Just on the other side of something was the indescribable everything-else that Erica wanted.
Wildly intangible and yet so visceral in every way. She could feel it only by ‘looking’ At it sideways. She could see it only by feeling for the edges. Nothing that worked in the know reality would get her to that place she longed for. Like movement in peripheral vision or a smell that you know but cannot possibly name.
It was enough to drive her mad and back again.
Touched by the distant what-nots and hence-forths of a place that would only demonstrate your lack of sanity if you tried to describe it to anyone who hadn’t gone themselves. ‘You’d have to have been there’ was a nail in the coffin. Certifiably crazy.
But Erica was a thoughtful person, and as far as feedback from her peers was concerned, fairly intelligent as well. Despite the gnawing sensation that gripped the back of her mind -but gently- she appeared for all intent and purposes as a well functioning member of adult society.
The door slid open with a metallic siiiip and she walked through the threshold, including the blast of air that allegedly separated the interior atmosphere from the exterior. The building was modern and clinical; large white tiles, vaguely textured white walls, high ceilings with irritating florescent lighting. A black desk front and center held a security guard that despite hundreds of meetings still insisted on calling her ‘Ms. Linden’.
Through the gate, up the hall, elevator on the left with the classy black touch pad and RFID scanner that smartly clucked when she tapped her badge to the face. Though she had to admit the sacred geometric pattern of a 64 star tetrahedron embossed into the plastic did make her feel a little less like dying whenever she came to work.
Standing in the elevator, thankfully alone, she pressed the green-glowing 37. Her eyes drifted closed with an exhaling breath that took with it every ounce of tension in her body. Had she not been conscious of her location she would surely have slumped to the ground. Ecstasy punctuated by the fact that she was, in fact, still showing up to work at they-who-shall-not-be-named science-nerd-pharma-nonsense land.
At the corners of her closed-eye vision drifted the psychedelic color workings of that place she wanted to go back to that was not a place. The sensations crept in with the colors until all she could ‘see’ were those patterns. Smells took on a whole new meaning and for a moment she could almost remember-
The doors slid open and Erica’s eyes popped open.
He was standing there patiently as if he had known but the look in his eyes gave him away. He held it together well enough.
“A wizard arrives precisely when she means to, Thomas,” She said as serious as hardware stats.
A smile cracked and Thomas’ posture relaxed, “Well I certainly can’t argue with that. But I couldn’t get a hold of you this weekend. What gives?”
Erica stepped from the elevator and nudged him into a walk with a head-nod.
“Thomas, I was busy with something. But I need to tell you. Only maybe this isn’t the place…” She hesitated. They were in a fairly secure lab on the 37th floor after all. Not exactly the place for this sort of conversation.
Thomas lifted an eyebrow as he glanced side-wise at her, “Iert syah-eena?”
It took Erica less than half a second to figure out what the nonsense coming out of his mouth was. They had devised a very simple but effective code for communicating private topics in sensitive places. They’d never got it to a level that could be used conversationally, but short clips and key words passed the system easily enough. Essentially saying each word in order, but phonetically backwards. Thomas had said ‘Try anyways?’
Erica took a deep breath.
Full body dissolving at sub-cellular levels began to spread halted only by consciously willing herself to maintain composure. Maybe today was a call-in-sick day and she’d missed the memo.
But she felt fantastic.
She glanced over at Thomas with a ‘don’t-fuck-this-up’ look of seriousness. He understood and mockingly stood upright with a stern expression on his face.
“Eed. Meh. Eet.”
Thomas took a few steps further before his eyes went wide and he lost hold of his stern facial expression which apparently dropped to the floor where he nearly tripped on it.
“Holy shit. What? This weekend?”
Erica’s left eyebrow lifted impossibly high as she scolded him, “Calm the fuck down. You’re ridiculous. Yes. Thomas, look. I saw things.”
“I bet you fucking did, wow! How much?”
“I swear,” She said, looking forward as the continued down the hall, “I’ll slap you into non-dual reality if you don’t chill.”
Thomas gave his head a shake in hopes that his brain would get the hint and let a breath out that fluttered his lips before he replied, “Ok, wow. Got it. What sorts of things, Ericanaut?”
“Damnit Thomas,” she said as she rolled her eyes, “I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No no, I’m sorry, it’s just too coincidental.”
“Your weekend and mine. I’ll tell you in a second, but seriously, what did you see?”
Erica sighed. They turned a corner and for a time they walked in silence. He seemed content to let er respond in her own time. Through another set of electric siiip doors and one more badge swiping brought them into the inner most sanctum of this strange sort of temples. Thomas and Erica worked together on the formulations. They were essentially chemists, but they had a particular job: remove all adverse side effects without weakening the reactions. Side effects of what, you ask?
Even they didn’t know. They were sent samples with specific tests that would yield a ‘full pass’ result as their control. Then they were charged with, simply or not, removing any of the listed ‘undesirable’ reactions without diminishing the ‘full pass’.
It was complicated work but relatively straight forward. But it never sat well with either of them that they could be working on vitamins or neuro-toxins and they’d never know. The compounds were isolated out of their complete cocktails. Questionably so, as Erica had figured out a while back that they were receiving some of the same compounds after modifications were being made, only proving her suspicion that making these composition adjustments without the complete cocktail meant they were basically doing educated trial and error.
Extremely inefficient but in this capitalistic age, the company couldn’t just hand them the complete nootropic. They’d steal it and start their own billion dollar company. What a joke.
As they arrived at the lab the doors closed behind them and she realized Thomas was looking at her mostly-patiently.
“Thomas…”, damnit the words weren’t adequate, “it’s just so hard to explain. Color. But not. Lights. But not. I was there but I wasn’t. Conscious… but outside of it. English is from within the framework. This was outside. So describing it from within using a language from within is laughable at best. But I can tell you what it felt like.
It felt like going home by going nowhere.”
Thomas visibly shivered and for a moment she was sure he had looked down at his right trouser-pocket.
“Jesus, Erica,” Thomas said in a low voice, “I… fuck.”
“Erica, you remember that meditation I’ve been doing? The vipassana one?”
“Sure, the body scans.”
“I essentially did that for three days straight. Not planned. But something happened on Friday and nothing else seemed to matter except meditation.”
He looked nervous. Thomas was rarely nervous. But she knew if she waited he’d keep going.
“I was walking Front Street park, at dusk, like I usually do. I’d just done a few hours in my quiet room. There was this… I dunno. Dissolving? I was just there. Floating. Being. I had to get out and move after that,” he was rambling, but her skin crawled at the ‘dissolving’, so she let him continue.
“I was out there, sitting on my bench, watching the ducks do their thing, and a man came and sat by me…
Not unusual maybe, but it’s dusk, and we’re alone, and he had the most peculiar clothes on. A big hood pulled half way over his head with loose fabric shirt and pants… but his sleeves were tight. Or maybe something was on over the shirt? Same with his legs. Like those things horse-people wear. And he just say there…”
Thomas’ words trailed off. Erica reassembled them into chronological order in her head before he continued.
“…He looked at me. And even in the low light his eyes were bright. He looked right at me. Into me. Fuck I sound crazy. But then all he said was, ‘You come and sit here a lot. You pay attention. You’re actually looking. Good work, Thomas. Really good work.’ and the words just echo in my head…
I asked him who he was and he smiled and reached over to hand me something. He told me, ‘This might help, or it might not. You decide. But when you touch it or look at it, remember that feeling you had today in your meditation and you’ll be right back there.’”
Now Thomas looked nervous and visibly shaken. Erika reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, “You alright, what happened?”
Thomas looked up, directly into her eyes, strong and confident again, “Alright? I’m some sort of next level epic. I know it sounds totally bat-shit insane, but this thing. This totem he called it… when I hold it, or look at it for a while, it takes me somewhere- Or I go somewhere because it reminds me. But it’s more than a reminder- Ah damn, my head is spinning.
Half of me knows it’s just placebo and brain chemistry and expectation and any number of explainable things. But the other half can’t pass it off that easily.
I probably sound crazy-”
Erica squeezed his shoulder, “Thomas. Eed Meh Eet.”
“Fuck, I totally forgot. So you get it then. I was googling that word he said, totem. Essentially it’s an object that hold significance for someone or a a group of someones. Like a family heirloom or a tribal symbol. A mark of the clan. Whatever. It carries the meaning they give it and reminds them of the important thing they’ve attached to it.
That’s why it’s so fucking uncanny that you did eed meh eet, which is basically like an experiential totem… and when you said ‘going home by going nowhere’, it hit my like a wall. I’ve been sitting with this Totem, looking at it, meditating, for days. I don’t even need to close my eyes anymore. I just bring that thing into my focus and it feels like going home, but I don’t have to go anywhere. It’s like… touching a layer outside of all the stuff.”
Erica felt her body uncontrollably inhale slow and deep, her brow slightly lifted. The sensation of emptiness -a good thing- spreading in her chest and down her limbs.
“That! Is that it? Are you feeling it right now? That’s what this fucking thing feels like. Obviously less extreme. Probably a lot less extreme. But it feels like that. not just going nowhere, but going to a place this is by definition, nowhere,” Thomas iterated excitedly.
Erica swam back into her body towards his words and replied, “Wah, exactly. Yes. a place that is nowhere. That’s it, definitely. Jesus, what is going on?”
“I don’t know how to explain it but I know it isn’t bad. But get this: yesterday when I was in my meditations I saw you. Clear as you are now, laying on a blue blanket. Or pillow maybe-”
She interrupted him immediately, “Get the fuck out. Tell me you were peaking in my window?”
“What? Why the hell would I do that. I was at my house with this fucking talisman. Why? Is… is that where you were?” He asked with curiosity and a hint of concern.
“In my living room,” she said slowly, “with the guide sitting nearby. On a blue futon pad. I did it yesterday Thomas. Fucking yesterday. When you saw me.”
“Get the actual fuck out of here. You’re serious?”, he asked. She nodded.
“How in the shit are you standing right now? This is the last fucking place I’d be after you… uh… you know, those weird stomach bugs,” he hesitated, glancing at the corner of the room where the security system lived with it’s one-red-eye unblinking.
“Thomas, I’m not convinced I should be here at all. Ever again.”
Thomas leaned back in his chair which made Erica suddenly aware that she didn’t remember sitting. His reply came sober and low, “Alright. Let’s get through today and we’ll talk at my place after work.”
“Sure, that works.”
They sat staring at each other for moment. Something unsaid passed between the nowhere place between them and they smiled simultaneously, which made them each smile even bigger and before long they both chuckled.
“What in the actual fuck, Erica.”
“You’re telling me,” she paused and then chuckled. “Ericanaut. You’re clever.”
Photo credit Cedric Clitheroe, LaPaz Bolivia,Cementario General