I awoke belly down and pants-less on a small prairie, on a rolling hill overlooking blackened cottages. The smoke, I remember, forced my eyes open.
The specifics were dead to me. I was awake and was me; that was all that was sure.
I felt piss drunk and penniless, robbed of nutrition and wealth and eons of experience. My ears were ringing.
A severed leg was next to me.
A string of women approached me and asked me to devour the transgressions of their people.
I told them no and one of them hit me with a rock.
A forty-gallon jug toppled over and cracked, liquid seeping out like the storm sewers, makeshift gutters spilling only the most precious of resources.
I threw up on the way to the plane. It was in a donut shop called The O Face, a semi-clever reference which may or may not have added a few extra dribbles to my spewing as I was digesting all the information around me. Some woman with this disgusted, looming look of an unblemished citizen remarked at how appalling I was, how I lacked proper etiquette, as if she hadn’t had a couple of cocks in her mouth, the smug bitch. That’s the good thing about middle aged women: even if they are acting prissy, up on their pedestal of self-enlightenment—as if clocks stopped for them and men turned around for them—they are all still so easily flattened by a simple verbal acknowledgement of the cocks they have had in or around their mouths.
It’s embarrassing puking in a donut shop, in front of fathers with glazed over eyes, sipping their morning coffee, children airplaning up and down the narrow corridor they call a family friendly shop. This mother fucking kid bumped into me six times as I tripped my way to the exit, which is also the entrance. Family friendly? Sure. Just not singles friendly. Anyone alone was sure to have a terrible time. Either way, bad time or good, I had a flight to catch.
I threw up on the plane, too, after the rancid chicken Alfredo, and again once I landed in beautiful sunny San Diego. It was raining. When I threw up on the sidewalk, it all washed into the gutter.
Do you ever wonder where all that stuff goes?
Don’t worry about the vomiting. If you weren’t worried, then fine, keep not worrying, but in case you were worried, don’t be. It happens when I’m nervous, and I just so happen to be nervous when I am in any sort of metal or plastic encasing carrying me upwards of forty-five miles per hour. That’s just how I am. It honestly bothers me more people aren’t afraid, because they fucking should be.
I took a cab to Balboa Park, where it was still raining. A couple hardened botanists in beige, floppy hats roamed around inspecting every bland specimen in reach, but for the most part it was empty and quiet. Cold for San Diego, too, even in December. I could see my breath if I really tried, and I always really try.
Harlin Mettick strolled down from the walkway and down to our “secret” patch of grass, one entirely shrouded by trees, which conceals a bench, perfect for a joint or some alone time. It’s not a magical place, not by a long shot, as it overlooks a freeway and is generally disturbed by some local fauna screeching in your ears, or galloping around squawking its stupid head off. Yeah, I have a problem with some of the snooty birds in California. Unlike middle aged women, I can’t tell them to eat a cock and fuck off. The birds just keep coming, the persistent bastards, and with no defense mechanism I usually end up feeling worthless and attempting to befriend them.
On the Mettick Day, though, I didn’t try to befriend our malevolent bird overlords. I whipped out a cigarette and the smoke scared all the little birdies away. I, too, wish it had been pot instead of tobacco.
Mettick sat cross-legged next to me and suavely rotated his super-cool, super-hip joint carrier up to his mouth and back down to the pocket in his shirt in one swift motion. In a flash, it was already lit and prepared. He looked different, perhaps a bit fatter, a bit rounder in the tummy. His beard had developed nicely over the years, and I am certainly one to comment on the adequacy of one’s beard.
We sat there and stared for some time, as good friends who hadn’t seen each other for months so regularly do. We understood that the serenity of the situation, regardless of the situation, was to always be appreciated. It was to be processed, devoured, re-processed, regurgitated, and spent. It was something that hadn’t ever happened before, which is privilege enough. This was unique whether we liked it or not.
“It’s good to see you, although the purpose of this meeting evades me.”
“Secrecy is in my nature, but I assure you I’m not wasting your time.”
“Oh, no, no, I wasn’t accusing you of wasting anyone’s time. You could have called me to fly out, only to sit on these benches with you for five minutes, and I would have considered it worthy.”
“That’s a little gay, Lavender.”
“Company is company, be it man, woman, or beast.”
“Aye, and sometimes it is all three.”
“So San Diego, huh?”
“As beautiful as a bitch’s tit.”
“Woman or beast?”
“Does it matter? Have you seen my chocolate lab? Prettiest tits this side of Ursa Minor.”
“I haven’t seen her, no, but your obsession with tits is evidence enough I shouldn’t doubt you.”
“Indeed. So why do you think I called you out to sunny San Diego? I’m curious to hear your reaction.”
“If it’s anything about your dog’s tits, I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
“Enough about the tits, the joke is worn, old, depressed, tired.”
“Ragged and beaten, like a bitch with pretty tits?”
“Great, now we’re making animal abuse jokes.”
“If I sigh here, will you get the message that you’re an idiot?”
I sighed, if I recall correctly.
“I have a chemist,” Mettick said.
“Neat. Hopefully he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year which he can spend on lab equipment.”
“I said enough tit and dog jokes.”
“You’re awful, Mettick.”
“I know, I know. But he’s useful.”
“Do you know anything about chemistry?”
“Not a lot.”
“Well, then it seems futile to explain. If the words ‘gas chromatography’ mean anything to you, then I suggest speaking up now.”
“No idea what you just said.”
“We’re going to Arizona.”
“Mettick, Lavender, the Chemist and gang—Northern Arizona, minefield territory.”
“And gang? Your ‘secrecy’ seems undeniable now.”
“Shulgin. Alexander fucking Shulgin. A God reluctantly wandering in the realm of men as far as I’m concerned. In the early 1990′s he wrote a book called PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, PiHKAL being an acronym for ’Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved.’ This book contained hundreds of different, extremely comprehensive research notes regarding the synthesis of newly discovered, by Shulgin, psychedelics and psychedelic compounds. With this book came chemical recipes for 2-CI, 2-CB, MDMA, and most importantly for our experiment, 2-CD. What the Chemist and I have made is reminiscent of 2C-D, but better. Extraordinarily better. Better to an unfathomable degree. If 2C-D is pharmacological tofu, imagine what we’re creating to be the biggest fucking sponge in the galaxy, with remote controls and joysticks.”
“Remote controls and joysticks?”
“All we have to do is make a chemical that binds to certain receptors. It has to resemble those certain receptors, just as Shulgin’s babies resembled dopamine, just as LSD and psilocybin resemble serotonin. And then we let you control it.”
Secrecy. What a wonderful word that explains so much. While Mettick is secret with his intentions, I am secret with living. This entire operation wouldn’t work without me. Why? Because I’m a relative unknown. I have been off the radar for my entire life. I am a standard, ordinary, every thesaurus-seeking-word-in-the-book American citizen. Brown hair, brown eyes, heil America, heil President Who-ever-it-happens-to-be-today.
I have had two jobs: one I worked washing dishes at Red Lobster, the other boxing packages at a toy manufacturing plant. The people there barely spoke to me, and I barely spoke to them. I would generally bury away in my lair until supper, when I would eventually get up in my shorts and half-assedly attempt at making something edible, only to end up with a glass of ice water in one hand and some burnt onions in the other.
So this is what they do: they funnel all their money into my account, and I buy a house in some backwoods part of Arizona. I wait six months while a couple of them renovate the space with all new, high tech lab equipment, then I come up there and act all authoritative and like I know what the hell I’m talking about.
This time the house is near the Mogollon Rim, in some ditch they call a cabin. While Arizona is relatively tough on drug laws, they are even tougher on roads. Someone finding you out here, through two hours and fifty-five minutes of constant dirt and grime and muck and dust and cacti and prickly pear, which is also a cacti, and pine and needles and all the natural Molotovs the Earth can throw at you, is unlikely to completely fucking rare to just not going to fucking happen ever.
Nature interferes more often than we’d like around our little homestead, around our little lab, around our little bar, around the only place I can look out and care for the rolling hills, and the pines that jet out like stalks of behemoth asparagus, but it’s small and it’s cozy, and the fireplace has an emblem of a hawk above it. There is only one bathroom and two sinks and one shower and there are six of us here, but we’re here because we can handle it. And we know a lot of people that can’t.
Mettick, me (Lavender), the Chemist, Wally, Claude, and Pete.
In the two years ago since the purchase of the cabin, we had some interesting experiences with hallucinogens. The group of people I actively chose to be around also actively chose to be around me, but even some of the more involved members were less than responsive to psychedelics. Every once in a while an extra person would be added, which naturally throws everything off kilter and adds a thick yet subtle fog of awkwardness. The characterizations of the people who reacted poorly to these substances says almost nothing about them, but everything about the current cabin gang; we ingest LSD, and peyote and mushrooms, but we prevail with our sanity. Something in us, like something in many people who have a resilience to these types of things, allows us to absorb the effects and sway evenly with the tides. We are shaken and stirred by the drugs, profoundly moved, awakened and invigorated. But we appreciate the briefness and that’s what keeps us up—and alive—and with it. Not giving a fuck about the fleetingness of it all is what drowns a person in drugs. They become involved and they can no longer separate themselves. They ensure themselves of a false reality. They are reluctantly entranced into a foreign time and place, beamed into a material body unrecognizable from their own.
One kid I was briefly associated with, who took a relatively small dose of LSD, about 200 micrograms, began his night tripping by taking a little nap. When he woke up he was enraged, confused, and just generally frightened of his surroundings. He attempted to tackle Pete and Claude numerous times, trying to bolt out of the door into the darkened night of a suburban Arizonan town he had never been in. Pete is a big guy, although not gigantic or superfluously large by any means (affectionately ‘Big Bear’ by the group) but the kid just kept on pushing at Pete, until Pete threw him against the door and whacked his head against the side of the guard-rail up the stairs. Why was the kid doing this? None of us know. He was practically unintelligible, his speech mimicking Neanderthal-like grunts and huffs intermixed with glimpses of American English.
A couple times during the struggles he actually got out.
Knowing the risks of having some strange kid high off his ass running barefoot down the black hills of Arizona, we followed him every time he escaped our grasp. He ran and ran and ran down the street, surely obtaining some moderate injuries, as cacti are prevalent around these parts and sometimes their needles accumulate down the sides of the curbs.
When we eventually got him back to our base of operations, he took his shirt off, then his pants and then his boxers, all the while pleading with the owner of the house, Wally:
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I have to be this way. It’s fine to be free. I just have to do this.”
Wally, being timid and also incredibly high, simply obliged with all the inane requests thrown at him.
“Bring me new clothes, these are filthy!” demanded the kid, stark naked in the middle of the living room, partially resembling archaic Greek statues. His posture said Statue of David, but his voice said, “closeted homosexual.” How he went from a state of bubbling, adrenaline-fueled chaos to perpetually-gay Socrates is far, far beyond me.
He casually rambled on a little about the alpha and omega and other bat-shit crazy, lysergic acid fueled psychobabble, especially concerning himself with the death of his ego, his sense of self, and the ultimate purpose of life. Mind you, this kid was smart; every other interaction I had with him he was saying something else equally incomprehensible, but all my other friends would nod along to it, which makes me think that I’m just stupid, and he’s probably not crazy.
He didn’t remember anything the next day. We never told him about it.
The only other time that stands out is when a guy I know named Big Cod went crazy after taking too much mescaline. He was gone for four days, until he stumbled into my apartment complex covered in blood, entrails hanging around his fat, stupid head like a makeshift neck tie.
“Cod. I don’t care. Please leave. I am already bored of your plight.”
“I found a cat. I skinned it, gutted it, ate it and now I have its entrails around my neck. Will they find me, Lavender? Will they find me?”
“That depends. Did it have a collar around its neck?”
“But it was probably micro-chipped, which means you’re fucked. Unless it was a stray.”
“It looked like a stray.”
“Then don’t worry, Cod. Don’t worry.”
Needless to say, I never called that crazy fucker back since.
The first drive up was stomach-turning, but I knew it would be my only exchange with vehicles and freeways for the next five months while the chemists and business people were hard at work brewing and manufacturing our product. A rather ominous sign before the first dirt road read:
“Welcome to Ticker Falls, NO COMMUNISTS, SOCIALISTS, HIPPIES, JEWS OR LIBERALS. HAZARDOUS ROADS AHEAD”
I am at least two of those things.
I vomited onto the window near this sign and we had to pull over to the side so I could clear up the rear-view I assaulted with my “venomous gargling of acidic liquids,” as Mettick so eloquently put it. No one else gets it, but I’ve never understood why humans willingly put themselves in stressful life-and-death scenarios so often. Every time you step into your metal deathtrap of a car and zoom on down the highway at fifty-five miles an hour, just think about how close death is. One shitty maneuver and everything stops and you only have precious seconds to think about how it could have all been different. That’s all it really takes. Fifty-five miles an hour is nothing in universal terms, not compared to the speed of the Earth orbiting the sun, or the moon orbiting the Earth, or any other impressively fast cosmic anomaly outside of orbital speeds that I’m currently ignorant of.
Fifty-five miles per hour can turn flesh into jelly and cars into accordions.
The air felt fresher there and the moment I stepped out of the car I felt life within myself. The cabin with its spiraling steps painted with pine needles led up to a tattered but family-friendly red door, the door opening up to the living room, the fireplace to the left, the kitchen and bar straight ahead, bedrooms and bathrooms dispersed accordingly. We all threw our bags to the floor without a care, Mettick leading me downstairs to the lab.
I’m no chemist, but it was beautiful. I knew my friends were smart, but I didn’t know they could build, maintain and actively run a facility like this. It seemed state of the art. Everything was boiling and frothing and calculating. Beakers steadily bubbled to their tipping point, flasks and oddly shaped canisters steamed and whirled with perspiration, all of this the foreground to perfectly white walls with holes in them, squished hoses funneling air out, wheezing like dying old men. It was a chemist’s wet dream, and not surprisingly, the Chemist was lurking just around the corner, peeping in on my conversation with Mettick.
“This looks good, but what do I know?”
“Nothing. Which is why the Chemist, wherever the hell he is, is going to explain it to you.”
The Chemist finally popped out, the suspense hardly being worth it, as he looked entirely normal: a plaid blue shirt and short black hair, a five o’clock shadow, some goggles hanging around his neck, green gloves and a matching apron. He smiled wryly and shook my hand while introducing himself.
“Good to meet you. Thanks for the place. Glad we could get all the systems in here. Hefty bastards.”
“The gas chromatography machine and the light-guided pipette system. And the big fucker in the corner. She ain’t pretty, but she’ll do the job. Glad we could get the nitrogen pump in here, too. Just pumping it straight out, as I figure we’re miles away from anything except for that shabby little village or whatever the fuck it is.”
“I’m just curious about the drug. Exactly what is it?”
“When you go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, they never tell you even one of the secret ingredients included in their eleven herbs and spices. We’ll never know what is in Mama’s secret chili recipe. But I will give you a hint unlike those unforgiving bastards. This recipe involves a fuck ton of Ergotamine Tartrate, and that’s all you need to know.”
“Can I have some?”
“Sure, but it’s purely in an experimental phase right now. We’re not done with it, and taking anything that is currently being processed on the table is a ride on the wild side. No return guaranteed. No quality assurance.”
“Give me a small dose.”
“He can handle it. He’s one of the good ones.”
“One more question before I do this.”
“Do we have an exit strategy?”
Mettick and McKee looked at one another.
“What do you mean?” asked the Chemist.
“I mean what happens if we get caught?”
“It hadn’t slipped our minds,” explained Mettick.
“Right. Well any suggestions?”
“Sure,” said the Chemist, “we could easily just store all the liquid in some of the extra containers we brought. Giant fucking jugs, easy to put in the back of trucks. A bit cumbersome, though.”
“Yeah, most of these research chems are. Even if they’re not, they’re too new to have dogs trained enough to sniff them out. I doubt a cop is willingly going to dip his head into a vat of something that looks suspicious, which is good for us, as you can’t arrest on suspicion alone. If he happens to dunk his head in, well he’ll be fucked and we’ll be on our merry little way.”
I recall every moment of my one and last night on the drug we then called Mystic Co-pilot.
Imagine everything being perfectly lucid. Imagine feeling like every moment of your nostalgia, rage, ineptitude, cockiness, intelligence, rudeness, and arrogance was all worth it. Imagine being able to plainly explain the woes of your life and coming to grips with them completely. Imagine directly and assertively confronting all the mismatched, disorganized emotions in your life. Imagine not being yourself and knowing exactly who you are all at once. And I mean that literally, because on this drug you look outside of yourself.
It is like being placed in third person. You are you. I remained Lavender. But I could see myself in the room. I could see myself sitting and thinking about seeing myself sitting, with a wrinkled up nose and startled expression on my face. And then I moved an arm and my arm moved. Remarkable. It was like moving a joystick.
Placed outside myself I wondered if I could drag the scope of vision to the far side of the room, losing myself completely. Alas, I could not, but I could zoom in on parts and introspectively glance over every detail of myself. It was getting to know myself from every corner of the room. It was seeing myself through another’s eyes, someone who was and wasn’t me, someone who could be anyone, as plenty have seen me up close, and plenty have seen me from afar, and plenty have seen me at awkward angles. But it’s just you looking at you. How this happens, I have no idea.
The night went like this:
I watched myself thinking about watching myself. I watched myself some more.
Stomping to the center of the room, I began dancing to nothing at all, flailing my arms and feet like an unshackled prisoner, a freed slave. It was the most I’ve ever danced in a single sitting. It felt like eons of movement and dexterity, although those were simply wild imaginations of greatness, as I can’t dance worth a shit. And then—swoop, crackle, fall—and my foot broke through the creaky wooden floor and I came crashing with it, my balls hitting the edge, the pain sending me toppling over. Laying on my side with one leg straight through the floor, the six or seven missing feet beneath the house finally exposed itself. It was just underneath the living room, a little toward the entrance of the house.
It hurt like hell, but faded fast. I shot up a minute or two later after screaming in agony about the preciousness of my sexual organs and my low-enough-as-it-is-sperm-count. I examined, briefly, the space underneath the house. All I saw was a blue hose, perhaps seven inches in diameter, pumping what sounded like water under the house, presumably to some place that isn’t here. This seemed unimportant, so I put my leg back in the hole and fell asleep.
That was my anticlimactic experience with the drug called Mystic Co-pilot: one part excessively insane once-in-a-lifetime experience, one part makes you fall asleep faster than you can say, “Flunitrazepam.”
“Lavender! Get the fucking door!”
Mettick was shouting at me from the lab, where everyone was doing something important besides me. I was sleeping with my leg in the floor. Worthless.
I opened the door to a woman with gray, shrubby hair and an almost-mustache. The ones middle aged women get when their marriages fall apart and they begin living the lives they have always wanted: those of men. They stop shaving their legs and armpits, live independently, stop using obscene amounts of make-up daily and overall just become less aesthetically pleasing, but more tolerable in general. Weird, huh?
“You don’t own this property.”
“Yes, I do. And I know you don’t own this property because it’s owned by the town of Ticker Falls.”
“Would you hold on a second while I get some papers?”
“Why no I won’t, young man.”
“Well then how am I supposed to prove to you that I legitimately purchased this property?”
“I don’t need no legitimate proof. Ah, damn it. You probably do own the land, but it don’t mean you should.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t own the land I paid for?”
“I’m sayin’ that there’s a valuable hundred feet of drainage pipe directly under the house. And you don’t own that, do you?”
“Well if it’s on my land, then yes I do.”
“It’s under your land.”
“Lady, get the fuck out of here.”
And I closed the door.
I opened the door, although I don’t know why, because I knew exactly who it was.
“How old are you?”
“Why does it matter?”
“You’re rude to your elders. Not only that, but you have a potentially dangerous legal situation happening right now and ignoring it is a stupid course of action, boy. I could simply get you evicted from this property with enough legal firepower to convict O.J. Simpson.”
“Ma’am, you haven’t even explained why having inhabitants living in a structure over a drain pipe is a dangerous scenario.”
“It’s the water pipe to Ticker Falls. That’s how we drink. These houses aren’t built to last and I’ve seen my fair share of rock slides, floods and other sudden, scary things completely wipe out the ones on the cliffs, like this one. “
“And if that happens?”
“Then the pipe gets damaged or destroyed and we have to repair it. But we don’t have the money to repair it, son. Ticker Falls is practically a ghost town, but the remaining people are worth keeping around, even if they can’t afford their problems. The only reason people left in the first place is because they started venturing out too far, and started building out in Ovil’s land.”
“Ovil was the founder of Ticker Falls. Built houses out here with his entire extended family back in the ‘50s. Profoundly paranoid, though, and believe me, back then, Arizona was just shrubs and cacti and the sweat of citrus. He came out here to escape the communists. Out here was paradise for him and he didn’t want to lose that to anyone.”
“But he was obviously comfortable with sharing it.”
“Eventually his family opened him up to the idea of starting a little shop and letting people use the house as a bed and breakfast after long drives on the 87. They were nice people, Ovil was just scared. Got rid of most of his ‘precautions’ and by the mid ‘90s it was as flourishing as it is today. A couple little shops, a gas station, a church.”
“How many people are we talking?”
“Twenty, maybe thirty. Fifty during the holidays, at least.”
“It’s still my property. Whether or not a flood demolishes our home isn’t up to me, so I would, effectively, have done nothing to your pipe.”
“There are precautions you could take, boy, that would keep the pipes safe. Let me take a look inside.”
“Can you wait just a second?”
Here is the problem with me: I don’t think. I mean, I think, just not well enough to get any good results. Much like this particular incidence, it always ends up tragedy.
I walked down to the lab with a small dixie cup in my hand. Mettick, the Chemist, Wally, and Claude were all helping with the complicated stuff, not knowing how my trip had gone, all staring at me as if they wanted some answers.
“It makes you fall asleep. Give me some more.”
“Sure thing. Remember, though, it’s an experimental batch.”
I dipped the cup in and walked back up stairs. I opened the door and took a small sip. It did nothing.
“Can I come inside or not?”
Here is the problem with me: I think so much that I end up psyching myself out, and I usually always go with the best instinctive response, which is almost never the best social or logical response.
I thought about all the jail time I would serve and being raped in prison. I would definitely be raped in prison—someone’s bottom, someone’s helpless, utterly unwilling bottom. I thought about all the other guys getting raped, too, as none of us are warriors. Most of us are thinkers and some of us are good for something, sometimes, but usually nothing. Nothing at all. That “some of us” is just me.
I thought about the satisfaction it would bring to this selfish cunt who wants fifty or so people to have fresh water to see me open the door and give her what she wants. But I decided she couldn’t get what she wants. Why? Because it would be more work for me if she knew, and I had enough on my plate. I mean, I’d had the trip and nap of a lifetime last night. You wouldn’t believe the potency of that combination.
I stepped forward, grabbed her by the back of her head and slammed the cup of Mystic Co-pilot into her mouth. Most of it splashed onto her face, but the dixie cup, the residue on it and some remaining liquid shot down into the back of her throat. She fell backward and yelped. I held her there with the dixie cup in her mouth. She was wide-eyed and frightened, unsure of how to proceed. Unsure, and possibly unable, paralyzed by fear. She didn’t scream, she just sat there, alone, afraid, helpless.
She had just been the first unwilling test case for ingesting the largest amount of Mystic Co-pilot ever ingested.
If I were her, I’d be pretty pumped right now.
It was Cod and the kid all over again, amplified, turned upside down, feathered and tarred.
It was Cod and the kid all over again, only this time it was my fault, my stupidity, and not the misfortune of others.
She wasn’t pumped. She convulsed on the ground and her eyes rolled into the back of her skull. She foamed at the mouth, coughed, sneezed, and convulsed some more. Eventually she got up and wobbled around a bit, still entirely baffled by the environment. It’s unlikely she knew what was going on, how to formulate sentences and probably even just how to think in general. She was effectively and sincerely drugged into unconsciousness. She bent down, throwing her arms over her knees and hugging them. She cradled herself back and forth, a gigantic, morbid version of her younger self. She needed someone. She was cradling. She was rocking. She was old, and her mother is probably dead.
She stopped rocking and she screamed a foul scream. It was in my dreams for weeks. She shrieked like a lost child, like wounded prey, like the haunted wind. It echoed throughout the canyons and stuck there in the cracks.
Pete, the only member of the group besides myself who is also completely unaware of chemistry, besides the fundamentals, came rushing to the door, perplexed as to why he was hearing such a terrible fucking noise. Or, I don’t know, perhaps he just wanted some air and decided to run outside and look as if his head were about to explode. But probably not.
“Who is that and why did she just scream?”
“She wanted to inspect the house. I threw some shit in her face.”
“Shit? You threw shit in her face?”
“No, I threw Mystic Co-pilot in her face.”
“Either this is an extremely unethical experiment or you are just fucked up beyond belief. Neither is good, mind you, but our friendship has never been strained by moral quandaries before.”
“It was a stupid reaction.”
“Yes, yes it was. What do you plan to do about it? I would prefer not to hear that all day.”
“My god. Horrible.”
“What are we going to do about this?”
And then the problem solved itself. She jumped up and ran arbitrarily from side to side in a half-convulsion, half-rave single woman dance party. About thirteen seconds into looking as if she had somehow contracted the worst case of Parkinson’s boogie fever ever, she gained the rather sudden supernatural power of jet propulsion and rocketed herself down the canyon next to the house. A sudden explosion blew off her legs. Her upper half, still alive, flew about sixty feet before impacting with a rock, which crushed her skull and removed her mustache and upper lip entirely. The second rock she hit broke her spine (but she was already dead at this point, so this is all superfluous information) and tailbone. The third rock she hit broke her arm, and then she finally hit the floor, which would have broken everything, pretty much.
“It did what?”
Mettick was less than happy. On a temperament scale of one to fifty, I would put him at a thirty-six, which is high for someone like Mettick. Any higher and he would be throwing things, but I’ve only seen that happen once and we don’t talk about that. No need to yet, anyway.
“It blew off her legs and made her fly into the canyon.”
“It made her fly?”
“No. It made her a human grenade,” said Pete.
“Well it sounds awful when you say it like that,” said Mettick.
I decided to speak up.
“How could this possibly fucking happen?”
“Experimental dosages, man. You’re the one who shoved it in her fucking mouth,” replied Mettick.
“I didn’t know it was going to make her explode. ‘Exploding’ is generally not a listed side effect.”
“But apparently lack of general cognition and problem solving skills is,” noted the Chemist.
“I’m not denying it’s my fault. But don’t you think it’s a little sketchy that we have a drug and it’s not ready at all for human consumption? We only have five months here and we have no working formula. Everything you’ve made so far is shit, regardless of how awesome my trip was. What happened to that lady was just too fucked. We can’t consciously sell a product which makes people explode.”
“You’re probably right, Lavender.”’
“Fuck all, I’m definitely right this time. You and the Chemist need to get the fuck back to work. Make something better. Scrap this shit.”
“We’ll scrap all of it,” said the Chemist.
“How could this happen?” I asked.
“I wasn’t there. I don’t know. No possible combination of natural chemicals could have caused an explosion in the human body. Where did you say she exploded from?”
“From the front of the house into the canyon.”
“No, I mean anatomically speaking.”
“Oh, from about the waist down.”
“Well, from what I can tell—and I am just a lowly chemist with degrees in chemistry, biomedical engineering and neuroscience—there is no possible way the cocktail of drugs you had in that cup could have produced that effect. It couldn’t have generated enough pressure in the stomach, and even if it did, it would just have caused her to bleed out, not explode. It couldn’t have built up any explosive residue of any kind, either. There is no possible way it could have triggered enough chemicals to be rapidly produced in the gut via overloading of the cerebral cortex or the parasympathetic nervous system. No way were any of the chemicals in the experimental batch remotely explosive.”
“Then how did it happen?”
“Maybe it didn’t, and you’re tripping balls. You said you splashed it in her face, right? Residue could have easily seeped into your skin.”
“I’m not tripping balls, McKee. Pete saw it, too, and he wasn’t even around when I hit the bitch.”
“You just splashed a highly toxic, explosive chemical into some poor woman’s face, and you’re still calling her a bitch,” said Pete.
“So you would agree it’s explosive, Pete?”
“I’d say it’s about the most explosive thing this side of some constellation I’m vaguely familiar with. Mettick, help me out here.”
“Close enough, Big Bear,” said Mettick.
“Ever notice how there are only two exits?” asked Wally, passing a poorly constructed joint to Claude, smoke billowing from his mouth. They were sitting on the porch, in front of the two glass doors that lead into the kitchen. I could see the back of them through it, and hear them through the open window.
“No, because I don’t see why that matters.”
“Well, say, hypothetically, there is a fire. We run out the glass doors because they lead to the porch, and if we’re all in a hurry, and carrying giant jugs of drugs…”
“Wait, why would we have the drugs?”
“Okay. Hypothetically speaking if there was a fire that raged so slow that we could get the drugs and equipment out…”
“This isn’t even an interesting hypothetical scenario if there is no loss involved. Why even think about it? What does it matter if we lose nothing?”
“Well, we’d lose the house.”
“Correction. Lavender would lose the house. We would just bail on the payments after getting enough money selling all the shit and run off to somewhere we couldn’t be extradited.”
“As if Lavender would take the necessary precautions to obtain a legal staff for something like that. Fuck, maybe we should just burn down the house out of spite.”
“It’s falling apart as is. Hole in the fucking floor, rickety roof, creaky doors, loud faucets. We’d be doing it a favor.”
“Correct. Still, we’ve only been here a few days and shit has already gone haywire. I love Lavender, but his overbearing need to fuck up constantly is wearing thin. Shoving Mystic Co-pilot into an unsuspecting woman’s face? A massive dose, no less? Insanity. Just fucking insanity. I think we should take the shit we have now and leave. Still a giant jug left, but we’re destroying all of it tomorrow if the Chemist has his way. They can do all this without us.”
“I don’t see why not.”
Wally and Claude’s collusion was, in fact, a surprise to me. Logically it made sense, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. If I knew someone who threw drugs into a poor woman’s face, I’d stay away from him, too. But you can’t stay away from yourself.
I rushed downstairs to tell Mettick and the Chemist.
“Figuratively speaking, could you guys do this job without Claude and Wally?”
“It’d take a lot fucking longer,” said Mettick.
“Well, they want to bail and take the rest of the Mystic Co-pilot with them.”
“Don’t say you’re speaking figuratively when you’re speaking literally, god damned idiot,” said Mettick.
“Mettick and I will be in the lab all night. We’re dumping it in the morning; they’re not exactly going to have a good chance to run off with it.”
But it didn’t come to that. A couple of hours later everyone was in the lab, even me and Pete. Wally and Claude didn’t collude, they simply asked us if they could leave and take the Mystic Co-pilot with them.
“Pete isn’t an idiot. He can help with the lab given a couple days training,” said Claude.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Too risky. Pete has zero experience in a volatile lab setting beyond college chemistry. You both know how unstable this environment is. I have no qualms with you taking the bad batch…” said the Chemist before I cut him off.
“Really? No qualms?” I asked.
“Look, me shoving a dose into a woman’s face is morally fucked, I know that. But selling it knowing what it does is even worse.”
“We’ll sell it slowly and only to people we know. Non-idiots. You took it and you’re alive.”
“I’m with McKee on this one. You guys leaving puts the estimated time of arrival for an appropriate batch at ten months instead of five. You completely demolish our chances of finishing given the stability of the household,” said Mettick.
“And Lavender completely demolished our chances of getting out of this without jail sentences. That canyon isn’t that deep,” said Wally.
“They’re going to come looking for her. If you guys are smart, we burn this place to the ground, we all take a loss and we make what we can being morally questionable,” explained Claude.
“No, we can make something worthwhile here,” said the Chemist.
“Maybe we’re not that good, McKee. Maybe you’re not that good. Maybe we just don’t have the capacity to make the cool new drug and make it safe, too.”
“We were close with what we had.”
“Bullshit. No foresight, and now a woman is fucking dead,” said Claude.
“Peddling the rest on the streets is your plan, though, so who gives a fuck about the dead woman, am I right?” asked Pete, satirically chiming in from the back, smoking a cigarette in relative solitude.
“Look, we just want to leave. How about we just fill a couple of water bottles up and get the fuck out?” asked Wally.
“You taking it isn’t a problem. It’s our collective property, you’re entitled to it. You leaving without proper warning, thus making us short staffed of competent chemists, is the problem,” explained the Chemist.
Stalemate. Claude and Wally didn’t want to get implicated in the murder of the mustached woman and reasonably so, but also felt as though they were betraying the trust of others they legitimately gave a fuck about. McKee and Mettick were destined and fully committed to the research and synthesis of a new miracle drug, thus allowing them to erase, or perhaps ignore, their better senses when forewarned about things like jail, and prisons, and police officers.
A small—and when I say small I mean small, somewhere around “legally a dwarf” height—Chinese man was standing in our doorway, missing an arm, holding a bright red baseball cap in his one hand. He was balding, but his remaining hair was combed over, wearing a shockingly flashy purple shirt that was neatly tucked under a sweater vest and into his khaki pants.
“Can I help you?”
“Where is my wife?”
“Where is my wife?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about, sir. Can you tell me why you think your wife may have been here?”
“She say she come here.”
“She told you she was coming here?”
“Yes. Two day ago. She not come back.”
“Well, we haven’t had any visitors in the last two days, sir.”
“Lie. Explosion on mountain. Saw person fall to canyon.”
“Where was that?”
“Here. It was here.”
“Really? Right here?”
“Right here, it was here.”
“Well, I’m afraid that can’t be, sir, because I’ve been here for the past two days…”
“Who fall off mountain? Where is my wife? She not fucking you, is she?”
“Trust me, sir, no she isn’t. I don’t even know who she is.”
“I go to canyon now and I find person. I come back and if my wife, I kill you. Yes?”
He dropped his baseball cap and whipped his hand to the back of his jeans, unsheathing a revolver and putting it under my neck. He smiled a smile more horrible than his wife’s dying screams and calmly reverted back to a more reserved look.
“I go to canyon. I find wife, I kill you. I find anyone else, I call police. I find no one, I send basket. Yes?”
When he took the revolver off it left a little red loop on my delicate, murderous skin.
I bolted to the kitchen and retrieved an old pair of binoculars. I sat out on the deck obsessively, beaming over key locations in the canyon, the blood spatters on the boulders, tracing my way down, estimating where she had fallen. I zoomed over the canyon for a minute or two until I could see the body broken in the depths. Any passerby on the path relatively close to her body would spot her for sure, as she was clear of any brush or tree, in the wide open, a bloodied, innocent beacon. She hardly had a face, but with her hair and scalp almost intact, and wearing clothes the husband would surely recognize, it was looking as if I was going to have a bullet in my skull by day break.
I kept locked on her as the little Chinese man finally made his way down the path in my peripherals, curiously inspecting every possible avenue, sniffing up and down the trail. He had placed the red hat on his head and holstered his revolver. He finds it, oh yes he does, and the yelp that comes out of his little, seemingly quiet mouth is disgustingly high pitched. It reverberated off the canyon walls and he involuntarily repeated himself.
“FUCK NO, FUCK NO, PLEASE NO.”
It was syncopated. Fuck no. Fuck no. Please no. Fuck no. Fuck no. Please no.
He dropped to his knees next to the body and spoke for a moment, intelligible words from here, long seconds, pauses in between and then zealous bursts of sobbing. Complete and total agony. He laid horizontally next to her corpse, his cheek planted on the dirt, a smile solemnly, needlessly attached to his face, tears gushing and bursting onto the thin layers of dirt and quartz below them. He placed his arm around her. He closed his eyes and cried for a while. Just cried there in the dirt next to his faceless wife. But he still knew it was her. She was once her and he was once him loving her. They are no longer them, all because of me.
I threw myself inside and downstairs into the lab, knowing I didn’t have a lot of time before the weeping Chinese man came to collect the theoretical, recently-placed bounty on my head. A wife for a lost son, imagine that.
“A Chinese man just walked in looking for his wife and pointed a gun at my face. Claude and Wally are right. We should go.”
“We can’t go, Lavender,” said the Chemist.
“Why not? Did you miss the part about the crazy Chinese man? How about the gun and head part?”
Mettick and the Chemist exchanged glances, neither of them liking what they saw in one another’s faces.
“We’re taking the entire jug,” said the Chemist.
“Fine. We’re leaving right now. And we’re burning this place to the fucking ground.”
The jug of Mystic Co-pilot was sealed, but the Chemist warned that anything with this much liquid inside of it is susceptible to break if dropped or even wobbled too frequently. We put an industrial sized dolly on the bottom of it and eventually propped it up, with Pete and I leading it up the stairs, and McKee and Mettick pushing from behind.
The stairs weren’t terribly narrow, but each bump was a potential “we’re going to lose all of our shit and be poor for the rest of our lives” scenario. Knowing at this point that my fuckup not only cost me my freedom, but hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lab equipment and a house, all of which I paid nothing for, I wasn’t exactly wanting to drop the tub of liquid money in front of me. After some careful positioning, it was finally up the stairs.
“We don’t have a lot of time. I like to avoid bullets in heads,” said Pete.
“Me too, and I’m the one who’d be getting it,” I said.
“Oh, it’s always about you, Lavender. Precious little Lavender thinking he’s special because he’s the only one that was threatened by a disgruntled Chinese man with a gun today,” shouted Mettick from behind the barrel.
“I just really don’t want to die, Mettick.”
The next fifteen seconds felt like hours, even now, even today. I was phased out. I was frightened. I didn’t want to die and it could have realistically happened. I wasn’t paying attention. It was everything all over again. Re-living without being able to take it. Reminiscing and being afraid for your life. Remembering, cornering yourself into the broken, damp canals of your brain. Thoughts, nostalgia, a nest full of wasps, pinpricks beyond fathomable degrees of pain. You remember and you want to forget. Then you remember forgetting is the worst step of all. A nest of wasps is better than a cavern of stone.
I slipped. I slipped into the hole I had made dancing when I was on the Mystic Co-pilot. My hand grasped, and the weight must have sent it toppling on top of me. I hit the pump to Ticker Falls hard, my back making alarming crunching noises during this period, which I recall vividly, as even then I didn’t think it was any better or worse than the forty gallons or so of Mystic Co-pilot about to pile on top of me. I slid to the right, the giant jug still tipping in close-to-slow-motion. Mettick and the Chemist and Pete desperately held onto the lid, trying to keep it from toppling; the lid still on, about to burst, the liquid seeping out just enough to resemble a poor man’s maple syrup container. I was about half-way up when the container busted, it soaking my bottom half completely. It ruptured all over the floor as I hurriedly threw off my pants, knowing soon I was going to explode.
But I never exploded.
The jug tore practically in two. One of the pieces fell down the now body-sized hole, breaking into even more pieces on the way down, and before I knew it, I was tripping. The immediate onset made sense given the enormous dose. The jagged pieces of flimsy material just barely pierced through the Ticker Falls water pipe, the Mystic Co-pilot now mixing and mingling with the water being jet-streamed to the town.
“Fuck!” shouted Pete.
“Shit!” shouted Mettick.
“This is a disaster. We need to leave. Now,” said the Chemist.
“Help me,” I pleaded.
Wally and Claude came in from the porch to notice the mess, noticing immediately what just happened, our fortune stripped away from us. Morally what just happened is great. We will sleep easy. Our wallets, however, will not.
“Okay. I’m gonna’ go fiddle with some shit in the lab, pressurize it, turn all the burners on, and then we’re gonna’ get the fuck out of here,” said the Chemist.
“Sounds good, sounds good, sounds good,” I said.
But what he hadn’t anticipated is that we heard him locking the door. The cold iron lock thudded when he closed it.
Within minutes, both the cabin and the Chemist were on fire. He didn’t let his babies go.
Within minutes, we were on the road to freedom.
I awoke belly down and pants-less on a small prairie, on a rolling hill overlooking blackened cottages. The smoke, I remember, forced my eyes open.
The specifics were dead to me. I was awake and was me, that was all that was sure.
I felt piss drunk and penniless, robbed of nutrition and wealth and eons of experience. My ears were ringing.
A severed leg was next to me.
A string of women approached me and asked me to eat the transgressions of their people.
I told them no and one of them hit me with a rock.
I awoke belly down and pant-less, again, on a small prairie. A severed leg was next to me.
A singular woman approached me and Mettick threw a chair at her head and it brought her tumbling over like a sack of rocks, or potatoes, or ferrets, or anything, really.
I told him,
“Whoa, you hit her with a chair.”
“Indeed I did, indeed I did, indeed I did. You’re finally up, buddy boy! Welcome to beautiful Ticker Falls. That name! Ticker! Fucking funny!”
I felt awful. The last thing I remembered at this point was the car ride. The car ride. I fell asleep right away. Fuck. Faster than I can say I got fucking roofied.
“Little fucking Lavender! Finally awake. Finally ready to go. Finally ready to get out of Ticker Falls. Mettick shouldn’t have dragged him here. Mettick. Me.”
“I know who you are, Mettick.”
“Sure you do, pal. Sure you do. Little miss mister Lavender. Little mister dandy pants. All of this, everything, every patch of burnt stucco and wood and grass and rubber is yours. You’re the owner of this failure.”
“Why are the houses on fire, Mettick? Whose leg is that, Mettick?”
“That is Pete’s leg, and those fires were started, well, by some bitch, physically, but by you metaphorically. So I consider you the arsonist, really.”
“What? Mettick, why the fuck are you talking like this?”
“Look, look, lets have a little pow-wow. We have a lot of catching up to do. After all, buddy, you’ve been knocked out for about three days now. It would be only two if I didn’t let that bitch hit you with the rock, but I did, as I felt you kind-of-sort-of deserve it.”
“Don’t mention it.”
He sat cross-legged next to me. I felt too weak to move, so I simply stayed face down in the grass. I remember a breeze, a warm one, which brought a stink and heaviness with it. The sky was golden and dusk, red clouds overshadowing them, the hidden veins of purple mountains stretched out across the horizon.
“So we leave the cabin and it’s dandy. So dandy that we’re all having a conversation in the car, at your expense, of course, and we get to talking about how much you’ve ruined our lives. How terrible you truly are. How much hate and filth you spread on a daily basis. We got around to talk about how we, too, in some cases, are spreaders of filth and hate and incompetence, but we always reveled in the fact that your only saving grace is being temporary. Your only saving grace is your lack of permanence. The fact that we’ll be rid of you and make something better of ourselves because of it endears us and strengthens us. Oh, here’s the important part, that I keep wanting to forget but cannot: there is no more us, because you, Lavender, killed all of us. That Chinese guy shot Wally, who was driving the car. This, of course, made it spiral wildly out of control into a ditch, which would actually have been fine, if that ditch didn’t have a—”
He started drum-rolling on his legs, a wide grin wiped across his face. But it faded. It all faded quick. He put his hand on my face and squeezed until a couple of back teeth popped out and I dribbled them onto the floor. He punched me in the nose and I just laid there pathetically in my own blood.
“Guess what it is, Lavender. Come on.”
“I don’t know.”
“Guess. What could it possibly be? I’m sure you know already. It’s obvious, really, was to me, anyway.”
“I don’t know, Mettick. Please let me go.”
“I’m going to let you go, Lavender. I’m not a fucking murderer. I’m just different. That’s what happens, sometimes. People get different because of how things work out. When things work out bad, sometimes people get better—they start seeing everything more clearly. They start picking up frequencies they would have never picked up before. A new lens of life is pulled back and revealed, and our memories and experiences serve us well when everything is falling apart. But sometimes when things work out well, people get worse. They start assuming that everything will be great forever, they overplay and over-hype their own lives into oblivion because of current contentment. They see the stars but land in the gutter, and they, for the rest of their lives, will resent and hate that gutter, and feel as though they were destined for the stars. The irony, as I’m sure you’ve realized, is that they put themselves in that gutter in the first place. The idiots! The fucking idiots!”
“And I’m a fucking idiot, I just don’t deserve to die?”
“Shut up, Lavender. Just shut up. Listen. You need to give me an answer, right or wrong. It doesn’t decide your fate. Nothing happens. In fact, when this is all over, I’m walking away. You’re on your own. But I won’t be the hand to kill you.”
“How nice of you, Mettick. I always knew you were a sweet guy.”
“What was in the ditch?”
“No, you dumb fuck.”
“Hey, you gave me very few context clues.”
“In 1952, Ovil Falls built his first house here. He lived here with his wife and his six children. Three of the children were older daughters, who each had a house and husband of their own. In early 1953, when all the houses were completed, they added one last piece of aesthetic, a sign which said, “Ticker Falls.” Over the years they would add names of popular political parties they disliked. First among them was Communism. By chance, do you know what a ticker is?”
I laughed here, although I shouldn’t have.
“No, Mettick. For fucks sake. Have we made it clear enough that I’m a dumb fuck, yet?”
“When we hit the first tree I was flung from the car and was hardly injured. Scrapes, bruises, nothing bad. A lucky break. But then, in a second, the tree snapped and fell into a small ravine below and the car went down fast. And then it blew up. And then it stopped, and I ran down to the flames and the rubble, and Claude was dead, and Pete was pretty much fucked, but alive, without a leg, and you were just fine sleeping there, happy as a bird. Pretty as a penny. And then I carried you both back to good ‘ol Ticker Falls.”
“You still haven’t described—”
“Shut up, Lavender. I’m getting there. I carried you back to Ticker Falls. In Ticker Falls, of course, because of you and your mistakes, the entire population was tripping their fucking labiae off on Mystic Co-pilot. They were going nuts and the town was essentially in shambles. The two cottages you see back there are a result of a woman stepping on a mine quite far outside of town, then hysterically running back into town while engulfed, head to toe, in flames. I really love to see that on my Tuesday mornings. There was another mine out here that blew up, some other crazy, delusional, unfortunate woman. Her goody parts are around here somewhere.”
Mettick sighed and continued.
“The drugs weren’t explosives, you fucking idiot. Ovil Falls was paranoid. That’s it. Installed dozens of landmines over twelve square miles of his land out here. Absolutely insane bastard. And now his town is practically ashes.”
“No, he didn’t deserve it. He was just trying to protect his family.”
“Yeah, but he secluded them into this place.”
“He was a little extreme, but his intentions were good.”
“To hell with intentions. Haven’t you ever heard that actions define?”
“Haven’t you ever heard that morals do, too? I don’t care anymore, Lavender. I’m just going to walk.”
He looked to his left and laughed. He gazed straight again.
He kept laughing.
“Yeah, I’m going to walk far fucking away from here.”
He looked to his left again, leaned over and picked something up.
“Turn your head, Lavender.”
I obeyed, if I recall correctly.
He was holding a woman’s breast, and just a woman’s breast. It sopped over on the side of his hand. He laughed.
“Prettiest tits this side of Ursa Minor.”