Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Psychflare: Fehu


The night had begun, as many do, at this little pub called Midpoint. It's more or less the same distance from the clubs east of Twenty-Third and those south of Twelth, which I guess is the reason for the name. Never asked. And, as usual, we were trying to decide whether to go east or south.

Marie wasn't around tonight, which skewed things against south. She needs to get high or drunk or something given half the chance, so she's always the biggest advocate for heading towards the less-monitored area and buying pill-shaped fun. Nobody knows how she manages to hold a job. But, on the other hand, Gianna wasn't being her usual self either. Bad breakup, taking a break from being the voice of reason, etc.

I didn't have a strong opinion either way, nor did most of the rest. I think, if I had mentioned I was always a bit uncomfortable down south, I could've decided things right then, but I didn't. Maybe apathy, maybe not wanting to “admit weakness”, point is, I didn't say a word, someone else said she wanted something a little more exciting than the places east, and we went.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part. We ran across Joshua and bought his latest brain-fucker, most of the girls found halfway-decent guys to get laid with (I didn't), and by five or six I was sobering up and had lost track of everyone else. So I decided to head back home.

It was a short walk to the bus stop, maybe three or four blocks. Sure, not the safest area to be around, but I had been here a thousand times, nothing to be afraid of, right?

Wrong. Two guys, smashed as fuck-all and feeling overly friendly, were making their way towards me. And presumably talking to me, though I couldn't understand a word they were saying. I wasn't exactly wearing running shoes, but for some reason it felt like a good idea to get the fuck out of there quick.

I tripped. I fell. And the creepy bastards were almost right behind me, when shit got psychedelic.

I thought the drug's effects should have worn off a while ago, but they had come back in full force. Different this time, though. I didn't feel overexcited and willing to do anything, but I wasn't terrified as a moment ago either; whatever I was feeling right now, it was entirely new. The world didn't fade out and blur, but the opposite. It became more.

It's hard to explain if you haven't been through it yourself, like I had developed a new sense and it was superposed to vision. I was seeing things that weren't shapes or colours or anything you should be able to see, mixed in with the street and the buildings and the cars and...

The people. The animals. My two stalkers, a dog running down the street, the cat it was chasing... anything that was alive was glowing without light. Patterns twisted and turned, as I noticed the not-light was brightest around me, full of possibility...

That was it. That was what the strange new feeling, the sheer force of potential, being able to do anything if I could just shape the patterns the right way. I saw, or felt, lines connecting a million tiny dots all over the place. I didn't think, I just reached out, rearranged a dozen lines, as much with my fingers as with my thoughts.

I crashed back to plain reality, only to notice the two guys going at each other. They were ripping the clothes of each other's bodies, and by their looks I couldn't tell if they were about to make out or beat the shit out of each other, or both. I didn't stay and watch.

* * *

I spent most of the day tracking Joshua down through a couple common acquaintances we had. During the process of calling everyone I knew who knew him, I gathered that nobody had went through the cool delayed effect trip I had, or at least hadn't mentioned a word about it. Sometime late afternoon I got ahold of him.

“Josh? It's Kel.”

“Marie's friend, right?” he replied. “What's up?”

“Uh, it's about what you sold me last night-” I started, but he interrupted me.

“Look, whatever that shit did to you, I'm not responsible, kay? I don't mix 'em, I just sell”

“I know, I know. I was just wondering if you had any more left.”

He paused for a second “Yeah, think so. Drop by my place tonight...”

He gave me an address, half an hour away or so, then hung the phone. I sighed in relief. I knew that new pills were not mass-produced. The labs or whoever designs them pumps out a dozen chemicals a month, do just enough basic testing to know they won't kill you immediately, then give a few samples to dealers like Joshua to see what's popular. It makes for interesting experiences, but also it meant I was lucky that he didn't exhaust his stock last night, or I might never find them again.

I wasn't exactly swimming in cash, but I could afford a little extra fun this month. Depending on how much Joshua had left, I might even buy him out... fuck. Was I sliding down the junkie slippery slope? I had never felt this way after a trip, ever. And I didn't know if it was good or bad.

A couple of hours later, I was taking the bus down to his apartment. Short trip, like I said, but it was oddly uncomfortable. Being around people felt oppressive. Maybe I was self-conscious, it was really the first time I went out specifically to meet a drug dealer. I just used once or twice a month if that, always prompted by friends, I didn't stockpile for personal use.

Deliberations along those lines continued (unproductively) until I found myself in front of the door of a typical apartment building waiting to be buzzed in. A short elevator trip, a walk down the hallway, and a knock on a door marked 5D later, my uneasiness had abated somewhat, though not completely.

Joshua opened the door and motioned me to come in. We got down to business immediately.

“This is the one you asked for,” he said as he showed me a small plastic bottle with a few numbers and letters in the label.

“What's it called?”

“Nothing, as far as I know. They give them an identifying code to keep track of what sells and what doesn't, this here is NH589R. The funky names like Zerri or Phyt they choose once they prove popular.”

“And before you ask,” he continued, “no, I can't tell you who “they” are or how to contact them.”

“Didn't expect you to,” I replied. “Though, I do have one question, if you can answer.”


“About an hour after I thought the effects had worn out, I got a second high, though it wasn't quite like the first. More the hallucinatory-consciousness-expanding type, if you know what I mean”

He nodded. “I get the idea, though I dunno why it happened to you. Nobody said anything about that, users or suppliers”

“Damn. So, what, I have a weird neurochemistry or something?”

“You're asking the wrong person, kid, I dropped out halfway through my chem degree. I'll be passing the message along, though, maybe they know something.”

“Maybe. Anyway, how much for the rest of your stock?”

“All of it?” He asked incredulous.

I could almost feel his glee when I nodded

* * *

So I was the proud owner of a highly expensive, three-quarters empty bottle of something, which, as far as I knew, only worked its magic on me. Well, the most interesting half of it, anyway. It's curious, but up until that point I hadn't noticed how the idea of never finding that same sensation again had pressed on my mind. Returning safely home with that bottle in my possession was a relief from a weight I didn't realise I was carrying.

But, once that concern vanished, the smaller ones it had driven away returned. The one thought I had been avoiding manifested freely. Namely, what the hell had happened to those two guys?

No drug can fuck other people up just by being too close to you. And it was too much of a coincidence for them to just go crazy at the same time I'm having the weirdest trip of my life. Not to mention... well, I don't know how much I can trust my memory, but it felt like I was expecting them to go crazy. Like I knew that the twisting lines in the air meant they were about to... what? Rape each other? I didn't know, and yet I felt like I had known.

Had it all been a hallucination from the beginning? But the trip had only started after I fell to the ground running from them. They were real. And if what I saw had only happened in my mind, then what had actually happened? What had they done, while my imagination ran wild?
The thought was revolting. No. No, I would have noticed. The idea made no sense. Nothing made any sense at all. I didn't want to think about it, but it was stabbing through my brain. And, right in front of me, I saw an escape from the world, and took it.

I'm not sure how much time I spent in vacuous bliss, a few hours at the most, before the buzzing interrupted it. Shit. I was in no condition to deal with people.

A quick look told me it was Marie. Well, at least she wouldn't judge me too harshly. I opened the door and mumbled something which might have passed for a greeting, then led her towards the living room.

“Josh told me you paid him a visit earlier.”

“Yes, I bought his stuff. Yes, I'm high right now. No, I'm not interested in talking about it. Lovely chat, bye...” I tried to laugh, but it sounded off.

“Kel... Look, I'm not a hypocrite. We all need a break every once in a while, some more often than others. Maybe you've got some crap in your life, it happens. But there are some lines you need to watch out for, y'know?”

Lines. I should watch out for lines?

“I didn't think I'd find you like this, this is hardly the time to have a talk... but at the same time, it makes it even more important. I need to make sure you aren't spiralling into-”

“You're worried.” The words came out of my mouth before I could think.

“Of course I'm worried. You can't just spend I don't know how much on drugs and expect-”

“But you're also excited” I interrupted her again. “You think this is... an opportunity? And guilt, too, I can see guilt. You think I'm in trouble and you shouldn't be thinking about yourself. And... what else... confusion, but that's new.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You told me to watch out for lines...” Suddenly, I became conscious of what I was saying. The hell?

“Sorry, don't pay attention to me” I apologised. “It's my fucked-up brain talking. You're concerned, and I appreciate it. Tomorrow I'll be... sane, and we can have this talk, ok?”

“I shouldn't leave you alone...”

“Probably not.” If you go, the lines go with you, I wanted to say. The lines that were right at that moment dancing around her head.

* * *

Marie stayed the night, and we had a long talk in the morning about limits and “responsible” use of recreational drugs and not spending thousands in one night. I did my best to reassure her that it was a one time thing without going into details, and I think I succeeded. Perhaps because, throughout the entire conversation, her emotional state was dancing right in front of me. I didn't know why the lines and symbols were there. I didn't know why I could understand them. But I knew exactly what she was feeling. Or at least that's what a nudging intuition kept telling me.

The sense wasn't the same. Last time, I'd felt a raw force of potential which did not return. Not while I was high, not at any point in the hours afterwards, not while I talked to Marie. It was disappointing, to say the least.

And even what remained of the experience was different. The lines had changed. Less of them, for one, but I also perceived them in another way. More visual in nature, not quite that alien sense I'd felt. What they connected was no longer points of pure meaning, either, they were... symbols, maybe. I had to interpret them, though I didn't know how I did it.

And on reflection, that light that wasn't light was still there, but dimmer, less stark. Everything had been dialled back a few levels of awesome, though mundane reality still lost by far by comparison. In exchange, the effect was much longer lasting, hours instead of seconds. I had no idea what to make of it.

I had expected to understand more about what the hell the drug did after the experience, but no. If anything, I was more confused than before. Twice so far, whatever it was had given me the illusion of something supernatural going on, and maybe it was a sign of me losing my mind, but I couldn't rule out that it had actually happened. Imagining you can guess someone's emotional state wasn't that impressive, when I thought about it, especially since I had no way to check if I was right. But, what had happened the first time...

Shit, I was back where I started. I'd managed maybe half a day without thinking about it and now there it was again. I tried not to flee the thought, to stare at it and think, maybe something would make sense of it all, but nothing concrete came to mind. I needed to know more.

Thus, the rest of the day was dedicated to research. OK, calling it research might be a bit too much. I just went online looking up references to “NH589R” or something like what I hallucinated either time. No luck, of course. I gave up eventually, and went to bed early. I had to work the next day, after all.

* * *

6 am. Woke up, brushed teeth, took a shower, got dressed, downed a quick coffee, and left. Got on the bus, and a vague oppressive sensation creeped up on me. It was... I knew what it was. I'd felt it before, when I was going to Josh's apartment. I'd thought I was just being self-conscious back then, but why was it here now? And why was it growing and growing and...

All of a sudden, everything was happening at the same time and I could see the lines everywhere and they danced and moved and there were too many of them and I crashed. Sensory overload blasted me. Next thing I knew, people were helping me up and someone gave me their seat while I tried to hold back a flood of information from everyone around me. It thankfully receded after a minute or so, but it didn't vanish. It was always there, just more or less manageable.

It was not a fun morning. What I really needed was to be away from any living human being for a while to let my head recover. What I got was hours of people whining about how them, their friends, or their family were sick and possibly going to die. That was annoying even before I had to feel the cacophony of worry and fear and boredom (mostly boredom).

I survived it, somehow. The bus ride back was excruciating, but I managed not to collapse until I got home, at which point I isolated myself from the world. And that was the first day.

* * *

Two weeks. Two goddamn weeks of constant headaches and mood swings and not being able to stand close to anyone without being overwhelmed within five minutes. Of running away from everything and everyone at the earliest chance because the alternative was to snap. It was fucking intolerable. It was such torture that I wanted to just no care about anything, to be entirely numb so I could ignore them, put them away for long enough to regain my sanity.

I didn't know how long I would last. I hoped, given enough time, I'd figure something out, but the easy way out was becoming more and more tempting. If nothing changed... but then, something did.

It was at work, while I tried to explain to a concerned woman (unsuccessfully trying to hide her fury) that no, her husband wasn't here and no, I didn't care about her marital problems. I caught a glimpse of something. Someone. A man covered in a cloud of swirling, glowing gas which no-one paid much attention to.

He was looking directly at me, and when he saw I'd noticed him, winked. Then he vanished. That is, he literally disappeared into nothingness, and the cloud followed shortly afterwards. A few people were surprised by that, but soon forgot about it or assumed it was their imagination or a trick of the light or some other perfectly mundane explanation for short-lived unexplained weirdness. I could see them squash their confusion away from their minds.

An hour later or so, as I left work and walked to the bus, the vanishing man reappeared. I was understandably startled.

“Shit!” I stared at him. He was definitely the same guy. Tall, dark-haired, smug expression, and dressed entirely in black. He appeared to be in his late twenties, and still had that swirling cloud covering him. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Such manners. But, to answer your question, my name-” He made an elaborate gesture and pulled a card out of nowhere, “-is Reykur the Illusionist.” The card suddenly combusted, and the smoke spelled out “REYKUR”. “It's not often I find a fellow practitioner, so I wished to introduce myself to you.”

“Right. Of course.” As if I wasn't having a bad day already, now I had to deal with a mental patient with a thing for magic tricks. “Sorry, but I think you confused me with someone else.”

“No need to be secretive, my friend. I can feel it, the way you read the souls of those around you. As, I'm sure, you can feel the traces of my own talent in some form.”

Read the souls... wait. I could do something that might be described like reading souls. And, I noticed a second later, I wasn't getting anything from him. For the first time since that night with Marie, I wasn't seeing the emotions of someone who was right in front of me.

“It won't work on me, so you can stop trying” he grinned.

“You can block it? You can block it?” I almost yelled. “Why? How?!”

“My, why so shocked? Yes, I can block your talents, and many others can, as well. You're not that powerful”

“No, it's not that... I mean, do you know if I can block it? Can you tell me how?”

Again with his grin. “Follow me. I believe we have a lot to discuss”

I was hesitant, to be honest. The guy didn't exactly seem trustworthy (or entirely sane) and for all I know he could be leading me anywhere. On the other hand, this might be my only chance to learn more about what had happened, and it seemed there was a lot more to learn than I had suspected at first.

So, dreading what could come, I nodded and walked after him.

“You're new to your talents, clearly. How long ago was your first Trance?”


“Ah, of course, you wouldn't know the term. The Trance is an altered state of mind, in which reality itself appears to unravel before your eyes, letting you twist it to your whim, making the impossible real,” he declared. “We go through it for the first time when our talent awakens”

“Oh. That. It was about two weeks ago...” and the rest of the tale followed.

He paused to digest the story. “The manner of manifestation of the Trance determines which talents come natural to you. Oh, you can learn other tricks, to be sure, but you'll always be at your best with those that came to you in a Trance.”

“So the first thing I did was... manipulate those guys' emotions? And so my talent relates to that?”

“Indeed. Of course, you are too inexperienced to do much with it, so that's why you're just receiving instead of controlling, at the moment. With some practice...” He left the sentence hanging.

“That's all great, really, but what I need right now is to make it shut up.”

“Yes, you've made that clear.” He stopped suddenly and turned to face me. “I have business to attend to right now, but we'll continue this conversation. Meet me at this very spot, at midnight. Do not talk to anyone about this, do not draw attention to yourself... and do not be late” and in puff of smoke, he vanished again.

* * *

I didn't know what to make of “Reykur”. Not just his dramatic tendencies, annoying as they were, but more the fact they felt like a mask for something. I mean, someone who could vanish at will? I could think of many obvious applications of that talent, most of them unethical at best, and he had hinted at having even more tricks than that. Plus that veiled reference to “business” wasn't reassuring either.

If I had an actual choice, all of this might matter. As things stood, at best I could decide to be careful around him. Staying the hell away, as part of me desperately wanted, was not on the table. And so, there I stood, right where he'd left earlier in the day. One minute to midnight.

Of course, he appeared out of nowhere. I'd probably have a heart attack if I hadn't been expecting it.

“Ah, good, you're here. My apologies for the late hour of the meeting, but I assumed you wanted to get started as soon as possible”

“Yeah,” was my reply. “So, what exactly are we getting started with?”

“Your initiation in the mystic arts.” He smiled. “Or, if you prefer, we can call it 'magic training'”

1 comment:

  1. And there we go. Told you it would be done in a couple of weeks, even if I missed some evaluations.

    So, as you may have deduced, Kel here will later take on the name Machi, and join Void et al. But that's for the eventual sequel(s), Uruz and possibly Thurisaz. Probably won't get as far as Ansuz, Raido, Kaunan, etc. but we never know.

    The next Psychflare is a (probably) a Void story provisionally titled Countdown. As a general note, regarding the Vurok restart: If at any point the new stories contradict anything stated in the early ones (Void, Reflections, and Ananke), assume I'm revising the continuity. I might make appropriate edits, or not.