Seventh in a series of Flash Fiction shorts that I’m writing while in Thailand. I’m allowing myself a maximum of two hours per story so please forgive the rough edges. Cheers!
Zane was going to get centered. Do some yoga and turn over a new leaf. He’d spent the last fifteen years hustling in his shitty hometown, ripping people off, generally hating himself but if there was anywhere that he could hit the reset button it had to be here: India, the land of enlightenment. Home of the Buddha. Birthplace of Hinduism. Seemed like a great target for a globe trottin’ Ohio boy in search of some goddamned spiritual guidance.
Getting there took twenty hours on a plane and god knows how many packed into a cattle car with the smelliest men on the planet. Grueling, but at long last he had reached his destination.
The town of Hampi was a mecca for backpackers and seekers alike. There were ancient temples and holy ruins and wise sadhus wandering the desert ready to show pilgrims the way to enlightenment.
The Israeli kids at the hostel even had weed. That was fine for a while but one of the nearby restaurants served something called a bhang lassi, a yogurt drink that was like eighty times as strong as any brownie he’d ever eaten. The first time he tried one it took him four hours before he felt comfortable leaving the restaurant. This time around he hightailed it back to his hostel after finishing.
Zane kicked back on the deck of his little room while the high kicked in. A verdant rice field stretched toward the horizon, the setting sun lending a warm glow to the landscape. He rocked back and forth in a little rattan swing chair, taking it in. He barely noticed the gandalfish old man who’d emerged from the neighboring room.
“Enjoying the view?”
Zane nodded but was far too stoned to corral his words into a sentence.
“Bhang lassi?” The old man asked. Zane nodded. “Good, good. Gets you in the headspace for Hampi. I’ve been coming here every year for decades now. My name’s Reinhart, . . .” the man recounted stories about long nights in the caves with sadhus and many years ago when he found a piece of enlightenment amongst the ruins and what a special place Hampi was, “a true hidden gem.”
Maybe this was the wiseman Zane had been looking for. Strange that it would be a guy with a German accent, but it was India—anything could happen.
“Did you come here for the ruins?”
Zane nodded again.
“Hmm. A truth-seeker? Do you study the Vedas? Buddhist? Looking for enlightenment among the ancients?”
This time Zane opened his mouth, but that was as far as he got.
“Tell you what, I think I can help you out. First thing in the morning we’ll hit the ruins. Before it gets too hot. We’ll find you a guru yet.”
The old man was up and knocking on Zane’s door at the crack of dawn. Clear headed after a night’s sleep, Zane gathered his pack and followed the man down the road.
A short dark man with a length of striped cloth wrapped around his head motioned to them when they entered the ruins.
“Guide?” The man eyed Zane first, then Reinhart.
Reinhart waved the man away. “Don’t pay attention to this cretin. Come with me. I will take you to my teacher, a real holy man.”
The sun burned above them from what felt like six feet away. Zane’s shirt hung heavy with sweat. The water he brought dwindled to near nothing. Reinhart was kind enough to lend his.
“In here, come on now.” Reinhart motioned toward a cave near an outcropping of rocks. Shade. Zane didn’t hesitate. Reinhart called out, “Murugan! Are you in there, old friend?”
The landscape was littered with enormous brown stones, rounded by some ancient geological event. Ruins crumbled around them, old worn statues of forgotten gods looked as if they were wandering lost in the ancient holy city.
A wizened man with dark skin, saffron robes, and bright white hair emerged from the depths of the cave. Through Reinhart he explained that they would participate in a special purification ritual.
Finally a real holy man. Someone who could make sense of the mess of Zane’s life. The stupid dead end job back home, the aimless sojourns through developing countries in search of, well, this he supposed.
The ceremony began with incense and a buttery drink that tasted suspiciously like the bhang lassi that Zane had the night before. Soon the sadhu’s chant buzzed with enough strength to block out not only the sounds around him but every other sense. The cave, already dark, faded to black.
A glint of light woke Zane. He opened his eyes to the rising sun, a sliver in the distance framed by the opening of the same cave he’d been in when the ceremony started.
“Reinhart?” Zane asked. No rustling or breathing or mumbling came in response. He pushed himself upright. The movement of air on his skin brought him a frightening revelation.
He was stark naked.
No pack. No passport. No wallet. No clothes.
Incense lingered in the air. Next to the little altar where the ceremony had been performed the day before lay a pile of stained robes. Zane pulled them over his body, cringing at the grit against his skin.
On further inspection he saw a large plastic jug of water, like you’d place on an office water cooler.
What he did not find was any indication of where his erstwhile fellow travelers were.
He’d been had.
By the time Zane could bring himself to get up and walk outside the sun was at its peak.
“Fuck!” The stone earth outside the cave burned his feet as soon as he touched down on it. He retreated.
The day passed. Zane considered leaving, but what would he get for it but burnt soles and maybe death of dehydration in the middle of the desert? Even if he made it back to town he was a man without a passport, hundreds or thousands of miles from a consulate that could help him.
He would have cried if he didn’t feel so empty.
Another day passed. Hunger came and went unsatisfied. More days passed after that.
Some mornings Zane would wake to find small bits of bread outside. Others, nothing but dust—like him he supposed, after long enough in that cave. Certain days he’d find little tubs of butter and bhang, the stuff that he’d had with Reinhart and the sadhu. At first he would scarf them down only to be sent into wild fits of hallucination.
After that he would store the tubs away, only indulging with caution when he was in particular need of peace.
Many more days passed.
One morning a scuffling of rocks shook Zane from his trance.
“Hello?” His long unused voice was so hoarse as to be unintelligible.
A bright faced young man with searching eyes appeared at the entrance. He mumbled about seeking a teacher, for wisdom or something stupid like that. Zane motioned frantically for him to come inside the cave.
The guy’s clothes looked like they’d fit perfectly.
Zane’s newfound passport was a good match. His height and eye color were spot on, but he would have to dye his hair and gain a few more pounds before he felt safe enough to give it a try at the customs counter.
No matter, there was a working ATM card and a few thousand rupees in cash in that poor bastard’s wallet.
One thing was certain: he felt like a new man.