Authors: Gerard Brennan
I gagged on the first sip. It was lukewarm green tea with some weird aftertaste.
“All of it,” Mattie said.
I tipped the cup back and gulped. That brutal flavour hit me hard and I retched but managed to keep it down.
“What was in that, Mattie?”
“The key to a higher understanding.”
“I can't believe you spiked me.” But of course, I could.
“I'm trying to help you along. It's evolution in action, baby. This is the stuff that'll bring us up to the next level.”
“But what was it?”
“Psychedelics. Mostly magic mushrooms but I got a little DMT in there too.”
“What the fuck's DMT?”
“You don't need to know. Just trust that it's harmless and as long as you stay calm and feel safe, you're in for the experience of a lifetime.”
“And what if I don't stay calm?”
“You will. I'm here to look after you. Put negative thoughts away. The tea's inside you now, reacting. Go with it. You're safe and comfortable and nobody can hurt you.”
“I don't do drugs anymore. What if this kills me?”
“Be cool, friend. Nobody ever died from psychedelics. If anything, they're medicinal.”
“All medicines can kill you if you take the wrong dose.”
“Positive thoughts, James. Enjoy the trip.”
Mattie leant back in his chair. The joints creaked. I wondered how quickly this stuff was going to hit me. I felt strange already but didn't know if it was the drug or panic.
“Why would you do this to me?”
“It's a gift, brother.”
“Stop calling me brother.”
Mattie laughed. It sounded wrong. Something was definitely happening to me. The gear was kicking in. My stomach cramped. I didn't know if that was normal. The spiteful wooden spindles in my chair dug into my back. I wanted to elbow them but was afraid they might bite me with splintery teeth. Time got weird. I checked my watch. Ten minutes since I drank the tea. Or was it? When did I start? Had my watch stopped?
I was going to be late.
Scratch that. I couldn't show up in this state. I'd get fired. I had to phone in sick. But the phone would tout on me. Scream over my protestations and tell my boss that the words tumbling over my lips were dirty rotten lies. Aborted foetuses from my dank brain. Would an email be acceptable? My phone buzzed in my pocket. The tingle spread through my body. Reverberated in my core. No. That wouldn't do. My phone was going to break my spine. I fished it out of my pocket and tossed it onto the tabletop. The vibrations skated it across the surface. Then it stopped dead. Did the caller die too? I wanted to ask Mattie.
He looked at me, his head cocked like a curious dog. No, cats are curious. But dogs do that head tilt thing better. They're nicer creatures too. Loyal. A bit smelly. I wanted a dog. He'd keep me company at night, curled up beside me on the sofa. But I had allergies.
“Some dogs are hypoallergenic,” Mattie said.
He was in my mind. I ignored him. Figured he'd get back out again if I didn't acknowledge his presence.
A sharp cramp attacked my gut. I imagined it torn asunder, ropey intestines spilled to the floor. It scared me a bit.
“I don't feel safe here. Can we try your living room?”
“Best if we face each other, James. Your eyes will keep me anchored.”
What the fuck does that mean?
Mattie didn't answer. I didn't know if I'd said it out loud. At least he was out of my brain.
I noticed I was breathing faster. My head was a little light too. Cool sweat pinged up on my forehead and trickled under my arms. I thought about the melting icecaps. It wasn't global warming doing that. The world was shifting. Preparing for a new Ice Age. This I knew. It was hardwired knowledge. I clung to it like a lump of driftwood at sea. Ice. It sank the unsinkable and it would end us all. Like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch. Restore factory settings.
“Not today, though.”
I scratched my arm. Then my neck. I pushed down on my elbow to force my scratching hand between my shoulder blades. The itch kept moving. Do magnets repulse or propulse? God knows. Yes he does.
Mattie was still nodding. I thought he might be broken.
You're going to lose your job.
“Good. I hate that fucking job.”
Mattie stopped nodding. He tilted his head to the left, then the right.
“Are you okay, James?”
“Etch-a-Sketch.” Why did I say that? Oh, icecaps.
“Your skin's going a funny colour.”
I didn't know how to answer that.
“Can I touch your face real quick?”
He didn't wait for me to answer. Mattie was beside me though I didn't see him get up. His clammy hand brushed my cheek.
“I think I'll grow a beard.”
“Sure, James.” He cleared his throat. “I don't think this is right.”
I tried to clear
throat. Couldn't do it as well as Mattie. I wanted to ask him for advice. The words got stuck.
“James, listen to me. I need you to slow down your breathing.”
Mattie looked worried. I scratched my arms. Sped up my breathing just to fuck with him a little then I realised I couldn't slow it back down. I squeaked. The hamster fell off the wheel.
The room shifted. The floor was on my back. No, wait, I was on the floor. Yuck. Sticky lino. Mattie knelt beside me. He tugged on my tie.
Don't choke me, Mattie.
He looped the tie around his wrist. Did I put two on that morning? I felt at my collar to see what was restricting my throat. Nothing there. I could smell shit. Did I shit in my boxers?
“I'm taking you to a hosp…”
I sat up, wondered what the fuck a hosp was. Looked around me.
How did I get here?
Mattie stared at me from a chair he could barely fit into.
“When did I go to sleep?” I asked.
“Why didn't you tell me about your allergies?”
“Did I not?”
“I'd have remembered.” He twisted a rolled-up newspaper in his fat hands. “Who the fuck's allergic to magic mushrooms, like?”
“What kind of man puts shit like that in his friend's tea and tricks him into drinking it?”
“It was a present. I was doing you a good turn.”
“Anaphylactic shock. You fucking wimp.”
A nurse drew back the curtain. She scowled at Mattie. An impressive Nurse Ratched impression.
“Could you moderate your language please,
I smirked and Ratched caught sight of it.
“You needn't laugh.” She rested one hand on a sharp hip. “A grown man taking… that rubbish. On a
What could I say? A bigger boy made me do it? I cast my gaze down to my chest, meek as a lamb. Ratched huffed air through her pinched nostrils and marched off.
“Bitch.” Mattie's voice was so low I barely heard him.
“You know, Mattie, you always got me into trouble at school.”
“Nothing. I just assumed we'd grown out of it.”
Mattie gave me that Buddha grin of his.
“So, I'm allergic to magic mushrooms?”
“Something similar to penicillin in them or… I don't know. Yeah, you're allergic.”
I closed my eyes and thought for a second. The bed rocked and I dug my fingers into the edges of the mattress. Counted to ten and tried to figure out if I was still tripping. Couldn't tell for sure. I envisioned myself peeling back cobwebs from my brain. The image sharpened my mind. I focussed on Mattie.
“Can I feel like that again without the mushrooms? Maybe something people aren't likely to be allergic to?”
Mattie double-blinked. He tugged on his earlobe. “Probably, yeah. I can look into it, like.”
“Yeah. You do that.”
I couldn't hold him back when they called him Swinger. Mostly because I didn't want to. He was always justified, you see.
Conor would turn to me and say, “Stevie, don't jump in, mate,” and then he'd just go for it. Knuckles and elbows.
My mate loved to use his elbows and looked cool as fuck when he did. The idea of catching one of those wicked bastards in the face twisted me in knots. No matter how high the odds were stacked against us, I was always glad to be on his side.
You see, he would tell me to stay out of it, but I couldn't really. Not at our school. At St. Joe's there was no such thing as a fair fight.
Conor was called Swinger because – and this is so messed up – his parents were actual keys-in-the-fruit-bowl wife-swapping enthusiasts. No bullshit. They had sex with other couples. It went on for years, according to the rumours, but they kept it under wraps right up until last Christmas.
Most of the guys at our school got their information second or third hand. Fragments of the story gleaned from parents or family friends who hushed up just a little too late. But there was a handful with an intimate knowledge of internet porn determined to find proof. In just a few clicks, searches and fake email addresses later the first screenshots of Conor's parents' avatar next to their profile information began to do the rounds. If their statistics were to be believed, Conor's da had a large cock, his ma medium breasts and both were bi-curious.
Oh, Jesus, the lads got some mileage out of that little fact.
Conor was tortured. Most of his friends abandoned him, of course. Before the story broke he was one of the popular kids. Athletic, smart, a bit of a class clown. The teachers humoured him because his grades were good and the bullies left him alone because he could make them laugh. He was set to coast right through school and into university. Way more to lose than most kids. His parents' seedy hobby cost him a hell of a lot.
I stuck by him, though. How could I not? We grew up on the same street and although we weren't always the best of friends, we had some sort of brotherly bond. I was the little brother, of course. Him being taller than average and me shorter, there was a good foot between us. Anytime somebody tried to make me the butt of a joke, Conor spoke up for me. If things got a little rough, he'd take my side over almost anybody else. And he never held it over me.
Naturally, a part of me was delighted when the news broke and he was brought down a peg or two. A boy can only be the rescued for so long before some fucked-up logic distorts their view of the rescuer. A protector constantly reminds you that you need to be protected, you know?
But that was only a small part of me. The rest just wanted to repay his kindness. So I became his tag-team partner.
I wasn't a great scrapper – couldn't figure out how to put my weight behind a punch properly – but I learned how to fight dirty. And my timing was immaculate. I usually jumped in about thirty seconds before a teacher came along to break it up. All the kudos and none of the bruising. At the end of the day, nobody counted the punches thrown in a schoolyard scuffle. If you came out of it without a bust nose, you probably won. And all Conor cared about was the fact that you had the balls to back him up at all. Yeah, he'd try to tell me to keep out of it, but he appreciated it when I didn't.
There's one half-sensible thing about our school. When a fight breaks out and four or five lads get involved the teachers are only interested in one thing.
“Who threw the first punch?”
And if you admitted it, you were the only one punished. Usually by detention. Conor, a repeat offender, picked up a few suspensions.
“Will your ones not go buck mad at you?” I asked once.
“What are they going to say to me, Stevie? You shouldn't be fighting? I'd just tell them the truth. I wouldn't have to if they hadn't got caught fucking other couples.”
He was deadpan honest like that with me all the time. It made me uncomfortable, but I didn't complain. Who else was he going to talk to about it?
It was a bad term for him, but he made it through to the summer holidays. His parents sent him off to his aunt's house in some other town for a few weeks and he came back with stories about a girl he'd met through his cousins. They'd decided to go with each other, which seemed to mean they'd text twenty times a day and meet up every other weekend. And sure, it was only a matter of months before Conor got his licence and they could see each other all the time. I was happy for him. Kind of.
Then the summer was over.
The wankers picked up where they left off and Conor got back to throwing the first punch. But he'd gotten bigger and stronger over the summer. He really busted some of these kids. We're talking stitches. Soon enough, it got to the point where nobody opened their mouth to him as it was inevitable that he'd put his fist in there. We started to believe we'd won.
Then Mister Stevenson tried to make a name for himself.
Stevenson – AKA Stiffy because his chinos bunched up around his crotch when he sat on the edge of his desk – was pretty new to the whole teaching thing. I think he'd spent a little time bouncing around schools as a sub before he got a job teaching maths at our place. Whatever his experience, it hadn't equipped him for the boys at St. Joe's. Basically, he got bullied. But rather than fight his corner like a man, he tried to offload some of the attention onto the weaker kids in the class. He got the fellah with the speech impediment to talk us through equations, the terminally shy one to stand in front of the class to present his homework and asked the poor fucker whose dad filed for bankruptcy every question that dealt with money. Prick.
One day Stevenson caught Conor texting his girl during class. Stevenson took the phone off him then tried to act funny. He tapped on the buttons.
“Is your mother's phone number in here, Conor?”
I didn't like the look on Stevenson's face. I don't think Conor did either. He said nothing.
“Mind if I phone her? I'd like to see her some time.”
Conor didn't bite. Stevenson curled his lip, disappointed that he hadn't caused a bigger reaction in the classroom. Nobody wanted to be the first to laugh.
The prick pressed on. “I think we'd have a lot in common. Music for instance. I like jazz… and swing.”