The Rampant Lands Pt.6- The Honorable Caucus of Lushes

-From The Journal of Big Denny Walsh-

I’m not sure how many days or weeks had passed since my time with Juno. I also can’t remember exactly how many nights I thought about the promises that we made and how many I was distracted by something else. I am pretty damn certain though that the ratio favored the latter. The group I was travelling with and I passed the time trying to convince each other that the things that we found ourselves interested in was worth the others being interested in as well.

They took turns boring each other and me with fantasies they had created but had tricked themselves into believing were truths. If the scenery hadn’t been changing consistently, I would’ve sworn that we were walking around in circles: Prophets, perfect women, and heroics. The topics ran around, rabid, in circles and knots. I wish I could’ve convinced them that we needed to stay focused on the town with the guitars and the mountain drums.

I felt like there was a change coming for our group. I still feel it, like there’s something coming that is going to shake us, I thought we had already reached it when we came across the gathering in front of that building with the columns, but I don’t think that was it. Although, maybe that place was just the first swipes of the brush that will change our colors.

We were caught off guard by it, but I don’t really think we should’ve. Yet, when we passed through a thin patch of woods we didn’t know how we couldn’t see the building sooner. Maybe the fact we couldn’t see the building could be excused somehow, but there’s no way we shouldn’t have seen the mass of people standing in front of it. When we did finally see them though, the cycle of topics we had been rolling over dissipated from our minds and curiosity seeped in. We moved to join the mass, and discover what was happening there.

It was nearly impossible to integrate ourselves into the sea of people and remain a single unit. We split up and slipped our ways through the small spaces between shoulders and faces. Eventually, I could see what had drawn everyone to that building with the columns. Up a small flight of stairs that stretched across the length of the building, up on a plateau was a pair of piles of wooden crates. In front of each stack was a person. They just stood there at first as the people below spoke amongst themselves. There was so many voices that I couldn’t make out what the conversations were about, but I could tell that there was passion behind the words. Passion and an anger that I could taste; it was oddly succulent and addictive.

I wove my way through the people, trying to scavange bits of the countless talks happening, but everytime I thought I had a hook on a subject a voice from somewhere else would latch onto my focus starved mind. I would then try and track down that voice but I was inevitably snared by another before I could find it. I felt like I was trying to piece together a puzzle using pieces from a hundred different sets. When the commotion finally came to an end I was left with a monstrous impression of what was being spoken about. Foreign threats and elitism, availability and tradition, effectiveness and pride, they all came together in a mosaic of confusion. It was a pretty useless thing to have in my head.

The silence did come though. It came quickly and suspiciously, like it was planned, or well practiced at least. The all began to turn, one group at a time towards the stage and the piles of crates. I wish I had known it was going to happen, that way I could’ve avoided the awkward moment of staring one way, with a thousand others staring the opposite way. I turned around and hoped that my momentary lapse in rotation wasn’t noticed too much. Thankfully, it seemed like they were all more concerned with the stage than my face staring into theirs.

I was jealous of those around me when the two on the stage began speaking. They seemed prepared for what was coming, steadfast in the barrage of words that began to pour out. I don’t think I’m an idiot, maybe I’m not completely smart, but I’m not stupid, I know a lot of words. But, when the first group of syllables hit my ears, I have to admit that I was confused. The opening statements mirrored the fragments of conversations I had heard earlier, but the jaggedness started to smooth itself away and the catalyst of the whole shindig became apparent. At first I didn’t want to admit to myself that the words I was hearing like “smoothness” and “drinkability”. I had heard these words before during commercials for cheap booze and surely that wasn’t what was happening here.

Yet, to my surprise that’s exactly what was happening there. The two stacks of crates behind their representatives were filled with bottles of vodka and whiskey respectively. By some sick coincidental twist of luck or fate or walking speed, we had found ourselves present on the eve of a massive party and just like every time before it, the choice of alcohol had to be made. The points were made quickly, not at all completely, and in large quantities. Apparently no one wanted a repeat of the choice of gin the year before, so the fact that vodka was clear became a talking point. Someone once told the person representing vodka that the people who made the whiskey also made the cola, the ice, and the glass, so to support whiskey would be to support monopolies. Also, vodka apparently didn’t have enough flavor so it was unfit to serve the congregation’s festivities, just like whiskey was unfit due to it being only appealing to a slim amount of the people’s palates.

They went on like this for awhile. I didn’t really understand why it was happening or the point of it all and I didn’t think that was such a strange thing to feel. But, when I looked around me it seemed like everyone else was enraptured with the narratives given to them. They’re eyes were steadfast and solid like the stances that they were sharing with the two speaking on the stage. I scanned the people around me, desperate to find someone else to be as confused and unsure about the whole thing, or at least my friends. The speeches finally stopped though and for a moment I thought that I was safe from ever having to reveal my lack of understanding.

The crowd began to disperse after the speeches were done. It reminded me of ice breaking up and floating away in smaller sheets. The people went off in smaller groups where the discussions continued about vodka and whiskey. I was able to reconnect with my own group as the area became less congested. I expected to be able to share my confusion with them, yet when I found them they were already in the middle of a debate.

The King was talking about how vodka was the logical choice because of all the things that could be mixed with it. His hands flailed about as if he was conducting an orchestra and every syllable was a crescendo. Chester sparred with him, trying to counter his points with accusations of his patriotism. I still don’t know how anyone could be considered a patriot in a land that really didn’t have nations. Patrick and Trenton echoed each other in an unending cycle of praise for whiskey. How did they come across this information? When during our wanderings did they somehow become experts of distilled liquids.

Something strange began to happen though. I really didn’t care what type of booze we’d end up drinking that night, I didn’t quite understand why we couldn’t just drink both. The closest thing I had to a position was a slight preference for vodka over whiskey, but even that could change depending on the day. But, when I heard vodka being ripped apart to make whiskey seem better I found myself wanting to defend it. A compulsion rose up in me, I had to speak just as viciously against the thing that now felt like an enemy. The times I enjoyed whiskey became weak and misty until they simply evaporated and were then replaced by times when I’m sure my future was damaged by it, I was directly abused by it, lied to by it.

The arguments and debates raged onward into the twilight hours. With the slowly retreating light my friends took on a different appearance. As we fought over our choices the shadows on their faces deepened and the details that made them human became softer and harder to see. By the time the crowds began to merge back into one homogenous mass of spite and anger I didn’t have friends anymore, just embodiments of an opposition I was unfortunately saddled with.

I was expecting there to be a drawn out complicated process when it came to taking the final vote. Maybe I’m just wishing there was. For something that the people of that gathering and I had grown to believe was important I felt as if it deserved a bit of complexity. But, ultimately it came down to a simple vocal vote. It was a goddamn talent show where no one had talent, only social sway. First they asked everyone to make a noise, any noise if they supported vodka. Then the same for whiskey. That was it, two rounds of mindless screaming and the decision was made and even though my preference won the night, I felt no sense of victory. Only an unshakable feeling of shame for having participated at all.

Still, shame and all, I drank that night, heavily. We all did. Bottle after bottle we emptied into ourselves allowing the alcohol shield us from the actions of the day. We baptized ourselves in vodka and allowed our actions to be washed away by its forgiveness. By morning we who thought we were qualified enough to make any sort of decision were writhing against each other in an ocean of forgotten inhibitions and slobbering madness. Just as we would have had whiskey had won. The night seemed to blur itself in a way that most of our drunken nights had not. As if we were all willing the hours spent there to be eliminated. In fact, there was only one detail I remember and I pray it remains that way as my memory of the night fights to return. Sometime during the night I overheard a conversation about a particular town, one where they all played guitars and drums come from the mountains above. I was able to hear the conversation clearly in a way that I wasn’t able to do earlier. They talked about the voices of the people from the town, how they would join together in joyful choruses and melancholy airs. It was a simple declaration, but enough to reinvigorate my determination to find that fucking town and make it my home. In fact, coupled with what I had endured that day, the possibility of being there felt like the only way that my time in The Rampant Lands would be worthwhile.

When my group and I awoke, we didn’t spend much time in front of the building with the columns before deciding it was time to move on. We agreed that we had spent a strange moment during our time there and that was all the credence we’d give it. We decided that we were still friends. Yet, I still wonder whether or not we’re on a path where the term friend would be used in title only. I took a final look at the stage where the crates were displayed for the vote. All of the crates holding the vodka had been destroyed in a rage to find their contents and oddly enough a good number of the whiskey crates had been opened as well.

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