Daniel cracked the geode with his hammer and an iridescent blue dust drifted up from within the hollow rock. It swirled like candle smoke rising from a snuffed ceremonial alter. He reared back. Too late. Sinuous tendrils of microscopic specs peeled off and wormed their way into his nostrils. He pinched his nose, his mouth closed. He looked about the place, nothing seemed familiar. The two halves of the chalky white nodule fell from his hands, his world fuzzed at the edges and turned black. As the encrusted pieces hit the shop’s floor, a pair of blue mushroom clouds burst and spread.
Next to Daniel, Ricardo, cutting a geode at the wet saw, took one sniff and slumped to the floor. He just missed slicing the fingers from his right hand.
Five others in the lapidary shop: owner, employee, Daniel’s son and two fellow rock hounds, startled at the noise. They too fell victim to the blue dust. Each collapsed to the dirty floor, unconscious.
As the afternoon wore on, the unmanned equipment continued to whine, cellphones in pockets buzzed and chimed. No one else happened into the shop to browse the crystals of quartz, aquamarine and agate, the cabochons of turquoise and jade. Hours of Saturday afternoon sand slipped through the glass. Eventually, seven comatose hobby geologists began to rouse.
Daniel’s robust nature, a big man with gentle hands, allowed him to revive first. “Markie… Markie?” He looked around for his son who’d driven up from University to join the geode reveal. Unable to shake the fog from his mind, Daniel crawled to the first dark shape on the floor. “Ricardo, get up man. Where’s Markie?”
Ricardo, a wiry construction contractor Daniel had met collecting fossils in Montana, mumbled and moaned.
Daniel managed to rise to his knees and move to the next body. Markie had been sorting the bucket of round geodes—those to crack, those to cut—when he’d inhaled the blue dust. He fell back from his stool and cut the back of his head. Daniel’s hand came away sticky when he tried to lift him.
“Markie. Son. Wake up.”
Where are we? Mark said.
Daniel heard his son’s words without registering their source. “We’re in Larry’s shop. Something… Something happened.” Jeeze, I hope this cut isn’t deep.
What cut? “Am I injured, Dad?”
Let me get you up. “It’s nothing bad. Scalp wound.” You know how they bleed and bleed, like that time…
“Building the shed, I remember. You’d thought you’d killed me.” I laughed at how scared you were. Until I saw all the blood.
Your mother gave me shit for days…
The pair of them managed to rise and lean back against shelves of cardboard boxes full of rocks of varying provenance. A voice came from behind the counter.
“Hey. Anyone?” Why the hell am I on the floor. Was I robbed? Larry pulled himself to the counter and lay there breathing hard. “Ben? Where the sam-hell are you?” Hiring Megan’s kid was a mistake from the start.
“Here. I’m here. And I’m trying as hard as I can. There’s a lady…” Ben said from the far end of the shop. He’d been fetching new blades for the saws when he watched a customer, an older woman wearing a peach-colored scarf, slump to the floor. He awoke, his nose just inches from her desert boots, the diamond-edged discs splayed around him. Why are you so goddamn mean?
“I’m not half as mean as you think I am.” Damn kid doesn’t know nothin’ about my real mean-time in the ‘Stan.
Daniel’s voice rose. “Everyone, shut-the-hell-up for a minute. Not everyone can talk at once.”
Easy there, Dad.
Shit Daniel, you don’t have to yell so loud.
I knew you three would bring trouble, carting nodes up from Mexico.
Oh wow, it’s like, dark outside.
Why am I on the floor?
Don’t tell me to shut up. Where’s Leslie?
“I said, shut the hell up!” Daniel got to his feet, his face stern.
“We didn’t say anything, Dad.” Mark tenderly probed the cut on his head. “At least, I didn’t hear anyone I don’t think. Not with my ears, anyway.”
Holy shit. Am I going insane? Or can I—
—Hear other peoples’ thoughts?
Holy shit, is right.