We walked along in silence for a good while; I was deep in thought about the previous occurrences. What do they mean? Who is this Jack fellow? Am I dreaming? I concluded quite unsatisfactorily that I must be hallucinating and this was all one bizarre trip. Somehow my breakfast had been poisoned and I was passed out on the floor of my house. I say “unsatisfactorily” because this explanation begs the question: “can you reason about a hallucination trip whilst you are hallucinating?” My answer for the moment – until I could have time to really sit down and ponder it fully – was that I was overthinking it and that’s exactly the sort of thing one would do during a hallucination. Let it be said here, I had never been the one to experiment too deeply with drugs.
“That’s not true,” said Jack.
“It’s not true… in fact, you have experimented quite heavily in drugs, haven’t you?”
“I–well… well yes but… how did you…?”
“Remember, John, you are in a supernatural dimension, being led by a supernatural being… I can read your mind. Your hypothesis that you are hallucinating is completely outlandish and honestly makes you sound quite silly.”
It was the first time Jack had used my name and it startled me for I had not offered my name to begin with. I was bothered by that for the rest of my journey.
“All of my experimentation was in college and I haven’t fooled around with those kinds of substances in years!” Said I, feeling the need to justify the shame I felt.
“Ah, maybe so with what might be called ‘hard drugs’, but what about alcohol, John?”
“Stop using my name! You don’t know me, you’re just a figment of my imagination, now why don’t you get off your power trip and send me back!”
There was an awkward pause. I felt downright justified in my lashing out – he was asking for it, the self-righteous jerk! As if Jack had never drunk before! I seethed inwardly as we trekked on. Moments later, I once again began to justify my position.
“Well of course I drink here and there, but it’s rarely in excess and when it is I have a jolly good reason, now don’t I? Show me another man who’s gone through a divorce like I have and tell me he doesn’t down a few shots every now and again!” I began this sentence to myself, muttering in obscene rage, but as I continued on and gained confidence, I lifted my voice, unashamed of who heard me. At this, Jack spun around to confront me, eyes glimmering.
“Ah, good! Very good! Now we get down to your heart (at this he jabbed my chest with his extended index finger). Here is how we get to the root of your pain!”
“You know nothing about pain!” I nearly screamed, “You’re just an angel after all! You just sit up in your clouds and laugh at us from above!” Immediately I regretted my statement, for I knew he would capitalize on my logical inconsistency, which he did.
“Ah, so you admit that I’m an angel – a supernatural being!”
Too proud to show weakness, I continued to dig my own grave. “Well, what else could you be? You read minds, you know my past! What’s your angle, anyway? What do you want from me?”
“My angle?” Said Jack, turning back around and continuing down the slope, which had grown much less sharp – in fact, we were near the bottom. “I exist to do the will of Him who sent me.”
I guffawed softly.
Presently we reached the bottom of the basin. I was relieved to not be in danger of losing my footing and falling to my death, however, upon looking back up the cliff wall, I was reminded that in order to get out of this god-forsaken ravine, we would have to climb back up. I did not look forward to that in the least.
Before I had time to grumble about this further, Jack and I came upon a man, heavily clothed as was I, holding a bottle and stumbling around aimlessly. He was singing rather loudly and swaying to some melody that was in his head. A ways to our left, a woman followed, dragging her feet in the sand, obviously exhausted and suffering from dehydration.
Jack turned to me, “Unlike the last conversation we overheard, this time you will be visible to both of them and able to interact with them.” Before I had time to balk, he snapped his fingers and he disappeared – well I guess technically I disappeared, for I had been teleported to the other dimension, but from my perspective, it was just Jack disappearing.
My first interaction in this new dimension was with the drunkard. He addressed me first.
“Well hellow there gentl-y-man, do you have a name or are you an apparition?”
“Uh, John’s the name.”
“Well hellow there John!” he said much too excitedly, “I wish I could help you with your fine quest, but I have important work to do, so best leave me be! Cheers!” He took a swig from his bottle.
It was then that I was approached by the woman, who perked up considerably when she saw me.
“Please, sir, would you tell me which direction you came from? My brother and I are horribly lost and in dire need of water!”
I turned to look behind me so I could explain the little steep pathway which Jack and I had taken to get down into the valley, but when I did I realized that suddenly I was lost as well! Behind me there was no sign of a path. I circled in all directions, searching for a familiar scene, but all that greeted me was hot sand as far as the eye could see. I was discombobulated, and I began to panic.
“Oh,” the woman said, drooping her eyes back down to the earth, “I see you are as lost as we are. Very well then. I thought you would be the salvation I have been praying for, but so is my luck. My brother is drunk as I am sure you can tell – the disgusting man – for as long as we’ve been wandering around in search of salvation, he’s been at that bottle. The coward. You do think it cowardly, do you not, that in time of tribulation – in a time when siblings should stick together closer than ever, he chooses liquor over his own sister! I should’ve known he had a bottle or two under that coat of his – why he’s even wearing so many clothes in this dreaded heat to begin with is beyond me… why, sir! Why indeed are you wearing a coat? Are you not dying from heat?”
I didn’t know what to say. I was, of course, dying from heat. It was nothing more than my pride that held my coat to my body but I didn’t dare tell her that! I thought it must be much the same for her brother. I wondered what I would do in their situation. I figured in all honesty I might have chosen the bottle. I felt ashamed and intensely selfish in that moment.
Seeing I was unable to form a response, she went on after her brother, who had made it several more yards away from us as we conversed.
“Wait, ma’am, let me come with you!” I called after her.
“Let them go,” Jack said, for I had been transported back to his side. I looked after the woman and her brother, sorrow filling my heart. This encounter had affected me more than I cared to admit, but pride telling me I must keep up the appearance of strength in the presence of Jack, I came up with a snarky comment.
“So I assume the moral of this story is to quit drinking?”
“No, John, the moral of this story is that a chasing after pleasure leaves you empty and only hurts those around you. Come on, let’s keep going.”
I followed Jack for a few steps only before stopping. Jack, sensing my halt, called from over his shoulder, “why are you stopping, John?”
“I wish you would stop using my name like you know me,” I said. “If I take my coat off, are you positive you won’t take it from me?”
Jack turned to face me. “What would I gain from stealing your coat? Heavens! It’s a hundred degrees out!”
I eyed him skeptically and began to disrobe, beginning with my scarf. My neck, exposed to the open air, began to cool for the first time since entering this cruel world and it was one of the most refreshing feelings I had ever felt. I gained confidence after that and hastily removed my coat, though I struggled since I was still holding my scarf in my left hand. My arms, now exposed to the fresh air, screamed with gratitude. I let out an audible “ah” and I’m sure my face opened for a moment into a smile. Satisfied with my decision, I took a few steps forward, toward Jack. My smile quickly turned into a frown, for I realized I was carrying just the same amount of weight as I had before, and my steps were still tedious.
“You’ll be lighter if you drop them,” Jack said, nodding toward my clothes. He wore an annoying little smirk and I wished to knock it right off him. I’m sure he felt my glare penetrating his soul, but his expression did not change.
“What if I want them later? Who knows, maybe you’ll transport me to some wintry environment next and then I’ll be dreadfully cold.”
Jack’s smile widened ever so slightly before he turned back around and began marching forward once again. I followed, contemplating whether I should just drop my coat and scarf and be done with it.
“What’s the sense in holding onto your pride when I see right through you, John?” said Jack over his shoulder. It was a downright ugly thing to say and it filled me with rage. Deep down I knew he was right though.