[Void Galaxia] Chapter 54: Beneath The Glitching Lake

+++

The drive back to the hostel should’ve been eerily silent.

Would’ve been better if it had been eerily silent

But instead we had to listen to Reshmi explaining in an unsettlingly calm tone how devious it was to charge for bottled water like that and how the waitress had probably snapped because of it, having to push that kind of cunt scam nightly.

Then, walking up to our rooms, she diverted herself to the next day, dealing with the wispy coward, and if we didn’t get enough sleep, that coward would wisp the fuck off again and then we’d be nowhere, abject nothingness.

‘Sleep,’ I said back to the corridor carpet, stopping at the door to mine and Lexi’s room, watching Juana give flare gun eyes as she followed Reshmi further along. ‘Good idea.’

+++

When we were safely in the room with the door locked, I turned to Lexi [already a lump on the bed] and asked what she thought of the restaurrant incident.

‘Trying not to.’

‘I mean, the way it happened, the suddenness…’

‘We should sleep.’

‘You think it was really the waitress?’

‘Good night, Mark.’

She turned over and left me with my shitty hotel on the edge of an alien-funded abyss. The view told me it was Reshmi…Nick…the alien mesmerist, obviously not the waitress herself cos why would she, and the void below said, yeah, but it wasn’t that traumatic, was it?

And even if it were, what were you gonna do?

Flee to Portland?

She’d catch you and then you’d be the waitress, only worse as it could be Lexi or Juana you end up stabbing with a broken water bottle.

Not that she would do that to you.

Cos she hasn’t yet.

+++

The atmosphere in the car the next morning was defiantly upbeat.

Juana had adapted to her librarian-style glasses.

Lexi was happy with the new Lavinia Goddess of Death t-shirt Reshmi had somehow found time to buy as a surprise gift.

And I honestly thought the new white dress with pale blue dots riding up my thighs was quite cute.

The blonde wig still felt a bit awkward, getting stuck to my back when I leaned against the back seat, and then pulling down a strap whenever I leaned left or right or forward, or in any direction, really.

But it did let a lot of air in through the legs.

So not too bad.

As for our alien host, she was in a much brighter mood, letting us know that she’d focused hard all night and discovered that the dangerous coward foe could be hiding in an unorthodox spot, which is where we were heading to first.

‘And then to Portland?’ asked Juana, winding down the window and sticking her hand out into the breeze.

‘If luck holds…’

Con suerte, dios…’

‘…which it will. Only so many rocks out there.’

+++

An hour later, the four of us stood like a rural-synth group, next to a large hexagonal hole in the dirt, on a huge animal-less ranch, in an area that the map referred to simply as Mist.

‘In one of the lairs…perhaps six of them…’ muttered Reshmi, picking up dirt and letting it drizzle through her fingers.

There was a lot more she was saying, but it was all in Hindi [or Hindi simulacrum] and pretty much incomprehensible.

As were the holes.

According to a half-search I’d done on my phone, and a slightly more efficient one from Lexi on her better-connected phone, there were a hundred and sixteen holes in total, all rigidly hexagonal, all dug by an occult nut thirty years earlier – the guy claimed that aliens from Zeta Reticuli had instructed him via the eyes of a Nonchalant Grape toy to do it – all largely pointless.

‘But that strategy would be a Gupta derivative…’ broke in more Hindi, ‘in regent sense solus from the mind of the sensor in situ…’

Was Reshmi that same guy?

The more I listened, the more I started to believe it.

‘Don’t think Juana’s gonna last much longer,’ whispered Lexi, half hiding her face behind my shoulder.

‘She does look a bit pinched.’

‘You know, Portland’s only about half an hour from here. Driving at normal speed.’

‘That close?’

‘Go a bit faster and we could be there in twenty minutes. Yeah, very close, I checked on the map.’

‘Well…I guess we’ll be there soon.’

‘Will we?’

I patted the back of her hand, offering a sim that got lost on the passing wind.

‘No, no, no, no…explicit text, anstaa…it was definitely here,’ said Reshmi, throwing dirt into the hole and then jabbing the side of her head with her palm.

‘The wispy coward?’ I asked, watching the dirt roll down a little deeper.

‘For ritualistic purposes.’

‘Where are they now?’

‘Portland,’ drawled Juana, her body tilting almost all the way down into the hexagonal hole.

‘No, no…impossible.’ Reshmi reached out and gripped the hem of the Yaqui’s cardigan, pulling her back from the micro-abyss. ‘Population, 1.2 million. Far too large.’

‘We could take a look, maybe-…’

‘Back in the car. Everyone.’

‘Err…’

‘No counters. The wind speed is all wrong here. Deceptive. Need to get back inside and reconfigure.’

‘Reconfigure. Okay.’

‘None of you are moving.’

‘Yeah, cos we’re-…’ Lexi started, then self-cut when Reshmi’s eyes flared lilac.

‘Car. Now.’

+++

A hostel bed or in the back of the car…was there a difference?

Both were beginning to feel eternal.

Small town to smaller town to weird holes to desolate ground to the side of a deserted freeway, a stoic hawk on top of a sign for Portland, staring in through the back windows at us.

‘I’m getting a sense of…Verda…no, Verna…Vernonia,’ whispered Reshmi, both hands wrapped over her skull, pumping out own-brand, soothing violet mist.

‘You want us to search that?’ asked Lexi, taking out her phone.

‘A disused dog park. Brown grass.’

‘In Vernonia?’

I touched Lexi on the sleeve of her Lavinia t-shirt, then her wrist, bringing the phone back down to waist level.

‘Just trying to move this thing along,’ she protested, bringing it right back up again.

‘I know…’

‘Portland…’ mumbled Juana from the front, pointing out the passenger window at an AH-Bot board.

‘Yeah…we’ll get there. Relax.’

+++

Dog parks without dogs were still taxonomically dog parks, according to Lexi, cos the design remained inherent, whereas to me they were just a couple of lawns and trees with the occasional dried-up shit left behind.

To Juana, it was even simpler: they weren’t Portland.

And to Reshmi it was [apparently] an outright offence to fair play as there was nothing, had been nothing and would be nothing in the future except the wreck of the tree she was gonna chop down with her bare fucking hand.

I managed to talk her out of it, but she was kicking loose stones, pebbles and arid turds all the way back to the car, and when Juana casually remarked, ‘hey, why don’t I go to Portland and you guys keep searching, then meet up later,’ she finally snapped.

‘This is for you, wretch…’ Reshmi not just yelled but rumbled, spitting out purple vapour from her throat that instantly steamed up Juana’s glasses.

‘Yeah, the trip,’ said Lexi, swishing her hand to clear the stray mist. ‘For Juana’s health, remember?’

‘… … … … … …’

‘You said we were going to Portland.’

‘… … … … …’

‘Had to go there. Vital.’

‘… … … … … …’

‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’

Reshmi took a few long breaths, sucking back in the purple mist. ‘Assault. Violation. That…thing…’

‘What thing?’

‘…is fucking laughing at us. Laughing at you. Hyena laugh. Cackling.’

I edged ever so slightly in front of Lexi, raising an arm in redundant defence. ‘Maybe you could fill us in, help us understand better?’

‘Waste of time.’

‘The name of the dangerous foe at least?’

‘Pointless.’

‘I just want to see Sadia,’ said Juana, using a fingertip to wipe the condensation off her glasses.

It may have been the librarian-style cardigan, or the abrupt, heavy accent, but that changed things up a little. Or it curbed the barked responses anyway.

‘It’s not a terrible idea to just drop her in Portland,’ I suggested, keeping my tone soft. ‘We could pick her up later tonight. Wouldn’t take that long.’

‘Only a thirty minute drive…’ said Lexi, pointing ahead at the car.

‘And you wouldn’t have to hear the name Portland anymore.’

Another car pulled in off the main road, a dog poking its head out the window and barking when it saw us.

‘You really wish to see her?’ Reshmi asked, voice softening, right hand lowering itself slowly down onto Juana’s shoulder. ‘As she truly is?’

.’

‘Fine. Then I shall take you.’

‘Now?’

‘Because I’m a kind soul.’

+++

For thirty-five minutes things were relatively sedate.

Juana practiced various intro lines for when Sadia opened the door, Reshmi hummed a melody no one recognized, while Lexi and I felt that the situation was now lax enough to sit back and do some improv Portuguese.

Estou cansada. Estou ansioso. Estou preso.

But then I saw a sign drift by that said Mt Hood, checked the map on the phone and, despite my ansioso state, had to ask Reshmi why we heading away from Portland instead of towards it.

‘We’re going to see Juana’s girlfriend.’

‘On Mt Hood?’

‘Close. Lake Trillium.’

‘That’s where she is?’ asked Juana, breaking away from her solo-roleplaying.

‘At this current moment, .’

+++

In spite of the impression given by its Venusian sounding name, Lake Trillium was neither toxic nor millions of miles away.

And it wasn’t an eyesore either.

‘Feels like we’re in the Canadian wilderness,’ Lexi said as we got out of the car and walked towards the map board, with the clear blue surface of the lake already visible in the near distance.

‘Not many people here…’ I replied, scanning the car park.

Before I could add and no entry fees, an RV nearby started up, moving back far enough to reveal a ticket booth by the main trail.

‘Adventurists…’

‘Here, there…everywhere.’

‘Like a fucking plague.

‘One of these cars must be hers,’ said Juana, walking quickly up behind us and then overtaking by default as we stood stock still, trying to read the ticket booth price list.

‘One hour, three hours, half day, full day.’

‘With a free pair of VR goggles included,’ I finished, trying to copy Lexi and dig in my jacket pocket…then realizing my hand was on the waist of the blue dot dress, with the Damijana Chu hoodie dormant on the back seat of the car.

‘I guess we should go and pay…’

‘Yeah.’

‘You got your card on you?’

‘Back in the car.’

Lexi did a rotation of her wallet, then nodded. ‘Pay me back later.’

‘Mine’s in the car too.’

‘Serious?’

‘I didn’t know there would be a entrance fee. Wasn’t last time I was here.’

‘Fine, both of you then. One hour tickets.’

Gracias.

Veering rightwards to the adventurist sham shack, Lexi looked back at the Indian ex-model locking up the car [in very slow motion] and muttered that she wasn’t paying for her too, then proceeded to buy four tickets for one hour each…and made a retired spy groan when four pairs of pea-green VR goggles were dumped down on the counter too.

‘For single bear sighting,’ explained the grey-skinned woman camped inside the booth, ‘turn this dial to setting one. For multiple bear, turn to setting two.’

‘And setting three?’ asked Juana, tilting her head at the tech.

‘That one doesn’t work at the moment.’

‘Continuous bear?’

‘Used to be bear attack…for the younger visitors…but there were one too many cardiac arrests and…’

Foda…are the bears that realistic?’

‘Of course, sourced from the latest documentaries. BIK Scenery prides itself on its authenticity.’

‘BIK…’ I muttered, matching it to the sign on the shack. ‘Why do I know that name?’

‘Isn’t it a razor?’

‘No…it’s-…’

‘Subsidiary of CarolKo,’ cut in Lexi, passing the goggles to each of us, and throwing the last pair to an approaching Reshmi, who let them bounce off her arm as she strolled past the ticket booth and over to a well-manicured grass trail leading into the trees.

‘You don’t want to see the bears?’ I shouted, walking over to the fallen goggles.

‘No lagging…’ shot right back, no head turn, no purple glare.

‘I guess not.’

After strapping the goggles to our heads [and wincing at both the tightness and the weird yellow filter on the screen], we quickly followed our alien leader, all of us probably assuming that she was using her purple radar to pin down Sadia’s position, Juana asking if this park had a campsite and whether or not they’d be walking into Sadia with a large group of friends.

‘Relax, she’ll be happy to see you,’ said Lexi, snapping a twig off a tree and throwing it off into the undergrowth.

‘Maybe not me though,’ I said, following the twig down.

‘Yeah. Doubt she’ll even recognize you.’

‘Huh? She’s seen my pic…’

‘Online.’

‘…which is more than she’s seen of you.’

‘Ages ago. Wah…relax.’

‘She does know me.’

‘I don’t give a shit if she thinks I’m Leila Dotsey.’

‘We traded e-mails. Who?’

‘Actually, she knows Lexi a little bit from the caffé,’ said Juana, attempting the start of a jogging motion [with goggles still on] and almost immediately tripping over a twisted root. ‘Fuck. Who put that there?’

‘Nature,’ I said, more than a bit caustic.

‘Maybe lift your goggles up…’ suggested Lexi, leaving her mouth open and staring off into the nearby canopy.

‘What is it?’

‘Bear.’

I turned, adjusting my goggles needlessly, and then slapping the side of them as the meandering bear about five metres ahead of us starting to flicker.

‘It’s glitching…’

Kuso…’

Taking the word as an insult, the bear turned bright green and split itself into three uneven pieces, its paws staying on the ground while its head and torso shot up into the trees above.

‘That explains the cardiac arrests…’

‘And the CarolKo connection.’

‘We’re lagging behind…’

‘What?’

‘Our tour guide…’

Taking off the goggles, Juana resumed her jog and caught up to Reshmi, while Lexi and I hung back, watched the buffering bear for a bit – until it glitched out of existence – then took the goggles off and tried soaking up the natural scenery instead. As two people who didn’t have a stake in going to Portland, it was good to be somewhere that wasn’t a hostel or a car or a concrete supply depot. Or a dogless dog park. Or a double bed, with heart cushions.

‘That dress and wig…they’re kinda starting to grow on me,’ said Lexi, after twenty minutes or so of walking [without glitching bears].

For a second, two seconds, I didn’t know what she meant…thought she’d put the VR goggles back on…and then I felt my own hand on the hem of the dress, hitching it up to stop it catching on passing thorns…

…and I laughed.

At the distance of it.

The segmentation.

Me watching my own body stroll around in a summertime dress, knowing on some level that it wasn’t normal, that the purple had influenced it somehow, at some point…yet there it was…causing no discomfort at all. And confusion. Mild headache. Bearable.

The whole picture…thoughts…were unreal.

But also very real.

As real as Lexi’s green hair and that Lavinia Goddess of Death t-shirt.

Green trees. Blue lake. Nice dress. Blonde wig. Flickering bears.

All associations were-…

‘Over here,’ shouted Reshmi, framed in a clearing up ahead with Juana, both of them waving at us.

‘Can’t see any tents,’ I said, for some reason pulling the goggles back down.

‘Or people.’

We hurried over, arriving just in time to see Reshmi strip off her Colombia Football jacket and dive into the lake, causing the very meekest of splash residue.

‘What the hell’s she doing?’ was the question that no one could answer, but I asked it anyway.

‘No fucking clue,’ was Lexi’s token response.

The three of us stood there, superfluous, staring at the fading ripples of the lake.

A minute passed and the alien hadn’t resurfaced.

Two minutes and the yellowish-blue water started glitching zig zag cracks.

Two minutes and ten seconds, my goggles were off.

Three minutes and I wondered out loud if we should dive in and rescue her.

Four and a half minutes and I ripped off the wig, told Lexi to wait there, and was about to jump in when bubbles burst up on the surface, followed by a mop of dark hair and, a second later, Reshmi’s glowing lilac eyes.

Kuso…’ I said, echoed by a bird screeching somewhere up in the canopy behind us.

‘How long can you hold your breath?’ asked Lexi, bending down and offering a hand. ‘You were down there for, like, ten minutes almost.’

Reshmi stared at us, or internally scanned us, it was hard to tell, then slowly raised her right arm up out of the water.

‘No, no…’ muttered Juana, as another patch of hair appeared.

Dark with streaks of blonde.

Trimmed short.

‘You wanted to see your Sadia,’ said Reshmi, lifting herself out of the water, wringing out some lake-drops from her Pale Ondōa t-shirt, then turning back and dragging first the head, then the bloated body of a middle-aged white man.

‘I’m gonna be sick…’ mumbled Lexi, putting the goggles to her mouth.

‘Sadia?’ I asked, confused.

Esto no puede ser un cadáver real…

‘In a sense,’ said Reshmi, dropping the dead body on the grassy shore and picking up her Colombia football jacket.

‘Who is this…person?’ asked Juana, prodding the corpse’s head with the tip of her flip flop. ‘Where’s Sadia?’

‘The shit poet? In Portland, of course…’

‘But-…’

‘…putting this little mess behind her.’

‘No, you said she was-…’

‘Yeah, the more I think about it…or the thinking I did down there…it probably was the coward who did it. Altered her into-…to do this…be capable of it.’

‘What, coward? Who are you talking about?’

‘But then again, maybe not.’ Reshmi looked down at the corpse, putting one arm into her jacket sleeve…and stopped when she realised her t-shirt and pants were still soaking wet. Slurring alien nonsense, she clasped both hands together…and without any kind of energy transference signifier…the clothes were dry again. And, a second after that, her jacket was on. ‘Leave this for the animals. Or the forest cops…’

‘Cops?’

‘…whichever turns up first.’

‘But he’s-…’

‘No counters…from any of you. We’re leaving.’

I closed up and looked at Lexi, who had her goggles pulled back down.

In solidarity, I did the same.

Checked on the yellowing corpse, still abject, then stared out at the glitching lake.

‘Next stop, Salem.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s