By Kirby Gann


Ig Publishing
April 2012


Not real often but sometimes Shady likes to get high alone. At night, alone, not doing anything else and she's not going to call anyone or get in the car to wake up a girlfriend because she's lonesome, just some time alone in her room with the window open, preferably on cold winter air but any time of year will do, like now, nearly April and with March this year holding winter longer than usual, and with the porch light below her window lending the only light to her room. The type of light is important; smoking up in a bright room isn't the same. Her father has his martinis and her mother her Librium and Klonopin and Shady doesn't think that choosing a bowl that she doesn't even smoke every night, not even once a week unless she happens to have a whole lot on hand, which isn't often, in fact it's almost never that there's more than a dime in her underwear drawer and even less in her purse, she doesn't think it's any different from what either of her parents do to relax. She's not a wake'n'bake kind of girl. She's not high all the time nor does she allow it to run her life. She doesn't even really do any other drugs, doesn't even like to drink, particularly—the occasional pop of X on nights with her friends clubbing back at school. But that was nearly a year ago now.

But late and when she's alone and it's so quiet in her neighborhood (if it can be called a neighborhood; the properties are all so large that it feels like the middle of nowhere at night) and her parents are asleep, she likes it like nothing else. She likes how good pot, when she's alone and in this certain frame of mind that seems to come only late at night, seems to open her to certain avenues of thought she doesn't have otherwise—and somehow having the room dark except for that soft porch light outside encourages this—she likes how she kind of slides into self-conversation about her current place and moment in life, where she is and where she's going, the kind of questions she tends to avoid because they make her all anxious. She looks over the trees out front and thinks, Where are you going, Shady Beck? What will you do, little girl? Like the doing so allows her to almost touch on some special knowledge or insight into secrets she may be keeping even from herself. Maybe it's only that she's relaxed and it's quiet with that feeling that the world is asleep and soon she will be too but not quite yet. A sort of meditation-slash-prayer routine. And she's high. When talking about this with her girlfriends back in school they decided it's something like what Indians used to do, maybe. She calls these little sessions her dream routines, and often that's just how it feels, like she's dreaming but awake in it and it's good and as she looks through her window at the darkness out there—there are only a few distant house lights visible, mostly it's trees—she can be filled with such an overwhelming love of life and the world even as she comprehends that she doesn't understand any of it.

Something happened during her routine several weeks ago that haunts her. There's a small TV in her room and she had smoked up after watching Letterman (who she doesn't care for much but this TV doesn't have cable and there was nothing else on and even though he's kind of a dick Letterman sometimes can make her laugh). She turned off the TV before the musical guest played. She opened the window and took two deep hits off her pipe, it was this strong stuff Spunk Greuel had given her that night she had been running around with him and Cole at the abandoned seminary; she thought it special stuff and had been holding on to it, parsing out only small amounts to herself. Everything felt fine as she entered her little dream routine and there was no wind outside and she admired the single pine among the hemlocks in the yard standing straight and strong like honorable dignified sentinels sworn to protect the house. She felt fine; excellent, even, but soon got sleepy too and so lay back on her bed with the window open, protecting herself from the cold with the duvet wrapped around her (a luxurious thing filled with real goose down, she had missed its warmth and felt guilty for missing it the night she stayed under the threadbare quilt at Cole's house), and looked at the dim bluish rhomboid of porch light on the ceiling and part of the wall. That's the last she remembers.

Later (she's unsure how much later, unsure how long she was out) she awoke in complete terror. The room no longer felt like her room, and it was filled with this incredible dark, a dark like she had never seen or experienced before, a dark like the deepest cave at the deepest bottom of the sea, it wrapped her up in this mass of dark that light could never penetrate, and even more frightening was the realization that it was impossible to move: her arms and legs had become unresponsive, she could hardly feel them. She had never felt such an absolute fear like that moment before. What made it worse was that she couldn't understand why she felt so afraid—she was safe at home in her own bed. It seemed that the room had been taken over by this pure cancellation of life. Which what little part of her mind was working at the time interpreted as evil. Like evil as a pure element.

It was so dark she couldn't see the digital clock on the bedstand. She didn't know how long she had been asleep. Though she couldn't move her head, the position she woke up in allowed her to see the television set, and there the screen gave off a peculiar horrifying glow, soft and dim but perceptibly radiant. Like the glow that comes up immediately after a TV set is turned off, except this glow was the negative of that, a glowing darkness, and it did not die down but instead grew forward and unfurled into the air like the way water spills into fabric—the glow being water and the air fabric. This glow, from what she could surmise, fed the heavy darkness that kept her paralyzed. There was no more light from the porch light; no discernible air; her room had become a coffin stuffed full with this black stuff, this evil stuff that seemed to want her. To want to erase her.

Her mind raced in a panic she did not know she had the capacity to feel. On the bent antenna above the TV she had hung a necklace of charms, tokens and gifts she had added over the years as she picked them up: a heart from her mother; a broken coin from Fleece Skaggs; a small silver cross bought for her by Brother Gil Ponder from a tiny gift shop inside the church, her "emblem of gratitude" given for attending a second Christ World Emergent service. The cross dangled above the area that was filling up with dark and she concentrated on that. The sight of it seemed to snap the entire situation into focus: she understood that this was a religious moment, having to do with her very soul—that something demonic was making a play for her soul. An idea she would later find difficult to sustain as credible, she had studied biology, she was a scientist, but at that instant it made perfect sense. Instinctively she began to pray. She started to pray manically, nothing formal to it, just started to repeat over and over that Jesus is our savior and He is my savior and I accept him in my heart and therefore whatever that was streaming out of that television set had no claim on her, it could not touch Shady Beck.

This did not seem to work. She became yet more terrified, terrified like she imagines she would be to find herself strapped down naked on a table with a room full of men she couldn't see except for the glint of light off their scalpels. Or more precisely like being tied down to railroad tracks and you can only watch the train's spotlight grow as it speeds nearer and nearer, your head's vibrating on the rail with the rhythm of the wheels churning closer and here comes the thundering noise. . . .

The darkness vanished the instant her ceiling light flickered on. She found her limbs and bolted upright; her feet slapped the floor; she found her mother standing in the doorway in a thick flannel nightgown, puffy and dull-faced from pill-aided sleep and half-inside the room, her hand on the light switch. You were whimpering, she said. Bad dreams? Shady didn't know how to answer her and so said nothing. She looked at the television set. With the whole room bright again it looked like a normal TV set.

Her mother was still standing there in the doorway so Shady mumbled something like Yeah it must have been bad dreams and after flashing one of those "I worry about my little girl but I'm exhausted" faces (a face Shady has provoked often enough to recognize easily), her mother left her alone. But in fact the state of dreaming seemed the exact opposite of the experience. It did not feel like some weird post-hypnagogic state, either (though she considered this possibility and read up on it). She does not consider herself an irrational girl prone to wild imagining. Naturally, and despite the intensity of the terror, she assumed the pot had something to do with what had happened.

She intuited, however, that the pot wasn't the only factor involved here; contact of some kind had been made. The problem was that she didn't know what it was that was contacting her, what it signified, what it was trying to say. Perhaps because the pot came from Spunk, and because of her eye falling upon the broken coin given to her by Fleece hanging next to Brother Ponder's silver cross, she connected this experience to Cole Prather. A warning to her? A warning to warn him? It all felt so mysterious and yet the more she weighed that night in her head the more certain she felt she had been opened to something that was linked to Cole.

She wanted nothing more to do with it and made a point of not thinking about it for several days. She tried to put the event behind her and stayed away from the routine for a while. Yet, after a time, once the immediacy of the terror had softened somewhat, and after she had not seen or spoken to Cole in weeks, the strangest thing began to occur—it was almost like she wanted to experience that night again. Like she longed to feel it again. To be tempted toward that darkness again. As a way of understanding; to hear the warning more clearly.

So she's been returning to the entire procedure with the greatest precision she can manage. She tries to set it up exactly as it had gone down that night: hung her necklace on the antenna, smoked off a bowl, endured Letterman and his buddy Paul trade jibes, turned off the TV before the musical guest appeared. But she sleeps through the night undisturbed. She has now repeated the process more times than she cares to count, trying to recapture the greatest terror she has ever experienced, practically making a ritual out of the steps she can remember, practically inviting that bad, evil, negative element to return to her room so that she might find what it meant, what it wanted from her and what she might find in it to bring to Cole. Yet these nights at home disappear in the peaceful sleep of the oblivious.

Paradoxically, that she doesn't seem able to make the event reoccur has led her to believe more fervently in the reality of that night, that it was not simply the strength of Greuel's homebatch weed working on her subconscious, but that Evil is real, an element as real as positive energy, at least, and it is capable of engaging a person body and soul. And it's like you can just bump into it, accidentally. Lately she discovers herself doing the most menial thing, driving alone or checking in at the new job or standing in line at the kwik-stop, and in her mind she is picturing this entire other galaxy, an entirely separate dimension encompassing this world like a vision out of some medieval fantasy, where there is a perpetual war going on, or at least a yin and yang push-pull conflagration, of Good vs. Evil, absolute energies the human mind can only conceive of as demons and warrior angels going at it in this spinning tornadic vortex for the, what?, the souls of each of us?

Admitting this makes her feel kind of ignorant, and superstitious, and plain silly, which is not how she likes to think of herself. But if she looks at it from a certain angle she can frame it as a kind of gift, too: for whatever reason she has been presented with a brief glimpse into what is actually going on out there, just out of sight. If she's interpreting it correctly. An acknowledgment she finds even more disconcerting and so she tries to avoid that one, too. What if the warning was for her? How would she know to heed it?

Intuitively she feels this is not the case. If it's a warning it is not for her, it's for others. The prophets in the Bible underwent such experiences that were meant only for them to share with the others who could not see what they knew. But again Shady thinks the entire notion is silly; she doesn't live in the world of the Bible. That world ended a long, long time ago, didn't it.