The Lady Guides
By Jason Atwood
My name is Joe Stevens, and this is the last night I will spend on this world.  I gaze up at the full moon, that pale mirror beaming
reflected sunlight down upon the deck of the chartered fishing boat where I am sitting cross-legged.  The moon hangs suspended in its
sea of stars with its image reflected by the waters of the Atlantic, seemingly existing in two oceans at the same time.  The Man in the
Moon regards me with his perpetually serious yet doubtful expression as if he knows my intentions but does not think that I have the
resolve to end my own existence.
Kate used to love gazing at the night sky.  We spent so many nights holding each other beneath the stars, she regarding the beauty of
celestial lights and I regarding her beauty in the glow of the same illumination.  Kate always wondered why an object so strongly
connected with females was popularly believed to have a male visage.  It was a silly and pointless thing to wonder about, but that was
one of the things that endeared her to me.  Kate, whose cute little nose wrinkled when she laughed, whose chestnut hair fell over her
shoulders in curly waves, and who I intended to make my wife.
That never happened.  She left this world before her time.  Such an expression makes it sound like angels descended from heaven to
draft her into their ranks for some higher purpose.  However, there is nothing divine about some idiot paying more attention to his cell
phone than his surroundings while piloting a SUV the size of a small bus.  No matter how you spin it, there is nothing glorious about a
two and a half ton Tahoe turning your fiancé’s Volkswagen into a twisted mass of steel and blood.  There is nothing angelic about a
closed-casket funeral.
Having such a thing happen totally unexpectedly creates a deep wound, but such wounds have clean edges.  Given enough time such
wounds can mend.  It is a different matter when you know that tragedy is close at hand before it happens, but can do nothing to avert
it.  It is worse still when you realize only after your loved one is dead that the signs were there, but you were too ignorant to interpret
them.  A wound like that is a persistent festering sore for the soul.  I have Lady S to thank for that, to thank for allowing me to see
but not to understand…that cruel bitch.
Lady S, however, is not without mercy, and her cruelty is not fueled by malice.  I hope tonight that her final lesson will reunite me with
my lost love.  I open the small plastic baggie filled with the extract of the plant known as Lady S, and my nostrils are immediately
assaulted by the familiar pungent smell, a combination of shoe leather and sage.  The scent revives the memories of the lessons learned
from the previous uses of my mind-expanding, psychedelic mistress.
I had learned about my Lady on one of my many sleepless nights spent surfing the internet.  It is amazing how many hours one can
spend crawling through those endless pages jumping from link to link.  Unlike many who engage in torrid romances, I have forgotten
where I first saw my Lady.  After I had caught a glimpse of her mysterious nature however, I poured all my spare energy into learning
everything I could about her.  I spent hours perusing scores of personal accounts, confusing scientific studies, and the all important
information about how to actually submit myself Lady S’s particular wiles.  What made her ever so desirable was that in this age, where
recreational drugs are taboo unless some big corporation is making a profit, extracts of the plant known as Lady S was legal and readily
available from a number of suppliers.
The first time I met her in person I was spending the week at my grandmother’s house.  All of the information I had gathered strongly
suggested I have a sober sitter present for any session with Lady S.  I scoffed at this.  I was young and healthy, strong of body and
mind.  I did not need anyone to baby-sit me.  I was arrogant, and oh how she made me pay for my arrogance.  I filled my pipe, applied
the flame, and inhaled a deep lungful of smoke.  I held the smoke to a count of twenty, and slowly exhaled.  Then, I placed my pipe
safely on the nightstand, lay on my bed and closed my eyes.
There was no buildup, no subtle changes in my perceptions to warn me of what was to come.  My mind went from zero to holy shit in
less than a second, and I was hurtling away from reality faster than a bullet flies from a rifle.  I saw the bedroom through my closed
eyelids.  The room split and peeled away.  My body flayed apart, and the pain of my identity being obliterated was excruciatingly
liberating.  Then, a river of images began to stream toward me, through me.  Some were images of surrealistic dream worlds, others
were memories, but I existed in all of them at the same time.  
Then, a woman’s voice said, “Step into a world, and it will be yours.”
I cried like a child.  I was terrified.  “I want to go home,” I whimpered repeatedly.
“Simple as can be if you can find your home in this infinity,” the woman’s voice taunted and she laughed mockingly.
I laughed with her as if I had suddenly understood some great cosmic joke.  It was the mirthless laughter of a madman.  I struggled to
my feet, even though I could not sense that I had a body, and staggered down the hall banging into walls I could not see.  Still the
images rushed past me, never altering the course of their flow even as I floundered onward.  I turned left at the doorway to my
grandmother’s bedroom, but what lay before me was the front yard as it had existed twenty years ago.  I saw my grandfather standing
on the lawn regarding me with a curious expression.  I’m sure my expression was no less bewildered since he had been dead for twelve
years.
Instead of walking forward, I turned left again which should have pointed me back down the hall from which I had come.  It did not
surprise me to find that I was now looking at my grandmother’s bedroom.  I staggered into it, hoping that it really was what it appeared
to be, and that she would be there.
“Grandma!” I called out, “I need help.”
“Hold on,” she replied, “I’m in the bathroom.”
I decided that I could not wait.  I was afraid the river of images would carry me away from the bedroom, and I would be forever lost.  
I pushed open the bathroom door, almost falling to the floor in front of my grandmother who was sitting on the toilet.  I would never
want to see my grandmother in this way, but the jolting experience of catching her with her pants down did much to anchor me firmly
in reality.  I used the sink to support myself as I climbed to my feet, and in a moment my grandmother was by my side, holding me.  
The world was a chaotic parade of images, but my grandmother was solid, unchanging.  She looked like herself with the exception that
a soft, almost angelic glow emanated from her skin.
With her touch, reality reasserted itself.  Obviously she was scared, concerned for my wellbeing.  I told her that I was alright, that I had
just had a bad reaction to some medicine.  I am certain she knew it was a lie, but she was kind enough not to call me on it.  She only
made me promise never to repeat what I had done.  It was a promise I made with crossed fingers.  While I had been terrified beyond
belief, I could see now that Lady S taught me humility among many other things, and that she had much more to teach me.  I would
seek out her counsel again, but I would not have a repeat of this situation.  Next time, I would need a sitter.  I would need someone to
be my anchor, and who else would I choose but my beloved Kate.
Kate was reluctant to say the least, but she consented to being my sitter.  I told her what to expect, which is kind of absurd since I
really had no idea what I had done (in reality) during my first tryst with the Lady.  I sat on the floor of the bedroom we shared in our
rented house, and Kate sat across from me.  I loaded a smaller dose into my pipe, but otherwise smoked the flakes as before.  The
Lady worked her magic as quickly as before, and I could see the parade of other places and times flow past me.  Except that this time
it was more of a stream than a river the proportions of the mighty Mississippi, and I could still see the bedroom around me in a sense.  
The walls, ceiling, even the carpeted floor were semi-transparent.  I found that if I looked at one spot too long, I could see through
what should have been solid.  I could look through one wall, and see the closet on the other side.  If I gazed at another wall, I could
see the yard and trees beyond.  It seems that the Lady cares little for the constructs of man, but for natural things, living things, she
reveals their true nature.
Our cat wondered into the bedroom, and I marveled at its appearance.  The cat was a typical housecat, and carried more than a little
junk in her trunk.  However, the creature slinking through the doorway looked to be some sort of sleek jungle cat that was merely the
size of an ordinary housecat.  The kitty’s coat was slick and had such a sheen that it appeared to be comprised of wet glossy paint
instead of fur.  And Kate, oh my love was cloaked in shadows even as she sat in a beam of bright sunlight.  She looked dark,
mysterious, and more beautiful than ever.
“Seek the source, and you will find the truth,” Lady S said in a grim voice.
I did not know what that meant at the time, and even now my understanding is limited to a desperate, hopeful guess.  I reached out,
touched Kate’s cheek, and the hold the Lady had over me faded.  Reality took hold firmly once more, and I told Kate all the things
that the Lady had shown me.  She giggled, especially when I described the appearance of our cat.  Then, she said that she had to go to
the grocery store to pick up a few things.  I was still in the afterglow of Lady S’s embrace, and decided it would be best if I lay down
for a bit.
How stupidly ignorant of me.  Lady S had shown me, but I did not register the meaning of the shadows around my love.  If I had only
realized that Kate would not return from her trip to the store, maybe I could have stopped her…or maybe at least went with her so
that we could have died together.  At least I told her that I loved her, but even the tenderest words seem inadequate when they are the
last you shall ever speak to someone.
After the funeral, I began contemplating suicide, but I couldn’t bring myself to do the deed.  I am not a religious man, but it is hard to
break the lessons of a childhood spent in the Bible Belt.  If there is such a thing as Heaven, I know that my Kate is there.  I fear that
if I kill myself I will spend an eternity separated from her, and that alone would be Hell enough for me.  
Instead, I began to drink.  I would say that I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, but that would not adequately describe the binges
where I attempted to obliterate my mind.  I suffered exquisitely punishing hangovers for just a few hours of blissful oblivion.  Besides,
drinking myself to death didn’t count as suicide…at least that’s what I told myself.
My best friend Jamie was there for me, even when I became sick of seeing his dopey grinning face.  At first he drank with me, and
during that time I whole-heartedly welcomed his company.  Then, he stopped being my drinking buddy.  Evidently the world still spun
on as they say, and he was tired of going to work hungover.  I didn’t really worry about my job.  I’m sure I was fired after about the
second or third day of not showing up and not calling.  It was when he started trying to get me to quit that my patience for his sobriety
grew thin.
He did his damnedest to convince me that my liver had done nothing to warrant such constant punishment.  He even went to far as to
attempt a one-man intervention during which I told him to insert his written appeal for me to sober up into some very uncomfortable
places.  Sure I felt bad, but it really pissed me off for him to say that what I was doing was hurting him.  Hell, what about my hurting?  
Wasn’t I the one who had the love of his life stolen away?  What the hell did he know?  So, I stopped talking to him, my best friend for
years, and I was alone.
It had been days since I had showered, and I stunk of body odor, booze, and vomit.  I had hit about as rock bottom as anyone can,
and it was at this time I felt an overwhelming need for the stinging sweet caresses of my Lady S.  However, no matter how much I
smoked she would not come.  She would not speak to me.  I never saw as much as a single distortion in the world around me.  It
appeared that Lady S did not associate with drunkards.  Of all the things I had gone through since losing Kate, this hurt the most, and
was the driving force for my sobriety.  How ironic that it took the desire to get high in order to sober me up.
The first thing I did was call Jamie and apologize.  He forgave me without a second thought.  With his help I was able to quit drinking.  
He was there to nurse me through the DTs.  If not for him I probably would have died from a seizure, covered in my own shit.  Such
friends are rare birds, and it pains me to think that I will be leaving him tonight.
After my body and mind had recovered from my drinking and the subsequent withdrawal, Jamie insisted that we take a trip to
celebrate.  He was not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but he was what you might call would call a blue-collar professional.  
You would be surprised how much a plumber pulls in a year.  He told me to simply pick what I wanted to do, and he would do what
he could to make it happen.
As he said this to me, another voice spoke up in my mind.  It was the voice of Lady S from my memory, “Seek the source, and you
will find the truth,” and, “Step into a world, and it will be yours.”
I thanked Jamie, and asked him to give me a little time to think it over, to which he was more than agreeable.  I recalled the stream of
images Lady S had shown me, the river of different places and times; and I realized that no matter which way I had turned, the river
flowed in the same direction.  From memory, I determined the direction from which the images flowed from, and I discovered
something odd.  The rivers had flowed from a different compass bearing on each of my trips, and I realized that this was because my
grandmother lived in North Carolina while I lived in Atlanta.  I drew lines on a map that corresponded with the flow of the images,
and found something interesting.  The lines intersected at a point in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda within what is known as the
Bermuda Triangle.  This is where I told Jamie that I wanted to go.  I said that I wanted to go deep sea fishing, and he was only too
happy to make the arrangements.
So, here I am.  Our guide is asleep in the cabin of our boat.  Jamie is sawing logs on the deck near me.  I wish instead that he was
inside with our guide.  I fear that he might wake up and try to stop me, but I cannot turn back now.  What I am going to do, I must do
tonight, here at the source of the rivers of existence.  I am sober, of sound mind, and I am certain that this is what I must do to have
any measure of peace.  This world is no longer for me.
I tap the last remaining flakes of Lady S from the plastic baggie into my pipe.  It is not much, but it should be enough.  It has to be
enough.  I spark the lighter, ignite the pipe’s contents, and inhale deeply.  I hold the smoke in my lungs for a twenty count, and exhale
slowly.  I think I hear Jamie stirring behind me, but I can’t be bothered with worrying that he will awaken.  In fact, I am not capable of
worrying about anything.  Lady S has heard my plea.  My mistress has returned, and I am ready for whatever she has in store for me.
There are no images.  The boat vanishes.  The ocean turns black, the moon and stars no longer reflected in it.  I am floating in a sea
of darkness with the moon and stars in the vault of the sky as my only companions.  
I hear her voice.  She says only one word, “Choose.”
I can think of only one thing, and it is what I want more than anything else in this world (or any other).  I think of Kate.  I picture her
hair, her eyes, her cute little nose.  Now the images come.   Not as a river, but as a geyser.  They fly past me upward, and split off in
more directions than I can count.
Then, I see her.  I see Kate.  She is standing by the counter in a kitchen that I don’t recognize.  She looks at me, and smiles.  I can see
tears in her eyes, and then I feel water began to stream from my own.
This is it.
This is the truth.
The reality I had been living in since she died was the lie.
Here she is right in front of me, waiting for me.  Maybe she thought I was dead, and now she sees the truth that I am alive and want
nothing more than to be with her.
I stand up.  I don’t know how I do this since nothing is below me but blackness, but such questions have no meaning.
I hear another voice, or think I do.  It sounds like Jamie.  It sounds like he is yelling for me to stop, not to do it, but I let these words
slide off of me.  I know that I have been led here to be reunited with my love.  Jamie may think that I am simply getting ready to step
off the boat into the ocean, but I know that the step I take will land me in Kate’s arms.
I know this to be true.
I step forward.
The Lady guides.

BERMUDA – After several days, officials have called off the search effort for Atlanta local Joseph Stevens.  Stevens was on a deep
sea fishing trip with his close friend James Burns in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Bermuda.  On what was to be their final night
at sea, according to Burns, Stevens fell overboard and vanished.
Burns claims that he was sleeping on the deck of their chartered boat when he awoke to find Joseph standing by the rail at the edge of
the deck.  To quote Burns, “Joe was just standing there looking out at the sea, and then he started to climb over the rail.  I yelled for
him to stop, but he fell overboard.  I vaulted over the rail and into the water, but I just couldn’t see him anywhere.  It was so dark.  I
climbed back on the boat, and called to our guide for help, but we never found him.”
Authorities briefly investigated the possibility of foul play, but quickly discounted this theory due to lack of forensic evidence and
Burns’ obvious distress and lack of motive.  A source who asked not to be identified stated that Joe was a recently recovering
alcoholic, and had suffered from severe depression since the tragic death of his fiancé, Katherine McDonald, three months ago.  
Authorities have pronounced Joseph Stevens dead by misadventure.  However, since the location of the accident is in the Bermuda
Triangle, others have proposed alternate theories ranging from alien abduction to inter-dimensional portals.  These theories have
gained popularity due to a portion of Burns’ statement to authorities.  “Odd thing is I never heard him hit the water.  There was no
splash.  It was like when he jumped over the rail, he fell off of the edge of the earth.”
Regardless of the cause, Stevens’ disappearance comes as a tragic end to the life of a young man who had experienced more than his
fair share of heartbreak during his lifetime.