"What if the story is true?" Randy asked, passing me a joint.
I shrugged, pinched the hand-rolled smoke between my fingers, and inhaled through pursed lips, feeling the burn go deep into my lungs. "Then we enjoy a nice morning walk on a pleasant day in the canyon. Where did Doug say this space/time hole was?"
He laughed. "You don't remember?" Tinny sounds emitted from the earphones looped around his neck, which were attached to his classic iPod.
"I don't remember. I was kind of drunk. Betsy was making strong drinks that night."
He snorted, finishing the joint. "She thinks she can turn you."
"What, straight?" I laughed and drew up my knees, hugging them. "Fat fucking chance."
A hawk sailed slowly overhead, riding the air currents, looking for food. In the distance, on the side of a tree-covered hill, I saw a rabbit scurry for cover. The hawk circled, banked, and flew on.
Laurel Canyon was well settled, but there weren't many houses in this area; it almost felt like Randy and I were alone in the middle of nowhere. I could only see Doug's house if I stood and craned my neck just so. We heard no cars, no planes flew overhead…it was wonderful.
I'm Ethan Mars. I'm around six feet tall, lean, and have a head of black curls. I'm a photographic artist who recently sold a piece for one million dollars. I banked it and nothing changed except I no longer worried about making the rent each month. I didn't live in Laurel Canyon, where our asses were now parked on a sun-warmed rock near our friend Doug's house. I lived in Silverlake, in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom house a couple blocks off West Sunset Boulevard. Coming up here was always a pleasure. It had rained last night, washing the dust off the gentle tree-covered slopes and leaving the air smelling sweet.
"He said a friend of a friend of a brother's uncle or something was walking around out here and passed through a funny cloud--and yes, before you ask, he'd been smoking--and found himself in another time. Like, pioneer days. They didn't have electricity or flush toilets or DVDs." He affixed a roach clip to what remained of the joint and took a last hit. "I figure, if we're stoned, we'll be able to see it, too. But what if we go into that other world and can't get back? You have a gallery show starting December 27 and the band is playing Roxie Hart's Christmas Eve."
I laughed and shook my head when he offered me the roach. "I don't think we have to worry about that, but the friend of a friend of whatever got back, right?"
"Oh. Yeah." He smiled. "Okay, let's do it." He jumped to his feet and started walking down a shady trail overhung with branches.
Grabbing my camera (remembered the camera, forgot the cell phone, which was usual), I followed, alert to photo ops. I rarely went anywhere without one, and this was one of my sturdier models, a point and shoot that also offered manual settings.
It was early morning, chilly and clear, the sun shining without much heat this late in the year. Christmas was ten days away.
Flipping up the collar of my jacket against the frosty air, I trailed him as he stumbled down a barely discernable path, shoving his way past bushes and tree branches that had grown into it. Some of them sprang back in my face and I hung back. There was no chance of getting wildlife photos when he was barging around like a moose in heat, scaring away anything nearby.
We'd been walking for half an hour when he stopped and held up a hand. "Ethan!"
I looked in the direction he was pointing and twenty feet in front of us, under the spreading branches of a copper beech, I saw semi-transparent wisps of white flowing together and pulling apart a few feet above the ground. "That's called fog, Randy."
"Why is it only in that one spot then? There's no water nearby and the temperature seems fairly constant."
"We don't know it's only in that one spot. Never assume, man." I brushed past him, heading for the mist.
"Wait!" he yelped, grabbing my arm. "Together, just in case, you know..."
"In case the fog decides to swallow me whole?" Chuckling, I kept walking, dragging him along. "Didn't they make a cheesy movie about that?" Even close up, it looked like fog. Thin, wispy, and I could see through it to the woods behind.
I stuck a hand in the stuff, waggling it around and making faces at him as I intoned, "Bwahahahahaha...."
He rolled his eyes. "Asshole. I'm getting hungry. Let's drop by Doug's place, see what he has in the fridge."
"Yeah, okay." So much for seeking out Shangri-La.
It was at that moment that a buck broke cover a few yards away, dancing to a stop at the sight of us, huffing in surprise, head thrown up, nostrils flared. The sun turned its coat golden-red and illuminated its impressive four-point rack. I turned, flipped the lens cap off the camera, focused, and started shooting.
Behind me, Randy was whispering, "Wow..." in a voice breathy with awe.
The fog shifted, flowing across my lens, screwing up my shots. I started moving slowly through it, trying to think myself invisible, hoping he'd stay long enough for me to clear the mist.
Abruptly, the stag was gone. The terrain changed. The temperature dropped 10-20 degrees, and behind me, I heard my name, carried on a breeze that quickly died. "Ethan!"
I looked back. No Randy, and the landscape was different. Instead of seeing the familiar hills of Laurel Canyon, I was looking down into a wide valley, surrounded on three sides by snow-topped mountains densely covered with trees. Two farms sprawled across the open area, and off to the north, I saw the blue of a wide river.
I sank into the tall yellow grass beneath me, biting my lip. "Guess I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto."