Issue No. 9 – September 2015
Josh used to brew coffee at a small café and play sax in a jazz quartet. He still worked at the café, but he pawned his horn when the organist offed himself. He accepted the paltry sum the shopkeeper offered him, knowing he could have gotten more on eBay, because he wished to suffer. He blew the money in his dealer’s apartment. Swerving home, his brain toked, popped, and snorted into oblivion, he feared that his vacant saxophone stand would make his heart explode.
However, when Josh faced the void in his basement apartment, he felt only relief. The sax was a burden on his self-esteem, a daily reminder of his oversized and undernourished ambitions. It was liberating to expect nothing of one’s self. He had always admired William Blake’s proverb, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” and now he could finally embrace it.
Nevertheless he gave scant thought to his destination. He journeyed first to Mexico, where he collected peyote with the Huichol people and conversed with the spirits of iguanas and armadillos. He moved on to Peru, where he ate, puked, and shat Ayahuasca with a bogus shaman who absconded with part of his life force. Finally, in Canada, he dropped acid in his friend’s condo and witnessed God’s creation in the dust bunnies beneath the sofa.
His travels brought him back to Portland, but he never stopped tripping. 5-MeO-DMT was his latest passion. His dealer extracted the psychedelic tryptamine from the parotoid glands of her Colorado River Toad. His favorite forums were inundated with fellow druggies attesting their allegiance to the Church of the Toad of Light. The high felt like “a speedboat chase down the River Styx” to Blunted4Eva. SAMMYDOSHA compared it to “a freight train full of hobos fighting over a single can of sardines.” “It defies description, opposes reason, and scrambles minds with the instantaneity of a flash of celestial light,” wrote Josh (TrippinBalzac1).
Though he smoked 5-MeO-DMT every two weeks, his trip on Wednesday had no parallel in his memory. He followed the standard procedure, first tapping a point into his hollow light bulb then applying a butane torch to the base and sucking the bitter smoke into his lungs. As usual, in thirty seconds, he dropped the bulb on the carpet and collapsed atop his recliner.
The chair transformed into a shallow dish of water. He discerned a resinous rock cave to his right, a silk ficus to his left. His feet were webbed, his hands four-fingered. Surrounded by glass walls, he hopped onto the moist substrate and bumped his head on the edge of the tank. He saw his dealer scrubbing her hands in the kitchen.
Michaela dropped a live cricket in the tank, and he snapped it up without a second thought. Though he enjoyed the crunchy snack, he felt anxious. The cricket carried a sinister implication, walking hand-in-hand with an unknown trauma. A shadow fell over his body. He darted for the cave. It rose to the sky as he dove for the entrance. He made for the ficus. This too Michaela spirited away. He dug a hole in the substrate. She plucked him out by his hind leg and wrapped him in her damp fist. He watched his home recede into the distance, supplanted by a music stand. A pane of glass was propped on the desk.
She said, “Thank you, Dmitry.”
Her fingers moved up and down his body. The gentle massage exacerbated his panic. He tried to squirm out of her aproned lap, but she held him tight between her thighs. He felt her fingers settle on the glands behind his ears. Terror flooded his veins. The gaping maw of a rabid bobcat loomed over him. His milk hit the glass with a sickening splat. He lost consciousness.
He woke up in his tank, a slain baby mouse at his feet. He could not bring himself to eat it. With a shiver, he recalled the faded images of his youth: purple flowered cacti dwarfed by craggy mountains, shimmering rivers lined with verdant shrubbery, red cliffs jutting into the gathering clouds of an imminent storm. Though his body remained in bondage, his heart roamed free in the Sonoran Desert.
When Josh reassumed his human form, he was possessed with a keen desire to return Dmitry to his natural habitat. He had caught a glimpse of the palace of wisdom, and he was eager to see inside.
Michaela used to serve ceviche in at an upscale Peruvian restaurant and write for a fashion blog. She still blogged on occasion, but she stopped waitressing after a drunk teen opened a car door in front of her bicycle. She flew over her handlebars and landed hard on her helmetless head. A CT scan revealed mild traumatic brain injury, and a team of interns assured her that the symptoms would pass in a few days. Two weeks later, she remained incapable of memorizing the most basic of orders. Though she tried her hand at a numerous jobs, she found that selling drugs accommodated the digressions of her impaired mind.
She owed her longevity in the game to her prudence. She dressed inconspicuously, her wardrobe composed of flannels, skinnies, and Toms. She demanded that clients stay in her apartment for a minimum of thirty minutes. She refused to sell any less than an eighth of weed, a gram of blow, or two points of 5-MeO-DMT. Loitering outside her home was a punishable offense, describing drugs over the phone grounds for dismissal.
Every day she shifted an area rug, unscrewed a floorboard, desensitized an electrified briefcase, and distributed her wares between sundry baggies. The product of an academic household, she never ceased to find this activity bemusing. She felt no kinship with the dealers of film and television. Her life was neither silly nor debauched. She knew only the monotonous thrum of paranoia. She distrusted the homeless hipsters who gathered on the front yard of the holistic medicine shop across the street. Every time she peeked through her blinds, she saw them lying in the grass, smoking cigarettes and hocking spittle. They demonstrated such commitment to their leisure, they had to be narcs. This theory, first conceived as a joke, had acquired a grim authority over the passage of time. She could not meet their eyes when she passed them, and she fell into a trot when they asked for change.
Michaela had only to gaze into Dmitry’s golden eyes to feel her anxiety abate. The toad’s stolid presence was a stronger mood enhancer than all the intoxicants in her catalogue. It was unfortunate that his support was more emotional than financial. 5-MeO-DMT lacked the cultural cachet of her other products, and it induced a face-melting shitstorm few clients were compelled to repeat. Though the cost of his upkeep easily outpaced the value of his milk, she retained him because she could not imagine living without him.
He was kidnapped on a Thursday afternoon. She was crouching in her bathtub, extracting stringy clumps of hair from the drain, when her cell phone beeped. She pulled off her gloves and read the text. “You want to hang?” wrote Josh, her oldest customer. She invited him to her apartment, and the buzzer sounded a moment later. The immediacy of his response gave her pause, but she shook off her apprehension and answered the door.
Josh was a portly man with a shaved head, a chin curtain, and a calf tattoo in the shape of a supple-lipped pine tree. She often considered asking him about it and invariably decided she did not want to know.
His eyes dull and filmy, he mumbled, “Howdy.”
She said, “Come on in,” and started up the stairs.
He lagged behind her, his boots thudding on the narrow steps. By the third flight, he was wheezing. She held open the door for him, and he stumbled past her and fell onto the sectional couch. The springs whimpered beneath his weight. Beads of sweat streamed down his cheeks and accumulated on his hirsute chin.
Pity and guilt dueled in her mind as she gazed at his perspiring body. “You don’t look so good, champ,” she said. “You want some water?”
He seemed to nod. She set the oven timer for thirty minutes, filled a pint glass from the tap, and set it on the coffee table. With some effort, he raised the glass to his lips. Most of the contents made it into his mouth.
“You want the usual?” she said.
“Please,” he managed to reply.
In her bedroom, she measured a half-ounce of weed and four points of 5-MeO-DMT on the triple beam balance. When she returned to the living room, she found Josh standing by Dmitry’s tank, one hand flattened against the glass, both eyes firmly shut.
Though Michaela was unnerved, she feigned blitheness. “Am I interrupting something?” she said. “Are you guys having a moment?”
He gave her a sullen look and returned to the couch.
She tossed the bud on the cushion. She would retain the 5-MeO-DMT until the timer went off. Josh ran his thumb up and down the crease of the baggie. As she waited for him to come to his senses, her pity-guilt flourished. She had never seen him this low. She knew it was wrong to continue enabling his downward plight, but she had come to depend on his steady business. Still he looked like he could keel over any second—did she really want his blood on her hands?
He finally drew three hundreds out of his jacket and slapped them into her open palm.
She pocketed the bills and, gesturing at the coffee table, said, “Make yourself at home.”
On the surface of the table rested remotes, controllers, and issues of High Times; in the drawers nestled glass pipes, hand mirrors, and razor blades.
“I’ll be cleaning the bathroom if you need anything,” she said.
Josh continued modeling apathy. When she turned away, he watched her leave. She had a nice eyes and cute rump, and she was a good person to boot. Fussy and neurotic but essentially decent. He regretted that saving Dmitry entailed hurting Michaela, but he knew the toad’s happiness took precedence over hers.
Knowing she expected him to spend the next half-hour smoking bowls and playing videogames, he filled his piece and loaded a disc into her decrepit PlayStation. An overall-clad kangaroo bounced up a pebbled beach and threw a right hook at the camera. Hooking his thumbs in his denim pouch, Kangy Walkabout sounded an off-key whistle. Josh blew Raspberry Kush in his face.
After ten minutes, he rose to his feet and tiptoed across the floor. Pausing by the bathroom door, he listened to Michaela’s scrubbing. Her cleanliness struck him as excessive and vain. Surely she had more enriching ways to occupy her time. He proceeded to the tank. Dmitry’s dark brown dorsum protruded from the substrate. Josh gently removed the lid. He had experience in the art of toad-catching, and he snatched up Dmitry with a quick movement and stuffed him inside a Ziploc, which he subsequently placed in the inner pocket of his jacket. The toad writhed against his heart as he made for the exit. A murmur of self-doubt pierced his conscience. Though his hallucinations often contained vital truths, he recognized that some of his epiphanies were misguided. He had consulted the internet, but his cohorts were divided on the psychological and physiological consequences of the milking process; he found more creative ideas than concrete answers.
A rattle in the bathroom squelched his indecision. He hurried out the door and bounded down the steps. As he settled inside his corroding Civic, he wiped off his forehead with a handkerchief. He took a moment to collect himself before he fumbled Dmitry into a perforated shoebox. He wrapped the box in rubber bands and set it on the passenger seat.
When he swung onto Powell, a woman shrieked in fright. The sound came from his phone. It was Michaela’s ringtone, thusly assigned to ensure he never missed her calls. A giddy feeling usually came over him when he heard the scream. Now his heart flung itself against his breast. As the scream went on, he realized he would rather speak with her than listen to her voice message. He pushed the speaker button. Michaela’s breath filled the car.
“Josh,” she said. “Are you there, Josh?”
With a soft exhale, he said, “I’m here.”
“What do you think you’re doing, Josh?”
He cleared his throat. “Not much.”
“What are you doing with my fucking toad?”
His stomach stirred. “I’m taking him home.”
She sighed. “I know where you live, you asshole.”
“Not my home,” he said. “His home.”
She was silent. “His home,” she finally said.
“According to my GPS, I’ll arrive in Tucson in seventeen hours.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“If you care about Dmitry’s well-being, you won’t follow me.”
He could hear the spit flying from her mouth. “If you give the tiniest morsel of shit, you’ll turn the car around. Letting him free will not solve shit. He will die, horribly. He’s never been outside, he doesn’t know how to hunt, he’s too old to pick it up. A bird will eat him, a fucking coyote will rip him apart. It’s not a good idea, Josh!”
When the line went dead, Michaela’s first impulse was to go after Josh. To hop in her car, fire down I-5, and run his car off the road. As soon as she saw her harried expression in the window of her Camry, she perceived the absurdity of her plan. She leaned against the door and covered her face with her hands. Dmitry was gone, stripped from her life without warning, and she had no way to counterbalance the violation. Knowing she could hinder his ability to buy drugs consoled her none.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Are you okay?”
She peeked at the man through her fingers, and slowly lowered her hands to her sides. He had a scraggly beard and bore a coterie of tattoos and piercings. She recognized him as the de facto leader of the gang of vagabonds/undercovers. His eyes evinced sympathy and amusement.
She said, “I’m fine.”
He nodded. “Kind bud?”
She shook her head. “No thanks.”
He squinted at her. “You live around here, right? You look familiar.”
She said, “I’m just visiting.”
On the lawn, his crew sat watching, taking mental note of her distress. In their unwavering gaze, she sensed the desperate hunger of junkies.
With a sallow grin, the man said, “I guess you just have one of those faces, huh?”
“I’ve heard that before, yes.” She voiced a staccato laugh and braced the door handle.
He made a flurry of gesticulations at his crew. Two of the men shambled to their feet, wiping the grass stains from their pants. They lingered inside the boundaries of the lawn.
“I have to leave,” she said.
“Sure.” He shook his head. “Places to go, people to see, I got it. You’re a busy lady. No time for these street kids. You walk by every day, and you can’t even look at us, let alone say hello or some shit. Then I try to comfort you, and you act like you never seen me before. How unique.”
The man’s words opened a circuit in her mind—fear became anger. “You’re right,” she said quietly. “I don’t have time for trash.” She raised her voice, so the others could hear. “I look at you guys, and I see garbage gone to rot, and I just can’t fuck with that.”
The man looked away, his face red. When he spun around and bared his middle finger, she acted on impulse, pulling the Mace from her purse, thumbing off the safety, and releasing a cloud of cayenne pepper concentrate in the man’s face. He promptly recoiled, descending with a spasmodic twitch to his knees. He gave voice to an unending array of coughs as he drooled onto the pavement. His friends cried out and started to approach, but a quick wave of the Mace halted their movement. As she looked down at him, a wave of nausea passed through her body. She got into her car. Backing out of the spot, she maneuvered around the man’s crumpled, fetal form. A can of PBR bounced off her hood.
She drove with no destination in mind, her only motivation a desire to escape. In time she set a course for Josh’s apartment. It soothed her racing heart to imagine Josh holding Dmitry in a spacious terrarium, feeding him insects, humidifying his air.
Though Josh planned to drive until his windshield showed nothing but Sonoran desert, his energy flagged after four hours on the road, and he checked into a Best Western in Medford. His room overlooked a stagnant pool, the TV carried seventy-three channels, and a damp spot by the bathroom gave no indication of drying. Though he felt comfortable here, he had never longed to smoke 5-MeO-DMT with such urgency. He yearned to reassume Dmitry’s perspective, to confirm the import of his mission.
He turned his duffel bag upside-down before he remembered leaving his order at Michaela’s. He paced to and fro, smoking three consecutive bowls with diminishing returns. A glance at the shoebox incited a new line of thinking. He eyed the mirror hanging behind it. He could easily squirt the surface if he calibrated the glands correctly. He caught a glimpse of himself as he formulated the plan, and the worn, brittle texture of his skin made him pause.
Still the addict in the mirror did not weaken his resolve. He pulled off the rubber bands and cracked open the box. He discerned Dmitry staring back at him, his eyes wide and inscrutable. Josh raised the lid higher, and Dmitry immediately sprang out. He landed on the carpet and hopped madly for the bathroom. Josh chased him into the shower stall and flung a towel over him. He rolled Dmitry inside it and held it to his chest.
“Don’t worry, little buddy,” he said. “It’ll all be over soon.”
Exposing the toad’s glands, he was possessed with an outlandish whim. He ran his tongue down Dmitry’s back, connecting the glands with a parallelogram of saliva. His flesh tasted like sewage and lilacs. He could only wallow in disgust for so long before the milk took effect. He dropped the towel at his feet and fell forward. From a distance, he felt his head collide with the porcelain tiles.
The floor was softer than anticipated, earthy in texture. With a sinking feeling, he realized that he was back in Dmitry’s tank. His hands and feet were his own, but a laptop had assumed the place of the artificial plant, the cave had transformed into a mason jar of marijuana, and a flat screen TV was mounted on the glass wall. Dmitry stood in the kitchen, holding his limbs under a running faucet. He slapped off the water with his tongue.
Bouncing up to the tank, Dmitry said, “It’s time, Josh.”
The resonant timbre of the toad’s voice sedated Josh, who lay supine on the substrate as Dmitry unscrewed the jar and crumbled a nug into a bong. The sound of bubbling water recalled a spring, and Josh dozed off as the aromatic smoke wafted through the terrarium. The blare of an air horn snapped him awake. The now-bitter smoke bore the unmistakable calling card of 5-MeO-DMT. His throat felt like it had been blasted with a blow torch. He buried his head in the substrate, but relief did not follow.
“Can you feel it now?” Dmitry said. “Can you feel your pain?”
Josh tried speaking to no avail. He expressed himself through writhing.
Dmitry laughed. “Freedom is for the dead.”
Sleeping behind the wheel, parked in front of Josh’s building, Michaela saw Dmitry reclining by a river, his dorsum shimmering. She watched in horror as a green bottle fly laid her eggs on his head. When the maggots hatched, they crawled up his nostrils and feasted on his soft tissue until his face caved in. He dwelled within arm’s reach, and yet she was powerless to stop it.
She woke to rapping knuckles on the window. Josh’s haggard face loomed over her. In his trembling hands, he held a shoebox. She showed him her Mace before she unrolled the window. He passed her the box, and she pressed her ear to the lid.
“I don’t hear anything,” she said.
“There’s nothing to hear.” He placed his hand over the box. “Please don’t open it.”
It felt heavier as a coffin. “I don’t understand.”
His face betrayed his lack of forethought. “I thought you’d want to bury him.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“I squashed him.” He lowered his head. “I licked his back, I dropped him to the ground, and I fell on top of him.”
Her mind illustrated his words. She rested her head on the steering wheel.
“I have to go,” she said.
“I thought I was doing the right thing. I’m so sorry.”
She found his meekness revolting. “Step away from the vehicle.”
“If there’s anything I can do…”
She said, “You’ll never get high in this town again,” rolled up her window, and drove home. She immediately cleaned out the tank and set it on the sidewalk. It was gone by evening. She knew she had to bury Dmitry, but she was not prepared to say good-bye. She placed the shoebox on her nightstand and resisted the urge to look inside. She paid no mind to her chiming phone. Her clients could wait. Alone she mourned her toad and faced his void. She sensed no liberation in the loss of her friend.
Mikhail Revlock lives in Philadelphia with his partner and two cats. “Milking Dmitry” is his first published story. It is one piece in a half-finished collection of semi-linked fictions.