“I feel totally like a little girl,” Carrie goes as we step out into the acid night, “Like an Enid Blyton character.” Then, “Hey, we can be like the Famous Five going on an adventure.”
“Yeah, we can go and find some underground caves where there’s a gold smuggling operation going on or something.” Dan sounds worryingly zealous.
“Yeah Dan,” Sean says, “There’s bound to be loads of smugglers’ caves around here, you know, like Harrogate being right next to the sea and all.”
“Wait,” I put my hand on Sean’s shoulder and everyone stops. “We’d better go back cos Sean’s left his sense of humour at home.”
“Fuck you.” He grins.
“Anyway, when you’re tripping, you are in a different place,” James says.
“Yeah, a good place,” I go.
“You’re right. This isn’t Harrogate. This is good,” Carrie says, putting an extra jiggle into her walk.
We spring up the streets nearest the flat, laughing at street names, and reading amusing licence plates in silly voices. Walking into the town centre, we quieten. Sean speeds up. He’s been a bit snappy today and not just since he got the acid. Can’t be to do with Cafferty though cos he said he got the acid off him and if there were any real problems he would have come back with a black eye, not a bag of acid. Probably just doesn’t want to bump into him when he’s seeing Smurfs all over the place. I can understand that; being chased by an overgrown blue cartoon character saying, ‘Do you think I ‘m thick or sommat?’ would be too much for anyone.
Then I start thinking about the pigs, get that picture again of being locked up in a cell. I could just about handle it now, but if the trip got any more intense…. Maybe if it actually happened, I wouldn’t be so paranoid about it. LSD warps petty insecurities into giant monsters. Maybe the fears that only usually surface on drugs are an insight into the second terrible reality we actually inhabit, the terrible reality that continually keeps us from our spiritual progress by conditioning us into conforming to the way those in power dictate. We’re living in a state of sedation the rest of the time, not seeing life for what it actually is because our brains can’t handle facing up to what little control we really have over our lives.
“Look at them,” Carrie says loudly, gesturing to the pack of townies queuing for entry into the world’s worst nightclub. “Thank fuck we don’t have to be miserable bastards or drunken yobs.”
“Shhh,” I hiss and avert my gaze from a policeman who is glaring at us. Cells swimming in rats and piss. Sweaty, hairy police rapists. At least Carrie’s comfortable with the fact that we’re tripping in the middle of town at pub throwing out time and she’s right: we don’t have to be like them.
I suppose we must look a bit odd to the ‘normal’ people. Enormous pupils and facial expressions that don’t look quite right. There’s Sean with his dreads, James with his ripped black jeans; I touch my head – me with a flower in my hair. How did that get there anyway? Even Dan who usually looks quite presentable is wearing James’s ‘I heart marijuana’ baseball hat and a pair of shades. Carrie is in her smiley-face top. It seemed like a good idea when she asked me what she should wear but now I realise that, collectively, we look like an anti-drugs advert. How did the flower get there?
The closer we get to the end of the concrete, the more relieved I feel. The further away we are from the orange noise of the town’s lights and the nearer to the bewitching sanctuary of the wood, the more we become ourselves.
Reaching our destination, I breathe an all-cleansing breath and step into the pine-laden darkness. Sean picks a staff-like stick off the prickly floor and moves in front of us.
“I need one of those.” Carrie’s eyes scan the floor in search of her own crook. Every now and again, she darts short distances from the group towards a possible candidate, then comes back, shaking her head and muttering to herself.
I quicken my pace to catch Sean, rest my hand on his grubby bandage. Come to think of it he should have had it dressed the other day. Last time we went, it had just about healed over – just flaky bits and new tight pink skin. With each step we take, he prints the ground with his staff. Put my mouth to his ear. “Are you going to let it decide which way we should go, Shaman Man?”
He grins at me. “Of course – leave it all to a higher force.” I get it. Sean is using his trip as a mirror of how he thinks real life is, as predetermined. Funny how you don’t think of time spent tripping as real life: most of the time you pretend you are in control, that you have choices. But whether it’s the government – like Sean and James believe – or fate, like my parents do, none of it is really up to you. Thinking about it, Sean’s doing it wrong. You should go with the higher force normally and use tripping as dream-time, an alternate reality where you really are alive and actually do have free will.
“I’ve found one!” Carrie waves a large stick. You can practically see the triumph oozing out of her pores. “So what does that mean, Sean? We have to have two shamans?” She pats him on the shoulder cos he looks threatened. “Don’t worry, you’re still my guru. I won’t take any of your power away. I’ll be your assistant shaman.”
We carry on, our feet crunching quietly on the brittle pine leaves. “Hey, did anyone ever read ‘The Enchanted Forest’ when they were little?” Carrie says. “That tree especially.”
I thought that too. “Yeah – the Faraway Tree.” I stare at it, amazed at how it is exactly the same as the tree on the cover of the book that I haven’t seen since I was seven. I say, “If someone you’re tripping with shares their hallucinations with you, then it’s pretty difficult not to see the same things isn’t it?”
“The incredible phenomenon of the tripper’s power of suggestion?” James says. “That’s why I love acid so much – it defies all logic.”
“Let’s climb it.” Carrie throws down her staff and jumps at the huge oak. She hoists herself onto the first branch, her arms strong enough to lift her slight body. The bark is rugged yet mossy, brown and gnarled –like a man who has worked outside all his life. I look skywards – head whirling with the vortex of foliage and branches through which Carrie is climbing towards the top of the faraway tree – up, up and away from everything to her own magical world.
“It will make a good vantage-point for seeing more of the wood,” Sean says. I get a funny blurred visual of him, crouched in a loincloth on an upper branch, staring out over his domain – the medicine man searching for the right path for his tribe. He throws down his staff and begins to climb.
Me and James watch them until they disappear altogether. Can’t remember when I last saw Dan. Take a scan around. “Where is he?”
“Dan? Shit, I don’t know,” James goes. “When did you last see him?”
“I’m pretty sure he was with us up until we stopped at the Faraway Tree.”
“Yeah, I reckon you’re right. I suppose we’d better go find him.”
“There he is.” James points ahead of us.
Dan is standing still, twitching his head from side to side like a lost deer. He slowly turns and spots us, strides over. “Why did you all fuck off and leave me?”
We laugh. “We didn’t. It was you that wandered off.” Then I realise he looks really pissed off. “We were right to head for the quad then.”
“Oh, are we near the quad?”
I indicate the large square of grass immediately in front of us – the centre of the wood. We amble towards it, Dan his happy self again. If you get lost, you always end up here eventually. I pat my clothes for my baccy and eventually find it in the back pocket of my flares. I sit down on the green, feel the cold wetness slowly seep through the bit where my jeans are ripped to the back of my thigh. Should I move? No it’s quite nice this physical connection with earth. The air around my face is thick with life, teeming. The microbes that make it up dance like crazy, bouncing off one another like metallers in a mosh pit. Man, I’d forgotten how much I love this stuff.
Inhaling, exhaling, I watch Dan and James wander short distances into the wood, their silhouettes acquiring extra limbs every time they bend and stretch up again. Every so often, they come back and dump logs and sticks of various sizes in a pile a few feet away from me. After a bit, the pile is bigger and James starts to arrange the sticks into a pattern at the side of it. Then he gets some newspaper out of his jacket – good thinking to bring that – rolls the pages into balls and slots them, at regular intervals, into the pattern. He lights the balls with a clipper and slowly the sticks start to catch too.
He comes over, puts his hand out towards me. I take it and let him pull me up. He holds my hand all the way to the fire where we stop – so wonderfully warm. We crouch down to be closer to the heat.
“Do you think Dan’s alright?” he says.
“It’s something he said a minute ago. I don’t think he even realised he said it.”
I get a concerned feeling. “What did he say?”
“We were picking up firewood and I’m sure I heard him muttering… that he wasn’t gay.” He whispers the last bit.
“Hardly, I mean, look at the way he is about Carrie.”
“It’s all because he’s let himself wonder what it would be like to have sex with a man. It’s hardly a big deal. Haven’t you, thought about it I mean?”
“Maybe once or twice.” James waves his hand dismissively. “Even if he had had a sexual experience with a man it wouldn’t mean he was gay. Fuck, if that was the case, half the people I went to school with would never reproduce. You don’t think he’s going to lose it or anything? Only I didn’t want to ask him if he was alright in case he got paranoid.”
Dan emerges from the bit of wood in front of us and throws some more logs on the fire. “What?” he goes.
“Nothing,” we both say, realising we stopped talking abruptly. He gives us a grin and disappears again into the black bit of the wood that I can’t quite see.
James is staring at me. “Look at you, Miss LSD eyes.”
“What? Do I look really bad?”
“No, you look really… pretty. Like a pixie.”
My cheeks go hotter. I know I must look like shit. I do feel amazing though, if a bit giddy. “Miss LSD eyes, that sounds like a song. You should write it.” Shit, that sounded arrogant. “I mean for somebody else.” Am I making it worse? Of course for somebody else.
James lies back on the grass. “Fern, look,” he says softly, and straightaway I’m calm.
I push myself back next to him, feel the dew in my hair and on the back of my head. The sky is cloudless, a huge bruised crescent of sky punctured with hundreds of winking stars. “Feel how wet the grass is. It’s almost like the stars have been crying.”
James is quiet for a bit and then he says, “Maybe the sun was their lover once, before the beginning of time, and they know they’ll never see him again – stars and sun, forever separated by the impassable gates of dusk and dawn.”
“Shit James, where did that come from? That’s beautiful.” Turn slightly so I can see him better. “Beautiful but tragic.” We both cringe and laugh.
“Yeah, tragically cheesy.” His smile fades. He looks away.
“No, cheesily beautiful,” I say, partly to make him feel better and partly because I think, if such a concept is possible, it’s true.
“Come here and lie down, Dan,” I call then realise James has just said my name like he’s got something important to tell me. I look at him, waiting for him to say it but he’s watching Dan now. Dan plonks some more logs on the overgrown pile and swaggers round the fire towards us.
“Look at this,” James goes.
Dan wriggles in between us, lies down. “Wow. That is unbelievable.” The three of us stay like that, our bodies touching but not moving, worshipping the beauty in the way it merits, silence, listening to the wood’s rustling, non-human reply for a timeless time.