It's Not What You Think

Bill's eyes followed Weir's flaccid wave to the impossible staircase.  

“Door on the left,” Jerry grinned and mouthed bonelessly.

An icy, sharp fingernail tickled Graham's aorta, spreading goosebumps through the beating muscles of his heart. The raw chicken skin of fear.

“Shit! They finally wised up and got a friggin' agent! This piper will cost me."

He reflexively swigged from a magnum of Night Train that Mountain Girl had passed over, commandeered the bottle, and pirouetted with it through the room to the stair. He paused, took another deep, fortified, fortifying swallow, then climbed. Whatever direction it was.

On the landing, he froze again at the bedroom door.  His eyes half-closed and ears straining, he willed himself to sense what might on the other side. He couldn't.  He took another hard pull of wine, wondered distractedly why he wasn't drunk yet, then inhaled deeply and pushed the door.

After all that had happened, he was perversely unprepared for what he saw.  

The room was bare except for a worn Persian rug. In its center, a shaggy, worn-looking man in faded jeans sat cross-legged with his back to the window. He was blessedly fully clothed and completely opaque, but quite pale. A young woman curled, asleep, with her head in the man's lap. Bill caught random half-glimpses of a pretty face through sensuously sleepstrewn hair. The scattered jigsaw pieces looked familiar, he thought. A bit like Rory Flynn, maybe...?  

It all seemed so reassuringly normal. Except for a powerful scent of roses, the dozen alebrijes arcing in a kind of impromptu halo above the man's head, and that pulsing mindfuck of a holographic black-light mandala that somehow floated in midair before the jet black square of night framed by the window.

The tired man absently played with a battered metal thermos bottle, gently screwing or unscrewing the threaded stopper a quarter turn every few seconds. With each precise twist, the mandala's shape and color pattern changed to a new one, each more incomprehensible than the last. It was as if the Buddha or some other heavy eastern dude had scried an Escher painting by accident, and decided that his mandalas needed some of that, but more so.

The mandala  indefinably disturbed Graham far more than anything else he'd seen in the house that night. It was as if he were staring into utter dark with his eyes closed, only able to make out strange monstrous tricks of the optic nerve at the bare edge of vision, and not understanding or liking what he saw. He tore his gaze away, and, so as not to look at the disquieting thing too closely, focused on the man again.

The eyes that gazed up into Graham's frightened him more than the mandala. Except now he couldn't rip his stare loose.

“It's not what you think, Bill,” Milo said gently.