The Spirit Animal
by Ryan Thorpe
Trent sat with his legs crossed, trying to look like he was meditating. He wasn’t actually meditating. He didn’t know how to do that. Instead, he did what they did in the movies. He sat with his legs crossed, placed his hands on his knees and tried to breathe in and out slowly. Sometimes he would release his breath with a slow vowel sound as if a secret were trying to escape and straining its way through his neck, a farewell cry to the only home it ever knew.
Linda, the spiritual guide leader, walked around barefoot in the circle of meditating people. “Breathe in and out,” she said. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly to show how it should be done, but to Trent, she looked like a dying balloon.
He ran a paycheck loan business near downtown Oklahoma City, legal loan-sharking according to the last Congressional hearing, but he didn’t know what they were talking about. He just offered short, high-interest loans to people who needed a little money. Everyone needs a man who doesn’t ask too many questions.
“In and out,” Linda said again. She placed her hand on her upper stomach and pushed as she breathed out.
Trent shut his eyes. No woman that small should have that much air in her. That’s the kind of things that he knew about people. He knew when they lied, but he knew when there was something that just didn’t quite smell right. He breathed out all the way and then deeply in, and his head spun a little. He didn’t know if this retreat would really let him find his spirit animal, but he was pretty sure that he was going to get high off of a lack of air.
“Now settle your mind,” Linda said. “Close your eyes and stare at the darkness. Don’t judge the darkness. Don’t try to do anything with the darkness, just get used to it. Shapes might appear. Don’t judge them. Just let them be. Identify them. Move them to the side. Repeat the process.”
Trent looked the woman over and didn’t see any feathers. He didn’t see any leather with fringe. She claimed to be Native American in half a dozen different ways but, to him, she looked a lot like the woman at the hairdresser’s, the one who gave him a trim when his hair was starting to drift into his eyes.
He breathed out, though, and he tried his best to see his spirit animal. When he closed his eyes, though, he saw only streaks of color. A bit of dark blue that looked a little like the girl he almost married in his thirties and who danced her way through life. She always sipped her wine and shuffled her way through any difficulty.
Another blur looked like money, but then again, anything green looked like money to him. That was the color of his chain of stores. He wanted people to feel like they were getting rich through their loans. Everyone felt more pride with a little money in their pocket. He moved all of those to the side, though.
He saw long strings of smoke, which reminded him of two men who had robbed his store, both regular customers, who shot their guns into the air until the police arrived. They just wanted a little money, “Whatever he had back there.” He never kept much of anything behind the counter. He stood next to the part-time clerk in the bulletproof plastic box and watched as they promised to keep shooting until “change happened.” They were going to keep shooting until change happened “right now.” The police took them away. He never asked what happened to them.
Linda’s voice interrupted him again. “At some point, you will find your spirit animal. It will be all that there is left after you remove everything else. It’s deep down, waiting for you.”
Trent moved the smoke trails, but they didn’t completely vanish. Instead they linked together and formed a long, long strand, and he tried to move it to the side of his mind like everything else, but it lingered. As he continued to see it, he watched it move, and he knew it was alive. It grew longer and longer as he looked on, and then the long strand turned its head and looked right at him. A tapeworm. That was his spirit animal.
Its tail continued to grow, and he listened to the rest of the room as the others gasped at seeing their spirit animals. The young man next to him with long hair mumbled about how he was a bunny. The grandmother next to him shouted out that she had an eagle. He remembered what she looked like: barely five feet and moving slower than a turtle. No way she had a dang eagle.
He continued to look at his tapeworm and felt more and more frustrated with it. The way it smiled. The way it fed off shit and did nothing but grow bigger and more bloated. It never did anything. It just sucked the life out of others.
He could feel Linda place her hands on his. She must be crouched down close to him. “What’s your animal?” she asked.
“A... a... rattlesnake,” he said. “It’s huge.”
She patted his right hand. “I could have guessed that by looking at you,” she said.
The tapeworm looked sad now. Its body hung limp in an inverted U, a clear frown. The head of the tapeworm shook its head disapprovingly, but Trent was sure it understood.
“I have a rattlesnake!” Trent yelled out. Someone across the circle congratulated him.
The tapeworm continued to shake its head, though, and grew larger.
Copyright © 2019 by Ryan Thorpe