Last year while I was in Ecuador I paid this old man a hundred bucks to take me on a vision quest. He told me I had to fast for a whole day before I could begin my journey, but I got really hungry about halfway through the first hour and made myself a sandwich. I was a little worried that by ignoring his instructions I was going to turn my vision quest into some kind of a stomach quest, but my metabolism is much faster than everyone else’s, and so I felt that this was an acceptable breach of our agreement. We left in the middle of the night, walking straight out of town, off the only road, right through the woods.
About two months earlier, I had attempted a vision quest, but after asking everyone about where I should go, I found myself in this really dingy optometrist office. I realized my error too late, but the eye doctor was so thrilled to have my business that I felt more than a little guilty just walking away without at least having had my eyes checked out. It was a huge mistake. There were way too many weird drops in my eyes. My pupils felt dilated and constricted all at the same time. I couldn’t see the color green for a week after, and when it finally returned, I realized that the seemingly regular looking black-framed glasses I had bought at his office were in fact, yeah, lime green.
On this real vision quest I was told not to bring anything. When the guide said this to me, I assumed a flashlight was the obvious unspoken exception to this rule. I mean, what’s the point of a vision quest if you can’t see anything? When I pulled it out about an hour into our hike, my guide starting screaming, accusing me of breaking the sacred traditions of his ancestors. “Whatever man,” I tried to tell him, “It’s just a flashlight.” But I think he was getting even angrier because I was pointing it at his face, switching it on and off while he was yelling. He started dancing around and, assuming it was all a part of the vision quest, I tried my best to mimic his moves. But what really wound up happening was that, I’m guessing because of the flashlight, a giant moth had flown out of the darkness and had somehow gotten stuck under the back part of his shirt. I turned it off and played dumb until the old man got a hold of himself.
He took two thermoses out of his satchel and handed me one. I opened it up and was overcome by this horrible smell. It’s what I had always expected of a vision quest, drinking some disgusting mix of herbs and spices and whatever else might be in there. I didn’t want to prolong the agony so I downed it all in one gulp. Then the old man said, “And now we honor my ancestors by partaking in this most ancient of traditions. Hold your cup to the sky and allow the sacred spirits of the forest to infuse this divine brew.” It was really dark and I’m guessing that without a flashlight he couldn’t tell that I had already jumped the gun. After an hour or so of speeches and cup holding, the guy poured the contents of his cup onto the ground. He instructed me to do the same. At this point he must have heard my cup clearly not getting emptied, and he told me to get on with it. “You see,” I told him, “I, uh, drank mine already. Was I not supposed to?”
“You fool!” he cried out. That’s when things got vision-questy. I reached for my flashlight only to find that I was surrounded by flashlights. I tried to turn one of them on, but my fingers weren’t working right. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have fingers at all. Instead of arms, I found that I had two really long flashlights. And Instead of hands, I had two smaller flashlights. And where my fingers used to be now sat ten tiny flashlights, like those freebie flashlights that are usually included in the box when you buy a real flashlight.
I was more flashlight than man at this point, but maybe that’s what was supposed to happen. If only I could figure out how to turn even just one of them on. The old man called to me. “Rob!” he said. I couldn’t see him. Was he made up of flashlights also? I could only hope so. “Where is the power button?” I asked him. He responded, “Inside! Look inside!” And I knew that he wasn’t talking about anything physical, like a switch, but more about something deeper, like an inner light or something. And I stretched out my flashlight body to the heavens and screamed out, “On!” and everything went on. There were illuminated flashlights everywhere. And there it was, right in front of me, the little flashlight that I was told I shouldn’t have brought along in the first place.
“I’m so sorry,” I tried to tell the little flashlight, “I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to bring you here!”
But it turned to shine right on me. It gave me a gentle, knowing look and said, “It’s OK Rob! This is how it has to be!”
Just then another group of flashlights called out to it. It was its family; I just know it was. It smiled and waved goodbye to me and then hopped on over to be with them. “Goodbye!” I said, but I’m not sure if it heard me. Then everything got so bright that I couldn’t see anything.
I woke up the next morning lying on the ground, mosquitoes devouring my exposed skin. The old man was gone. I reached for my flashlight but I couldn’t find anything, just a couple of size C batteries lying a few feet away.