Have I slept? I thought so, though I couldn’t be sure. My dreams had been so real; my reality seemingly but dreams.
I didn’t dare open my eyes for fear of seeing Charlie; the grotesque stranded in mud. Why did I leave him in the mud? I tried to wrestle back my reasons but they eluded me. Fear, came a whisper from outside my thoughts. Fear of what? I replied. Fear of what we can turn into.
I remembered an air of paranoia, waves of detached emotion that harried me, which had hung menacingly on the breeze the night before. But now, in the waking of a new moment, the paranoia had given way to wafting smells of vomit; a strange and heady mix of fresh, new morning and sickly morning-after. I hope that isn’t mine, I thought, as my nostrils were simultaneously filled with the discarded and the divine.
There was a cold snap to the air. I pulled the sleeping bag up to my chin and a camp chair creaked uneasily under my movement. Then I heard gentle snoring; it was Charlie, I recognized his purr and grunt.
Gradually I opened my eyes, just a tiny bit at a time and peered lazily through my floppy beanie, which had slipped down over my eye line. Sharp sunlight streamed in, but I hardly moved for fear of letting the cold air whistle through my fragile comfort.
Tilting my head up, ever so slightly, I caught sight of a girl fifty yards away, aimlessly floating like a lost feather in a thunderstorm. She appeared to be meandering in my direction but I couldn’t make out her features because of the rising sun. She preys on you, came a whisper. I watched her outline weave. The sight of the sun behind was beautiful compared to the previous day of darkness and her silhouette soon loomed large in the rising daylight.
Occasionally her figure paused and looked about as if she’d remembered she was looking for someone; her head quickly shifting about, scanning the dark greens and blues of the nylon sea and poignantly pushing her hair from her still hidden face. Then, with a limping of her body, she transformed back into a zombie-like stagger, head arcing to the ground, her feet stepping awkwardly over one another.
I could feel the warmth of the sun overpowering the cool breeze across my skin and with each step the silhouette took, closer and closer toward me, the more I felt my body lighten and relax. Finally, she arrived at a point about ten feet in front of me, her shape now blocking off the sun, casting a long shadow over me and my eyes widened as I saw her face. But then her face vanished, as she quite calmly crouched down and threw up. A penny dropped as I rubbed my eyes and I opened my mouth dumbly.
Is this a dream? I thought.
‘Was it only ever a dream, Lije?’
She was almost exactly as I remembered her; only now she was framed in sunlight rather than a cold, January, midnight moon.
‘Erin…’ I stuttered, ‘but you’re… you’re…’ Disbelief surged from my heart and I exclaimed, ‘You’re dead!’ Flashes of memory ran through my mind. A disappearance, cold water, shadows of trees across a sparkling lake and my voice blurted out in a shiver: ‘I killed you.’
Once the words had left my being I became paralyzed by fear. I stared at her, trapped and shocked. Whispers came back, rattling in my mind, lone and powerful. Whispers of fear. Whispers of anger. I could feel myself succumbing to their voice. Strike out, run, hide, strike out. Incessant whispers to move but I was frozen.
‘Oh, don’t be so melodramatic, Lije.’
She half skipped over to a camp chair next me and sat herself down. ‘Sorry about that, a little uncouth, just a wee bit of morning sickness. I’m sure you know how it feels,’ she said, glancing down at some vomit a few feet from my chair.
‘Now, less of this dwelling on the past,’ she continued. ‘This is what’s got you into this mess in the first place. I’ve come to give you a pipe of salvia. It’s time you stopped fighting and faced up to your Becoming.’
‘My becoming?’ I whispered inaudibly, still paralyzed by fear.
‘Oh dear, yourself Lije, yourself. You’re on the verge of a precipice and you don’t even realise it. You’re a pent up ball of emotion, a frozen schizophrenic, you’re a journalist, a druggie, and a festival goer. But yet, you’re just not yourself, you’ve stopped tripping. Your flow is twisted my love.’
The words ‘my love’ echoed in my mind and put the whispers at ease for a moment. Erin stretched out a hand and placed it in mine. It was warm and soft. She felt real and I became, for an instant, peaceful. But when she removed it: Strike out, run, hide, strike out, the whispers chattered again.
‘What do you want?’ I said in an angry voice, which hardly seemed my own. ‘How the fuck are you here?’
Erin stared back at me. She was calm, her eyes searching mine, her hand once again stretching out to touch me. What am I doing? I thought. A cascade of shame washed across me. Memories rushing through my skin and through my veins like a poison streaming to my brain. I gripped her hand hard, clenched it like I’d once clenched it, like I’d never let it go again.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whimpered. ‘I’m just not in… not in my…’
‘Lije?’ She said. I shook my head but couldn’t look at her. ‘Presence!’
With a great effort I turned my head toward her but could only gaze beyond into the nylon sea.
‘Well that will have to do for now,’ she continued, ‘as there isn’t much time. Now listen, you’ve been putting off a journey, by spending all your time nurturing a darkening spirit in here,’ she tapped on my head and my heart, ‘and now you’re stuck.’ I shuddered again. Ignoring me, she went on, ‘At the moment, you’re not quite lost and it’s up to you to get there, then you’ll be free to create a new way out.’
It was unreal… but I could touch her, I could feel her, she was out there, her being, out there. I wanted to cry. For joy? For sadness? I didn’t know. I just wanted to cry but I couldn’t. Maybe, I thought, I should wake Charlie up, he can tell me. Tell me if I’m mad. Am I mad?
Yes, came back a whisper.
‘Lije!’ Erin barked forcefully, ‘Presence,’ and my attention flooded back to her. ‘I must show you something and this is the best way. Here is your key to Pandora’s…’ She paused and giggled to herself, ‘I mean to say, Lije’s box.’
She thrust a pipe into my hands. It was long and wooden and the bowl was packed with Salvia extract. I stared down at it; still disbelieving of what was happening, then I put it to my lips. Erin put a turbo flame to it and I dragged hard. I held the smoke in, hide, cried a whisper, then released, and Lucifer lit again. I did the same. Run, a whisper recycled. There was an echo of chattering voices in my ear, the whispers of my mind streaming strongly in and I felt a force pushing me off my chair. I fell to my side and was pinned to the ground by invisible hands.
A flower appeared before my eyes and began to blossom. It blossomed in fractals, geometrically, as petals beget petals beget petals beget petals; the sped-up turning of a planetary arc. Reds, blues and greens merged as organic tendrils that spread outwards at an unfathomable speed. Simultaneously, that which was entering my awareness, giving it form, was deforming my comprehension of self. I tried to look down at myself, up at myself, myself in the mirror of my awareness but form dissipated. My body was a fleeting flower; a seed grown, blossomed, withered; sown, blossomed, withered. I cried out in fear but had no mouth with which to shape the sound; instead the fractal petals turned at an ever increasing speed. Then a stillness of my vision.
Distant, multiple whispers licked at my frozen awareness. I was unable to shift, I was locked, a prisoner of fear, a prisoner of whispers. Creeping. Creeping. Creeping. The whispers were licking chains back through my self. Creeping. Creeping. Creeping. A grain of sand my being kept. Creeping. Creeping. Creeping. I shuddered; I must unlock it. I grasped outwards in a panic, trying to free myself, but the whispers were too distant and untouchable. Creeping. Creeping. Creeping. I tried to scream again. Again, nothing. No mouth to scream; no mouth to feed. Creeping. Creeping. Creeping. I became aware of a presence next to me, in amongst the emerging pattern of my surroundings but I could not locate it in the space. It spoke to me.
‘You must follow me, Lije.’
Erin’s voice. Was it a voice? It was a lucid scrap of knowledge. I knew it was there, just as I’d known she was there through the warmth and the touch of her hand. When had she touched me?
‘Only moments ago. Come and follow me.’
I realised I’d spoken, only with no voice. Erin knows me.
‘Of course I know. Now please, come, don’t be caught up.’
Creeping. Creeping. Creeping, came the whispers to my awareness.
‘I can’t go. Please leave me alone. I’m scared.’
‘We must,’ I felt a tug on my awareness, invisible hands pushing me. Whispers, hundreds of low-pitched chatterings, which flooded my newly freed awareness. I spun. I spun. I spun. I spun to escape. I screamed again but could only watch my words, my thoughts, flow into the fractal flowers, a mellow thread further enriching the depth of the patterns.
‘You must let go, Lije. You must follow the whispers. You must come with me. Follow me, like the white rabbit.’
I felt Erin’s touch. Warm and soft. I gave up. I let the chattering whispers run amok. Rushing. Rushing. Rushing. A huge space engorged my awareness. I was shrinking; shrinking into the infinite fractal. A grain of sand. Rushing. Rushing. Rushing. I was a teenager. I was a child. I was being thrust backwards, forwards, inside-out and deep into a becoming-other. The space became so engorged, so cavernous and wide, that I came to a halt; a mere grain of sand in amongst the enormity.
Erin was next to me on the cavern floor; her hazel eyes were piercing.
‘Follow me, Lije. Follow me into the tunnel. Come and see from what you hide. Come and see what torments you. Come and unlock it. Set it free. Face it. Know it; as you know me.’
‘I can’t go,’ I whimpered, but already Erin led my awareness into the tunnel on a journey beyond my control. The voices were echoing, rolling round rocks, ragged rascals, running wild over and in every surface. Come with me. Unlock Me. Make me yours.
‘Erin, I don’t want to go. Please don’t take me. I’m not ready. I can’t,’ but there was no reply, only whispers, which became stronger and stronger the further we travelled: Lay with me. Caress me. Let me consume you.
‘Erin… please?’ I knew she was there still. She led me. She led the blind though, for I had no eyes in this vision.
Darker and darker the tunnel became until I truly feared her letting me go; leaving me lost in the darkness forever.
Tighter and tighter the tunnel became until only a grain of sand could pass. Pop went a noise in the night of my light and the echoing whispers stopped, for they were not a hundred chattering voices but the fragments, long-travelled, of just a single one.
Erin lay there in chains, struggling to free herself, her hazel eyes burning red.
‘Unlock me, Lije. Make me yours.’
I hesitated. She struggled but she smiled and her smile was twisted. Her presence was gone but there she lay.
‘I don’t have a key.’
‘Come and lay with me, caress me and that will set me free.’
‘I… I…,’ I found myself drifting down to her.
‘That’s it, come closer, touch me.’
As I reached out to her, just at the moment when my awareness of her found a handle, she screamed: ‘Let me consume you!’ And suddenly fractal petals exploded from her and the chains split, smashing against the rocky, tunnel walls. In a flash I was faced with an insipid looking spirit that lunged angrily at me with a horrific scream.
Wake up. I fled. My awareness shot back out the tunnel and I felt the rocky walls crashing inwards around me, and the spirit screaming behind me, following me through my escape. Wake up. Fear was pumping, my heart was pumping, I looked down and I saw it; a bloody, red heart, beating many times faster than the walls of the cavern. I went to touch it with a hand; my hand… connected to my arm… to my torso. Wake up. I was a body, running, running, running, for all it was worth, for fear of what I had unleashed. I looked back; the spirit still behind me, I could sense it but could no longer see it. I was taking it with me. I raced back out through the cavern, startling patterns retreating in petals, which beget petals beget petals beget petals…
‘Wake up, Lije!’
The sunlight smashed open my awareness to the outside world and I lay, on my side, in the campsite. Above me, shaking me, was Jon.
‘Come on, man, quickly,’ he pulled me to my feet. ‘The security trolls are doing one on the campsite. Charlie and Jenny have already legged it.’
‘What’s going on?’
‘Tobes was caught selling some MDMA, but he legged it and was followed back here. They’ve started searching the tents over there, come on.’
‘Where’s my tent?’
‘It got trashed after you guys went into the festival last night. Don’t you remember?’ I shook my head. ‘Fuck it, I’ll fill you in later. We’ve gotta leave now.’
I couldn’t get my head round what was going on, I just followed him, but we only made it about ten feet away when two security trolls barricaded our way through. My heart jumped and in doing so fragments of memory, about a tunnel, stirred and I heard a whisper: I will consume you and I will be with you always. I felt as if I was slipping back into my dreams but when one of the trolls grunted at us I instantly snapped out of it; as if a new alertness had emerged in my attention.
‘Stop right where you are!’
Jon shifted slightly as if he was going to make a run for it.
‘Don’t even think about it, son,’ added the other.
Neither of the troll guards were particularly tall but they were wide, thick, breathing walls of flesh. They both wore dark sunglasses and tilted their heads back in order to look down their noses at us. One guard looked gnarly and grizzled, like a dying oak tree and he folded his arms like an impudent child. I half-expected him to start shaking his head in frustrated fury. The other was younger looking, perhaps in his early thirties, with a tinge of blonde highlight in his hair. He held out his sweaty, leathery hands, preparing to search us.
‘You drugged-up fence jumpers and soap dodgers are walking a very thin line,’ the Oak Tree lectured as the other troll began to pat Jon down. ‘Now show us your wrist bands, empty your pockets and pass us your bags. We have reason to believe you’re both carrying illicit substances.’
Do I have a wrist band? Fuck.
‘Easy mate,’ Jon said with a distinct air of annoyance. ‘Don’t be laying your filthy hands on me.’
That set the grizzled Oak Tree into motion. He began pushing us back into a small clearing, his arms now splayed out like ominous, creaking branches, but all the while his face and demeanour remained impassive.
‘But we couldn’t get our passes yesterday,’ I pleaded, remembering our predicament. ‘I’m press though, if you just give me a second I can show you my accreditation letter.’
I tried to reach into my shoulder bag but he shoved me again.
‘Did you not hear what I fuckin’ said?’ He raved. ‘We’ll search that bag, boy.’
I stopped, slapped the Oak Tree’s arm down from my bag and looked him straight in the eye. My earlier confusion had given way to something more sinister, which now began to bubble up. Just as he shoved me once more, this time hitting my solar plexus and knocking me off balance slightly, another’s voice formed through my mouth.
‘Get the fuck off me!’ I shouted, and unthinking I shoved him backwards with all my force. He flew over into the muddy ground between two tents, landing hard with an onerous grunt. The other guard launched himself at me, sending me flying onto the ground and then jumped, landing knees first on my chest, knocking the wind out of me. I could feel fresh, new anger coursing and I struggled as hard as I could but he had my arms and legs pinned. His sweaty face, growling and hardened, was inches from mine and his breath smelt of stale milk. I gagged slightly.
There was a scuffle and Jon landed next to me. Several other trolls had appeared around us and I saw one grab my shoulder bag. Another held a phone next to my head and said: ‘He’s not the one. We saw them all together earlier though; better check his bag.’
My anger wouldn’t subside. I began to struggle more and more. Punch him. Smack him. Stupid fuckin’ Nazi. Bitter commands ran through my mind; angry words that shouted in my ear but were unheard by the trolls.
A raging torrent of strength overtook me, taking control of my body, and I shoved the sweaty, stinking mass off of me. I leapt up but another couple of guards quickly grabbed my arms and held me firm. I struggled for a second longer and then quite abruptly my rage left me. My body fell limp. I gazed down at Jon. He gave me a look, a look of confidence, turned and said: ‘Look at my wrist band,’ and one of the guards rolled up his sleeves and there was a yellow band, stamped with ‘Solpsycle.’
‘He’s got a band, gov’, the guard said.
‘Check his pockets then. No doubt he’s loaded. Look at the crazy look in his eye. And be careful; they’re unpredictable,’ replied the Oak Tree rubbing his lower back.
My pulse shot up as they ripped off my hat, checked it and threw it to the ground empty. We were both searched from head to foot. Not once did the troll and I make eye contact. I just stared into the distance, disbelieving of my stupidity and dumbstruck by hidden whispers.
‘He’s clean,’ said my guard, ‘and, er, he’s got a letter confirming he’s press.’
There was general disgruntled murmur from all present. Finally, the Oak Tree came up to me with his phone, shoving it into my face.
‘Do you recognise this person?’
It was Tobes, handing over a small wrap, none-to-subtly, to a random punter.
‘I’ve no idea who he is,’ I replied. ‘Why didn’t you just bust him, instead of taking a nice photo?’
‘None of your business,’ he grunted. ‘Watch yourself, boy. And go and get your wristband. Next time we see you without it you’re fuckin’ out. No questions asked. I don’t want any more shit out of you. I don’t even wanna see you for the rest of the weekend.’ And with that the trolls scattered.
Without a wristband I had no recognizable identity in this world.
Book Blurb: When protagonist Elijah Baillie wakes up early one morning in the arms of a mysterious girl called Erin, he has no memory of who he is and how he got there. As the day unfolds, his memories start flooding back as he is forced to confront the spectre of an unconscious evil, as a plethora of psychedelics, and a festival on the verge of anarchy, lead him irrevocably toward a dark confrontation with his past – edgy and fast, Erin will suck you right into the mayhem. Available here.