BY KAJETAN KWIATKOWSKI
Copyright is held by the author.
BY THE time we lined up at Mogey’s, the preliminary stims were already taking effect. Bryen, who was naturally lanky, now loomed in front of me like a crooked street lamp, neck bending lower than his shoulders, his eyes shining bright. “You . . . feelin’ good. Sam?”
I nodded with a dismissive “duh,” as if such an obvious question didn’t deserve a response, although truthfully I couldn’t speak beyond basic monosyllables. I would’ve liked to correct him and tell him I prefer going by Samantha, but such a verbal feat seemed daunting.
The line trudged along. All of us twenty-somethings were jittering, just itching to reach the entrance. I tried to be the exception, but I also knew that was impossible.
I pointed to my tongue to say we could swallow the paper squares we had been moistening. Bryen nodded. He claimed to have taken psychogens before, but all signs indicated otherwise. It’s kind of why I chose him as tonight’s date. I liked being able to showcase my mastery of the realm.
“Almost. At. Front,” I managed to assemble.
Bryen’s eyes were a nightscape, his pupils so dilated you could barely see the whites. Even still, he was able to focus them for a moment and stare at his wrist — where I had told him to write down: “remember you’re on drugs.”
We swam in. It was a pool hall, one of those gimmick raves where they enhanced your stim to make you believe you were dog paddling. There wasn’t any real water of course, and to a sober observer we all looked pretty stupid, but trust me, on the right trip, the ability to float felt amazing.
I treaded effortlessly, accustomed to the sensation. Very soon the rut of stupefaction waned, and I could feel my first wave of increased sociability swell. I was eager to talk. “So Bryen, tell me about yourself.”
He paddled while sifting for thoughts. Eventually his tongue managed to find the same social lubricant. “Well. Like I said. I’m a student at UVC. I take game design. Umm . . .”
“What’s your relationship with your parents?”
“What? God. I don’t know.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“I’m . . . born here?”
I could poke fun at the uninitiated for hours. With my newfound confidence, I opened the locket around my neck and released my Fauna accessory into the air.
“Is that — a ladybug?”
I didn’t say anything. It was fun to screw with newbies using domesticated insects—the Fauna fad hadn’t reached some of the freshmen. The beetle orbited my hair as I perfected my breaststroke over to the bar.
The stools were filled with neighbouring trippers, a mix of youth still dressed in street clothes with a few “swimmers” in bikinis and speedos. Bryen followed in a doggy-paddle, completely silent. I started asking what the week’s best purchase was, and everyone leaned in with advice. Mogey’s was famous for promoting their own brand of synchronic hallucinogen, but they were equally famous for diluting it to crap. Tonight’s intel came from a group of partiers all wearing scuba masks, who explained that the top candy was anything sponsored by a subsidiary called Hypey’s, a start-up that promoted the work of recent chemistry grads.
The long-haired barkeep was happy to sell me Hype-4,which he himself qualified as “a jungly good time.” And as per our tandem-agreement, Bryen got a variant labelled Hype-Classic. Your partner is supposed to take a slightly different candy than you are, so in case one of you OD’s, the other can hopefully do something about it. That’s the idea, anyway.
“If either of you feel like taking another hit,” the barkeep said, “you know where to find me.” He gave an exaggerated wink.
Bryen asked for a glass of water, and managed to drink half of it before spilling the rest all over his monocoloured tee. “Am I drinking water . . . underwater?”
I pulled him away. Our Hype was scheduled to activate as soon as the band went on, which gave us a bit of time to find our raving spot. We paddled around the hall, trying to feel out a good area.
Before becoming a club, Mogey’s had been a sewer terminal, and if you looked close, you could tell the archways along the ceiling were designed to fit massive sewer pipes, and that the lights were made from recycled manhole covers.
Bryen drifted away from the crowd, cornering himself in an alcove made of brick and old plumbing. “I just need a second … to find my grip.”
I swam over and grabbed his hand for the first time. The jolt of human connection tended to reset confidence, but Bryen’s fingers felt cold, limp, and unable to curl.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have agreed to this.” He shook his head. “It’s all . . . very . . . a lot.”
I smiled and kept surfing on my talkative wave. “Listen Bryen, you’re a smart guy. Just think of this as a videogame you’ve designed. You’re playing it right now. It’s like life, but there’s a new set of rules. And the first one is: Think positive.”
“How is this . . . How do you do this?”
I shrugged. “Over and over again.”
He stared at me like I had revealed some terrible secret about his birth, or the meaning of life.
I smiled harder and gave his hand a squeeze. “It’s okay. We can take a minute. Take your time.”
“But . . . why do you do this?” His face was red. The stims were making him agitated, which was another obvious sign he’d never done this.
“For fun, Bryen. We do it for fun.”
“But that’s . . . stupid,” he finally managed. “You don’t even like me. I know you don’t like me. So why did…”
I didn’t like where he was taking this. The tendrils of his mood were brushing against my vibe, dragging me down. “Bryen, relax.”
“And I agreed to it, even though I know you’ve done the same thing to like nine other guys…”
“Bryen. You’re overthinking this. We’re here to party.”
“You’re like a witch. You’ve taken me here to use me. You’re trying to take something from me. Something to put in your cauldron.”
I gripped the plumbing beside me and took a breath. “Bryen, it’s okay to feel scared. Remember what you wrote?” I pointed to his forearm, but the ink had been smudged by his spilled drink. It was now nothing more than a mushroom blot.
“My youth. That’s what you want. You’re trying to sap me so you can keep doing . . . this.” He waved at the undulating crowd, getting ready for the music.
“Bryen, you’re being —”
“You’re ensorcelling freshmen, because this is all you have left. The seniors in your year are gone; you’ve used them up. So you go after us, the young bloods.”
I shook my head, a bit shocked by the sudden Wicca, or psychoanalysis, or whatever he was spewing. “Bryen, you’re being paranoid. Just breathe in. Calm down.”
He grabbed hold of the rusty pipes and then—climbed. Just climbed. It was so brash and quick that by the time I realized what he was doing, I could only manage to grab his ankle. “Hey. Where are you going?”
“Let go of me, witch!”
It was such a bizarre insult, and it bothered me more than I thought it would. I pulled on his leg, glancing back at the crowd, hoping not to make a scene. “Jesus Christ Bryen, get down from there. You’re on drugs, for God’s sake. Relax.”
He kicked me off and scrambled to the top. Mogey’s had a plethora of catwalks and ladders for those willing to climb, and Bryen now seemed eager to use them.
I paused, unsure if I should follow. The wave of courage that had loosened my tongue had crested. The pipes around me slowly began to writhe and bud flowers, and my ladybug flew about as if she could see them. The Hype-4 must have started leaking into my stim. Technically I could still drift back to the bar, call off the Hype before it fully set in, but then all my effort tonight would go to waste.
Goddamnit Bryen. It was my own fault for diving into the deep end with a newbie. I should have known some young programmer wouldn’t be comfortable here. I should have corralled another athlete, or drama kid.
I tugged at my braids, and the ladybug fluttered circles around my fingers.I was failing. Again. Although that in and of itself was nothing new — grazing the edge of rock bottom felt like my entire life story — the one area I’ve taken pride in being somewhat responsible was my tripping. I may have lost jobs, failed exams, and barely coped with life at home, but I could take care of myself on a trip. I always brought a date because having a tandem close by dramatically reduces the chance of an overdose, and out of respect for my health I’ve limited my excursions to only once a week now.
I wasn’t going to let this set me back.
I jumped and slid my hands on the plumbing, flipper-kicking the imaginary water. The ancient metal was sturdy, and I quickly climbed to the platform, careful not to stain my pantsuit. Up top, I could see the mic checks happening on the distant stage, clouds of dancers swimming between it and me. And then I saw my date, huddled, only a catwalk away.
He was sitting chin-to-knees, nestled beneath more plumbing with ruby valves—valves which now undulated like flowers caught in a breeze.
I opened the lockets along my arm bands. Generally, I would have preferred to save the reveal for when I’m raving among the dance-crowds, far off this planet, but who knows if I’ll even get to dancing at this point.
The dormant horseflies shot out from my wrists and took flight, encircling me as if trying to form a hula hoop. My ladybug sensed this, and on cue, started to sparkle with iridescence.
Bryen stared at me, transfixed.
“Alright Bry. You’ve found me out. I’m a witch, and I’m looking for a sacrifice.” I raise one hand, as if holding an invisible chalice. On cue, all the insects buzzed into my palm, forming a shining ball.
“Each weekend I devour a soul in this hedon-sewer, and plunge myself deeper towards true, delicious oblivion: the dark serenity we all seek, if but for an instant.”
He watched like a mesmerized child.
I let the shining ball disperse, and offered a sinister, tongue-in-cheek grin. “Your life-force is sufficiently ripe for tonight’s concession. Consumption. Consummation.” My elocution gets pretty good when I’m this high. “But don’t worry, if you cooperate, and share in my doomed euphoria, I shall spit you back into the normal life you once had. After tonight, all will be well.”
Bryen rose, his hands finding purchase on the flower wall behind him.
“Dance with me, Bryen. And all will be well.”
He pointed, eyes staring in awe of my presence. “All you want is . . . a dance?”
“Yes.” You ignoramus. “We’re going to swim back down, and embrace the carnage of the dance floor. It’s the whole reason we came here after all.” For God’s sake.
He backed away, stumbling over the shoots of venus flytraps. A couple bit into his shoulder, pinning him. “What if I refuse?”
The leafy plumbing now snaked along the floor, trying to coil around my legs. The moments where I could process lucid thoughts were dwindling. The lights around Mogey’s had begun to dim, which meant the show would start soon.
“Then you’ve condemned yourself, Bryen. Never again will you feel even an iota of ‘fun.’Your friends will oust you, besmirch you. Your mother will coddle you, try to fix you with psycho-therapy. You will have nothing but your hopeless self. And in the face of such uselessness, you will become a backdrop at a venue, trying to leech whatever enjoyment some chemicals happen to stir in your skull—over and over again. Until you forget why you do it in the first place. Until you feel compelled to embrace the obscurity; swim into it, deeper and deeper until…”
I broke down crying.
My knees buckled and I fell against the metal grating, landing hard on my hip. A bed of moss rose up, trying to lift and support me, but I had no energy left to stand.
Goddamnit. I broke the first rule.
That familiar tingling at the tips of my hands and legs set in. My extremities leaked bubbles. It tickled. But instead of turning ecstatic, it felt as though I had been rooted. Turned into a reactor that now fuelled the growth of this dark jungle looming over me.
Leaves fell onto my face. Time slowed.
What if I have a seizure? Dandelions sprout beside my cheeks, eliciting a rash.
I imagine the clean-up crew finding my asphyxiated body, strangled by vines, and tossing it into Mogey’s secret incinerator. My ashes would be discarded along with all the other dead addicts into the city’s sewage — where we would become filtered a hundred times over until there is nothing left but the ghostly atoms of our prior existence.
Jesus. Think positive. I can’t lose tonight.
The bubbles reach my elbows and knees. I roll over in the undergrowth, hoping to lie face down to prevent choking on my tongue.But as I shift, I feel myself roll away and become weightless.
Oh dear, I have fallen off the catwalk.
Sailing through the simulated water, pollen swirls off me as the plants let go. The lights have completely disappeared, and I’ve no clue where the floor is. I picture myself falling the three meters off the gangplank and brace for impact. My limbs turn to pinwheels.
Pinwheels turn into breaststrokes. The movement helps distract me. With the grace of a dart frog, I swim until I gently skim the club floor, and then I land with my feet. That’s better.
I look up and see Bryen’s shadow, lost in his own world. For all I know, I’ve truly convinced him I’m a witch. That was a stupid ploy. Of course it would scare him off.
He stands up and runs further down the catwalk, deeper into the jungle.
The lights return. Bass tones rumble. I look to the stage and can see the chalky band members start up a rhythm on their motor-drums. “Who’s ready to die tonight?” the lead singer asks.
The crowd becomes a riot.
As the Hype-4 bubbles reach my heart, another rainforest explodes in front of me. Tiger lilies, orchids, and trillium festoon my limbs. Rich, fruity colours swamp my movement until it feels like I’m no longer floating through water, but through thick, leafy molasses.
Red eyes watch from the foliage. Wet tongues salivate. My glowing insects have multiplied into an asteroid belt — continually swirling, faster and faster. I dip a finger into the shiny movement and produce a colour so shimmering it gives me sunspots.
I’m blind. The forest growls encroach upon me. Sharp edges strike my lungs. I’m alone. I can’t breathe. Am I choking?
My feet churn towards where they think the bar lies. I cough and pat my chest. No experience is worth dying for. No matter how great.
The opening chorus begins, and the music slings bats and snakes out from the jungle behind me. My breaststroke is now pathetic. I sink to the floor and grab at any vines that I can find. My pantsuit drags, tears in places, but I don’t care: I’ve got to reach the bar.
Feeling my urgency, my waist suddenly sprouts another set of limbs. With my two extra legs resting above the other two, I skitter across the floor, trying to mimic the movements of my ladybug when grounded. I feel the molasses around me resist. The liquid tastes sweet. It must be honey.
When I reach the overgrown bar, each of its flowers stare at me, following like surveillance cameras. Instead of a bartender, there sits an enormous honeybee, whose compound eyes rotate like a set of disco balls.
“Bzuzuzoo!” I say and point to my head. “Zzzt! Zzzdoo! ZZZDOO.”
The disco-balls shrink down into a pair of human eyes; the bee’s antennae curl back into brown hair. He plays with a few tulips around him, shaking their petals.
“Zub Zub Zdoo,” the bee-thing says, and then his mandibles turn into human lips. “Are you sure you want to cancel the Hype-4?”
“Yes . . .” I shiver, holding my palms against my face. “Sorry. Thank you. Sorry. Thanks.”
A pair of scuba swimmers pat me on the back, offer me a glass of water. I accept the drink while watching the meter-high jungle around me shrink down. The bromeliads become stools, the heliconias, a vending machine. There’s a corpse flower that sucks in its petals, curls into a ball, and turns into an empty beer keg.
My extra limbs detach, quickly withering away. The vines retract from my ankles and straighten back into piping along the walls. The ground moss loses all its colour and disappears through the cracks in the floor. The hallucination fades altogether. I’m sober again. Or at least, just coasting off prelim stimulants.
“Your friend,” the bartender asked. “Did you want me to cancel it for him too?”
For a moment, I wanted penance. Dial him to eleven, I wanted to say. The coward should learn not to waste another person’s high. But instead, I nodded. “Yes, you can cancel it for him too. Sorry. Kind of flubbed up our ‘set and setting.’ My fault.”
He made the adjustments; I gave polite thanks.
I waded back through the weak turbulence to find Bryen, no longer compelled to swim. With the synchrogen cancelled, the omnipotent band looked more like a bunch of dudes with too many piercings. The feed-cables in their backs looked gimmicky, and the Fauna in their hair felt overdone.
This sort of jadedness usually only came the morning after, when I had a dry mouth and a headache to distract me. Feeling it now, it felt alien. Disheartening.
I found Bryen at the base of the piping we had climbed before; his colour had returned, and he was nodding along to the motor-drums.
“Sam! There you are.” He looked at me with a quizzical sort of smile, head still bobbing. “You know for a second, I thought I had fallen into like … an abyss or something. Petunias were chasing me, a pterodactyl almost tore off my head . . . but now, I think I’ve settled into it. I’ve found some control. Is this what it’s supposed to be like? At a rave? On drugs?”
I nodded with a sigh. “Yes Bryen. Yes it is.”
I opened the lockets on my neck and wrist, returning my horseflies and ladybug to their state of dormancy.There came an urge to toss my fauna accessories. To drop them through one of the grates along the floor. Instead, I gave them to Bryen.
“Whoa, what are you —?”
“Go ahead. I don’t want them.”
He was instantly fascinated with the bug-ornaments, losing himself in their design. I considered taking his hand, dragging us home —but his spirits looked so high, and the band had only just started.
“Catch you later,” I said. “Have fun.”
I grabbed my bag from the coat-check and then squeezed past the growing centipede of teens and twenty-somethings all squirming, itching to dance. But something about tonight’s failure to launch deeply unsettled me, and I didn’t know why.
I passed a girl covered in skeletal makeup and irises dyed the same red that I used to wear. With a few more piercings, she might’ve been me four years ago.
For a moment, I wanted to tell her something—maybe offer a warning, maybe grant advice —but I don’t know where to begin. So I settled for tapping her shoulder and giving her an affectionate wink. “Stay safe, darling. Enjoy the night.”
She smiled, sticking out her tongue — it was littered with colourful paper squares. “Oh. Hell. Yeah. It’s. Party. Time.”
Kajetan tries to balance his time between teaching, helping his immigrant parents run a pierogi business and writing fiction about bugs. He’s fine when a fly falls in his soup, and he’s fine when a spider nestles in the side mirror of his car. In the future, he hopes humanity is willing to embrace such insectophilia, but until then, he’ll write entomological fiction to satisfy his soul. His credits include publications in On Spec, Deep Magic, House of Zolo, Defenestration and Literary Yard among others. You can visit www.EclosionStories.com and follow him @Kajetkwiat. He lives in Vancouver, B.C.