Springing out of National Novel Writing Month, a group that enjoys writing throughout the year! All ages and abilities welcome!
It was a dark and stormy night,
which I have to admit was something of a surprise to me as I had always kind of imagined that Texas was a dusty and dry desert with very little in the way of redeeming qualities. Not that a rainstorm was really a redeeming quality, but it did kind of ruin the whole western ambience I had been going for in coming here.
It was dark, however, mostly because the light in the cell was out. A few months ago when I had taken a few days work as a dental receptionist in Toronto I had tried to alleviate the crushing boredom by reading a newspaper which had talked about looming budget cuts in Texas; apparently the inhabitants of the Lone Nut state were keen on incarnating people but not so keen on paying for it. At any rate the newspaper had not managed to save me and I had left the job soon after, fortunately quickly finding a few weeks work as a bodyguard for a preacher. It was that job that had landed me, in a roundabout way, in the mess I was in now.
Boredom was not really a problem now. There wasn’t any external light, except for the occasional flash from the storm, which provided an instant image of the whole room, but my mind was busy filling the world with colour anyway, and my mood wasn’t dented any. I felt quite social actually, which was something of a shame as there wasn’t much of an opportunity to be social. Still, I went with what I had.
“So what are you in for?” I asked the only other person in the cell with me, a rather despondent looking Latina woman in her late forties (if I was in any position to judge, which I probably wasn’t).
There was a pause before she answered. “What do you think? Driving while not white”. She said, bitterness etched into her tone.
“I wasn’t aware that was a crime here yet” I said, confused.
“I mean, I was pulled over at a stop, and I had forgotten my driving licence and passport. So they assume I’m an immigrant. Only they don’t, because I’ve lived my whole life in this town, and they’ve done this too me a bunch of times, but they get a power trip from following regulations, so instead of sleeping in my own bed I get to spend the night with a white girl talking garbage about lesbian dolphins.
“I wasn’t talking about lesbian dolphins, I was talking about Lesbian Dolphins. As in the band.” I said “I was heading to Austin to see them at South By Southwest. But I got sidetracked, and then got thrown in here for preaching on the streets that Jesus was actually a lesbian and was sent by God to free women from men.”
A flash of lightening showed that this had elicited a smile “I’m sure that isn’t illegal, even in Texas.”
“Well, it’s the last thing I remember doing outside.” I said
“Well, you can’t have forgotten buying 40 grams of peyote in that dive bar beforehand.” The woman asked me.’
“Oh, where you there?” I asked.
“Most of the town was” the woman said.
“I’m Gale” I said, becoming aware that I hadn’t introduced myself. “Gale McKay.”
“Maria” she said in reply
We sat in silence for a while. Peyote is one of the more interesting drugs out there, capable of providing great insights for travellers on a quest, and my quest badly needed an infusion of insight. Unfortunately my mind was rebelling and instead all I could think about was the nature of the Virgin Mary and how it related to the plight of women through the ages. These were profoundly important thoughts, but not the thoughts I needed right now. I also lacked any pen or paper so they were not much use to me. Whatever insights I had that night I’m sad to say I lost them, but I’ve made a note to go back and try and think them again some day.
“You know Van Horn is quite a long way from Austin” Maria said eventually. “And not really on the way there from anywhere except maybe the west”
“Oh, I started in New Orleans.” I said. “I was preaching there as well. But the preacher’s life was getting to me, so I decided to take a breather and catch some music.
“Then you made a really bad wrong turn somewhere” Maria said “To end up in this shithole”
“Not really”. I replied “My quest has no direction, so any direction is the right one.
“Christ, did you eat all the peyote?” Maria asked.
“Well, yes, but it doesn’t change anything. I’ve been on a quest for years. Five years in fact. It’s all about the quest. It’s all about Dee.
“Dee?” Maria asked
“My one true love.”
The flash of lighting (talk about timing!) wasn’t long enough for me to be able to read Maria’s expression. “Your one true love?”
“Yes” I said
“You are trying to win this Dee over” she stated.
“No, I’m trying to find Dee again.
“Again?” Maria said
“Yes. We met in a bar in Reykjavik. Then we lost each other again. There was a lot of … alcohol involved.
“Just alcohol?” Maria asked.
“Well, mostly alcohol.”
“And you’ve been looking for this Dee ever since?”
“Pretty much. I mean, I do lots of other things, side quests if you will, but this is the main one. It’s quite a complicated story.
Maria sighed and leant back in her grimy cot “Well I guess you’d better start in this bar in this place I’ve never heard of. You’re on a huge peyote kick, it isn’t like you’re going to let me have any sleep tonight”
I hesitated. It was a long story, and full of unimportant details as well as important ones. The drug smugglers in Goa, that business with the fake occult artefacts in Singapore. Escaping from Palmerston North with just the clothes on my back. That missing month three years ago and the swordfish competition with Ernest Hemmingway (although I might have imagined that whole thing). That business with Simon Cowell. Candy, Simon, Kelly, Big Mike, Ndunduma. The unpliant business in the church in southern Croatia. A whole bunch of other stuff. Which bit mattered, which important bits had I left out. But as I thought about it, it made sense. If I could relate the story right, now, with the help of the peyote, then I could perhaps understand it properly. Then I’d know what to do.
“Okay”. I said “Here goes”
It was a dark and stormy night.
*Do people actually start stories that way?” Maria asked
It was early January, and in Reykjavik that meant it was dark for most of the day. Dark clouds hid the sky and the aurora that I had admired the night before, and strong winds and biting cold sleet kept the streets clear of anyone except revellers moving between bars as quickly as they could manage.
The bar I was in was one of the larger ones, and had the odd name of Barbara. Nominally a gay bar, it was really the place you went to if you wanted wild and crazy dancing. It was filled with young Icelanders, all seeking relief from the cold and wet through the repeated consumption of beer and the opportunity to crowd together as tightly as possible on the dance floor.
It wasn’t why I was there, however, but I still had a beer in hand and my eyes certainly paused admiringly over some of the finer (or more feral) Viking boys and girls as I moved through the bar. If I failed in my task that night at least I’d find a way of, shall we say, drowning my sorrows. But as I glanced over at a series of long tables I saw Big Mike, and I knew I had hit the jackpot.
I wouldn’t have said that Big Mike was a friend at that point, not yet. We’d only really pulled one quest together, and although it had been a pretty lucrative one it had also had some pretty serious repercussions. It seems that the Guilford Society of Chartered Accountants had not been best pleased about what we had done, and had sent some fierce quantity surveyors after us. We’d split up as a group, some of the members even leaving adventuring for good and settling down to lead quite and unassuming lives as stable owners, innkeepers or airline hostesses. But Big Mike hadn’t left the life, clearly, and he was my in here.
I walked up behind him and slapped him on the back “Big Mike! How’s life treating you?”
“Gale! What are you doing here?” Big Mike boomed. The man is simply incapable of being unassuming, he’s larger than life in body and in spirit. Massive tree trunks for arms met on huge shoulders, the neck hidden behind a massive black beard. His hair was long and unkempt, but clean at least, and I buried my face in it as I gave him a hug from behind.
“The same as you I think. Looking for a crew” I replied, taking a spot on the bench next to him.
“Well, you’re in luck” he said “He waved around at a few people watching us. “I’m pulling one together, and we’re down a cleric. Everybody, this is Gale McKay. If you need a line to the big guy she’s the one you want.” I nodded at the others. “Gale, this is Ndunduma, our technical wizard from Nigeria, Candy, our sneak thief, Sonny, our mentalist, and Junko, our ninja.
The group all smiled politely. I knew they’d be reasonably good people, Big Mike had been around for a long time and he seemed to know everyone. I hadn’t been at the job nearly as long, certainly not long enough to know these people, but I clearly had been around long enough for Big Mike to pick me up without hesitation. It was a relief for sure, life without some quest was so… dull.