Gino leaned back against the leafless, crimson tree, its furry bark brushing his bare arms. The texture was a comfort as the drug continued its euphoric assault, tickling his innards as if the follicles of the tree stretched through his skin and wiggled deep within him. “I’m still rollin’ D,” he said, his voice hoarse. He rubbed sweat off his bald scalp and wiped it on his grey slacks.
Damien waved him off and continued to stare at the large metal ring. It stood high above him, curving around and down into red sand. He ran his hand carefully across its surface. It was layered with evenly spaced, thin metal lamellas.
“It’s warm, like an oven,” stated Damien. He removed his sunglasses and wiped sweat from his brow. “And it’s hot as balls out here,” he said as he fanned himself with his black tee. He looked skyward. Two large moons blotched with brown and black craters hung like massive marbles. Mountainous patchworks zigzagged across the surface. An asteroid belt orbited the two satellites. Damien squinted at the sun that stood behind the moons. He looked about the island. It was small, a bit larger than his two-bedroom apartment. Around it was an endless ocean, motionless and still.
“We ain’t on the Jersey Shore no more G-man.”
Gino stood. “I’m still trippin’, must be dreamin’.” He removed his silk shirt from around his waist and tied it like a do-rag on his head. “I must have passed out. We in Wildwood then yo?”
“You kidding me,” mocked Damien. He attempted to run his hand through his hair, but his fingers were stopped short by a cemented, spiked black forest. “That thing got us here you idiot. We aren’t near Jersey or anywhere on Earth for that matter!”
“Don’t call me stupid.” Gino patted his chest. His gold cross necklace glinted in the light as it bounced. “I ain’t stupid, and stop treatin’ me like a chump.” He walked towards Damien, fists clenched.
“Dude, how did we get here then?” Damien rushed his sunglasses back over his eyes.
“I don’t remember!”
“Yeah, you don’t remember, because I had to carry you out of the club because you took three pills of E and a bump of K.”
Gino halted and dug his heels into the sand. He rubbed his stomach, twisting the cotton tank top. His body tensed, muscles rigid as he dry heaved. With each breath came the taste of some kind of candy or bubble gum that lingered in the air and his musky, jasmine-orange scented cologne. The two odors acted as catalysts for olfactory discomfort, resulting in further nausea.
The ring began to hum. The sound, like a million bees singing a hymn, amplified. Its empty center filled with yellow light, like the sun above. Damien fell back. Gino collapsed to his knees and crawled backwards. A wooden cart carrying grapefruits expelled from the ring’s center. The cart hit the sand hard and toppled over, fruits scattered about. The ring’s glow faded till the center was once again empty.
Gino vomited. Green and yellow liquid beaded on the red sand. Damien was wiping sand off his torn jeans when the smell reached him. It was last night’s party mix; cheap vodka, dissolved drugs - their taste more like aspirin - and meatballs, topped with sharp cheese.
“Shit, kick the sand over it man!” Damien smothered his mouth, nearly vomiting himself.
Gino did as he was told and covered his internal sewage. He removed his do-rag and wiped his mouth, then tossed the shirt aside. “Much better,” he said.
Damien turned, hand still over his mouth and pointed to the ring. “Did you see that,” he mumbled.
“Yeah bro.” Gino smiled. “It’s a fucking Stargate!”
“Yeah, a Stargate, like in the movie with Kurt Russell. And that TV show too.”
Damien sighed. He removed his sunglasses and placed them in his coned follicles. He spoke softly but loud enough for Gino to hear.
“You have got to stop doing drugs bro, stop taking that shit.”
Gino shoved out his arms with a flick of his fingers. “Whatever yo. You took some pills too, don’t be procrastining on me.”
“It’s ‘procrastinating’, and I only took one pill.”
“Don’t start disrespecting me, don’t talk down to me.”
“Disrespect you? You, you always…” Damien huffed. “Forget it.” He turned and walked to the edge of the water, unzipping his pants. He scanned the view as he tried to relieve himself. Across the ocean were dark grey and yellow tinted clouds. They moved from left to right. Occasional lightning cracked the space between the sky and water. A warm breeze carried the nostalgic scent of summer rain, but with the strange candy taste that marked this planet’s odor.
The warm, calm of the ecstasy pill began to wear off, and the truth of what happened started to materialize: They were stranded on an alien island, magically teleported by some kind of gate. Damien felt his machismo squeak away, as anxiety blossomed above his groin. He shook his head and focused on relief but there was a stare; that feel of a stranger’s gaze. He glanced over his shoulder, only to find Gino eating a grapefruit by the tree. He turned to face the horizon again but the mysterious voyeurism distracted him. After a few calm breaths a yellow arc flowed from his manhood. He looked down to watch the stream. The urine pooled on the surface of the sap-like water. But beneath the sappy surface were eyes, hundreds of them, eyeballs all connected to plantlike stems. Damien yelled and fell back. He twisted and landed face down into the sand.
Gino ran to his side. “What the fuck happened?”
“The water, go check the water,” replied Damien. He brushed off his exposed region, the red sand decorating his privates like Christmas ornaments.
Gino walked towards the water. “Holy shit, there are eyes in there.”
The eyes were of different sizes, from golf to soft balls. Iris color varied, some like Gino’s light green and some like Damien’s dark brown. They had eyelids made of a green membranous flap that curved around the eyeball, thinning down to a green and dark blue stem. The stem disappeared into the sand. Whether there was actual water beneath the surface, the two could not tell. Gino and Damien walked around the edge of the island.
“See that D? The eyes go where we go.”
“I want to go home.” Damien’s heart raced, breath a panicked pant. “I want to go home,” he yelled at the metal ring.
The ring hummed to life, as if awoken by Damien’s shout.
“Oh shit,” cried Gino. He dove headfirst into the sand. Damien was off to the side when a river of water gushed from the ring like a punctured dam. Wood debris and other elements flowed out before the glow twirled back to a close. Pools of water built up in small pockets and collected towards the edge of the alien sea.
Damien circled out and away from the ring. His white Nikes sunk in the wet sand with each step.
“I just got these new kicks. Damn.” Damien tried to steady himself while he shook sand off his sneaker. He lost balance and fell forward but stopped himself in a lunge position. His body shook from the impact. Beneath his foot was a long cylindrical object.
“What is it,” Gino called out as he approached.
“I don’t know.” Damien squatted in observation. It was solid black, like cast iron, hard and course to the touch.
“I think this is a cannon.” Damien stood and tried shoving it with his foot. “Like from a pirate ship or something.”
Gino walked towards the ring. “D yo, this thing, it’s got to be Japanese! That’s what it is!”
“How stupid could you be? This thing isn’t made anywhere on earth! Fucking idiot.”
“I told you not to call me stupid!” Gino tackled Damien. The two tripped over the cannon and landed in the wet sand. Damien landed hard on his back. His sunglasses flew off from the impact.
“I’m sick and tired of you always treatin’ me like some idiot, talking shit about me and making fun of me,” Gino said as he pressed his bulky forearm against Damien’s face.
“Get the fuck off of me,” demanded Damien. He tried to struggle free but failed. Sand rubbed hard against his cheek and hair tickled his nostrils.
The ring activated. Damien and Gino were in the ring’s line of fire. Aggression turned to fear and their grapple became an embrace.
The ring belched, then silenced.
Clenched eyes twitched open and hugs unfolded. Gino rose without helping Damien.
“What the hell?” Between Gino and the ring at eye level hovered a three dimensional wire frame box, its lines made of laser light. The lines shimmered and curved inward in a spiral. It twisted out into the shape of a sphere.
Damien got up and spit out sand. He watched the object from a distance. The lines would break apart, curl and form other topological distortions.
“Don’t get too close,” warned Damien.
Gino inched closer. The object floated, unaffected by gravity. It reformed into a flattened rectangle and images flickered on it like a television screen.
“You seeing this D?” The image moved like a clear black and white film. The film showed Gino getting his tattoo of a hybrid Italian/Albanian flag on his back. Like a channel changing, it switched to Gino and his younger brother cleaning dishes in their house. Gino was twenty at the time, and had hair. It puffed above his forehead and coasted down to the base of his neck into a mullet. His brother was seven years old then, a skinny boy with pale complexion and bad teeth.
“Little Nikki,” chuckled Gino. The image switched to a recent bald version of him dancing with a curvaceous woman. Her arms wrapped around his head. She nibbled on his earlobe and kissed him with her thick lips. Gino had his hand underneath her short skirt. It moved up into the dark fold of fabric between her legs. The two rocked silently as they groped each other. Behind them in a dark shade of grey stood Damien.
“Yo Damien bro, that’s us and Carmella at club Pacha! It was just two months ago! This thing is stealing my memories!”
Gino turned his attention to Damien. “You got to get close to this thing, it’s readin’ my mind perfectly!”
Damien retreated. “Fuck no. Stay away from it, you might get cancer or something G.”
The footage flickered.
“D, these ain’t my memories.”
The box showed the naked rear of a man thrusting back and forth. A bare leg with a stiletto heel still on the foot was up over the man’s shoulder.
Damien’s blood went cold. He watched himself fondle the woman’s breasts and stick his finger in her mouth.
Gino studied the familiar face of the woman. Her blonde hair was a light gray in the image, and her red lips a darker shade of gray.
The sweat on the two bodies had the highest contrast, resembling twinkles of light scattered about them. It beaded on bare skin and dripped with each thrust.
Gino grimaced. “Carmella?”
A second female joined. Her features were darker in the film, hair black. The new naked form had a more athletic build. She hopped on the bed and sat over Carmella’s face, positioning herself towards Damien. Carmella’s face was now gone, her motions expressed through the muscle spasms of the woman above her. Bits of Carmella’s chin revealed itself under the dark crest of the other female. Damien grabbed the back of the woman’s head and pulled her close. They kissed, tongues intertwined like mating slugs.
“Holy Shit,” Damien whispered. He raised his arms in surrender.
“What the fuck is this,” Gino said, pointing at the orgy. The bodies continued to undulate rapidly.
“It was a while ago, it, it,” stuttered Damien. “Bullshit! I bought her those shoes three days ago. Three fucking days ago! And you been fuckin’ her behind my back?” The veins in Gino’s forehead bulged into a Y shape, his face red like the sand.
“I… Listen… It was…”
“You know what, forget it. I’m done with you. No more fighting for you when we are out at the bars and someone talks shit to you. No more fixing your car or anything else broken in that apartment your daddy pays for.” He scowled. “No more nothin’. Carmella, she was my girl. You were my best friend. When we go back home, we are done.”
Beside Gino, the ring hummed.
“Gino, step away from it, please, I’m sorry.”
From the ring emerged a cloud of bats, screeching like alarm clocks. They flew around an unflinching Gino, his stare locked on Damien. The bats flew past Damien and out into the horizon until they disappeared in the distance. The memory thief contorted into a sphere again and shot back into the ring’s vortex before it fell still.
“Gino, you okay?”
“Gino, I’m sorry bro.”
Gino turned and walked to the other side of the island. He sat on the sand and faced the horizon.
Damien frowned and looked around aimlessly. He turned to where the bats flew. The sun was setting, its light pinched between the two moons. Shadows stretched long like tar trails on the sand. Damien looked above and across the darkening part of the sky. Stars ran across in unfamiliar patterns. There was no Big or Little Dipper that he recognized. The last time he had looked at the nightly heavens for longer than a minute was over a decade ago. He and his father ate ice cream on a blanket in the yard. Dad would tell me that the stars were God’s fireflies. His vision blurred and the sky smeared with streaks of light. He wiped his eyes and looked over to Gino who sat with his back to him. Damien picked up a grapefruit, walked over and placed it at his side.
Gino ran sand through his fingers, ignoring Damien. The tiny grains fell through like sand in an hourglass.
“Hey Gino,” Damien said, his voice low as if not to disturb the ring. “Do you think this is a sprocket? It’s got the shape of it right? It’s round, and has ridges. It looks like it might fit into something. You know everything about cars and bikes. So I figured you’d know what it was. Maybe you’re right, maybe it is Japanese.”
“G man, come on, please bro, I’m sorry. It happened, I don’t know how, it just did.”
Gino took the fruit and tossed it out into the viscous ocean.
Damien began to speak but said nothing. He kicked sand like a defeated child and walked towards to the water. His sunglasses floated beneath the surface. Eyes cluttered and shoved each other for ownership of the protective eyewear.
“Cruel joke,” snorted Damien.
“Fuck you!” Gino shot up off the sand. “I loved her! This ain’t no joke!”
“I was talking to the eyes!”
Gino squeezed his fists. He spluttered incoherently then sat back down.
“She came on to me G. We were drunk and high, we-,” Damien was interrupted by the sound of screeching. The black swarm of bats circled and flew through the ring twice before they settled on the tree. He cocked his head, remembering the bats emergence earlier and the box that vanished through the ring.
“I think I know how to possibly get off this island Gino.”
Gino flashed him his third finger.
“G man, I’m sorry, please, I really am. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. But I really think I know how we might get off this island.”
“No, you can’t make this up to me. We’re through.” Gino flung sand at him.
Damien blocked his eyes. “All right then, I understand.”
“So you want to hear how we get out of here?”
Gino stood up and brushed off his rear. “Yeah, I want to get away from you.”
“Fine. That thing that showed us our,” Damien sighed, “our memories went back into the ring, right after the bats came out.”
“So, we go through it too.”
Gino narrowed his eyes. “Nah man, that’s dumb. We’ll get minced up.”
“And we won’t die here? No chopper or boat are gonna pick us up bro. We didn’t die getting here, so we might have a chance if we go through that thing.”
“Don’t call me bro anymore.”
“Okay, but we got to try it. Or we’ll die here slowly, with each other.”
The sun’s final light ran across them, now beneath the moons. Orange light dissolved into saturated reds, rich purples, and crisp, dark blues before meeting with the speckled black of space. Both Damien and Gino watched in awe.
Gino broke out of the trance. He nodded to the ring. “It’s not a sprocket or gear. It’s a bubble wand, or some shit like that.”
“Look at it again.”
Damien recognized the similar patterns as a bubble wand, with the perfectly spaced horizontal ridges and thick ring.
“Look down there too,” continued Gino, “where the curves go under the sand. Some water washed away the bottom.”
A black vertical bar met the curved metal, closing the circle. It disappeared into the sand.
“Holy shit, it’s a toy,” Damien commented.
“Yeah, looks like it.”
“So our lives are bubbles or something?”
Damien rubbed his chin. “G, I don’t remember going through something like this before we ended up here.”
“I don’ remember anything, yo.”
“I do remember we were down the back alley behind club Oceania. I remember helping you walk, and we both walked by some garbage cans and above was just the buildings, but it was dark. And then came a white light.
“White light? I thought I was passin’ out.”
“No man, it was white all over, like even in my ears and eyes it felt, like the light had weight.”
Gino mimicked Damien, rubbing his chin. “You think God did this?”
“I can’t think of that shit right now. Let’s get ready though, in case the thing starts up again. Gonna be dark soon.”
The two positioned themselves opposite each other on either side of the ring.
“Back up a few inches G, in case something flies out again.”
Gino pushed a few inches back, when suddenly the ring hummed. The metal vibrated like a rounded tuning fork. Through the noise and light Gino shouted to Damien. “Yo D!”
Gino pushed a few inches back, when suddenly the ring hummed. The metal vibrated like a rounded tuning fork. Through the noise and light Gino shouted to Damien. “Yo D!”
“Even if we make it through, I still hate you!”
“Jump now,” howled Damien.
They both jumped into the ring’s center, through a brilliant yellow and white. Damien hit the sand hard. He moved his arms into a push-up position and lifted himself up. He wobbled like a drunk until his vision restored.
“My head.” Gino coughed the words and rubbed his sinuses.
“Oh my god. Can you see yet?”
“Almost. Just help me up.”
“Cause we’re still here.”
Gino’s sight cleared in time to see the final light of the sun pull away. Behind him stood the ring, and to the side a tree covered with bats.
“Fuck,” shouted Gino.
Damien dry heaved a few times. A nervous tickle spread from his stomach and into his tightened chest. “It didn’t work, oh my god, it didn’t work.”
“So I’m stuck here with your backstabbin’ ass?” The words were Gino’s, but like a ventriloquist throwing his voice, came from else were. Damien and Gino looked at each other and slowly circled around the ring.
Panic: it was the sub-zero kind, when the sphincter tightens and the innards rise in freefall. What they saw in the near dark was themselves, perfect copies like living shadows, in exactly the same clothes. All four stared at each other in disbelief. Gino faced his clone. Damien stretched out his hand to touch his double, but pulled it back.
Gino’s clone looked at Damien’s clone, then to the original Damien. Through gritted teeth he said, “There are two of you now? I’m stuck with two cheatin’ motherfuckers?”
Damien’s clone turned to Gino’s clone. “Now wait up yo, she was a slut. I did you a favor and you know it. Who knows who else she was banging!”
Original Gino jumped in front of Damien’s clone. I loved her you dick!”
Original Damien stepped in front of original Gino. “Don’t get hot at me… him… at us! I said I was sorry already!”
The four continued to argue as the sun disappeared beneath the curtain of nightfall. Black bats shimmered like loose roof shingles in the wind. Ocean eyes radiated a soft white light, the sea itself illuminating like a glowing blanket. The familiar bee’s hum returned. The ring’s white glow engulfed the four quarreling figures, swallowing them out of the darkness.