He awoke on his cigarette-burned couch a few hours later, disoriented and hung over. All was quiet but for the crackling radiator and the hum of the refrigerator. If it hadn’t been for a hint of sunrise pressed against the east window, and light from beneath the bathroom door, he’d have been in complete darkness.
Struggling to sit up, Asher cracked his back and wiped snot from the whiskers beneath his nose. As dawn slowly filled the room, he flinched to see that the walls now appeared forty feet high and made of amber. Dozens of flies zipped back and forth between them, bumping into one another and spiraling down in aerial combat.
Asher threw up his hands, mumbled something about having smoked some bad shit.
He rubbed his eyes hard and picked away the crust. As sight returned, a thin, looming figure shimmered into view beside the TV. It was elevated on stilts and perfectly still, black as a starless region of space save for five red orbs on a featureless head. A long, flat object lay across upturned arms, while a tiny mandrill squatted sleepy-eyed on its left shoulder.
With a sharp break from rigidity, the monkey leapt onto the figure’s forearm and pushed the object — which came apart and wafted down like a pair of feathers — to the floor beside the coffee table.
Reluctantly, Asher turned his gaze to the mandrill. The primate squealed once, then nodded at the fallen objects. Now the red orbs on the figure’s amorphous face were moving scattershot.
All but convinced that his visitors must be the combined effect of hangover and some strange, waking dream, Asher nonchalantly reached down and dragged the flat objects up to his lap. There they gave the impression of large, sturdy sheets of paper, partly sticky and gritty as if sprinkled with tar and slapped against dirt. He pinched a soft edge and wiggled it.
In that moment they became all too real.
And though his tongue was limp, and his heart began to race with fear, he managed to say, “What for?”
But the elongated figure was gone.
By now the apartment had reverted to its original state, a blazing sunrise pouring in through the east window. Asher sat and scrutinized the objects in the ruddy light. It was then that their true nature was revealed: they were large, transparent insect wings, highly veined, like those of the common house fly. The moment he realized this, they disappeared.
While smoking a multitude of cigarettes, Asher sat contemplating all he had seen. Explanations arose and fell away. A few of them stuck, and in time, his nerves began to settle.
After all, it hadn’t been the first time he’d hallucinated.
By noon he was sprawled on the couch with a can of beer between his legs. Scantily clad girls argued and cried about something on TV. Annoyed, Asher shut it off. That’s when he heard, or thought he heard, moans coming from inside the nearby bathroom. Must be the neighbors, he told himself. But then the silent, bizarre creature and its servant monkey came to mind.
“So much for drowning nightmares in alcohol,” he grumbled to himself, staring down as he took long drags from his cigarette. That’s when he happened to notice the faded track marks on his left arm; and that’s when the most likely culprit of his hallucinations became apparent: smack.
Horse. Heroin. H. Many names for the same monster. Asher had recently been using, but managed to quit before the urges got too strong. A residual amount, he figured, or mild withdrawal coupled with the intake of alcohol and marijuana, must have triggered those hallucinations. What logic he still possessed encouraged him to sober up, to give the drug ample time to leave his system. But those hideous visions had raised his anxiety to new heights, so he grabbed another beer from the refrigerator and rolled a joint.
The remaining afternoon was spent listening to a playlist of Karnivool, Alice In Chains, and other metal bands. He ate cold pizza, strummed his acoustic guitar, wrote bad music lyrics. He was beyond all worry at this point, beyond the constant image of his brain spiraling down a toilet with piss and shit. Gone, too, were thoughts of that haunting figure and its ambiguous agenda.
But it wasn’t long before the weed had transformed him into a heap of tangled nerves. “Man, I need balance,” he mumbled to himself, pacing the apartment and punching at his head. “Fuck — I need H!”
Pausing to remind himself of the progress made regarding heavy drugs, of the promises made not only to himself, but to his mother and sister, Asher laid down and tried to sleep off the cravings.
To no avail.
By evening he began to shake with fever. That’s when the stilts reappeared for the second night in a row, their quiet, inanimate presence enticing him over. Soon a hissing, inner voice went plugging through the silt of his brain: Go higher, Asher. Go higher.
Ridiculously, he covered his ears. The mantra only rose in pitch. He pressed his palms tight against his head and hummed, but the voice breached all barriers.
And then, through trembling hands, that Deftones song from the previous night: some guy changing into a fly and catching fire . . . .
A new thought sparked in Asher’s mind, one that made him stand up straight as a soldier: destroy the stilts! That’s when the axe reappeared on the coffee table and he made good use of it. That’s how another night passed without H.
He awoke to more hallucinations in the pre-dawn of the next morning. Once again the walls turned to amber and took on abnormal dimensions. Flies zipped in circles beneath the ceiling, buzzing with laughter. The dark figure reappeared with its prismatic monkey and fly wings. But this time, none of it disappeared like it had the morning before; instead, the room retained its nightmarish qualities and the figure backed into the shadows on its stilts, leaving behind the wings. Something turned on the bathroom light, door now ajar, and the moaning inside grew more audible.
Asher kicked back with a fresh joint and squinted at the TV — an attempt to ignore the lingering hallucinations. The day carried on as usual, and then it was night. But to his horror, the visions perpetuated; in fact, they had grown more vivid, more ominous.
In the end, they broke him.
“Just one bag,” Asher pleaded over the phone. “No-no — two. As soon as you can, dude. Please!”
Cowering in the amber light beneath the laughing flies, Asher sunk into his couch and wept quietly.
* * *
The first dose expelled the hallucinations right away; a huge relief. But then the stilts reappeared, walking themselves back and forth, back and forth in front of the TV. The axe appeared next, so he injected a second dose into his swollen arm, and then a third and a fourth. The objects remained. By then he no longer cared, and this time, instead of chopping the stilts into pieces, he climbed into them. He wasn’t sure how he did this, but he did. He climbed into them, and the walls and ceiling expanded to accommodate his new height.
For a time he ambled around in the stilts, possessing natural ability without ever having tried. Indescribable sensations blasted through his body and instilled a cliché oneness with the universe. This was accompanied by a loud, rising buzz from behind. And when he glanced over his shoulder, there they were: grand, beautifully patterned insect wings.
Magazines fluttered and dust took to air. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny black flies appeared all around him: some alive, some trapped inside the colossal amber walls.
The stilts lifted him higher and higher. The wings accelerated and he felt ready to fly. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. But then the moaning from earlier, now amplified, reached his greatly attuned ears. Far below he noticed a shining rectangle of yellow light: the bathroom door was wide open, a long, spiral stream of flies going in.
Somehow Asher was able to see inside that bathroom; it was as if his sight had been usurped by a telescopic lens. And through that myopic vision he saw a naked man lying motionless in the empty bathtub: a syringe stuck in his arm, his skeletal body covered with purple veins, his pale face Asher’s face. Nearby, hundreds of flies lined the rims of the sink and bathtub.
In a burst of red light, the dark figure flashed in front of Asher’s eyes and he lost his balance. The stilts cracked, snapped apart, fell away. His wings buzzed desperately as he lingered in the air.
And when the man in the bathtub let out a sick, sludgy moan and vomited on his own chest, Asher joined the procession of flies and laughed as he zipped around the convulsing body — laughed and laughed like it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.
First published in the October 2013 issue of Morpheus Tales.
First published in the October 2013 issue of Morpheus Tales.