|Two Suns in the Sunset|
The whole fucking mess was Jonesy's idea. Six weeks ago, he came to me with his bag filled with pills, higher than God, but still he convinced me in spite of his shot-blood eyes, slurred speech, smoke pouring out of his nose and mouth. Six weeks ago, he convinced me to take this fucking road trip, convinced me that we'd be famous, convinced me that I'd get my book published, convinced me that he could drive in spite of the light blue oxys, the white vikes, the also white Quaaludes. His rainbow-streaked bag of drugs. The hashish, the marijuana, the PCP, the uppers and downers which Jonesy used to call quicks and slows, the Ketamine, LSD, and Xanax, more painkillers which were always Jonesy's weakness, the psilocybin mushrooms which were Marks', and more psychedelics depressants stimulants than I could name if my life depended on it.
Which it might; I am not completely sure about that yet. Writing is hard in spite of the vikes, which dull the pain but can't eclipse it completely, can't block out the red spires of pain that muscle into my vision when I move even the slightest bit, which keep me trapped here in this metal cocoon encompassing.
I should rest. This is going to take a lot out of me.
I look over what I've written and wonder if anyone will be able to decipher my last words, my last chance at leaving something of even a little importance, and all I have is fear. Isn't the whole point of writing this to tell people what happened? Tell people why all my friends are dead, sixteen-hundred miles from their homes, drugged up to shit, and one missing except for his leg? Why shouldn't they be able to know the truth? Why shouldn't I tell them the whole thing from the beginning?
The first day of it was exhilarating with its jackrabbit quicks and hummingbird slows. Jonesy came to me with his rainbow-filled bag after reading Keroauc and Thompson, wanting to emulate their masterpieces while adding our own touch of the absurd, our slip of the tongue with the abyss—
He knew that I was having trouble finding something to write for my first book. I had had various short stories and poetry published and wanted to get noticed; I wanted it to be a labor of love but I wasn't passionate about anything, really. Except for the drugs. I wanted it to be something semi-unique, yet familiar. Jonesy was the one that brought up the 'druggie road trip' book idea.
Jonesy's the only person who could convince me of something like that. He used to convince us to do crazy shit all the time, and it was always interesting, albeit usually dangerous and stupid to boot. The thing was, he had the money to do it in style. He paid for all the drugs in the bag, that's how privileged he was. He wanted to take this road trip in spite of that; I sort of admired him. Sort of.
He was never condescending, though; he never shoved it in our faces. It's funny, the things I remember about him now: he never brushed his hair, which actually made him look homeless, and he always wore these aviator sunglasses that were way too big for his fucking head.
Talking about him in the past tense is hard to do.
Jonesy is also the only person I would trust to drive while under the influence of almost seven different drugs. There's a time and place for that story, why I would trust him with my life, but then is not now. The story that I am writing now is not just about Jonesy, but about all of us.
Marks was the polar opposite of Jonesy. He was quiet, reserved, and always wrote down in this pocket-sized notebook he carried around with him. He was like me with the writing, although he wanted to write screenplays while I had always wanted to write fiction. He was a closet neat freak—he never yelled at someone to clean up but always did so behind their back. At any given time, Marks was usually high on shrooms.
I can't help but write about them—this is their eulogy. I can force myself to take the extra time to write about Jack since I've already written a bit about Jonesy and Marks.
Jack was my best friend, out of all of them. We had been friends since infancy. He wasn't like a brother to me, he was a brother. Something more, when I think about it…
I don't want to talk about Jack anymore.
Jonesy came to me with his rainbow-filled bag on March 14th.
Six weeks later, I woke up to find Marks' decapitated head resting on my lap.
He didn't look that much different than he had back at the motel, inquisitively looking upwards with those eyes that never focused on one thing but saw so much. I didn't even know he was dead until I noticed the wet damp cloth of my crotch, and then as I lifted the head, I realized. I glanced back, hearing Jonesy's throat-blood jettison from the wide sallow slit through his neck, Jack lying there, crimson rose blooming through his chest…
I don't know if I can do this.
I promised to start from the beginning, so I'll get back to it. The truth of it was, we didn't need much convincing. I was excited about the trip. I convinced Marks to come by telling him that he could rewrite my novel as a screen-play. He asked if I would front the money for some shrooms. "We could go halves," he said. "I'll pay you back."
I said "okay", and that only left Jack.
Jack came because he trusted me. Stupid, stupid piece of shit. You shouldn't have come. You'd be alive right now and I wouldn't be stuck here, smelling like shit, covered in your blood.
It took a week for Jonesy to amass his rainbow bag. It's taken almost four days for me to consume most of the painkillers and all of the marijuana. This would be funny if I wasn't about to die: trapped here in the wreckage of Jonesy's car, trapped, contemplating amputating my leg so that I can escape, and I'm rolling joints and smoking them, blowing the smoke out of the broken window, coughing into silence.
I've finally come to the crux of all this, the point of the whole damned thing: all of my friends are dead. Marks was decapitated by the wreckage, somehow. Jonesy's neck looked like a gutted fish; some part of the car almost ripped his head clean off his torso. Jack was shot through the lung, and he survived for a while, but I watched him bleed out in the rearview mirror.
"Help's coming," I told him, but no one knew where we were. No one knew.
I was sitting in the passenger's seat when it happened. We hit the rocks, the car folded like silk, the hood buckled and the windshield caved in. Glass rained down on me like brimstone. My right leg trapped in the wreckage of the car, I've been trying to survive. We had assorted food and a ton of bottled water in the back, but if I don't get out of this car soon, I will die.
So, it's come to this: I am going to try to sever my leg just below the knee. A dangerous, stupid, really fucking stupid idea, but it's the only one I can think of. I probably should have tried sooner, now that I think about it.
A Swiss army knife is all I have to do this.
There's two suns as I write this, or at least the illusion of two; the reflection of the sun on the dash blinds me, silhouetted by the actual star, seeming to overlap but the two intertwine, pulsing as one with my heartbeat.
The inner sun is sick; its heartbeat is irregular. Only I know this.
Marks, Jack, and I went to Jonesy's house the night before and planned out the trip. We didn't plan anything of interest in particular, but we thought the scenery would be enough to inspire us to write some crazy shit. Jack and I drank way too much and Marks took too many shrooms and god only knows what Jonesy ate and we left too late the next day to make any sort of distance. Jonesy drove for about two hours before we were forced to stop at a motel.
I'm being selective here. I only have enough time to tell the important parts. Or at least the interesting parts.
That night at the motel, I took peyote for the first time.
That was one of the last times we were all together, so it's important that I tell you what happened.
Ketamine tastes like sweat, by the way. Salty.
The peyote's effect was more than instant: it happened concurrently. I fell backwards onto the motel's shitty bed.
I felt like I had swallowed fire, but it was a pleasure to burn, to suffer sweetly. Everything seemed to be made of canvas, soft fuzzy furry and flat, unreal. I stood back up on tentative unstable legs and walked around the room, feeling everything, marveling at how everything felt fragile, ethereal, fake. I tried to rip through the wall to ascertain reality and fell into a field made of color, comprised of brushstrokes, hellish but beautiful, filled with atrocities and angels. I started screaming at some point.
"Calm down," I heard Jack say, and he pulled me through the hole I had created. He laid me down on the bed and told me that everything would be all right.
In the short term, he was right. But now he's dead and I'm—
I thought I heard a noise, someone's voice calling out, but I screamed for them until my voice was hoarse and no one came. Hope felt good for a couple of minutes but shit, this is reality, not some stupid movie where it was all a dream or we all survived the crash or where this never fucking happened in the first place.
"Calm down," I heard Jack say, so I did. I felt Jonesy sit down on the bed beside Jack, his aviators covering his face, his hair covering his aviators, his mismatched socks coming out from his shoes.
"Don't be so slow, man," Jonesy said, and handed me a yellow pill. "Quick's the way." He always used to say that.
But there were two black holes where his eyes used to be, cascading silently surrounding darkness, twisting like jackrabbit slows.
I slid the yellow underneath my tongue, feeling it pull like the undertow, dissolving like clouds in the summer. The air solidified in front of my eyes until everyone's faces were unrecognizable and only elements of their features shone through the madness…
The memory's so vivid, almost as if I was experiencing it now. Jonesy sitting there, laughing like a jackal, Cheshire teeth shining. Jack there as well, watching over me, telling me everything was going to be fine.
Telling me the same thing I told him, less than six weeks later, before he bled out.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Marks was in the bathroom the whole time this was happening, probably passing out or tripping balls staring at the light fixture or drinking tap water thinking it was the holy Christ, like he did that one time. Can't remember if it was that night or not.
He opens the door with some difficulty, stumbling out, his eyes not black holes but something similar, something less than his usual stare. His eyes unfocused, he looks toward us, not really seeing us but really looking at us.
"So, what do you guys want to do tonight?" he asks.
"This," I say, and even though I'm already lying down, I fall backwards onto the bed in a moment of vertigo.
"This," he repeats, and we all start to laugh at some point.
All of our nights were the same, though. Describing them would become redundant, but that didn't mean that they weren't the best times. We did a ridiculous amount of drugs and we bought a more ridiculous amount and we said funny shit about the drugs we took that we'd later quote in the car, while taking even more. Dynamite sticks of ketamine, gardens of shrooms, Vicodin mountains, lily-strewn fields of marijuana.
This continued and the manuscript was coming along great until Jonesy brought up the idea to meet a few of his friends that lived in the mountains, half an hour from the nearest town. About a day or two out of the way. They'd give us material for the book, he said; he had stories about them that'd have us pissing our pants if he could remember them, but he was too fucked up at the time.
"Answer quick," he said, crimson nose drips parallel, seeping into his mouth.
"Not slow," he reminded us, smiled.
Their names were Steve and Matt and George. Pieces of shit.
The car ride there was uneventful besides Marks taking almost a half-pound of shrooms and vomiting uncontrollably out the window, a dog with his face in the wind, tongue dry sandpaper and—
The car ride there was uneventful. George's place was the only house in sight, past all these windy twisted roads and steep ninety-degree drops. We pulled up and we all had had our daily dose of Vitamin K.
George walks up to the car and says, "What's up?"
"What do you guys want to do tonight?"
His eyes stuck on the rainbow bag the entire time he's talking, licking his lips through his grin, a snake in the grass under the brush.
"This," I say, patting the bag, but not really meaning it.
He smiles and asks, "So what do you guys want to do tonight?"
I think I've lost a lot of blood. It's hard to tell. The crimson echo tide of ichor slips slowly down the seat, absorbed by the car floor before it has time to pool.
Isn't Vicodin a blood thinner?
Oh shit Oh shit. Stupid, stupid piece of—
Thought I heard the sound again. Someone calling out.
It might be a hallucination; I passed out for a minute, imagining bright lights, but then I woke up and I was still here.
I wish I had some water to wash down the shrooms, they taste like the shit they grew in.
George's friends were fiends, hollowed out eye skulls and stringy long hair, talking in between cigarette drags and long stares to the side as if they were looking for someone. Matt couldn't stop fidgeting with his fingers, ripping pieces of paper into tiny strips, letting them litter the floor, and Steve was comatose, mumbling through loose flap lips and lying there, not moving. And George couldn't stop staring at the bag.
Matt took too many bathroom breaks and George seemed to disappear to the back room during these breaks, shifty eyes, and it was honestly the shadiest thing I've ever seen. I threw glances to Jonesy that said we should leave, this is honestly a bad idea, I don't even know who the fuck these guys are.
He laughed at me and said "Don't be so slow" through his grin.
George didn't even live in a house; it was so small it was more like a converted garage. A living room, a kitchen, a bedroom, everything was there but downsized.
The whole time, Steve said nothing to us directly, intermittently bursting out into laughter and saying to no one in particular "We'll be rich, man," and "We don't even know these guys," like a parrot.
Water stains peppered the ceiling and I thought I smelled rotting ham coming from the bedroom, and the only reason that we didn't leave was George's girlfriend, Michelle. She walks in and she looks like a normal fucking person, so misplaced in this carnival of freaks, and she sits down and starts talking to us.
"So, what's going on with this bag?" she asked, and before we had time to answer, Steve started laughing and gestured towards Marks.
"We'll be rich, man."
"Shut up, Steve," she said, "No one wants to hear you rant."
And it relaxed us. It wasn't a case of us being stupid, because she was sincere.
So she asked, "Where are you going?" and "What's with the notebook?" and once I explained the book idea, she seemed interested.
We're talking for a little less than an hour before Matt stands up, drops the piece of paper that he was shredding, and walks towards the back, mumbling something about going to the bathroom.
"Matt, you haven't drank anything in two hours," Michelle says. She almost looks comical, with this incredulous look on her face, but she also seems confused and maybe a little scared.
"Wha?" he asks, giving her a stare, and continues walking. His footsteps an ellipse, his black-and-white sneakers piano keys playing on the floor.
We hear the door shut like an exclamation mark.
The next time he comes back, he's with George, and they both have guns.
"I'm sorry, man, we're friends and all," George says, "but give me that bag."
"What the fuck, George?" Jonesy replies, his mouth agape. "What the fuck?"
"There's got to be at least ten thousand dollars worth of shit in that bag, man," he says. "So if you don't want to get gut-shot, I'd hand it over."
I've seen those old war movies with the gut-shot lieutenants, begging to be put out of their misery; their intestines leak out like yarn, thick angel hair pasta, and they lie there, tasting their blood and bile for upwards of a day, if nothing interferes and they get shot in just the right place.
"Just give me the fucking bag," he says, and adds, "Nothing personal."
His eyes flicker to Michelle, her face brimming with fear, and he falters. She's as afraid as we are.
The moment that George's eyes leave Jonesy's, Jack stands up and punches him in the face, attempting to grab the gun as he falls to the side but not succeeding.
He didn't have to say anything, no one said a word as we all ran out of that place quick, not slow, like a jackrabbit but quicker.
Jonesy kicks George as he passes him, hard, in the face, and a crimson splash of blood splatters across the door in a Rorschach ink blot.
The door hits me in the face on the way out, and I'm disoriented as I run to the car, and for some reason, Jack runs to the back passenger door instead of the front, but I don't question it as I race in front of him. We hear a car backfiring, then another, and somewhere in the recesses of my brain I register the dark maroon blood bloom through the front of Jack's shirt, and I realize that it wasn't a car backfiring at all.
Smoke pours out of George's gun in a theatrical way; he grins and pulls the trigger four more times.
Jack stumbles into the car, and Jonesy and Marks are yelling at me, get the fuck in the car, why the fuck are you still outside?
I open the door and barely sit down before Jonesy floors the gas, rocketing into the forest, and when I look backwards George and Matt are climbing into an old station wagon.
We're turning corners blind, cliff faces mocking us as we barely miss plummeting off the edge. Jack screaming in the background, Marks trying to calm him down, rooting through rainbows trying to find the goddamn ketamine, and we see George's car in the rearview trying to catch up to us turning blind. Jonesy starts screaming at some point.
We're about three feet from the cliff face, driving parallel to it and trying not to fall off of it, but losing traction, and just as the car jukes to the side, George's front bumper collides with our backs and nearly pushes us through the flimsy rail that was supposed to be protecting us from falling to our deaths.
I hear him firing the gun out of his driver's side window, and think to myself that it's not much use, he's driving, people aren't that accurate in real life, and I turn backwards to see how close he is and we turn right as I do so and my passenger's side window explodes hail into my face, my ears, my nose, my mouth.
I taste blood on my tongue and spit it out onto the dash. I try to make sense of the chaos but none of us are really conveying what we're meaning to: Jonesy is screaming about how he doesn't know where he's going, Jack is yelling about how much he's in pain, Marks still can't find the ketamine and he's mumbling something about it not being there. I yell something like "Give me the fucking bag and I'll find it," and as he hands me the bag, the car hits a rock, jukes to the side, and one of George's bullets connects with our back tire.
I don't remember anything after that besides flashes.
The tire explodes, and the car rockets to the left with such ferocity that Jonesy can't correct the wheel in time.
Our car in the air for a moment, all of us screaming the same pitch.
Hitting the rocks.
The car folding like silk, the hood buckling and the windshield caving in.
Marks' decapitated head resting on my lap.
"Everything's going to be all right," I told Jack. "Help's coming."
His shirt opened up at his heart, he couldn't even form a coherent sentence, screaming, "Give me a vike perc some K something for the pain, man," and I don't think he even realized that both Marks and Jonesy were dead.
"Let me see the bag," he said. I went to hand it over to him, painfully, trying not to twist my leg against metal, and
The rainbow bag had ripped in the crash, spilling almost three quarters of the contents out the window in a trail to where we were currently trapped.
"Breadcrumbs," I said, and giggled.
"Why the fuck are you laughing, man?" Jack asked me, a steady pour of blood seeping out of his mouth into his lap. "How the fuck are they going to know where we are? How are they going to know what happened?" and then I just laughed and said "Breadcrumbs."
He started coughing and blood jetted out of the hole in his chest, his nose, his mouth, and he kept on coughing as I said "Don't worry", "Help's coming", "Just hold on for a little longer", and he didn't even say goodbye when he took his last breath in, he just… stopped.
I would have thought he'd say something thoughtful, something meaningful, that he'd at least say goodbye, but he just stopped breathing and left me here, stuck, for four days before I came to the conclusion to cut off my own fucking leg.
A Swiss army knife is all I have to do this.
What doesn't kill you leaves you without a leg; I think that's how it goes.
There are two suns as I write this, and they're both setting as I place my hand in the console, looking for my salvation, finally gripping the cold red metal of the knife's handle.
One day, when we were kids, maybe eight or nine, Jack's father took Jack and I hunting. Jack's father brought two of his hunting buddies who brought their sons, to show them the nature of being men I suppose, and that's how Jack and I met Marks and Jonesy.
Skin splits like fabric, spilling muscle and meat faster than I can accept, and I look away and think of Marks and Jonesy and Jack and the forest where we became friends.
They were weird kids, but we were too I guess, and we bonded in that way that only kids that age can when they're strangers. While our fathers prowled the forest with their rifles and tried to assimilate generations long gone, we all walked around aimlessly, trying to think of something to do beneath the high overbearing trees and the filtered sun.
I can hear muscle tearing, feeling faint, and losing a lot of blood.
Marks led us deeper into the forest, away from the protective watch of our fathers, and the light lessened as we penetrated the woods further, deeper, and we only realized we were lost when Jonesy asked "Do you even know where the fuck we're going?" and we all gasped, because we had never heard that specific word come from someone our age's mouth before. Jonesy chuckles and takes a cigarette from his pocket and asks us if we'd like to try it, he stole it from his father, and he grins his fucking grin, emulating Cheshire, grinning so hard that we can't help but smile, too.
"Sure, why not?" I say, in the memory, but my face contorts and spasms as I force the knife into my leg, ripping back and forth, trying to widen the separation so I can reach the bone.
We sit, coughing into silence, embarrassed that we don't know how to inhale the smoke but Jonesy doesn't either, and we smile after racking our lungs and Jonesy says "What was that?" We hear a mewling sound from behind us that sounds like a mix between a purring engine and an infant crying, and we look over some logs and see an orange and creme-colored fox with its leg in a bear trap.
Tendons white, snapping rubber bands against skin, and the white sheen of bone glimpses up from the pulsing muscle.
There were teeth marks around the fox's leg. Jack goes "I heard a story from my dad about a fox in a trap that chewed through its own leg to get out, once."
I can see the white but there's more meat to carve; the bone gleams like a smile, teeth shining, but the two ends need to connect before I can get out.
"Maybe we should help him escape," Marks said, but no one wanted to take initiative and we sat there, exchanging glances. "Maybe we should," I answer, trying to be brave, raising my foot high above the fox's leg, with it crying looking up at my shoe wishing to die.
Almost done cleaving strings of meat and flat flaps of skin—
I bring my foot down hard and the bone snaps, and the fox just lays there, in shock. I make a defeated sound against my hand, afraid; I thought that it would run away, injured but alive, thinking I was its God, even though I was just a little shit and all I did was break its leg.
I've reached the bone but what now?
"Fuck," Jonesy says. The fox's eyes twitch and it slowly tries to move its leg, skin still connected but the bone broken clean, grinding inside its fur.
The handle of the knife will have to serve as a blunt force.
"Jonesy?" we hear from the trees, watching the flashlights blink through the branches, amazed at how quickly Jonesy's dad found us. We must not have walked far.
I'm free oh god I'm free sounded like twigs snapping—
We walked back to the camp and sat around the fire, our fathers telling stories. None of us told them what I had done.
I think I see flashlights around the rocks I think I hear voices calling out our names—
None of us slept, and that morning, we barely said goodbye to each other. But we knew that what had happened to the fox had created a bond between the four of us, somehow.
Not a hallucination this time I can see their faces—
We never spoke about the fox, after that night. We never once mentioned it.
"I am currently enrolled in SUNY New Paltz for a BA in Creative Writing, enjoy sub-zero weather, climb mountains in my spare time, and am 20 years old." E-mail: rivas30[at]newpaltz.edu