Chapter 96: The Middle Path or Why Tim Doesn't Like Maggots
Hours later, they’re back home and in bed, tired, but not quite ready to sleep yet. Abby lays next to him, her leg draped over his hip, and he rests there, relaxing against soft sheets and her warm body. It’s dim in their room, but the lights in the parking lot provide enough of a glow that he can see the half-amused expression on her face when she says, “So, really, you, your buddies, peyote, LSD, and Cthulu? What on earth made you guys think that was a good idea?”
He looks up at the ceiling a little, trying to get across the idea that sure, now, he knows that was the dumbest idea in the history of dumb ideas. “Eman, the DM, tried it with Vampire and had a lot of fun. And well… okay, the first part of the game was excellent. I mean, we were in that game. No more characters, no rolling, just straight in it.
“We were playing the 1920s version of it, so it’s all roaring twenties and speakeasies, hot jazz and cool blues, pocket flasks, bath tub gin, tommy guns, flappers, and demons, and it was fucking amazing.” He shakes his head, remembering how awesome that first half of it was. He smiles a little, too, this is the first time he’s been able to think about it without automatically flashing to the end of that night. “But, in Cthulu, every time you run into something creepy you get a little more wisdom about what is really out there and a little less sane, and well, that part of it was working, too. Nothing too big at that point, there was this guy who kept talking to me, and no one else could see him, but his advice was pretty good, so I kept listening. Kept getting a bit less sane every time I did. And every time you get less sane, the harder it is to not make decisions that’ll knock your sanity down even further.
“I have never been that deep in a character. Not before. Not since. Not when I write. Not when I game. Never. But that night I was Stephen Brent, demon hunter. Tim was just gone. I can still smell the leather jacket and feel the whip in my hand and the fedora on my head.”
“Whip and fedora?” She’s grinning at him, liking that idea.
“I may have based Stephen a bit more on Indiana Jones than was strictly necessary.”
“Anyway, I sat through the whole first act of the King in Yellow…”
He can see Abby doesn’t know what that is. “It’s a play, supposedly filled with the secrets of the universe, but watching it drives you raving insane. And by the end of it I was convinced I was being slowly eaten alive by maggots the size of my fingers. I could see the bones sticking out of my hands and feet, unable to move and get them off while they went to work on my arms and legs.”
She cringes at that and pets his chest.
“They had to gag me to keep the screaming quiet enough so we didn’t get busted. Apparently I had taken enough that the effects lasted ten hours, but since LSD also screws your time sense, it felt like three days to me.”
She winces again, and then kisses him, stroking his face. “God, baby, I am so sorry.”
He nods, also wincing. “Anyway, that’s why I don’t like maggots. I probably would have done it again if we had just quit at the midpoint, but we were all having a great time, so we didn’t stop, and then I was in a theatre, watching the play, and these white, faceless, flesh-eating blobs were slowly crawling all over...” He stops and shakes his hands, trying to flick off invisible maggots. “Sorry, it’s still a really vivid sense memory. Anyway, tried E a month later, and it felt a whole lot different, pretty nice really, but by then I also couldn’t handle not having an off switch.”
“Awesome comedian. He was a big fan of LSD and how it could hook you into the universal consciousness. And it was really nice. Peaceful, beautiful colors, enveloping love. Really good. Of course, he ended his shows talking about how energy and love were all connected and we were all one, so I was primed for a good trip. Second time was a few months later at Burning Man. Sitting outside in the desert at night watching the fire dancers high as a kite was awesome.”
“I can imagine,” he says with a little smile, part of him wondering what it would be like to try that with someone you love, safe and comfortable, in a good headspace, maybe while making love.
The smile on her face makes him think that she knows what he’s thinking.
“After we retire?”
“After we retire?”
Yeah, she does. He nods.
For a long minute she’s staring at him, feeling his fingers between hers. “You used to peek at your Christmas presents, you fought with your dad all the time, and skipped out on Annapolis, did some fairly serious drugs first semester of college, but by the time I met you, you were awfully follow-the-rules, what happened?”
He kisses her fingers. “Every time I broke them I got burned pretty bad. Driver’s Ed. What’s the first thing you learn? Get in a new car, figure out what everything does, then turn it on and drive. So it’s my sixteenth birthday, it’s the most beautiful car ever, and I hop in, drive a few blocks, hit a bug, end up with a nasty smear on the windshield, and then get hit by a fucking bus while messing around with the windshield wipers. And to make matters worse, it was my left arm that got broken, so I got to spend the next two months fumbling around with the wrong hand. That’s why I can mouse left or right-handed.
“What’d they beat into us in school? Drugs are Bad! Stay away from Drugs! I get to college, trip once, and it was beyond terrible. I was a pretty nervous kid, especially when my dad was around, but college was great. I was free. He couldn’t even pull the ‘as long as I’m paying for you’ crap because I earned my scholarships. And that trip shot it to Hell. I spent the next two years scared and wondering if I really was losing it. That’s part of why I didn’t go home summer after freshman year, my mom would have noticed something was wrong with me.
“Don’t have sex before you get married, let alone with someone you’re not in love with. They beat that into us in church. Broke that one, and not only wasn’t it great, and not only did she never see me again, but she let all of her girlfriends know I was a lousy fuck.”
“That’s horrible! You didn’t mention that before.”
“Not exactly my favorite part of that story.”
“I’m really sorry.”
He shrugs a little. “Anyway. It didn’t take too long to figure out that going really straight arrow provided me with a decent comfort zone, gave me some control. You met a guy who was starting to get his feet under him again, looking for the middle ground.”
“Was dating me part of that?”
“Yeah. Hoping I wouldn’t get smacked too hard for trying something against the rules again.”
“I was against the rules?”
“Girl like you, guy like me, oh yeah. So was the tattoo. I’d been thinking about it for a while, fairly sure I’d screw it up and best case scenario end up with something spelled wrong, worst case Hepatitis. But I got it and fate didn’t smack me, and you decided to go out to lunch with me, and it looked like maybe I didn’t need quite so straight or narrow of a path.”
“And you’ve been branching out since?”
“A little at a time. I think I might wear the kilt to the next family gathering.”
She smiles wide and bright. “Shabbos at Ziva’s. Can’t wait to see that.”
“Something along those lines. Tony was pretty funny. Ten years ago I would have never guessed he was so conventional.”
“Ten years ago, I don’t think he was. Or it might just be the fact that you’re wearing it.”
“Yeah, that’s always part of the interaction. Felt really good that Palmer was cool with it.”
“Jimmy’s cool with a lot of things.”
“Apparently. Actually, if feels really good that nothing I do freaks Jimmy out. He just sort of looks at me and rolls with it.”
Abby strokes his face. “Baby, that’s what having friends is about.”