By Hank Kirton
Photo © Toby Huss
We’re eighteen years old and bored. It’s a week before Christmas. Abram and I decide there’s nothing better to do, so we force my dying AMC Hornet through the freezing night to score some acid. We need an event in our lives. Abram has a hippie-buddy who deals psychedelics. Hippie-Buddy works second shift at Tantalus Tech, the big plastics factory downtown. I wait in the parking lot while Abram runs into the huge, brick, Industrial Revolution building to buy four tabs of Crazy Cat blotter acid.
I’ve never done acid before.
Back in the car, Abram holds out the tabs. I look at the abstract shapes on the little paper squares like they’re sibylline sigils and say, “Why do they call it Crazy Cat?”
“If you had a whole sheet you’d see a cartoon of a cat smoking a bong, ha-ha,” he says. “These are just, like, little puzzle pieces. Ha-ha.”
When Abram thinks something is funny, he says “Ha-ha,” in a deadpan monotone. It isn’t a genuine laugh; it’s punctuation. His real laugh is a subtle chuckle deep in his throat. Abram doesn’t laugh often, he has no reason to, but he makes the “Ha-ha” statement a lot.
I drop Abram off and leave the car at home. I walk to his neighborhood, a small lakeside suburb about a mile away.
It starts to snow; tiny blue motes in the keen-edged air.
We eat the tabs. With nothing better to do, we start walking the streets, waiting for things to happen.
The first thing that happens is a police car pulls over.
The cop rolls down his window and my breathing relaxes a little. It’s just Bob Letourneau, an okay guy who lives in the neighborhood. We’ve know him our whole lives. He and Abram start shooting the shit.
But as the seconds bleed into minutes, I start thinking, Okay, enough. Say goodnight, someone. Please?
Whenever the conversation begins to lose juice, Abram revs it back up with a new question or comment. What’s he doing for Christ’s sake? How’s he going to respond when Officer Bob’s soft ruddy face melts into salmon-colored liquid? When he starts speaking in incomprehensible birdsong? When the vapor curling from his mouth turns into little shrieking ghosts?
Abram keeps talking. And talking. Finally, a static-wrapped squawk escapes Bob’s radio and he says, “Gotta go, boys. Stay out of trouble. And Merry Christmas.”
Abram turns to me, grinning. “You feel the heat coming off the car? I was trying to keep him talking so we could stay warm. Ha-ha.”
We start walking again. Neither of us feels the slightest pull of the chemicals yet and it isn’t until we circle the block before I start to feel an urgent tingling in my guts. Here it comes, I think and I notice I’m grinning; a menacing, Joker grin. I can feel my jaws and teeth and tongue. Everything is clenched almost to the breaking point. I turn to Abram and he’s grinning too. He looks insane. I look around. The Christmas lights on the houses have grown brighter, more vivid; red pods engorged with blood, fat green seeds of pure chlorophyll, teardrops of deep blue summer sky…
“Wow,” I say. “I can feel it now.”
And then this happens: whenever we walk under a streetlight I start loosening my clothes, unbuttoning my coat, and when we part from the light, I bundle up again. I don’t notice I’m doing this until Abram starts laughing.
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s real warm under those streetlights, ain’t it? Uh-oh, here comes another one.” And as we pass under the light he opens his coat and fans himself and says, “Jesus, they got those things turned up too high. It’s like Miami Beach under here, ha-ha.”
I just shrug. He’s right, of course, and I feel ridiculous.
So, my first hallucination is a surprise. I was expecting something visual.
We circle the block again and stop to rest at an empty intersection. I point to the soft shoulder and say, “Hey, look at that weird writing.”
Abram looks down. “What writing? What are you talking about? Ha-ha.”
“Look, here. And there. And over there. Jesus, it’s all over the place…”
He examines the spots I indicate, and then raises his gaze, smirking. “You mean those sticks and twigs?”
“What, they look like hieroglyphics or some shit?”
I look again. “Oh. Well, yeah. Don’t they look that way to you?”
“Yeah, I guess. Ha-ha.”
“Ha-ha,” I tell him.
Silence and I’m looking at the snow. I watch the tumble and whirl of the flakes as they somersault across the streetlight. Hidden in the feathered architecture are haunted, berserk faces and figures, all knotted and writhing like a frenzied orgy plummeting through space.
I don’t say anything about this. I don’t want Abram to laugh at me anymore.
Eventually Abram says. “I’m going home.”
“This sucks. I’m freezing. I’m gonna go watch TV.”
“Oh, okay. Um, not to invite myself, but can I come over too?”
“Uh-uh,” he says, just like that. “I look bad enough. If my mom sees both of us together with pupils the size of Frisbees, she’ll know we’re all fucked-up. Ha-ha.”
I nod. “Okay.”
“Yeah. So, give me a call in the morning. Let me know how things turn out, ha-ha.”
He walks away. I watch him disappear behind a curtain of darkness and snow.
I pull up my collar, jam my hands into my pockets, and start home. I keep my eyes down. I walk past three or four houses on a road I’ve known my whole life.
I look up and suddenly everything becomes different.
I freeze. The house in front of me is a photograph of a painting seen through a fractured telescope. A shock of panic seizes me as I realize the laws of perspective have just vanished, utterly.
I quickly lower my focus to the rushing road and start walking again, forcing myself to navigate across the broken geometry of the landscape.
And I think; What do I do if Officer Bob drives by again and wants to chat? “Hey, there! You heading home already? Where’s Abram? Are you okay? What have you been doing? Could you do me a favor and look into the light, now follow my finger with your eyes…”
Shit, I think. Shit, this is no good. I have to get off the street. I have to hide and sneak home. I know I must look as crazy as I feel. Up ahead there’s a path that cuts through the woods, so now I have to make a decision; follow the straight, illuminated street and risk detection, or tramp through the dark and winding woods.
I look up at the next house. It is a flickering, unstable projection of impossible textures and colors.
I opt for the woods.
I tell myself I have taken a powerful drug and that most of the information my senses are giving me is hallucination. I cling to this truth like a cat on a sinking mast.
I get off the road and start down the path through the woods and I hear Abram say, “Ha-ha.”
The path is blue and glows like radiation.
There are hissing, viperous giants in the trees, reaching for me with long, blue-green tongues that undulate and curl like octopus tentacles. I can’t risk a straight-forward glance because to see the slithering faces of these ophidian behemoths is to court madness, ha-ha.
The path here is wide, bright, and easy to follow and I quicken my pace, marching toward the safety of home with rising desperation. I keep my destination in front of me like a beacon.
It’s when the trail splits into dark and narrow pathways that things change again.
The darkness consumes me. It’s not a black, blank, dead-TV darkness. Not the kind of darkness I imagine the blind learn to navigate. This darkness is a boiling tangle of shadows and phantasma and I find myself flailing my arms, trying to brush away the cold molestations of the air around me.
I push myself forward, ignoring the swirling, tenebrous wraiths, and enter a grove of young, white-pine trees, where my sense of direction suddenly bursts and scatters. Every tree is a reflection – an exact duplicate of the next. I’ve stumbled into a hall of mirrors. I stand there, looking around, trying to make sense of this multipartite, pine kaleidoscope. But I can’t. I’m trapped. I’m going to have to just sit my ass down and wait for the acid to wear off, or for the morning sun to restore sanity to the landscape – hopefully without freezing to death, ha-ha.
Then I notice the light. Above the tree line is a fuzzy orange glow – streetlights – and I realize I’m close to the road.
Using the light as a guide, I start moving again. Beyond the pine trees is an old abandoned boyscout camp; empty huts and fireplaces and soft, sodden picnic tables. I dart from landmark to landmark, pausing to gather my scrambled bearings at each one.
I eventually make it to the street. My street. I can see my house on the other side, shuffled like a cubist painting. I force myself to dash across the road, praying that my senses aren’t so distorted that I run smack into a speeding car, ha-ha.
I make it across.
I made it, I say to myself. I made it. I made it.
Now all I have to do is get past my parents.
I approach the house warily, wondering what time it is. I feel like hours have passed, but the house is alight. They are still up. Fear wraps new tentacles around me. I peer in the kitchen window. My father is in there, alone. He’s sitting at the table, reading the paper, drinking a beer. He looks old. He looks like me. I imagine a double-helix umbilical-cord connecting us like soggy dripping rope and quickly try to force this vision away. Now is not the time to get weird and freak out.
I leave the window and walk slowly to the front door, searching my pockets for my key.
I look at the door. It looks like a giant tongue with waving, fibrous papillae. Maybe I should wait until he goes to bed. Maybe I should wait for this stupid fucking drug to wear off.
But it’s freezing and now that I’m not moving I can feel it. The bite of the wind slashes into the marrow of my bones and it hurts.
I have to go in. I have to play it cool and pretend to be normal.
After a few minutes I somehow convince myself I can pull this off.
The doorknob is soft and mushy, like putty, but I manage to work the key in and open the door. I take a deep breath and walk into the kitchen.
Oh god. I fucked up.
The bright light is too much and it blasts my new surroundings in such harsh, uncompromising illumination that I want to scream. Data and details swarm at me. The light reveals not just the true appearance of everything but the countless memories and dire ramifications attached to it all. Each stinging, infinite detail flies at me. I’m terrified and my father looks at me and I’m two years old and his voice is a strange, haunted broadcast from my earliest childhood as he says, “Hey there. Snow’s getting pretty heavy now, huh?”
I don’t know how but I manage to say, “Hi. Yeah.” Pieces of me fall away like segments of loose thread.
“Probably gonna need you to help me shovel tomorrow morning.”
I think I’m smiling and nodding when I say, “Okay, sure. No problem.”
He’s staring at me. He knows, he knows. He knows. Heknowheknowheknows…..
“Well, goodnight,” I say and turn and walk toward the living room.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Yup, fine. Thanks,” I say and my voice turns to liquid in my mouth, dribbles down the front of my coat, and puddles at my feet, sizzling like sulfuric acid.
I make it upstairs. The banister is so grotesque I’m afraid to touch it.
I enter my room and shut the door and turn on the light. I can’t take this anymore. It’s too much. I don’t even remove my wet coat or shoes as I crawl straight into bed, my father’s voice still reverberating in my mind, triggering depthless, staring memories.
I’m shivering and I close my eyes and pull the blanket over my head and think about my parents, my parents. I think about Abram and my other friends.
I think about myself, ha-ha.
And suddenly everything becomes different.
“Suddenly Everything Becomes Different” is featured in Hank Kirton’s book, The Membranous Lounge, which can be purchased here: http://www.paraphiliamagazine.com/themembranouslounge.html