Not too much in way of an introduction for this story. This is where things get progressively worse for Alex and Amanda. I hope they make it out okay.
As always, any and all feedback is welcome in the comments section below.
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Nocturne (part 4)
We walk up the boardwalk, from the Farmer’s Market to the Ferry Terminal, stopping along the way to hide the empty vacuum insulated GT thermos, stuffed with Amanda’s gloves, under a bush behind the Halifax City Courthouse. The ferry was free during Nocturne so we hop on and take it over to Dartmouth. On the ferry they have this two person, art-school band playing in the downstairs seating area. They're dressed up in some artful combination of clown makeup and military dress uniform and Amanda and I were especially paranoid about them catching onto our current state of fungal ingestion. We spend most of the ferry ride huddled together, leaning into each other and having little whisper conversations with small outbursts of contained laughter and trying desperately not to make eye contact with the members of the band.
We debark the ferry and walk out onto the courtyard area of the terminal. The ferry terminal at Halifax was out in the open, with plenty of natural light and a nice ocean breeze in the summer. By contrast, when you get off at the Dartmouth terminal you feel like you're walking in through the shitty entrance of a mall.
There's a glass elevator shaft across the courtyard from us that contains a cluster of balloons that are floating about ¾ of the way up. The balloons have small green lights in them and I watch the cloud of glowing orbs for a while, expecting them to do something, but nothing happens. Next to this there is a crowd of children sitting down and watching a pair of oversized puppets with preternatural attentiveness.
‘Awesome. More kids,’ I say, as I stand with my hands in my pockets and nod my chin over at the puppet/children situation to our right.
‘Oh God,’ Amanda says. ‘Let’s stay away from that crew.’
We walk slowly and aimlessly towards the center of the courtyard.
‘So this is Dartmouth...’
‘Yep,’ Amanda says. ‘This is where they shoot Trailer Park Boys.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I hear. So is that it, then? Is that, like, Dartmouth’s claim to fame?’
‘Yeah, pretty much,’ she says, as she scrunches her nose and nods.
‘I mean, it’s a pretty good show. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not altogether, like, ah…umm…’ I stop and look over at her. ‘The fuck is that?’ I point up in the air, 'you hear that?’
Ahahaha, ah, oh, ohohoho. Ho, haha ha ha…
‘What is that?,’ Amanda says. ‘Is that someone laughing?’ The look of puzzlement on her face is sincere.
This is, indeed, what it sounded like. But there was something unnatural about this laughter; like it was forced. Like it was a show of laughter rather than a genuine reaction to something funny.
‘Yeah. I mean, who ordered the fuckin’ one-man laugh track?’
‘Ha! Right? Where is it even coming from?’
‘I think it’s coming from…,’ I look over and vaguely point to a spot across the courtyard, somewhere between the elevator shaft and the disproportionately large puppet show. As soon as I looked over in that direction, however, the sound seems to jump over to somewhere over about 60° to the left.
Hahahaha, ho, oh, ohahahaha…
‘Oh, actually, maybe it’s, uh…,’ I motion over towards the new origin of the sound. Again, as soon as I fix my finger towards the source of the laughter, it seems to change positions. Now it was coming from somewhere behind us.
‘Uhhhh,’ Amanda says, as she slowly turns her head to look behind her. She has a look on her face that is more concern that confusion.
Aho. Aho. Ahohohuahaha, oh, aho ha…
Now the laughter seemed to be coming from the dark recesses by the entrance to the Ferry Terminal. The laughing entity was roughly positioned under the protruding second floor of one of the buildings and the strained laughter sent sharp echoes resonating off the pebble-inlaid concrete exterior. We turn around and stare at the new source of the sound with our hands in our pockets.
‘Okaaaay, sooo… this is super creepy, right?’
The laughter then jumps to somewhere back behind my left shoulder, between the first and second locations.
‘So,’ Amanda shrugged with her palms up out in front of her, ‘this is gotta be, like, speakers or something, right?’
‘Yeah. Oh, shit yeah.' I snap my fingers, 'speakers.'
I scratch a nonexistent itch on the back on my head. ‘Jesus, man. I was kind of ah, kinda freakin’ out there for a second.’
Amanda gives me that furrowed-brow you’re not kidding look. ‘Yeah,’ she says.
Oh, oh, waho wehuhehehe. He hahaha ha…
The laughter had remained at the current position longer than any of the other previous locations.
‘I wonder if you can see the speaker,’ I say, as I make a visor with my hand and squint my eyes to look over in the direction of the laughter.
Aha ahehehe ha. Aha…
Another laughing voice comes from over just to the right of the puppet/child situation.
‘Okay, so, now there’s two,’ I say, as I look over toward the source of the second laugh track.
‘Ha haaaa, ho ho ho ho, hehahaha…’
‘And three,’ I say, as I look over toward the left of the courtyard. This most recent laughter, a female laughter, was coming from somewhere by the edge of the water where there were no buildings or planters or any other object in which to imbed a speaker.
Amanda and I say nothing as we stare over into the brick-tiled empty space where the third source of laughter seemed to be coming from.
‘I don’t, uh. I don’t see a sp-’
I feel the hot breath on the back of my ears and Amanda and I jump simultaneously as a fourth laughing voice starts up right behind us.
We turn around and quickly shuffled back away from the invisible laughing phantom.
‘Okay,’ Amanda says, as she reaches over and puts her hand on my upper arm. ‘Okay, alright. Calm down. This is just the shr-’
‘Aha ha ha hee..’
‘Heh, heh ha…’
‘Hoha, hee. Hu ha…’
One by one, a chorus of bodiless forced-laughing entities starts sounding off all around the courtyard, at varying ranges of proximity to us.
I grab Amanda’s hand and scan around the courtyard. ‘What - the fuck - is happening?’
The laughing continues all around us and starts getting louder. I look over to the over-sized puppet show. The kids seem to not be phased one bit by the growing chorus of paranormal laughter. They were intently focused on the two puppets with the giant, oversized paper mache heads with faces painted on them. The one on the left has squinty, happy eyes and a big toothy smile and is hunched over and doing some sort of straight-armed Frankenstein motion over the crowd of children staring up at him, completely transfixed. The other puppet was doing no such thing. The puppet on the right, who has two small black dots for eyes and a flat, unamused straight line for a mouth, is standing upright, with his shoulders slouched and his hands to his sides, looking right at me.
I stand there, momentarily frozen, with the laughter continuing all around me, as his two beady black eyes stare into me and through me. The world around us starts to fade out of focus as the profundity of the simple features on his face begin to crystallize into sharper and sharper contrast until it becomes the only thing that I am certain that exists. There was a flood of words choking up in my throat that I couldn’t find the strength or will to say.
‘U-u-uh, uh…’ I artlessly slap over at Amanda’s shoulder. I didn’t look over at her but I hear her take a quick breath and feel her hand as she reaches over and grips into my forearm.
I remain there, locked in the puppet’s gaze and watching the last remnants of the world around me become gradually more out of focus and less relevant as the two dots and single straight line on the giant face take on a profound, multi-dimensional resolution.
Aaahaha haha. Ha, ho, hahaha aha…
The laughing continues all around us.
‘Oh shit,’ Amanda says, as she turns around to looks behind us. ‘The ferry!’
I can hear the muffled baritone of the ferry chugging up from Halifax and clumsily splitting the water with its round, donut-shaped hull.
Amanda shuffles behind me and grabs a fistful of my jacket and pulls me towards the ferry terminal. ‘Come on!’
I give into Amanda’s momentum and start clumsily side-stepping to the right as she pulls me toward the direction of the ferry terminal. I cannot, however, look away from the puppet across the courtyard. To look away at this point in our exchange felt like playing Russian roulette with whatever was left of my sanity. The puppet stands there with that ominous blank look on this face and slowly turns his head to watch me as I get pulled away. He leans over as our line of sight starts to become interrupted by a group of small trees that line the perimeter of the courtyard.
Ahee haha ha ha. Aha ha, oh ho ho ho…
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We wade and muscle our way through the hordes of children toward the exit, waving and elbowing off towers of kids along the way.
‘What th’fuck! Who the fuck let all these kids in here!? Where the fuck did they - how th’fuck did they get up there!?’ I point up towards the ceiling, where children were now swinging and dropping down from the railings overhead at irregular intervals.
We trek through the crowd, covering our heads and looking out for falling children, when we hear a congregation of child-laughter from behind us that seems to be traveling and echoing in some sort of synchronous movement. I turn around to investigate.
‘Huh,’ Amanda says, as she looked behind her. ‘Fffuuuuuuck...’
* * * * * * * * * *
We walk north up Barrington Street as the drugs continue to seep into our brains. The street is pulsating with light and the people on the sidewalks grow warmer and louder and we grow warmer and louder with them. A platoon of large ants is crossing over the intersection ahead. We stop in front of the Catholic Bookstore and stand to the side to let them pass. They were each carrying large scraps of food: a corner of Swiss cheese, the bottom half of an apple core, a giant purple grape. I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be if I looked directly at them, so I look straight ahead and observe them from my periphery as they march by. There were face holes in the front of the ant costumes so you could tell there was a person inside there and that these were not, in actuality, giant ants, but people dressed up as such. That much was obvious and I keep telling myself this as I look straight ahead but, out of the corner of my eye I begin to notice something. Whenever one of the people-faces looked over at me, standing there frozen in place at the corner of the street, the small black pupils on the hemispherical eyeballs atop their costume heads roll over and look at me as well. I am in that sweet spot of fungal influence where I am able to see this happening while being almost certain that it was an artifact of the mushroom trip.
I am managing to hold it together, ignoring the bulging ant eyes that are staring me down. Then, as if someone somewhere shook their head and said nope, the limbs of the ant costumes start to slowly come to life and begin waving about in calculated motions.
A feel a bead of sweat precipitate out from the skin of my left temple and make its way down the side of my face in a slow staccato motion. The ant arms are growing bolder in their movements as the procession passes by. The arms are now flexing and contorting in the air around them - some coming uncomfortably close to my face. As the seemingly endless train of ants continues I notice that some of the ant arms are now holding the food scraps, leaving the hands of the person in the costume free to swing back and forth while they walk. Wait, what?
I thought about what it would be like if I lived in a world where giant ants were a real thing. I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t get this close without being eaten. I wouldn’t even stand a chance. I think they can lift, like, ten times their body weight. Plus, have you seen those pincers they have on their face?!
I think about this as I stand there and try not to flinch. The last ant in the procession was coming up. He was holding a giant lollipop with his middle two ant arms and I had a feeling this one was going to be trouble. His top two arms are waving around ominously in front of him like some long-limbed, dumb beast of the wild. I pucker my lips and stare straight ahead as I watch him approach out of the corner of my eye. As he gets closer I can see his top left arm making a slow, deliberate arc towards to top of my head and I feel a pointy, three-pronged grasp at my scalp, like someone was trying to grab my hair using one of those arcade grabbers where you try to scoop up stuffed animals and impossible-to-grip cheap watches.
‘Jesuswhatthefuck!’ I swat at the ant arm and bolt across the street.
Skeeerrrt… ‘Jesus man! Watch out!’
In my panic I’d failed to look both ways and I cut off a biker as he was coasting down Blowers Street as it made a sharp downward slope towards the water.
‘Sorry! My bad,’ I raise up my hand and call out without looking back.
‘Tam!’ I hear Amanda calling behind me but I continue my sprint across the street until I am safe in front of the glow of the Lebanese pizza restaurant on the other corner. I turn around and see Amanda jogging across the street to meet up with me. I look back behind her and see the line of ants continuing down Barrington. I side-step over to the edge of the sidewalk and lean out over the street to get a better view of the line in its entirety. The ant at the back was walking upright, but each member of the procession seemed to be leaning forward more and more to the extent that the first few ants in the series were actually completely horizontal to the ground, relying on the ant legs to walk them forward while the limbs of the people inside the costumes were suspended out to the sides. I squint my eyes and see the first two or three ant-people at the front of the line crawling up the brick façade of the art supply store down the street.
I turned around and decide that I would not look back behind me until I was sure that the ants were out of sight.
‘You okay?’ Amanda says, as she jogs up next to me.
‘Yeah. Yeah, I just, uh, just wasn’t ready for those ants, I guess.’
‘Ha! Yeah, I think you kinda freaked those guys out.’
‘Me? Oh, uh, you mean the guy in the corduroy blazer freaked out the guys in the giant animatronic ant costumes!?’
‘Ha! Yeah, I guess so.’
‘Here, let’s cross,’ I say as I motion across the street with my chin. I look north up Barrington; no cars. ‘We clear on the right?,’ I say, without looking over.
‘Yep,’ Amanda says.
We cross the street.
-- to be continued...