make your self – Daniel Ross
January 7, 2022
Layla dragged me through a crowd of people to a canopy made of branches. A man with long blonde hair and a braided beard sat behind a table covered in small woven stash pouches.
Layla slammed her hands on the molded plastic table to get his attention.
“My angel numbers said I’d see someone familiar,” Layla looked back at me and rolled her eyes.
“Oh?” The man said. “Is that me?”
“You don’t remember me?”
“I’m really sorry, but I don’t.”
“Figures,” Layla said, crossing her arms. “What do you have today?”
The man looked at the couple beside us idly browsing the pouches. He waited until they walked away before he slid a baggie to Layla from across the table.
Layla picked it up and examined the two white pills.
“What is it? MDMA?”
“It’s a research chem. T dash 310. From Russia.”
“What’s the high like?”
“Kinda like a lot of different things,” the man laughed. The beads in his beard wiggling under his chin. It was silly in a way drug deals usually aren’t.
“Who’s your friend?” The man said, looking me up and down.
“I’m Skye,” I said, trying to hide behind Layla.
“She’s not for you,” Layla said.
“That’s fair,” the man rubbed his nose. “You owe me twenty for that.”
Layla looked in her bag and pulled out a crumpled bill. She tossed it down on the table, grabbed me by the hand and pulled us away from the tent.
“Where do you know him from?” I whispered as we walked.
“Around,” Layla said.
I followed Layla to the edge of the crowd gathering around the stage. The music playing was unfamiliar, but I was into it. I watched other people dancing on their own. A topless girl was away from the crowd spinning fire. Everything moved in sync. Around and around. It came so the fire looked like it was spinning through the topless girl’s head.
Layla tapped me on the shoulder.
“Put out your hand,” Layla said.
Layla dropped one of the capsules into my palm, but I hesitated putting it in my mouth. Layla grabbed me by the shoulders.
“I’d never let anything bad happen to you, okay?”
I nodded, popped the pill into my mouth, then swallowed.
We danced as the sun went down. The crowd in front of the stage grew three times the size as the people waited for the pigman effigy to burn.
I watched a man and a woman come from behind the stage with torches, and the whole crowd burst into applause. As the pair holding fire approached the wooden effigy, I got dizzy. Suddenly the crowd around me felt like waves of water crashing up against my body.
It felt like drowning. I left Layla to be swallowed in a tangle of arms and legs, and clawed away from the mob while gasping for open air.
Staggering out of the blob of flesh, the cheering and the pounding music I turned my head to see the wooden statue fully ablaze. The light from the fire made my head spin, and I continued to look for an escape from everything.
The whole of it became overwhelming. Everything came at once. I dropped onto the grass and looked up at the stars. My vision vibrated and I closed my eyes to cut off one stream of stimulation, but it didn’t work.
Colours and shapes danced on the back of her eyelids. Projections. Something from my own mind. Something touched the center of my forehead and I screamed beneath the overwhelming sound.
I felt each blade of grass sharp against my bare arms and legs while staring up at the night. Stars so clear away from all the city lights. It was funny, somehow.
“I’m looking at infinity,” I howled. “And it’s beautiful.”
Far off the crowd of the festival cheered, but I barely noticed or cared. This was the real show.
Soft footsteps closed in. I looked up to see six shadows surrounding me on the grass. Their hands were like feathers beneath my body.
Up up up. I let the body be carried. The figures had no faces like Japanese kuroko. Floating above the ground every star seemed like it could be plucked from the blanket of night. The milky way glimmered with all its shades of lightness.
The words spat out of me like a ventriloquist’s puppet. They flowed through my body and out from the center of my forehead, down, and out of my mouth towards the stars.
“I’ve been you, and you’ve been me,” I sang. “Forever and forever we will be!”
The wind kicked up, and I felt it swirling around my limbs.
“Stand between two mirrors, baby can’t you see!”
The dark sparkling blanket went bone white. Everything I saw was the colour of blank paper.
“I’ve been you, and you’ve…” the body snapped its fingers in a flourish. “…been meeeee!”
Laughing my head off, I felt joy bubbling through every vein and artery. Every second thousands of lives flowed through me. I felt the pain of every drop of suffering in the universe, then all rays of joy. Floating fifty feet off the ground, I swam in the ocean of an infinite life. There were bloody times, through history, but all the death and misery drowned beneath waves of joy. I closed my eyes when it became too intense, but again the visions seeped through. Suddenly I felt my self begin to slip.
Whatever hands carried me to the sky let go, and I spun in the air like those women climbing silks. I didn’t fall, but felt out of control. I felt I would die if I didn’t touch the grass soon.
I reached for the ground, grasping with my fingers for the far off earth. My vision began to vibrate.
Like a rising tide, the body’s heartbeat moved up the body’s throat. The body’s eyesight split into an array of fractals. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope, beautiful, yet I was not in control.
Every polygon in my vision carried the image of a life I lived, long ago, or far into the future. The timeline of all–bent and split. I felt like a nail being hammered into place. Something wanted me to understand, like it had been talking to me for my entire life, and I only just realized it.
This thing didn’t want me to know it, or I couldn’t fully know it.
Every memory was weighted with the constant ego shaking realizations the mind underwent spinning there fifty feet above the ground.. Every voice the body had ever heard spiralled through and then twisted itself into a transitory harmony.
And then, like turning off a cathode ray tube television, the spectacle focused itself in a single dot of light between my eyes, then disappeared. A heavy breath left the body, and I felt the blades of grass scratching my skin, my body, once again.
I tried to raise my head, and stand up, but something placed its hands on my shoulders and held me on the ground. It wasn’t time to leave the earth, it whispered. It whistled in my ear, and then I fell asleep.
I woke up with the smell of smoke in my nostrils. I rolled over, then pushed off the ground. The sun barely poked its head over the tops of the mountains flanking the valley. Stretching out of the night, the cold hit hard. It felt like needles reaching straight to my bones.
It took everything to walk in a straight line, though I still felt like I could glide over the sleeping bodies strewn across the field.
The festival grounds were an ocean of garbage and vomit. Men and women were passed out sprawled on the ground. I looked at their faces. They all seemed so old now. They had wrinkles around their cheeks. Their eyes had crow’s feet. I didn’t understand. I wanted to find a mirror to see if I had aged ten years over-night as well.
An ambulance honked its horn from behind. I moved out of the way as it slowly crawled through the crowds of shambling partiers. How would I find…. my friend? What was my friend’s name again. My brain hurt…
Layla. I need to find Layla.
I put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm, and stepped around the landmines of people broken by the night. I smelled weed in the air. The effigy of the pig man burned the night before was a pile of grey-black ashes at the foot of the stage.
Volunteers with reflective vests stuck nails-on-sticks through beer cans and other garbage, cleaning up what was left behind. In a perfect world, I thought, people would take care of their own garbage. But this wasn’t a perfect world even though it felt like it sometimes.
“Skye!” A voice called out.
I turned in a circle seeking out the familiar voice. I saw Layla under a white tent, holding a cigarette in one hand, a water bottle in the other, and a thermal blanket draped over her shoulders.
“Layla, what happened to you!”
I walked to her and tried not to seem horrified at how drained and corpse-like she looked. Layla’s face was creased and blemished in a way I had never seen it before.
“Could ask you the same thing!” Layla said. “I went looking for you…for a while…and then I assumed you were off being Skye somewhere.”
“It was too cramped. I needed to breathe,” I started sobbing. “What did you give me –”
“Did someone hurt you?” Layla jumped up and put her arm around my shoulders, sharing the foil blanket.
“No. I saw things.”
“What sort of things?”
“I can’t. I don’t have the right words. It was–.”
“Did someone give you something else?”
“I don’t know.”
I wondered if Layla had experienced the same thing over night. If she felt what I had felt. Thought the same thoughts and heard the same booming eternal in my ears.
“Are you still high right now? Did you sleep?” Layla asked.
“Yes. I don’t think I’m high anymore.”
“Are you sure? He gave us sugar pills. Mine was bunk. But you look…” Layla put her hand flat in the air and made airplane crashing noises.
Paramedics held up a long haired bearded man in a wool sweater wearing a sombrero and a thermal blanket over his shoulders. They walked him to the back of the ambulance and put him on a gurney.
“Everything is everything man, I’m fine,” he said. “Where are you taking me. It doesn’t matter because EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING.”
I glanced at the man, and accidentally locked eyes with him. He blinked three times then wiped some dirt away from underneath his left eye and smiled.
“He’s fucked up,” Layla said. Twirling her index finger beside her ear.
The back doors of the ambulance closed with the man inside laughing. The muffled laughter pierced my body. I stared at the ambulance as it drove away.
“Are you alright?” Layla moved in front of the ambulance so I couldn’t watch it anymore.
I started crying again.
“It was so beautiful,” I sobbed. “But I feel like I could forget what it meant at any moment. I feel like I’m just going to disappear. Blink out and…”
“Oh hunny,” Layla hugged me. “It’s going to be fine. You’re here with me.”
“I think I’m dead,” I stifled my tears even though all I wanted to say out loud was far more embarrassing. “Am I dead?”
“You’re not dead,” Layla said leaning away to take a drag of her cigarette.
I looked over my friend’s shoulder at the bluff of trees across the field. The colour of the grass seemed to shift, green one second, then brown the next. I watched the leaves of the trees fall off in clumps, then reappear when I blinked.