Rainbow, Fungus, Rainbow

by Liam Johnson

“If the hogs haven’t gotten to ‘em yet, you’ll find them all in a row, facedown in a ravine, straight out from the fence, a hundred yards or so. If you hit the stack of tires and the mountain of used diapers you’ve gone too far.” 

Across the table, she regards me with dubious eyes. Here’s how the story goes: I captivated a roomful of clueless youth. I fed them toxic fungus—Amanita marmorata, if you really must know. I watched them lose their minds, struggle to find the floor. I let their kidneys fail. They pissed blood. I dragged them, two by two, through cow shit and lush moss. 

To her mind, I know I am a vision of the antithesis of this scenario. I wear my hair in a loose top knot. My shirt is psychedelic geometry. My cutoffs are splotchy Indonesian Batik. I am fractal vomit, free love incarnate. I pick at the peeling laminate, faux walnut woodgrain revealing the cheapjack particle board construction. A solitary fluorescent fixture casts its unforgiving light upon us. Even in the greenish fog of this windowless room, she is beautiful, golden brown skin and thick black hair. She lowers her face to the table, scrawls my last few sentences on some official-looking forms. Momentarily satisfied, she gives a somber nod and pushes herself away from the table to stand. 

“Pono.” 

She says this flatly, opens the heavy door and is gone from me. Pono. It’s a common Hawaiian expression, means something like “Do what is righteous.” I am trying to figure out what about this is righteous, but I suppose I will have to wait to ask the detective when she comes back. I wait for the Diet Coke she promised me. I am queasy from the lights and it will settle my stomach. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, wondering what Hawaiian state prisons are like. Best in the country, I suspect. Try as I might, I can’t stop picturing the young guy, his eyes just slightly too alive, plasticine lips, dressed all in linen. Too. Fucking. Predictable. What the heck was his real name? Everybody out here has some bullshit pseudo-spiritual chosen name—Butterfly, Rainbow, Ananda. They’re all so goddamn sincere.

I am drenched in lucidity. The blank walls of the room become high-fidelity memory screens. My thoughts are given form. They surround me, manifest in shimmering gradients of intrinsic light. I am outside of time in a claustrophobic saucer. I close my eyes and I am back in the Bali hut with them. We sit on cheap cushions, crisscross-applesauce, eight plus me, all in a circle, good little neophytes. 

“Find your center,” I say. “You unfold as a being of infinite light. You are evolving, becoming a new species. You are becoming homo lumens.” 

I watch them writhe, adjust their posture, reach for the light. My words are cosmic hogwash. They lap them up, hold them in their bellies to quell the alkaloid nausea. It has been nine hours since they drank from my medicine pot: chacruna, harmala, caapi, and the amanitas. I never understood what was supposed to be fun about losing oneself if you’re stuck with someone else inside at the end of it. 

Amatoxin works slowly. The poisoning comes in two phases, with a nice little break in between. Twelve hours after ingestion, you’ve got the purge—painful cramps, violent vomiting, you get the idea. This lasts one day, maybe two. Then, blessed be what do you know, you feel better. You think to yourself that you just ate something bad, laugh it off. Inside, though, something is still not right. Your liver and your renal system have been working overtime and can’t keep up. By day three, you’re turning yellow. You’re dead within the week. 

Back in the stupid fucking here and now, I am still waiting for a Diet Coke. I stand up. I yawn, stretch my manacled hands above my head, bend over to touch my toes, then back to the sky, a makeshift sun salutation. The walls crawl. My eyes swim. 

A few minutes, maybe hours, go by. I hear the door open, I open my eyes. She is back in the room, soda can in hand. A red and white bendy straw flails about in its mouth. She sets the can down in front of me, but it is too late. Before either of us know it, I am staggering across the room clutching my throat. Caustic fluid spews from my mouth onto the coarse berber. Until now, it had not occurred to me what a lovely shade the carpet is, like the mottled skin of a ripe blueberry. She throws open the door, yells for some help. I cannot believe it has already been twelve hours. The only hospital on the island is at least a forty minute drive—down the mountain, along the coastal highway, through the little town with the natural food store, into the port city. I will lie there in a curtained room. They will stick me with needles and give me fluids, but they will not keep me alive. I will die with open eyes, bright yellow like the sun.

Liam Johnson lives in a drained swamp in Ohio with two dogs and a human woman. His head does funny things sometimes.
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