Woo boy. Things are starting to get rather interesting in the town of Desmond, MA, aren’t they?
I’m having a lot of fun writing this. Maybe a little too much fun.
Oh, and here’s a song. Actually, three, all Modest Mouse. I listened to these three songs a good bit while writing the first part of this chapter last weekend.
(Edit: wow, great job Arthur, posted it without adding the music. great job, moron.)
I stopped for a moment outside the bar and snorted a small bump of ketamine. I just felt weird when I wasn’t on it at this point, so I had to take precautions against that.
The bar was more or less empty, which wasn’t too surprising given that it was still a good while before noon. There were three employees in there, one cleaning floors and tables, the other cleaning glasses, and the third ready to serve anyone their drinks.
I walked up to the third and took a seat in front of him. I thought he had been one of the people on staff there the previous night, but I honestly couldn’t tell. For one, my head was still spinning – as it always was – and secondly, they all looked strangely similar. I had thought the previous night that they might’ve all been siblings, but the resemblance seemed to go beyond what would be possible in that situation.
“Hey, I was here last night,” I said to the guy in front of me, “and I think I left a briefcase. Have you seen it? Any of you?” I said, looking around the room. The bartender was silent and grim. “I’ll have a beer, too,” I said, and slapped four dollars on the bar.
The eyes of the man in front of me were dark and shadowed by overarching brows. “Yeah, I’ve seen it,” he said quietly, then gave a look and a slight nod to the other employees. I sensed the two of them approach me, but didn’t particularly care.
I heard a bang and felt a ripple of force go through my body. Then the pain.
Well, that is, what I call pain. It’s at such a low level that most people probably wouldn’t even notice, but I’ve, ironically, become sensitized to it over time. Enough that that tiny, inperceptible amount of pain was enough to be unbearable for me.
I heard a splatter followed by constant dripping of liquid onto the floor. I looked down, and it felt for a moment like space shifted and I was somehow now fifty feet away from the floor, fifty feet away from the quickly growing pool of blood that made me feel bad for, oddly enough, the guy cleaning the floors.
My vision lightened, my head floated upward, and I felt my sense of balance fade away into nothingness and my body slide off the stool into the air beyond. It seemed as though gravity had disappeared, I just hung motionless in the air in front of the bar while the three employees watched.
My vision darkened, then, and gravity came back stronger than ever, slamming me into the ground full-force. The blood soaked through my shirt and the employees walked over to stand above me. One of them, I couldn’t tell which because they all looked identical, lifted the gun and aimed it at my head. He pulled the trigger, there was a bang, and my vision was black.
Rennet Bennet hated that his tea was salty. It always was.
He could’ve changed that if he wanted, just by will, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. How could he allow himself to use his powers to help himself when there were undoubtedly thousands dying at every moment, thousands that he could have – should have – saved.
He felt a sudden tinge of even more guilt than normal and realized that someone very nearby had just died. Look at that, he said to himself, while I was busy moping to myself about my tea, someone died.
Every moment someone died or suffered, someone he could’ve helped. That, in turn, led to his self-flagellation, which only used up more time he could have used to prevent another person’s death or suffering. It was a vicious cycle Rennet Bennet was stuck in for his whole life, which, unfortunately, did not have a foreseeable end.
All was black, all was white. White line drawings on a black background. Everything wavered, blurred, then resolved itself into the bar that I realized I had just died in.
But I wasn’t just in the bar, I was everywhere in the city, or I could see everything in the city, but I was centered in the bar.
I looked down and saw my body being dragged away, the man who had been cleaning the floors earlier mopping up the blood that had already begun to dry onto the wooden floorboards. I had a nasty hole through my head, exposed bone and brain and skin peeling back onto itself.
I began to move out of the bar. Or rather, I moved through the bar until I was eventually outside. I had no idea how I moved, or truly what at all was going on. I tried to look at myself and failed, for there was nothing to look at. I was just a nonexistent floating consciousness that was somehow able to see and move.
In other words, nothing that new to me. Although I had to admit, this was the first time it had happened somewhat independent to drugs.
As I floated through the city I noticed that there was, in the distance, a little point of light that shone in a way that seemed like it was shining to me.
I was back in the bar, above the stool I had been sitting at before I died. There was no blood stain, there was no gun, but there were customers. In addition to them, there was someone I recognized sitting at the stool next to the one I was above: Hannah.
She had a notebook in one hand and a pen in the other, looking up at the bartender then down at her notepad for a moment to write something down. I remembered that she had come here to write a news story.
The bartender she was talking with was the one who had been behind the bar before I was shot. The one who signaled it. At least, I thought he was. So hard to tell with the people here.
I was in my hotel room, and almost tried to lay down on my bed, thinking for a moment everything was normal, but realized I had no physical body that could do that. Additionally, it was difficult for me to actually move of my own will, I just tended to drift in directions at random. Directions, and times. It had to have been a few hours between when I first “awoke” in the bar and now, since it had had customers last I saw, and I almost felt like I had “lived” through those hours, but had absolutely no recollection of them.
I was in a car beside a man with a paper coffee cup full of something. He held it in trembling hands, sobbing softly, taking a sip of the liquid every once in a while. I saw his mouth say “always, always”, then he sat up straight, alert, and looked very hard directly at me for a moment. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him.
He stared at me for a few minutes – at least, what I could guess at were minutes – then pulled a tissue out of a box and blew his nose, and took another sip of the liquid.
I was then coasting along the floor at the same speed as three men who were running desperately through a long indoor hallway somewhere. I looked behind them and saw three skeletons, running, that were not far behind, and seemed to be catching up.
They weren’t just skeletons, though. It was like looking at an x-ray photograph, sort of; the bones are the most noticeable part, but there is a sort of dim outline surrounding them, a “ghost” of bones’ owner that the x-ray was able to look through.
Then I drifted slowly up the main street of Desmond, MA, toward that beacon of light. It drew me towards it. The light itself was sentient, it was what had brought me here, what had guided me through this city. I heard a whisper that originated from the light but was still too far away to make it out.
The whisper subsided and suddenly Mac Demarco’s Chamber of Reflection started playing. The music had no source, but given the setting I was in, I didn’t question it too much. I liked the song, and it made for nice background music as I slowly made my way towards the light.
It was timed perfectly, whether coincidental or not, for I was almost at the origin of the light by the time the song ended. I stopped in my forward movement for a moment, then plummeted toward the ground. Some irrational fear of falling took hold of me then, but just at the moment I would have hit the ground I slid into it, floating now in the dirt and rocks a few feet below the surface.
I could see the origin of the light quite well now. It was a long, curved tooth or fang. Not just that, though. Like it had been with the skeletons chasing the band members shortly before – in my personal timeline, at least – it was like looking at an x-ray, the tooth being the only “bones” that were fully visible.
Surrounding and circling the tooth, though, was a massive snake that slowly rotated, chasing, biting, eating its own tail.
“Hello, Lawrence Cantor,” a smooth, feminine voice said. The mouth of the snake did not move, but I could tell that it was the origin of the voice. “I am Ouroboros.”
“Hello,” I said, but quickly discovered that I didn’t say anything at all. No sound was made, which was unsurprising given that I had no body and thereby no vocal chords to make it with.
“I can hear you, if that’s what your wondering,” Ouroboros said.
I thanked her for clarifying that.
“You’re probably wondering what you’re doing here. Or rather, what this all is to begin with. I’ll explain things for you, although I don’t know if it will necessarily help anything make sense for you.
“I grant immortality to people who made the journey to find me. I used to, that is. I was killed by one of the people I had granted immortality immediately after I had done so. He took a piece of me before he left. That is this tooth you see. That’s all of my remains that… remain.”
“But why, how am I…”
“I’m getting to that. There’s something they put in the beer. It’s in most everything here. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘they’ put it in the beer. I also shouldn’t exactly say ‘put’ either. He did it all, the man who killed me. A compound soaks into the ground around me from my tooth and the blood stored within it. For hundreds of years it has soaked into the soil, so almost everything, water and plants and people and animals, are saturated in it to some degree. Beer has a higher amount of it than normal, and he knows that. He’s been slowly raising its plasma levels in the population of this city.”
“I can only guess, but what I have guessed at is too horrible to imagine. I won’t discuss it with you right now, as it’s only speculation. But what I can tell you is that it gives him, as my victor, some amount of control over the people who live here. I’m curious as to what he plans to do with that power.”
“That still doesn’t explain why I’m here.”
“Very true. As someone uninitiated to the substance, and as someone who has already been dissociated from reality more than he imagines,” she said with a slight edge, “you somehow managed to… release your consciousness completely from your body at the moment of death. What you’re having right now could be described as the only true ‘out of body experience’. I think that may also be why he stole away your briefcase when you were drunk. He realized what the combination could possibly do – though I’m sure he doubted it would actually happen – and obviously didn’t want you selling it to anyone here and giving them a chance to make it happen for themselves. Preventive measures, you see.”
“I see. Well, what now?”
“That’s where things get interesting. I think you should be back in the physical world, and I think I can help you out a lot with that.”