An Introduction to Belief
A Credencium story
Kaolin Imago Fire
Start at the beginning of the Credencium series
Phoenix giggled, then coughed, smoke billowing out her mouth and nose.
Spike shook his head, taking the joint from her outstretched hand. "I still can't believe it."
Phoenix collected herself, coughing a few more times. "You do believe it. You believe in its reality as much as I do, or we wouldn't be having this discussion. Whatever happened—"
Joshua broke in. "Whatever happened, we'll figure it out, and we'll get your memories back. I believe that. We just have to…how did you put it? Think around their assumptions, right?" He took the joint from Spike, inhaling carefully, letting oxygen in through his nose to dilute the smoke. He swallowed, then exhaled slowly, concentrating on the heat rolling through his body, trying to ignore the rumble in his stomach.
"And that's why you're the Dreamer." Phoenix smiled. "Well, one why. Plus I dreamed you...dreamed you dreaming me. How fucked up is that? But my belief's no good. No good, no good…." She drifted into sing-song, rocking back and forth with three blankets wrapped around her.
Joshua winced. "Shit. J.D., you sure there aren't any more blankets?"
John Doe called back from the kitchen, "That's everything I could find. How's she doing?" A kettle whistled sharply, and then subsided.
Spike got up. "She's having a fugue. You checked the hallway closet and the bathroom, yeah?"
"Why the bathroom?"
"They don't have any medicine strong enough, or if they did they took it with them."
"Well, damn. So…. You think we should try to bring her back?"
"I think this tea should help. You should think that, too. Chamomile, made with love." John Doe knelt down beside Phoenix, holding a mug in one hand, kneading her shoulder with his other. "Come on, Ashes. Come back to us."
Her eyelids twitched. A tremor shook her body. Her mouth moved uneasily, rhythmically pushing out disjoint strings of sound.
John Doe put his ear to her lips for a minute, then set the tea down, shaking his head. "She's deep in there, whatever they did to her. If she's anywhere."
Joshua looked at him. "You know who did this?"
He shrugged, and looked at Spike. Spike shrugged back. "We've got a good guess. The crowd she used to run with went a little nuts, before we knew her. They…."
Spike chimed in, "They kind of had a falling out. Grandiose plans gone awry type stuff. Anyway, the Golden Dawn—"
"No relation," cautioned John Doe.
Joshua looked at him. "No relation?"
Spike shrugged, and nodded to John Doe.
"No relation to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, or at least none that I know of beyond they like the name, and they were looking to bring a new dawn to humanity."
"Well, that's where the falling out happened. Phoenix was really good at not going into the details. But she left…or they kicked her out…or something like that. Spike?"
"They did something to her when they parted ways. I mean, they were her family on the streets for years, I don't know how many. I think she'd been a big part of what they were going to be, and they wanted her back, but different. Maybe different like she is now, I don't know. They…sealed off her ability to effect reality."
"And even so, she's our guru."
Phoenix's mumbling stopped; they all turned to her as she opened her eyes. "Dreamer?"
"I'm here, Phoe—Ashes. Ashes. J.D. made you some tea. You should drink it."
Phoenix smiled wanly, and looked around. "They're all in my head. They're—it's not them. Echoes. But them, like them. John Doe, what have you got?"
He knelt beside her again, and lifted the chamomile tea to her lips. "A slight palliative. All natural." He smiled. "With love, of course."
Phoenix sipped at it, then leaned back, yawning deeply. "I would expect no less, dear one." She coughed, paused, then coughed again, throatily, covering her mouth with the crook of her elbow. After she recovered, she continued, "But I'm not sure it's enough. They hit a reset on me, but it's not sitting right. My soul feels loose; heady. I'm…I'm tired." She adjusted the blankets, and curled up into them. "Someone help Dreamer dream. I need to sleep. Maybe I'll dream his dream, too." Two muffled coughs came through the blankets.
John Doe tucked her in better, and looked at Joshua contemplatively. "So, grasshopper who would be a butterfly. I'll pack a bowl and we can sit on the back porch, where there's less distractions." He went back into the kitchen before Joshua could reply.
Joshua stood shakily, feeling the pot in his muscles. He blinked his eyes, and took a deep, cotton-fuzzy breath, then smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "J.D., got any more tea left?"
Spike scooted closer to Phoenix, and curled up near her. Joshua stumbled into the kitchen. "J.D.?" There was nobody there, though he saw another cup of tea had already been poured. He picked up the mug, cradling it in his hands, and breathed in the smell. It set off soft fireworks in his head, muffled but effervescing. The taste, as he took a sip, was of lavender and rose petals. He had to take another sip to believe it, and the second left him flushed and warm. He wondered, for a moment, what else might have been in the tea.
He waited around a little bit, and then decided John Doe must have already gone out the back. Peering around, he didn't see him, so he went back to check on Phoenix and Spike. A worry was gnawing its way down his spine, and it clamped on harder when he saw neither of them were where he'd left them in the living room.
He checked the bathroom, and the bedrooms, but it didn't seem like there was any life around at all. The tension in his back opened up as a maw in his gut. He should have expected this. Whatever was going on, no matter how safe he felt—
A hand fell on his shoulder, and he jumped, though John Doe's soothing voice was quick to fill in the space. "Belief is powerful, especially belief rooted in fear. If you know a person, that's the easiest way into sleight of mind."
Joshua's heart pounded in his chest, his breath coming thicker. "Dude. That was so, so not cool."
"You had to believe it, really and truly believe it in your core. That was the fastest way. Keep looking straight ahead…."
Phoenix and Spike were lying there, same as they had always been. He hiccuped, feeling the tension drain away, not trusting anything that was going on; but believing it wholeheartedly.
"Alright. I'm going to go outside again, and actually smoke a bowl. See if you can find me."
"Trust your instincts. Don't trust what doesn't feel right—like someone walking on your grave, or watching you. Goosebumps, inexplicable nervousness, that's the first sign. You can tune that."
He took a deep breath, calming himself. He could do that.
Two weeks later, Joshua was utterly exhausted, and twitchier than a broke, detoxing speed freak. They all knew, as much as they didn't want to, that they were pushing him at an untenable, unsustainable rate. He didn't have the hang of belief, but he was starting to get the feel for it being manipulated, consciously, and unconsciously. He was amazed by the constant ebb and flow of the subconscious beliefs around him.
Everyone did it, whether they meant to or not. It had a slightly different smell when it was intentional, but that wasn't black and white. A surprising number of people played with belief, testing it but not trusting it. The city was thick with shifting tides, following the moon, the day of the week…. Berkeley was a locus for trying out new ideas, identities, and beliefs.
Tonight was a full moon, and a Friday. It was going to be crazy, and Joshua had errands to run, preparing for the ritual that Spike and John Doe were devising, with occasional input from Phoenix.
Phoenix was really not doing well, having fewer periods of lucidity, and incredible fatigue. They'd brought her to the Berkeley Free Clinic, but it wasn't an STD, and there was only so much equipment and tests the clinic had on hand. They'd suggested she go to the emergency room, but Phoenix wasn't having that. She did, at least, accept a light regimen of aspirin and ibuprofen that Spike was able to pick up from a youth shelter periodically.
For all that he was learning, opening himself up to, Joshua was extremely frustrated with both his progress and Phoenix's. If they were really going to do whatever it was that was needed, they needed her in the game; he needed her in the game, teaching him, teaching all of them. And he needed a good couple days of sleep. He could kill someone for a good couple days of sleep.
John Doe was prepping the house, and Spike was looking after Phoenix. Joshua was off to meet the wizard, and pick up a laundry list of drugs. He was a bit nervous, never having gone to a strange dealer's house before. He almost chuckled at the phrasing in his head, but it really did feel skuzzy, somehow. He'd always just gotten stuff through his friends. Wasn't that what peer pressure was for? Once upon a time, he'd promised himself that was the only way he would ever partake. He hadn't realized how easily things could change, how easily everything—reality—could change.
Foot traffic declined steadily as he walked west, towards the bay…as did the greenery and the quality of houses. Soon the closest attempt at a garden was a potted plant or two, cracked, and houses were in disrepair on tiny plots, some even boarded up. Traffic was backed up and almost seemed to be holding itself there, everybody sitting in their cars, sure that they weren't going anywhere fast. Occasionally, a motorcycle would slip by between the cars traveling west and the cars parked to their side. Joshua shuddered, imagining how easily something could go wrong—and quickly clamped down on that thought, trying not to let it grow into expectation, let alone belief.
That was his second task: the exercise, trying to hold it all together while walking into a hostile environment. West Berkeley, twined with Oakland to the south, was a relatively poor and desperate area, especially in contrast to the largesse and vibrancy of campus, not more than a couple of miles away. South of Ashby, on the west side, was by and large, past the realm of students. Most folks, at that point, would just commute on one of the many arms of the light rail system.
The hairs on Joshua's back pricked up. He crossed through traffic at a stop light, and cut down a block deeper south, trying to seem casual as he cast around for what might have been tingling his danger sense.
The smell of dog hit him in the gut, and he froze, trying to imagine himself as tiny and inconspicuous. Cerberus. And all of a sudden, as if it had always been obvious, Joshua understood where his reaction to Cerberus really came from. It came from Cerberus, from Cerb's belief that Joshua would and should be powerless before him. Joshua could let that wash over him, and away. He could accept that he might feel some fear, but he wouldn't—
Cerberus walked towards him, and Joshua stood his ground. They stared at each other for a minute and then Cerberus nodded. "So you're starting to come around. How does it feel?"
"What do you want, Cerb?"
"Today, I'm just an observer. It seemed best to do that away from your new friends—"
"Like I had old friends?"
"It's complicated, Dreamer."
"No, you don't call me Dreamer. That's her name, and she's in trouble because of you."
"That's complicated, too."
"No, Cerb. It's real simple. What is this? I've got shit to do."
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"Dammit. For what it's worth, I can't deal with your mind games. The situation's a little too weird, right? I don't want to believe you're an insincere fuck, I don't want to polarize things, but…I don't know? Do you want to explain it all to me?"
Cerberus shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I want to, but…not today." He turned his back, and walked away.
Joshua watched until Cerberus had gone a block, and then shivered. It felt as if a spell had just rolled off of him; and while he couldn't shake the feeling that there were still eyes on him, he shrugged and turned around. There were more important—more urgent—things to deal with.
The apartment looked no different from any of the others when he walked up to it, and he assumed that was a good thing. There was a heavy, high-pressure cloud of belief rolling around, sparking brightly. Joshua took a deep breath—it smelled right, like ozone. He knocked, refraining from doing anything cute.
"Yeah?" The voice was nasal but rough, and resonated with the door.
"I'm looking for Simon."
"I'm a friend of John Doe's. He said you had party favors?"
Joshua heard deadbolts unlocking.
A lanky man in an unkempt, probably unwashed, sweat suit opened the door. Smells of pot and mildew leaked out, mixing with ozone and exhaust.
"We don't do favors here, if you know what I mean. But come on in." Simon closed the door behind him, then sat down in the center of a large, ratty couch. He gestured to a plush chair in similar condition. "I have to say, I don't like J.D. just passing my name around."
Joshua took a deep breath, trying to inhale some of the possibility rolling through the room, adding it to his voice. "Look, do you know Phoenix?"
"Okay. Well, she's in trouble. J.D.'s trying to put together a spirit journey to bring her back."
Simon relaxed back into the couch. "You kids and your games. Well, I can trust that. So what are the ingredients for this party of yours?"
"I need, umm, a gram of salvia, sixty migs of five-methoxy, ten tabs of acid—"
"Kids in a candy store! You know how to use all that?"
"Yeah, well, J.D. does. He's going to be the sober. Also, uh, five tabs of ex, and a quarter ounce of pot."
"I can do all that except the ex."
Joshua chuckled. "J.D. said you had a bit of a love/hate relationship with ex."
"J.D. talks too much, maybe." Simon got up and retrieved three briefcases from the bedroom.
"Sorry. I, uh, I trust that he doesn't."
"Keep that in mind, then. Have you done 5-MEO before? Five-methoxy?"
"I don't think so."
"You would know." Simon smiled. "I like—"
"No, I mean, I really don't know. It's been a couple of wild-ass months, and I'm just starting to figure it all out."
Simon smile dropped. "This sure doesn't seem like the best way to figure things out, but it's your mind. Here…." He unwrapped a piece of tinfoil. "Does this smell ring any bells?"
Joshua's vision shook and compressed, tendrils looping through his eyes and nose and ears. "Oh my God." His heart sped up, knocking loudly against his chest. "Yeah, yeah it does."
"Alright, then, I don't need to introduce you to it." Simon chuckled. "It's one of my favorites, and I love watching folks break their hymen on it. I'll just cut it up and baggie it. Sixty milligrams, you said?"
"Yeah." Joshua started to relax.
Heavy footsteps walked by outside, then came back to the door. Someone knocked loudly.
Simon turned his head. "Yeah?"
Simon looked at Joshua with annoyance. Joshua whispered, "What?"
"Ask them who it is," Simon whispered back.
Joshua wrinkled his nose and forehead. "Why?"
Simon gestured to the drugs.
Joshua shrugged, shaking his head. "Who wants to know?" he asked in an attempted growl.
"Berkeley Police. We've got a warrant."
Simon swore at Joshua.
Joshua shook his head vehemently.
"You did, you just don't know how yet. Fuck!"
"What do we do?" Joshua asked. But the room was empty.
The police called out again, "Open up!"
Joshua looked around, trying to feel Simon's presence, but the five-methoxy had triggered something in him, rolling old associations around that he had to struggle against.
The door blew open as locks ripped out of the plaster wall. Two cops entered, holding their guns on him. "Simon Sezowski, you're under arrest!" They were looking right at Joshua. Why were they looking at him?
"I'm—But! But I'm not—he was just—I mean—"
The cops laughed while they cuffed him and read him his rights.
Story and image by Kaolin Imago Fire, Copyright 2011