\[cs\_content\]\[cs\_element\_section \_id="1" \]\[cs\_element\_layout\_row \_id="2" \]\[cs\_element\_layout\_column \_id="3" \]\[cs\_element\_raw\_content \_id="4" \]\[cs\_element\_text \_id="5" \]\[cs\_element\_text \_id="6" \]\[/cs\_element\_layout\_column\]\[/cs\_element\_layout\_row\]\[/cs\_element\_section\]\[/cs\_content\]\[cs\_content\_seo\]Pete and I have been friends since our Freshman year of high school. Our friendship started when I bumped into him. I mean acutely bumped into him. He is a pretty spacey dude, super smart but spacey. We actually collided because he stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the hallway during the first period rush hour. He turned around and caught me by the shoulder steadying me. Then he asked me if I wanted to each lunch at his table? I told him sure if we had the same lunch period. Hallsville, like most schools had several staggered lunches. Sure enough, come lunchtime there he was at a table with a few others. He had saved a seat for me. We were thick as thieves after that. I said earlier Pete is spacey and a little off. Like if the world vibrated at one wavelength he was one octave above it or below it, its hard to say. He is off just enough to vibrate in harmony but not at the same wavelength. He had this tendency to simply stop and stare off into the distance. We could be out camping, at Walmart, or standing next to me as my best man and and suddenly something would catch his eye, something unseen. Then he would come back with a knowing look on his face and be right back in the mix, back with us, back from wherever he went. Another thing about Pete is that he always sees faces in patterns. Say, a tree had some irregular bark patterns on it then he would try and point out parts of it that made up a face or the popcorn ceiling in the house I grew up in. Let me tell you if the clouds were big and billowy, then he goes nuts pointing out the faces. He does it so much that I even started to see them. We shared so much of ourselves with one another. We are truly friends that stick closer than brothers. I went through a season in my life where I became so disillusioned with my job. I had been selling industrial valves to city municipalities for nearly 10 years and I just could not do it anymore. Everyday it was the same thing, wake up, write emails, drive out to the client, fill the order; rinse repeat. I wanted out. I wanted to be my own man. I had always dabbled in photography. I even had sold a few of my more artistic images to various people over the years. Usually I would hang them in my office and eventually one of my vendors or clients would come along and ask me where I got it. Then I would sell it to them. I had it in the back of my mind that making it my career would really make me happy. I was lamenting this to Pete and Kate, my wife, when Pete said that we should do it. We should start a photography business. I was taken back. I asked him to clarify. He told me that living alone all these years and minimally at that, had allowed him to amass a huge nest egg and could not think of a better way to spend it. See Pete had always had artistic tendencies, he wrote a little, drew a little, but had instead pursued a career in web development. Now, this was not a six-figure salary but it was more than a single man needed. I told him that I wanted him to really think about this, and Kate and I would think and pray about it. That night Kate and I lay in bed. I could tell that she was rolling this around in her mind. I love her so much. She has what I refer to as a rock tumbler mind. She is so full of abrasive hope and positivity that just about any idea can be dropped in there and a polished positive outlook will come out, given enough time. Mind you don’t open the tumbler up too early otherwise there are still rough rocks in there. My love rolled over and looked me in the eyes. Those wonderful eyes. The possibilities crackled behind the pools of light brown. She is everything I have ever wanted. “You know Pete is profoundly sad right?” She asked. I was taken back by this. Pete had not mentioned to me anything about sadness. “No, he’s not I would know.” I retorted. She just shook her head. “Typical man. Your best friend has watched you be social, have other friends, get married, and as far as I can tell Pete has just you. Listen I love Pete I am so glad you guys are friends but this photo thing. I think you really need to consider what is best for your friend.” That night I laid awake and thought about the potential photography business and about my friend Pete. I thought about Kate’s words and came to the conclusion that if Pete was really sad he would have told me. Surly my friend of over twelve years would have said something by now. Pete and I decided to have lunch together the next day, to discuss the possibilities. He looked like he always did round glasses, blond beard, the same blond hair down to just below his jawline, graphic tee of which he seemed to have an endless supply. This one said nacho is my middle name with a tortilla chip silhouetted in the corona of some distant star. We saddled to up lunch and a few bites in I brought up last night and we began to discuss the photography business. He let me know that he had plenty of capital to start a business and was happy to do it. You have to understand something about Pete. On the surface, he is a clam placid lake. He gives off the air of having a vast rich thought life. Frankly some of the thoughts that bubble to the surface are truly beautiful. One time he told me that he likes to think birds are the last broken notes of another world’s creation song. They just happened to be leftovers so they got sprinkled here. What most people don’t see is how deep that lake is. The deeper you go the more tumultuous the currents. I have only ever smoked pot once. It was with Pete so I can only assume that he has smoked pot at least once. We were camping and I had brought some because I was young and that is what I did. We both smoked one whole joint in the tent. He just started to ramble. He talked about how he was sure there was a God and that he was also sure that there were at the very least unseen realms. Not multi-verse but other places layered on top of the topography of reality. He also speculated that at some level these layers were separated but that occasionally the layers got pinched together or tangled and that is when things got really weird. Then he started crying and told me that he thought that is why he was so different because that is what had happened to him in his mind. I knew that there was at least some other reason for immediately latching onto this idea of a photography business. I asked him if we needed to break out the pot to get to the bottom of it. A running joke about that night. We both laughed. Then he unloaded. He told me that for some time he had felt lonely and despondent like somehow he was just stuck. He said he loved his job and he loved living in Longview but just could not shake this feeling of missing something. Something really important. I gave him the duh look and told him he needed to date. To find someone other than me to share his life with. You know a girlfriend, maybe a wife. He agreed but said that he had tried and there is just no good way of meeting women in this town. Tinder was a crap show and well he just didn’t feel comfortable in church anymore. Sure he still believed but the whole organization was kind of a real let down. I suggested maybe trivia night at the Oil Horse or any kind of meetup. He shrugged and said he would try but in the meantime, we needed to really dig into what this photography business was going to be. See I was the one that had pursued photography as a hobby, Pete wanted to dabble in it and possibly get his drone pilots license, but would keep his day job and manage the website and help shoulder the editing. This would free me up to gather clients and focus our efforts. There was even a discussion of eventual videography, motion graphics, and commercial shoots. I insisted the split be 70-30 with me taking the smaller percentage. If he was going to supply most of the capital and keep his day job then I wanted him to have the majority ownership. There was an agreement over lunch and after some playful banter with my wife and Pete, that evening, we all decided that Victory Brothers was a great name for a photography business. Now at the risk of glossing over too much detail, Victory Brothers was a success. Apparently, I had a knack for real estate photography. Pete had a knack for drone photography and videography. In short order, we were so busy that he quit his job and had immersed himself in the business. We, dare I say, were happy with the work we were doing and both of us had given ourselves a raise. It was a golden year. One that I cherish. Yet, through the course of the next year, I finally saw what my wife had already told me was there. Pete was incredibly lonely. Lonelier than he had told, possibly by an order of magnitude. Not unhappy, just alone. Many nights I would leave and he would still be there picking away at some edit. Then he would beat me to the office the next morning. I suggested he get a hobby and he perked right up. He said that he had already picked one out. He was going to get into actual film photography. You know all that artistic stuff black and white, dark rooms, chemicals. He was already making plans to build the darkroom into one of the spare rooms we had in office space. In short order, the room was done. I have to admit it was pretty cool. A dark booth was in the corner with true darkness inside. It was used to actually take the film out of the film containers and wash the film. This process produced negatives. Then you could use those negatives with an enlarger, a projector specifically for passing light through negatives, and expose photosensitive paper. Then you just washed that paper in the developer chemicals and you had real tangible prints of the pictures you took. I am pretty sure I have not seen him that excited in a while. It was June in East Texas. Humidity was at its highest and the heat during the day lingered all through the night. East Texas is not the hottest part of Texas but it does tend to be one of the most humid. This causes the heat from the day to just stay. The typical cycle everywhere else, is it’s hot during the day and then cooler at night. Not here. In fact, the temperature would go up at night because the air would just stop moving. In this heat, June’s children would arrive. The June bug is a largish clunky beetle with a pension for filling hot East Texas nights with the sounds of buzzing and clinking sounds as they run into literally every single possible source of light. It was around this time that Kate and I discovered that we were pregnant. The business was doing better than ever, it could not have come at a better time. We had a party with several of our friends and Pete was declared the godfather. That evening while cleaning up after the party, Pete and I were out on the porch. Just the two of us. I was telling him about how nervous and excited I was that I was going to be a dad. When Pete abruptly told me that he was done. The still heat broke through my fatherhood euphoria. The June bugs bounced and clacked on the porch lights. “Done with what?” I asked. He looked at me tears starting to well up in the corners of his eyes. “Done trying to have a normal life. A wife, kids, all of it. I think that is the problem.” He said his voice betraying his sadness. “Done trying to have what everyone else has. Done trying to fall into the groove that everyone else around me seems so happy in. Just done.” We sat in silence for a few minutes. I asked him what that meant practically. He smiled tears still hanging in the corners of his eyes. “I don’t know but nothing that will make much sense to others,” he replied. “Are you trying to tell me you are gay?” I asked sheepishly. “No nothing like that. I just can’t seem to connect with anyone, like you and Kate can.” He said chuckling. “Are you leaving the business?” I asked. “Never! I love what we do in fact I am going to throw myself into this artistic photography more, I think I can make something that really inspires others, maybe even inspire myself.” Then in his old way, he pointed up to a dark cloud caught in the moonlight. “Do you see the face?” That first June Monday rolled in, the first Monday after the party. I came in expecting to see Pete already working and he wasn’t. His stuff was there but there was no Pete. I figured he was in th john so I grabbed my camera and headed out to my first appointment. The house was huge. I was always amazed at the size of the houses people could afford. When I got back with the pictures ready to switch out SD cards and get them to Pete to edit he was still missing. I went and knocked on the bathroom door but got no answer. I thought surely he was not in the darkroom during work hours. I had not really gone into the darkroom since it had been set up but Pete had spent lots of time there. Maybe he was caught up in something. I went in and haphazardly opened the door to the darkroom. This was a mistake. I ended up exposing Pete’s current photo series. At first, he was fine and I was apologetic. As I turned back to leave the room he suddenly threw one of the plastic baths full of chemicals against the wall. He blew up at me yelling about how he had put out so much effort here lately and that a little more courtesy on my part would have been appreciated. He ranted and stomped around. My fear of the confrontation and my concern for my friend wrestled inside of me. He suddenly stopped and walked slowly over to the wall he had thrown the bath up against. The chemicals slowly darkened reacting with the paint on the walls. “Do you see the face?” The stain I admit had the uncanny look and shape of a female’s face. He seemed captivated by it. I asked him if he needed help cleaning up. He without taking his eyes off her said he had it and was sorry for the outburst. He spent several hours in there I presume cleaning up and then came out with a little more bounce in his step. The next few days he spent in the darkroom off and on. He was getting his work done but spending way more time in there than he had been. Then something magical happened. Pete had a date! He invited me and Kate out for a double date and of course, we accepted. Samantha was tall and beautiful. Over the Texas Roadhouse steaks, she regaled us of how she and Pete had met and how he had so boldly asked to take her picture. The day had been so hot and she took a chance and made a day of it with him. Hanging with an artist and one that was not some dweeb still living with his parents seemed like a cool story. I asked when they had met. Samantha told me two weeks ago. A week before the pregnancy party. A week before Pete’s tearful confession. I was really confused. I reached into the customary bucket of peanuts that The Roadhouse is known for and squeezed between my fingers what I thought was a peanut but turned out to be a June bug. The next Monday came. I had not seen or talked to Pete for the whole weekend. I assumed him and Samantha had spent most of that time together. The June bugs around the office seemed to be getting worse. I wondered what could be so attractive to our building that they would be seen even during the day. I opened the door to the office and found Pete there already and accompanied by yet another woman. She had draped herself in an over-sized man’s shirt and was posing on Pete’s desk, while Pete took some very compromisingly angled shots of her. Pete barely acknowledged me coming in. I asked him what was going on? He told me it was part of the art project he was working on. He nodded to the model and she without saying goodbye or anything gathered her things and just left. “Who was that?” I asked. Pete smiled a half-smile and simply said “Jill.” He gathered up his camera equipment and with a kind of excitement and headed for the darkroom. I asked if I could follow. In the darkroom, I quizzed Pete on the girl. He let me know that he had met her just recently while getting some coffee at The Silver Grizzly and had just felt emboldened to ask her to let him take pictures of her. He looked at me and smiled “I think I am finally finding some confidence, finding a way to connect.” He did seem more confident and a little more at ease with himself. I felt really happy for my friend. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see what it was. I thought at the time that maybe it was just my imagination however, it did look like the stain was getting bigger. A few more days went by. A few more days seeing Pete only every now and then outside of the darkroom. He would be working on edits or just coming back in to deposit new photographs in the darkroom. One evening mid-June I just got done sweeping the June bugs out of the office. The things seemed to be crawling in through the seams in the windows, seeping in like liquid. I must have swept several pounds of them out of the office by now. Pete was hugging yet another shapely woman bye and was headed straight to the darkroom without saying anything. I stood up to follow and right before he turned the handle to go in, he turned to me and asked what I was doing? I told him I wanted to talk so I was going to hang out. He slumped a bit and turned back into the office and took his office chair motioning for me to do the same. He asked me if I realized I had never met his parents. I told him that he was crazy and thought back to our high school years. I was stunned. I had never met his parents! We had never discussed them. What kind of crappy friend had I been? All these years bearing my soul to Pete, had I ever let him do the same? Without prompting Pete told me the story of his dad. His single father had been a bit of a recluse. Lots of social anxiety. The man was brilliant but really struggled to connect with the world. He had adopted Pete at a young age because he felt it was the right thing to do. His Dad was a good man, religious and kind. He worked hard and encouraged Pete in all his endeavors. However, he did not teach Pete some of the most important lessons, things like, how to talk to girls, or how to know if you are a good man. He supposed that was what the spiritual training was for but Pete put little stock in it. The Bible taught not to forsake the gathering and fellowship, and there was his dad doing just that. Pete told me that one of the reasons that he has been so despondent his whole life, well up until recently, was because he had never had an ear that would listen and understand. This stung, but I swallowed my pride and let him continue. Pete smiled at me and told me I had been there for him but that I really could not help because I just could not understand. Even now remembering the fight that ensued I feel angry and ashamed all over again. I told him that even if I had not shared his experience how else could I come to understand unless he shared it with me. Even then, if I disagreed with his perspective how else are we supposed to see things differently, without some push back. I admitted I had been selfish and I was sorry for that but he had been cowardly to the same degree, cowardly and untrusting. In my anger, I told him I loved him and I wanted his forgiveness but he needed to see that his hiding from me was his fault, not mine. Pete with his newfound confidence stood up imposing and defiant and reminded me who owned the majority of the business. He told me that if I ever stepped foot in the darkroom again he would liquidate his 70% of the business and dissolve our partnership, my wife and kids be dammed. He then told me that from here on out we are not friends we are simply business partners. This stung more than any financial threat. He escaped the conflict to his darkroom slamming the door leaving me alone and stunned, with the buzzing of June bugs in every corner of our office. I took the rest of that day off to process. After grabbing a quick lunch I headed home and talked with Kate. After some going back and forth we both agreed that Pete was obviously hurting and that I should confront him. He was more important than the business. He just was, he was my friend, my brother. A few more days went by and I saw hide nor hair of Pete. I assumed that he had been working at night to avoid me. I gathered up my nerve and resolved, I was going to win my friend back. He had shown me clearly that I was a really terrible friend. I was not going to continue being that. June 20th I waited till midnight and headed up to the office. The night was hotter than it had been in a while. It hovered around a hundred degrees with no wind. The June bugs clicked and clonked into everything that gave off light or reflected it. They covered my headlights limiting the throw of the beams. When I got to the office it was black with June bugs covering every single inch of the building. It moved and sparkled as the shiny shells of the beetles caught the light. These June bugs were iridescent in the moonlight. The inside of the office gave off little to no light. Why were they all here? I brushed the June bugs away from the door handle and unlocked the office. As I opened the door the June bugs swarmed in around me several hundred came in with me all buzzed and bumped into computer screens and walls. Most lighted on the door to the darkroom. I took a deep breath ignoring the dread that the odd behavior of the June bugs inspired in me and crunching several on the floor approached the darkroom. I hesitated, I pushed my ear against the door, on the other side I heard the sound of buzzing, the sounds of carapaces rubbing against each other and sobbing. I steeled myself and pushing the door open I could not believe my eyes. The walls and floor were covered with June bugs. They spilled out over my shoes as the door swung outward. They covered the amber lights. The light passed through them casting a muddled sepia light over the room. The room was hot, as hot as outside if not hotter. The heat seemed to come off of the June bugs produced by their sheer numbers. Pete stood at the end of the room facing the wall weeping. His shirt was off and the June bugs crawled all over his body mixing with his sweat. His hair was heavy with sweat. Pete sobbed deeply it seemed to wrack his body as his shoulders moved up in down with each heavy breath. He had a stack of what looked like pictures of women. He was wadding them up one at a time and shoving them into the wall. No not the wall. The stain had grown and become more defined. It was clear now that the stain had taken on the shape of a woman and Pete was feeding her the images. Images that he had gathered. Gathered for her. With each picture, the stain became more defined like someone slowly walking out of fog. Then its eyes moved and noticed me. Pete turned around anger and shame were written all over his face. He yelled at me. “I warned you to not come into the here!” He screamed. “Pete what is this!” I asked. “This is my art, this is my connection!. Can’t you see the face! I can see her and she seems to me!” He turned and shoved another picture into her mouth. The arm of the woman twitched tore free of the wall reaching and placing a hand on Pete. Pete let out a howl of pain. The stain her stain began to spread from the place where she had touched him. He stumbled back dropping the pictures. She began to rise up out of the wall now looking more menacing and monsters than a lovely woman. The stain wove and swirled around itself becoming more material. Her face still clearly a woman but woman as terrible predator. Pete screamed again pulling away from her grasp but finding that she held him tightly. My mind raced. Pete cried for me to help him, clearly in pain. I backed away from the room and wondered what was I supposed to do? What was I even dealing with? The stain was spreading down Pete’s arm. Then as if something outside of myself dropped the thought in my head; light! I grabbed one of my stand-mounted camera flashes and plugged it into the extension cord. I grabbed my camera and the flash slave and powered everything on. Then with the stand held underneath my arm like some high-tech lance and the camera in one hand, I fired the flash. The light bounced around the room and the June bugs went nuts. all of them taking flight the room was a cloud of buzzing and smooth iridescent shells. I flashed again and again. Each time I did I caught a glimpse of Pete and the stain. I walked forward, I was not going to let my friend go! Flash, flash like lightening all the while I prayed that it was helping. I got close enough to see through the mad frenzy of the June bugs that indeed it was working. The stain was becoming lighter and it looked panicked. coffee stain like profusions whipped out from the walls surreal in their movement through the air. I flashed again and again until finally, it let Pete go. It howled, the sound of every single secret not told, the sound of a creature who lost its prey. I grabbed him and began to help him out of the darkroom all the while firing the flash. It writhed in anger at our retreat. Like lightening the stain whipped along the surface of the room towards us. The June bugs were clearly helping her as they had formed a wall piled up around the exit. we were so close to the exit. She swirled through the air a menacing lance of ethereal stain and June bug. The tendril latched on to the back of my head. I could feel is spread across the surface of my scalp and my mind. I was in a space a pulsar star spun above. With each sweep of its light I caught a gimps of my surroundings. I was in Longview, downtown Longview. Strange figures walked around me each pulse revealing snippets of their movements. She whispered of need, of lust, of sadness at these, of animal like hunger. My knees buckled and I felt the draw but then from my chest a faint glow shown, a glow from something true but neglected. It was a glow from something more ancient and immortal than anything in creation. Then she released me. I fired my flash again and the June bugs momentarily loosened their formation blocking the door. I lowered my shoulder and barreled into them dragging Pete with me. We made it through ! I jumped to me feet and slammed the darkroom’s door. I did not waste a moment considering what was happening. I helped Pete out to the car and we raced to the hospital. Leaving the stain and the June bugs to rage without us. By the time we got to the hospital, Pete was in and out of consciousness and rambling. He spoke of light, of wanting to be loved and understood, he cried out for me and my help. He spoke the name Nielqu Joughan. He spoke of the heat and the June bugs. The doctors said that he was healthy except for some dehydration and his arm seemed to have suffered some nerve damage. I wasn’t sure what to tell them had happened. They ran some blood tests and his antibody levels were through the roof. I stayed with him until he woke up. He talked, really talked, for the first time in a long time. I listened. He told me that when that stain first showed up he could immediately see her in it. Something about being near her made him feel confident. He felt compelled to feed her the pictures and was very excited as he saw her body slowly come into view. Not like the stain was growing but more like she was slowly being revealed. He didn’t care so much anymore. He didn’t care that he was pushing people away. He didn’t care that he was doing exactly what his dad had done. His dad who, he revealed had died just last year. But when she finally touched him there was so much pain. He said he could feel her running along his veins and nerves hurting him as she went. The pain brought him back. He said that he was glad that I was there. We both apologized for being such ass holes. By the end of June, Texas was even hotter, but Pete was better. He said his arm would probably never work the same or be as strong or reliable but at least he had it. We both went down together to see if she was still there. The office was full of dead June bugs. They crunched under our feet as we approached the darkroom. We both had armed ourselves with high powered strobe lights. We were not taking any chances. We opened the door to the darkroom and surveyed the scene. It had to be thousands of dead or dying June bugs littering every single surface of the room. The chemicals had been spilled and the prints were ripped or gnawed on. Where the stained lady had been the drywall that she had been inhabiting was cut and removed. It was just gone. Like someone had come in and stolen that piece of wall. The hole in the wall was not ripped at all it was a clean mechanical cut. To this day Pete and I are unsure what to think of this. We both sat down and told Kate about it and I think she believes us but then again It is really hard to believe. All I know is this, I am convinced that what that thing was hunting was not Pete but what Pete had held pent up inside. Hiding what was really going on.
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