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.
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 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’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.
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.
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…