Camron Davidson arrived at Alchemy that fall and struggled to fit into the History Department. He thought it was because his colleagues were intimidated by where he matriculated though his college years. They weren’t. His arrogance annoyed them. In an attempt to assert himself he couldn’t stop reciting his CV to anyone he cornered. No one was interested in his strange dissertation on Goliardic Secular Medieval Technological Advances. Alchemy was a science based school and his colleagues in the History Department studied war and technological advances in weaponry in their college dissertations. When he was applying for tenure track positions he thought with all of Alchemy College’s strange festivals and strong science departments it would merge well with dissertation. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
He made one friend in his short time at Alchemy. Matt Anderson taught botany and lived life at Alchemy like an extension of his frat days. He had an ability to party with students but not get any trouble with the college for blurring lines. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t sleeping with students, which was all too common at Alchemy. As nights turned to their dark hours, much earlier in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the fall than in most other places, Matt was able to charm anyone into doing things they normally wouldn’t.
In any other world these two would never have spent any time together. But stuck in the U.P. made Cameron crave companionship. The cold and darkness of the fall nights made him feel isolated and alone. All the expansiveness of the clear skies that allowed the stars to shine bright didn’t inspire him, instead he felt that the stars were closing in on him. The sky couldn’t have felt any closer. He missed the city lights of Berkley and San Francisco that blocked all those starts. It surprised him how much he wanted Matt’s approval. He wanted a friend and someone to pass those long dark nights with. His bruised ego inflated like he had never expected and before he knew it he was attending his first frat party ever.
Alpha Chi Sigma was the largest fraternity at Alchemy College and had the best post October festival party. ACS, or any fraternal organization at the school for that matter, wasn’t your typical frat. Houses at Alchemy were academic based and at a school with such a name there were three chemistry based frats, but the Alpha house was the oldest and most traditional.
“It’s just a little acid. Don’t go breaking our traditions here at Alchemy College Professor Davidson. During the Harvest Festival everyone throws back like it’s the late 60’s. Even the Profs.” By the next morning Camron Davidson couldn’t remember which one of his students said this to him.
“Come on Cam, it’s student brewed.” Matt said. “How potent can it be? Just a hit.”
“I’ve never done acid.”
“What the fuck dude? You went to Berkley.”
“I don’t think anyone at Berkeley has done acid since the 80’s. I’ve done ecstasy but I didn’t even know that acid was still around.”
“The different chemistry frats compete for best acid and honestly I think most is bunk, but if you have a chance at a semblance of a trip go with the Sigma’s.”
“What should I expect?”
“It’s mild man. You’ll feel good. But don’t drink on it. There’s no point. You can’t get drunk on acid and that cheap keg beer will make you pee all night. And the last place to spend the night on acid is in a bathroom.”
Matt handed him the tiny square of paper. Camron let it dissolve on his tongue as instructed. He wasn’t sure what to expect and after ten minutes he was convinced it was bunk. He walked out to the front porch and looked over the campus.
Alchemy was a world away from UC Berkeley. Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the daylight dried up by the end of September and by October the snow fall had accumulated to over a foot. The town of Ungula had a population of seven thousand people, half of them worked for or attended the college. The other half kept far away from the college and their festivals. Camron had mistakenly made those worlds collide with a war over parking tickets pitting campus security against the local police.
The Sigma party started to fill up the old frat house. The frat mansion was purchased in the early 1900’s and there were stories of hauntings and suicides. The party was well known among the Alchemy community and tourists who attend the festival as the one event everyone wanted to go to. The only people who didn’t want anything to do with the Sigma’s party, or Alchemy College, were townies and the police.
“Professor Davidson, what are you doing here?” One of the brothers asked while they were waiting in line for the bathroom. Camron had to go even though Matt’s warning of the bathroom echoed in his mind. He wasn’t sure if the student’s mouth was moving or he was reading the boy’s thoughts. Faces were becoming oddly shaped and moving around on torsos. “Hey, you in there Professor?”
“Yes. Matt Anderson brought me.”
“I like Professor Anderson’s class. We’ve been foraging for fun fungi.”
“Yup. How do you like it here?”
“I’m concerned that the walls seem to breathe.”
“Sure thing. Enjoy your trip Professor Davidson.”
Cameron made his way to the bathroom and once inside started asking questions to no one.
“Did to that kid really talk to me or did we telepathically exchange information? Is this acid working? Are the walls pulsating? Can they hear me breathe?”
He struggled maneuvering his zipper. By the time he got to peeing the toilet was pulsating and moving in and out with his heartbeat. He missed the bowl with his stream.
The mirror was enticing and horrifying. He examined his hairline and pores and never realized how large the holes in his skin were. After a period of time he realized that the pounding that was causing him a slight panic wasn’t his heart but someone at the door. The same student was waiting for him outside the bathroom.
“You OK in there?”
“You were in there like twenty minute. Looking at the floor it seemed you couldn’t pee straight.”
“Twenty minutes, more like two. Have you seen Professor Anderson?”
“Sure. Two minutes if you say so. Anderson’s around somewhere. He’s here a lot. He’s always bringing these two townies around. They like buying our foraged mushrooms.”
“Townies? What do you mean about mushrooms?”
“You take care of yourself Professor Davidson.”
The student walked away and down the stairs to the basement looking over his shoulder at his professor. Cameron wandered to the back of the house where a band was setting up and they put on a set just for him, he thought. The music flowed and the beat of the woofer synced with his breathing. It was his best live music experience. He went back and forth from dancing out of beat with the music to trying to unlock his phone to record them. Everything was moving fast, not blurry but his vision when looking ahead became full of motion as if he was looking out of the side window on a car. His peripheral vision, however, was locked like a still photograph.
“Hey teach, you enjoying yourself?”
“Yea, that set was great. Where you been Matt? I can’t believe no one’s watching.”
“Set? That was a sound check dude.”
“No, I’ve been here watching for like an hour.”
“I don’t think so, they just got here. That was like a five minute sound check.”
“Really, I must be confused. I really liked it, it was great. I tried taking a video but my phone’s broken.”
“I don’t think it’s your phone man. It’s just a trip.”
“Just go with it. Enjoy the party. I got some business to attend to. You stay here and enjoy the music. I see my buddies from town made it. We got to take care of something in the basement”
Cameron missed most of what Matt said as he was focused on trying to unlock his phone. “Wait. What did you say? Where are you going?”
He looked up to see Matt with two guys heading back into the house. Matt gave him a knowing smile over his shoulder.
Cameron continued to work on his phone. His swiping ability was altered and every time he tried to unlock it the letters and numbers flew off the screen and to the ground. He attempted to pick them up but they disintegrated with his touch.
A group of brothers sat on a couch watching. It took one of their girlfriends to assist him with unlocking his phone for him. As she passed the brothers she smacked her boyfriend on the head. “You guys are a bunch of dicks. Obviously this is his first time. He’s not your show monkey for fuck’s sake.”
She led him by the arm like he was blind.
“Come on, hold on to my elbow, your eyes are way dilated.”
“Where are we going?”
“Someplace quiet with a bright light. You’re all sweaty.”
She took him to a closet and pulled on the overhead light.
“Look at the bulb it will help those dilated eyes. Give me your phone. You seem to be struggling with it.” She gave him a reassuring smile.
She found a YouTube video of an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon and left him.
“I’ll be back soon, just rest.”
“Wait, I need help making the sound work. Why Rocky and Bullwinkle? I don’t understand.”
She closed the door.
He still couldn’t swipe properly so he added his own dialogue to the silent cartoon. When the video ended he got up to find her so she could play more cartoons.
As he wandered deeper into the house he found a staircase with floating yellow kite streamers with letters. When the vent blew the black letters slid slowly off the streamer and turned into origami butterflies. He descended the staircase and found a door cracked open. Matt was in there with some of the brothers and the two townies. They were creating art, Christopher thought, on large paper perforated into tiny squares. The same paper squares that he and Matt let dissolve on their tongues earlier in the night. There were mushrooms laid out on another table next to the scale.
“Hey some kid told me you foraged in class, is that what you found?” He asked.
“Shit, what are you doing down here?”
“Who the fuck is that?” The townie yelled.
“He’s no one. Just some prof tripping. He can’t even make out your face. Don’t worry I got this. Come on Cam, let’s get you dancing to some more music.”
“I like music.”
Matt got him up the stairs, past the caution tape, and outside. The townies stood at the top of the stairs watching.
“Listen, take my keys and go to my office. There’s a couch in there. Lay down for a while. Watch something on my computer. Just don’t drive. Did you see those two townies? Could you make out their faces?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Good. Just go now.”
It was a straight shot from the frat house to Matt’s office but Cameron veered off course following snow that was illuminated by the campus rape lights along the pathways. He stopped at each blue light watching snowflakes dissolve when they landed. After an hour he mistakenly hit the panic button when he tried to pick up the one flake that didn’t dissolve and he alerted campus security.
“I need to go to his office.”
“It late Mr. Davidson, walk with us. Whose office? You been drinking?
“No. You know Matt from Botany. I need to go to his office.”
“Let’s give you a Breathalyzer and go from there.”
He passed the test and they walked him to his car. They were more than familiar with where he parked his car since he started the war with local police over his tickets. Campus security had a habit of turning a blind eye if one passed a breath test and the speculation on campus was they equally participated in the distribution of foraged mushrooms and chemically created perforated pages.
As they were walking away he heard one of them say, “What was he saying, his numbers were floating off his cell phone?”
“I know every year during festival I swear it gets weirder.”
“It’s guys like him that make me assured I’ll never attend one of those parties no matter what they pay. I’m good with the little cut we get for moving the stuff around. Bunch of hippy fools if you ask me.”
Camron lived close to campus but he was a distracted driver. By mistakenly hitting a button on his radio he changed the illumination light color and had to pull over until he could find the right color to go with the song he was playing. The song would end and he would have to find a new color to accompany the next song. This went on for seven songs until he found two in a row that could be illuminated by red.
Once he got driving he struggled making out street signs since the white letters were merging with the falling snow.
Although he couldn’t swipe or type on his cell, he could hit the button to activate Suri. She struggled understanding him and after a back and forth Suri took him out on CR14 leading him west of town, far from his apartment.
As the houses got farther apart and streetlights ceased to exist, he put on his bright lights.
Ahead he saw holiday lights blinking and wondered why they would have red and blue lights during Halloween. He followed the lights until suddenly they stopped and disappeared.
Soon he came up to a crossroads and an empty cop car was on the side of the road behind a truck. In the front cab of the truck were the two townies from the basement of the ACS party that Matt was doing business with. The cop was standing next to the driver’s side with his gun drawn.
The townie locked eyes with Camron. Although he had no clear vision he felt a sense of recognition that told him to get away fast. In the driver’s seat the townie turned to his friend and began to talk. Instinct kicked in and Cam speed up and spun his tires. The cop turned when the tire’s spun and that is when the shot rang out although Cam never heard it. His heart was beating too fast as his tires spun and he tried to regain control of his car, he was unable to hear the single shot that killed the officer.
After ten miles the snow began to fall harder and the flakes were large. His glasses slowly changed into magnifiers and he tried to see if it was true that no two snowflakes were alike.
At first he didn’t see the deer. That is how it always is when cars collide with deer at night. Deer’s lose their footing on icy roads and try to back pedal. By the time the animal is in sight, they are staring at the headlights. Camron’s deer was a buck. It was big and muscular and the antlers were like coat racks sticking out waiting to impale the car.
At impact their eyes linked and their hearts synched. In movies car crashes are always loud and the motion is slow for the view to see the impact and damage. When the deer and Camron collided it was fast, abrupt, and chaotic. There was no Hollywood choreography to the crash. It was violent and strangely silent. The airbag blew quickly and caused a deafening and ringing in his ears.
He tried to grab the wheel but it was pulsating and he couldn’t hold tight. It was slipping out of his hands. The car spun two times into a ditch. His head hit the driver’s side door making it into a spider web of broken glass.
All of his senses were heightened but the burn from the airbag on his face infused a pain inside him that he had never experienced before. He couldn’t control his shaking and when he got out of the car he saw the buck in the ditch alive. They stared at each other completely synched.
He tried to call 911 but still couldn’t make the swiping and numbers work so he ran down the country road a mile to a house. By the time he got there his face was on fire from the airbag burn. He dropped face first into the snow to cool it off. As he laid there he began moving his arms and legs and when he stood up he had made an angel. He decided to make two more, a trinity, to help him. As he made them a light upstairs came on and the widow flew open.
“Get the fuck off my property. I got a gun.”
“No, wait. I need help. I hit a deer and my car won’t work and the deer is alive.”
“To hell you did. I don’t see no car. I’m warning you get off my property.”
“No it’s back a ways.”
“Fuck you, I saw you’s making snow angels you fucking freak.” The man shot a warning into the air and he went running back the way he came.
He continued running and the cop car passed him. He felt safe when the cop car slowed, turned around, and eased up to him. His acid vision eluded him to the fact it wasn’t the cop driving the car. That man was dead and two flannel shirted townies were driving it now.
“That your car back there buddy? Hit a deer I see hey.”
“Yes, can you help me officer?”
“Sure thing hop in.”
In the car Cam and the townie locked eyes in the rearview mirror. The townie was looking to see if he recognized him. Although he couldn’t make out faces he felt that same sense of recognition he felt earlier and it showed slowly and easily on his face.
“Why aren’t you wearing uniforms?”
“We’s off duty.”
Camron knew he was trapped but strangely the acid allowed his thinking to overcome the panic.
“Did you shoot it?”
“What you sayin fellow?”
“I heard shots and wasn’t sure if it was you all or if it was that guy.”
“At that house back there. He had a shot gun.”
“Don’t follow you bud, but we ain’t killing no deer. You’re gonna hafta to do it if it alive.”
When they got there the deer was still breathing. Cam’s thinking cleared.
“It needs to be put down.” He said. “I’ll do it, can I use your gun?”
“Looks like you got your first deer of the season, and on the first weekend. It’s only bow season though man. Can’t shoot.”
“But I didn’t hunt it. I accidentally hit it. If you don’t want to do it I can. Do you mind if I use your gun?”
“Well, it don’t seem right to shoot it? Laws and all. It’s only bow season.”
“But you are off duty.”
“Laws is laws on duty or off duty. I think you gotta use a knife.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I don’t think you have much a choice, or you can let it suffer. But I’s aint doing it. Here’s my hunting knife.”
The two men smiled at each other and waited him out.
“Right across the neck, it’s fastest that way.”
Camron paused and his and the deer’s heartbeats were no longer synced but he could read the deer’s mind and it was in pain and suffering. He had one chance to get away from the townies with the knife. Go at the one with gun, stab him, and then shoot the other. His mind was clear. If he was to get out of this situation that is what he had to do.
But his mind was too open. The deer was speaking to him. When he looked into its’ eyes he saw them watering and it wanted to die. He had a choice to take this moment to save his own life or end the deer’s pain.
So he cut its’ neck. It went slow and his eyesight began to clear up as the deer’s dimmed. He could clearly make out the deer’s face and it showed him gratitude. His breathing wasn’t as loud as before and his heart slowed down.
“Nice job teach.” The townie grabbed the knife slowly as Cam didn’t break eye contact with the deer.
“What did you call me?”
“Come on get in the back we will take you to the station. It’s late. You can lay down a bit and call Matty in the morning.”
“Matt, how do you know I know him? Listen that’s ok. I’m ok. Look there is a house up the way, you can drop me there.”
The two men gave a knowing glance to each other.
“Don’t think so buddy.”
They passed the house and Christopher looked at it from the rear window. He spent the rest of the time in the back trying to unlock his phone. Although his vision was clearer his swiping was no better and he never got it unlocked.
When they got to the station the two men opened the trunk and took out a portfolio case containing the perforated sheets and baggies of mushrooms.
“Evidence Professor.” One of the men laughed.
It was a typical small town station, like a movie set with four desks, a few waiting chairs and two cells in back.
“Come on teach, you can lay down in one of the cells.”
They escorted him to the back and closed the door to the cell. One of them fumbled with the keys and had to try four before finding the right one.
“Hey, why are closing that? Don’t lock it. I’m just going to lay down for a while. Don’t close it.”
“It’s for your own good. Well it’s for our good at least.”
The two men looked at each other.
“What are we going to do with him?” One of the townies said. “Do you think he can see straight yet? I don’t want to havta kill anyone else. Call Matty this his friend. He gonna haveta deal with this.”
“Fuck that. We take care of it now.”
The two townies continued back and forth about what to do with Cam.
When they weren’t looking Cameron took the phone out of his pocket and turned it off hoping enough time would pass before they decided what to do with him and his swiping ability would return and just maybe he could make a call before the battery died.
Roy Edward Jackson lives in Atlanta, GA and works as a librarian. He grew up in rural Michigan and has always been attracted to dark fiction about outsiders in extreme circumstances.