We ate them with Doritos, cheese ones. The kind that leave grainy orange residue on your fingertips and make your breath stink like yesterday’s pizza. “Don’t chew too long,” he said, “or you’ll taste them.” “When will it work?” I asked. “Soon,” he said. I continued to chew like a cow on its cud, trying to taste less, and swallow more. I could see the obnoxious glow of the Ralph’s grocery sign to my left; red and anxious like the blood that pounded in my chest. I was scared shitless. After all, I’d never done mushrooms before. Sure, my girlfriends Davis and Georgia had done them, and I’ve heard stories about their experiences. But I never fathomed that I would someday walk that path myself. My stoner boyfriend, Mike, talked me into it one night in November. “Dude, its natural,” he coaxed. “No chemicals involved. Totally safe.” So two days later, housed in his burnt-orange Sprint with the hubcaps missing, we consumed a gram each in the blackened parking lot of a Thousand Oaks shopping center. He had taken me into Ralph’s grocery to buy the chips ten minutes before that and said, “If you eat them at the same time, you shouldn’t get the bad aftertaste.” I wondered how he learned this. The way he talked about different drugs, and the little tricks to doing them, I’d have sworn he got his masters degree at Get Fucked Up University. Once back in the car he handed me my baggie of some foreign fungus I had never seen before; dark and scraggly and thin like spongy dollhouse lamps still caked in soil. When we finished gagging down the concoction of nacho cheese crunchiness and bitter shroom sponginess he handed me a Pepsi and said, “Drink this. It’ll help take the taste away.” My pinky briefly touched his index as he passed the fizzing brown liquid to me. I smiled nervously as an attempt to thank him. It didn’t help the taste go away. “Lets go!” He cried, grinning and rubbing his palms together in excitement. My heartbeat skipped like an old Beatles record and then played much too fast. I am the walrus…walrus…walrus…walrus…kookookachookookookachoo. I turned the key and started the engine. A sharp bubble of pain pushed its way through my intestines. Whether it was gas, or the mushroom bits themselves I didn’t know. I felt my skin crawl with terror of the unknown substance inside my body. My face probably had turned a nice shade of emerald. The Sprint hummed to life with the familiar tin tinkering sound. The car reminded me of the micro-machines I played with as a kid; very similar to a geo metro or civic hatchback. His step-dad had bought it used for him as an attempt to be his “pal”. Mike hated it. He had really wanted a Volkswagen from the early 90’s; a fixer upper. Taking a deep breath, I pulled onto Moorpark road and headed to Avenida de Los Arboles. I suddenly wanted to get the fuck out of there; take off my seat belt, push open the door, and bolt. Past the Red Cross, right to the onramp by the Oaks Library, right onto the screaming freeway to join in with the headlights. And I’d run fast with the cars all the way home to Moorpark. But I stayed. I stayed because it was too late to turn back. I couldn’t just go home and trip by myself on a Saturday night. I’d stare wide eyed at my cats, which would look like knobby fur aliens, prowling around the living room with football shaped pupils. No, couldn’t do that. Talk about an anxiety attack! I needed Mike to be with me for my first “shrooming” experience. After all, he’d done this before and I hadn’t. So, with Creed playing softly on the radio, I slowly drove us the four miles to our tripping destination; Wildwood Park. I’d been there to hike once or twice before with Girl Scout troop 132 when I was seven. A sweaty tour guide, with lakes for armpits and an army backpack, let us taste bitter foliage and taught us their geneses. We ate peanuts, coconut, and M&Ms from zip lock Baggies at snack time, and watched the waterfalls as we teased each other about boys from school. By the river Shannon almost fell in a stagnant pool of decaying rot. Instead her foot had submerged an inch and she chased us with her oozing shoe. Our leaders laughed as we squealed and ran. My best friend, Jennifer, had poked a dead lizard with her hiking stick on the way back to the cars. His guts oozed out of his mouth and she peed her pants from laughing. Those were the carefree days of the late 80’s. Now it was 2001, and I was back for a much different experience. I parked the Sprint, like Mike told me to, in a cul-de-sac off Big Sky Drive. There were dirt lots closer to the trails, but we did not want to draw suspicion to the car. After all, who the hell hikes at eleven pm? I guess druggies do. “We’ll start at the tepee and wait there,” he said rolling up the window. “Wait for what?” I asked. “For them to start working.” “Oh.” My heart left my chest and skipped to the center of the earth. I’m outta here! I remembered the tepee. It was a large American-made structure shaped like an eagle beak to the south. It was nothing like the real tepees that you see on the Great Plains of old western movies or in Dances With Wolves. There were no feathers, no buffalo skin, and no turquoise beads. This one was enormous; constructed of planks and cement and cheaply painted symbols. There, on a brush-covered plateau overlooking Wildwood trails, it housed several cement picnic benches. It had been a long time since I had seen it. Maybe thirteen years or so. When we got to the tepee, we sat down and packed a bowl and smoked in silence, passing the glass pipe back and forth mechanically, routinely. Like we had done for months in the front seat of his car. Light. Suck. Carb, inhale. Pass. Light. Suck. Carb, inhale. Pass. Light. Suck. Carb, inhale. Pass. Mike broke the silence with a hacking and tissue-tearing cough; white smoke pouring from his lungs as he choked. He passed the pipe back to me and hocked a loogie, spitting it with rocket force into the sage that encompassed the cement slab around us. “Is it a good idea to get stoned right before the shrooms kick in?” “Yeah, you’re supposed to. It makes it better.” He stuttered, then coughed again. “Oh.” My heart returned and grabbed my hand. Run! it pleaded. I still stayed. A hound bayed from the twinkling distant homes to the north. We waited. Within two minutes of his last hit of weed Mike was hysterical. “Look at them! Can’t you see them? They’re everywhere, look.” He stood open-mouthed in fascination and laughter. Was he looking at the stars? “Look babe, look!” I didn’t see shit. He left the shelter of the tepee and twirled like a child ballerina into the night; graceful and playfully. His hands were groping the vastness of the open sky; stroking and fondling the lights that danced in his world like a baby discovering the mobile above it’s crib. Nothing was there! I panicked and thought, Mike stop it! He was dancing and laughing and playing with nothing. Complete terror draped its black gangly arms around my shoulders and breathed seductively into my ear. Lets go for a ride! The hound yelped briefly. A fire truck screamed on distant streets. And it began. Slow at first. As though the trip was showing me cautiously, delicately and coaxingly. It hissed at me with stale mushroom smelling breath. Loooook Jhonna, this is how it issss. And it’s not so bad now, is it? Looooook. Just loooooook at that tree. Hello! It’s waving to you… wave back my prettyyyyy. And I did. I waved to the tree. And, holy shit, the tree waved back! Then it stretched its arm to the east, dragging its wooden fingers across the watery sky. Blue currents and ripples streaked behind branch fingertips as it pulled them slowly back towards the earth; dipping its wood into the stars, toying with my vision and my sanity. So this is what trails look like, I thought. I rubbed my eyes and it stopped moving. Then like melting green chocolate it began again. I told Mike to look but he didn’t hear me. He was laughing somewhere in the distance, his voice muffled by the ringing in my ears. Ringing voices; thousands of voices. Thoughts perhaps. Every thought within my vicinity; the tree's thoughts, Mike’s thoughts, the hound’s thoughts…the faces' thoughts. The faces? Yes, there were faces everywhere. The rocks beneath the tree had faces. They gawked opened mouthed and wide eyed into the array of heavens above us. They were surprised and terrified. They were hollow, lonely and terribly sad. They were like New York pedestrians staring up at burning black towers; so utterly shocked that their expressions just looked indifferent. People so disturbed by reality, that their reactions came weeks later. The tree then twisted its boa-like appendages and painted the atmosphere with ribbons of green. It called to me methodically, drawing my attention away from the ground. It was a whimsical and noble creature of the wilderness with purple veins flowing like melting tanzanite. And then Mike took my hand and we ran. Stumbling like drunken sailors we made our way down the beaten paths of Moonridge Trail, laughing and slurring words; hardly able to speak one minute, not able to shut up the next. Path after zigzagging path we plowed our way down the hillside towards Indian Creek. “Weren’t we just here?” I asked as we crossed a bridge. “Nope.It all looks the same doesn’t it?” He was as enthused as the 80’s tour guide. Mike had done shrooms about a week before this with some of his best buddies. The same guys he spent hours with talking about Volkswagens and jail terms. The ones that were all handsome and juvenile (in a rebellious James Dean sort of way) smoking their cigarettes and spitting on curbs. Now he was back to do it again with his girlfriend, innocent little me; the all American girl scout. He became my new tour guide, minus the mullet and army backpack. Mike’s backpack was blue: a Jansport. Inside of it a roll of toilet paper (for me), a pack of Wrigley’s gum, the unfinished Pepsi, our pot, a flashlight, and the car keys. Can’t forget the car keys. “Dude, there’s this power plant at the end of the trail, past the waterfall. It looks just like Homer Simpson’s work. It’s fucking crazy!” he cried, pulling my hand with animated enthusiasm. I followed, lost and bewildered, like a child at a shopping mall; Mom dragging me to every sale, me wanting to break free to grope at Dapy’s cool lava lamps, towards Mrs. Fields soft and gooey cookies, towards the Sweet Factory with the sugary grapefruit pieces. Anywhere but the JC Penney’s clearance racks! We approached the Paradise Falls parallel to the river and we sat; plopping down on boulders like two fat women at the Sizzler, our plates full of excitement and childish delight. We were ten feet from the falls. It poured before us 70 feet in the air from an overheard jumble of jagged stones. At night it looked like a large gray lawyer vomiting his coffee into an iron sink at the courthouse. The water that pooled beneath it was dark and murky. Bits of trash covered in soil lined the moonlit shore. I didn’t remember seeing so much litter when I was seven. Back then the place appeared untouched by humanity. Now it had become the common social hangout; a place to jog, take the kids on the weekend, have a picnic, or to bring your insecure girlfriend for a moonlit stroll (because that week she claimed you didn’t like her anymore.) Or, like me, to do shrooms at midnight with your outrageous and demented boyfriend. I caught my breath and took in the scenery. Something about the twenty minutes of exercise made the hallucinations temporarily dissipate. I felt somewhat normal again only happy and extremely giddy. Was it the weed? Almost simultaneously we got the giggles. The same kind you have in school with your classmates when your English teacher has a wedgy; trying so hard not to laugh out loud, lowering you head to the desk while biting your tongue. Then bursting out into snorting hysterics because the wedgy just got bigger! She’d turn from the white board to look at the class. “What’s so funny?” she’d ask. This is how we laughed. After we regained our composure (who knows how long we were laughing for), I stood to face him, prodding for a kiss, but my mind began to rotate like water down a drain. I lost my balance and he caught me by the waist. Resting my head on his shoulder, I found my breath. I had the urge to be affectionate with him but I felt too weak to do so, like I hadn’t eaten in days. “Sit down,” he said. “And feel my fingers.” I did. Mine wrapped around his like thin garter snakes; braiding around each knuckle with slow precision. His hands felt amazingly textured and I had to look at them to make sure they were real. Each finger felt like thick segments of coarse rope. I could actually feel his fingerprints, each crease of the knuckles, and each fold of his hand as though they were magnified a hundred times larger. “That’s weird,” I breathed. “Isn’t it?” We were looking up at the sky now, which was just beyond the cliffs that sheltered the falling waters. It was a light blue near the horizon from the city lights and slowly faded to black at it raised upwards. We fell into a synchronized cycle of thought processing and I could see the cycle itself spinning clockwise through the stars. “What do you see when you think of the changing seasons? How do you picture it in your head? What does your mind’s calendar look like? Is it circular, constantly returning to the same spot annually, or is it laid flat, like the calendar you hang on your wall?” I didn’t know why I was asking him. When our cycle of thought processing in the sky was done buzzing, he answered me fifteen minutes later. It seemed he was right on time. “Mine circles and always returns to summer. The seasons leave me and I watch them go to my left: September, October, and November. Then around December they curve right and begin to return to me.” He sounded tired. Fifteen more minutes (or five?) buzzed by. Our bodies rocked like troubled patients at a psyche ward; looking into the sky at our buzzing cycle. “That’s how I see it too. Only I’m rooted in winter. Maybe because my birthday is in January.” Just then I stood and wandered to my left. About ten feet from Mike I found a firework flower emerging from rocks. Its head was heavy, causing the stem to bend from its weight. Each translucent petal was negative; an appearance that you can achieve through digital animation. They were black and outlined by multicolored highlights. The closer I got to the face of it, the more dimensional the petals became. I stood, slightly stooped over, examining this plant for some time. The petals appeared to be suspended in air as if they had no business attaching themselves to one another. I called out to Mike but he shook his head. “You see your things, I see mine.” I had to pee. Past the wooden picnic benches where the ghosts of the Girl Scout past ate trail mix, Mike led me to a spot to relieve myself. He waited for me at the bottom of the trail. Mag light in my right fist, I bobbled up the slope like a penguin drunk on tequila. Once of out his sight I sheepishly pulled my Dickies to my ankles. I watched my golden urine zigzag down the slant on the ground, repelled by dust into droplets that rolled. Even the piss had faces. When I returned back to the path Mike look irritated. “See, I knew you’d lose the flashlight. What’d you do with it?” “Uh, I must have left it on the ground.” “I’ll be right back. Stay here.” He stomped off, retracing my steps to my toilet in the dirt. I hung my head and waited, feeling like a five year old just scolded by her father. Somewhere in the city I heard a car peel out. He returned a minute later pounding down the slope with long exaggerated steps. I could almost hear him thinking what a nuisance I was. Dust and pebbles kicked up around his knees. The flashlight in his fist had drops of urine on the handle. “Buzz kill,” he said. “Let’s go.” I felt humiliated and terrible. We began our journey back to top. A Chinese moon loomed before us in splendid silver wonder; a porcelain plate with meteor holes. And like Chinese elephants we drug our heavy bodies up the beaten path, stomping and huffing, trunks swaying left to right and right to left. Our chests heaved as we tried to catch our breaths, which escaped our lungs with panting sounds. Just then coyotes began to scream. Yelping and barking their ways into my body, they attempted to howl like wolves but sounded more like women in an argument. No, witches in an argument. Millions of witches, all lurking and hiding behind a wicked veil of darkness. The evil cries pierced me from all directions, stirring up a terror within me that yanked me straight back to my childhood in Home Acres. A pack of coyotes were nested like weevils in rice just west of my home in the avocado orchards. Every night they’d scream at the trains to the north. I hated the sound of them as they woke me from my warm slumber. They were haunting and I’d pull the covers tight over my head until they cease. Now, caught up in the furry of screaming Wildwood banshees, my anxiety kicked into full gear. This is where my trip went sour. Mike slowed to a grandpa pace and brought his backpack to his chest to unzip it. Still speeding ahead like an exercise queen I turned to look over my shoulder and saw him furiously rummaging through his backpack. I swore I saw him stuff something into his mouth and chew it desperately. More mushrooms? Did we even have more? I thought we ate them all. Why was he doing more? Is he that crazy? Oh my God, he’s crazy. I’m dating a psycho. I can’t be here anymore. I want to go home! I started to panic. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked. “You could have fun too, ya know.” He sounded accusing. I was confused. I didn’t know what to think. Maybe he was only chewing gum, or maybe he was eating the last of the Doritos? For some reason I couldn’t muster up the nerve to ask. Paranoia made me stiff with fear. My reasoning was on vacation somewhere far away. I didn’t have a cell phone to tell it to return. My feet continued moving. They seemed to knowingly follow the ghostly glow of the moon. The ground was pale and gray like ghost shadows. When we got back to the tepee I had to sit down. I was overwhelmed and I was tired. My guilt painted a thick layer of filth and regret all over my body. “There are more of them out there, you know. People just like us.” He said softly into my neck. I didn’t ask what he meant. My throat was as stiff as the cement beneath us. We sat in silence for several moments. The hound was quiet now. Suddenly penguin-like nuns called to me from unknown foreign lands. They raised their palms into the sky and called my name in humming chants. An immense and overwhelming urge came over me to join a convent. They pleaded with me to leave Mike. Not just leave him in Wildwood, but leave the relationship. To leave my life in California altogether. I felt guilty and dirty like my skin was made of feces. I wanted to shower for years, join a church, and cleanse my soul. I hated Mike for talking me into this. Little did I know at the time, the nuns were right. I finally managed to speak. “Have you ever realized something out of the blue, that you never thought of before?” It sounded vague and dry but I felt enlightened by thoughts that consumed my soul. I didn’t expect him to understand me. I sat there thoughtfully, on the cement slab, as he paced frantically around me like a nervous hen when wolves are present. It was as if he knew that I suddenly doubted him. With my head in my hands I peeked at him from between my fingers the way children do during scary movie scenes. As if the whole view would be too overwhelming. I saw him mouth the words, “Don’t do this to me! Please, don’t do this to me.” He was looking into the sky pleading and shaking his head with disbelief. Was he praying? “I want to go home.” I said. “No you don’t,” he was irritated now. “You see we should have never come back to the place we started. You do that, and your trip goes bad. Everyone knows that.” He grabbed at my sweatshirt. “Let’s walk somewhere else and you’ll be fine. Come on.” “No want I to go home now.” I was afraid of him. His eyes glazed over from rage and for the first time that night I looked directly at him. His pupils consumed his eyes; black large alien eyes, popping out at me with urgency, staring blankly and blinking like a large fish. He knew I didn’t trust him, and then enraged him further. With an exaggerated huff and a quick turn of his body he stomped towards the trail home. I followed yards behind him, afraid to get too close. I remembered our first argument. We were discussing his days spent in Devil Dog juvenile camp. He became angry over something I said so I asked him why they weren’t able to improve his habits. Tension suddenly elevated. Soon we were face-to-face and he threw me onto my back, pinching my thigh hard; leaving blue fingerprints that lasted for days. I wasn’t about to argue again. Not on drugs, not with his temper. So I followed safely behind him hoping he’d lead me from the torment of those crazy brush lands, which were slowly leading me to insanity. We moved beyond the commercialized tepee, through the rock faces, beyond the scratching shrubs, and onto the main trail. He was furious. He didn’t want to leave. At this point I didn’t care. “Are you sure you know how to get out of here?” I called. “Shut the fuck up, I know where I’m fucking going.” I didn’t believe him. I thought we were lost. I started laughing from delirium, confused and bewildered, so I stopped walking all together. I watched him get farther away; a handsome figure on the horizon of a sky lit by distant city lights. I looked behind me and saw darkness. Tumbleweeds surrounded me on all sides. I was in an ocean of dry weeds and shrubbery. I wanted to lie down and dry up with them. I had nothing to look forward to in the car ride home. He returned and he came to me. Nose to nose, his eyes locked with mine in competition and I could see the specks of gold around his irises. He was trying to intimidate me like an angry coach against his athlete; a common game he often played. His jugular vein pulsed and grew larger. His jaw changed form as he clenched his teeth. I half expected him to hit me. “If you don’t trust me, then find your own way. I, on the other hand, am going back to the car.” He left again. I knew he was frustrated that I didn’t want to stay, angry that he couldn’t make me, and wounded that I had had some revelation about him. He didn’t understand me. I closed my eyes and thought hard about Mike’s importance to me, and like a novel my memory folded open before me in the sky; pages fluttering like sparrows in the wind. The beginning brought me to the first moment I had seen him; patiently waiting in the mile-long line of Nocturnal Wonderland; the hot Havasu sunset burning behind him, trance music thundering into the desert sky above. With his shirt off I was able to see the tattoos adorning his body; a large blue sun made of three dimensional water droplets, a bodiless face that happily smoked from a pipe, and an abstract design on the right bicep shaded with colors of the ocean. I turned to another page and the illustration of our first kiss in my father’s spa blazed before me. Steam floated from the page with wafting illusion. His breath had tasted like an ashtray and I could feel his boner on the inside of my thigh. A few pages later I found our first exchange of phone numbers at The Other Place, the sticky dive bar with the sexy green-eyed bar tender. New York ruins smoked on the TV screens behind us. We occasionally turned away from conversation to watch the news with indifferent ignorance. We didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation until later. We were too caught up in flirtation. I skipped a few chapters ahead into the future and found myself peeing on a birth control test in the bathroom of my work; only to discover that is was positive. “We’re keeping the baby,” he said. “This is my chance to have a family.” Then I saw ourselves looking for apartments. I was four months pregnant and we were arguing over which city to live in. “I grew up in the Valley. I know it like the back of my hand. It’s so much cheaper here,” he said. “But it’s so far from my work. Santa Paula is miles and miles away. Can’t we live in T.O? It’s so much easier. It’s closer to your work as well.” I sounded weaker, less independent, like a young girl reasoning with her kidnapper; walking on eggshells with every word she breathes, trying so hard not to piss him off. A few pages later and we were signing release forms in the management office of our new one-bedroom apartment. It was in Thousand Oaks just behind Boderline country western bar. We took some paperwork back to his place and while filling empty white lines with our signatures, we suddenly became overcome by passion. He slowly carried me to his bedroom. I turned a few more pages and was startled. There, in what appeared to be the bathroom of our new apartment, Mike’s hands were tightly gripped around my neck. In a fuchsia halter maternity top, revealing a bulge the size of a basketball, I gasped for air in panic. His eyes were glazed over with demonic rage; the remaining mask of someone who was tortured as a child. A look I had seen once before. The same sort of rage I had seen in Wildwood but worse. I opened my eyes. He was calling for me. The hound was barking again somewhere in the distance. I remained still. I knew what I had to do. Slowly I reached with tender fingertips into the soft layers of my soul and I thumbed through all the memories. In a deep crevasse hidden behind stupidity I found the loyalty I had for him. Pulling it slowly from the core, I extracted it. It gave way easily; separating like sodden cardboard. With a flip of my wrist I tossed into onto the ground before me, kicking a layer of dust over it with my shoe. I reached back in and found my trust (which the religious hallucination had made much smaller) and pulled that out as well. It fell to the ground with a thud. On top of those I tossed his lies, his deceit of decency and my fear of his authority. Soon a large pile of crap was laid before me. Mike called my name again from lost horizons. This time he sounded much closer. “Where the hell are you?” I heard it echo throughout my mind; constant questioning of my whereabouts. Bending down I quickly pulled a layer of silt over my waste pile and carefully patted it with the palm of my hand. They looked defeated there; dying corpses in the lines of the battle, still choking on bloody sputum and gagging on death. Then, turning the opposite direction, I bravely walked away; me and the possibility of a growing fetus. I took this child and we flew towards the sunny dawn. We fled like open winged gulls into the sunrise. Wind blew at our backs as we caught currents of air and we soared into the golden heavens above; free from the dark fading blackness of life as it was. I heard him scream behind me. He must have found the grave. I could almost see him there scratching furiously at the sand; pulling bits of discarded memories from their wasteland. He’d look at them in disbelief and he cry out like a coyote in rejection. He didn’t win this battle. And wouldn’t win the next. But it didn’t end this way. It never ends like it does in the movies. It doesn’t stop and have a happy ending; playing victory music as the credits roll as people stand from their seats with pleasant sighs. I stepped over the grave with delicacy towards the magnetism of his control; a young puppet lifted by threads spun from ignorance. “Coming babe.” The sun didn’t rise for hours.