Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian is a a deeply moving and exquisite novel about a girl traumatized by her mother’s serious mental illness, and the steps she takes to save her from destruction. It’s only been out for a little over a month, but we’ve heard your cries for more! See below for a deleted scene sent by Natalka herself!
“Well,” Laurel said as she rubbed her palms together. “If you’re going to join us, we have some work to do. You’re going to need a few things. Ready?”
“We need to go shopping!” Laurel gave an incongruous squeal, a squeal more suited to a real housewife of Orange County than a spirit healer.
“Who? Us?” I pointed back and forth between myself and Laurel, just to make sure I had it straight.
“Of course. Us and a few others. We have some last minute business to take care of, and instruments to acquire before tonight.”
I wondered if I dared leave the campsite, if I was even physically capable of leaving Mom here. Was I crazy enough to go off with Laurel? Maybe I could find some help out in the real world…
“Let me just wait for Marine,” I said.
“Oh perfect!” Laurel waved over my head to someone behind me. “Here she is now. Marine! I’m just going to take Van shopping—isn’t it wonderful? She’s joining us tonight!”
Marine came up beside me.
“That is wonderful,” she said, resting a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll stay with Sofia, of course, while you run your errands.” She looked at me like she was trying to tell me something, but I had no idea what. I raised my eyebrows at her and she raised them back. Before I could figure it out, Laurel swept me away—back to the Wind Song parking lot—where I was squeezed into a grey minivan with Laurel and four people I’d never seen before: two men and three women. The woman I recognized was the middle-aged Scandinavian one, Ulrike, who’d stolen my phone. I was squished in the very back, next to a girl who wasn’t much older than I was, and a man who was at least Ida’s age. Laurel took the front seat and Ulrike got behind the wheel.
We drove over a dirt road that spat us out on the paved main street. The van chugged along as other drivers honked at us and swerved around our glacially slow progress. I learned—during the course of that ride—that the girl and the man who sat beside me were some kind of a couple, thanks to a very thorough and way-too-intimate-for-a-full-car back rub. I turned my face to the window as the girl groaned under the old man’s wizened hands, and watched the grocery stores and used car lots whisk by.
I was so focused on trying to ignore the neighboring progressive massage, that I didn’t realize that we’d pulled into a parking lot.
“Bravo, Ulrike!” Laurel’s voice wafted to the back of the car where I sat, her perfunctory cheer filling the car. “The Crystal Vortex.”
The Crystal Vortex was a dusty box of a building. Its windows were dusty, the walls were dusty, even the switched off neon sign was coated in red-brown dust. It looked like it had been there forever, dropped down in the sand and abandoned in the desert. I couldn’t imagine any place less crystal clear or vortex-like. Ulrike pulled into the abbreviated parking lot and switched off the engine.
“This trip is just for Van and I,” Laurel said, and heaved herself out of the minivan’s side door. I waited as long as I dared, and then got out, too. I didn’t really want to stir anything up, but I wanted Laurel to know I wasn’t a willing participant in whatever she had in mind.
“Ulrike,” she called. “Take care of that list and be back here in half an hour.”
I followed her closely to the entrance. The plate glass of the door and windows were opaque with filth. A cluster of bells dripped overhead and clinked and chimed when we walked in. Facets of twinkling clear stones and heavy slabs of gems, amethyst and jade, glimmered under the lights. A lone man stood behind an enormous glass display case filled with different specimens, some highly polished, others as dull as lumps of gravel.
The man was obese, and I could hear his breathing from the door. It was a wet rasp, the only sound over the silence. The store was so well lit, I wondered if I held my hand up to the blazing ceiling lights, if I’d be able to see through the muscle and tissue and blood. Laurel sauntered up to the man at the counter and leaned a hip against it.
“Jerome,” she said. “I’ve brought a new friend to see you.”
“I can see that,” he rattled.
“This is Van.”
“Van? That’s an unusual name. Pleasure to meet you. What can I do for you ladies today?”
“Well, we’re looking for some foundation pieces for Van, here.”
Jerome nodded and looked me up and down—not in a creepy way—in the kind of way you would look at furniture in a room.
“Hmm, she’s a tough one,” he said. “But special.”
“Yes, she has great potential. We’re questing tonight, and I want Van to be as prepared as possible. I want to really open her up.” Laurel banged her fists against her solar plexus.
“I see,” Jerome said. “Walk around, Van. See if you connect with anything.” He turned toward Laurel, his greasy, thin ponytail swinging. “Oh, but start there—in that corner.” He pointed toward the one opposite the glass case.
I walked over, curious about Jerome’s alarm system. If I crashed into one of the locked cases, would it automatically call the police? Was the risk worth it? Jerome and Laurel murmured back and forth, but didn’t share a single smile between them. They seemed to have a very close, joyless relationship from what I could tell.
Jerome had directed me to a corner lined with sparkling, clean glass shelves. They were so free from smudges that it looked like the items perched on them just floated in midair. A creamy rectangular card was taped to each shelf, labeling the stones there. GIRASOL: creativity, confidence, intuition, visioning, strengthens psychic boundaries. I immediately took one of the clear slabs in my hands. I needed all the help I could get strengthening my psychic boundaries. I walked back over to Jerome and Laurel.
“OK,” I announced, and waved the crystal in the air.
“That’s it?” Laurel furrowed her brow. “We have plenty of time. I really want you to feel it out.”
“Yes,” Jerome nodded. “Why don’t you look at the Smoky Elestial.”
“Oh, yes! Jerome, what a superb suggestion! And, really Van, pick each one up, touch it, see if it speaks to your energy.” She paused a moment. “Have you seen Harry Potter?”
“Pretend you’re picking out a wand. Pick up each stone and give it a wave. See if you can make magic.”
I turned around and headed back into the rows of shelves, rolling my eyes. I found SMOKY ELESTIAL: clears negative energy, heals ancestral lines, connects with spiritual guides and helpers. Smoky Elestial really lived up to its name, like a tiny chain-smoker had set up house inside of each once glass-clear lump. Or that each crystal was a tiny casino. I chose a piece the shape of the Indian subcontinent. I stood back there for a while pretending to look around so Laurel and Jerome couldn’t accuse me of not communing with the vibrations or whatever. They didn’t seem to be in any rush, the way they leaned against the case with their heads bowed low.
I waited a few more minutes, checking out a display of stones that looked like enormous picked scabs. DANBURITE: deep change, higher consciousness, patience. I picked up a small piece, probably the most gruesome looking one, about the size of my pinkie nail. I pressed it between my thumb and forefinger, because I figured that was the way to test a crystal. I felt a sharp shiver up my arm, like a static shock. The weird thing was, I kind of expected it before it happened. I knew something was coming out of the hideous ruby scab for me. I tried it again, just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it, and felt that same little shiver. I looked up at Jerome and Laurel. They weren’t watching me, not even a little bit. I slipped the splinter of Danburite into the back pocket of my jeans. If I was feeling something real, or, if I was going crazy, I didn’t want Laurel knowing about it. But I couldn’t leave the drop of red stone there; it had to come with me.
I looked at the bright lights embedded into the ceiling and at the other crystals that seemed to glint in approval around me. Jesus, I thought. I have to get out of here. I’m losing it. I shivered and wondered what I would do if Laurel suddenly changed her mind and decided that I was her prophet.
“Laurel,” I called. “Ready.”
“Come on up, Van. Let’s see how you’ve chosen.”
I plunked the crystals, one charcoal grey, one translucent and sparkling, down onto the glass.
“Easy, easy,” Jerome said, as he sucked in his breath.
“Hmm,” Laurel said, as she pored over my selections. “I see what you’ve done here.” She nodded at me and I nodded back, for some reason.
“These will serve you well,” Jerome said. He wrote out a receipt on a small lined square of paper and slid it across to Laurel. She trapped the slip of paper under her pointer finger, nodded, and then slid it over to me. $425 leapt out at me in heavy pen strokes.
“Whoa,” I said as I held up the slip. “Are you sure?”
Jerome gave a practiced laugh and what I assumed was an even more practiced explanation. “Van,” he said. “These are treasures, treasures from the heart of the earth. You don’t pull such treasures from the breast of their mother without paying the price.”
“Jesus,” I muttered as I pulled out Mom’s credit card one more time.
“Ah yes,” Jerome said, swiping the card. “Jesus. A young man who knew a thing or two about paying a price.”
I rolled my eyes, but no one noticed. I signed my name and handed the receipt back to Jerome.
Jerome looked back at my signature.
“What kind of name is that—Van? Is it Vietnamese?”
“No. I was named after Van Morrison.”
“Van Morrison?” Jerome squeaked. “You must be joking!”
I shook my head.
“The Van Morrison? Incredible! The synchronicity of this! Laurel, you won’t believe it,” he said, putting his hands on top of his head. He leaned over to me and I got scared for a minute, clutching the sharp edged crystals in my fists as I considered whether I should just run, run as fast as I could from this enormous man and this cult leader.
“You know that I only listen to Astral Weeks on the eve of the solstice,” Jerome said.
“Of course,” Laurel answered.
“Well, this morning, I was overwhelmed. Truly swept away by the desire to play that album. Has that ever happened to you?” Jerome didn’t wait for confirmation. “Well I put it on this morning, and I had a breakthrough. On this plane. I’m moved to share this with you, if you don’t mind.” If I’d had any illusions about asking Jerome for help, or at least to use his phone, they had definitely evaporated over the course of this visit.
“We’d be honored,” said Laurel.
“Well when I journeyed this morning, after I sat under the influence of Astral Weeks, I had a vision of a hawk, circling me three times. And when I opened the shop today, would you believe it, I saw that same hawk, circling the Mountain peak from above! Three times!” Jerome was really excited now, the rolls of fat on his body quivered as he moved his arms while explaining. “My father, my actual father, deceased for many years, spoke to me.”
“No!” Laurel exclaimed. “What did he say?”
“He said,” Jerome’s eyes misted over, “Jerome, he said, ‘Could you find me?” I was just so overwhelmed by that blessing. It was a gift from the Voice in the Mountain.”
It didn’t seem like such a great gift to me.
Laurel nodded. “Say no more. This is the best kind of omen for questing. Such a blessing—a message through the Voice in the Mountain,” she breathed. Laurel reached out and squeezed my arm. “Today is truly a blessed day.” She extended her hand to Jerome to shake.
We walked out into the sun and it immediately dulled the brightness of the store. The minivan was already waiting for us in the dusty lot. I awkwardly carried my new crystals and climbed into the backseat of the minivan as Laurel hopped into the passenger’s seat.
“Home, Ulrike,” she said. “Home.”