Methven - Day One - Part One
I've been really, really sick only three other times in my adult life.
On my eighteenth birthday, I chugged a bottle of Southern Comfort and actually passed out in the middle of throwing up. If my girlfriend hadn't turned me on my face before fleeing my parents' house, I'd've pulled a Hendrix and drowned in my own vomit.
In 1978, I caught a dose of the flu that kept me mostly bedridden for the best part--make that the worst part--of two weeks. And three years ago I got hold of some bad potato salad at a picnic in Tilden Park and wound up driving the porcelin bus for two days and feeling the way raw hamburger looks for a full week afterward.
Yesterday makes time number four.
. . .
I literally arrived on Methven falling on my knees, feeling my gorge rise explosively as I hit the rocky floor. I got my hand over my mouth and looked wildly around me for something to contain my spew.
The almost-familiar grotto I found myself in was like a scene out of some fraternity party version of Hell. Everyone around me was retching except Læ, who was face-down unconscious, and Bruno, who seemed to be having an epileptic fit off to my left (at least, he was locked in full tetany, head and heels in contact with the rock and the rest of him arched and spasming between them). Everyone, including Bruno, was bleeding from every orifice, their faces covered in gore. It was hard to look at, the more so because my eyes seemed to have been sanded with coarse-grit paper.
Almost directly behind me, no more than ten feet away, I finally spotted what looked like a tunnel leading out of the cavern. (In the Sierras, the corresponding exit had been to my right, which convinced me we were no longer in California, much less Kansas.)
I tried to get to my feet to run for the exit, but collapsed entirely, instead. There was no holding it in any longer and I blew my cookies right then and there: high, wide and handsome.
Well, actually, low, wide and repulsive.
As I tried to draw a breath in preparation for additional floor painting exercises, I heard Carleton gasp, "Bruno! RESET!"
I raised my pulpy-feeling head out of the puddle of stinky guck it was resting in, blinked to unstick my left eye and turned to look at Bruno. He was just picking himself up off the hollow's rocky floor, seemingly none the worse for wear. As I felt the beginning of another tsunami of nausea welling up, I watched him stump over to the unconscious Læ, pick her up as if she weighed no more than a sack lunch and carry her like a child in his arms around me and, by the echoing sound of his retreating footfalls, out of the cavern.
It's hard for me to judge time accurately when I'm dry-heaving. Still, although it felt like an eternity to me, it couldn't have been more than a few minutes before I heard Bruno return to the cavern. Without ceremony, he picked me up from the cold, rocky floor and slung me over his left shoulder in a fireman's carry that forced the few remaining droplets of bile out of my knotted stomach. With a jounce that robbed me of what little wind I had left, Carleton appeared next to me, hanging over Bruno's right shoulder.
"We've--ulp--got to stop meeting like this."
In reponse, Carleton retched down Bruno's right leg.
After a short, unpleasant ride, we found ourselves outside. It was moonlessly dark, but I could tell we were no longer in the cave by the change in acoustics. Our stoic steed dumped us on our backs, one on each side of the still-unconscious Læ, then, without a word, turned and stumped away again.
A few minutes later, he reappeared out of the gloom carrying Bill and Mantami. They were ungently deposited next to me and Bruno left again, to return lugging Tong and Blandy. Then he disappeard again, presumably to fetch Mantami.
Sometime before he got back, I finally managed to pass out.
. . .
I awoke in the night to the tender ministrations of an angel.
I wasn't even disappointed when that angel turned out to be the redoubtable Bruno, who was busy wiping the encrusted blood and other bodily fluids off my face with a damp cloth.
"Thanks," I husked.
"Go back to sleep."
I did that.
. . .
It was full-on morning before I awoke again. Sometime in the night, someone had draped a thin but remarkably soft and warm blanket over me and tucked a bundle of clothes beneath my head to act as a pillow.
Every muscle in my body ached as if I'd been worked over with a baseball bat. My bones hurt and my teeth felt loose. And my eyes still felt like they'd been sandblasted. All in all, it was a distinct improvement over how I'd felt the previous night.
I got cautiously to my feet, discovering in the process that my balance was shot to hell and that I was still fairly nauseous. I tried to barf, but nothing came up. Eventually, that grew tedious, so I gathered my blanket around me and set painfully off to find a tree to water.
I swiftly spotted the encampment that someone had set up during my nap. It was hard to miss, since it consisted of one medium-sized and one largish blue and gold, cabin-style tent and a campfire with a collection of familiar faces around it sipping what looked and smelled an awful lot like fresh coffee.
Thanks again, Bruno.
I did my business, struggled into the clothes I'd been sleeping on and joined the others around the fire.
I looked him over while I thought about it.
Pith looked like hell. The whole Berkeley crew did. Hair mussed up, unshaven, pale and with eyes so bloodshot they could easily have found work as demons in any Roger Corman picture.
"What the hell. Thanks, Pith."
I took a steaming white mug of rich, brown liquid from him.
"Where are our little green buddies?"
"Læ and her consort are resting in their tent."
"Apparently he is engaged in domestic duties within the cavern."
"He be cleanin' up our puke, Wildman."
"Mmm..thanks, Tong. I'm not sure I wanted to know that."
I took a reflective sip, burning my tongue on the hot brew. It wasn't Peets, but it wasn't bad, so I blew on it to cool it down and, while I waited, looked around me.
It didn't take me long to realize that Tong translating for Bill was far from the only new thing in the world. To begin with, this place smelled subtly different than home. Perhaps it was my empty stomach that sharpened my senses, but the color of daylight seemed different, too. A tiny bit redder, perhaps. The sun seemed slightly larger and dimmer, too and a little easier to look directly at.
The mountains around me were definitely not the Sierras. For one thing, they were noticeably younger and rougher, more like the Rockies than the Sierra Nevada. For another, the ones I could see were, for the most part, roughly pyramidal in shape. The Sierras are tall and steep on the California side, but pretty inconsequential on their Nevada face. That's because they back up to a high desert plateau on the East, but plunge to near sea level on the West. These mountains--the Vomisa Mountains--were another geological story altogether.
That sparked a thought.
"Where are we, Mantami?"
"In Vomisa Mountains. Khasim Clanhome is being one tenday in traveling from here."
He pointed out over the magnificent vista beneath us, to the left of the hot, bright sun.
"We are needing to be traveling in that way. Going behind Tits on Goddess, then morningwards to Clanhome of me."
"Ten days, eh?"
I tried my coffee again. It was just perfectly drinkable, so I took a long slug.
That was a mistake. I felt my stomach lurch from the impact and my bowels made an ominous rumbling noise.
I put down my cup and swallowed hard. It didn't help.
I clapped my hand over my mouth to keep from heaving directly onto the fire.
"Dude! There's like, a stream or something thataway."
I nodded thanks to Blandy and bolted for the stream.
. . .
By noon or thereabouts, I'd had time to fight my nausea to a draw, deal with an attack of diarrhea, then wipe myself down in the stream, (it was much too cold for an actual bath,) take in enough water to partially rehydrate my badly dessicated tissues and finally get a cup of coffee to stay down.
Meanwhile, Pith had found our packs stashed in the larger of the two tents and rolled a couple of joints from his quarter-pound stash. That took a lot of the edge off. I still felt shitty, but I was no longer in immediate danger of ralphing. In fact, I was even beginning to regain my appetite--or at least to appreciate the concept.
Luckily Bruno chose to reappear just about then.
"Dude! Like, got any chow?"
"Yeah. You know: grub, chow, eats?"
"You mean food?"
"I will prepare food for you."
Bruno disappeared into the smaller of the two tents. I heard him and Carleton murmuring inside, then Bruno emerged alone with what looked like the bastard child of a doctor's bag and an accordian.
He set it down in a clear space in front of the larger tent, then knelt and began fiddling with the complicated-looking closure on top of it. At last, the top opened up. Bruno then grabbed the sides of the thing and pulled. They opened up. He stood and pulled up on the ends. The bag was now four feet tall.
He pulled on one side again and it folded out and down. He stepped into it and pushed up on the other side. It rose to about six feet in height. He reached in and to one side and pulled again and it folded out and around and suddenly there was a door in front of him. He opened it and went inside.
There came the clatter of drawers being opened and closed and what sounded like cabinet doors banging inside the whatyoumacallit. A few minutes later, Bruno emerged, carrying a bulging string grocery bag and a fistful of pots and pans. He set them down and began collapsing the structure back into an innocuous cross between a concertina and a valise.
I felt like a character in a Looney Tunes cartoon, as if I needed to pick my jaw up off the ground and stuff my bugging eyes back into my head.
"What in the name of Fred MacMurray is that?"
"It is a suitcase."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)