The next morning he woke up with that call of the wild, the raging, pounding urge to piss. Turner’s eyes flicked open and for a few brief, half-waking millimoments he tried to remember where he was and why he was sleeping on a couch and why he was covered in a strange blanket that smelled like a woman.
His brain quickly put the pieces together, but that brief uncertainty, happening as it did in a mostly dark room in a very strange place with very early sunlight filtering in through the blinds, deja-vued him back to the time he was thirteen and he’d taken a backpacking trip up into the San Cristobal mountains of southern Colorado.
They had gone from sea level in Texas to the thin Colorado air in a day and a half, driven the rental car up the rutted and rocky dirt roads as far as they could, unloaded their crap at the trail head, and set out at first light for a nine-mile hike up the Rainbow Trail. The incredible weight of the 40-pound canvas pack on his 90-pound frame, the unbelievable tilt of the trail, and the grinding mash of his not-quite-broken-in heavy leather hiking boots made the first hundred yards of that unforgettable death march almost unbearable.
But the pounding, migraine-intensity headache from the altitude sickness and the constant vomiting had made him think he would die. If Candy Donner hadn’t dropped back to help him, maybe he would have.
“Here, dude,” Candy fired up and handed him a joint.
“What is it?”
“Medicine. You’ll thank me later.”
“It’s marijuana, right? Will it hurt me?”
“It will save you. Leads to heroin, though.”
The altitude sickness receded somewhat, replaced first by intense paranoia which was itself later overlain with profound, raging hunger. When they took their first break and Pops opened up the plastic tube of peanut butter, a fight almost broke out. All the kids were stoned and hungry and tired and out of sorts.
“This sucks,” said Benny Donner, who was a year older than Turner and who went on to distinguish himself by committing suicide at age eighteen, a blow from which his dad never recovered.
When they shouldered their packs, what had in the beginning felt impossibly heavy now felt as if it had grown to double the size in the short ten-minute break. Candy dropped back with some more weed, and in a fog of anger and sickness and paranoia (“They brought me up here to kill me,” etc.) and, eventually, more hunger, Turner crept up the trail.
That first day’s ordeal had begun at daybreak and ended just before nightfall, and the only way he’d gotten through it was Candy’s cornucopia of drugs. With several hours to go, and even the adults in survival mode, Candy had unleashed the psilocybin. “Just chew and swallow plenty of water. They’ll go down. Nasty as shit, but they’ll go.”
Turner madly crushed the dried up fungi, getting pieces of it stuck in his braces, the taste so awful and inedible and bitter and obviously poisonous that it was clearly going to be good, or at least better than now. “I wonder if this is what a vagina tastes like?” he wondered. The mushrooms got him to the first base camp, where he flung down his pack.
“Fuck this, I hate backpacking, I hate Colorado, I hate mountains, and I hate … ” he trailed off, randomly slapping at the black clouds of delighted mosquitoes that swarmed about him, the mushrooms amplifying the personalities of each mosquito so that before slapping each one he had to consider its personality: Was it a bad mosquito?
Its family: By killing this insect am I depriving a hungry family of baby mosquitoes back at the nest of their father?
Mosquito nests: Do mosquitoes have nests?
And of course fucking: How do mosquitoes fuck? And how big are their penises?
“Turner, are you okay?” Pops had rolled him over onto his back with the toe of his hiking boot, and was now looking down at him, somewhat concerned.
“Do mosquitoes have nests?” he asked.
Pops, relieved that Turner was asking the kind of questions he usually asked, smiled. “Dinner will be ready in a few. Hang in there.”
“How big is a mosquito penis, Pops?” he asked, but Pops, who was also tired and hungry, was headed over to the campsite and didn’t hear him. Turner desperately wanted Pops to turn around, but he didn’t.
Turner did in fact “hang in there,” mostly, it seemed, by his neck. No food had ever tasted better than that awful freeze-dried beef stroganoff. They’d tried it in the backyard and no one would eat it, not even the dog. At the top of the Rainbow Trail and on the brink of collapse after fourteen hours of utter hell, it was the finest cuisine anyone had ever had.
As the drugs receded and the altitude sickness set back in, Candy had taken Turner down to the edge of the stream to wash the dishes, where even more mosquitoes awaited. The nine campers had licked their utensils absolutely clean, so rather than use the biodegradable soap in the icy cold water, the boys just dipped the pans and forks and spoons in the water and rubbed the grease around with their fingers.
“Aren’t we supposed to wash them?” asked Tuner.
“Fuck it, you think anyone will notice or care? Shit, you think the pioneers washed their dishes?” Candy then whipped out one of the steel fuel canisters that he’d sneaked from the campsite and started unscrewing the lid.
“When I pop off the top, just jam the spout under your nose and inhale, deep motherfucking inhale.” Turner did as he was told, the jolting stench of the kerosene coursing up into his head. “Again,” Candy commanded. “Poor man’s buzz. Now go to bed.”
Turner crawled into his sleeping bed with an awful, jagged kerosene high, but he went to sleep right away and he was the first one to wake the following morning. It was still, toasty warm inside his sleeping bag, the inert body of his brother next to him, the inside of the tent dripping with moisture, and the sound of birds outside, the headache gone. That half-moment between sleep and wakefulness, trying to piece together where he was and why, suspended in thought and time, safe in the warmth of the tent, it had been the most delicious moment of his life.
Until right now.