To us it just sounded like an invitation to dance in a parade.
About two hundred micrograms. It was a strong come-up.
A friend of a friend had a pool down on Esplanade Avenue. We were tripping within half an hour, totally incoherent, floating on this big plastic Orca whale and a giant banana.
We were elsewhere, that’s for sure. That is until Charmaine came scurrying over to the poolside in a state of panic, saying how they’d scheduled the Cherry Blossoms to start an hour earlier than planned.
Imagine forty glistening women of all shapes and sizes scantily clad in red leather, gyrating and twerking down the boulevard like some Roman phalanx.
We started as the rope-bearers. All the dancers were corralled inside this rectangle of a rope, and us volunteers picked it up and started walking alongside ‘em.
Yes. But more of a figurative barrier, really. Still, soon enough, the rainbow juice took effect and—
LSD, yeah. Sorry. I don’t like to use the word acid anymore, for obvious reasons. Anyway, we couldn’t keep our faces straight. I must’ve looked like a child, mouth agape, dilated eyes gazing up towards the heavens. I just remember seeing all the people on the balconies and having this revelation that humans are just the same as confetti, brief explosions of color floating along the breeze, and that’s about when my stomach started dropping out from under me.
My brother was there for me. He saw I couldn’t handle it. We slowed down, started walking alongside the water bearers at the back, handing out bottles. I started talking to one of ‘em, this kid from Texas who couldn’t have been more than seventeen years old—a big, strong country type pulling two red wagons stacked with cases of water.
Oh, how simple things used to be. I just remember being mesmerized by this teenage lumberjack, his muscular arms outstretched, ambling forth like an ox, pulling those two Radio Flyers. He had triceps you wouldn’t believe, and this beautiful tattoo of a witch on his back … what with the sun’s reflection on the glass buildings in the CBD and the sweat and the heat and the rainbow juice, I swear that witch came to life.
A Wicked Witch of the West, except with mischievous eyes. She was sensual—sultry, even.
Yes. Her gaze had something to say.
Because she had this one index finger that was beckoning you towards her—towards this Texan teenager’s muscular, glistening back.
You should’ve seen my brother’s face when the kid told us the story of that tattoo.
Entranced. But also scared.
The Texan said the kids used to pick on him—they’d call him a faggot and a witch and chase him through the forest with sticks. By high school he’d started skipping classes to avoid them, and of course his parents were almost worse.
Fucking fundamentalists. They said if he didn’t ‘grow out of his disease’ they’d send him back to conversion therapy.
Fifteen years old. Can you imagine? Anyway, that’s when he decided to say fuck it—fuck ‘em all. This kid started working out every day as if he had something to prove. Which he did. And he said, ‘If they’re gonna call me a witch, I’m gonna be the most badass witch they’ve ever seen’ and that’s when he got the tattoo of the witch.
It truly was a sight to behold. Such a verdant green, almost blossoming in the sunlight when he started to really sweat.
Anyway, yes. That was the last time I saw my brother before the rivers began.
II. The Atmospheric River
It’s like … you know when somebody with dark energy walks into a room? How it can just suck the joy right out of you? Well, my brother was inhumanly sensitive to this energy, like migratory birds—like most wild animals, really—and once he started trusting his intuition, it really became infallible.
Well that’s why he insisted on trying to help the Texan. After New Orleans he really started listening to that feeling, you know?
No, he just texted him a few times. He didn’t want to scare him. Even though in his nightmares my brother could see what was coming as clear as day.
The kid stopped responding. I would’ve done the same. Funny, actually, the last thing he said to my brother was that the witch would protect him.
Yes. Just a few days later in that mall shooting.
Nineteen people. A lot more injured. The kid was paralyzed from the waist down. Six bullets. Still, somehow he survived.
That’s what the kid said. The witch was his guardian angel. But my brother didn’t see it like that. He felt responsible, somehow, wished he’d told the kid what he’d dreamt. And that’s when he started having these dreams of something far worse coming on the horizon.
Well some people you meet are balls of light, and others are black holes, and I don’t think it’s a choice so much as a question of constitution.
A shadow, yes. But the way I always thought of it, a shadow is cast by something else, and my brother always seemed tethered to that darker dimension. He was made from a different kind of stardust, my mother would say.
No. My father had a different opinion. He always used to say, ‘son, you keep dreaming those things and you won’t be long for this world.’
Belonging. That’s curious. I hadn’t thought about that before. In a sense my brother had always known, I think. He had lucid nightmares as a kid of me hiding out from a terrible storm.
Portent. Omen. Call it what you want. But it’s not like in the movies, I can tell you that much.
As a teenager especially, he tried his best to deny what he sensed deep down. That’s why he got so heavy into the booze and the drugs and all the rest of it.
Well, the rainbow juice helped him tether himself, if only momentarily, to a more colorful world.
He was just too sensitive. He absorbed too much–like a sponge. He couldn’t help but attract and so become enveloped in other people’s darkness.
Did you know that back in the Middle Ages they called ‘em sin eaters? You should’ve seen some of the men he dated. Anyway, I respectfully reject the premise–the psychedelics were more of a solution. His year in New Orleans was the happiest in his life.
Because he realized it was possible to absorb the light of the good ones, too. That’s how he decided to go back to school to study ecology.
Yes. Dr Likens in Connecticut. As everyone now knows, the actual branch is called limnology … funny how it takes a catastrophe to learn a new word, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s how my brother figured out a way to put a name to his nightmares.
Well, his bleak outlook didn’t change, but at least now he could finally conjure a sense of control over his darkest intuitions.
Yes, to be prepared—but also to try and help. That’s why he went out west and then to Lake Eerie, to study the pigs. But enough about me. Where were you when the river hit?
Christ. Outdoors where?
Kansas City? An entire school bus? Shit, lady. You’ve had quite the journey yourself. How’d you manage to get across Tennessee with all those kids?
Oh my god.
I apologize. I didn’t mean to—
Of course you did. I’m so sorry, ma’am.
Yes. My brother knew and had been trying to get the government to pay attention to this paper he co-authored, but nobody listened, and by the time a senator in Connecticut finally managed to sound the alarms, it was too late.
Well, the first storms knocked out the grid along the entire western seaboard, as you know. When the atmospheric rivers finally reached the midwest, well everybody who survived remembers where they were.
He was on a pig farm outside of Grand Rapids, studying the lesions. He said he’d never heard anything like it, the pigs screeching … said they sounded just like human beings.
His prediction models were perfect but the timing was off. It wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly. He also underestimated the acidity, but what with the emissions during the Great Pacific Exodus and all the volcanic activity, well you know the rest.
He was on I-96 when the flash-flood hit.
Yes. All the way from Lansing to Detroit. The freeways became a death-trap. You saw the videos, I’m sure? Tires melted, steaming like hot soup on a cold, rainy day. People curled up into themselves, hiding out in cars, trying to claw themselves into the vehicle upholstery.
We were lucky. We got a head start. The Appalachians gave us a buffer for the first few days.
Well, it wasn’t like in the movies, I can tell you that. In the movies there’s always some hero who somehow finds a way. But there was no way—not on the interstate, anyway.
Mostly dumb luck. Or divine providence. Take your pick. We watched a grown man fight another to the death just to die in agony trying to hide beneath a tree.
III. The Fortune Cookie
The rain liquefied all organic matter within minutes. Rubber and plastic took longer, as you know.
Like I said, dumb luck. We took shelter in an old rest stop with a concrete roof thick enough to withstand the first pass, and then we high-tailed it north, chasing rumors about abandoned missile silos and old bunkers up in Maine.
On the third day we raided a Chinese restaurant. I ain’t proud of it. Not that anyone was in there, mind you. But we took what we could, anything that might keep. You know those squiggly fried soup croutons they put in the egg drop soup? Those and fortune cookies. Look here, I still have a few left. Open one up. See what it says.
Sometimes the way forward is backwards. Well that doesn’t make much sense. Look here at the one I got. Would you believe me if I told you I pulled this very fortune just moments before I learned about his death?
The smart thing to do is to start trusting your intuition.
He was heading south for some reason.
Yes. Maybe to rescue the Texan. Who knows. What I do know is that he knew better than anyone else that the worst part of the storm was still to come.
I think he was ready to go. He did always insist there was another dimension, anyway.
Either that, or Kurt Vonnegut was right about our big brains all along.
You’re right. Thank you, miss. Maybe it can be both.