RED BACKPACK

HENRY

So Henry was this kid, about five and a half feet tall, sixteen, on the chubby side of stocky. The kid still had baby face but he looked old because he didn’t ever sleep and smoked and drank too much. Real dumb, too. Never stopped reading the kinds of books he got when he was 9. Reader’s Digest Explorer: Space and the Stars, Curious Critters vol 4: Centipede Central!, How Does Stuff Work?, The Illustrated Guide to History and so on. He carried them around in his backpack. Never had an iPod or a phone. Just those primary school books, and his dried out child face.

He was always wearing this backpack. I don’t know what else he kept in it really, just the books he’d always bring out. I never saw too much of him. We were in the den together maybe six times total. I’d go down, pick up, hang around for a while then get back in my car and go back. Usually twice a month – sometimes more, sometimes less. I might have been down there for a night once when he was too, but I can’t remember.

No one thought anything would happen to him. The kid was too dumb to get into real trouble. He’d pass out at eight after a few drinks without fail, unless we were going up for the night. Even then, it just zoned him out.

But something bad did happen.

I only heard stories about him, really. I do remember one night though, he had a black eye and he’d gotten into trouble with some delinquents at the local servo. I knew the kids he was talking about, and they were just pubescent loiterers. You’d have to be an idiot to get jumped by them.  Henry didn’t like to fight, they say. He said that himself, actually, that night I saw him. Not to me, someone else. I remember kind of looking at him and raising my eyebrows as if to say, ‘what can you do?’.

Anyway, this one night Henry starts complaining about a sore stomach.

Everyone’s sitting around the room, smoking pipes. I’d just left to deliver. Henry’s sitting there complaining, and this kid usually never complained about his stomach. If he wasn’t staring into space or mumbling or reading those damn books, he was stuffing his face. And if he wasn’t doing that he was drunk, every time I saw him.
So, what I got told, was that no one thought anything of it. “Smoke a pipe, Henry”, shit like that. And what I heard was that he did, and then he was fine – for a while. It was weird for Henry to start complaining about his stomach, and weirder still for him to start complaining at all. Henry was a quiet kid. Didn’t do much.

I think he lived with his uncle or something.
He had some little sister who I saw once in passing – she was dressed up for her age and looked underfed. Had a tattoo on her neck.
I don’t think anyone knows if his family even got notified at first.

Anyway – that night, after the first bout of pain or whatever, shortly he was saying it again. But sweating this time, too. Henry starts to get a red face, but still no one thinks anything of it. “You smoked too many pipes Henry”, shit like that. But Henry keeps saying over and over about his stomach and someone tells him to call an ambulance if it’s so bad, but he can’t because the fee is $800 and his family can’t afford it.

So they start getting him glasses of water and what I heard was that Henry started crying like a sick kid, completely helpless. Then they see he’s starting to swell up.

So someone puts a pillow behind his head, I think it was one of the girls, and somewhere in the process someone bumps his stomach. Henry screams out in pain and clutches his hand to a spot on his torso. He was being so loud that the others all started to get paranoid, worrying about the neighbours. They tell him to shut up and Henry starts whimpering, lifts up his shirt.

And this dead bee falls out.

Someone checks out his stomach and this is when everyone started to freak. In the same minute, Henry starts to go blue then purple in the face. The sting on his stomach, by his belly button, is blood red and swollen with the stinger still there, the bee’s guts hanging off it, glistening under the lamp in the hazy room. No one knows when it stung him.  He was fine for a while after he first mentioned that his stomach hurt, and all of a sudden he went downhill in ten minutes.

Henry was always a little porky around the neck so the swelling around his neck went unregistered initially. When he started gasping, they caught on. But by then it was too late, obviously. Henry was dark purple and his tongue was starting to go fat and discoloured, too. Eyes go blood red, each vein popping out. It really messed everyone up, because by the time they realised what was happening he was gone.

No one remembers if he ever mentioned being allergic. That’s what Darrell told me, anyway.

Thinking of the timing, it would have been around when I started getting ready to pass out on my bed that Henry died on the den floor.
Big, swollen Henry with his blue and purple child face.

At this point, they should have just hid everything incriminating in the den and called an ambulance. They could have lied if the cops came, and said they came back to find him there like that. There was a dead bee on the floor with its innards hanging out the back of it, so they had a smoking gun. In twenty minutes they could have packed up the cookware and just let the kid get taken away. But they didn’t. They panicked.

I didn’t hear much of what went down between Henry collapsing and the moment they shoved his inflated, blanket-wrapped corpse in the boot of the land cruiser, but I remember Darrell saying they all sat in a circle around Henry’s body, just looking at him. No one said anything. Some smoked. After about twenty minutes his body pissed all the beer out, so it couldn’t have been much longer after that they moved him.

The den isn’t far from the beach.
It’s about a ten minute walk, two minute drive. It’s early hours of the morning, and they all pull up in the land cruiser in the parking lot. It’s just them and the sound of the waves at night, now. The moon and the stars. And dead Henry with the piss soaked pants and the fat tongue hanging out his mouth with the dumb, purple child face. Wrapped in floral sheets.

I don’t know why they went through with it, but they hid his body. Who knows if they originally meant to put him where they did or not. That night, on the beach, they all saw something that they never had before. I guess they were desperate just to get rid of Henry, they didn’t stand around looking. So they flee the scene after dumping him and get back to the den, according to Darrell.

The next morning, it’s a Sunday. The moment the sun breaks over the horizon, it’s scorching. It was forty degrees at 9 a.m. or something.

By 12 p.m., of course there was a crowd gathered round the beach. Word of mouth spreads quickly throughout the town down there – not many people – apparently before it all went down, most of the others had already put forty kilometres of distance between themselves and the den. If they caught word in the morning about the beach and then fled, or just fled anyway, I don’t know.

Either way, at lunchtime half the town have rocked up at the beach, and half the town are now fanning themselves under the heat on the dry land, looking at the scene before them – dozens of children are making all kinds of gestures and exclamations to get away from bad odour. TV cameras were there and everything.

At some point the night before, a humpback whale beached itself on the shore. A day later, it’s still laying there under the forty degree sun.

Darrell was really fucked up when I saw him in jail. The guard who questioned me before I was allowed into visitor’s hall told me Darrell was the one who really got messy and lodged Henry’s corpse inside the whale. I asked a lot of questions, I know that, but I don’t remember any of it.

I think it was around one in the afternoon when the massive humpback blew open.

Baking under the sun like that, gases built up inside its stomach and the dead whale exploded.

And this whale really explodes, right.
Everybody at the beach that day, so like – half the town – received anti bacterial shots and hazmat cleandown afterwards. It went everywhere. Some nimble sections of its insides were flung up to sixty metres away. I don’t know what happened after that, but I figure it didn’t take long for someone to spot the off-pink faded floral sheets amongst the gore strewn across the sand and townspeople.

Darrell, who shoved Henry inside the whale, is ripped because he takes steroids. Although he looked like shit in prison. I don’t know how he did it or what else they did, but Darrell applied so much force when he stuffed Henry down the whale’s oesophagus, that its muscles contracted and Henry’s body was sucked into the whale’s tract as if it swallowed him.

So Henry stewed in the whale’s digestive acids for a good eight hours at least, most of that under the intense sun. It was enough to dissolve the tightest bonds of skin keeping Henry together, because when the whale exploded that day, they found his body in three different pieces. One inside the whale, one on the sand dunes, and one bobbing in the water.

Dumb Henry, with the child’s face and books, buried inside the whale and reincarnated, shot forth back into the world.
Like a phoenix from the ashes.

His joy and goodwill spread amongst the people. Flecks of his self spattered across dozens of beach towels. What didn’t dissolve: the fucking red backpack. More specifically, the glassware they all shoved in there. The rest of the story isn’t that interesting – group stupidity took over and they decided to dump  the cookware in case someone came looking for Henry and called the police. I couldn’t figure that line of reasoning out either.

Because the backpack didn’t fly too far and landed in sand, the police found the red backpack a few metres away, stuffed full of half intact items all used in the manufacture of illicit drugs. Detectives pulled finger prints off a beaker or something, and once they nabbed one, they got the rest. That didn’t stop Henry’s face getting shown all over the news for a night with headlines like Clandestine Whale, Meth Pinocchio Busted, Young Man  Found Dead Inside Whale Body.

Darrell tried to get into a psych ward, but they just sent him to jail.

He’s having a whale of a time.

file6561338956994

SICK BUSINESS

Dear Honourable Judge Martens.
This is my version of events.

THE RULES:

A BET IS MADE ON A MISSING PERSONS REPORT. THREE VARIABLES CAN OCCUR.

  1. THEY ARE NOT FOUND. There is a 9 day period for results. If someone is not found, the bet is cancelled, and money returned to owner.
  2. THEY ARE FOUND ALIVE. This is referred to as ‘Finders’.
  3. THEY ARE FOUND DEAD. This is referred to as ‘Keepers’.

Tom Locke, 26, was last seen on Saturday night at approximately 1am. He is described as a fair haired Caucasian of average build, between the height of 160 and 170cm. Anybody with any information is advised to ring…

“Finders or keepers. Twenty bucks.”
I look at my roommate, Hugh. He’s looking at me with his big doped up eyes, the bloodshot veins lit up by the reflection of the television screen.

“Come on man, you pick. Twenty bucks,” he says.
I check my wallet. I have 35 dollars.

“Yeah I’m in. I bet -” I pause, weighing up the report. Advertisements start.

Right now you can get a chicken roll combo with a coke and large gravy for just eight ninety five…

“I bet keepers.”

*                                             *                                             *                                             *

That was six months ago, and three weeks since  Hugh went missing. It’s been five hours since Hugh’s friend Esco kidnapped me. I don’t know why for sure. I’m pretty afraid – more than I’d like to admit – but I can’t bring myself to feel that my life is being legitimately threatened. There’s this feeling of acceptance I can’t fight. I’m guessing it’s got something to do with 300 milligrams of horse sedative.

Clearly, the game has gone too far. Typical.

I’m sick from all the tranquilizers that Esco force fed me. My head is light, it reels back and forth like a fishing lure in the wind. My neck hurts from the strain of looking forward, but to put my chin on my chest makes me feel as if I am about to vomit. The feeling of a colour rises up inside of me, a murky green and yellow like the bile of a sick cat, and it floods my mental canvas. While I try to keep the murk at bay I take in deep breaths of air which are laced with nauseous vapours of  diesel exhaust.
He’s wearing ridiculous, archaic black robes in the middle of the Australian summer. He kneels down on the speaker’s stage before the pews,  tinkering with crude protrusions and extensions coming from some dangerous looking device he’s made himself, which putters loudly on the church stage, burping out black smoke. It looks like somebody covered a lawnmower engine in glue then rolled it through a field of wires and weird little LED lights.
The stupid thing flashes a whole range of basic colours. A fan belt on the outside whirs around, emanating a steady whining sound.

Obviously, Esco has finally lost his mind.

All of a sudden, he notices the look I’m giving him. He stops tinkering and turns his attention to me.

“I had to kidnap you because I can’t go on Facebook anymore. I was flagged by the AFP. They were hiding outside. Men outside, in the trees. The trees, Jack! What kind of sick creeps are we dealing with? Nano-creeps, that’s what kind. Tiny little officers in the trees…”

He quietly mutters off and seems to lose focus, then goes back to tinkering on his machine. He doesn’t look back at me. There is a pause. I feel something rising in my throat.

‘What!?”

I scream at him, imploringly, my voice catching as I struggle to hold back fear.

“Facebook! Apps. Windows, Mac. It’s all connected. Women, spiders. It’s all there. Did you know that micro exfoliating beads are government microchips? They track the sex lives of women. They keep men addicted to chicks with radio waves. Chromosome interference. Subliminal advertising. Lead in the baby food.”

Small cumulous tongues of black start to shoot high out of Esco’s strange machine, more rapidly than before. A grinding noise begins to emanate and the air inside the church is becoming more and more dense with noxious vapours. I vomit slightly my mouth, the sick acidic bile burning the back of my throat; my tongue and where my tonsils used to be. The fan belt on the side of the machine begins to go faster and faster.

Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-

“Esco!” I’m shouting now, with tears in my eyes.
Let me go for fucks sake!”

Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-

“Esco!”

Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-

“Esc!-”
I am cut off as Esco starts to yell over the fan belt.

“SORRY JACK, CAN’T LET YOU GO! YOU KNOW THE RULES! BUT TOO BAD BUDDY, SO DO ASIO! THE TERROR LAWS GOT US, JACK! THEY GOT US! YOU AND ME. MARILYN. THE KENNEDYS – THEY GOT ALL OF US MAN! WE’RE BOXED IN. DID YOU KNOW THAT IN A HIVE, BEES START TO ACT LIKE NEURON-”

Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-CHUFK!

Suddenly, the fan belt breaks and smoke begins to bellow out of the machine, breaking free and surrounding Esco. He does not seem to notice, and like a demon out of Genesis he stands surrounded in dark clouds like a brimstone miner coming out of the earth, dressed like a miscreant Goth priest, screaming his strange incantations.

“MORGELLONS, JACK. YOU AND ME. R.F.I.D CHIPS IN OUR SKIN. FLUORIDE LETS THE DRONES SCAN OUR BRAINS. A FIFTY YEAR PLAN, JACK. IT WAS THE DENTISTS, WE WERE SO BLIND!”

“Turn that fucking thing off!” I scream, sickly runny saliva running down my tongue and over my lips, tears coming from my eyes as I muster up the pressure in myself to yell.

“THIS IS LAURA, JACK. MEET LAURA! SHE’S A SUPER COMPUTER. SHE IS ART!”

Ignoring both of us, Laura continues to bellow out black, devilish smoke.

Esco brings himself down to a vehement whisper.

“People say create out of love, create out of mateship and lust for life – but that’s bullshit. It’s bullshit, Jack.”
He’s looking at me with a shark’s eyes, now. A look I’ve never seen before on a person’s face.

“You have to create out of hatred. Out of paranoia and fear. Vile, backstabbing competitive spirit. This is true art. This is what it’s all about, Jack. That’s what it’s -”

These are the last words Esco says. Over everything going on I hear two distinct noises, and from the look on his face I know he can too: approaching helicopter blades and incoming sirens.
I turn my head and look through one of the church’s old smashed windows. Over across the old red sand and Spinifex in whatever shithole town he took me too, I can see blue and red lights flashing; just like the lights on Laura, flashing across the sand, getting bigger, coming towards us.

The shark in Esco’s eyes swims away and a deer in headlights comes through.

And then, Laura set his robes on fire.

*                                             *                                             *                                             *

Me and Hugh had started renting our flat about nine months prior. It was right in the city, facing the highway going towards the industrial area. The stairs leading to the underground apartment below us were sturdy and wooden, while the stairs we used to up were wooden slats nailed over the original construction scaffolding. The only kind of person who’d live there is a local, and all of the locals knew not to ever consider living there.

Hugh was working at a small warehouse installing rear view cameras into the backs of four wheel drives, marketed to bleary eyed housewives who didn’t want to suffer the inconvenience of reversing over their own children. I worked at a dirty little restaurant that, despite appearances, managed to be one of the most popular in town. Under my discretion things went wrong every shift.

It was in these conditions that we forged the game. When Esco came into it later, I never thought that it would the way it did. Getting shot with a tazer, and all three of our faces plastered over the walls. The doctors had me use a wheelchair for seven days, the fucking tranquilizers paralyzed me for days. And now I’m writing this bullshit, imprisoned inside a hospital room. All three of us went to jail. Obviously. There was no proof that I didn’t consent to the kidnapping after confessing I helped invent the game.

And the bastards did us for illegal gambling. $180 dollars in winnings or something, all up. Come on.

All of this, just having a bit of fun betting on the disappearances of others. The stakes of their lives. We never knew these people. I didn’t think it was that bad, you can find porn with way less morality than that.

Hugh and I were both so constantly worn out by our perseverance to our jobs it makes sense in retrospect that we had to turn to gambling to relax. Sometimes they didn’t even die. One time it was this little ginger kid.

Two days later the kid was on the news. He was found in a construction site about three blocks away from where he lived. He ran away and slept in a park overnight, or something. A jogger bought him breakfast and took him to the police safe and sound.
Hugh handed me the total of ten dollars.

The next night father of two, Robert Bundy, went missing on a solo fishing trip. Hugh betted again that the guy would wind up dead, twenty bucks. We’d both recently been paid and I was feeling cocky so I agreed. Four days later coast guards pulled him from the digestive acids of a Great White shark.

I handed Hugh twenty bucks.

But after seeing Esco’s burns, your honour, an d our fates, I’ve changed. I know now that human life has so much more value than that. But I still would like to appeal your honour, because I didn’t ask for this. I was only lost. I haven’t had a job in months now, it’s tough out there. It’s tough trying to keep to your studies when there’s so much emptiness to be distracted by. There just isn’t enough content out there for the underprivileged to make hobbies. There’s no way for us to be constructive without sacrificing ourselves.

In this game, you gotta think of something.
Thankyou your honour.
With utmost sincerity,
Jack Nachelson.

DOOF TITLE IMG

A BUBBLING UNDERCULTURE

I was actually asked not to write about this topic so in order to stay in good books with certain peers but also write what I want to, I have used no real names. Things have been left deliberately vague where need be.

Carl had been talking about it for weeks. We were going to a doof.

You drive in on an old dirt road, wide enough for one and a half cars. On either side of the road, vehicles are parked bumper to bumper for the better part of 800 metres. As you go up the trail, amongst the eucalyptus trees that surround you; blue, green, purple and yellow lasers shoot through the fog and into the treetops as you roll past the epicentre. A large fire feasts on a large heap of firewood. Twenty something silhouettes sit around it.
Beyond them, a dancefloor where other dark shapes move their limbs in hypnosis with the heavy sounds. A smoke machine shrouds them from underneath the scaffolding construct that supports the sound deck and DJ. An old generator powers the stage and a projector, which throws psychedelic visuals upon a fabric screen erected between two trees. The bass rattles the car and fills you as you enter the party beneath the stars.

The adventure started late.
I had to attend dinner at a Chinese restaurant for my Mother’s birthday earlier in the evening. In retrospect, this episode of familial four star dining was starkly juxtaposed with the vaguely legal rave in the middle of the West Australian bush I attended only hours later.

For those unaware, a doof is a rave that is held in the bush. That is the easiest way to put it. They are held all over Australia, and it’s by no means a Perth thing. Due to their nature I can only give anecdotal evidence but it is my knowledge that the eastern states host a bigger scene. But what is incredibly interesting is the consistent prevalence of ‘underground’ communities on which these events survive. As luck would have it, a handful of my friends are part of said community.

We drove out of the city for $18 worth of fuel, down a narrow dirt track coming off a main road, and into the shrubs and darkness of some part of the State forests.

Often, these events have no Facebook pages. In our modern age, it’s impressive that gatherings of these sizes – easily 250 attended this particular doof I’m recalling – can still be thrown and attended entirely without social media presence. In fact, it seems to be unanimously accepted by all members of the doof community that social media presence is what most endangers it.

Instead, directions to almost impossible locations in the wilderness are sent by the organizers out to trusted close friends and regulars, whom only share those details via text with other close friends and regulars, and so on and so forth. In this way, a half-secret communications network is created.

I remember at about two thirty I was on the dancefloor, a wide clearing of dirt populated by about thirty others, moving their bodies to the deep kicks of bass projecting from the sound system. A guy in a woollen jumper approached me.
“Hey man,” he said with a perfectly relaxed demeanour.
“Do you want some acid?”
While everyone is feeling it, small micro-economies come into existence when a doof is on. A free market where everything is up for trade, from lantern oil and spare sleeping bags to high-quality psychedelics.
I started to explain that I’d love to but I have no money, and he hushed me instead.
“Put your tongue out,” he told me.

It was about an hour later I was gazing into one of two large communal bonfires. I was surrounded by just short of two dozen others trying to keep warm and I stared into the fire, fixated, for a good twenty five minutes.
Doofs run on two things: portable generators and close knit communities. Publicity is not wanted, and a good majority of doofers are regulars, most of whom will not be far separated from one another. Through certain spots around Fremantle, many backpackers become clued into the events, and you can usually spot a group of French or Dutch travellers in a van.

When I asked Carl if it would be cool to write something about the doof, he told me: “probably not.”

Earlier this year (read here) a man went missing at a doof after he wandered off into the bush and got lost for two days. There was a search party called and after that a brief media spotlight shone it’s eyes on the doofing scene once again (read here). There is a bigger threat to organizers than the police, however, and that is local councils and rangers. It goes without saying that legitimate land permits are uncommon. One event had to be shut down shortly after rangers caught on, which happened shortly after the aforementioned man went missing. Most ‘regulars’ blame media attention and uninformed newcomers to the scene for negative events.

A large part of their romantic allure are the often obscure locations selected, and the journeys to get there.
We got lost.

There’s a distinct memory I have of stopping the car on the way there in the middle of the wild bush. When the headlights went off, we were submerged in complete darkness. Inside the car, Carl and Pete both worked together to decipher the cryptic directions sent to them via SMS.
Sitting out there away from light pollution; under the mind-bending, cosmic beauty of the Milky Way in all its glory, we racked lines of speed off an old Thee Oh Sees CD.

It is these kind of strange and fringe experiences which make doofs so memorable and unique.

No matter how jaded you are, no matter your opinions on the EDM genre psytrance, no matter your opinion on drug use or environmental conservation or the law in general, one thing cannot be ignored or denied at a doof:
Community spirit is alive and well.
At least, until the sun comes up.

To attend a doof, you need to know someone, assuming you aren’t one of the people running it. For doofs, there are an entire plethora of local ‘non-mainstream’ DJ’s working all over Perth. They gain popularity over soundcloud and other file sharing websites, often picked up by other tech-savvy doofers.
On tech savviness, it’s interesting to note that the age demographic which doofs attract seems to have no definitions. Some doofs run for 72 hours. That’s why it’s surprising to see that, putting it bluntly:
There are heaps of old hippies still going strong.

It’s comforting to know that the rabbit hole can still be found.

ben smoking

HARVEST TIME

YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. HARVEST BEGINS AT SUNDOWN.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. HARVEST BEGINS AT SUNDOWN.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE . . .

The microspeakers continue whispering their incantation throughout the city. The Harvest alerts play every day at routine intervals: six in the morning, twelve in the afternoon, three in the afternoon and then once more a half hour before sundown, whenever that is during the season. The message is repeated all across the steel continent; in every room, in every building. It is illegal to reside in a property not linked to VoiceComm.

You don’t need to be surface-side too long to catch the gist of Harvest. Every night is the same.
Lock the doors.
Bolt the windows.
Use only one light at any time.
Put in earplugs.
Draw the curtains.
Don’t look outside.

Of course, you peek out the window the first night you’re left unattended. You hear all that commotion start up outside when the sun goes down. It’s like a bustling marketplace starts humming through the walls.
But it’s true what they say – not even once.
All it takes is that first glance. You catch something unfathomable. Something that your mind simply cannot comprehend. There is no way to explain it. You might gaze out through the glass unto the strange hues of light vibrating on impossible spectrums. You may see the reflection of the red moon across a hulk of pulsating black chitin. Large mandibles covered in sores from which monstrous pupils peer out. Which peer back at you through the glass.

The first night, you’ll look away in fear and disgust. But then the next night, there you’ll be, clenching your teeth while you try not to draw the curtain again. While you try to just not even think of what’s going on out there. While you fail.
While you peek again. Night after night.
And what you see during the Harvests from your human accommodation room will start to change you. Even though they warn you back home not to play voyeur, not to give in to curiosity, you’re still going to do it. Despite the threat of a revoked PlanetVisa and deportation back to Earth for trial, you still peer through panes of glass, through cracks in the wall. Just to catch a glimpse of something else.

But then you’re doing it every night you’re on the planet. You start forgoing sleep to spy on Harvest, soon you have to watch the Harvests just to feel normal. The alien nights lose their strange lustre. You become familiar with them.
However, you will almost never realise how familiar Harvest has become with you.
Before you know it, you’re not looking away until sunrise. The images of last night’s Harvest burn in your head, keeping you awake until the sun falls once more. Then, you have no choice but to watch the next Harvest lest you go insane – clinging onto the wild hope that somehow tonight’s Harvest will be different, that tonight will be the night you figure it out. You keep your face pressed up against the glass for another whole night until the scenes outside go dim and it hits six o clock and the Harvest alert of a new dawn breaks the silence.

YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. HARVEST BEGINS AT SUNDOWN . . .
And then, Harvest comes for you.

That’s when it happens. That next night, when you’re too deep now to come back up for air. You haven’t slept in days, you’ve lost an unhealthy amount of weight. You are losing your mind trying to process what happens each night. Trying to figure out what the fuck it all means. And then you see your Mother in your head, heartbroken and disappointed. Her words of caution replaying ad infinitum directly to your conscience:
“Don’t experiment with other planets. It’s not natural.”
And then they knock at the door.
You hear that wet, rustling noise they make when they talk.
Your shaky hand clasps the faux stainless-steel door handle, sweat rolls from your tear ducts, your mouth is dry. Your tongue sandpaper. You open the door and the red moonlight spills in the room. You are no longer behind glass.

Not that I would know any of this, though.
I don’t peek during Harvest.

 

pp

STREET 137

Street 137 smells like gasoline and compost and sewers smoked out in petroleum fumes. Decaying but maintained French colonial architecture lines the streets. If your eyes aren’t used to the scenes you get lost the moment you take your eyes off things. Every block looks the same for a while. It takes getting used to but you get there. Everything looks so different at night. 

One day after night in the morning, from the balcony his room is on Jack Nachelson peers down at the street below. He looks down and sees a young boy picking up a kitten by the tail and throwing it out onto the road. He tries to throw it into the path of an oncoming motorbike, but being a toddler he can not build up the strength in his arm to make it. Weak and presumably underfed the kitten only mews out for help. From the balcony Jack hears it’s cries only in his head, the actual noise of the creature drowned out in the hum of motorbikes and whistles and engines and hustle and birds in the sky and the distant trickling like static on loop from the river only blocks away. There is no salt in the water but it is not clean. The river is lined with trash and pockets of filth, where sewage congeals and goes yellow in the cold of night and softens in the sun.

Again, the boy picks up the kitten and tries to throw it onto the road. Jack Nachelson lights a cigarette and looks on. Maybe it was a joint. He doesn’t remember, this was a few years ago now.
The boy tries again and throws it onto the road, himself standing closer to the traffic zone. He has friends now who watch on. A little girl stands three feet behind watching him with no emotion on his face. Vendors selling cigarettes and foreign sodas in orange eskies sit on their plastic chairs selling wares either side. Nobody makes move to save the kitten.

“Hey!” Jack calls out.
Like the cries of the kitten he is drowned out by the humming beehive of bikes which criss cross and zig zag and zoom throughout the spiderweb city, putting and coughing, purring and rumbling. All of them together sing in a cacophopny that never ends. Mechanic cicadas.
The boy throws the cat again and it comes close to a man on a bike who makes no attempt to swerve.

But then a noise is shrill. It rises above the buzz of motors. It is the voice of anger. The voice of punishment. An angry woman. Jack Nachelson looks on. From a door leading into an anonymous room in one of the old French monuments, a woman in a floral dress emerges, walking quickly and with direct intent towards the boy, holding the kitten by the tail again for the fourth or fifth time. The little girl and another little boy both run away.
The sun hits Jack Nachelsons eyes and he squints while she shrieks at him. Something sharp. Something vicious.

The boy’s face emanates fear. While Nachelson cannot make it out from the third floor up across the street he knows what the shift in his body language means. The woman is holding a green umbrella. It looks old and worn, but maintained. Holding the umbrella by it’s handle she lifts it up above her head and brings it down on top of the toddler’s head. He cries out. The vendors selling cigarettes and foreign sodas do nothing. Ten feet away now, the little girl looks on at the little boy.

The woman shrieks again. Sharper and direct, blunter and deeper this time. An assertion of dominance. She raises her green umbrella, and strikes the boy again. Harder this time, at an angle that hits his forehead. The sound rings out into the alley and Jack Nachelson hears it. The sound makes him feel satisfied. The kitten, having recovered from the trauma, patters off into the building from where the woman came. She retreats, and the boy runs away. It had not been her son. She closes the green doors that she came from, green like her umbrella. They creak while they close. The boy runs up the block and turns left, only in his nappy. He runs close to a motorbike who makes no attempt to swerve, then off behind a noodle stand, and he disappears into the day. 

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GONZO BLEW ITS BRAINS OUT

Glancing at the little yellow cylinder of pills to my side, I expect something to jump out onto the page. I’ve got my keyboard in front of me, an open word document and I can hear rain hitting the rooftop. It’s cold, but not too cold. It’s a nice room temperature to sit in. I’ve got my coffee and my cigarettes.  Inside the translucent yellow container are a whole range of colours. Leo gave them to me in exchange for three grams of weed. So now I’ve got this bottle of painkillers, benzos, beta-blockers and sedatives. I threw in some blue pseudoephedrine just for some contrast. There was a point of MDMA in there but I snorted that one pretty quickly.

Lo and behold, I can’t write though. This feeling inside me seems to run along the logic that simply being around drugs will create product. This is some real Hunter S Thompson shit, man.

When Thompson blew his brains out with a shotgun, so did the spirit of counterculture gonzo. The movie adaption of Fear and Loathing became a massive hit and inspired thousands of predominately young teenage boys (myself included) to experiment with psychedelic drugs. Through the late 90’s and into the mid 00’s, psychedelic drug use shot up in the west. While not the sole driver, I’m confident that this movie had a large role to play. 30 years later, the beat generation still echoes amongst those who live within “cult” and alternative genres. It’s still all about Thompson, Kerouac and Burroughs (then proceeding to the next most common alt genre(s), Sci-fi/Fantasy.)  At the time, nobody was documenting what these writers were documenting. Fair enough.

But given the unexpected influence that gonzo and beat had on writing in the west, there are underlying elements of permanence to their successes. Today still, people mythologize Hunter S Thompson even to a demi-god status. It ties hand in hand with aspiring writers, and drug use (two groups of things which historically have always interacted.) Everybody loves the idea of a brash, no-rules drug taking writer. Thompson is redeemed by his writing quality. The fact that he wrote well and was respected at the time [as a controversial figure] only reiterates his majestic status. I have met plenty of people who want to be Raoul Duke.  In my budding years of experimentation with both drugs and writing, I was doing the same things. Partying and expecting the results to come. The results don’t come though, you just end up at the same place you were at before you went to the party.

To those who eat the myth, Hunter S Thompson is the pinnacle justification for drug use, because his simultaneous career success and drug use is historically documented via the fact of his own writing. We have tangible recorded proof that this man existed. Thompson is no longer a man but an idea. He is used as an ideological tool to defend liberty.
But is he relevant anymore?

The 60’s have ended. For twenty years, people reflected back on the sixties. The time has passed. Counterculture now still exists, but the meaning has changed. There is none of the apparent spirit of the 1960’s which every writer wrote about today in 2014 Australia. Drugs have been picked up and dropped by collective groups of writers dozens of times since then.

This lingering mythology of the beat generation is holding back writers now, I believe. Locking us into cyclical frameworks of creativity. Those writers who aspire to write in any “gritty” or “adventurous” way, documenting down and reflecting on personal experience. Hunter S Thompson traveled to Las Vegas to cover a motorbike race in the desert, but instead he took a litany of substances and wrote about that instead. That is what happens in Fear and Loathing. And I agree that within America at that time, it’s good that someone came along and wrote about what it was like in the seedy underbelly of America’s cities. What it was like to go on a 3 day drug binge and still somehow keep his job. People need their heroes. But that time has passed. Thompson was a reaction to a societal era, he is not a transcendental figurehead.

We need to stop putting so much focus on the drugs. The more one talks about them, the more one creates barriers between users and non-users, between legislation and non-legislation. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the dominant corporations across the OECD board. Public and even authoritative support for the War on Drugs is falling across the globe. In the face of this environment we need to change the counter-conversation”, which is becoming more and more repetitive and niche. Functional drug users are now an unspoken societal norm.

Thompson was a great writer who influenced me and hundreds and thousands of others, but the times have changed.  A new conversation needs to begin.

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NACHELSON

Jack Nachelson rests his gaze upon the hulls of fat metal slugs, looking for his sense of self. Slowly, cumbersome ships trawl into the harbour with uniform synchronicity – a tugboat in front and another in tow. He sits in his front seat parked perpendicular to the water, headlights off. The late 80’s relic purrs quietly in idle. Inside, a thin white coil of smoke wafts upwards from between two fingers lingering on a steering wheel which creaks like old wooden ships when you turn it. The residual must of entombed marijuana smoke pollutes the interior atmosphere, mixing with the briny air outside seeping through the vents. Loose pages covered in frenetic handwriting litter the passenger floor and backseat.
This is his office.
Nachelson haunts the lighthouse most nights. This often gets him wondering if that’s what ghosts are. Not the spirits of the dead, but people who were forgotten. Whom slipped off unseen. Those trees that fall with no one around to hear them.
In a contrived way, the fact that he’s tangible makes him a real ghost. He struggles to define how deep this notion of authenticity goes but he thinks himself to be more real than the points of light garnished across the velvet blackboard of our night sky. When we look at stars, we are seeing light from the past. We are looking at what those stars truly used to look like. Ergo (Nachelson likes the word ‘ergo,’) we all live in the past at night.
And perhaps this is why Nachelson exceeds at stargazing. For he too lives in the past much too often. If only Nachelson could live in the present, he’d probably realise there are more important things than himself going on, and maybe it is within selflessness that he’d find something solid. Something to hold on to. If Nachelson pointed himself towards the present he’d most likely see that he’s never going to find himself on the starboard of the Pacific Courage from Japan at 11pm.
But Nachelson fails to acknowledge the present. He is too caught up constantly replaying everything he’s done, forcing himself into the underworld with Hades to experience the same torments over and over and over again. Inevitably, this leads to self-examination and the great universal cliché: “Am I crazy?”
To be fair: he might be. For instance he is plagued by a memory he didn’t live. An anonymous girl with piercing grey eyes lies on top of him, peering into him. She is beautiful. Vaguely blonde. They are together in a forest. He is taken back by the lush scents of chlorophyll and rainwater. A sky of green leaves is held up by great bark pillars. It is lightly sprinkling – perhaps after a heavy downfall – but the canopy overhead protects them both from the wet. She is beautiful. There is an inherent sensation of harmony wound up within the memory.

But then there are variables.
So perhaps it is not a memory but a waking dream. Sometimes there is music playing, sometimes there is not. This is where the whole thing unravels against the strong currents of realism. He has never been with any girl in a forest with music. So then what is it?
Silently Nachelson hopes that it is not memory or a dream, but rather a premonition. However, expectance taints the broth. This same proverbial broth is the only one in which Nachelson’s ghostlike lifestyle can be maintained. Like a soufflé, the entire thing could be brought down by the smallest inkling of feeling that maybe his life is actually OK.
In fact, it wouldn’t even take this. Jack Nachelson can only exist in the assumption of a vacuum. Acknowledging that any position in society is a reaction to a time before it would bring his entire worldview toppling down. Maybe this is why you don’t take high volumes of drugs in your teens (although he’d turned out better than most of his peers.) And this isn’t even touching the fact that Nachelson is a product of our times. There are Nachelsons everywhere, at any given moment. Hundreds. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine thousands. But the Nachelson is not a social animal. Like foxes in the night, or the isolated mountain goats of the Siberian steppes, there is no room to accommodate the experiences of others. This makes Nachelson the Steppengoat.

All of his pedantic restlessness; pacing back and forth, a bored tiger in a small cage. No matter where he goes or what he does he feels like he needs to get out, to escape the ‘confines.’ But Nachelson’s great tragedy is that his confines are held within his mind. If only he was brave. And the richest thing of all is that Nachelson knows that. Given the chance, he will ruminate on the intricacies of his own self as if he knows shit all about anything, for hours.
The honest truth which Nachelson fails to grasp is that he doesn’t know shit. His living in the past-ness, his self-imposed crowns of thorns – it all reduces to sheer egoism. He is completely blind to the world around him. All he does is worry about what people think of him, how he came across in brief interactions, whether or not his handshake was acceptable. This banal sludge of internal review and speculation consumes him, it mines him – it mines his body of any substance, leaving a hollow Nachelson sitting in his front seat at night staring at cargo ships.
I mean for fuck’s sake, if he gets this worked up staring at boats I don’t want to know what a big deal is for him.