Something Approaching a Naturewalk
Diego was panting like a whipped dog as we ran through the thick pine forests outside Monte Rio. No doubt the cocaine, an especially potent Guatemalan blend said to have been partially responsible for Jimi Hendrix's pitiful end, was racing through his system at speeds liable to give him a stroke or, worse yet, psychotic episode. I skidded to a halt, turned around, and stuck a hand up in front of him in order to bring him to a stop. He pulled his hairy bulk up at the last minute, just avoiding crushing me against a tree.
"Dammit, man! This isn't a game! We're on a story and I only brought you along to keep your work visa renewed! This is dangerous work here.... these aren't amateurs. They're vicious, rabid animals, the most terrible known to man..."
I paused to take a quick huff of the ether rag crammed into my pants pocket.
Diego merely grunted, something between a noise of understanding and the low whine of a wounded beast. He was a hirsute, mountain of a man, more fat than muscle, but with a weird baby face under his beard; he looked like a cross between Fidel Castro and Jonathon Winters. I pushed him away as the ether took hold, hurling a garbled profanity at him as he turned and began jogging toward our objective. Even though we were in a forest outside San Francisco, it may as well have been Phuoc Tuy. The night was muggy, foggy, oppressive, the sort of night that might give a Vietnam veteran flashbacks just from the weather. The sound of crickets reverberated through the moist night air. I found myself stopping and starting as I jogged forward, trying to sync the sound of the little demons with the throbbing of my pulse in my ears. Diego stopped and started in unison with me, which annoyed me to no end. I skidded to an abrupt halt and berated him for his bizarre behavior.
"You lummox, what are you trying to do? This place is crawling with armed guards, no doubt, and you're going to alert them," I hissed.
Diego turned his bloodshot eyes to me and replied, "Mrhmah hurgla drham!" A small grey pill fell from his mouth to the mossy floor beneath his loafered foot. My peripheral vision went dark as my eyes narrowed. Panic began to grip me.
"Those were for the comedown!"
I ran up to him, grabbing him by the collar of his blue Hawaiian shirt, screaming right into his face and shaking him for all I was worth.
"The comedown, you idiot! That was two hundred dollars of horse tranquilizers! How am I supposed to write the piece without those?"
A froglike croak came out of his mouth as he slumped to the ground, his body starting to quiver in anticipation of the sobs to come. "I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry."
A sudden spike of pity welled within me. I realized that I was being monstrously unfair to my friend. He wasn't a man; he was a force of nature, unable to control himself when confronted with pills or powders. He needed my guidance, dammit, not my admonitions. So I crouched next to him, slipped an arm around his shoulder, and helped him to his feet.
"There, there, Diego. There, there. I'm sorry I was so harsh. We can get more once we head back into town. There you are. Up, up."
My companion was on his feet, shaking the cobwebs from his head, sadness forgotten for the time being. I lit a cigar and handed it to him before reaching back into my bomber jacket for one of my own. The puffs of smoke wafted upwards before becoming indistinguishable from the fog.
"We're almost there now."
We trudged through the night, one section of woods seeming exactly like the other. Without my compass, we'd be lost. It was a straight shot west from our starting point, so it was easy enough. Still, a nature walk while loaded up on hard drugs is hardly a recommendable course of action, particularly outside of Bohemian Grove in the middle of the night.
Finally, after a what seemed like an eternity, we reached our destination. The soft orange glow of a bonfire clued us in. It illuminated the low ridge in front of us, casting long shadows like grasping specters all around. I tugged on Diego's sleeve to get his attention, putting a finger to my lips when he glances over.
Silence was paramount. Even my good friend, in his state, knew. We crouched down and sneaked over to the ridge to get a glimpse of the action, flopping down heavily behind a bush to stay out of sight. I fumbled for both my ether and binoculars.
"Goddammit, I'm out of ether."
It was true. A travesty of the highest order. And the tranquilizers were long gone, disappeared down the gullet of the semi-coherent Honduran next to me. There was no way we would escape alive while sober.
The magnitude of the tragedy that had befallen us was masked by the scene unfolding not a hundred yards away. The baleful glow of the fires recaptured my attention. Diego's, too, as his mouth slowly began to hang open as he took it all in. I pushed the binoculars so hard against my eyes that I'm damned lucky I didn't do permanent damage to my sight.
There before us was a gigantic wooden owl, surrounded by a small amphitheater which was packed by men in black robes. At the foot of this ghastly pagan idol, a huge fire roared. But it was next to the conflagration that I saw a sight which I'll never forget, one which made my blood run cold. A nude woman, beautiful and blonde, with big tits and perfect skin, was chained by arms and legs to a stone table in front of the idol. She was unconscious, blissfully unaware of the horror about to befall her.
I scanned the crowd of pale faces standing in front of the altar, somber and stony-faced, awaiting the ritual. With magnification, there was no mistaking any of them, and I dictated the faces I recognized to Diego.
I saw Richard Nixon, our disgraced former president, looking on from the front row, a look on his face as though he'd just eaten a turd. Joe Namath was flanked by Art Linkletter and Jimmy Stewart. I saw Warren Berger half-heartedly paying attention, focused as he was on quietly sharing a joint with Merv Griffin. Ronald Reagan stood off a bit by himself; he was so barbarous that not even these cutthroats and thieves wanted to be near him. On and on the list went, a list of titanic figures, taller than the surrounding trees, the movers and shakers of a system built on blood and war and sheer meanness, each one responsible for crimes against decency and humanity.
I called out each name in turn, Diego wheezing slightly as he scribbled them down as quickly as he could. Forty of them in all. Forty monsters. But then I saw something which caused my heart to skip a beat. Stepping out of the shadows and to the altar, in the same black robe but with a mitre of red and black upon his head as a cruel mockery of the Pope's, came the High Priest of this sordid ritual. He was immediately recognizable. He was The Beast, the most vile human to walk the earth since Batu Khan razed Kiev, the only man with the sheer force of evil to bring all these lesser devils into line.
The congregation at this black mass stood upright and silent. Justice Berger flicked the joint out of view and stifled a giggle, bloodshot eyes burning. A spell had been cast over all of them. It was deathly still and silent; the only sound was Diego's labored breathing beside me. I looked over at him to make certain he could get through this. He didn't look good. Big beads of sweat had popped up all over his forehead, tumbling down his nose and cheeks. He was sitting, slouched forward, eyes big as saucers.
"Diego," I hissed. "Goddammit, Diego, you have got to keep it together just a little longer. Get hold of yourself."
He looked at me, staring. I could see the vein throbbing in his neck.
"Sorry, boss," he whispered. "I'm okay, man. I can stick it out, man."
I scowled at him and put the binoculars back to my head to survey the action, knowing that Diego was going to pop any second. How his fit would manifest was beyond the knowledge of mortal men, but it was certain to be severe given the sheer volume of chemicals in his blood. This was just how things went. The line on the floor is bright and red but you cross it anyway, hoping to survive the madness on the other side.
My vision focused in time to see Kissinger, who had been addressing the assembly, draw a long, thin dagger from his robes, holding it aloft. His voice, that hideous nasal baritone drilled into a generation's collective skull over six years, reverberated around the wilderness.
"Oh Satan, we acknowledge thee as our Lord and Master! Grace us with your presence, oh hairy man-goat!"
The voice boomed, a sound like Leviathan awakening. Chills ran up my spine and Diego whimpered helplessly.
"Take this sacrifice as your demon-bride! Take her to Hell as your own! See her heart offered to you as a mark of our obeisance!"
The crowd called back to their priest, "Hail, Satan!"
At that, Kissinger drove the knife deep into the poor woman's chest. She woke up from her slumber just long enough to let out a high-pitched wail before falling permanently silent. Kissinger sawed and hacked at his victim, eyes glowing with a maniacal energy. He opened a hole in her chest, reached into it, and pulled her still warm heart from its chamber. Up his arm went, holding it aloft.
"Hail, Satan! Hail, Satan!"
The chant grew, rhythmic and terrible in its lockstep unison. Over and over. It was like the baying of dogs. The mists whipped up, seemingly summoned by the throaty cackles of Henry Kissinger, madman heirophant presiding over the murderous affair.
"NOOOOOOOOOO! I can't do any more, man! I'm FREAKING OUT, MAN!"
The dam had burst and Diego was up, ripping his shirt off, foaming at the mouth. I shouted for him to stop but by the words wouldn't cohere. Fear and the dread ether haze had caused my tongue to go numb, a fat worm inside a useless mouth.
"HOLY SHIT, I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M A JETS FAN! JOE NAMATH, FUCK YOU, MAN," he screamed at those below.
It was a bizarre, stupid thing to say. Silence reigned at Bohemian Grove, as if everyone was stunned at the insolence of this foreigner. Kissinger was the first to move. He slowly pointed a blood-stained finger to where we were. His mouth opened and a high-pitched, inhuman shriek came screeching out. The other luminaries, perhaps held in thrall by Kissinger's dark arts, perhaps simply bored after church, stumbled toward us in a dreamlike but menacing state, like a Romero film come to life. They meant to kill us, torture us, possibly, and it was up to me to prevent it. All the while, Diego screamed at them in a jumbled pidgin of English, Spanish, and gibberish, undeterred by his impending demise.
I jumped up from my hiding place in the bushes, grabbed my screaming friend and, with all my might, tugged him away from the ridge where he was now standing in open view. He stumbled backwards, eyes huge, mouth agape. The ability to speak came back to me, the words jumbling in my head but coming out in a torrent.
"Run, Diego," I said in a surprisingly calm voice. "We have to fucking run for our lives."
And so we did, with purpose, pursued through the endless night by a pack of zombie hyenas who just so happened to control the world.
The sun was just coming up, peeking over the hills ringing San Francisco Bay, rosy fingers giving the city a fine sheen. Diego slumbered dreamlessly in the passenger's seat of the red '68 El Dorado I'd bought upon moving here four months ago. I scribbled in my notepad as I tore down Haight Street, writing down the strange and surreal events of the prior night, terrified that if I stopped for even a moment the details would be lost forever.
I pulled in to the small parking lot of The Examiner, a creak of breaks signaling our arrival. I meant to get out immediately but, instead, I settled back into my seat, lit a cigar, and concentrated on the events I'd seen and what they all meant.
There's a monstrous system which grinds up young men and women for its own sadistic pleasure, a machine whose humorless cogs have names like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Joe Namath. It's a killing machine, turning blood and guts into money. Had I called it satanic before Bohemian Grove I would have been accused of being slanderous, of stretching metaphor into insult. Now, though, I knew that it //was// satanic, in every literal sense of the word, that the blood which fuels this machine is the blood of human sacrifice given to a dark god on foggy nights.
I glanced up and down Haight Street. Everything was mostly empty this early but, in a way, it would remain empty no matter how many people packed its asphalt length. This is where the dream had died, where hippies became drug addicts, idealists became pimps, and Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship. My colleagues and I all ignored this reality as the rest of my generation pushed Nixon to victory, blissfully unaware of the true reasons behind things. It was, yes, satanic, as Bohemian Grove proved. But it wasn't Satan driving the behavior of the masses. It was Mammon, and we'd all willingly signed up with him quite on our own.
Now there was nothing but the endless, yawning chasm of the 70s stretching out before us, heated only by the dying embers of the 60s. What would we end up doing? Send more young men to die in another godforsaken jungle? Elect Reagan? Become Jets fans? Atrocity, every which way you turn. It would all be depressing if humanity hadn't invented so many wonderful ways to ignore the sharper edges of the world we live in.
Dawn had fully broken and the fog began to dissipate. I gathered up my scattered papers and walked through the office door, leaving Diego to sleep in the morning sun.