The Documents of Hector Maze: 6.4

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 30th, 2005 by bill
The first couple hours were a hellish slog through blinding rain. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open and the nose of the car pointed south; every time I passed a semi my windshield was pummeled by a curtain of water and for a few long seconds I was sure I was going to die. But I didn't, and just as "Cry Baby Cry" started for the second time, I came out of the rain. It was the first moment of real peace I'd had in ages. Before long the sky was completely clear, and some last reserve of energy that I didn't know I had kicked in. The rest of the drive was effortless, and I found my way without even having to think about it, although I couldn't have explained how to get to Lee's place if my life depended on it. Later, a crescent moon climbed over the horizon to my left as I listened to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I'd always been dubious about that song—"I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping," is that really the best rhyme you could come up with, George? But at that moment, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I decided I could forgive Eric Clapton all his many sins for these few minutes of transcendence. Driving through the desert with "Helter Skelter" blasting, I remembered that the Manson Family had once lived not far from here. I've always thought it was one of life's great ironies that a Paul song became the theme song for Charlie and company's murderous rampage. Must have made John furious. I was heading into the home stretch, doing my best to sing along with "Long Long Long," when the fuel light went on. I wasn't worried, though; I felt totally confident that I would get where I was going. The light went off for a while, then came back on again, and was glowing bright orange as I pulled into the gas station. I was reaching to turn off the engine when it sputtered and died of its own accord, just as the last notes of "Good Night" were fading out. And then I fell asleep.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 6.3

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 29th, 2005 by bill
I wish that I had stayed with Lee then, quit my job and gotten cleaned up; it would have saved me a lot of time. But I only spent one night there, during which we went for a long, tiring walk with no visits from mysterious entities. We discussed what the presence might have been, but all we agreed on was that the two obvious answers—God and aliens—didn't satisfy us. God, we thought, would have made himself heard more clearly; and it just didn't seem like extraterrestrial behavior. There was no abduction, no anal probe, no "take me to your leader." And how would Martians know about bongo drums? Shortly after dawn I got back in my car, popped a couple pills, and went back to my speedy, shallow, pointless life. Which was how I ended up in the phone booth, in the rain, if you can remember back that far. I got out my calling card, picked up the receiver, and punched in Lee's number. The phone rang a few times, and then rang some more, and kept on ringing. Lee's not an answering machine kind of guy. I was on the verge of hanging up several times, but since I didn't have much of a plan B, I stayed on the line. Finally, after what must have been a hundred and fifty rings, Lee picked up. Our conversation was short. "Hello?" "Lee, it's Hector. Can I come stay with you for a while?" "Sure." "OK. I'll see you in a few hours." After hanging up, I took a deep breath and made a dash for the car. Once I was inside, I started rummaging through the cassettes in the glove compartment. Music was going to be crucial for this journey; my body was in total shutdown mode, but I was stubbornly convinced that I needed to get to Lee's before I crashed. After rejecting Bauhaus (too dark) and T. Rex (too light), I came across a beat-up copy of the White Album, which was the ideal choice. I started up the car, hoping that the tape would still play. I was momentarily elated when the airplane sound, followed by the first bars of "Back in the U.S.S.R.," blared from the speakers. This feeling was soon replaced, however, by the realization that I had an extremely difficult ordeal ahead of me. The rain was still coming down hard, and it was starting to get dark, making visibility very poor. And I wasn't feeling well, not at all.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 6.2

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 26th, 2005 by bill
I must have looked askance, because Lee was moved to comment, "Just for the record, Hector, I was stone cold sober at the time." "Hey," I responded, waving my hands to ward off the suggestion that I'd ever thought otherwise. "I didn't say anything. Tell me about the light." "It was orange-yellow, round, like a little sun. As I walked it seemed to move with me, lighting up the ground around me, like I was in a spotlight. I felt a presence...a consciousness...and then it started talking to me." Lee paused and sipped thoughtfully at his tea. I tried to be patient and wait for him to continue, but that didn't last long. The suspense was killing me. "So what did it say?" Lee took one more slow sip before answering. "Well, it was kind of garbled." "What do you mean garbled? Like a bad connection?" "No, it was more that the voice was mumbly. Like somebody who's drunk, or Bob Dylan. I mean, I understood a lot of it. There was a bit about seeking knowledge, that was pretty clear. And there was a whole thing about love, how powerful, how sublime, all that. But the last thing it said, well...." He shook his head. "I keep thinking I must have heard it wrong." "Why? What did it say?" He looked rueful. "It sounded like, 'Play the bongo drums.' I was getting ready to ask for a clarification, and then it just turned off, like somebody flipped a switch. The light was gone, the warmth was gone, the presence was gone, and I was back in the desert by myself. "So after that I quit my job. Actually, I didn't quit so much as just stop showing up. I took my savings and bought this place, and now I go out walking every night. I keep hoping it'll come back, but nothing so far." After taking some time to process this strange tale, I asked what seemed like the most logical question. "Have you tried playing the bongos?" Lee pointed to where a set of bongos sat on an end table. "I play every day. It's fun, but it doesn't seem to accomplish much."

The Documents of Hector Maze: 6.1

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 26th, 2005 by bill
Lee's house was much nicer inside than it appeared from the outside, although his housekeeping left something to be desired. Dirty dishes and used teacups were everywhere, as were stacks of books on subjects ranging from hard science to Eastern mysticism to the Kennedy assassination. There was also a wide selection of Classic Literature, from The Brothers Karamazov to Moby-Dick to Gravity's Rainbow. An old, lopsided gray cat eyed me cautiously from a corner. "Sorry, I don't do much entertaining," he said as he cleared some papers off a chair to make a place for me to sit. There was something new in the way he carried himself, but I didn't know what to call it. There was a grace to it, but then he had always been graceful; this was something different. Lee offered me a cup of tea and I accepted without stopping to think that hot tea was the last thing I wanted in this climate. It was even hotter inside than out and I could feel the sweat gleaming on my forehead, but Lee looked cool and comfortable. I found this highly annoying. Heat makes me cranky. Nothing was said as Lee heated the water and put the tea in to steep. I was trying to think of a polite way to ask what the hell he was doing here, but fortunately he saved me the trouble. "I bet you're wondering what I'm doing here." I nodded. "The thought had crossed my mind." "I sometimes wonder myself. Well, the first part is easy to explain. Last Thanksgiving I decided to come out to the desert, get away from everybody and everything, just do some thinking. I was hating my job. Hating it. That place was just money, money, money...the share prices, the stockholders, the competition. Nobody cared about what we were actually doing. "It was my own fault, really. I had no business there in the first place. But after all the wandering, I wanted some stability, some security.... "Anyway, I drove out on Thanksgiving Day and set up camp at a spot just a couple of miles from here." He gestured vaguely toward the window. "It was great. Peaceful. By Saturday I had forgotten most of what was bothering me, but I was dreading having to go back. That night I went for a walk." He paused to locate two clean teacups and fill them. "I haven't told anybody else this story and I know it's going to sound weird. I'm still not really sure what happened. Promise you won't think I'm nuts?" This was very unlike Lee. He had always been totally sure of himself; if you disagreed with him, you were wrong, and that was that. I recognized now what was new in his manner: a sense of humility. "I promise." "OK," he said, smiling and sipping his tea. I watched his eyes roll up and to the left as he accessed his memory. "I went out for a walk. There was no moon, and I'd never seen the stars look so clear. But it was cold, and getting colder. I was just starting to think about turning back when I felt this...warmth." There was a catch in his voice as he said the last word, and I tried to meet his eyes but he was far away now, completely in the moment. "It was like being gathered up in your mother's arms. Or like walking through a door into a warm house, hearing a fire crackling inside, smelling soup in the kitchen. I just suddenly felt completely safe. "Then I looked up and there was a light in the sky."

The Documents of Hector Maze: 5.4

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 19th, 2005 by bill
Next thing I knew I was being ushered into an oddly-shaped room with mirrors on every wall. The mirrors made the room look infinitely large and made the 30 or so people in the room look like thousands. All of us stood around awkwardly for a minute waiting for something to happen. Then it did. The lights went out and some strange, Middle Eastern-sounding music was piped in. A moment later the floor started sinking. If I wanted to have my mind blown, I'd certainly come to the right place; this was much better than the Pink Floyd laser show. When the floor stopped moving, a door popped open on one side, revealing a distant circle of light that appeared to be at the other end of a long tunnel. The music stopped and suddenly it was disconcertingly quiet. The only thing I could hear was what sounded like water dripping somewhere far away, amplified by an echo effect. The crowd was quiet too, until someone finally said, "Well, what do we do now?" There was no answer, so after a minute I was moved to share my opinion. "Obviously, we head for the light." A woman's voice piped up. "But it's, like, totally dark in there." She was right—it was, like, totally dark. Or at least it had been; my eyes had adjusted to the darkness now, and as I squinted into the tunnel, I saw a very faint glow emanating from the walls at regular intervals. I stepped through the door for a better look. It wasn't enough light to make you feel comfortable, but it was enough to work with. "No point just hanging around," I said, and started walking. Everybody else fell in behind me, which I guess made me de facto leader of this little expedition. I'm not much of a natural leader, but when there's a vacuum I'll step into it; I'm not totally useless. For a while we marched along in silence, except for our footsteps crunching on the ground.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 5.3

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 18th, 2005 by bill
I woke up in a state of confusion. The sun was punishing my eyes and I couldn't seem to remember where I was. I sat up and put on my sunglasses. That helped with the sun, and as my eyes adjusted I made out the rollercoaster in the distance. It all came flooding back: the phone call, the job, the theme park. Right. Everything's under control. I had a hard time standing up for some reason. After a moment I steadied myself and started walking, but I felt unusual. Almost as if... Then I remembered: The last time I'd quit smoking loco weed, I'd baked everything I had left—which was quite a bit—into these cookies and put them in the freezer for an emergency. This was going to be an interesting afternoon. I felt a little panicky. Unfamiliar surroundings + drug paranoia = a bad situation. But I reminded myself of the wise words of Douglas Adams: "Don't panic." My first instinct was to get back to the car and get out as soon as possible. But if this was just the leading edge of a heavy-duty high, I wasn't going to want to deal with extricating myself from the parking structure and then driving home. So I reminded myself of the wise words of Hunter S. Thompson: "Buy the ticket, take the ride." I was here now and I was going to have to deal with it. It wasn't like I'd never been in this type of situation before. The best strategy is to find something to do, keep from getting sucked up into your mind. I took a couple of deep breaths and started walking again. I found a path that led into a short tunnel and when I came out the other side, I was looking down at a silver, pyramid-shaped building with a long line of people in front of it, and I seemed to be looking down at it from a great height. Was it the dope that made me think so, I wondered, or was this really true? Given that we were at sea level, it seemed unlikely; but after what I'd already seen, I was ready to think anything was possible. Stairs were cut into the hillside in front of me, and several people were already on their way down. For lack of a better plan, I decided to join them. The steps were on the narrow side, but I was suddenly feeling absurdly confident and light on my feet. I knew from experience, though, that this is exactly when you're in the most danger, so I resisted the temptation to take the steps two at a time. At the bottom I attached myself to the end of the line and tried to act normal. This is not easy for me under the best of circumstances, and doubly difficult with my mind running in circles as it was. But I figured if I kept my mouth shut and didn't make any sudden moves I'd be OK. Over my left shoulder I caught sight of a flashy blonde in a flesh-baring black top, and just behind her a cute brunette in glasses, playing with her hair. This led to a reverie the details of which I prefer to keep private. Let's just say it distracted me long enough that I was almost to the front of the line by the time I realized I had no idea what I was waiting in line for.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 5.2

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 15th, 2005 by bill
I'll say that again in case you missed it: The track ended abruptly, in midair. It didn't start again until about a hundred yards ahead and twenty yards below, as if we were meant to fly through the air and pick up the track again on the other side. I wasn't afraid, though. No, I was terrified. My heart turned inside-out and the screaming around me reached a deafening crescendo as we leapt off the tracks and started flying. Or at least that was what it felt like. In my rational mind I was sure that we were still on a track that had somehow been erased from visual reality—I mean, no one would build a rollercoaster that flies through the air, would they? That's insane. But my eyes were telling a different story, and maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but I certainly felt like we were gliding frictionless through the air. Time stopped for a long, peculiar moment of exhilarating freedom mixed with a sense of impending doom. And then it was over as we hit the track on the other side with a jolt. The jolt should have bothered me, because it went against my invisible-track theory; but I was so happy to still be alive that I didn't care. I had a scant moment to catch my breath before we dove into another set of sharp curves that soon brought us back down to ground level and the end of the ride. My legs were wobbly as I stepped out of the car, but my body was pulsing with adrenaline and I couldn't help but smile at still being in one piece. I looked around at my fellow passengers, who were similarly elated, and felt a pleasing sense of connection. Were I a different kind of guy, I might have started going around shaking hands. Instead I decided to find a shady spot and have lunch. After a few minutes of recon I found a suitable location and had a seat. Feeling good about having made it through the rollercoaster experience without soiling myself, I unzipped my backpack and got out an apple which I dispatched with haste. I followed it down with the bread and cheese, which were pleasantly crusty and not as bad as it looked, respectively. To top it off I busted open the Tupperware and started in on the cookies, which were slightly soggy and tasted a little off somehow, but...they were cookies. I scarfed them eagerly and lay back on the grass to digest. It had been an unusually eventful day already, and it was barely noon. I felt quite content for the moment just laying there, and it wasn't long before I drifted off into an unplanned slumber.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 5.1

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 15th, 2005 by bill
Near where I came out of the ferris wheel thingie there was a sign that said "WARNING: MOVING WALKWAY." As people passed it they started gliding away at a steady rate, just like at the airport. What was odd was that the ground beneath them didn't appear to be moving; it looked like an ordinary field of grass. This aroused my inner technophobe, who likes to feel that he has at least some idea of how things work. In this case the illusion was so seamless that I felt like a superstitious native suddenly confronted with a 747. I decided to go in another direction, so I found a path that led off through a canopy of trees. Birds were singing overhead and the air was cool and loamy; within 50 yards I might just have well have been in a park somewhere, so cut off was I from the surrounding environment. But a minute later I emerged from the trees and in front of me a towering rollercoaster gleamed orange in the sun. It was a wild labyrinth of twists and turns going up, down, left, and right, and underneath it was a long line of people waiting to get on. I debated whether to join them. On the one hand, I'm not that crazy about rollercoasters, and I'm not a big fan of long lines either. On the other hand, there I was. What did I have to lose, except my lunch—which was still in my backpack, so as long as I held onto it carefully, I figured I'd be OK. I got in line behind a couple of teenagers who were so excited that they were vibrating visibly. From their conversation I gleaned that this was their third time on the ride today. The line moved surprisingly quickly and it wasn't much more than 10 minutes before I was strapped into my seat. The teenagers were in the car ahead of me and a college-age couple was behind me, so I was sitting alone, which was a good thing. I didn't want anyone to witness the abject terror that it was quite possible I was going to experience. The rollercoaster started off slowly but then, as it began climbing a slight grade, accelerated abruptly. Then it shot straight up into the air, quickly turned left, made a half-circle to its right, climbed some more and then plunged abruptly almost to ground level. Everyone around me was screaming but I was silent, though inwardly I was cursing myself for deciding to do this. I saw a twist in the track ahead and suddenly we were upside-down, rolling along just a couple feet off the ground. We started climbing, still upside-down, and went through a dizzying series of loops and banks before finally turning right-side-up. We were very high up now and had a good view of Elasticland all around us and the water off to our left. There was long stretch of straight track ahead of us, so I relaxed into my seat for a moment. My back was sore from being slammed back into the car so many times, but I forgot all about that when I saw that the track ended abruptly in midair just ahead.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 4.4

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 14th, 2005 by bill
It was a short walk from the park to the local tavern. We ordered whiskeys and I tried to get Lee to tell me where he'd been for the last three years. He was evasive. He'd been around the world, he said. Spent some time at sea. Been to Africa and the Arctic. Now he was working a high-powered job for an aeronautics company down south. Which was an odd thing for him to be doing. But by the time we got to that part of the story, I was two drinks to the good and not in the mood for an interrogation. I was happy just to see him, and we soon got into one of our usual conversations about aliens, the nature of existence, and Jimi Hendrix. We kept on drinking till closing time, then wandered off into the cool, surprisingly starry night. There was no teary goodbye, just a handshake and a manly half-hug. I turned to walk home, and Lee strode off in the opposite direction. In the morning I had a hard time believing that the encounter had ever happened. For a minute I thought I'd dreamed the whole thing, but my hangover said otherwise. Plus Lee had given me his sunglasses after I said I liked them; they were sitting on the bureau in my bedroom. I realized to my chagrin that I'd never found out where he was staying or gotten an address or phone number, and so that was the last I heard of him until a year and a half later, when I went down to L.A. on business. I decided to try to find Lee while I was down there, but it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. His phone number was unlisted, naturally. I couldn't remember the name of the company he worked for, but in the end I was able to get an address through the Department of Motor Vehicles. It was somewhere around Barstow, out on the edge of the desert. I took off from my hotel at 10 in the morning on Saturday and by 1:30 I'd left civilization far behind. My map proved to be less than useful, so I finally pulled into a gas station—the only sign of human habitation for miles around—to ask directions. It was an old, rundown station with the old mechanical pumps; behind it was a junkyard of sorts covered with rusty machinery, in the middle of which stood a brown wooden house that could just as well have been called a shack. Behind that was a vast expanse of nothing. I parked beside one of the pumps and got out. There was not a single sound to be heard, though I could have sworn I heard rust working away all around me. It was dusty and hot and although there were no actual tumbleweeds, in my mind's eye a dry wind was blowing balls of dead plant matter through this Godforsaken place. I waited a minute to see if anyone would appear, then leaned on the horn to scare up some action. A few seconds later a figure in a white robe materialized out the junkyard and came toward me. There was something familiar about the way it moved, and...well, you've probably figured it out already. His black hair was long now and his face had a considerably browner hue, but it was Lee.

The Documents of Hector Maze: 4.3

Posted in The Documents of Hector Maze on November 11th, 2005 by bill
Then Lee began to change. Toward the end of the year, he gave up all of his bad habits, gifting me with an assortment of drug paraphernalia and a big bag of mushrooms he'd squirreled away under his bed. He stopped going to class and began disappearing altogether for longer and longer periods of time. One day during finals week, I saw him for the first time in ten days and asked him what was going on. There was a fire in his eyes I'd never seen before. It scared me a little. "I have to leave this place, Hector," he said. (His speech got pretty biblical-sounding sometimes.) "Why?" I asked. "I've seen the end." "The end of what?" "The end of myself. The universe. Everything. I don't have time to explain right now." He looked at his watch. "I need to go." "Lee..." He put his hand on my shoulder, fixing me with a stare just this side of madness. "We will meet again." That was the last time I saw Lee for more than three years. In the meantime I tapered off the hallucinogens—Lee's breakdown, or revelation, or whatever it was, had really thrown me—and started doing some actual studying. My grades improved and despite the shaky start I managed to get my degree fairly easily. One day not long after graduation I was at the park down the street shooting free throws. I spent about an hour shooting free throws every day that summer; it helped relieve the anxiety I was feeling about my future. I hadn't forgotten about Lee, nor did I think about him very often. But I wasn't at all surprised to see him come walking into the park that day. It was late afternoon and his thin frame was silhouetted against the setting sun. His head was shaved and he was wearing sunglasses, but I knew immediately that it was him. He nodded at me. "Hector." "Lee. Good to see you again. What's new?" One side of his mouth twisted up into a smile. "There is no new thing under the sun, Hector. You know that." "Just a figure of speech, man." "I know. Let's go get a drink."