What Kind of Place Is This?—Clark Humphrey

It seems like we’ve been driving forever, but it’s only been an hour and 45 minutes on the minivan’s dash clock. I’m still weezy from whatever knockout drug the girl had slipped me. Would she like it if some guy did that to her? (Maybe, with what little she’s told me about her own life, some guy had. She sure seems to have had a rough life in any event.)

And what’s her interest in keeping me in the custody of these people anyway? And what do they want with me to begin with? She’s been silent about that in the back seat of this minivan during this drive.

In the front seat, the woman the girl calls “Pseudo Mom” is at the wheel. The man the girl calls Pseudo Mom’s business partner is riding shotgun. Pseudo Mom is also mostly silent, except when she occasionally feels the need to stop the man beside her from starting or resuming grumbling arguments with the man in the middle seat. He’s the man I’d originally delivered the other car to, a little over 24 hours ago that seems like a million years. He’s wearing a different slightly oversized suit jacket with matching slacks, and a different loose fitting shirt. He’s got about as little beard stubble as I’ve got; but the chin and cheekbones it’s on look, in profile, narrow, even slightly dainty. He and the man in the front seat sure seem to have a lot of past history with each other. Off and on all along this drive, they’ve been grumbling to each other about past events and present character flaws. The man in the middle seat says at one point that becoming who he is (whatever that means) had nothing directly to do with getting away from the man in the front seat; it’s just that he’d really needed to do both.

At least two or three times this trip, the woman beside this man in the middle seat (the same woman who’d been with him when I first met him) nudged him with her right elbow. On one of those occasions, she quietly but sternly reprimanded him for his attitude. She “reminded” him that theirs was supposed to be a spiritual journey, one of unity and positivity. He simply grumbled some inarticulate-to-me cuss words.

I’d long since given up any hope or illusion that these people would get me home, or in the direction of home, or that they even wanted to. They seem to have an agenda for me. Even if they won’t tell me what it is, beyond code words about “the induction” and “the great ascending.”

Even now that we’ve gotten here. Wherever “here” is.

The minivan didn’t have its GPS unit on, if it had one. We’d stayed away from any freeways, going down a succession of wide and narrow county roads. The window on my side kept getting steamed up, no matter how many times I tried to wipe it off with my hands and sleeves. Even when I could see outside, from that window or from the front, I didn’t see much that would say where we were at. An endless stream of roads, trees, wheat and corn fields, houses, gas stations, mini marts, ugly modern grade schools, roadside burger joints and wine bars, main streets of small towns I’d never heard of with signs promoting the local Rotary Club, rustic old churches that reminded me of my church back home, signs for a corn maze and U-pick pumpkins, few other cars, fewer other people.

The minivan’s audio system played a CD of New Age instrumentals that were, I guess, supposed to be “chill out” material. When that ended, Pseudo Mom stuck in some generic drum n’ bass, which the girl beside me visibly preferred. She boogied in her seat belt the rest of the way to here.

“Here” is a large, more or less circular, clearing with trees on all sides, at the end of another gravel road. Other vehicles had been parked here before we arrived, and more have arrived since.

The driving machines here include generic late-model sedans and pickups; one beater VW bus with a “burning man” logo decal; a couple of luxury cars with rainbow-flag bumper stickers; an old beater Volvo; a few Priuses (“Pri-i”?); and one short, converted, and repainted former school bus.

The people from some of these vehicles have built “tailgate party”-like food and drink setups. Some of them are relatively elaborate, with gas BBQ grills cooking chicken and hot dogs (some of them “veggie dogs”) under awnings on tent poles in case of rain (which has been off and on all day), with camper coolers full of beer and soft drink cans on ice. Others simply serve coffee from big cardboard dispenser boxes and bags of Doritos from the backs of station wagons. I’ve taken advantage of these people’s hospitality, drinking a lot of coffee (with a lot of sugar) and eating just about anything I can. (My mother always said I was a typical teenage boy with “a bottomless stomach.” I devoured big dinner portions, while she was on one fad diet after another and my big sister was on one “socially conscious” eating regimen after another.)

Around some of the other vehicles people seem to be having shots of liquor or pre-mixed cocktails, popping who knows what kinds of pills, smoking cannabis joints, doing simple exercises and yoga poses, greeting one another with hugs and kisses and (in a couple of cases) serious making out.

There are about 40 or 50 people here now. They look like a cross section of everyone my former pastor said would be going to Hell, and then some. There are 70-year-old hippies with long gray hair. Middle aged punks and “burners.” Young ravers and (white and Asian) hip hoppers. Gays, lesbians, and who-knows-whats. A few “normal looking” people, who seem to be the biggest joint smokers. Very few children, mostly under-fives. There’s even one Black couple here, looking way overdressed. I think I see some of the people I’d seen in that alley the second night of this misadventure. But since it was so dark there back then, I’m not sure.

One to four at a time, they’re closing down whatever they’ve been doing at their own or other people’s vehicles. They walk up another gravel road at the back end of this clearing. This particular place seems to be just a parking lot for whatever’s back there, hidden by the trees and the late-afternoon fog.

Soon enough, the two women from the minivan announce it’s time for us to head in and get ready (for what?). The two men follow them. The girl does likewise, physically pushing me from the back to walk off with them.

I don’t have to walk far before we turn a curve in the path and I see where we’re going. It’s a large tent, like the ones my old pastor used to hold revival meetings in. Some people are carrying benches and outdoor propane heaters into it.

Beside the front of the tent, a woman in a multi-colored robe (a “coat of many colors”, as it were) waves to our group. She looks familiar somehow.

Wait: I know.

No. It can’t be.

No. It is.

What is SHE doing here? And for that matter, what am I doing here?—Clark Humphrey

Outside the tent, the sky’s changing quickly from overcast to just dark.

Here inside the tent, what light we’ve been getting from the outside is fading, leaving candles and generator-powered lamps.

This is all going way too quickly, too intensely.

It’s amazingly loud in here.

Even more amazingly, what had been a cacophony of disparate noises is meshing in my brain into a single, somehow harmonious, blend, like some avant garde symphony.

It gets more intense every minute.

At its base line, there’s a sampled track of “chillout” electronic music, with a steady thumping beat, coming from a portable sound system.

In the aisles, women in clothing ranging from flowing white robes to almost nothing are rolling and writhing, screaming and moaning.

In the back of the tent, various people are dancing, swaying, and kissing. Some of them might even be having sex back there, but I can’t see that far in the increasing dark.

On the benches, people are standing or lying down. Almost nobody’s sitting except some of the 70-year-old hippies. They’re howling and chanting and “om”-ing.

I’m trying my hardest to stay attentive, alert, sane, untaken by this. Almost everything my church upbringing taught me to hate is here before my unbelieving eyes.

Just in front of me, at the front of the little stage platform, the leader of this “induction service” shouts and sings her “sermon” points.

She talks about “the great contradiction that isn’t really a contradiction. We heighten the sensory feelings in our bodies, so we can escape this bodily realm. To some, that would seem wrong. Many people have been programmed to believe the body is the evil opposite of the spirit and of the mind. But really, the more we use our bodies to resonate, to vibrate, at the higher frequencies of pure ecstasy, the closer we get to the next level of reality, where we depart this dying world, these frail bodies. Becoming beings of pure vibration, pure sensation. That’s how the Mayans, the Toltecs, the Atlantians, and so many other past civilizations rose from this realm of existence. They re-tuned themselves to a higher frequency. Like them, we will shed this world of oppression and disease.

“Oh, the remaining inhabitants of the Earth will look for us. But all they’ll find are our discarded clothes, our wigs, our false teeth, our pacemakers, our artificial knees, our breast implants, and our jewelry. Our bodies will be gone, to another frequency of existence, where they will be perfected.

“Some of the remaining inhabitants of the Earth will ask why we ‘were taken’ instead of them. They’d been obedient rote followers of an authoritarian religion, an authoritarian politics. They’d repressed themselves and oppressed others. They’d enslaved themselves to the almighty dollar, while they ruined the planet, the source of all material wealth. Their reward will be to inhabit this world as it becomes ever more uninhabitable.

But we—the freaks, the queers, the woke, the enlightened, the sensuous, the untamed women, the caring men, the non-binaries, the true artists, the lovers, the righteous rebels, the people who give a shit about one another—we are, all of us, whether we all know it yet or not, taking a journey to the next level.

“And that journey, my beloveds, starts tonight.”

The DJ running the electronic-music feed presses a key on his keyboard, and a sound of a dozen bells pealing comes out of the sound system. Some of the people in the tent raise their voices to cheer; others keep doing the different things they’re doing with an extra burst of passion.

I get a sense that a few of these people are looking at me. I’m seated on a bench at the back of the stage. I’ve been dressed in a bright flowing robe that’s tied up in the back. Even weirder, the girl who’s come here with me is dressed the same. I still haven’t been told what I’m expected to do.

The woman at the front of the stage starts talking again.

“To achieve the final jump, we need to add more people resonating the new frequencies from out of different old frequencies, different patterns. More nationalities. More races. More subcultures.More genders. More sexualities. As different and disparate as Humanity herself!” More pre-recorded bells. More cheers.

“Within this quest, I offer to you: our new inductee. Someone who may be different from any of you. A person of youth, of limited experience in life. A straight, cis, white male; but not a co-conspirator in the culture of oppression. A person of empathy and compassion. A person of curiosity, of moral purity, if a little timid.”

My growing suspicions are confirmed when this woman walks back to take my hand and lead me forward. She reaches in back of me, makes a slight adjustment to the back of my robe, and lets it fall to the stage floor. I hurriedly cover myself with my hands. The people at the benches, women and men alike, cheer and applaud.

I’m so self conscious, it takes almost a minute before I notice the girl is now standing beside me, now also undressed. I try not to look at her body, which (except for one strange looking tattoo below one breast) is extremely attractive. I also try not to look at her face, which is rapt in some (drug induced?) daze; she’s got a glassy-eyed stare and a dangerous looking smile.

The strangely harmonious blend of noises fades into the background of my mind, affecting me subliminally in some way.

My self-consciousness soon changes to other feelings. I try to think of anything but where I am now. I try to think of stupid, nonsensical, obsessive things to stop the weird emotions and sensations that are taking me over.

Was I drugged again, when I ate from the tailgate picnics outside here? Maybe in the “sugar” I’d put into my coffee?

If I was, It’s pretty obvious what one of the drugs was. My hands can no longer hide its effect. I turn my back to the other participants.

But as I do this, the girl catches my eye.

I find I can’t look away from her.

My mind becomes a distant spectator, as my body acts on its own.

It reaches a hand out to the girl. It embraces her, then caresses, then gropes her all over. It then fondles her breasts with one hand and her lower spot with the other.

My powerless mind wonders: So now I know why I’ve been brought here, why I’ve been put through everything that’s happened in these short few days. But for what purpose? Is my public mating with the girl really supposed to bring about some sort of alternative Rapture? But that can’t possibly happen. But if I believe, or at least used to believe, in the regular Evangelical notion of the Rapture, what’s really so different about this version?

But do I want to help bring the end of the world? No, I don’t. But what can I do about it? I can’t even control my own body now.

She’s fondling and groping me now. Her left hand caresses my lower back, while her right hand caresses my lower front.

My eyes stare into hers, relentlessly.

So relentlessly, I believe I briefly see her slipping me a secret wink.

Suddenly, she pulls her hands away from my lower body and grabs my right hand.

She pulls me behind her as she runs out of the tent.

The people in the tent don’t seem to be paying any attention as we flee, both of us still undressed.

She leads me down a curving trail in back of the tent, toward another clearing in these woods.

I see rustic but permanent wood buildings. Long, one-story cabins. A chapel. Another parking lot, with a couple of yellow buses parked.

We run past a carved, painted wood sign, like the ones in national forests.

“Camp Philomath.”

I’ve arrived at the place my mom thinks I’ve already been at.

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on November 1, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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