The idea took root in a bus after midnight, when I finally found the 33 line down Coldspring and in towards Hampden. The West Side of Baltimore was never my stomping grounds, and tripping my balls off didn’t seem like the time to explore. I’d already pissed off at least one sex worker, and saw dragons in the shadow of every streetlight.
I was a fantasy nerd from back in the commune days where gnomes and fairies and knights seemed no more strange than mom and her witchy wyld womyn. If they walked the streets nude between the old mill and the carriage house and shacks built before prohibition, then why couldn’t I be a fucking Jedi?
By the time I packed for my flight out to Evergreen State College, where grades are anathema and fantasy cost five bucks a hit (market prices subject to change), I’d moved onto hipper pursuits and degenerate habits. My weekly calisthenics consisted of three tabs and playing Peter Pan in the Olympian rain forest.
It started a couple months earlier, though. I split psilocybin with a couple gals and delved into a stone quarry. Hoped their mom didn’t, y’know, notice. And when the trip burned out, I caught a ride to the Metro back into the city.
Soon as I stepped back on the train, the demons came roaring back. The faces around me went sharp and demonic, or divine and fey. Dangerous, all of them, but not all grotesque. Many lured me into their gaze beckoning with soft, blurred features until they turned and grimaced and fear spread through my bloodstream like a virus.
The simple task of catching a bus, the stop was yards from the metro platform, was impossible. I wandered row homes and rolling hills like the alleys of medieval London. Dragons laughed at me from every shadow. They snapped at my heels, and every Bic that clicked hissed a roaring flame.
God only knows what I said to that poor pro-succubus, and she either shrieked or laughed me off into the dark. The gas station clerk didn’t have English as a first language, so neither of us had a prayer of communication.
I was losing faith and accepting my new life as an addled street walker when I saw the 33. I raced alongside. Didn’t know where the bus would stop. Just kept a few steps ahead of the bike rack off the bow. My guitar bag slapped hard against my sweat soaked sacrum. When the doors shuddered open, I shoved a twenty dollar bill, the bulk of my personal finance back then, into the receptacle. An offering to the unholy gods that shipwrecked me out there in the hood; passage for the psychopomp rowing the River Styx back to my hood.
Breathing hard, I glared at the shadows that pinwheeled by and crowed without a care for the other passengers. Let the dragons come and take me if they dared. I’d outwitted them, or weathered their assaults, or whatever. I survived to fight another day. If there was a hole between rationale and mystery, wouldn’t it be there? Where the freaks walk caught in tragedies of their own making, or the worn down persevere over horrors my white-ass couldn’t ever comprehend.
That made me laugh. But not as hard as when I realized the bus was going the wrong way. I pulled out my journal.
- Ian Humphrey