I should preface this by stating that I’m not much of a smoker. Wow, amazing tone to set on a 4/20 experience, right? I just don’t wanna lie to you, not when discussing the shit that went down. I’ve finally focused enough to talk, I know some of the specialists here are keen to talk to me some more, but for now I’ve ignored them and decided to focus on getting this out there.
This needs to be explained, and I am desperate to get this out of my system. Literally and figuratively.
I never want to experience this “high” again.
The Eldritch Bud came up in conversation last 4/20 with my best friends Kai and perennial stoner; Kenny. It was right as COVID was spreading across the world and stopping any of us from seeing one another for a traditional wake & bake. Kai would eat the brownies and binge TMNT, I’d take advantage of the abundance of snacks while politely declining the dank Kush & Kenny would show off a new strain he’d bought from the marijuana store in town.
“Bro, the Eldritch bud is like… man, it’s the dark holy grail of the weed mythos. It’s like… it’s like the Darth Vader of the weed universe… or the grizzly bear of the weed kingdom…” His eyes glazed over and taking a drag from his blunt, the smoke-filled video screen adding to the atmosphere. “Strongest shit in Sturgeon, my guy.”
“It’s a strong strain, I get it. Can we eat it too or…” Kai asked, shoveling Ramen into his mouth at lightning speed while screaming expletives at a League game in the background, our Discord server was rarely ever free of some kind of shit-talking, so it was easy to block out.
“Nah… I mean yeah, I guess you CAN eat it… but it’s not just strong, bruh, it’s like DARK dark. Shit makes you see things, go to a special place, they say it helps you ascend and that it can either be the best or worst experience, depending on if you’re ready…” Kenny looked intense, but excited. As if he were talking about a mythical creature. “It changes you inside and out. You go in one guy… come out another. Special… different.”
“I dunno, man. Isn’t that the kinda shit Mushrooms and psychedelics do? I’m not an expert, or anything…” I trailed off, Kai swallowed a mouthful of noodles before making a mock ringing noise.
“Oh shit, paging Dr. Tyson McGraw. Drug M.D.” He puffed up his chest and pretended to be a busty woman, adding a breath-y voice in for good measure. “McGraw-senpai, you need to tell us if this is just a different strain bro, uwu.” Laughter rang out through the call and I felt embarrassed, but I knew enough about weed to know that it could do some weird things, but NOT the type that Kenny was describing. Still, when the laughter died down, he was steadfast in his resolve.
“I swear, guys. I’m gonna grab some for when we can hang safely next time, I know a guy… he said it wasn’t the right time but that he’d hit me up when he’d got more and even give me a discount. And this time…” He points at the camera, at me. “You’re trying some, Ty. I know you’ve been curious, what better place to try than with your friends? I want you to see what I see.”
He was right, I had expressed interest, but never worked up the courage. The guys would never pressure me, but I did feel I was missing out on trying at least the once.
When he said “friends”, I can still recall Kai’s dumb cheesy grin, still pretending to be a nurse and get a rise out of me. That image will never leave my mind with all the things that succeeded it.
I agreed, and the conversation was forgotten in a sea of lengthy discord calls over the summer and winter of 2020, memes, failed online relationships and late night gaming tourneys.
But, as things began to shift, and we all found ourselves free and safely able to hang out, Kenny messaged the server on the 19th with just three words in all caps:
“I GOT IT.”
He attached a photo of himself smiling ear to ear with a large bag of black and green material, it looked almost thorny and thick in texture, but his excitement was infectious, I couldn’t help but share in his enthusiasm when I replied;
“We’ll be there, snacks & all.”
We rolled up in the late afternoon as the sun began to set, Kai holding an assortment of potato chips, sodas and ready for what I anticipated would be, at most, a very mellow experience with some mild worries as I settled in.
Kenny led us downstairs and had everything laid out and ready, a small amount of the black and green bud still in the bag, the smell of weed and a hint of something… iron-y lingering in the air.
He’d pre-rolled an 8th for me and gave me a strong pat on the shoulder.
“No sense in going in soft, we wanna enjoy this!” He grinned and handed Kai a stack full of brownies, undoubtedly full of the same stuff while Kenny helped himself to an ungodly large blunt, passing us a lighter before we each nodded and prepared. I won’t lie, I was nervous. Smoking had never been something I cared for, but the combination of wanting to bond with my closest friends and experience something new gave me the confidence necessary to push on.
“See you on the other side, my dudes!” Kai grabbed his edible and had two at once, while Kenny & I sparked up and took a deep inhale.
This is where we reach the part of this experience that brings me here. To you.
Because I don’t know what we smoked, but it wasn’t weed.
Within 60 seconds, my mouth grew ostensibly dry. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and it felt like a herculean effort to pry it away. Each of my teeth vibrated and my jaw wouldn’t stop rotating in its socket.
It took everything I had to focus and ask Kenny a question, his eyes glistening and focused on something beyond my purview.
“Where… where did you get this shit?” Every consonant sounded cracked, like I was chewing on sandpaper.
He didn’t shift in his seat as he replied, didn’t move a goddamn muscle save for his mouth.
“Guy calling himself The Arbiter. Think he wore a trench coat… or a hoodie… I dunno. But he hid his face and used one of those… fuckin’… voice changer things. Said it’d be the ride of my life and that I’d never forget it, that it’d change me for the better… So that was good enough for me.” He took another hit, and I watched his eyes widen, as if something was coming into focus. “Just keep going and enjoy the ride.”
I felt sick, my feet were sinking into the floor and the leather chair was merging with my skin, but I figured it was just jitters and did as instructed, taking another deep inhale and feeling the heat rush through my chest.
A low, incessant hum filled my ears, the kind of electronic boom you hear in movies when the world slows down. The equivalent of my brain sending out signals that enemies are nearby in an RPG, but my body was unable to respond.
Instead, all I could do was cast my eyes in Kai’s direction, seeing if he was feeling what I was feeling. Unlikely after just a couple of minutes of edibles, right?
But it was dark outside by the time my eyes settled on his slumped position across the room. The moon was steadily rising in the window behind him. How long had it been? An hour? Two?
Kai was looking at his hands, slowly turning the palms and drooling into his lap. A thick, green mucus that dangled from his lips and had pooled to a staggering amount on his pants. He fixated on one particular digit, twisting it to find something and extending it out to point at the same spot Kenny had been staring at, still drooling and devoid of any kind of expression.
“Door.” Was all he managed to say before stifled, awkward grunts of laughter escaped his lips.
I turned to look and felt the room shift with me; the decor melting away and the roof of the house tearing off to leave us in a space of red and green mist. Floating in place.
I could still feel the fabric of the leather chair sticking to my skin, threatening to rip the flesh if I so much as twitched too much. I knew my feet were on the floor, but the sensation akin to pins and needles gave a sensation of floating that I fully gave into as I caught on that I’d once again taken a hit, the smell of this weed now the only thing I could perceive.
“Ty, can you see me, man?”
I blinked, waving my arms around as if swimming, my body floating in the strange absence of space. As the shape came into focus, Kenny dashed past me, directing me to a door that Kai was now sitting in front of.
“Yeah, I see you. Where… what is this?”
He grins, it’s a sober and educated grin.
He’s been here before.
“Don’t worry, you’re new, but follow me through the trip and you’ll be fine. Just don’t deviate and listen to what I tell you to do, ok? You’ll know when you’ve found YOUR door.” He puts an arm around me and gives me an encouraging push as I glide down to Kai. “And don’t bother him, he’s working to unlock it for us.”
As we passed Kai, cross-legged and naked, still drooling, he was clearly focused on something. Eyes rolled back and jaw slack as a single digit still pointed towards the door, twitching and contorting as if picking an invisible lock.
The door itself was grand. Standing in this space at a towering 50ft high, marvellous sigils and carvings I’ve never seen before adorned the sides, coalescing to form a pattern that met in the centre with two snakes shaped like door knobs.
“Once the door is open, we descend to the next level. You may not remember what you see here, but it WILL change you, bro.” Kenny was proud, hands on hips and far wiser than I’d ever heard him. It was almost unnerving. “This is the best gift I could give you. Kai’s only been here once before, but he found his own way in, as will you.”
“What did we take, Kenny? What was that?” I couldn’t shake the fear in the pit of my stomach, and the mist around me shuddered at the question. Kenny grinned.
“I may have told a little white lie. This is a strain, but not of weed. Truth is, I don’t know what is fully is. But the guy who gave it to me said it’s the ultra high, and he was not wrong. I’ve spent most of the year learning about this place. It’s given me so much… even if my waking body suffers for it.” He paused, shaking his head as he ran a hand across the fine wood of the door, a creaking now joining the low hum. Whatever Kai was doing, it was working. “I get headaches. Start to hear things that aren’t there, muscles ache, I forget who I am sometimes and the nosebleeds… god, the nosebleeds dude. I can’t function out there anymore, so I asked him for the best shit he has, to ensure I found the solution here and, most importantly, showed you what you’d been missing out on!” He chuckled, hiding clear discomfort behind pure confidence. Something was here that he wanted.
I opened my mouth to speak, but the door swung open and a soft light eked out, bathing us all and making my skin bubble.
Kenny took off, pushing his body downwards as if diving into an ocean and past the threshold of the door, a puff of smoke in his wake.
“Dive in and let your senses guide you, do not deviate from them, dude! You’ll find your way!’
Well, it’s not like I could just leave in the middle of a high, I thought. I resigned myself to see this through despite the dread and pushed down until I was hanging on the doorframe, taking one last look back at Kai.
I almost screamed.
Stood up, legs stayed out in a low squat, knees buckling under the pressure and eyes fully rolled into the back of his head, blood seeping from his right nostril. He smiled and while still pointing through the door at something impermeable, gave a soft wave with his free hand, the flesh rapidly melting from it and revealing the complex nerves and muscles that pushed the digits forward. The flesh was pooling onto the floor and down his leg as he got one word out:
A force pushed me through the door and hurtling into the cloudy mist within.
As I fell through these strange clouds, my body twisting and turning with a flash of colours passing too fast to process, the smell of a barbecue filled my nostrils and my mind, in that moment of nostalgic haze, wandered to what it must be like to descend through a gas giant, seeing the magnificent colours and smells without the immediate death. An otherworldly serenity both familiar and unfamiliar.
As soon as the thought came, it left me for a rapidly approaching obsidian black floor. I had just enough time to cover my face as I slammed into it, ribs crunching and the wind knocked out of me.
I don’t know how pain was a thing in these situations and I was immediately concerned I’d be hurt in the real world, but it gave way to the sight of a prone Kenny at the end of this hallway, whimpering in front of an even bigger door, colossal statues line either side, each in a series of decomposition starting from healthy to exposed bone and finally large skeletons with thick armour pushing down on their tired frames.
Each one of them directing their gaze at Kenny.
“Dude…? You okay?” I called out, and he immediately jumped out of his skin, turning to me and holding his arms up.
“You can’t hear them…” He looked genuinely upset that I had appeared in front of him. “That means it won’t work. After all that, you cannot hear them. You deviated without knowing it. So here we are.” I frowned. He’d been the one to push me to do this, to follow him into whatever the fuck this drug trip was.
“But you said to-” I protested, the hum drastically increasing in volume as the doors began to open and Kenny’s breathing grew shallow.
“They said you would be able to do this with me, that since I was so far gone out there, a body rotting away from the inside out I could make it work here. I just needed to get you across the threshold. This door is the last one. It has everything I’m looking for. But you… you will need to take a different path. You cannot follow me in here. Take Kai with you, if you can.” The contents within the door are still impossible to see, they’re opening painfully slowly.
“What do you mean? Can’t I learn too? We can do this again, maybe just with a lesser strain?” I don’t know what use it was to reason within a drug dream, but it felt so real to me. He shook his head.
“No. This door is meant for me. But it seems fate intervened anyway.” He laughed. It was hollow, full of bitter irony. “When we passed out, I… made a mistake. It’s costing us, right now. I was the last to go out and before I joined you, the voice deep within this place told me that all that knowledge, that chance to ascend was here… But I couldn’t go back.” He turned to look at the statues, the things they all gave up in the pursuit of knowledge. “What I want is beyond that door, bro. I can’t leave. Not until I know…” He tilts his head up to the thick clouds above us. “Can you hear it, Ty? They’re just beyond the door… calling to me. Listen.” I tried, straining my ears as best I could to sift through the hum and the creak. I closed my eyes to help me focus. In that moment, something hissed from the distance, a terrible voice carried on the wind that told of horrible things. Things it had seen, done and wanted me to do.
I snapped my eyes open and felt my heart beating out of my chest, disgust at the forefront of my emotions.
Kenny looked at me, a mixture of disappointment and understanding.
“It’s okay. You aren’t ready, man. This shit needs practice, tolerance build up. They wanted you here because your family is special, even in this town! And I thought… I hoped you’d be of good use to them here if you just saw what I saw, that maybe they wouldn’t hurt you. We could’ve both been something great.” He sighed and his lip trembled, wiping a tear from his eye. “But I guess it wasn’t meant to be, so i’ll take the ascension for us both.”
Words caught in my throat and the coherent blended into the incoherent seamlessly as if following the narrative structure of a dream. Key bits of information were being omitted as he stood there, weak smile and looked me dead in the eye.
“It’s alright, we’ll meet again.”
I’ve sat here for hours trying to find the words for what I saw when those doors fully opened and the unholy howls erupted from within its chambers. So many hands, appendages and undulations sprung from its depths to envelop Kenny, my friend. He smiled, let it happen, and didn’t resist as they pulled him in further. I ran forward, my eyes blurring so as not to focus on what I was witnessing, desperate to save my friend but unable to stop the doors closing on me.
I scratched, kicked, punched and wailed. But the doors would not budge.
Within a few minutes, I felt the pulling of my body as it started to rise up and away from the obsidian walkway, away from Kenny and up through the thick clouds, now stained black and making my eyes water.
Back through the first double door, Kai still waving aimlessly. I grab him by the still in-tact arm and pull him with me as we hurtle towards the starting point of this strange realm.
As we look back and see the last set of doors close, the colours shifting from soft greens to bright oranges, all he can croak with fractured vocal chords is one word:
I awoke to the sound of flames licking at the upholstery, beams of wood cracking under the pressure and splintering to the ground, my head housing a thunderstorm and with every movement, my eyes screamed in protest, threatening to burst out of my sockets. When I tried to sit up, a pair of horrific realisations washed over me in tandem;
The house was on fire, Kenny’s blunt had fallen onto the floor and sparked a flame that rapidly grew throughout the home into a blazing inferno.
And, as a result, part of my back was fused to the leather chair.
I looked to Kai, his hand resting in the flames and almost completely singed to the bone, still catatonic and undoubtedly at risk.
I had 2 minutes at best.
I sucked in air, bit down on my lower lip and pushed up with all my weight. A disgusting ripping sound like the tearing of velcro cut through the air and a wet feeling drenched my back. The pain was indescribable, but I’m thankful that adrenaline was there in that moment.
I grabbed the throw blanket we’d had spare for when the night got chilly and threw it over my body, darting round to grab Kai as delicately as I could and heading for the window behind him, breaking it open before hoisting him out, thankful that we were on the ground floor and, at worst, he’d hit the bushes with a nasty thud.
By the time I’d gotten out, it was impossible to get back in through the window. Racing round to the front door, I pulled out the keys in my pocket and tried desperately to get them open. I scratched, kicked, punched and wailed. But the doors would not budge.
“Kenny…” I breathed, staring at the house I’d become so familiar with as it was consumed by the flames. As the distant lights of the fire services and paramedics grew brighter, my body found its cue to let me sink, mercifully, into unconsciousness.
This brings us up to speed on what happened. I awoke with some heavy bandaging on my shoulders and was told a skin graft could be needed, but that for today I would need to field some questions about the house fire from a couple of detectives.
Sure enough, a couple of men in their 30s saunter in. One in a thick trench coat and the other in a neat 3 piece suit, both well mannered and polite.
“Your friend Kai Tokugawa hasn’t woken up yet, so we can’t get his statement. Do you know what started the fire, Mr McGraw?”
I felt the familiar burning on my spine and swallowed, nodding.
“Yeah, our friend Kenny, the guy who owns the house, had a lit cigarette in his hand and fell asleep. It fell to the floor and here we are.” I shook my head. “All so we could try some weird weed, what a fucking waste.” There was no point hiding it, they’d find out through my medical report.
The two of them looked at me quizzically. The man in the trench coat leaned forward.
“Kenny, who? You co-owned that house with someone?”
I stared, confused.
“What? No, that was Kenny’s house. I lived on-“
I paused. The image of where I lived prior was blank. As I tried to recall it, all I could see were the grand doors in that strange space.
“If that’s not your house, why’d you have the keys to it? The neighbour said you went out around 10pm the night before, said you were excitedly telling someone you got some “ultra shit”, well…” The man in the three-piece suit made a note on his pad, leaving it on my table. “ I hope it was worth it, kid.”
Why couldn’t I remember where I lived? Why couldn’t I remember Kenny’s last name? What was going on?
The man in The Trench-coat grinned.
“Was it worth it, Mr McGraw? Did you like what you saw? We’ve never seen someone come back from it still coherent… we’re ever so curious about what you encountered in there.”
I felt sick; the room started to spin and the two of them were ushered out as I was calmed down. It’s been a few hours and the men have asked to see me again, this time with some equipment and experimental medication.
I have a feeling I know what it is.
I don’t know what we took. I don’t know what happened there. I haven’t seen Kai since this began, and I can no longer remember what Kenny looked like. What he sounded like. Fuck… were they even male?
The worst part is the note that the man in the three-piece suit left. I’ve looked at it a couple of times, but it makes me feel sick. I can’t leave, my body is wrecked, and it’s only a matter of time before they come back.
5 words accomanied by a strange sketch of an Atlas Moth beneath it.