I did lie to Hornblende. I tried to merely lie by omission, but he asked me too many questions. I was telling the truth when I said that I called emergency services, nine-one-one. However, I did that a bit later than I claimed to have.
I did go back to the car, but I didn’t call the police at that point. I actually looked in the trunk for clothes to wear, and to be honest, to see if there were any beers in there. We did bring a cooler full of beer to her parents’ house, but we left it there. Not really a big deal, as Perry will usually drive down and see her parents about once a week. It was just bad news for me at that point in time. I even looked around the trunk to see if any solitary cans or bottles of beer happened to have fallen out...of the cooler, or even at any random time when she might have gone shopping. I did find a fresh bottle of water, so there’s that.
Perry’s gym bag was in her trunk. She had some clothes in there, some black tights, or whatever she wears when she works out, and a pink sweatshirt that boldly proclaimed: “Feminism is the Future!” They were both too small for me, but I was going to wear them anyway. I just thought I would wait until I got back, as I figured there was no use soiling any more clothes.
I drank about half the bottle of newly found water, then threw both the bottle and Perry’s clothes in the backseat of the car. I should have told the cop about that. I think he knew I was messing around in the trunk. I probably got the clothes a little dirty with mud and gunk. It was dried by then, but I’m sure he could check forensics and such, and find molecules of wash scum on them.
So, yeah, I went back in. What was I going to do? She’s my wife. We have our problems, but I really do love her and I can’t imagine my life without her.
I almost did call the cops, but I have no idea how long it would take them to get there. I wasn’t really aware of what I was dealing with. I even thought of you, buddy. What happened to Mattie. Uh, I can’t do that with Perry, just can’t go through that shit. Often when I’m not with her, I miss her. I couldn’t deal with losing her, and I figured that there was a tiny possibility that if I waited for the police, maybe something would happen to her, maybe something I could have prevented if I had been just minutes, or even seconds earlier, like you said about Mattie.
I had no idea if she was down in the wash or not, but I had her phone, nearly fully charged, and I could use the flashlight feature so that I wouldn’t be blind this time. I really was beginning to think that I imagined breath on my neck, and I must have elbowed a tree branch or something. She could have been on the road somewhere, but I figured it would be easier to see her there later. If the cops came, they would be much more into searching the road than the wash.
I had to think for a few seconds, wondering if I should wander over toward where the light was up top, or if I should go back down the way I had accidently gone the first time, headfirst and pissing all over myself. I figured that I would just go the way I was familiar with, if only a one-time familiarity.
I gave it one more try: “Perry!” There was nothing, just the very faint sounds of the crickets somewhere relatively far off.
I had actually started to head back toward the tree when I stepped on a rock and hurt my foot. Yeah, I had completely forgotten that I had been walking around without my shoes on for quite a while. I just then realized they were hanging around my neck. After I put them back on, I headed back.
I went through the same hole in the fence, using the flashlight from Perry’s phone. Now, that weird slimy stuff was a bit freaky, so I just barely glanced at it, before moving down a little more and then basically just going into the wash. I just sat on the edge, and put my feet over, then lowered myself down, it was pretty easy to navigate my way down. Most of the sludge was no longer on my shoes and what remained was dry. I got good traction and just slowly made my way down the incline.
When I hit the bottom, the smell began to invade my nostrils again, repugnant and putrid nastiness. It wasn’t normal rot or stink, nothing I could place. Remember when my dog was sprayed by a skunk? Far off, skunk smells are like a bad fart, but when you get the smell on your dog, then all over your car, it’s rancid, and revolting. Your eyes water and you think you will pass out, almost a chemical smell. This smell was even worse than that, not so much the physical reaction, but just the pungent displeasure of it.
I looked around for the light I had seen earlier, but had to turn the phone off to find it. When the phone was on, I just couldn’t see it. I had to alternate between having the flashlight feature on, to see my way, then turning it off so that I could pick out the firelight in the distance, avoiding the foul puddles as I went.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there really is a lot of plant life in the wash. There are lots of bushes and weeds, even a few trees. We only get severe rainfall, desert floodwaters, maybe every ten or fifteen years, that gives vegetation a chance to take hold, and it does pretty well. It’s always watered as any rain or run off water goes down to the wash by design. However, this are seemed different, strange plants, not always green, were evident.
Unusual purple and violet leaves as big as a car tires seemed to sprout out of the ground. There was a very unusual tree that was almost black, with bluish, metallic leaves no bigger than thumbnails. It was strange. I could only see this stuff by the limited light of technology, and I wondered what it looked like in full sunlight, instead of the sharp, yet minimal and artificial light I had at my disposal. I wanted to really stop and investigate them for a longer period of time because they were so unusual, but finding Perry took precedence over any curiosity I might have had about the vegetation, and my desire to know she was okay outweighed my interest in the strange flora.
Still, I did pluck a small branch of the black tree, making sure that there was some of the bizarre leaves on it, and I put it in my cargo pocket of my shorts. The branch part felt wooden enough, but the leaves were so soft. They looked like they would be hard and prickly, but they were strangely soft to the touch. I looked at them later, earlier today, and they were... different.
I know you haven’t done any drinking recently, but you know when you have been doing some drinking, and you don’t go to sleep after? You start sobering up, feeling the effects of the dehydration on your body. You get thirsty, maybe a little weak and tired. I was starting to feel that way. I’m not sure how much time had passed since my last drink, and I was pretty inebriated earlier in the evening, but I was wondering just how drunk or sober I was. You can’t always tell.
One thing’s for sure, you don’t see shit when drinking. You remember when we used to drop a lot of acid and watch Natural Born Killers over and over? Well, we saw shit. But that doesn’t happen with alcohol, right? You might misremember shit, or blackout and not remember anything, but you don’t hallucinate. You don’t see shit that’s not there and you don’t see stuff that isn’t really happening.
As I got farther along, I was able to see the light of the fire without turning off the phone. It would get blocked on occasion, as I had to wind my way through the trees and bushes and other plant life, but I was getting closer to it.
The nearer I got, the slower I moved. It took me several moments to realize that. I wasn’t necessarily being slowed down by physical things in my way, I was involuntarily doing it. Unconsciously, my body seemed to want to slow down to avoid what was ahead. A sense of looming dread was slowing me, preventing me from moving quicker. It’s almost like the feeling you get when you have to go to the dentist. You know you need to, but you sure as shit aren’t happy about the invasive and painful things that can possibly happen to you when there. This, of course, could end up being far worse than getting a filling or a tooth pulled as well.
As much as my body was getting tense, and I wasn’t fond of my situation, I did continue moving forward, albeit slowly. And I finally came into a clearing where I left most of the plant life behind me.
That’s when things kicked up a notch, I’d say.
I could finally see for a significant distance ahead of me. There was a fire, I could make that out at that point. It seemed to be about the size of a normal, healthy campfire, no huge bonfire, and nothing minimal, barely used conservatively for just cooking.
There were people around the fire, or that’s what I thought at first. I had earlier made an assumption that maybe homeless people were there. I don’t know anyone else that would have been there except maybe teenagers doing some illegal drinking and getting high, as you probably can’t see the fire from the road above. However, where would the teenagers park their cars? Maybe there was a dirt road or something outside the main street that I had never noticed before.
The people were moving about, there were maybe about a dozen or so of them, although I didn’t think to count. It took me some time, but I realized that they were dancing, sort of. It was a strange dance where they mostly just moved their upper bodies, with minimal use of their legs, mostly just swaying on them. They all seemed to be wearing brown, hooded robes, making it difficult to discern any facial features. In addition, they seemed to all be holding sticks of some sort that they moved around in synch with each other, like it was a part of their dance.
I also noticed that there seemed to be a problem with scale that wasn’t immediately apparent. Something was off, or it was until I realized that their sizes didn’t match up. They were too small. I was still probably over two hundred yards away, but I came to the realization that they must be children. Their robes, they reminded me of Jawas from Star Wars, or those strange little creatures from Phantasm. But they weren’t necessarily dwarves, or little people. Trying not to use the M-word here. It was difficult to tell, but they were almost like hobbits, the scale, the diminutive appearance, not robust enough to be little people.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, and I wasn’t even initially aware that I had stopped moving forward. After some time had passed, I realized I was standing there, just watching them, almost like I was entranced. It could have also been my unconscious mind stopping me from something I sensed might be dangerous.
Persephone. Her name floated to the top of my mind, reminding me what I was doing there, at that strange hour, watching the Jawa-people dance. I felt that I needed to say something to them, to get their attention, after all my wife was missing and she was the reason I was there, but I was a little apprehensive about the situation. Part of me wanted to continue watching them dance while another part wanted me to leave. There was absolutely no part of me that wanted to speak to them.
“Hello!” I yelled. I almost had to force myself to speak to them. Maybe it was fear or nervousness. Honestly, it almost felt like reverence. It really felt like I was not supposed to interrupt their strange dance, which actually seemed to have all the signals of a bizarre cult practice.
The figures all stopped immediately, then in one synchronized movement, all turned to face me. Under their hoods there was nothing but shadows, even from the ones who were on the opposite side of the fire, not the slightest evidence of a face was visible from under their hoods. They all stood immobile and seemed to just glare at me for a time. Finally, they broke formation, and seemed to get back to being individuals. They all placed their sticks on the ground, although not in unison this time. They then began looking at each other and seemed to silently communicate. They all turned and began to walk away from me, past the fire and into the darkness.
“Wait!” I roughly snapped, and began walking toward them. Again, I felt that sense of foreboding. My muscles seeming to scream at me to stop. I had no business going toward them, interrupting something so pure and volatile, so sacred and profane, as I had just apparently done.
I continued forward anyway. It was thoughts of Perry that allowed me to do so. As time dragged herself forward I was more and more convinced that I would never see her again. That’s what pushed me. “Hey, excuse me?”
The people kept going, so I began to pick up my pace. None of them turned, none of them seemed to acknowledge my existence, at least after their initial staring at me.
It was at that point that I noticed the sticks that they had left behind, slithering along the ground after them. They weren’t sticks, but snakes, weird bright green, almost fluorescent once they got farther from the fire. They seemed to mostly be following the Jawa-guys, but a couple of them were going off in other directions. They were like snakes, but maybe thicker, plodding along with less grace than a snake might. I remembered my encounter earlier, and shone the light at my feet, and along ahead, until I got closer to the fire, to make sure there were none in my vicinity.
By the time I got to the fire, I couldn’t see the Phantasm dudes anymore. They were off ahead in the distance, but the snakes started coming back. The creatures didn’t hurry at all, but slowly, almost clumsily, lumbered along back toward the fire. They didn’t exactly get very close to me, but they were not far away enough to offer me any comfort. They didn’t seem to want to get within about ten feet or so of the fire, which caused me to get very close to the flames. Once they got close enough, they would just stop and stare unintelligently up at me with dark, blank, and black eyes. They were almost cute-looking, in a way.
There were many more snakes soon. First there were several, then a dozen, and within a minute or two there were dozens. The dozens then slowly became a hundred, then hundreds. They completely encircled the fire and there was nowhere for me to go without having a physical encounter with them. They might have been somewhat cute, but you know, bears can seem sweet and appealing at times too.
I noticed then that it had gotten chilly. It had been hot earlier, hot enough to sweat, but it was suddenly cool, not quite cold, but certainly less than comfortable. A slight breeze stirred the air and with it came a smell, not the rank and putrid scent of the foul water puddles I had encountered previously, but a sweet fragrance, faintly minty. It was definitely a variety of mint. It was certainly odd to smell mint, not expected at that point, but I was beginning to realize that I should throw out any expectations that I had. Snakes, Jawa-Hobbits, fires, mint. What was to be next?
The breeze made me feel a little colder, so I put my hand closer to the fire to receive the warmth that we often associate with fire, but it wasn’t there. That’s when I examined the fire closely. It was a fire that was seemingly without fuel, nothing feeding it. It was just...there. Typical orange flames licked at the air, but there was no wood, nothing burning. The base of the fire seemed to stretch into the earth, a different purplish color. It was similar to a propane burn, but the initial reaction of the flames didn’t give a blue color, but instead a purple color—and no heat. I couldn’t see that deeply into the fire, but it seemed to go on eternally toward the center of the earth.