Safe When Used As Directed

March 12, 2010

PlastikiYum hallucinogenic products come in a variety of forms and colours. Blue Capsules. Purple and black powders. Red syringes. Designed by the French nanotech giant Extratica, PlastikiYum augments the human imaginative faculties. The world around you? It’s nothing but the dry electric crackling of the empty spaces between where one neuron ends and another begins. Billions of them: fzzzxxxt. Imagine that electricity thicker, wetter, but running quickly in every direction in your skull with the accelerating flow of all your brain-juices. Weeeeoooozzzzziiiiiii! That’s how PlastikiYum works.

And what does that mean for you? The word is “closer.” Have you ever gone to an art museum, filled with the by-products of the twitching hands of all those grand, old dead guys, and looked at those paintings that cut into you like they were painted on the backs of your eyes, and grabbed your heart like you were going to die the day before you turned 23 because what you saw in them was like a true reality beyond the quotidian nill gushing out of everywhere else? Me neither. And though that really that doesn’t bother anyone, the thing is the same went for a lot of French guys a while back. And that was a real problem. How can you be properly French if you yawn in the Louvre? if modern art is just stacks of coloured cogs super-glued to one another? Suddenly the whole idea of Europe is collapsing! From the straits of Gibraltar to the Baltic Sea congeals a dull mass of the same drunken skin-gorillas, who you can only tell apart by how relatively expensive their drug supply is.

With PlastikiYum we’re saved. I don’t know about the El Greco-engraved-on-the-inside-of-your-skull-feeling, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when I say the everything-is-infinitely-far-away bored feeling. You’ve been walking around all day because you can’t afford parking anywhere within a three-mile radius of where you’re standing, you haven’t eaten properly because you had coffee for breakfast and lunch at one of those we-charge-more-because-we-serve-less places, and you look like a ridiculous fag in any kind of hat so you have mild sun-stroke now. “Painting, what painting, all I see is air. Why is it so far away?” One of your eyes tries to roll into the back of your head and you run your hand through the nothing in front of you, because it looks like a muddy pond which makes all kinds of absurd, entropy-shapes when you stir it. You never feel like this at Ultramega Funland, but it’s real expensive to get in there and you’re supposed to be better than that at your age. But there’s just so much MUD between you and the world. You can’t reach it. If only you could get it closer, so close the heat of you’re eyes melts the paint and it slides into your eyes and ears and nose and mouth. Inhale and suck. With PlastikiYum there is no here and there. Here is there and everywhere. The real world is wholly in your skull. And the real world is so huge that getting it in there wound it up so much that if you drill a whole in your head soon everything is going to blow up as the pressure releases!

Everything makes sense when you put it that way.

***

Sam Lyons has this table in an otherwise empty room of his house that he sits at every night, every second he can. It’s the most expensive thing he owns. The table is worth so much that home and contents wouldn’t cover it, so he had to take out a life insurance plan on it instead.

It’s carved out of a single piece of marble. It has a frieze engraved along the sideboards, the design inlaid with platinum and gold wire. He has no idea what the frieze is a copy of, but he knows it’s a copy of something from a past so old it’s as fake as fiction to him. He’d picked it because it was the most complicated design in the catalogue he’d been sent. He needed to look at the design for at least a couple of seconds to begin to discern any detail at all in it. Until then it was just spinning lines moving too fast to be real.

What makes it so expensive is that it’s made of natural marble and that Sam had it made in Italy. He could have had the table made at the aritificial rare-stone synthesiser in Jakarta, and he could have gone without a second mortgage. But it’s a weird characteristic of a fantasy that it sometimes needs the most outrageous doses of realism or it curdles into the yoghurt at the bottom of a half-finished carton of milk.

The only things he keeps on the table are his pencils and sheets of blank canvas. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Sam is an artist though. The crucial difference is that Sam never lets anyone see what he draws, and not from fear of embarrassment or humiliation, but because there is genuinely no part of his brain that would even subconsciously want that. Sam doesn’t even keep what he finishes. There’s an incenerator in the next room that he uses to destroy everything that he makes before going to bed each night. The reason is that he hopes he’ll forget what he drew, so that some other time he can draw it like new again.

A pillar of cement-grey granite stands wrapped in moss and tangled in a creeping vine. The vine doesn’t creep up the column, but down, beginning somewhere in a hopelessly indecipherable, tropical canopy that breaks the morning sunlight in the picture.

The trick to drawing hopelessly indecipherable complexity is to draw a different pattern into the same picture every week. First a naturalistic canopy-pattern, then some Arabesque geometric strand, then the bleared and jagged lines you get in Chinese calligraphy. If you do this long enough you can forget what patterns are in there. Then you ignore it for a while and eventually when you look at it again later all you see is one pattern, which you never have any hope of understanding.

In places you see the corners of some worn stone sticking out of the undergrowth. You see so little of it that you can’t tell whether it’s just a natural rock or a centuries-weathered slab that used to make that column standing there good for something.

Sam spends most of his time drawing the undergrowth. He gets better at it with every month he passes at the table, stoned out of his brain, and drawn into a phantasm. This is important because, as Sam is unhappily aware, the human brain instinctively fetishises reality, however useless it may be. It builds up tolerances to every trick you show it. It can grow indifferent to dreams no matter how vivid, just as easily as it can adapt to and negate any hallucinogen. There are drugs that slow it down, meta-hallucinogens, extending all highs. But even they aren’t immune to your brain’s insidious hatred of you. They wear out eventually too. Sam tries to make the triggers (what he calls the objects he uses to guide him into his trips) more realistic in the hope that his brain will have trouble telling the difference between reality and fakery. But every night Sam still goes to bed knowing and brooding that there aren’t enough drugs for his too long life.

***

Sam lives in the middle of the Greater Wycliffe Well Metropolitan Area. There are a quarter of a million people living the Great Double W, and Sam hasn’t seen another person in three months.

How Wycliffe Well got to be a metropolis is an important lesson in modern economics.

At the end of the twenty-first century Wycliffe Well was still exactly what it had been for more than a hundred years: a truckstop/freakshow on the Stuart Highway. It’s main income-source was still selling meat-pies and fuel to truck-drivers making their way through the however-many deserts there are between Darwin and Adelaide, carrying freightloads of cheap Chinese jewellery and phone handsets. But the town was also supplementing its income with its lucrative UFO-sighting business.

For over a hundred years city-folk who had never actually seen a sky undimmed by artificial light had been mistaking shooting stars, comets and communications satellites for visitations from a celestial anatomists’ travelling circus. Rather than making the mistake of trying to talk sense into these well-endowed imbeciles, the owners of Wycliffe Well built a hotel, a UFO viewing-platform and a museum where the walls were plastered with reports of UFO-sightings made by their own visitors.

By the 2220s the pace of technological advance in the rest of the world had reached a stage where only the labour of a man with a slight limp and his three dancing guinea pigs was actually needed to provide everyone on Earth with all the food, water, shelter and avenues for personal fulfilment they could ever need. The man’s name was Jeff, and the guinea pigs were called Hamlet, Squiggles and Arjuna, and they only worked three days a week anyway.

It was a crisis! Markets collapsed! Money? What the hell was the point of all this money?

Thankfully a global wave idleness and delinquency was avoided when the dynamic and forward-looking leaders we are blessed with decided that humanity needed a goal. We needed to think big, because if you aim for the moon, then at least you’ll land among the stars, right? Actually each decided on their own separate goals, because it turned out that not one of them was endowed with more dynamism and forward-lookingness than all the others, and in the interests of liberty, equality and fraternity they each wanted to have a go at being a visionary leader themselves.

One of these visionary leaders was a UFO-enthusiast. So he used all of his leadership skills to pay millions of people worldwide to move to places noted for their frequent UFO-sightings and sit there their whole lives, waiting to be abducted by green freaks in their shining ships.

This actually turned out to be one of the more successful of the visionary projects for keeping people in totally needless employment. It’s great advantage was that it was what is called ‘sustainable.’ Smarter visionary leaders had foolishly decided on projects like colonising Mars or ending poverty. The problem was that these things could be done once and then didn’t need doing again. After a few decades there were no more poor people, and there was civilisation on Mars, so these visionary leaders pretty quickly found themselves languishing in obscurity, with no more vision and no more leading to do. The guy who decided to make a whole army to chase after figments of his own imagination for generation after generation, on the other hand, will always be a great man.

Wycliffe Well was one of his visionary settlements. ‘Researchers’ of every ethnic mix and physical appearance, of every blood type and social stratum in the world were sent to live there with a job description which was a polite euphemism for ‘bait.’ According to the vision statement aliens are ‘socially-conscious.’ Everyone was spaced out far enough so that light pollution would not impede the city’s work. Somwhere in the middle of it all the original owners of the truckstop are still running their service station. They’re getting paid millions to stay open, just in case it was the Operational Health and Safety violations that were attracting the visitors.

***

One evening Sam sat down at his table for the evening but didn’t manage to stay there ten minutes before he had to go to the bathroom. It had been forty five degrees the whole day, so he’d been sitting on his porch carrying out his duties with an esky full of coke and ice next to him. At about two thirty (he was supposed to stay out there until six, since he was on day-watch then) he’d finished enough of the cans that he could sit down in the semi-melted ice at one end of the esky. The water was warm by five, and he finished the very last of his drinks ten minutes later. If a visionary leader had wanted to find out how dizzy you could make a guy who wasn’t moving, Sam would have made a mint out of him.

Sam came back and sat down at his table again. He rubbed his palms against his trousers once to make sure they were completely dry, and spent a moment trying to clear his head.

The trouble was that when he had cleared his head he noticed how much he stank. It actually made him sick, so he was at that point really glad he was so cut off from society. The stench was so strong he could see it seeping into everything around him. He panicked. He could see the room turning into a place where a mutilated corpse had lain unfound for a few days. It would be like nuclear radiation, you could demolish the house and the contamination would still be there. He saw everything he touched absorbing his germs, like in kitchen detergent ads. He ran out of the room and into a shower. When he got out of the shower he took a bath, but while he was in the bath he kept thinking “I’m making the water dirty, I’m making the water dirty, I’m wallowing in my filth.” So when he got out he took another shower. All up, this took an hour.

The whole time Sam was in the kind of panic that got worse and worse without any end precisely because it was completely pointless. The fear he started with got worse because his constant movement in reaction to it was overexciting him. He was like a guy who had fallen into a thicket on a forest floor and, panicking at the sight of a cut on him, had flailed around, got the wound caught on something, and made the scratch into a free flow of blood.

He desperately wanted to calm down, because he knew that if he didn’t he’d never be able to concentrate on his triggers, and he would be stuck in a port-a-kit house in a desert owned by an idiot for the whole night. And if he couldn’t concentrate enough to get high on drugs that he’d already taken, he definitely wouldn’t be able to calm down enough to sleep.

The thought made him fall to his knees on his steam-damp bathroom floor, dry-retching with his eyes. It would be like today’s shift had never ended. None of the little games he played in his head to distract himself would work like new, none of the things he fantasised about would have been forgotten enough to rehash. Sam couldn’t even concentrate on jerking off if he hadn’t slept, which was a pretty big problem when you lived alone in a desert not talking to someone else’s imaginary friends all day.

It would be worse than death, he decided. I’d die of a stroke or a heart-attack or whatever the fuck death-organ gets screwed over by insomnia, his panic thought, it would happen four or five hours in, tops. So why the fuck don’t I just die while it’s still night.

He could imagine something restive in a death at night. In the day if he bled he was convinced that he’d be able to feel his own blood fry and evaporate on the splintery wood of his porch. At night it would press against all the cold surfaces of his house, and he would check out in momentary relief.

Sam wasn’t a depressive or insane though. He didn’t want to die, he just knew that he would, and he knew how much it would hurt. But he had a desperate panic-idea of how he could avoid it, and in his sanity he decided to try it before offing himself.

He got up and went into the shed that was built into the side of his house. He pushed over empty boxes and threw aside defunct-when-it-was-made alien-hunting equipment in his search. At the bottom of a pile of what was now broken glass he found a crowbar.

Sam walked back to his kitchen and stood before the chute with a little dispensery on the end that gave out his daily recommended dose of PlastikiYum. (He preferred the capsules). With the crowbar he pulled the cover off the chute to reveal the mechanism inside.

A little computer that normally just regulated how many pills to release and when was now displaying a message:

Si vous êtes technicien certifié de PlastikiYum: Bienvenue! Entrez vôtre code de la securité pour voir le menu de maintenance.

If you are NOT a certified PlastikiYum technician please reseal this dispensery unit or call a qualified tradesperson to do so. Overdoses are harmful and illegal to you health.

Sam ignored it. He didn’t speak French anyway. He began trying to pry open the front of the box where the pills were stored. It was sealed on tight against exactly this event. He was making progress, but the crowbar slipped and Sam hit himself hard in the face with the other end. He could feel a bruise growing over his left eye as he went straight back to his work and finally pried the casing open.

Pills spilled out and on to the floor. He gathered the dozen or so that had stayed in the box. He held them in his fist while he poured a glass of water (still warm from sitting in a tank in the sun all day). He downed them all at once and ran back to his table and his drawings.

He stood hunched over an impossibly high tower, made of an amount of obsidian that didn’t exist in the world. For a moment Sam was confused. Nothing, he thought. That’s not supposed to happen.

And then it hit him.

He felt as though every hair on his body had been set fire to, and was turning black and hard in the flame before curling over into him, like electrified barbed wire turning a cow into beef. It was the little hairs that hurt the most, on the backs of his hands and the ones he didn’t know he had between his shoulder blades.

Sam could smell backwards in time. It wasn’t just the smell that had set him into panic in the first place. He could smell every minute he had spent where he stood. There was nothing to breathe in the room. He’d never be able to get out and he was suffocating. It made him think of the millions of hours he had spent here. It made him think, I have so little time left. Where is all that time?

He picked up a pencil and tried to still himself. He thought that if he could focus on his triggers he could swing the careering power of the drug away, back to what he wanted from it. The graphite in the pencil dissolved and leaked out of the wood. The stream started out sharp and thin but grew into a river. There was no way that there was that much lead in that pencil. The lead had started to leak out of him instead. He cried out a stream of graphite. Sam’s eyes melted and turned into powdered lead.

He ran out of the room. He kept running through the house until he was out on his porch. He breathed in one fresh breath and felt one flash of calm. Then he opened his eyes and saw the middle of the next day. It was or five hours into his shift and every inch of his impossibly long sitting ran into him at once. Calm doesn’t come in flashes, he thought. Dammit!

And then everything. A quarter of a million lonely deserts of desperation were pressed together into a single tense point. Sam sucked it in trying to breath. It was in his head and it couldn’t stay together much longer, not in there. That was the only thing he really had time to think.

One Response to “Safe When Used As Directed”

  1. Dear Internet,

    I know you haven’t responded to any of my e-mails for months, but that’s okay I’m like that too. And so what if you never call? You probably just lost my number, or your service provider disconnected your phone and you’ve been borrowing your roommates for essential calls, and you figured that didn’t have to include me because I would understand and I wouldn’t get mad. That’s okay. And I know you weren’t “standing me up” all those times we were supposed to meet for dinner, Internet. I know you get busy. I mean, you’re literally supposed to be in hundreds of millions of places at the same time. Hell, I probably gave you the wrong directions to that McDonald’s anyway.

    The point is, Internet, you and I understand each other. We connect. It’s us against them, baby, and we’re goin’ all the way!

    What I’m trying to say, Internet, is it’s okay. I love you and I forgive you, because so long as we have each other that’s the important thing, right?

    PAK

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