Today, we’re pleased to present “The Rave,” an excerpt from Kevin Maloney’s novel Cult of Loretta. Set largely in Portland in the late 1990s, it follows the life of Nelson, a young man who embarks on a self-destructive relationship with a woman named Loretta. Along the way, Nelson encounters everything from Y2K-inspired survivalists to Capoeiera enthusiasts to Heatmiser (the band, not the character). At times, it’s bleakly funny; at others, it ventures into seriously unsettling physical and emotional territory.
We arrived at the rave at 8 p.m. sharp, but the quarry was deserted.
“Guess we should have made pizza,” said Loretta.
“These things take time, honey bun. Be patient,” said Bennie.
We parked on a ridge overlooking the valley. It was cold, so the three of us snuggled up together under a blanket. Bennie loaded a two-foot bong and we each took a hit and held it in too long and coughed like we had bronchitis.
A thousand bats circled overhead, black half-realities shooting briefly across the indigo. Bennie said, “Man this rave is wild.”
Loretta took turns kissing us, and then we took GHB, a liquid date rape drug that felt like semen rolling around on our tongues.
Bennie said, “You guys, you can totally see the Milky Way from here.”
We looked up and saw a purple watercolor bleeding over the stars. It reminded me of how tiny and ridiculous my body was in the grand scheme of things and that it didn’t really matter if I was alive or dead.
The bats gave way to coyotes, then the voices of ghosts.
I asked Bennie, “Why the HazMat suit?”
He said, “We’re on a nuclear reservation.”
“Then why do you live here?” I asked.
“Cheap,” he said.
They weren’t ghosts. They were Montanan teenagers high on drugs. They found our pickup.
They were the opposite of us—two girls and a boy. The girls had dreadlocks. The boy had bloody scratch marks up and down his arms and was missing both front teeth.
“Bike accident,” he whistled, straddling a Huffy in a tank top that said “EAT MY SHIT” in black Sharpie.
We got them high, and then Loretta started kissing the kid on the bike. His name was Eric. He put his hand down the front of her shorts and licked the outside of her mouth. He said, “Dang you’re weird looking.” Loretta said thanks and they went off together to find gemstones.
Bennie and I stayed behind and drank beer with the hippie girls. One of them said her name was Yesterday. She pointed at the Big Dipper and said it looked like a pot pipe. Then she told us that when she was five, her dad was up in a bucket truck trying to fix a power line when a school bus plowed into him; he fell thirty feet and smashed his brains on the blacktop in front of 37 second graders.
The other girl listened, making hemp jewelry. Bennie kept saying, “Heavy. Heavy, man. Heavy.”
I got worried about Loretta and went looking for her. Soon we were all looking, wandering around the quarry. Somebody turned on a flashlight, and then we saw incredible things, like shale and veins and rainbow-pierced quartz inside of glowing yellow circles.
We found Loretta and Eric by a campfire, naked inside an Oakland Raiders blanket. Two-thirds of Loretta’s manta ray was visible. I couldn’t tell if they’d just made love or if the goat smell was Loretta’s little burps regurgitating her glass of body-temperature milk.
I started crying because I realized that Loretta wasn’t a sadistic serial monogamist, she was a nymphomaniac. But the longer I looked at her, the more I realized it wasn’t Loretta. She had Loretta’s face and body, but there was dust under one of her nostrils and one of her eyes was crossed. She’d just done screw for the first time. She was in the Other Country.
Something like a four-armed elephant god seemed to be revealing itself to Loretta with the soft touch of a serial killer sawing the arms and legs off a prostitute. I’d never seen her look so stunned and simultaneously in wonder of it all.
Eric was holding an imaginary AK-47, pointing it at each of us, going, Atta-atta-atta-atta. Got yer skull and yer skull and yer skull and yer skull!
Loretta held up her hand and said, “It’s bones. After everything they taught us, we’re just goddamn bones!”
This rave was getting out of hand. I grabbed Loretta and said it was time to go.
She said, “What happened to your skin, Nelson? You look like a pirate flag.”
I said that from what I could tell, she’d ingested a drug stronger than Comet and that I didn’t care which of us was her boyfriend, somebody had to take control of the situation.
Bennie said, “Oh dang, they’re screwheads.”
I asked, “What’s a screwhead?”
He said, “Everything’s bigger in Montana.”
Loretta said, “I’m not going anywhere; I just crawled inside my mother.”
Bennie said, “Settle down Nelson. This is a rave. When in Rome.”
Eric cut Bennie a line. Bennie snorted it, looked up, and said, “Jesus, Nelson, what happened to your skin?”
I didn’t want anything to do with screw, but one of the hippie girls started kissing me and I kissed her back, not realizing she’d just rubbed screw into her gums.
First there is a black lake.
Then you die.
Once you’re dead, you go inside your mother again.
This is called the Other Country.
Here they remove your skin. At this stage you’re called a “poltergeist.”
Kissing the hippie girl, I could see her bones. I couldn’t remember her name and she used too much tongue, but her eye sockets were wonderful.
I thought of Mrs. Adams’s art class, the day she opened the broom closet, brought out a skull, and said, “It’s time to draw heads.” She put it on a pedestal in the middle of the room and everybody got out their notepads. I started to draw, but the whole time I kept thinking, Jesus—whose face used to be attached to that thing?
For a while we were skeletons. Then my mom showed up.
I said, “Jesus Christ, Mom, what are you doing in Montana?”
She said, “Are you high on drugs, Nelson?”
I told her that I was and that I was really sorry for all the stupid things I’d done in my life, in particular using drugs and not going to college.
She just shook her head, took off her pants, pulled down her underwear, and I crawled inside her vagina.
It was red in there and black and kind of gummy, and it smelled like when you leave a packet of Thousand Island dressing in your car overnight.
I said, “Can anybody see anything?”
Loretta and Eric and Bennie and the two hippie girls said, “No. We’re all inside our mothers’ vaginas.”
For a long time we were quiet, experiencing weightlessness, hearing the immense songs of orcas swimming around imaginary archipelagos. It was pretty much the best feeling of my entire life. Then I used up all the serotonin in my brain and couldn’t experience joy anymore. The whole world turned dark and ugly, and I was a piece of shit in a black valley called NO WORDS.
I said, “Does anybody else feel like everything’s shit?”
Somebody said, “Oh god oh god it hurts.”
Then I saw Immanuel Kant riding a bicycle, and I was like, “What the hell, Immanuel Kant? What are you doing here?”
He said, “Shhhhhh!” and I remembered the name of the valley.
An hour later we sobered up and found ourselves lying on our backs, swirling our legs in the air like we were riding imaginary bicycles.
“This is why I renounced cars for Huffys,” said Eric, scratching his arms.
Nobody yanked their veins out that night, but a few of us tried.
Eric had to get stitches.
Loretta finally pulled out her front tooth.
Bennie took off the HazMat suit and said it didn’t matter anymore. Everything was tearing him apart.