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     I ate two of the Vicodin at work an hour before leaving. By the time I entered my house and ate a sandwich, then watched my dog run laps in the backyard, the pills were already making me feel numb and glorious. That was how the whole epic night began. It could all be traced back to the suspended moment in time when—while watching my dog squat and take a shit—the Vicodin started to push the serotonin and suppress the synaptic pain responders.
     I smoked a cigarette, opened a bottle of wine I’d been saving, and began flipping through the paper. Another war had started somewhere in a holy-sounding city in the Middle East. Another disease had been found in some tropical town, killing hundreds. Another man was found dead in his car in Sendero Loco. Police said he may have been sitting there for days. I put the paper down. All those strange faces of suffering people I’d never meet; it didn’t seem right.
     Frustrated and bored, I called Isaac. He always liked a good time and he could share my bottle. As I remember it, right when he got there we finished the first bottle and had to go to the liquor store for a couple more. It’s possible we didn’t even say a word to each other. When Isaac was taking a long pull of the second bottle, I remembered that I’d taken the Vicodin. Not that I’d forgotten; I just hadn’t thought about it. I’d also forgotten that, just hours prior, I’d been in that sterile DC bathroom while some poor bastard clung to the tile with his fingernails, back half-broken and shit-smeared.
      “I was in Washington D.C. not more than 37 hours ago,” I declared, taking a long pull from the bottle of wine. “It’s all there: the maniacal and loose-hinged American Dream in action.”
     Isaac, even when drunk, talked quickly, with color and charisma. Why the fuck were you in the cherry city?”
      “Some retail managers’ convention. It was supposed to be some kind of reparation for having taken off to Mexico. My tongue stumbled around like feathery lead and my body felt like Jell-O cement.
     Isaac lit a cigarette and smiled. “Yeah, I heard about that from Paul. Christ, you’re a fucking world traveler.”
      “Yeah, sure,” I said, giving a giggle. “I talked to Newt Gingrich in DC.” I was going to go into details about the conversation, the dialogue with the war vet, and the bathroom incident, but something spawned thoughts about John. Something random and sudden. “Hey,” I said, quickly changing subjects, “have you heard from John lately?”
      “No.” Isaac shook his head. “Nobody has since that night at the Casual Corner.” We made silent evaluations, both of us absently feeling guilty for not knowing where or what John was doing, or how to do anything about it. Nobody ever wanted dramatics. “How’s Todd’s job treating you?” he asked.
      “I manage this girl who’s 26. Maybe she’s 25. I don’t remember. Anyhow,” I said, passing the bottle back over to Isaac, “she doesn’t like me. And neither does her husband. And her husband, well, he’s huge. He’s Samoan and he’s part of that gang—I guess they’re called Yard Dogs—and he wants to kill me. Actually, he says that if I make
his wife feel uncomfortable one more time, he will kill me.” Going over the whole story felt good. It all seemed scripted and filmic, as though I were acting it out and there would have to be a happy ending.
     But then Isaac eyed me seriously and started shaking his head. “You know about those Samoans, right?  I mean, you know, don’t you, why they’re so big and mean and everything, right?”
     In melting plasticity, I shook my head and choked out, “No.”
      “They used to be cannibals. It’s true, fucking cannibals.”
     I began to envision a group of faceless Yard Dogs gnawing on my liver, my limbs, my poor heart. “They eat humans?”
      “Not anymore,” he said authoritatively, putting the bottle down gently and looking me straight in the eye as though this were a father-to-son talk about the birds and the bees. “Long ago they used to eat humans on the Pacific Islands. And this being not so very natural, it caused them not only to develop a ghastly body size, but also a mean streak unprecedented by any tribal group.  Not even the Assyrians match their historically documented and unbelievable brutality. And the Assyrians, mind you, hung human enemy skins on the walls of their caves.” He grabbed for the bottle again, took a long pull and sighed.
     I wasn’t sure if he was fucking with me. “Well,” I sighed as my eyes began probing the circular patterns on my carpet. For a second, I thought I saw a rough caricature of JFK fucking a pig. Maybe it was a donkey. “I’m packing a steak knife and a butcher knife in my little excuse for a briefcase at work.”
     Isaac looked ahead into empty space contemplatively. Outside children screamed and laughed. Dogs barked. Cars honked. “If it comes down to it,” he said, like a street-kid raised on father-beatings and hustles and scams, “just go for the throat. Always go for the throat.” He only paused a few moments before adding, “There’s a party up in the hills tonight. Some girl in the estates, I guess,” he said. “Wanna go?”
     It took a second for his words to come together and form meaning. “Well. Sure.” And of course Isaac wanted to go to a party. The guy, standing tall and lanky-fit at 6-foot-2, had a face of American Apple Pie and the character of a nostalgic Cassidy. His spirit and mouth and wit moved with stealth, and he loved a good time.
     We sat there in silence for a while, nothing left to drink. I didn’t mind; I was in my own private Idaho. I really didn’t need anything else. I didn’t need to move at all. In times like these—the middle of growing inebriation—everything runs the fragile curvature of highly unreal and too real. You’re left in the flux of fluttering reality. You can’t find the purpose in any action and—because every action holds far too much possibility and purpose—you are afraid to commit to any particular one. It’s toxic self-actualization and paralysis.
     After what could have been five minutes or an hour, Isaac asked, “So, you wanna get going to the party? Because I can’t think of anything else to do right now.” His eyes were sweating and I knew he was anxious to get another bottle. He did love a good time.
      “Well. Sure.”
     I found myself in the passenger seat of Isaac’s ‘80s sports car, listening to the scratchy airwaves of classic rock. The world whirled by in little shots and vignettes: a lonely mother watering her pretty green lawn with a wine glass in her hand; a dog running in a field-soon-to-be-industrial-lot after a frantic squirrel; two kids playing tag in the street. Movement kept moving, and I was just a spectator caught in the motion.
     When we got to the party, the house was crammed with people and covered with a thick blanket of blue cigarette smoke. It was warm. There was barely standing room, so Isaac and I took to sitting on the floor in the corner, cradling our cheap jug of red wine. Commotion shifted and jolted from every direction: screams, shouts, soft whispers, lips touching.
     Somebody put on The Cure and three girls, shouting, jumped up and down and clutched each other. They sang their hearts out their mouths as though the songs were written for them. I watched knowing that at some point in the future, I’d be sitting alone, in a haze of my own blue smoke, when this song would crawl across the static plains of the radio. Though I wouldn’t remember these girls’ faces, or maybe even the circumstances, a nostalgic smile would creep across my face for something I wouldn’t be able to exactly remember.
     Isaac passed me the bottle of wine, shouting, “I’m pretty drunk, but what are we going to do, you know, after we run out of this bottle?” His eyes seemed to say, We won’t survive in an environment like this without the appropriate rations.
     At this point, the whole world was so full of animation that I didn’t feel a need to contribute at all. Space blurred and time seemed to stand still as I sunk deeper into the toxic paralysis of freedom. “You’re right,” I said reflectively. “We’ll never get out of this night alive.”
     Suddenly a tall, deep-eyed man with a thin-as-a-stick scarecrow figure approached us. His shadow cast us into darkness and I immediately knew who he was. I felt like I’d seen him before, either in a lucid dream or a lingering nightmare. He must have been mid-20s, but he looked aged and cancer-ridden. Freckles covered his face and ethereal smoke seemed to rise from his body. His femme fatale sidekick didn’t seem any more angelic. Clutching onto him from behind was an Asian girl who looked no more than 12 or 13, but who must have been older. She shot me a shit-eating grin so full of inexplicable perversity that I shivered.
     The man looked down at me, talking in slow motion. “Do you guys . . . want something?”
     Isaac heard the voice and looked up, but he was taken aback by the looming figure. We were literally up against the wall, backed into a corner.  His mouth started to form words but nothing came out. The girl behind the man continued grinning, eyes wide and empty.
      “Do you . . . need anything?” the man asked again, this time looking at Isaac.
     All around us, people moved and danced and kissed under the strobe lights. Life erupted in leaps and bounds everywhere. But strangely, it all moved around this spook fairytale character and his girl. They seemed to live in slowed-down time, as though they weren’t really there at all. Or as though we weren’t really there at all.
     Isaac, unsure how to respond, finished the last of the wine and said, “We could use another bottle of wine, something to drink, you know, a bottle of some sort.”
     A sneaky smile came across the guy’s face. “I’ve got something that’ll make you feel real good.” The girl holding onto him suddenly reached up and violently clutched at his chest, as though hanging on for dear life with her fingernails, as though having a universal orgasm right there. She sighed and repeated in an exhalation, “Real good.”
     The pusher tossed me two pills in baggies. Ecstasy. Isaac and I didn’t even know whether to touch them or to let them sit for all eternity on the floor. When he told us forty dollars, I reached into my pocket and paid him. I didn’t even have a choice. Everything worked on the substratum sphere of predetermined motion, and I was just making everything move forward. Another way of saying that would be that I was so drunk and painless that I didn’t care if I gave the guy $40 for nothing. Besides, the man was beginning to sweat and his girlfriend’s eyes were starting to roll into the back of her head. I just wanted them to disappear back into the oblivion from which they came.
      “Thanks,” said the pusher. His girlfriend gave a reaffirming, “Thhhaaaankkksssss you!” Then he tossed me a small bag of what to any drug-free, good-doing, upright American citizen would look like mud. But it was opium. “Take that too,” he said with a philanthropic smile. “Nobody wants it anyhow. It’s a dead drug. Ancient.”
     As soon as the phantom pusher appeared, he disappeared, dissolving into the mass of people. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time for my sober self to give my drunken self a lecture. Something like: All right there, Scott, you’ve already taken two Vicodin and drunk a couple bottles of wine. The last thing you need is Ecstasy. You could die, you know. It happens. Besides, you have to work tomorrow. Work.
     But before any of these thoughts could appear, Isaac and I shrugged our shoulders and popped the pills into our mouths. Not two seconds later, Isaac turned to me with a smile. “Well now, don’t you have to get up to work tomorrow?”
      “Yeah. Well.” I figured I could take what I wanted from the lint-sized tablet and leave the rest to sleep, forgetting the first and foremost rule of drug consumption:

  1. Never undervalue the power of any drug

                        a) Especially one that’s melded together with a slew of unknown proportions of variables (Ecstasy being more of a fusion of acid, heroin and methamphetamines than it was pure MDMA)
                         b) Especially one that’s sold to you by a ghostlike pusher with a small vampire clinging to his chest

     These signs and symbols—not to mention the common knowledge that wine, painkillers and Ecstasy can easily suck you into the undertows of the afterlife—usually steered reasonable people away from such levels of intoxication.
     We sat on the floor for a while smoking cigarettes. Isaac rested his head against the wall and sighed. I sighed. Girls in bright pink blouses rushed by, smelling of cheap perfume, vanilla and the random patchouli. Guys in tight-fitting white T-shirts and tan khakis followed the girls. Huddles would form, mixes of high school and college students, suburban lingerers, unemployed drunks. I amused myself by trying to spot Christinas, Elsas, Matthew Feltses, budding Padgetts or Pauls, wet newborn birds perching anxiously to make the great glory leap toward cement.
     Isaac turned to me and shuddered. “I think I feel it kicking in. I feel like I’m coming up, you know. What about you?”
     It was then—right then—that I felt that almost painful surge of topsy-turvy that makes you realize: Yes, I have just taken . . . And you think to yourself briefly, What have I just done? And then you answer your own question, saying calmly, You’ve just taken Ecstasy. And then, not too long after, you ask yourself the same question again. And it goes like this, a vicious circle of the mind, until you stabilize on the plateau.
      “How much have I drunk?” I asked myself out loud, not even realizing I did so. And then, to answer Isaac’s question, “Yeah, I feel it.”
     Time evaporated with quick ferocity and my mind dissolved, sodium into hot water. I was told later that I was running around, crawling around, rolling around on the floor, ducking and diving behind chairs and couches, and shooting people with my imaginary finger gun: bang, bang!  Meanwhile, Isaac casually walked around from sparkly, glitter-faced girl to sparkly, glitter-faced girl. He’d ask them about various cities and states in his fast-talking hip dialect, and with his deceivingly good looks. “Yeah, well I’ve been in the Florida marshes and the beautiful Georgia sunset. You look like your name could be Georgia because, honey, you look sweet as a peach.  But I have to tell you that the Midwest is heartbreaking. It will swell your heart up so big that it will explode, because it’s the last innocent place in this godforsaken land, honey.” We had begun turning the wheels ourselves, contributing to the great machine instead being caught in the grips of inertia, reduced to mere spectators.
     Then suddenly the evaporated time came pouring down in a thunderous rainstorm, in a deafening flash to reality. I’d been conscious the whole time, but I suddenly came to. I woke from my waking dream to another level. Isaac and I were standing upstairs now, by the wall. He was mumbling something about the islands off the East Coast while shooting uninhibited grins to any pretty female that walked by. I was busy going blind by studying the light emanating from the chandelier at the center of the room.
      “It feels like butter,” Isaac said. I turned to face him. He was wide-eyed, caressing the wall with every affectionate finger he had. “The walls, they feel like butter.”
     I didn’t think twice about it. I just joined him at the wall. I’d forgotten where we were or why we were there. I’d forgotten about work and the Three Hundred Pound Husband and about Louis and Felts and Elsa and Christina, and everything that made up my waking consciousness. I traced my fingers across the wall. It actually felt like solid wall to me but proper etiquette told me to say, “Yeah, it feels like butter.”
     It turned out that this was the wrong thing to say.
     Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his fist go flying. I can still see it in slow motion: a drug-infused fist gliding through air, then pushing on through the atomic particles that made up the drywall. The music stopped, and by the time Isaac removed his white, drywall-covered fist, everyone was glaring at us and the gaping hole in the wall. It was the Crack Heard ‘Round the Party.
     At first I thought it would be okay because, well, because that’s what you think when you’re rolling on ecstasy: It’ll all be okay, really. Isaac was busy touching the drywall on his hand with a perplexed expression. I figured the looky-loos would lose interest in Isaac’s fist and return to dancing once the music came back on. Then I saw a group of four or five white guys with buzzed heads trotting toward us like the Wyatt brothers. Before I could brush an olive branch against one of their cheeks, or give Isaac a heads-up, they hit him. I can’t remember which one; they all looked the same. But it was a clean blow, right across the upper left cheek. Time evaporated again and then, according to later testimony, I pinned the assailant to the floor and started choking him by the throat, my eyes bulging and my mouth forming some kind of sick, sadistic smile. For whatever reason, they just pulled me off the guy. No fighting, no brawling, no nothing. They just went on their way, back into the masses, back into the thick of the music and red-cup beer swilling.
     Suddenly we were outside. More time evaporation. Things floated in and out of consciousness like merry-go-round horses bobbing up and down, in and out of view. Isaac rolled on the ground in front of at least 30 well-saturated party drinkers. “I just got hit in the fucking face I just got hit in the face in the face I just got hit.” He went on like that for at least 10 minutes while I smoked one cigarette after the other, saying hello to every passerby.
     Loose-necked amiability made me talk to certain porch-sitting girls. Sex shivered down my spinal chord. I smoked with shaky hands, I remember, and went back and forth from shouts to whispers, whisper to shouts. This—and I mean all of it, holistically, everything—was Ecstasy. A counting up to high and gratifying circumstances, only to soon count down to the low pit bottom that was life, reflecting emptily on the love-passion that once surged. That was why I never endorsed what I considered feel-good drugs, narcotics with no substance other than making the flesh sensitive and the mind obsolete. You walk away with nothing but a fucked-up serotonin metabolism and a faint, residual notion of how much lovelier and more pleasurable life could be.
     Isaac was still talking to himself, flaying about wildly, exclaiming to the world that he had just gotten hit in the face. A bruised golf-ball-sized lump already rested under his left eye, at least proving to the world that he did, in fact, get hit. I approached him slowly. “Isaac,” I said. “Isaac, man, listen to me. You got to quit yelling. They’re going to call the fucking cops on us.” He looked wildly in all directions but mine. I grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around. “Isaac, you’ve got to quit yelling like this.”
     He looked at me quizzically for a moment. “Shit man,” he said, as though plummeting back down to reality in a freefall belly flop. “You’ve got to go to work in the morning, you’ve to work, ha!”
     That comment sent me down the wrong tunnel. I looked around the yard and into the house, staring at everyone’s shoes. “I know,” I mumbled. “But . . .” Suddenly I forgot what I was going to say and how the conversation started. I forgot everything except for my name and the fact that I had to work with shoes in the morning.
     We looked at each other blankly. “What were we talking about?” he asked.
      “I don’t know.”
     We looked at each other blankly again.
     At that point, time disappeared again. I only remember short scenes from the merry-go-round. Going back into the house, talking with the toughies and putting my arm over one of their shoulders and going into some kind of confessional story. Talking to some girl, though her face, her name, and the topic of our conversation vanished. Staring at a guy who looked so similar to the Three Hundred Pound Husband that I contemplated jumping into the berry bush by the porch and hiding for the rest of the night.
      The last thing I remember, Isaac and I were sitting on the stairs inside and I mumbled, “This place is going to explode with people.” Bodies spawned bodies everywhere. If you turned around too quickly, you’d end up with your hand up someone’s shirt and your face in their mouth.
      “Yeah, it is, it’s fucking getting out of hand,” he said with a glazed smile. We said everything with an exhaling breath of delight. The very act of talking—even talking about nothing—felt infinitely orgasmic.
      I was starting to ask, “What were we talking about?” when it happened. Cops everywhere. Bored with their wife-and-child dialogue over pie and coffee at the local 24- hour restaurant, tired of their paperwork on matters not needing more than a simple sentence of explication, the police had decided to do things in a grand fashion. So they came in riot gear getup, whole hordes of them, rushing in like they were storming the beaches of Normandy.
     Some older police veteran came in coolly with a bullhorn. But then he blew it by announcing: “This is the Sendero Sheriff’s Department. You are ordered to leave the premises in an organized and orderly fashion. Failure to do so will result in your arrest. I repeat, you are hereby ordered to leave the premises in an organized and orderly fashion.”
      Of course everybody started leaving in their own inebriated version of organized and orderly. Cups and beer cans flew up into the air, screams resonated, and shouts pierced. The front doors looked like a shitter with too much toilet paper. People careened down the stairs, practically stomping me and Isaac. People fell, started to cry and then continued running for dear life. The cops moved in strategic fashion across the house, causing more people to scramble chaotically.
      Meanwhile, Isaac and I sat on the stairs as though stuck to Velcro, in passionate love with every nerve ending of our flesh. Sure, we should have left. But should is for people living in mathematical equations. I wasn’t going to waste my time procuring the formula for optimal choice; I cared very little for cost-benefit analysis. Yes, I should not have drunk after taking those Vicodin. After deciding to drink, I should have limited it to a few. After having gone overboard with the drink, I shouldn’t have taken Ecstasy. When the cops came, I should’ve left. Sure. Fine. Right. But we had a mini war unfolding before our very eyes, with a front row seat. We had to wait for the gunfire and the explosions and everything else you see in war movies, believing it to be truly war.
      An officer ran up the stairs quickly, huffing and puffing, face mask on, baton out. He stopped in front of us and yelled as though we were a thousand yards away, “WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING?”
      Aaahhhhh is all I really felt like saying. I wanted to tell the officer that everything was fine, that I understood he was just having a good time playing his role, but that I also wanted to fulfill mine, which was—at that moment in time—sitting there on the stairs doing nothing. Though I didn’t say any of this out loud, I felt like he heard it. So then I imagined what his response would be: Son, we don’t have time for funny games, and I actually responded to that: “Oh, come on, man. Why?”
      He didn’t want to be friends. Isaac and I oozed smiles, got up slowly, and moved downstairs like gelatin sliding down a hot furnace. When we finally got out of the architectural maze, found a door and reached the car, we still had another dilemma: to drive or not to drive.
      “Shit man I don’t know I don’t know know if I can drive,” Isaac said. He stared at the car like it was a nasty beast he was being forced to copulate with.
     The vehicle really did look like a beast, complete with hair, fangs and huge beast paws. I began stroking it. “Hey there, no need to be so naaaasty. You’ll take care of us there, boy, won’t you?”
      “I don’t man,” Isaac said, as he started walking down the street. He might have walked down the street forever, to wherever that direction ended—somewhere in the Yukon Territory, I guess—but a cop car came slowly cruising up the street.
      Isaac turned around and hopped inside the car. But I was still preoccupied, stroking the imaginary fur of the ghastly ‘80s economy sports car Isaac drove. “Oh, you’re a good, pretty boy, aren’t you?” Giggling, I started turning toward the cop car, intent to pet that animal, too, but Isaac had gotten back out and he shoved me into the car.
      He started up the engine, eyes wide, pupils dilated. He looked over at me like a cozy devil. “I don’t know man shit we gotta fuck it fuck,” he said, putting the car into drive.
      “I never knew the devil could be so warm and inviting,” I replied.
      He pulled a dangerous U-turn and looked at me. “What?”
      Immediate confusion. “What what?”
      “What . . .” and then Isaac trailed off, just as confused.
      I asked seriously, “What were we just talking about?”
      But we ignored it this time. We’d become well aware of our condition, and the condition of our condition was wrapped up and torn every which way to September Tuesday. He began driving, still looking at me, saying something like, “I think maybe I think maybe I think Jesus wow . . .”
      I giggled and said—too softly, really, “Watch out.”
      Isaac turned back to the road, violently jerked the steering wheel to the right, then back to the left, just missing a parked car by inches. This should have been a clear indicator to stop driving but we were beyond intoxication. We were mingling on the High Plain with the Ethereal Shaman.
      “The shaman, man,” I said. “What happened to the shaman?”
      “What are you fucking talking about what are you talking?”
      We both laughed. “The shaman, man. Really. What happened?”
      “There is no fucking shaman here.”
      “Sure there is,” I moaned, rolling my head to the right to stare at him. He looked electric red, pulsing with quivers, twitching twitches that weren’t twitching.
      Suddenly we were out of the housing development section and into the open suburban night. Gas station neon lights seemed to echo photons in a verbalization that I tried to swallow. We were out and free and everything seemed possible. We laughed to ourselves, consumed with our own thoughts. Cars dotted the desolate roads here and there, their lights tickling our retinas, purging soft giggles and gentle moans out of our bodies.
      “Where do we go from here where do we go?” Isaac asked, but it didn’t come out that way. The words were there, but in intricate, suspended detail. They seemed to take shape as they escaped his mouth, lingering in the stale air in front of me. I didn’t just hear them. I saw them:
                                                Where                                      do                                           
                                                go                                            from                             here where                   do                                            we                                            go?

      Each word mused me with such precision, with such metallic individuality, that I lost sight of their meaning in conjunction with other words. I wanted the words as individuals, free from their constraints to meaning. Which is probably why I answered Isaac, “Metal sunshine burst inertia eats yes I want so what?”
      We both laughed again, and again. Even the streetlights amused us. Even the streetlights.
      When I came to, we were sitting in some empty parking lot. I looked around, confused. Slowly, I could recognize the parking lot: Seven Cinemas. But why? Isaac was probing the full extent of nothing out the windshield, wide awake but not quite aware.
     All the questions flooded out of me. “Where the fuck are we? Why are we here? What time is it? How long have we been here? I remember the party. But how did we get here? What time is it?”          
      “I don’t know,” he whispered.
      “Well, I mean, how did we get here? How did we get here? What time is it? What time is it?”
      Isaac glanced at his watch. “4:30.”
      “4:30? What the fuck have we been doing for the past two hours?”
      “I don’t know.”
      I started shaking my head, desperately trying to remember something, anything. “Well, how did we get here?”
      Isaac looked at me, doggedly dredging up whatever effective communication skills he had available. “I honestly don’t know man I don’t know . . . Last thing I remember you were rolling your head around and around and mumbling something about fuck I don’t even remember what about but then we I think we talked to a gas station attendant for an hour or so I think . . . I don’t know.”
      I didn’t have to force the laugh, but I was still frightened. “What did we talk to the gas station attendant about?”
      “I don’t know.”
      “But why were we talking to a gas station attendant?”
      “I don’t man I don’t know don’t know.”
      All around us, silence consumed the air. We sat in it for a few minutes. Then, by terrible instinct, I reached into my pocket, pulled out the bag of opium and started packing my pipe.
      “What’s that?” Isaac asked.
      “Yeah, opium.”
      “I don’t know man I say we’re lucky to be alive as it is if not from a car crash from simply being able to hold down all those chemicals I am still feeling pretty pretty pretty . . .”
      I lit up the pipe. When I handed it to Isaac, he didn’t think twice. He took a hit and passed it back.
      “I feel like . . .” I started, but . . .
      I woke to the sound of Isaac yelling, “Holy fuck! Holy fuck, we’re fucked!” A treacherous sun had made its ascent into the sky and cars hissed by us along the 101 freeway.
      “Where the fuck are we now?” I asked.
      Isaac hammered the steering wheel with his fist. “We’re in a fucking ditch! In a fucking ditch, man!”
     He appeared to be right, so I couldn’t argue with him, though I wanted to. We’d toppled a fence. Behind us, the faint outline of tire marks marked our descent into the stagnant ditch.
      Eyes wide with terror now, I asked, “How did we end up in a ditch?”
      “I fell asleep at the wheel.” As he said that, I noticed for the first time the 15-foot brick wall we’d missed only by a matter of yards. After the complete irresponsibility of our actions, I would not have argued with the gods if they’d deemed us worthy of the Ultimate Penalty. We’d broken every rule they gave: don’t mix chemicals; don’t exceed a responsible level of inebriation if you choose to inebriate yourself; don’t drink and drive; don’t drive under the influence, period, and the list only went on in my head.
      “Back it up,” I said. “Put it in reverse, goddamn it!”
      “I can’t.” He looked at me incredulously. “The car is fucked, man, fucked. It’s on top of a fucking fence and probably totaled, and we’re fucked, too. We’re fucked.”
      My mind quickly switched to survival mode. I spotted an empty bottle of wine and the pipe full of opium resin, grabbed them and jumped out of the car. Then I threw the pipe into the far reaches of the sky. It landed in an empty crop field on the other side of the road. I tossed the wine bottle into a collection of cans and bottles already littering the side of the freeway.
      Back in the car, I told Isaac, “All right. I got rid of the incriminating evidence. There’s no way you can blow anything. It’s too late. It must be.”
      Isaac’s head sunk low. “We had some wine left over in that bottle you just hucked. I drank some just before driving.”
      “Oh, well fuck,” I said.
      Soon enough, a cop pulled over and we got out of the car. The cop walked down the slope to meet us, pulling up his britches and removing his sunglasses with a practiced skill of crafty professionalism. He put his hands on his waist and looked around to make a quick analysis. Then he sucked his gut in and sighed as though we were wasting his time.
      With interrogative eyes, he said, “Well. What do we have here, boys?”
     I let Isaac do the talking. “We flew off the freeway.”
      His eyes were piercing. “How did that happen?”
      Isaac was nervous, too nervous. But it didn’t matter. There was no way to talk our way out of a totaled car sitting in a ditch and on top of a fence. “I fell asleep at the wheel.”
      “I see,” said the cop, rubbing an imaginary beard. He looked around, sighed again, and patted his stomach. “Have you been drinking?”
      “I had a few beers last night,” Isaac said.
      “What were you doing last night?”
      “My friend and I watched movies,” he said, motioning to me. I gave a friendly nod at the officer. If I had a hat, I would’ve tipped it. “Then we went to sleep for a while. I was on my way to drop him off when I fell asleep at the wheel.”
     For a solid minute, we all just stared at the wreckage. Looking into Isaac’s eyes, the cop asked, “Have you been doing any drugs?”
      “Oh no, I don’t do drugs. I just have a few drinks on the weekends sometimes.”
      “I see,” said the cop.  He looked around the inside of the car, then turned toward the field and saw the wine bottle. “That wouldn’t happen to be your wine bottle, would it?”
      “What?” Isaac asked. “Where?”
      The cop shook his head. “Right. I’m going to have to ask you to do a breathalyzer test. If you’d just follow me.”
      Isaac followed him up the embankment to the side of his car. I didn’t want to watch the execution, so I turned toward the empty field. A small bird circled around then landed beside me. It couldn’t have been more than five feet away. The bird walked back and forth for a while, eyeing me closely. It’s trying to tell me something, I thought. Deep within the bird’s eye, I could sense something difficult and mysterious, heavy and broken. I had an impulse to talk to the bird but remembered the presence of the cop. So I communicated mentally, through its eyes.
      The bird continued staring at me. Right at me. And then—just like that—it started to take a shit. I couldn’t help it; my revelation erupted verbally: “My God, you are on drugs. You are trying to unearth great mysteries from random birds. All it needed to do was take a shit.”
      “Excuse me?”
      I swung around violently to confront the voice that interrupted my thoughts. Who else? The cop.
      “Are you all right?” he asked.
      “Who, me? I’m fine. I wasn’t driving the car, man. I was just watching this bird over here.” I turned around to point at the bird, but it was gone. This didn’t help my case. But then I wondered: Was there even a bird to begin with?
      “Have you been doing anything . . . other than drinking?” he said with a sigh, as though fearing the answer.
      “Like what?”
      “Drugs.” He said it with slight hesitation, as though he were about to resurrect the devil with the word. “Have you been doing any drugs?” he asked again, staring into my eyes.
      I laughed. “Drugs? Oh no, I don’t do drugs. I mean, sure, I’ve experimented. My friends coerced me into trying a marijuana joint once, but that’s all.”
      He looked over at Isaac, who was standing beside him with his head down. “Fine, fine. I suspect you boys are up to something but I can’t prove it. So you’re going to get off easy.” He handed Isaac a small stack of carbon-copied papers. “I called a tow truck. He should be here any minute now. You boys have a nice day, and try to stay out of trouble.” The cop adjusted his pants at the waistline again, gave a military nod and retreated back to his squad car.
      “What’d he give you?”  I asked Isaac.
      “Yeah. That’s no good.” I was too tired for lengthy sympathy.
      On the freeway, cars continued their hum. I was sure my headache and achy junk-skin feeling was comparable to his, though I didn’t ask.
      “Do you remember last night?” he asked.
      “Bits and pieces. I remember that maniacal unit of cops in riot gear. And I remember sitting in that godforsaken parking lot smoking opium.”
      “Yeah,” he said, “I think it’s the opium that did me in. The rest of the night, though, it’s all lost time.”
      “I wish I could lose time that easily. But it’s not really lost. We just can’t remember it. Time’s over-rated anyway, isn’t it?”
      Isaac stared at the huge wall 10 feet away from us and said angrily, “We could have died. Just like that!” He snapped his fingers. “You wanna talk about time? Well, if I would’ve fallen asleep just seconds later, we would’ve hit that wall and died. Died. No more time then, no more.”

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Excerpt from Outlet