It’s late morning. I’m lying on my bed. Chick is astride me, and my grey duvet is over Chick. We’re snug like it’s the bleakest of winter days, even though midsummer sunlight pours through my window, which is open on account of the heat. Chick is a dumb surname, but it makes a good nickname, so I don’t mind it that much. She’s wearing skinny jeans, but that’s all. The stiff, abrasive blue denim is a stark contrast against the soft pale skin that starts immediately up from her belt, which is undone. I’m wearing my boxer shorts, socks and a black t-shirt. It’s a band t-shirt. The band is called Foals. They play math-rock, which is a subgenre of modern alternative post-punk. They’re from Oxford, so their songs exude intelligence. They’re playing from the speakers on the other side of my bedroom right now. A new song comes on. Hey, I hear the future birds, it’s called spaceships, astronauts and all. Let’s trade all these types of things for wings. That’s all I’m wearing. Chick was the one that took my jeans off. She was the one that took her t-shirt off. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Her breasts sit pertly of their own accord, atop a ribcage that’s visible through her skin. I’m wondering why she’s removed our clothing in a way that prevents our skin making contact. “I like your hair,” she says leaning over me. “It’s your best feature.” I thank her and tell her that I like her hair too, though I don’t tell her that I wish it were longer and redder, which, incidentally, I do. She leans in and kisses me, her saliva sour and bitter, but distinctive and delicious. Her hips cut into me. I’m impossibly aroused though I’m trying to not show it, a job that’s been made harder since she pulled my jeans off. I know that she knows exactly what she’s doing. Her tongue is incessant. A new song comes on. Sun’s up, we wait all day while the hell outside is kept away. If only we could move away from here. This is how we build a place, an aviary for today. Let’s disappear until tomorrow. Disappear. Disappear. Disappear. Her tongue stops. “Do you like my game?” she asks. I don’t know what she’s talking about. “Are you enjoying my game?” I ignorantly answer in the affirmative, which seems to please her. She reassembles her belt buckle, and throws the duvet off of her back. She reaches across for her t-shirt that she had earlier folded and placed upon the floor next to my bed. I don’t know why she’s getting dressed and I’m inconsolably disappointed. Her t-shirt is plain white, and has the black outline of two anatomically correct lungs upon it, which fall on her chest in the correct position when she slides the t-shirt over her lithe body. A new song comes on. I know I could not last very long at all without you here to break my fall. Because you were better than whatever came before, before you ran out and left me on the hundredth floor.
It’s early afternoon. My responsibility and accountability have evaporated in the heat and sear of the sun. My sweat stings. I’m running. The town melts away about my strides and suddenly there are fields, as expansive gold, green seas, and so much sunlight glistening from the ears of corn and the blades of long grass. I lament not wearing shorts. My headphones thud. A new song comes on. Helium heart, blown apart, you’ll never find your shadow. In the dark, heal your heart. Ravaged by the callow. You’ll never trap your shadow. Foals. I’m chasing Chick, but I’m at least quarter an hour behind her. She left me lying on my bed. She told me that everyone would already be there and that she was late. They’d be missing us, but they’d be missing her more. I heard the slam of the distant front door long before I even sat up. I’m in physical discomfort because she didn’t make me come. The dull ache emanating from my groin prevents me from being able to shake her from my mind. Her ribs. Her hips. Her gaze and her insidious smirk. Her control. Her game. I notice that my breath is starting to fail me and I have to stop running. The noise of the blood in my ears pulses over the sound of twitchy guitar hooks, intertwining like filigree, fingers dancing on fretboards. My heart pounds an offbeat hi-hat, but it refuses to play in time. I can see my destination beyond the field of butter-yellow rapeseed in front of me. We used to make dens in these woods. Years ago. Weeks on end, spent in the wilting summer sun and the dirt and the nettles and the trees, the junk provided by local fly-tippers useful in a thousand and one ways. Our machinations were always beyond the scope of our years and our height, but now that we’re older and taller, we’ve started coming back. We still make dens. But we provide the junk. The sky is haze, though there are no clouds and I’m optimistic. The ache even starts to feel good. A new song comes on. I could cut my hands off now, just to focus getting out of me. We could peel artichoke hearts and break our legs and dry out. Maybe if we could just talk about the weather. Saturday, we could come home and cut the phone lines. My espadrilles are unappreciative of the terrain on the immediate approach the woods. I leave the smooth asphalt and turn onto a track that runs along the border between two fields. Tractor tyre treads have formed a regular succession of miniature trenches in the mud, which have since dried rock-solid in the sun. Every step threatens to break an ankle. The course fibres of my shoes’ jute rope soles snare dried grass like Velcro hooks. I see a column of grey smoke begin to rise from the treetops. They waited for Chick.
I’m the thirteenth person here, and most probably the last to arrive. Everybody here is a perfect peer of mine – dazed, happy, inconsequential twenty-year-old infants. Walter and Jimmy are topless. Shirts tied around waists. Smoking. Harry is sunburnt and doing sit ups for some reason. He gets twigs and dirt in his shaggy blonde hair every time the back of his head touches the ground. Jennifer laughs at him. Her hair has received a teal streak to compliment the pink, blonde, orange and green ones that she had the last time I saw her. Jack and Edwin sit with and Lauren and Shannyn on a sofa that used to belong to Edwin’s grandparents, drinking. Their pale English shins are white streaks against the 1970s chocolate velour. Why didn’t I wear shorts? Where’s Chick? The clearing is perhaps twenty metres across, maybe a little more but certainly no less. Our den is everything we ever wanted it to be – our very own home away from home. As well as our brown sofa, we have a mattress (which is stained but almost definitely sanitary), rugs, tyres (one hangs from a tree on a rope), a battered mahogany table, mirrors, and even a fire. Well, an oil drum whose contents (provided by fly-tippers) have been set on fire. The column of smoke that floats from it catches shafts of sunlight that spill through the treetops above us. The result looks like silky greyish milk, just hanging in the air. We have an old television and a floor lamp, though they’re ornamental. We have an amplifier running off a car battery and the first thing that I do upon arriving is plug in my iPod, which people are too self absorbed to notice or mind. A new song comes on. I’m the master pretender, I’m wearing his face, I’m wearing his ring. All hail the king.
It’s mid-afternoon. Jimmy and Jack and Lauren are throwing black gloss paint at each other. Acid makes you do strange things. I’m two cans drunk, sitting alone on the mattress. I’m holding an acoustic guitar. It has a cedar front with Indian rosewood back and sides, a mahogany fretboard with pearl inlays and a handmade dogtooth rosette. It used to belong to my father. I’m trying to cover Foals songs, but their compositions really need more than one person and the lack of a cutaway on the guitar’s body inhibits access to anything higher than the fourteenth fret, which is where most of Foals’ guitar lines are played. All in all, it doesn’t sound good. Edwin asks me to play ‘Wonderwall’. I want to smash the guitar on his skull in a firework of fury and splintering wood, but I realise that he’s just winding me up and I calm down. Chick has arrived from nowhere with a dozen plain black helium balloons – where from, anyone’s guess – each on individual strings. She sets about tying each balloon to its own rock or stick or whatever she can find that’ll keep it from floating away. I watch as she does this to every balloon. She leaves each one on the ground in the exact location where she found whatever it is that she tied it to. They make peculiar decorations for our den, scattered everywhere, swaying in the wind, buffeted by stray aerial paint. A new song comes on. This is a warning shot, your final call, an empty morgue with gurning hearts and hollowed crowns.
Chick sits next to me on the mattress. She has streaks of black paint in her hair that stain like oil on a seafaring bird. She kisses me quickly on the mouth, which is completely shocking because there are other people here. I look shocked. She tells me that it’s fine because although everyone’s here, they’re not really ‘here’. She points to our surroundings as if to somehow prove or validate her point. I tell her that she has paint in her hair, and she asks why I’m still wearing my shirt, since all of the other boys have taken theirs off. I think about her earlier refusal to remove my shirt in my bedroom and I remind her of her earlier refusal to remove my shirt, though apparently the irony of her present demand that I remove my shirt is lost on her. I remove my shirt anyway. She attacks me without hesitation and paints black smudges across my neck and chest using her hair as a brush. There’s a surprising amount of paint on me and Chick is falling backwards onto the mattress and laughing uncontrollably and telling nobody in particular that she loves her game. “Are you enjoying my game?” I laugh but I’m not sure why. “Come here,” she says, “I want you to have something.” She conjures a thermos flask from behind the mattress. “Try this.” I remove the lid and steam rises like smoke from a burning oil drum. The odour isn’t instant, but it endures, hanging in my nostrils, acrid, earthen, hot. I ask what it is. “My game!” she enthuses. Her game tastes like what I imagine dishwater to taste of, but the familiarity of the scent and the taste swells in my brain… I’ve tasted this before, but in a different, more tactile form. An age ago. Chewed. Stuck in molars. Swallowed. Ingested. I drink all that Chick permits before my memories gain a full clarity, and the taste is identified. Short of making myself vomit, it’s too late to stop all of this and turn back. I reason that I may as well embrace the next four hours of my life. It’s a lot easier to do that than to fight it. A new song comes on. Forget the horror here, leave it all down here, it’s future rust and it’s future dust. A choir of furies in your head, a choir of furies in your bed, I’m the ghost in the back of your head.
The first thing that I notice is the visual distortion, though the changes are subtle. I see my surroundings as normal, in as much that I see Chick and I see paint throwing and I see the fire and I see black balloons. But there’s a filter that twists the picture in real time, waves throbbing, colours blurring and bleeding. Jennifer’s multi-coloured hair has never looked so vibrant and brilliant. Sound is next – a creeping reverb and echo assimilates every wave that hits my eardrums. The music from the amplifier is drowned out by the laughing, the birdsong, the cracking of the dirty fire, and then suddenly the music is absolutely, dominantly pervasive, and it sounds better than anything that I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m lying on the mattress and Chick is lying next to me and she has this look on her face, a sheer concentration that I’ve never seen before. She’s tracing the lines and patches of black paint that she previously transferred onto my chest from her hair and she never lets her fingernail leave the outline of the stain and everything wobbles and her touch echoes through my chest cavity and my heart stammers, double-time. My palms feel wet but I’m quite sure that they’re not, though I’m not sure how to reach a reliable answer either way so I forget about it. Everything is wonderful and I laugh at Chick who’s been tracing paint for twenty minutes, though that’s only according to my watch. Infinite instances pass have been passing with an utter contempt for proportionate linearity. I sit up. I want to watch the paint throwing, but they’re all sat down, skinny stained bodies latticed on the sofa. How long have they been sat down? I want to get up and ask them but standing seems vulgar. I feel warmth on my shoulders. Chick is kneading the nape of my neck and down between my shoulder blades. Palpable ripples, muscles relax. She’s kissing my neck. Arousal stirs. A new song comes on. We could cause catastrophes in your arms, in your arms. It’s eleven P.M. in your arms. I say yes to those false thoughts of love. Harry wonders back into the clearing from an oblique angle to where I’m sat. All I can see are his shorts, his hands, his sunburned back moving away from me, and his shock of Aryan blonde hair, matted and woven with twigs and crisp shards of dried leaves. The grey tentacles flowing from his hand are… new… He has an octopus in his hand. Of course he does. Its bulbous body and eight tendrils dance away, hanging from his grip, their undulating movement augmented by my wavering vision, the distortions becoming more severe. He puts the beast (whose mortality I’m unable to confirm either way) on the fire. Harry is cooking an octopus in the middle of the woods. Acid makes you do strange things.
Description is becoming difficult so consider the following. If you see yourself in a mirror every day for ten years, then you don’t notice the change in your appearance since the incremental differences made on a daily basis are simply too slight. Cumulatively, of course, you’re completely altered over this time, and it’s only by looking at a photograph of ten-years-younger-you that you’re able to fully appreciate this. This is the only way that I can describe why what I’m experiencing right now isn’t blowing my mind to the point of thorough incapacity. I’ve consciously experienced every second of the last hour. The changes have indeed been incremental (the subtle blurring of vision; the distortionary filters gradually enforced on your perception; the audio hallucinations; the intensely delectable nuances that give life meaning; the way that electricity flows from a girls fingertips across your back and raises every hair on your body; the way that the rippling smoke from the fire forms elaborately accurate imagery, biology, mathematics, art, topology. Explosions of the most exquisite beauty. It’s the way the swaying leaves above you form benevolent faces that speak, and assure you that the decomposition of reality that you’re experiencing is a reality in itself. It’s the way that the idiosyncrasies of a false shell masquerading as a supposed existence carefully rips and peels away, revealing a powerful, raw metaphysical truth in it’s place. It’s introspection to the purest degree. It’s ego death. It’s nirvana) but when I consider the cumulative alteration of my sentience, I realise that I’m tripping. Hard. I’m lying on the mattress. Chick is astride me… A new song comes on. Turn your teeth, sew your heart and blow a puncture, blow. So long, insomniac son. I found some better company.
It’s early evening. According to my watch, at least. I come to, though I can’t be sure that I was even passed out. I’m just coming down, returned from giddy plains of hyper-sentience. And although I remember that it was beautiful, I don’t remember any specifics of the beauty itself, and this would annoy me if I weren’t still in a relatively good place, under the influence of her game. The visual distortions persist. They probably will for another hour or so. My belt is undone. I recall, ever so vaguely, Chick tried to have sex with me, but it didn’t work. Obviously. My fingers refuse to obey my brain, and I laugh out loud at my pathetic attempts to do my jeans up. Echoes of laugher reverberate. I’m still on the mattress, and I realise that it’s entirely plausible that she actually tried to fuck me on the mattress and that everyone saw. This would annoy me if I weren’t still… I very suddenly realise that I’m alone. The den is empty. No Chick. No black balloons. I’m on my feet. The fire is out, the final vestiges of dirty black whimpers seep skyward, catch in the wind, swirl. Beautiful. I take my iPod from the amplifier and I put my headphones into my ears because I may as well enjoy the aural gilt while it lasts. A new song comes on. I’m rusted gold. I stripped my soul. I make believe. I’m not for rent. My head is spent. I guarantee. Deaf to the world, I follow trails instinctively, letting atheist fate dictate my direction. I reach the edge of the woods, the edge on the other side to where I first came in earlier in the day. Long grass in the field beyond the trees is trampled, as if a group of a dozen or so twenty year olds have been walking and lying in it. I keep stumbling forward. And she’s there, lying alone in the tall grass. I look around, and she is indeed absolutely alone. There are scratches on her wrists and her arms. She’s shivering and she looks like she has been crying. I lay down beside her and I tell her that I’m quite done with playing her game. Chick laughs, but her manner is maudlin. She tells me that I wasn’t ever playing her game. I was her game. “Everybody saw. Everybody knows,” she tells me, as if she’s proud of this fact, as if this is some kind of endgame that she was planning all along. They were all ‘here’ after all. She’s digging sharp nails into the skin and flesh of her forearms and I pull at her arms to stop her, though I don’t really know why because I should feel utterly indifferent to her pain right now. The black lungs on her t-shirt heave. I bid her goodbye. I run home through my breath’s repeated failure and by the time I arrive at my front door I’m as sober as I’m going to be for the rest of the evening given the afternoon that has just passed. My mother looks at me and laughs at how ‘drunk’ I am, which is mildly diverting. I go upstairs and lie on my bed and I try my hardest to not think about what the next few days are going to hold. The window is still open, and a chill permeates the air. I gaze out of the glass. Twelve black balloons rise up into the clear blue sky, never to be seen again. A new song comes on. Away, away from this system there is another country, a place we could go. If something won’t heal, your children can’t help you out. If something won’t heal, a compass can’t help you out. This love is foreign, why don’t we quieten down? A waste is a waste. A waste is a waste. A waste is a waste.