Just Because You’re Unemployed Doesn’t Mean You’re a Ronin
Philadelphia, Present Day
Hunter sat slumped in his usual gully riven deep in the couch. Red bong in one hand remote in the other. A cigarette stem clenched in his teeth with a 100 cigarette stuffed in the end. He stared dead eyed at a blank television screen. About forty five minutes prior he had eaten about six dried grams of the mushroom; psilocybe cubensis.
“Did I get burnt again?” he grumbled, “No honor out there anymore.”
He brushed away an empty paper plate revealing a Demons and Demiurges player’s manual. He picked it up and idly leafed through it stopping every now and then to sigh and examine an illustration. He landed on a picture of a samurai. The samurai was standing, facing off against a group of thugs accosting a young maiden. As he studied the lines of the illustration the samurai lurched. Hunter jumped, but remembered the mushrooms.
“Wasn’t ripped off after all,” he mumbled, leaning forward and hanging his head between his knees.
As he sat studying his field of vision, he began rubbing his butt and groaning.
“You’re not gonna yack,” he said into the shimmering carpet, “You’ve done this before.”
He lifted his head back up, He was grinning.
“Blast off,” he muttered.
Designs recalling Hindu deities and Buddhist mandalas turned like the gears of clockwork on the cracked plaster walls. The room was the same, perhaps a bit bigger, but took on the atmosphere of an adobe hut in a remote desert location. He sat entertaining thoughts that would bubble up and drift away without ever really introducing themselves. The thoughts increased with rapidity until it was nothing but an undifferentiated stream. He slouched back into his deep couch, closed his eyes and waved his hand like a lazy conductor. He opened one eye and looked around. A small, black fly darted back and forth in his line of sight. Hunter closed his eyes, but the wings buzzing past his ears took an angry, urgent tone.
“Oh for fuck,” he sighed, “This won’t do at all.”
He swatted knowing better, but tried anyway. The fly deftly swooped around his flapping hand. He clapped the air where the fly was. Of course it wasn’t there when his hands collided. He shot up from the couch.
“I know I have a goddam fly swatter,” he mumbled.
He chaotically searched through drawers and cabinets, covering the same ground repeatedly and increasingly frustrated. Closets next. Then under the bed. Bathroom, maybe. He stalked back out into the living and stood there intently staring down the insolent insect. Fly spun around in loop-de-loops each one buzzing ever closer to Hunter’s face. As the fly prepared to make a sweep inches from Hunter’s nose, Hunter’s hand darted up and pinched the fly by the wings.
“Holy fuck?” he said.
He let the struggling fly go. It darted off, but quickly made a wavering line back toward Hunter. As it made another pass by his face, he once again plucked the pest from the air.
“How about that?” he said.
Once again he let the fly go. He ran to his bedroom and retrieved one of many katanas he had purchased from a Bud K catalogue. This one had a red hilt. It was his favorite one. The only one he actually took the effort to sharpen. Back in the living he trained on his tenacious target. He stood holding the sword in front of him in a stance he thought he remembered from that Musashi book. Or maybe it was how the samurai was standing in the illustration. He locked on to the fly fidgeted with his grip and sliced the sword in horizontal plane in front of him. The body of the fly dropped to the coffee table, alighting on the cover of the game manual. The wings followed a bit after.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he croaked, “I’m a goddam samurai.”
Hunter fumbled through the pocket of his red, flannel robe. He pulled out his phone and dialed with one hand, the pinched in the clenched elbow of his other arm.
“Bart,” Hunter barked, “What the hell was that voodoo shit did you set me up with this time.”
Hunter slid into his black slippers.
“I’m coming over,” said Hunter, opening his front door, “You gotta see this.”
Sophie Fischer sat in the library hunched over a large, leather bound tome. She pulled a balled up tissue from under the sleeve of her giant, blue sweater. She pushed the tissue against her nose and sniffled. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and stuffed the tissue back into her sleeve with the other hand.
“Miss Fischer,” said a stout lady as she ambled toward Sophie, “Could you finish filing away the YA, for me, after your break?”
“Sure, Mrs. Lawrence,” said Sophie sitting up and smiling.
“Thanks, dear,” Mrs. Lawrence replied, craning her neck toward Sophie’s book.
“What is that book you’re always bringing in and reading?” Mrs. Lawrence asked before chucking, “You work in a library and you bring your own book in. Must be good.”
“Oh, it’s a ‘tome’,” Sophie said and laughed into her sleeve.
“A tome?” she laughed, “What’s the difference.
“Uh, I was told it was the binding,” Sophie said, feigning a serious tone.
Mrs. Lawrence put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder and let out a crackle.
“My mother left it to me when she died,” Sophie began, “It’s been passed down from mother to daughter in my family since the 15th century. I’ve read it everyday since I was four.”
“You must know it like that back of your hand by now,” Mrs. Lawrence gasped.
“What’s it about?”
“Uh,” Sophie hesitated, “Family history.”
“That’s wonderful, Sophie, I’m glad you have something of your family to remember them by.”
Sophie smiled and nodded. Mrs. Lawrence began to waddle away.
“Oh,” she stopped and asked, “Frank had to leave early, family emergency, could you close up tonight?”
“Absolutely, Mrs. Lawrence,” Sophie replied, nodding.
Hunter was standing in front a florist’s shop banging on the door.
“Bart,” he called to the upper windows,“Billy?”
Bart stuck his head from a second floor window.
“C’mon up, Hunt,” said Bart.
Barton opened the apartment door for Hunter. He was a lanky fellow with thick glasses that made his eyes appear enormous. He was wearing an apron and carrying a potted plant like a toddler.
“C’mon in, Hunt,” he said with his froggy voice, “How were the boomers?”
“Are,” Hunter replied, “I ate them about two hours ago.”
Bart’s brother, Billy was in the living room occupying the only space he ever seemed to occupy; a large, thick wicker papasan chair stacked with pillows. Billy was, at best estimate, eight hundred pounds and then some. He dressed in bed sheets worn like a toga. Billy kept the apartment near freezing. A frost laden industrial air conditioner unit sat wheezing in the window. This made Billy’s ever present cigarette smoke form thick, impenetrable clouds that hung in the air until it caught an air current from the A.C.
“Hey, Billy,” Hunter said.
“I knew you were coming, Hunter,” Billy grinned.
“Right. In the smoke,” snarked Hunter, waving his hands through the clouds.
“No. I heard you calling from downstairs,” Billy chortled.
“So, these boomers,” said Hunter to Barton, “Were they a particularly strong batch?”
“No. Not particularly,” Barton replied.
“Hmm, anything special about this batch?”
“Well,” Billy thought, “They are a new hybrid, but not one of my more adventurous experiments. Why?”
“Ah, here’s the thing. It’s pretty weird.”
“What’s weird? The effect?
“Not so much that.”
“You’re story isn’t very concise so far,” said Bart.
“Throw something at me,” Hunter said.
Bart picked a cat toy off the floor and lobbed it at Hunter. Hunter caught it.
“Extraordinary,” Bart sat nodding, “I do that with my little nephew every Saturday morning in the park. Go home, Hunter, you’re tripping balls.”
“No, man,” groaned Hunter, “Fucking wing something at me.”
Bart shook his head, “You’re broken. Go lie down and watch the show on your eyelids.”
As Bart had finished a heavy, glass ashtray frisbeed toward Hunter’s head. Hunter grabbed the ashtray without breaking eye contact with Bart.
“Thank you, Billy,” Hunter said, “See?”
“I’ve wanted to do that for years,” Billy giggled, “Having you thank me for it is the icing.”
“Fuck you, Baron Harkonnen,” Hunter mumbled to Billy.
“Alright,” Bart said, softening, “That was impressive.”
“Here,” Hunter said, “I brought my katana.”
“You didn’t bother to change out of your pajamas and bathrobe, but you managed to grab a sword on your way out?” asked Bart.
“It’s part of this,” Hunter replied with his eyes darting around the apartment, “Throw these at me.”
Hunter grabbed a bowl of candy off the kitchen counter and handed it to Bart and Billy. They began to hurl small pieces of chocolate at Hunter. Hunter sliced his sword through the air cleaving everyone of them. Except for the last piece, which he pierced on the tip of the blade. He gave a wide eyed stared to Bart and Billy and ate the candy off the blade.
“Alright, calm down,” said Bart, scolding Hunter.
“That was pretty good,” Billy chirped, “And most surprisingly, you didn’t look stupid doing it.”
“Game for an experiment?” Bart asked Hunter.
“What?” replied Hunter.
“Need to test conditions,” started Bart, “Like, can you do this sober? Is it this particular batch or any batch?”
“Sure,” said Hunter, “Why the fuck not. I haven’t been to work in three days anyway.”
“Hmm, I didn’t know you were even employed.”
“Not really, no.”
“Why don’t you do an experiment on how he manages to feed himself,” Billy chuckled from the other room.
Hunter flipped Billy the bird.
Billy exploded into raucous laughter.
“Why does it always have to be so goddamn cold in here?”
“Dude, chill,” Billy giggled.
Billy put his cigarette out. His demeanor got serious as he leaned toward Hunter.
“I had a dream about Toshiro Mifune last night, Hunter.”
“Great,” Hunter sighed, “Another prophecy.”
Billy reached for a bong that was being held upright by being squeezed between two couch cushions. He lit the bowl and took a long, deep drag. As he exhaled, bilious smoke rushed from his mouth and nostrils forming a wreath around his head. The smoke flowed in unusual patterns before coming to a complete halt. Frozen and still, wrapped around Billy’s head.
“Okay, they’re kicking in,” Hunter said quietly.
“He does that all the time,” Bart said.
“See this?” Billy said pointing at his silver crown, “This is my dream.”
Hunter stared into the cloud, pupils dilating. The cloud mostly hung motionless, but specific parts swirled into what appeared to be images pushing through the grey shroud. A manic Cheshire grin began to form in the mist. Followed by the amber tinted lenses of a pair of aviators and a nest of tangled hair.
“I don’t see Toshiro Mifune,” Hunter mumbled, “That’s fucking me.”
He fell back into his seat and stared askance.
“Well it was Toshiro Mifune when I dreamed it,” Billy laughed.
Bart went over to a plastic laundry bin and peeled off the lid. It was stuffed so tightly with mushrooms that the mass of fungus began to conform to the shape of the bin. He meted out a precise dosage of dried mushrooms and handed it to Hunter. He did the same again from another bin.
“Eat the ones in the first bag first,” Bart began, “It’s different batch. I want to eliminate this strain as a variable. The second bag is the same stuff you ate tonight. If the first strain doesn’t work, the other strain again.”
Sophie closed the door to her apartment and dropped the key on a table by the door.
“You’re home late,” called a female voice from down the hall.
“Frank bailed early, again,” Sophie called back.
“When is Mrs. Lawrence going to figure out that guy’s a tweeker,” said a tall, blonde woman as she adjusted a gauzy, purple neckerchief, “How do I look?”
“Like one of Charlie’s Angels,” Sophie said leafing through a magazine.
“You didn’t even look,” the woman said.
“Cheryl, that’s because you always look like one of Charlie’s Angels,” Sophie said looking up from her magazine.
“Fuck and you,” Cheryl replied waving her hand in a shooing motion.
“What’s the occasion?” asked Sophie cutting into a pomegranate on the kitchen counter.
“I just put the finishing touches on my dissertation on A.I. is what’s the occasion.”
“You taking Lisa?”
“Over,” Cheryl droned.
“That was fast.”
“Too much drama,” Cheryl said adjusting her accoutrements in the mirror, “You wanna come?”
Sophie blew a raspberry.
“Fine,” Cheryl said and stuck her tongue out.
“Should I leave a light on?” Sophie asked through a mouthful of pomegranate seeds.
“Fuck no, girl, I’m getting laid one way or another tonight.”
“Hab fum,” Sophie said through even more pomegranate seeds.
“You going out tonight?”
“I think I should lay low for a bit.”
“So yes, you’re going out tonight.”
“Well if you need me you know how to reach me,” Cheryl said, popping the collar on her peacoat and opening the front door.
“Tam ewwww,” Sophie said through all of the Pomegranate seeds.
Hunter wobbled back through the dark streets from Bart and Billy’s place. As he approached his hovel he could low hushed, but brusque voices coming from the alley next to his building. The lights in the alley had been burnt out for months.
“You’re not getting away from us, baby girl,” said a male voice.
“It’s not you I’m trying to get away from,” said a female voice.
Hunter crept toward the alley and peeked in. In the alley, two men had cornered a woman in a blue dress. The men slowly advanced. Hunter wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his katana. He caught a brief glint, of what little street light penetrated the alley, off the blade of one man’s knife. Hunter dashed into the alley and drew his sword.
The men turned to face Hunter, looked at each other and laughed. In the space between them, Hunter could see Sophie throw her hands and give him an annoyed glare. Hunter looked at her askance. One of the men lunged at Hunter with his knife. Hunter narrowly dodged. The other man threw a haymaker. Hunter dodged again. Similar exchanges continued until Hunter heard what sounded like a hammer hitting meat. The two men winced and slowly fell forward. As they landed, Hunter noticed smoking wounds in their backs. He looked up and saw Sophie lowering a compound bow. She strode forward.
“Dude, what the hell,” she yelled, “I totally had that.”
Hunter shrugged his shoulders.
“What are supposed to be, a homeless samurai,” Sophie said looking Hunter up and down.
“Well, ah,” stammered Hunter, “What are you supposed to be, Bettie Page?” Hunter said motioning to her hair.
“If you know what good for you, you’ll go the hell home.”
“I am home. I live up there.”
“Then go up there and finish your Kung Fu marathon.”
“Shut up,” Hunter barked.
“Thin skin for a samurai.”
“No,” said Hunter holding his hand up, “I mean I hear something. Footsteps. A bunch.”
“That means I need to get out of here and you need to fuck off to wherever it is you’re going.” Sophie said starting to run.
Her path was blocked by what appeared to be three policemen in riot gear. A patch on their uniform read ‘Vyx’. Three more appeared behind Hunter rifles trained on the two of them.
“What the hell is this,” Hunter asked Sophie.