The Sage of Ghosts

It looked like we were setting up to shoot some good old fashioned porno. The camera was in the corner, focused on the bed, and I was stripped bare, save some underpants in case anyone wanted to view the coming events in the future. We wanted to save it for posterity, or for the police raids. More importantly, we needed a transcript.

 

“You know, I’m just going to be coughing like a pussy for the camera.” I was sitting there, cold in the air conditioning, trying to settle the excitement building up inside.

“Just try and hold it as long as possible or you’re not going to get high off of it.” That was my Carrot, fiancée now, packing the front of the glass pipe I had purchased on her 24th birthday.

“I’m just going to start crying.” I clenched my hands around my throat, forcing out some coughing sounds.

She wasn’t paying any attention, concentrating on getting the leaves to stay in the bowl. “I think it’s packed in there pretty good. Remember, just try and hold it in there as long as you can.  Try to get it in in one draw.  Even if you can’t, hold in what you can and don’t let it back out.”

I held the pipe in my left hand, the butane lighter inverted and pointing toward the crushed herbs just begging for ignition. “Shall I this it?”

“Do you want something to hold this with in case it gets hot?” She always took such good care of me.

“Yeah, that might be a good idea.” I let my arm down, watching her as she exited into the kitchen to fetch a towel. She has such a great ass. Now for the caveat: “This is not marijuana, Mr. Camera, or, policeman later on.  The marijuana’s next door.” I indicated the six foot brick wall, once a fireplace for a kitchen, that separated my one-bedroom from the neighbors next door. That’s where all four hundred of our rent money goes, to pay for his utilities and insane weed habit. There are days, weekends even, when the walls in the bathroom reek of the stuff.

“But he’s old and disabled.”

“Yeah, I’ll give him that. He earned it.” The man can’t even walk up stairs anymore since that auto wreck. Thus, he lives in a cramped little apartment instead of the main house his mother owes. I suppose we’re lucky in that we get the room with the spiral staircase. Very goth. Very us.

“He had to have a shunt put in for dialysis.” I winced. Hadn’t heard that one before.

“I feel like a crack-head, like I’m freebasing or something.” I wrapped the black dishtowel around the middle of the pipe, holding it firmly. “Let’s try not to catch this thing on fire.” The jet engine came to life. I inhaled.

“There are sparks on the bed.”

I shook them to ashy death as I held it in, counting in my head. I was more afraid of losing some leg hair than a hole in the spread. Smoke started to seep out from my nostrils.

“Hit it again.” Such a good fiancée.

I laughed, coughing. “Oh my god, this is harsh. This is worse than that shit you gave me once…”

“That horrible, horrible scrap weed?” We were desperate. Her old roommate was the one who kept us supplied. It was only by chance we found some scraps in a baggie underneath the bed.

“No, the one before that. That white something. White rhino…”

“Northern Lights?” Her memory has always surpassed my own.

“That one we had when we were on the bed?”

“Yeah, that was harsh.” A nostalgic laugh.

“That attacked my lungs.” Ignition. I hit again.

“Just keep it flaming.  Keep trying to get as much in you as possible.  You want to try to get it all in your bloodstream at once.” Always the expert.

I couldn’t keep inhaling. “It’s not this; it’s the heat from the lighter. It burns.” My throat was screaming.

“Yeah, but that’s better than burning yourself on a Bic lighter. You feel anything yet?”

Flame. Hit. Hold. Release.

“Nothing?” She was watching so carefully.

“Nothing.” I was getting frustrated and tapped the end of the pipe gingerly on the edge of the ashtray she had made for me in pottery class. It wasn’t coming along well at all. “I need something to scrape it out with.”

She left to the kitchen again. Great ass. She came back with a butter knife. “Did you get anything off that?” I tried my best at scraping out the bowl. I’m not very good.

“I mean, aside from the usual burning in the back of my throat, no.” I remembered the camera. “Camera, that did nothing, it just made me wish there was weed inside of it.”

“So you didn’t feel anything off of that other than lack of oxygen?”

“No, it was just smoke.” She took the pipe and the butter knife.

“I keep the knife.” She had it empty in seconds. I was heartbroken.

“Okay. Try it with the…uh. Stuff?” There was an odd taste in my mouth that wouldn’t go away. “It tastes like it should be weed.”

She laughed.

“I guess it’s just the taste of burnt herb at the back of my throat.”

“Yeah. You want a drink?”

“Yes please, that’s nasty.” Back to the camera. “I do not recommend the burnt leaves alone, Camera.”  I love lemon-lime Kool Ade. “Also, turn off the goddamn lighter when you breathe in.” My lungs were still glowing. “They said there wasn’t a delayed onset, so I’m not expecting anything…”

“Mm-hmm.” Still eyeing me.

“And then foosh!” I threw my head back, mimicking all those cheesy trances in B-movies. Granted, they’re the only movies I watch, but that’s beside the point. “Holy crap, I’m seeing my ancestors.” More laughter. “No, I’m not seeing my ancestors, Mr. Camera.” I sighed, holding my head. “If this is a let down, I’m fucked for my assignment tonight and I have no idea what to do.” This was Wednesday, the only day I had to experiment with psychoactive drugs, and if this didn’t go off well…

“A failed attempt at getting high?” She was repacking the bowl now.

“Yeah, that would be an acceptable assignment. ‘Well guys, what I wanted to do was get real high and write about it. I couldn’t get high so I’m writing about that.’ No.”

“Write about not getting high.” I love her. Can’t spell “sarcasm” without “ass.”

“I could have done without the burning in my throat.” I made a few gagging noises, trying to get rid of whatever particles of that awful taste that were hiding in the ever-present phlegm. “Icky. I can see why you wouldn’t want to chew it.”

“Yeah, he made a horrible face when I mentioned that.” She was referring to a friend of hers in the employ of the good folks over at Botany Bay. He gave us discount earrings. I’m fond of him.

“Did they say if they just smoked the leaf or the stuff you’re adding to the front of it there?” She had opened up the little purple box that cost me twenty dollars. The dried leaves were gratis.

“He smoked the extract.” She was concentrating so hard.

“I’m assuming that to be the actual drug.” I’m so very smart.

“Yeah, it’s the Salvinora-A.”

 

I suppose I should clarify somewhat the effects of the drug. First and foremost, it is not a recreational drug. It has been used for ages in the Oaxaca region of Mexico where it grows like…like Kudzu there. It’s a delicate plant, not easily transferable from one locale to another, even in seed form. It’s leaves, the herb itself, have been used by shamans in the area who were in need of greater wisdom than human experience could provide. It’s supposed to bring on trances, create visions of universal importance and cosmic understanding. I, too, wanted to quest within and without. This seemed the perfect drug. Now, back to the pseudo-porn, already in progress…

 

Finally, my inner dialogue came into play; finally we’ll get to something worth writing about. “Give me a little more than that.”

“Yeah, I’m still packing it. It’s getting all over the computer.” We have a very small apartment. She was sitting beside the bed that took up half the living room, and she was doing her best to keep the keyboard free of debris. I didn’t bother to mention that she might have better luck if she were to close the lid of the laptop. I have very low dexterity. She packs well.

“Okay, this should be packed.” She handed the pipe back to me and I blanketed once more with the dishtowel.

“This time I’m not going to inhale butane.” This time I was not going to inhale butane.

Fire. Inhalation. Hold.

“This smells good. We should use it in the Turkey for Thanksgiving.”

I laughed thick clouds of smoke out of my nose.

“Here’s some sage for the stuffing.” She was giggling.

“Go on a journey, parents.”

The jet engine roared blue flame again.

“Hold it, hold it, hold it.” My own cheerleader. Looks good in a skirt.

Euphoria hit and I laughed, more smoke coming out of my nose. I was a dragon tonight. I cleared my throat as my focus started to warp. “Uhm…”

“Yeah?”

“I think your extension of bodies to my left should…” I couldn’t help but giggle. “Yes! It works. I have to tell you, this whole side of my body is getting a right side of intensity.” I handed her the pipe. Memory failed me.

“Give me the lighter.” She confiscated my leer.

“I thought it was a shop.” Reality failed me. “Goddammit.” Euphoria. Eudaimonia. Euhavegottotrythis. “I’m in the second and third stages.” I tried to be a good scientist, counting off on my fingers. I tried to remember the stages the website has talked about. “One being, third being the discovery of it…Goddammit.” I was like a little kid, giggling at recess.

 

The room was the room I was sitting in, but it was no longer the room I was sitting in. To my left, where reality was weakest, a spinning had begun. It was like a projector in a child’s room, like a cloth mobile that shone out ever-changing light, casting shadows of circus animals and doggies and little cats on parade. I was a part of it, and I was starting to be moved. I was a letter, attached to the side, stitched in place with a thousand little staples. I did not want to move, and so I tore myself free, landing on my side, facedown on my pillow. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was terrifying.

 

“Just relax.” Her voice so full of concern on the tape. My angel through the haze.

I couldn’t stop laughing. “I can’t because…” I couldn’t stop laughing. “Come here before this craziness overtakes me.” Tears were streaming as I reached out for her hand, grasping it tightly. The words would not come out. My mouth would not make the connection. I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Isn’t that the point?” She stroked my hand. Her soft, cold hand cut through me.

“But I am not the letter R.” I was not the letter R.

“Oh god, here we go.” This wasn’t her first time babysitting.

“It’s like the kid’s show, where the R is taken away.” The words were just coming. There was no medium of the brain to make it right. My arms were moving in circles. I was trying to show her the carousel of lights, of cloth and animals.

“Like the blow up letters?” How could she understand?

I couldn’t stop laughing. “No. Oh god.” I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Just lay back and relax.” I complied.

“I’ve lost it.” The carousel-mobile, I meant. “The train’s coming back.” It had turned into a train, and it was spinning around and around on its own little track. There was a hole of light pouring in from where I had torn myself free. I grabbed her hand again.

“I’m still here.” Always there. Always there. “Do you want something to drink?”

“No, Carrot, I’ll be okay. I’m just trying not to laugh.” It was beginning to hurt. Man wasn’t meant to laugh so hard.

“Just relax.” She held my hand with both of hers, squeezing. I was still crying.

“The numbers…I don’t know with…There’s a bunch of numbers on the wall.  They actually came out of the wall things. And placed them in their structure like they were printed on them.  Then they came out in like a train that left that way.” I pointed to where it had so suddenly vanished into the left wall. “And suddenly I don’t know, I fell through a wall.  A green wall, and there was a set of numbers, one to thirteen, going that way and I was painted as the letter A or the number four and I fell right through the wall.” My brain was slowly taking over.

“What did you land on?” Gauging my sobriety.

“My bed.”

“Okay.” It was satisfactory.

“My bed and my pillows. And I think, on the ceiling there’s going to be something, but it moved really, really fast.”

“What’s on the ceiling?” She was so calming.

“It’s regular, it’s normal.  If I close my eyes, it’s like it was on the wall, there’s trying to be a big M right there.” I drew an M with my right arm. “Oh it was terrible, when I fell, what looked like the thing that was going through the wall, uh, wall thing, with the arm from your skeleton.  There IS actually an arm with a skeleton holding a grenade…” My fiancée has tastes. Some of her tastes include skeletal arms flipping you off with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in a death grip affixed firmly to the wall. Right above Pinhead.

“Yes, that is actually there…It is not an illusion.” So grounding.

“It was actually becoming three-dimensional.” Not to say that it wasn’t already. I…don’t even know what I’m trying to say. “Then it just started stretching out really far off that way.” I pointed toward the window covered in a Camel cigarette ad pin-up to block the afternoon sunlight. “And that was the coolest damn thing I’ve seen in a long time.” This was true.

“Your eyes are really red.” She was studying me, making sure I was back.

“Do you want to hit it again?”

“Yes.” And the strength returned for me to sit up. “That was amazing. The rapidity of the effect of that drug took immediately as soon as the smoke left my lungs.” I breathed out, and the world went with it. “It was weird, though. There was an elongation of you.”

“Just of me?”

“No, the things that made up the train that went through the wall, you were one of the ribs.” I was still trying to get my focus back. I hate not being able to see.

“Oh, okay.” She repacked diligently.

“I think the after effect is the not having very good control of space.” I couldn’t touch my nose if I’d tried.

“Yeah, that’s how it’s similar to alcohol…the…uh…”

“I’ve never been drunk like this.” And I’ve downed some vodka in my day. “I can actually feel space and I’m actually not able to participate in the means of getting to it.” The floor was still an eternity away from my feet. Standing was not an option.

“Do you want something to drink? Is your throat dry?” She offered the green plastic cup again.

“Yeah.” A drink. “Let’s try this one without the questions.”

“I’ll just let you go.”

“Without me trying to think.”

“It’s kind of boring doing it scientifically. I feel like a psychologist. ‘How does it make you feel?’…”

“Yeah, I was like, do I really want to talk to her?”

“Yeah, don’t.  Just reach out if you need me.”

“I will.”

Screaming blue fire. Sparkling orange embers dance before me. A pause. I breathe out. “The thing left.” My arms began to move of their own accord, back and forth in front of my chest and face, and I could not look away. “This is ridiculous, I’m sorry…”

“No, just let it go.”

I let go.

 

My arms were twin dervish, whirling around to praise Jupiter. And I fell. There was no sound. I sat up; pushed up from behind by something I could not see. My hands felt the air. Felt the air, cut through the air, it was tactile, tangible. I could taste the color grey. I was more alert than I had ever been.

The room was full of ticker tape. Receipts? Sheaves of paper were covered in numbers. Ones and Zeroes. Like timestamps. 11:00. 10:11. 10:10. Tens and elevens, Hundreds and tenhundredthousands overtook me in waves. I was tossed about, to my right, on my back, to my left, then sitting up. “I’m not something that can get published.” Back down again, as this waterfall submerged me and I was drowning, my hands in front of my face like a prayer book. “There are things that can’t get published.” I was high. “There are things I can’t get published.”

“Do you want to hit it again?” She thought I was out of it. I had been lying still for too long.

I was on my back, both palms open, lying so very still. My hands moved to my face and then back down again. I sat up. “Okay.”

“Are you alright?”

“The hills are spiraling around, um…through my hands. Um…hills, just sides of hills that told me to wait before I got fed up with this. Told me to wait.  These green hills are just pouring out of this finger here…” It was my left index or middle finger. “And this finger.” My right hand. “Is pulling them.  It feels like rubber.” My right hand moved back and forth. “It feels like it strips them apart but then brings them together in these different fields.  These fields are going down.” Both hands went together and I pressed downward. “Just down.” I was losing the sights as I rubbed my eyes. “Shapes. Shapes.  Um…I forgot.”

I didn’t want to see these shapes. These were shapes like on Navajo dresses and belts, such stock images that I knew my brain was lying to me. This wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted insight. I wanted to know something great and cosmic. I wanted to connect with the world like when I was younger, meditating by lavalight on black circles magic-marker’d on the back of old index cards. I wanted to project my conciousness into the astral plane and go meet my familiars and have a grand time. But it seemed I was only getting cliché and supposed-to-bes.

Then there were words inside my head. There was a voice transcendent, and it said, “Just wait.” I fell backward and everything, the hills in hills, the pyramid hills, oh, it changed and it all became a snake. Like a diamondback snake that was coiling and springing out of me, out of the hills that had come from my hands. And as the snake flew away from me it was a horse, galloping along those same slopes, moving further away, but still stuck to the chalk-colored reigns that were once the sides of those hills. Rolling hills. Green hills to forever.

I fell over and I was a salmon, pink and thrashing, and there was a hook in my jaw. I struggled and thrashed, lashing out, and the line broke. I was awake. I was alert. I stared at my Carrot.

“I don’t want anymore right now.”

“Of course.”

“I love you, Carrot.”

“I love you, Travvy.”

“I’m interested in what dream I’m gonna have now.  I’m really hoping.  Let’s pretend for right now I’m in the real world and everything from here on is dreams.”

The lights were turned off and I lay down, wrapped tightly in my blankets. I did not stir for three hours.

 

There were dreams of crabs and horses. Maybe of horseshoe crabs. But there was nothing resembling what I had seen waking. I suppose I should count myself fortunate. The drug gave me the most blessedly nightmare-free sleep. But, just to make sure, there was one final hit.

This hit was noteworthy for several reasons. One, it was the weakest of all the illusions I had. Two, it was the shortest of the illusions I had. And, lastly…

It was about cake. Cake. Fucking cake. My last spiritual vision was about cake. I didn’t mind the kindergarten mobile; I didn’t mind the snake-horse; I didn’t mind losing control of my body and flying about my bed. But I drew the line at cake. On inhaling I fell backward and there I was, in a factory full of cake. There were men in chef’s hats squeezing orange icing onto cakes in fancy lettering. I could not take this affront.

“Fucking cake?!” I wrenched myself upward and pressed into my eyes. My Carrot looked shocked. “It’s fucking cake. There’s a man there, decorating cakes. They’re all singing a song about how I can’t be the cake decorator man. Fucking cake! I’m done. This is done.” And in that rage I removed myself from the haze of waking dreams and I was alone again, in my apartment with my Carrot. And again, I was pissed.

So angry that I killed the visions, squashed down whatever it was that Salvinora-A does to the brain that makes it work like that. Whatever is in pure and unadulterated hate of cake is the antipode that kills sage. Remember this at your next banquet. If you don’t want cake, get angry. It will be gone soon enough.

Is there a lesson to be found in all of this? Is there some deep meaning, some universal hope or theme I garnered from my dream visions? Afterward, for days, I started making connections with random events and how their chaos had led to the create of my very self, and my fiancées very self, and how, without even the slightest twinkle of one invisible and anciently doomed star we would not be. I don’t know if that came from sage or from my own insanity, though.

Strangely, there were no toilets, no monsters, no jap girls in synthesis. I wanted to see my nightmarescape manifest itself and draw me inside. I wanted to dream of salvivic bunny rabbits and giant, miasma spewing arachnids. I wanted my whale-fish, saviour of my haunted world. But I just got…strange. I got distortion of real things, and elongation of unwanted pastry. I got normalcy. Perhaps a glimpse into what the real world sees was my grace from the shamans. At the least, the dreamless void of the Sage of the Ghosts made me appreciate all the more the horrors I put up with. They are what keep me grounded and stable. If I had to face an eternity of emptiness…

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