A story for a favorite book of mine.
Cy slowly opened up his palms, his grin gleaming sharper than a vorpal blade. “One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow smaller,” he said.
Ezra made his choice, and down the rabbit hole he went.
Slowly walking into the kitchen of his ramshackle house made Ezra chuckle with intoxicated delight. The intricate mosaic patterns covering the linoleum floor blended and swirled as the colors shifted into a kaleidoscope of psychedelic designs. He could feel the cold traversing from the floor through his socks and into his toes, the chill so sharp it felt like needles pricking into his skin. The heightened sensation provided an intense yet soothing comfort to the burn of Ezra’s chronic athlete’s foot; a fungal manifestation of the stress-induced perspiration of being an over worked and underpaid high school English teacher. Ezra discovered the only way to escape the anxiety of frequent visits from angry parents and lousy performance reviews was through the use of narcotics. On this particular night, the shrooms Ezra had opted for instead of the regular molly tabs were doing their job, and they were doing it very well.
“Whoa man,” laughed Ezra, “I can definitely feel it now.”
“Ha ha, well you should if that’s what you paid for right? Except you didn’t really…” grumbled Cy.
“What was that?” asked Ezra, dropping himself onto one of the wooden dining table’s matching chairs. He leaned over and placed his face against its scratched aging surface. Slowly Ezra inhaled through his nose, and smiled as he released his breath– the scent of Lemon Pledge made his mouth water.
During the few weeks the two had conducted business together, Ezra quickly began growing a sizeable debt to the dealer. The combination of his low income, and an increasing taste for stimulants and hallucinogens often left Ezra unable able to immediately pay Cy. In place of cash, he ponied up promises of swift repayment that had yet to be fulfilled.
“Hey man, I got somethin’ to make you trip even harder,” said Cy, “Check it out.” He joined Ezra at the table and brought up his backpack. Gingerly, he pulled out a small glimmering red vase, a metal contraption with a dish that appeared to fit onto the glass container, and a black hose crowned with a wooden mouthpiece; it was a hookah.
“Woooooah,” said Ezra, his eyes sparkling at the sight of the pipe. “Cy, this thing looks crazy awesome! It’s so… unreal.” He gently grazed his finger against the smooth glass, tracing the darker red streaks that blended into softer tones. The colors ebbed and entwined as he touched them.
“Just wait ‘til you taste the smoke,” said Cy, “I brought us a special blend of herbs.”
“Oh really?” smiled Ezra. “What kind of ‘herbs’ are we talking about?”
“It’s mostly spearmint shisha with a little somthin’ extra I thought could help you really wake up and see the night sky.” Cy filled the vase with some water from a bottle he pulled out of his bag, fit the pieces together, and was about to open the tobacco box when he looked at Ezra. “Hey man, you mind pourin’ us a couple waters?”
Ezra nodded and stumbled over to the sink. Long before his dabbling into the world of drugs, he found solace in cleaning his house, particularly his kitchen; it was the only place he felt in control of his life. After being introduced to Cy and his wares, the once spotless metal sink was now coated in a thin layer of white mold. Ezra rinsed out the two cups he found inside, and felt Cy carefully watch him before focusing back to the tobacco. He filled them to the brim with cold tap, and returned to Cy who had just topped the apparatus with a glowing coal.
“Alright, the pipe’s ready to go. Wanna do the honors?” asked Cy, handing the hose to his debtor. Ezra wasn’t one to pass up the generosity of his favorite dealer, so he gladly took hold of the mouthpiece. “Have as many hits as you like, man.”
“Thanks,” said Ezra. “Oh and dude, I promise I’ll pay you back for the shrooms and the smoke as soon as I get the cash. Maybe by the end of the week? I’m gettin’ my paycheck soon.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Cy, staring directly at Ezra. He was unsure if the darkness he saw in Cy’s eyes was a side effect of the shrooms, or something else. “I know you will.”
The smoke flowed into Ezra’s lungs like a firestorm. The dry taste of tobacco mixed with the sweetness of the mint was overpowered by an unusual burnt tang. He wondered at the oddity of the flavor, but quickly disposed of the thought and took several more hits. A few minutes into the session, Ezra felt his stomach twist. He clutched his side and laid his head down on the sturdy table. “Ugh, Cy, I don’t think the shrooms and smoke are getting along with me. I gotta take a break.” Leaning into his chair, he tipped his head back to focus on the plain ceiling. The grey water stains span into amorphous shapes and undulated in waves that didn’t help Ezra’s nausea. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to himself, “one, two, three… four…”
“Ezra, would you please get a hold of yourself and stop acting like a teething child? It’s rude to ignore your guests,” spoke an unfamiliar voice. Its gravely timbre didn’t belong to Cy.
Ezra straightened up with a jolt and saw that where the dealer had previously sat, a giant caterpillar now waited with its long body neatly coiled into a pile. Its emerald skin emanated a soft glow in the otherwise dark kitchen, providing an otherworldly ambience. Ezra’s stomach continued to ache.
“Caterpillar?” he asked, slightly intimidated by the insect’s giant black eyes and monstrous size. He watched the bug’s several pairs of hands tightly grip the water pipe’s hose.
“Child, what on earth are you getting yourself into these days? ‘Fungi from friends leads to dead ends’ as I always say,” said the Caterpillar, taking the mouthpiece between his mandibles. He drew upon it for a minute that felt to Ezra like an eternity. “What is this filth anyhow? It’s nothing like my usual Skorpium,” he said as he puffed out small clouds. They sprouted wings and fluttered around Ezra like monarchs.
“What are you talking about Caterpillar?” asked Ezra as he swatted away the smoke butterflies. “What’s all this about ‘dead ends’ and ‘Skorpium’?”
“My boy, you ask far too many questions. But if you must know, Skorpium is a substance harvested from the venom pouches of Tulgey Skorpions found in the darkest depths of Tulgey Wood. When desiccated and smoked, it is a perfectly harmless but rather slow acting chemical compound. You see, Tulgey Skorpions use their venom in quite an ingenious manner; instead of immediately devouring their prey upon capture, the predators inject them with venom and stalk them back to their habitats. There the infected prey eventually collapses and is unable to defend itself or its young from a painful death. Morbid, I know, but truly they are quite brilliant hunters.”
The pain in Ezra’s stomach was far from subsiding, and the Caterpillar’s explanation only made him feel sicker. Beads of sweat formed across his forehead, and his vision began to spin once more. “Caterpillar, what are you telling me all this for? What do you want? Where’s Cy?” he asked. A sudden intense throb in his belly caused Ezra to give a sharp cry and double over. He felt like something was about to come tearing out of his stomach.
“Tsk tsk tsk. Be careful how high you soar, Ezra,” said the Caterpillar. “You might not like the circumstances of where you eventually land.” At his last words, the Caterpillar expelled a jet of thick black smoke that enveloped Ezra. He hacked and coughed as his eyes welled from the burning smog, and felt himself slowly drift away from the chaos.
Ezra awoke with a jump. Still sprawled out on his chair with his head tilted back, he realized he passed out from the trip. Squinting at the radiant sunlight pouring in from the windows, Ezra slowly got up and composed himself. He noticed the water pipe was gone from the table, and Cy was nowhere to be seen. He wondered where the dealer had left to when he suddenly remembered the Caterpillar’s words. Ezra frantically searched his pockets to find his wallet, mp3 player, and car keys missing.
Cy had stolen everything.