Catching the Vapors (Part 2)

Title: Catching the Vapors (Part 2)
Title: Catching the Vapors (Part 2)
Isabella Galvez

THAT evening, we dressed in green and sat around the TV with Grammy eating chocolate and oranges. She smoked silently and coughed occasionally until she passed out in her rocking chair. We carefully plucked the cigarette out of her wrinkly hand and pressed the butt into the ashtray. Then, we headed out in big overcoats and scarves to confront the walk down the hill and to the truck in the biting wind. Del was nervous and she kept twitching. She actually had Tourette’s pretty bad, but it was mostly manageable except when she was nervous. Then it’d go haywire, and sometimes her foot would spasm and hit the gas too hard, so that the truck jolted forward a little. But I actually thought it made the ride a little more fun, like a roller coaster or bumper cars.

We got there at 8:48. I looked up in awe at the teahouse, which was all stone, built hundreds of years ago, and the tallest building in town save for city hall. Del was still twitching; there were plenty of stories about the place: squatters sleeping in the basement, dead kids’ ghosts, and the like. But personally, I was friends with most of the homeless around here. I didn’t believe in souls either, so I was fine.

We got out of the truck and poked around the overgrown garden for a while. Vines slithered up the cobblestone and gnats circled our heads as we completed a thorough search for any signs of human life. Just as we figured we’d gotten duped, a light came flickering through a bush. Emerging from the shrubs were the twins, holding huge flashlights. They were wearing these bulky lab goggles and togas.

“The rest are inside,” spoke the short one. He sounded young, but he had the voice of a leader, sharp and true as an arrow. I think that’s why I trusted him immediately. He led us up the stairs to the second floor, the bigger twin following behind us. When he opened the door, it was jarringly warm, with the same comforting humidity as a McDonald’s Playplace. There were a hundred candles lit, long ones, like those used in a seance. In the front, there was a poster board propped up by two celery stalks duct taped to the dirty floor, which read, “SECRET MEETING” in blue glitter glue. Right above it, several Party City foil balloons clung to the ceiling, some reading, “Happy Bar Mitzvah,” others exclaiming, “It’s A Girl!”

Besides the twins, there were only two other attendees: a cross eyed old man, and Garrett, who was talking to him about carjacking.

“This guy is so boring! He just wants to talk about ‘Nam, and it’s like, give me a break!” Garrett whisper-shouted when we sat down next to him. We all looked at the old guy and he seemed pretty out of it. When he closed his eyes, we couldn’t tell if he was dead or just dozing off. 

The twins closed the door and the little talker clapped his hands. “Let’s get started,” he said, and they sat at the front. 

Del was shaking, so I patted her hand and thanked her quietly for coming with me. She was staring at the celery. 

“Are you sure we can trust these people?” she murmured through her teeth, but I didn’t answer and the twin kept talking.

“Welcome to a very exclusive meeting for The Bingo Club. This is my brother, Intergalactic Ruthless Destroyer,” he said, gesturing towards Biggie, who stayed silent but smiled and waved in an oddly polite manner that didn’t fit his black eye. “These days, he goes by Ruthie. I’m actually seven minutes older, not that you could guess or anything. My name is Ralf. Now, you may be wondering why you’ve been summoned.” He paused, clapped again, and looked around. Garrett yawned loudly. “Look alive, folks! Because we are in a state of emergency. In the state of Washington, there has been a terrible mistake made, and consequently, a secret has been revealed. The secret? Maybe there has been some kind of foul play, something supernatural, perhaps?” 

I glanced at Del. She had slowly shifted from skeptical to intrigued. She liked stuff that felt forbidden and unreal, leaning forward to listen. “You all have come here because you received a flyer. And on top of that, something feels wrong. You weren’t able to sleep last night because of this. Because deep down, you know something is awry, and I’ll bet you want some answers. I’ll bet you need them, really, I’ll bet you won’t be able to sleep until you get them.”

A snort erupted, deep and oblivious, from the corner. The old guy was knocked out.

“Just tell us why we’re here,” Del demanded, growing impatient. Ralf shifted and smoothed the ground around him as if to refocus, but relented almost immediately, bursting out with this crazy energy. I could tell he was an amateur cult leader since he was unable to wait long enough to build any kind of suspense.

“Okay! The storm! You all saw it! And you, you know, you lady, right there!” He pointed at Del. “You knew exactly what this was gonna be about since the moment you heard about the meeting! I know you felt it, and I can’t explain it, but you just knew! You can’t look me in the eyes and say you haven’t had this pit in your stomach since the second you looked up and felt that flood crash down on your face, since the very moment you saw those trees!” He began to laugh in maniacal disbelief, and his gesticulations became increasingly grander. “And then! Then, that stone cold glare of Thornton himself! That hard, sterileness missing, missing somewhere, and it felt… it felt like something was inside the statue… watching you. Didn’t it?”

A few moments of silence followed, broken by Del’s first sob. I looked around, nauseous. How could he have known? Everyone looked so shaken, eyes glossy, lips pale. Even the crosseyed old guy was now awake, and his face seemed to be weighed down with confusion. Now that he was closer to the candlelight, I could see a tattoo across his wrinkled forehead, MONGO, but inverted, so it read as OӘИOM. Between the muffled cries, he caught me staring. He pointed to the text.

“That’s me,” he whispered, “Mongo.” I could tell he’d done it himself in the mirror.

When Del wouldn’t stop, Ruthie got up and sat with her, patting her back and nodding empathetically.

“Tell us,” Ralf ad-libbed, “What troubles you?”

Del sniffled and her big nose got red. “I’m sorry. I… all of this has been a lot for me. I was really lucky. My house only got minimally damaged, but it’s not that. It’s my Grammy. She– before everything, she functioned. Y’know, she had some memory problems, but nothing like it is now. Now, she’s… I don’t even know her anymore. She doesn’t know me. She’s a complete stranger. Or maybe,” she laughed, “maybe, to her, I’m the stranger.”

Nodding sadly in perfect sync, the twins looked at each other. They both sighed at the same time. Ralf spoke up, “This is exactly what we’re trying to bring to light: experiences like these. We need to unite. Your grandma, she’s one of us. She felt it too. Has she tried to express anything? Is she still talking?”

Del nodded and wiped her tears with her shirt collar. “Sometimes she speaks, but I never really thought much of it. It’s all been insane stuff, all cryptic and weird.”

“Like a prophecy,” I added absentmindedly, and everyone turned towards me immediately. 

“What kind of prophecy?” Ralf asked anxiously. “Do you remember the kind of stuff she’s been saying?”

“Yes,” I said, and recited everything I could recall. Everything about the end, the sinners, the promise of eternal loneliness. Everything I didn’t even know was inside me was suddenly out there, and it filled the room like smoke. “And,” I finished, “she’s been eating a lot lately. Like, a freakish amount.”

When I was done, Del looked at me and nodded gratefully. The twins were thinking so hard, I could hear the gears turning as they tried to piece everything together. All of a sudden, Ruthie jumped up so high that his buzzcut practically grazed the roof. He went behind the meeting sign to grab something to write with. Then, he gathered all the candles on that side of the room for light, and he began. 

Everyone gathered round, preoccupied with the graphite scratching hypnotically across the nasty tile floor. I realized that even Garrett had gone silent, overcome with awe.

When Ruthie was done, he scooted back and let us see everything. His handwriting was pretty terrible, but our minds worked overtime to make out every little scrawl.


Del sat back and shook her head in panic. “What? No, what do you mean? Ruthie, what do you mean?! A vessel?” Ruthie nodded frantically, then grabbed Ralf’s shoulders and shook him, pushing him to go.

“I don’t think there’s any time for questions, let’s just go. Go!” Ralf said, and Del threw the door open in an instant. “We’ll go to grandma!” he yelled, “You three go to Town Square! We’ll meet you there!” Ralf, Del, and I all clamored into the truck and I watched Ruthie, Garrett, and Mongo disappear in the rearview as Del sped away into the night.

When we arrived, Del began sprinting up the hill to the rickety house. Ralf and I weren’t nearly as fast, but we could see her make her way up, getting smaller and smaller, then stopping dead in her tracks.

“Del?” I yelled as loudly as I could while catching my breath. “Is everything okay?” Ralf and I kept running until we got to her. “Hey, Del, what’s going on?” I croaked, facing her. In that moment, I saw a face washed over simultaneously with pure horror, awe, and wonder. Tears streamed down her cheeks the color of moonlight and she sobbed so hard her body convulsed like a beating heart. I turned around and looked up to the sky. Above her house, there hovered a massive black void. I couldn’t decipher its exact dimensions, but we cowered, insignificant beneath it. I looked over at Ralf. His eyes brimming with panic, mouth moving, trying desperately to shout something. But only silence reached me.

Suddenly, there was a noise. It was like the ghost of a whale, so low it was almost sonically imperceptible, the deepest hum. It could’ve come from above, but it felt like it came from all around us, from every direction at once. I felt warmer as the world stopped moving, like we were enclosed in a fortress, protected from the wind. Sleep tried coaxing me into its soft embrace, yet I was somehow more starkly awake than I’d ever been. I think I forgot where I was for a second, looking up into that enthralling emptiness. Maybe it was five seconds of bliss, total net peace, without worry, without humankind telling me all the ways I was wrong, or how the world was inherently, irreparably wrong according to God, all those hopeless, nagging reminders. Just five seconds out of it, away from it all. My body buzzed. I felt my bones absorb the stillness.

One more glance at Ralf, then Del, then back up at the sky through eyes half closed. We all stood there in a trance and watched these little lights get ejected from the void, stars falling to their collective death on a cruel planet. They scintillated like jasmine petals and fluttered down onto the house. Then, the entire home glowed, burning white-hot like nothing I’d ever seen before. The stars stopped coming down and the house became brighter and brighter, brighter still, until it got so incandescent that I had to look away. I’m not sure how long it went on, but when I opened my eyes, the house was gone. The void was gone. The light was gone. I couldn’t find it.