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Esbenshade lost his mind in the hall of mirrors beneath the splintered rafters of the decayed Grande Pavilion of Saltair. It was not initially his decision, rather a pressing encouragement of the hallucinogenic substance his handler had recommended he sample before engaging in deeper exploration of the human psyche. The air of the Great Salt Lake hung low to the ground, collecting cloaks of dust and shadows mixed with brine. Esbenshade could smell every salt particle as he lay sprawled out on the ground, arms extended across the dusty floor, missing whatever rusty nails lay strewn about. Esbenshade was a self-proclaimed explorer in the further reaches of the human condition, although if he were forced to choose a label to describe himself he clung to humanist. To an outside observer, he was anything but, especially in his current state.

Consistently, Esbenshade was feeling rather disconnected, on the verge of projection, but not the psychosomatic type. No, something more along the lines of Astral Projection of the occultic tradition. The out-of-body experience that those near death or deep into the chemicals sometimes experience. It was more than a dissociative, it was an attempt to derive the baser meanings of existence through the absolute. Some would use sensory deprivation tanks to achieve this Zen state, although Esbenshade’s handler had dismissed them almost immediately.

“If you want to truly experience the beyond, to truly find a new enlightenment, only this compound, concocted by the labs Dr. Wilhelm Mercyhurst, can take you there.” The handler had explained.
The thought train floated through Esbenshade’s mind in a similar fashion to the dust particles of Saltair. He could hear the past echo through the blackness of the former amusement pavilion, the joyous laughter of families, the screams of the roller coaster, the hum of the concession machines. Despite his heart beating at close to its maximum rate and his limbs remaining paralyzed, a sprawled snow-angel in the dust, Esbenshade found himself laughing along with the invisible crowds.

He had retreated from university before finding Dr. Mercyhurst’s clinic through a personal ad in the newspaper of a dying mining town. He had been traveling the long 66 searching for work and meaning, hoping to find it as Steinbeck did along the great coasts of California. But the desert swallowed him, a great dust devil full of misdirection and false promises. Esbenshade found himself increasingly trapped, not by anything in his path, but forces within his own mind. He had always been an idealist. No substance, obtained through increasingly sketchy characters, always hidden by shadow and feinted smiles, could truly give him the angle he was searching for. The drugs were a distraction from the trust, he realized, just as his mind was a distraction from the truth. Smoke and mirrors, all of it. None of the books he devoured, nor the conversations he had, could sait his desire for finding deeper meaning. Perhaps what he was looking for was truly undefinable. He answered the ad and met a man who introduced himself as Hargrave but went by the alias of Prester John.

Hargrave served as a handler for the Good Doctor, an intermediary and a liaison between the enigmatic. He served a pseudo-religious role, providing insight as well as the doctor’s chemicals. All in the correct dosage. Hargrave picked the sights of introspection, the desolate locations where those deemed worthy could reach enlightenment. Always alone.

“You say that you’ve lost your way, that life’s meanings elude you. I felt the same way in my youth, but I didn’t have the opportunity of the good doctor’s influences. If this is truly the path that you want, I can arrange a meeting.” The handler had been blunt; stern. Warmth would come only through commitment and struggle; a meeting of merit and mind under the auspices of a group that stylistically was a cult but embraced the methodology of something far more scientific.

Dr. Mercyhurst, with wide blue eyes and a smile assured Esbenshade that his quest was not in vain for he himself had embarked decades prior on a similar sojourn. He put out ads for the wanderers, the lost souls. He offered them new guidance and new paths.

“I will give you a new perspective that no religion, organization, or society on Earth could ever hope to provide.”

So Esbenshade studied with the Good Doctor, embracing a new education in alternative theories of the mind and how to discover one’s inner demons that prevented mental growth. He studied the science, the chemicals of the mind. It was surprisingly materialistic from a group that bordered on the eclectic and paranormal.

“What is pseudoscience, but the devil that we all entertain in the quest for further discovery. It can do only as much harm to you as you let it, it is only as real as your mind desires. Right? Well my research is very real and grounded. Let my substances be the electric current that draws open the floodgates of your mind, your answers will come soon.” The doctor advised him. Esbenshade held quiet on any doubt.
Hargrave suggested Saltair as the site of the enlightenment ceremony, a former amusement park facilitated by the Mormon Church. It had once entertained thousands who chose to float and frolic in the Great Salt Lake. The boardwalks had long since collapsed on their pilings, only the Grande Pavilion, built six stories high in the 1890's, remained. A petrified skeleton of entertainment, from a bygone age of innocence. Dr. Mercyhurst suggested it would be cathartic.

“Inside this little pill is synthetic sympathy, emotional empathetic range to confront your inner demons in a place that once held such joy. You will feel the power of this place lost to time. We as humans are microcosms of the worlds we build, everything is representative of ourselves. To truly gain new understanding, you must facilitate loss, and not just loss of material objects. You’ve spent the last five years of your life wandering and doing just that. Now you will understand loss of the human condition, of the very emotions that drive us to construct our own Grande Pavilions.”

The doctor’s voice trailed as Esbenshade was pulled out of the flashback and back into the alternative waves of darkness and light that overtook the hall of mirrors and pylons. Frayed electrical cabling provided snake light shadows that wriggled across the walls. He felt falling, falling through the floors of the Grande Pavilion without even moving. Seeing it as it was 20, 40, 100 years past. Period-authentic mustaches and bowler caps besides bonnets and sunbathing dresses among the crowds that walked planks that soon gave way to sand and dust. Blurs of the human condition, of happiness giving way to emptiness. Eventually it all pulled back into a cascade of light and souls drawn into a convalescing sunrise and sunset. The laughter never stopped although soon Esbenshade realized that it was his own hoarse voice belting out into the rising dawn that perforated through the shattered timbers of the Grande Pavilion. He was still sprawled in the same position on the floor, the dust etchings showing that he had not adjusted his position over the past twelve hours. It was in the silence thereafter, void of any birdsong, that Esbenshade truly found his enlightenment in the splendor of the Utah sun.

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