Johnny found Psychopomp while browsing drug categories on the dark web. It had 6,000 logged purchases worldwide but no user ratings, which the seller said was a true mark of its success: this was a trip from which there was no coming back.
It was three months since Romeo had passed. Accidental overdose. Johnny knew what they were all thinking, but they were wrong. Romeo wouldn’t do that, not even after the money and creativity had dried up. “You should be back out on the scene by now,” his friends said. They meant well, he knew, and cooping himself up in the flat staring at a dead man’s poetry on the walls was surely not a healthy way to spend his days.
He tore himself away from the bedsheets and reached for the fridge, taking out a three-day-old milk carton. A tentative sniff, a moment’s hesitation, then he drank from it anyway, not caring how much spilled. He wiped his mouth on a bare arm and turned back to look in the mirror beside the bed. Could use a shave. A wash, a hair comb; a pair of eyes that weren’t so grey with goddam heartache. His thoughts were interrupted by a clatter at the letterbox: fast, anonymous courier delivery. Psychopomp had arrived.
Johnny ripped open the jiffy bag and flung it into the kitchenette. Then, having a grip on the foil-wrapped contents, he went slower, peeling with care and precision. He sat on the bed and stared at the contents. A fine silvery white powder with specks of electric blue. It reminded him of the washing powder his mum used to use, but the distinct scent described online as ‘somewhere between Parma Violets and magic marker’ confirmed it was authentic. He grabbed a hardback book from his bedside drawer, ‘The Art of Rozz Williams’, and used a plectrum to fashion the powder into three narrow lines. With tears in his eyes and a deep breath, he looked up to the ceiling and uttered aloud, “I’m coming for you, Romeo.”
A bird was tapping at the window. Johnny, tranquil and curious, pulled himself upright. He found that with his neck and tailbone aligned, he could see the little visitor perfectly, yet tilting his head only slightly to the left, it disappeared. He played around with this phenomena for a minute or two, until the bird took flight. Instinctively following its path with his eyes, Johnny found himself pulled across to the window, and then lifted clean off the floor. Up, up, into the air he went, until he was looking down on the flat, and then the whole street, from above. The church on the corner was there, clear as day, but with only a slight movement of his head, it was a brand new shopping mall. A group of children were playing cricket in the park across the road; they too disappeared at the smallest of perspective shifts, and when he pushed it further still there was no grass at all, just a pile of rubble. He quickly reverted to his head’s original position. It was safer that way.
The scene below continued to pan outwards. A view of the city rapidly merged into a view of the region, then of the UK in its entirety. Coastlines appeared as crisp as they would on a map, and the sea just as blue, until clouds began to obscure his vision.
Johnny was suspended far above the world. He felt weightless, his troubles and his home out of sight. And the globe was still shrinking until, finally, it stopped at the relative size of a large mirror ball.
“It’s magnificent, isn’t it?”
He spun around to see a tall, naked figure with the head of a goat. (S)he was silvery white with glowing blue eyes, and was dancing to a silent beat along with several others he could only make out as shadows.
“It’s my observation orb. As I move around it, making shapes, the tiny things inside change. Do you want to try? Everyone wants to try.”
Johnny tried to speak, but he was unable to catch a breath. Thick, yet fresh, air filled his lungs and expanded his chest. The strange being laughed heartily, tossing back hir horns.
“I will take that as a yes. Now, keep your head – and particularly your eyes – as still as you possibly can…” (s)he gripped his head between two sets of long, curved, crusty fingers and pointed him towards the floating globe. “You can zoom in by changing your frequency.” Johnny wanted to express that he wasn’t familiar with the art of frequency alteration, but it came out as a simple “Ah…”
“Don’t worry lost lamb; I can do it for you. Which bit do you want to observe? Oh wait, I know…”
Johnny stared at his home planet, resisting the urge to blink when it bolted closer once more. A mass of land came into view. His city, his district, his street, his flat; and then he could see himself sprawled out on the bed, unconscious and dribbling onto discarded foil.
“Now, without moving your head, take a look around.”
As Johnny’s eyes darted from left to right, the scene flickered like a clumsy scene edit. It was impossible to keep up with the imagery without slowing his eyes right down, and in doing so, he inadvertently made himself disappear. The Johnny on the bed was now a stranger working on a laptop in a far cleaner version of the flat. Then, with a sharp glance to the right, she too disappeared and the flat became untouched woodland.
“No, that’s too far. Go back…”
He returned his gaze to the left until the flat reappeared. Maybe he could master this yet! With micro-movements it was possible to flick through a wide range of occupants with various tastes in decor and fancy. He observed all of them until he found the only one he wanted: Romeo, sleeping soundly beside him where he belonged.
“That’s it! Isn’t it? That’s it!” the strange being called out triumphantly. There was a murmur followed by a round of applause from the shadows. “Now you’re going right back…” with that final syllable, s/he gave Johnny an almighty thump in the spine.
His eyes opened wide. He bolted upright, suddenly aware of a painfully dry throat as he took a sharp inhale. Romeo passed him a bottle of water.
“Are you ok, angel?”
It took a moment to adjust to the new light, the new configuration, but Johnny’s jaw quickly became his own so that he may speak, and his memories soon caught up with him like a rush to the head.
“Yeh, I’m fine. Sorry, I just had the weirdest dream. You were dead, and then I was dead, and then…”
When Romeo put his arms around him, the strangeness subsided. The vividness of the dream faded and the ties were cut.
“I have this great concept for an album, though!” He grabbed his guitar and the pen and paper that always lived on his bedside table, and scrawled in long, thin capitals:
For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception and Other Stories, available now in paperback and e-book. You can find the full blurb and details of stockists here.