There are ley lines. You know them because you feel them beneath your feet, humming up your stunted legs. They animate you, direct you. Without them you’d have no orientation. Electricity, power. Tonight another kind of energy calls.
In the neighborhood you find the noise is lessened, which should dissuade you from staying, but something keeps you here. It’s a new place. No phones ringing, no house lights on. Dishwashers dormant, laundry cycles over or never begun. Nothing begging to be done.
You settle into a pebbly garden and begin to watch, from a safe distance, the one house that glows. Behind its bottom windows, figures taller than you are silhouetted by candlelight.
They don’t wish to be seen or sensed. Not unlike you in this regard. When you wag your head from side to side, the ley lines distort. With that brief distortion comes a hint of clarity.
Energy exists in a different way—unusable to you—behind that window.
Currents in their brains. Shooting through their limbs. Gears linking bones and muscles, making things opposable, enabling mechanisms that go this way or the other, that do this or that. They have names that perhaps you once knew. You can’t look away.
Vyv had never been to Press’s house but apparently she’d been squatting in it for the past week.
She met him and Sarah and Marc at the door and let them in.
Everybody staked out their own corner of the living room.
“Same fuckin floorplan,” Press said. “Same everything. He made our house.” He hadn’t sat down yet. Kept shuffling from one window to another without looking at anything in particular. Skin rheumy—the color of aged paper. His bleached hair matted in parts, mullet tangled, lobe drooping with a dangly earring he probably hadn’t taken out in a month. “And that house is lame, too,” he said.
It was one of a dozen unoccupied domiciles lining the street and still smelled like paint. Recently built, unfurnished. Vyv still hadn’t managed to get comfortable, despite the fact that it did—now that she was between homes again—fill an obvious need. She didn’t share Press’s dad’s confidence in the property value. Who would ever move into a tract house in Los Suelos?
“Grab a beer and sit down,” Sarah said. “The hovering’s weird.”
Marc snorted but didn’t look up from his lap, still struggling to doctor a hopelessly torn blunt wrap.
Press muttered as he went to the kitchen. The past week or so he’d been acting more antisocial than usual, which was kind of saying something.
“Think we can practice here?” Marc asked. “Beats having to pay that security guy at the ballpark, right?”
“How quiet can you hit a snare?” Vyv asked.
The drummer laughed.
The house was two stories but they stayed downstairs (upstairs too hot this time of year). Vyv had set up camp in the living room: sleeping bag in corner with battery-powered reading light; some book procured from the mobile library; an old, stickered-to-death laptop; other books piled up next to a pillow sans pillowcase.
She used the breeze coming in off the San Joaquin and through the open windows as air conditioning. There was gas and electricity, but she made a point of not using them. Important to maintain invisibility. Press’s dad would eventually notice a spike in the bills.
She found the house ugly as shit, though it was inarguably a step up from sharing that street corner with those fucked up kids. As soon as she heard about the animal sacrifices, she kicked rocks.
“Two days,” Sarah said when Press returned, clearing her throat. Impatient—mostly with him—but also in general. She’d arranged the meeting. Making sure everyone would be on top of their shit was the whole reason for it, really, though no one, including Sarah, seemed comfortable with making that the primary focus.
Marc passed around a badly rolled blunt. Embarrassing for him to be twice the age of his bandmates and still so bad at wrapping weed in paper. Press hit the blunt then passed it to Vyv.
She considered declining, not wanting to catch what he had.
(Don’t kid yourself, you know what it is and you know you can’t catch it that way. You don’t have a choice whether or not you get it.)
She said fuck it.
It was hard to pay attention to the conversation. It took her serious conscious effort to not think about her brother—how he’d looked, how he’d acted, the fever and pallor and dirty fingernails and “the seeing fluppies everywhere” and the sleepwalking to flower beds, the eventual disappearance. Press’s mere presence was distracting tonight.
For the band, it took most of a twelve-pack to get around to business. Sarah was long past hiding her irritation. Five new songs, in addition to the four from their demo that they planned on rerecording. Sarah, being the main songwriter, made it clear she didn’t want things to go down like they did during the recording of their demo. Not only were the new tracks markedly different musically speaking—more contemplative, crazier time signatures, longer and more brooding, a departure from the blistering, straightforward pace of their early work—but this time they’d be going out of town to record, in a real studio, with a real producer, and everything had to go according to plan if they were going to get the desired results.
Or the results Sarah and Vyv desired, anyway. Though Vyv was having a hard time staying engaged herself these last few days, what with the new squat and Press’s company being as unnerving as it was. He had been lagging on lyrics, too. Everyone knew the meeting was mainly for him. Vyv, not unpredictably, would find herself picking up most of his deadweight.
“At least tell me where you need a breather,” Sarah said. “If we play this like a set, how am I gonna know when you need a break?”
“I know my parts.” Marc unsuccessfully covered a belch with his hand.
Press seemed lost in a fog. He’d drunk less than the rest of them yet seemed far more out of it. When he did drink, he seemed to force it down. His attention wavered in and out. Just like her brother’s had, before disappearing.
“How many times do we go through that first part on ‘Contactee’?” he asked, his enunciation monotone and overlong. Like a cow’s, Vyv thought.
“The verse?” Sarah asked.
“Feels like more.”
“How many measures are you counting?”
Vyv would have been surprised if Press knew what a measure was. She herself hardly knew; all she did was fuck around with a theremin and diddle a keyboard she could never remember the brand of. At least she and Press had something in common.
She nodded at Press. “I can give it a crack.” His gaze back was glassy, empty, but perhaps not without a sliver of gratitude. She found herself wanting to take it easy on him. “I think I remember what your parts were like,” she said. “I can try to write some stuff in the same meter.”
“Some stuff from your Hibiscus compendium?” He didn’t even pretend to laugh like he normally would.
Vyv gazed out the window to the empty street. Somehow it seemed less empty than it had moments ago. No cops, no landlords, no Press’s dad, perhaps not even a threat. But something out there was watching.
She looked back at Press. She saw in him a little boy.
Three days? Two? Is that what Sarah said? They plowed through the beer in no time and were going to send Marc to the gas station before Press divulged that, despite his condition, he’d managed to pilfer a handle of something dark from his dad’s liquor cabinet. Then Sarah surprised everyone by brandishing a stoppered jar of mezcal she got off Paloma at some point. They got drunker than they needed to; the impending recording hung over them all.
Vyv kept telling herself she had nothing to worry about. The band would get its shit together, one way or the other.
And—other than the loud silence that would fall over the house once her friends departed—she herself had nothing to fear.
Still, she kept finding herself glancing outside at the garden across the street, expecting to see something emerge beneath the streetlight.
On your way back you get that throbbing in your feet that signals another one of you is nearby.
You follow that throbbing between misshapen lumps of refuse, through brush and tall grass. Over cracked pavement that never should have been there in the first place, junctions created by basements with entrances and exits unknown even to their inhabitants. Across phone lines that croak like the dead when the occasional whisper of energy travels down their spines. Sometimes you pinch the line and bolt upright, wavering precariously on that tiny thread as the surge of energy pumps into you and you come close to cumming. In the ecstasy of your mounting release you see your fellows dotted smally across the landscape. See their limned outlines poking out from storm drains, perched on rooftops. Antennae between their teeth. At work.
Sometimes you allow energy to travel uninterrupted from pole to pole. Sometimes you know someone is trying for a wifi connection, and you let them have it.
The electricity in their faces in those moments. That different kind. It is the closest to an acknowledgment of your existence as you can remember knowing.
Your nervous system is a replica of the town, a map and a radar.
A large screen followed by a larger structure. Here people in loud clothes paw dirt and mill about in anticipation.
A man arrives. He is electricity. He is a ley line. You stand straight. When he speaks, the sounds do not come out garbled like people’s normally do.
“Hit rock on the way down again, did you?”
The man laughs like wind chimes. You yearn for the low moan of a radiator, the hiss of a tank of hot water, anything else. You sense your fellows, intimidated and distrustful, withdrawing back to the shadows.
“Keep on digging if you want, but I think the no is final.”
The loudest wind chimes.
“Rock bottom,” the man says. An intonation.
“Welcome to forever. It’s longer here.”
Vyv waited for Marc to clock out the way she had since he got a job: in deep thought, anxious. When he showed up it became apparent that Sarah’s countdown to recording had been ringing loudly in both their ears.
“Think Press cleans up his act in time?” she asked him. Motherfucker would not come through on the lyrics. He hadn’t been in touch since the meeting at the squat.
His face flashed before Vyv’s eyes: slack, slick with sweat. Despondent, if you could assign any emotion to it at all. He’d smelled bad, really bad.
“Isn’t he sick?” Marc asked.
Vyv scoffed. “You really aren’t from here.”
“How’s the gig going?”
Marc shrugged. They climbed onto some scaffolding one house over. He may have been an oldhead but he sure liked to climb things like he was young. He lugged up some boxed wine for them. It wouldn’t have been Vyv’s first choice but it seemed to be all they had tonight.
They’d have to be ready tomorrow. She winced thinking of the hangover.
“Some weird shit did happen today,” Marc said after a minute. “Some electrical problem, someone’s farm. Critters fucking with the wiring, that’s what they said, some elderly couple. Anyway we got out there and it was like someone had deliberately rewired shit, haha. In other places, like, things were gnawed off, like an animal, but yeah. Just had to basically start from scratch.”
Vyv nodded. She found herself scanning the street even though she knew there wasn’t another soul in the subdivision.
“What?” Marc said, misinterpreting her silence. “Fluppies, you think?” He laughed.
“He did call him that,” Vyv said.
Marc’s face fell at her tone. “I wasn’t trying to get you thinking about him,” he said.
She shook her head.
“My bad,” Marc said.
“It’s fine, dude, stop apologizing.”
Austin was six years old the last time she saw him, but he’d been ill for several months. He had only ever known her as a brother. Had only ever known their parents as Mom and Dad, not as self-described “childless” acolytes of the Belowdown.
Vyv never did see the diminutive figures her little brother always talked about, but his belief in them had been unwavering.
They’re even shorter than me.
“Fluppies,” she muttered under her breath. Their namesake—not a day went by that she didn’t regret mentioning it to her bandmates. She took a glug of wine and gagged.
They climbed down and made the short walk back to Vyv’s once a chill struck the breeze. Marc curled his knees between his arms in a corner of the living room to “rest.” Vyv threw a clean beach towel over him.
It was way too early to sleep. She looked around her space. After a moment, she stuffed her laptop into her backpack and closed the front door quietly behind her.
The walk would be long, but Vyv was used to it. Once the sun was down it would feel shorter.
Tomorrow they’d rendezvous at Blue Dicks Ballpark where Marc would be waiting with the van. Sarah would want to run through a couple practice sets in the boiler room beforehand, but there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance of all personnel being there in time to do that. Vyv would be there. She already knew she wasn’t going to sleep tonight. She could sleep on the drive and when she woke up she would be somewhere other than Los Suelos. That sounded nice.
It took a half-hour to get from the housing developments at the southwest point of town to the hills above the old USGS facility. The air was dry. And dirty. She coughed. From here she’d be able to tell if there was a movie playing at the drive-in or a ritual going on. There was neither.
Vyv sat down under the water tower. Mounds of junk shielded her from view. As close as she was to the Church, and as brazenly as she stole Hibiscus’ wifi signal on a semi-regular basis, she never worried about being walked in on. The only other person aware of the spot was Sarah, who came out here once in a while when she was in a mood, but it was still Vyv’s spot. Unknown even to Hibiscus. There was power in that. And the wifi connection was stronger than anywhere else in town.
She opened her preferred pirate site. Checked the seeding on some releases she’d logged into her notebook. Began the long process of waiting for a .zip file to drop into her downloads. Which files downloaded successfully was always a crapshoot, but that was part of the mystique, the excitement.
After a while, she felt herself relax. Everyone was wound up for no reason, probably. Press would do what he needed to do. He always pulled it together at the last minute. In a way, it was a strength he brought to Fluppies.
And if they blew it? There was always hanging out and boxed wine, and the ballpark wasn’t going anywhere.
Outside the compound, where power is still hot, you find welcoming piles of old microwaves, crumpled deep fryers, rotary telephones on bedrocks of earlier versions of themselves now formless.
You know it every time she comes here. Every time a spark of signal lights up in her lap.
You could take the signal from her if you wanted to. With a pinch of a finger you could sever the invisible line from the invisible grid. Sever the ley line. But you don’t. You’re supposed to, but this feels better.
You watch, letting it happen because that’s all you can do to show her you’re still here. She catches a glimpse of you, ears poking out from behind a discarded lunch pail.
She smiles. She smiles because she knows you’re there.
Featured image by Maria Pogosyan.