Father O’Leary had a hectic schedule. He packed a bag and went to the residence of the Archbishop Henry Lees to get the final details of his forth coming trip. He was to fly to Rome with the Archbishop and attend him at the Vatican. He thought he could use the opportunity to collect some research data from the Vatican library and noted what he needed. They had two days to get there and the flight left first thing in the morning. The two men when they met read through a list of possible candidates for the position of Holy See. O’ Leary had his own opinions about certain of the men but the Archbishop was firm in his choice. He knew who he wished to see fill the vacancy. The next day the two men caught the early flight from Hilton airport and were on their way.
Susie had seen Victor goodbye the day before after lunch and was deeply impressed that Father O’ Leary was to attend the conclave. She knew he had no voting power, but the fact he was going to Rome was enough. She pictured him in his important role and tried to imagine what the place would be like. There was no one at the head of the church for these few weeks and she wondered who would give mass for the conclave. She pondered it all day and forgot that she had arranged to go out with Victor on the weekend. Saturday morning arrived and so did Victor, but she wasn’t ready. He came to her room and found her at a desk writing. She had half filled a note book with her thoughts. She wanted O’Leary to see them when he returned.
“ Susie,” said Victor, “you didn’t forget our date, did you?”
“Victor? Yes I did, I’m sorry. I’m rather busy.”
“But this was our big day out. Come on, here’ s your clothes. Put them on and we’ll go out for the day.” She agreed, and put on the clothes he had brought. There was a sweater, a pair of jeans and shoes and socks. She felt good being in street clothes and cheered up. They left the building and she signed herself out. A nun wished her a happy outing.
Once outside the grounds she relaxed a little and became almost nonchalant. Victor had brought some cigarettes for her and she smoked them continuously. She chattered about the warm weather, the clear blue sky, the brightness of the sun and avoided mentioning what really had captured her imagination, the papal conclave. Victor was driving to the hills but away from Stirling, more towards the southern end of the ranges. It was hilly country with lots of pine forests. The traffic was at a minimum and in an hour they were far away. Victor turned off the main road onto a dirt throughway and told Susie where they were going. He had packed a picnic lunch for them and had selected a spot next to a reservoir. It was out of the way, very pleasant and very pretty. Susie liked the idea and waited in anticipation. When they reached the area, Victor parked the car and they proceeded on foot for several hundred yards to the water’ s edge. It was a large lake and around its shore lay thick pine groves that smelt luxurious. Susie enjoyed breathing in the air. She took off her shoes and paddled in the water then returned to eat lunch. Victor had brought chicken and bread and some green salad. It looked tasty and Susie ate with relish. He also brought a bottle of wine, and Susie reluctantly shared it with him. When it was empty he produced another and they quickly drank it. Susie was beginning to feel tipsy and merry. She joked with Victor and he relaxed, too. They lay down on a blanket and dozed off. Slowly the afternoon changed to sunset, and by the time they woke again it was already getting dark.
“We’d better be going,” said Susie packing the picnic basket.
“That was a good sleep I had. I feel great,” said Victor.
“I’ll be lucky if I get back in time for dinner.”
“Don’t worry, if you’re late we can buy something along the way.”
“I don’t want to be late,” she said. “Tonight’s mass means a lot to me.”
“How many times have you been to mass lately?” asked Victor.
“I’ve been going two times a day. It’s a very holy thing that’ s going on, Victor, and it’s very rare.”
“The election, you mean?”
“The conclave. It’s historic and holy. The culmination of a tradition that goes back to the beginning of our age.”
“The beginning of time as we know it?”
“That’s right. The year zero.”
“Are you ready, then?”
“Yes, Victor, I’m ready. Will you carry this?” Victor grabbed the two empty bottles and put them under his arm. Susie didn’t want to litter. They walked back towards the car but on the way stopped and sat down. Victor had noticed something off the path and had gone to investigate. A few moments later he came back carrying two handfuls of mushrooms.
“What a surprise,” he said, “I’ve found some magic mushrooms.”
“What are they?” said Susie.
“They’re hallucinogenic mushrooms, Susie. You eat them and go off your face for a few hours.”
“I haven’t heard of them,” she said.
“I’ve had them once or twice, they’re good. You don’t need many. I’ve got enough for both of us.”
“I don’t think I’ll have any thank you very much.”
“You want a religious experience Susie? Then eat them. They’re the real thing. The difference between talking about religion and experiencing the reality behind it. They used to call them the flesh of the Gods.”
“They’re poisonous aren’t they?” she said.
“Not these. These are harmless and non toxic. You can have ten or twenty and nothing happens. I’m going to try them.” He cleaned the dirt off a few and swallowed them whole. He gave a grimace and ate some more. Pretty soon he only had one handful left.
“Come on Susie, they don’ t taste too bad either. Like normal mushrooms.”
“And what happens to you?” she said.
“They’re mind manifesting. They give your mind a chance to experience more fully. You’ ll like it, I promise,” he said. Susie warily picked a mushroom from his hand and wiped the dirt away. Then she popped it in her mouth and chewed. She gaged and then swallowed hard.
“They taste awful,” she said.
“You’ll get used to it. They’re raw, that’s all.” She took another, cleaned it and put it in her mouth. The taste was very strong but she swallowed it whole.
“That was better,” she said. “They don’t go down too badly. A bit dry, though.”
Victor handed her the remaining mushrooms and watched her eat them individually until there were none left. They got up and started back towards the car. It was past sunset.
“They take about an hour to get into your system,” said Victor, “and then they come on real slow. You’ll hardly notice anything for the first couple of hours.”
“Do they keep you awake?” she said.
“No, they don’t speed you up. You can sleep with them without difficulty. It’s like a very strong smoke of grass.”
“Do you see things?”
“Kind of yes. It’s subtle. There are whole religions based on eating them. They’ve been using them for thousands of years.”
“Should I go back to the clinic?”
“That’s maybe not such a good idea. You want to be in a supportive atmosphere, not a cold antiseptic one. We can go to my place and relax there. I’ll take you back whenever you want.”
“I have to be back for midnight mass, Victor, I promised sister I’d be there”
“That gives you five or six hours. You’ll be down by then and walking with your feet on the ground.” They drove along the freeway with its orange overhead lights and fifty minutes later were approaching the Stirling turn off. Susie was gazing out the side window at the flashing signs. She was very quiet. Victor was feeling the first intimations of the drug in his body and slowed down. The lights looked fascinating and life like, the shadows beyond his headlights sinister and oppressive. He made the turn off and the road suddenly became much narrower. He slowed down even further and put on his high beams. They fingered their way into the darkness. The road looked like a band of grey sweeping before them. Finally they reached Victor’ s drive and went in. The house was friendly and inviting. They got out of the car without saying a word and went inside, turning on every light. Victor fetched wood for a fire and Susie turned on an electric heater. Despite the sunny day it was a chilly evening.
“How are you feeling, Susie?” said Victor from the hall.
“I’m good. The colours look intense,” she said from the lounge.
“Anything strange going on yet?” he said.
“Nothing much. My arms and legs feel very warm, though. The air in here is freezing. It’s so quiet. Can we have some music please?”
“Sure,” he said coming into the room with an arm load of wood, “just turn on the record player. Pick something out.” Susie went to the sideboard and switched on the turntable. It began to revolve and she stared at it until it had gathered speed. It seemed to amuse her for she stayed in that position for several minutes. The room remained silent. Victor had piled some wood into the grate and was lighting it when Susie put on a record. The sound submerged the room in a swimming blue light.
“ Ooo, that’s nice. It looks like you’re under water,” she said. The fire flickered and caught a hold. Victor backed away and sat on the nearest sofa. He was feeling the full effects of the mushrooms now. The room was made up of pools of light and dark. The light was warm and familiar, the darkness was frightening and eerie. Susie stumbled to the sofa and crashed down into it. She was giggling and pointing to the mantle piece. Victor looked up and saw what she was alluding to. It was a framed photo of herself. She didn’t know where he’ d gotten it.
“That’s you,” said Victor.
“But I look so old,” she said.
“You don’t look too bad. How do you feel?”
“Weird. I feel weird. Like the room is closing in on me. And I don’t like the music. It’s too mechanical and lifeless. It depresses me.”
“Well get up and change it then.”
“I can’t. I’m stuck to the sofa.”
“Do you want me to change it?”
“It’s gone now. I’m speeding up a lot. My thoughts are going really fast. From one thing to the next without stopping. And there’s some light shining through. I don’ t know where it’s coming from.”
“Is it inside or outside?” he said.
“It’s inside. Like a silver blue candle flame in the distance, and there are two more just like it only they’re green and red. They’re beautiful.” She closed her eyes and seemed to doze off. Victor watched the fire grow and felt the warmth spreading through his body. He was sure he felt hungry, but figured out that he’d only eaten an hour earlier. The mushrooms had been quite filling. He looked about the room. The shadows were deeper than before. He felt suspicious about it and tried to see into the darkness but his eye sight failed. Then from out the corner of his eye he saw something moving along a wall. It startled him a lot. He turned his head to get a better view and saw that it was a spider. It revolted him physically. It’ s legs seemed enormously long and the way it moved on eight of these seemed totally absurd. Too much effort was needed to be mobile for such a tiny creature. He got up and quickly struck the wall with a book. The spider instantly being crushed to death. Then he went back to the sofa. Susie had her eyes open again.
“This place is crawling with bugs,” he said.
“It’s not very clean is it?” she said.
“They come in from outside. I hate spiders and you get some big ones here. They scare me. I don’t know why.”
“They’re alien,” she said. Victor smiled and nodded his head.
“I’m feeling very unusual at this time,” he said.
“It’s a nice feeling,” she said.
“It’s like there’s a film of oil on the surface of everything and it’s reflecting light as rainbows. Swirls of rainbows that move about and change to primary colours.”
“Yes, it’s strange,” she said. “Can you imagine what it’d be like to be in Rome right now? I mean at the centre of this world wide web? With everyone praying for you and history plodding along behind you? Father O’ Leary must be enjoying his trip.”
“Rome would be nice,” agreed Victor.
“You can almost imagine it. A huge old hall and there’d be all these men sitting in order wearing colourful robes. And they’d be talking across the distance and not worrying about how long it takes. And they’d be doing it so that in the end everyone in the world will know about it.”
“The conclave you mean?” said Victor.
“Yes, of course. I’d love to go there to see it for myself. It must be great. All that history and tradition to observe.”
“But is it a religious experience?” said Victor.
“This is a religious experience,” said Susie. “It’s like a dream. I can hear something in the distance. It sounds like choir or organ music.”
“Think about the voices you hear.”
“I don’t want to. I couldn’t imagine hearing them now. But can half imagine, hear, something like a symphony, way off in the distance. Like in the mountains, and it’ s coming from another mist enshrouded peak. Do these mushrooms change your hearing threshold?”
“I don’t know, Susie,” said Victor. “But your imagination gets more profound. Anything you can think of instantly takes on a tangible form. Things ought to slow down soon and then it’ll get really crazy.”
“I can almost picture the Vatican in my mind. It’s like this huge TV network only they don’t use TV, and it’s running along as if it didn’t have anything to do. Like the path of least resistance. And every time it turns into some place that needs more energy to go through it creates a disturbance in the flow and all kinds of things appear. Like little eddies in the stream. But it feels very organic. And the dream ends when they send out the white smoke. That’s when the holiness of the occasion stops and everything goes back to routine and being normal and usual. It’s the process I’m watching, not the contents of the energy in the process. Without a Holy Father living it takes you back to the year zero.”
“But it’s not the Holy Land, Susie, it’s Rome. The Roman Empire. A longer history than Christianity.”
“I see that, and it doesn’t make any difference. The belief system starts to develop from there and it grows and grows without impediments, taking the path of least resistance. There’s a logic to it that’ s beautiful.”
“There was a logic to what Michael did, too,” said Victor.
“Oh, Victor, don’t remind me. Michael is nuts. He’ s pretending to be a priest but his ritual is sick, it’ s literal and has no scope for growth. It’ s also evil. I felt that very strongly. There was a power that had no refinement to it, nothing to balance it. Just raw energy. I didn’t like it one bit.”
“That’ s what I meant. It’ s harmless really. Nothing actually comes of it. And it doesn’ t give pleasure either. There’ s nothing to think about it. It’ s a dead end. I don’ t know why I put up with it in the first place. He tricked me, that’ s it.”
“And you tricked me,” said Susie.
“Sorry, Susie, I don’t know what got into me.”
“It was the devil,” said Susie. “You wanted power over me.”
“I didn’t. I didn’t think, that’ s all. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, any one else to turn to.”
“That’s the whole point, Victor, you couldn’t turn to me.”
“I suppose so.”
“How does this compare?”
“What the mushrooms? It’s good. One of the best experiences I’ve had.”
“No, the whole thing. This day in the midst of eternity. The conclave in St. Peters and me in the St. Peters clinic. And O’ Leary going to the Vatican. It all fits together. One thing leads to another through the process. It puts me in the middle of the process.”
“And do you like being there?”
“I won’ t hear voices again, if that’ s what you mean. That all changed. It flipped from a negative to a positive. That’s why I’m hearing choirs now.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
“It could be fun, but it’s dark outside. I don’t know…”
“There’s a moon out.”
“OK, lets go.” They stood up and went to the front door. It was cold in the hallway, and outside it was frosty. The stars were twinkling and the moon hung low over the horizon. There were no clouds to obscure the view. A breeze played over the trees and washed against their faces. Victor held Susie’s hand and it felt cold and clammy. She seemed to be grinning from ear to ear as they walked. Victor got cold very quickly.
“I’m shivering,” he said.
“It’s a bit like that, isn’t it?” said Susie.
“There’s nothing to see out here really,” he said.
“The stars look good. The moon looks too bright, too white, too distinct.”
“Yeah, it’s overwhelming. But if you look carefully you can see trails of light near each star. And one near the moon, too.”
“I can’t see that. All I can see is the breeze blowing high up in the sky. It looks three dimensional for a change.”
“They could be clouds.”
“They could be angels flying too fast to see.”
“And elves are hiding in the bushes.”
“It’ s funny, isn’t it? Everything seems lifeless, I don’t know where they get those ideas from.”
“It looks ancient, you mean.”
“Like it’s been there since the dawn of time. For billions of years.”
“The trees? Yeah, they look alien, too.” Susie tightened her grip on Victor’ s hand and pulled him back towards the house. Their feet made a noise on the gravel walkway. They ran the last few feet back to the door. The light from inside looked warm. Susie went in first. Victor stayed a few seconds to look at the moon some more. Wisps of cloud covered its face.
“Victor? It’s boiling in here,” she called.
“I’m coming. I’m freezing,” he said. He went indoors and the heat hit him like a wall. He seemed to be sweating.
“It’s hot in here, isn’t it?” he said.
“Take off your jumper.” He did what he was told and felt better immediately. His eyeballs felt dry and itchy.
“ Susie? What are you doing?” he said.
“I’m having a drink of water. It tastes good.” Victor went to her and put his arms around her shoulders. She felt warm and soft. Susie finished her water and put the glass down. Victor felt big and fluffy to her. She turned around and looked into his steel blue eyes. Then she kissed him gently. He responded eagerly. He felt his lips merge with hers and sparks shot off in his brain.
“Lets go to bed,” he said impatiently.
“But Victor, I can’t, it’s immoral,” she said.
“It won’t be the first time,” he said.
“I know, but I don’ t want to do anything Father O’ Leary would disapprove of. What’s the time anyway?”
“It’s only 8:30,” he said.
“Is that all? I thought hours had gone. I have to be back at midnight.”
“Lets go to bed,” he said again.
“I suppose it can’t hurt,” she said. They went to the bedroom and crept under the covers fully clothed. The bed was cold and creaked. They hugged each other and kissed again.
“Lets take our clothes off,” said Victor.
“All right,” said Susie and took off her sweater. She reached down and pulled off her socks. Her feet felt cold against the sheet. Then she took off her jeans and lay naked. Victor, meanwhile, had disrobed and was about to hug her. At his touch she felt an indescribable wave of sensation pass through her body. It was something she’d never experienced before. She began to cry and hug Victor to herself.
“What’s the matter, Susie?” said Victor rubbing her back.
“It feels so nice,” she said, “I want to so much.”
“Beds are good places to be close,” said Victor.
“I’m sure I love you, Victor,” she said, “but what’ll happen when the drug wears off?” Victor shrugged his shoulders.
“You’ll think it was a dream, a nice dream, and you’ll still love me and that’ s all that counts.”
“It’ll be chaos really,” she said.
“You’ll forget everything. You have to do it often to remember what it’s really like.”
“You feel so soft and warm, Victor, I don’ t want to forget that.”
“We can do it again. We know where they grow now.”
“But it’s more than the mushrooms, isn’t it? You do love me don’t you?”
“Yes, I love you.”
“Then why can’t you accept that I’ve changed?”
“It is a special time, Susie, and there’s a lot of energy being vented, but I can’t get myself to convert just like that.”
“You don’ t have to. Come to church with me. Come and talk to Father O’ Leary with me. I’ll never hear voices again, so I can leave anytime. But I’m not coming back if we go on from where we were. You have to trust me, Victor, I’m a new person and it feels good and wholesome.”
“You want me to confess?”
“Yes, it’ll help you.”
“And go to church every Sunday?”
“If I do,” she said.
“I’ll do anything for you, Susie, don’t worry. Come on lets make love.” Victor tickled her with his fingers and felt the tiny hairs on her back stand on end. She was tingling from head to foot. He rolled on top of her and entered into her. They made love and fell asleep for an hour. Then Susie woke and nudged Victor.
“Take me to church,” she said and Victor got ready to leave.