The Hike – Paul Weil
Erik has sewn a thousand tabs of LSD into the seam of the strap in his backpack. A sheet of Purple Ohms neatly cut into long strips of fifty-by-two and carefully wrapped in clear cellophane. He has kept fifty for the journey and has them stowed under the tight skin of his African drum.
“We’re going to walk to Glasto, mate,” he announces one morning, wide eyes above a face cracking grin as if he’s had the idea of the century. He is referring to The Glastonbury Music Festival in Somerset that starts in two weeks. I gape at him and experience that free-fall sensation I often feel when Erik has that look. I know I’m going to get talked into something outrageously stupid and dangerous.
“That’s… I don’t know, three, four hundred miles away, man. It’s impossible.”
Erik shakes his head violently, twirling a dread with his free hand, the other holding his morning blunt. “Fourteen days if we start tomorrow,” he says. “That’s only thirty miles a day. Piece of piss.”
“You know I’m going to Italy to see my mum. It’s booked. I’m not going to Glastonbury this year.” I watch his face drop as if I’d punched him in the stomach. He sniffs and looks at the floor, his jaw tightening until skin stretches across bone as tight as the hide on his drum. “I did tell you.”
Erik recovers quickly, the hurt dissolving into a mocking expression, his nose curling away from some imaginary noxious odor. “You’re going to miss the adventure of a lifetime to spend time with you fucking mum in Italy?” He laughs and shakes his head with incredulity. “If that’s what you want.”
I nod apologetically, my stomach knotting with anxiety. My rational mind tries to tell me this is not a gray area. Plans have been made, tickets bought, itineraries firmed up. There’s no way I’m hiking across England with a madman instead of summering in a Mediterranean paradise, hopefully meeting some dark-haired beauty with a thing for pale Jewish Englishmen.
“I’ll go alone,” he says, kicking dust up from the kitchen floor with his boot like a character from Huckleberry Finn, or a Charlie Brown cartoon. His entire being has transformed into the manifestation of disappointment, intended to maximize the guilt on his intended victim. Me. He is a Master at this. A Grandmaster. A fucking Ninja of manipulation. I’d seen him do it a thousand times before, to his mother, girls, me. It works every time as if he’s irresistible and he knows it.
“Why don’t you get a ride down with one of the vans and I’ll go hiking with you when I get back in August,” I tell him. “It’s not realistic anyway. You’ll end up in the middle of the country. You’ll either miss the festival or you’ll have to hitch the rest of the way. It’s too far.” I’m appealing to his rational side. Which might work if he had one. Erik exists in a different world. He always did, but recently more so. After his transformation. That’s what I’m calling it for want of a better term, and in many way’s that’s exactly what it is.
Three months ago, he was living in a student residence hall on the outskirts of the city. I was living at my mother’s house after she left to live in Italy with her new husband, the wine dealer, Mario. I hadn’t seen Erik for several months after we left our shared house near County Tec in a small town near the Yorkshire Moors. After doing very little in his final term of A-level study he announced three months before exams that he’d decided to get three ‘A’ grades and go to University to study Psychology. I remember the exact moment he announced it. There was a bunch of us sitting around a bonfire in the back-garden smoking weed and listening to Hawkwind. Everyone laughed. Someone said something like: “But Erik mate, you’re a fucking wastoid. You haven’t done a thing all year. You’re a hair away from being kicked out of college.”
Erik looked up, chucked the remains of a joint in the fire and locked himself in his room. He stopped everything except study. No booze, drugs, girls, going out, even TV. He went to classes and then studied until it was time to sleep. He spent his weekends in his room alone, silent, except for the occasional scrape of a page turning, or a textbook sliding across the floor. It was astounding. At first, everyone thought it was a joke. People knocked on his bedroom door and offered him drugs or booze. Girls would come over and beg to be let in, but he either ignored them or shouted, “‘fuck off’. He was singular in his mindset, unflagging, relentless.
When the exams results arrived, he was not surprised to have attained three ‘A’ grades, one each in English, Sociology, and Icelandic, the only student in Yorkshire to take that exam. He didn’t even have a teacher for that one. Erik achieved the highest scores in the college year. Number one of three hundred and forty-eight. He had applied to Oxford, Cambridge, and Leeds, and got into all three. The teachers who’d called him a waste of space, a druggie, a loser, now looked at him with regret, knowing they’d failed to recognize the intellect beneath his Kurt Cobain like exterior.
Erik had arrived at the college to study Art but had been asked to leave after the first year. The teachers all agreed he was the greatest talent they’d ever seen at County Tec, his work on a different level. It transcended their narrow teaching band comprising form, color, and design, veering sharply into the esoteric world of meaning, of deeper hidden truths. They recognized its brilliance but denied its validity, yielding to their misanthropic jealousies. It didn’t help that Erik mocked their infantile skills at every moment, ignoring their requests for him to attend classes on time, to not smoke and drink in the studio. His seduction of a thirty-year-old pottery teacher was the final straw. She was fired and he was asked to leave the course. The faculty breathed a sigh of relief while they wistfully watched their finest student walk away. Erik returned to the school the following year enrolling in the traditional pre-university A-level courses.
I’d finished my Performing Arts and Writing course and did well but decided to not go on to further study in the field. I originally enrolled to escape high school and to attempt to follow my absent American father into the acting field. I found I didn’t enjoy the limelight but discovered an interest in writing. Not knowing what to do with this new talent I also enrolled in the A-level courses, though I soon lost interest and did poorly.
Erik chose to go to Leeds University, turning down both Oxford and Cambridge, and he moved into a small single room in the campus dormitories. Leeds was my hometown and I moved back into my mother’s flat and lived rent-free, drifting to my old ways of drugs and a little bit of dealing, beginning to make contacts in the upper echelons of that black market. In early February Erik turned up at my mother’s flat. He’d dropped out of university, lost his room and wanted to stay with me for a while. I’d recently learned that my mother was selling the flat and had to leave myself. A week later we found the house in Hyde Park and recruited a few others to join us. We signed onto the dole, got housing benefit to pay the rent, and settled into the Hyde Park scene of parties and debauchery.
Erik had been drinking vast amounts of beer in the student hall and had put on a fair amount of weight, his face pudgy and pale from the constant cycle of take-out and cheap alcohol. A week after we moved in he announced that he was going to transform himself. He shut himself in his room for several months. I didn’t see him at all, no one in the house did, but we heard him. And the loud, fast techno he played long into the night accompanied by his constant drumming. The young man that emerged months later looked very different. He was whippet-lean, strong, somehow taller, his previously long bobbed hair cut short, shaped into stubby dreadlocks gathered above his head. His face was angular again, his eyes wide, green and crazy.
“I’ve taken acid every day for three months,” he told me. “I’ve eaten nothing but oats and I danced all day and night.” He twirled his locks with both hands like a demented schoolgirl. “I’ve seen the eternal. I’ve changed.”
Now he wanted me to walk with him across England in two weeks. At least four hundred miles of rugged country. I didn’t even know the way to Glastonbury.
“I’ve got my plane ticket already,” I told him. “My mum will kill me.”
Erik jumped up, pacing excitedly. He could sense victory. “Man, listen. I’ve got a thousand tabs of swedgin’ acid. Purple Ohm’s. Double sided. I mean its royal fucking nectar, man. We get down to Glasto and sell em’ for at least a fiver each. That’s five grand, man. I’ll split the profit with you. Two grand each, Davey man.”
Whenever Erik had a plan it was the best plan in the world and nothing could possibly go wrong. Except it always did. “I just don’t understand why we have to walk down there.”
Erik starts mock boxing me and laughing to himself. “Because it’s an adventure, Davey. It’s a quest. We walk down there, arrive the day before the festy, sneak in, sell the tabs and then…party time, mate. We’ll get some E’s, some coke, hit the raves, find some little slags, have a right time. And we’ll be fit and strong from the walk.” He looks at me nodding knowingly as if he’s revealed some brilliant secret. “And we’ll eat acid all the way down,” he adds.
I see my Mediterranean dream disappear before my eyes replaced by what I already know will be a slow descent into hell with a lunatic. I desperately want to refuse, but I can tell he’ll go anyway, and I’ve convinced myself that he’ll die without me. I have trapped myself.
The next day I’m cashing in my plane ticket at the travel agent for a fraction of the value. Erik reveals that he’s spent everything he has on the acid and we need to supply for the trip. We sell our bicycles to a Pakistani kid for fifty quid and between that, my ticket, and the small amount I’d saved for my trip to Italy, Erik thinks we’ll have enough. We buy new rucksacks, a tent, sleeping bags, compasses, water purifying tablets, orienteering maps, high-calorie granola bars, portable cooking utensils, and bags and bags of rice and dried beans. Erik oversees the expedition purchases. I have no say at all. He’s frantic. He tells me he’s still taking acid every day and his pupils are saucers. He has no irises.
At six A.M the following day Erik wakes me up. “It’s time.”
I feel sick. I’ve never wanted to do anything less in my entire life. I would rather have surgery than do this hike. Our bags are packed, mine far heavier than his, laden with twenty pounds of Kidney beans, (he needs to carry his large African Congo drum) and we leave the house on empty stomachs.
“We need to make a stop in the way,” Erik tells me. “We need bus fare to Huddersfield.” He’s spent every penny on the supplies and Erik plans to begin the hike twenty miles away on the edge of The Pennine hills.
Eric stops outside Cyril’s flat and is banging on the door. It’s six thirty on a Tuesday morning. A few minutes later the door is flung open and a very annoyed tall hippie is glaring down. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Erik assumes his humble, lost puppy demeanor. “Got some double-dipped Ohm’s for sale, Cyril. Fucking swedgin’ monster acid. Thought you might want some before we head out.”
Cyril stares at him, then at me. I shrug and look away. “You woke me up at dawn to sell me acid?”
“They’re Ohms,” Erik says, giggling nervously. Even Erik is wary of Cyril. The only reason he picked him is that he knows he’ll have money. “I’ll give you a good price. But we need some cash for our hike. Just enough to get us to Huddy.”
Cyril grumbles but lets us into his flat. Slate is piled up everywhere, a hundred pipes and sculptures in various stages of completion. Cyril is gearing up for Glastonbury where he’ll set up shop and make most of his annual revenue. He gives Erik twenty quid for ten tabs of acid. “You’re hiking all the way to Glastonbury and all you’ve got is twenty quid?” he asks.
Erik shakes his head and laughs. “We’ve got a thousand tabs of acid to sell. We’ll make some sales on the way.”
Cyril stares at him as if he’s spotted a dinosaur peeking out from behind a bush. “You do know you’re barking mad.”
He wishes us well and we’re on our way, shuffling down into the city. I’m already worn out from carrying the heavy rucksack and tent. Erik is drumming and dancing as we walk. He’s ecstatic, glowing with joy. I’m despondent, apprehensive, desperate to go home. Halfway to the bus station he stops and looks at me, digs under his drum skin with two fingers and asks me to open wide.
“It’s a bit early for that,” I say.
“It’ll give you energy,” Erik tells me. “Put a little pep in your step.”
“Just how strong is it?” I ask him. Dropping LSD at that time was for me a rare occasion. I preferred to do it in safe controlled environments.
Erik laughs and stretches his eyes open wider as if to show me. “Open wide, doctors’ orders,” he says.
I open and he places the little paper tab on my tongue. I taste the acid right away, sharp, artificial, acrid. It softens the edges of everything almost immediately—I know this is only the anticipation of the effects as it takes about twenty minutes to kick in. Erik’s drumming off- rhythm, grinning manically at the suited stiffs heading to their banking jobs, to the street cleaners in their orange jackets who leer at us in disgust; them the working-class multitudes, us the over-privileged upper middle-class student wasters. Erik might be the former, I’m certainly not, and neither of us are students.
By the time we get to the bus station in the city center, I’m tripping hard. I’m not fond of hallucinogens in crowded public places. I feel self-conscious, exposed, and convince myself that everyone can tell. Erik doesn’t care. He openly stares at people, gleefully challenging their assumptions. Everything’s too bright, too loud, too real. I crave a warm cozy dimly lit bedroom, an endless supply of hashish, bubbly laidback music, soft eyes to stare at. It’s not going to happen. We board a loud, packed bus to Huddersfield and sit at the back near a clutch of young black men who stare at us for too long. I fix my eyes on the dreary city streets as they slip by in a blur of color and smudged lines.
Erik’s still drumming, albeit a little softer now. I wish he’d stop drawing attention to us, but it’s his way. He has a thousand doses of a ‘Class A’ drug sewn into his rucksack, enough to prove intent to supply. A serious offense that might equate to prison time if things went the wrong way in court. I look at him and shake my head. He laughs demonically and drums harder.
We get off at the bus terminal in the small city of Huddersfield, a shabby place nestled into the side of the Pennine hills like a baby under its mother’s armpit. I only know the town as a place to score pot when things are dry in Leeds. Erik has connections in a pub ironically situated opposite a police station. The first time he took me there I thought he was joking, but the place was crawling with dealers. Either the police of this city turned a blind eye to the soft drugs market or the hiding in plain sight strategy is being employed to maximum effect. That’s Erik’s theory to illicit living: be so obvious that you cannot be suspected. Strangely it seems to work well.
The acid is strong, easily the strongest I’ve ever had. My legs are feathers ready to float away on the next upward breeze, my head connected to a star by a long beam of light. Erik leads us across town, down a hill, up through a housing estate, across football fields until we’re walking up through farmland, over fences, then suddenly, we’re in the country and heading into hills. I look back and the town is sprawled behind like pieces of gray metal glinting in the half-sun. Erik has stowed his drum now and sets a punishing pace, pausing occasionally to study a map and his compass.
“Come on, man. We’ve got thirty miles to cover today,” he shouts back without turning.
Thirty miles of road walking will take all day at a decent speed, but to cover that distance over moorland seems impossible. I laugh grimly though and pretend I have an engine inside me that can be revved to move faster without effort. In a sense I do. The LSD is channeled from the mind to the physical. I stop seeing color traces and fractal images in the greenery and instead feel as if I could leap up the hills as if in a low gravity environment where earthly rules don’t apply.
Hours pass like this and we don’t see a soul. Now we are in The Pennine’s proper. The soft rolling farmland with its crumbling stone walls, cow pastures, and oak stands give way to thick tussocks of heather, bleak steeply pitched hills to nowhere, dangerous rabbit warren holes that hide grouse but can break an ankle as if it were a damp twig. I follow Erik’s feet rarely even lifting my head. I’m locked into a groove of quick movement where I feel nothing but cannot stop for fear of being unable to move.
The light changes, becoming pink and soft in the West. We’ve been walking for hours and hours. Topping the next hill reveals an excruciatingly beautiful dell with a narrow stream and grassy plateaus filled with wildflowers. Erik stops and drops his pack on the floor. I do the same and we stare at the scene before us.
“Have you ever…?”
“No,” I tell him. “I never have.”
Erik looks at me. “We’ll stop here tonight. It’s a good place for a camp.”
We get on our knees at the stream and dip our mouths in the water. It tastes sweet and oddly of strawberries. We both laugh at this simple pleasure and lap it up until we’re bloated. I see a few birds flitting around a low-berried bush. I close my eyes and listen, and all I hear is the gentle tinkle of water and a soft rustling of the warm breeze dancing through heather and grass. It is a special place. We both feel it. The acid had left us and we’re ravenous and exhausted. Erik builds a fire from dry bracken and twigs. He boils water and fills a pan with kidney beans. He lets us eat an energy bar that’s deliciously sweet with honey and oats. After an hour, the water has boiled off and he doles out beans with garlic powder and salt that are still hard. They’re barely edible but we’re starving and eat them quickly.
It’s warm and dry so we don’t pitch a tent, just put our sleeping bags near the fire and climb inside.
“When I was a nipper growing up in Höfn, in South East Iceland, my Granddad would take me out camping like this all the time. It’s a magical place. A bit like this, but full of spirits. Much more than here.” Erik’s perched on one elbow in his bag, across from me and the fire. “I should still be there now. That was the life for me, the life I should have lead. Now my Granddad’s dead and I’m stuck here.”
“Why don’t you move back?”
Erik nods emphatically. “I will someday. But its pricey as fuck and my mum sold the house and the fishing boat a few years ago.” He sniffs and his features harden. “That was supposed to come to me, but my fucking evil stepdad convinced her that I didn’t deserve it and that I need to find my own way in life. Fucking fat cunt.”
Erik’s mother was a model in Iceland in the 1970s. She was their answer to Heidi Klum. Tall, blonde, leggy, on the verge of breaking into the International scene when she became pregnant by the Greek photographer she was living with. Her career was postponed while she had Erik. One day, a month after he was born, his father said he was going out for a packet of cigarettes and never returned. Erik has never met the man. He disappeared without a trace. After that, Agatha, Erik’s mother, tried to restart her career but things had moved on. She’d lost her chance. She started working as an air stewardess for Iceland Air, leaving Erik with her parents in Höfn, where he had an idyllic childhood, even without a father. In time, she met an English businessman in First Class who promised her a life of comfort in Yorkshire. He married the Northern beauty and took her to his home, and her sulky son, who never forgave either of them for taking him away from his beloved life with his grandparents in the fishing village.
Tony Capshaw owned an electrical supply business in Pontefract. He was divorced and had three children who lived with their mother in York. Tony was a disciplinarian who believed that the way to guide an unruly child away from bad behavior was with the back of his hand. It had worked with his own children, he thought to himself, ignoring the fact that all three of them frequently made excuses not to visit. The first time he hit eight-year-old Erik he’d been surprised when the boy hit him back with a closed fist. Tony flogged him with a belt, Erik slashed the tires on his Jaguar. Tony flogged him again, Erik set fire to all his suits in the garden with lighter fluid. Tony began looking for boarding schools.
Erik gazes at the dark pink sky and sighs. “I’d kill for a cup of coffee.”
I say back, “I’d murder a joint. I can’t believe we came on this trip without any Draw. Couldn’t you have bought five hundred acid and a few ounces?”
“We’ll sell some tabs on the way and buy a little something to smoke?”
It’s no use arguing with him. No use pointing out that the chances of finding someone to buy LSD whilst hiking, who also just happened to have pot to sell is about as likely as the headliner of the festival, The Black Crowes, landing in a big helicopter and offering us a ride to Glastonbury while we snorted long lines of cocaine off their Swedish model girlfriend’s breasts. Though with Erik, anything’s possible.
The next morning the sky is the color of a rotten potato. My grandparents were avid walkers and would take me hiking every weekend, regardless of whether it was raining or dry. They would laugh at the skittish walkers who’d run indoors at the sight of a rain cloud. We would just put our plastic kagool coats on, roll our thick socks over the bottom of our trousers, and head off into the hills with thermos flasks full of tea and packages of sardine sandwiches and homemade ginger cake. My grandparents would look at this sky and close the curtains of their house as if it were still night.
The air is alive with droplets of sticky moisture, the humidity prickling my skin. The wind seems to be gusting from two different directions. From one direction a warm, tropical wind that feels as if it funneled up from The Canary Islands in the night, and from the opposite direction, the direction we’re heading, an artic freezing blast is increasing in velocity, pushing the embattled warmth away. There is no sun, no visible clouds either. Just a thick, velvety layer of foreboding. I’ve never seen, and have never since seen a sky in daylight as dark in my life. I have to shout to make myself heard. “We can’t go on in this!”
Erik has his tongue out and is grinning like an excited hyena. “It’s fucking beautiful, man! We’ll be alright. Pack up your stuff!” he shouts.
The map in his hand is coated in plastic but is bending in two from the wind. I see the compass he’s using to navigate, the dial spinning rapidly as if the polarity of the earth is switching a hundred times a second. The wind permeates everything. I feel it inside my clothes whipping at my skin. There’s no landmark to take a bearing from, nothing in the sky to indicate a direction.
“Open wide!” he screams.
“Time for your medicine. Two tabs today, mate. Got to deal with the tolerance factor.”
I shake my head. “You’re off your rocker. There’s no way I’m taking acid in this.”
Erik’s jaw’s set, his eyes narrowed. “Don’t be a baby. You’ll need the energy. We have miles to make up today. We need at least fifty miles to stay on schedule.”
I look at him with incredulity. Even for him, this is insanity. To think that we can possibly navigate in this weather, on rough hilly terrain, on strong hallucinogens, to cover more than a few short few miles let alone a ridiculous fifty. I gaze around as the land itself begins to crumble. Tufts of heather and mud shorn off into the air from the powerful gusts. The situation is impossible. I open wide and receive my medicine. My sacrament. Erik grins. I grin back.
“This is living!” he shouts with glee. “This is how you know you’re fucking alive.” He hugs me hard and tramps off into the darkening hills.
I follow him under that toxic sky, over those poisoned moors. The wind is buffeting us now, rotating from every side, sometimes each side at once, nature as confused as we are. I keep my eyes glued to Erik’s back, keeping as close as possible to him, as visibility is down to a few feet. The rain is swirling around us with such intensity it’s become a vicious, living beast. A thick fog of water, air, and shreds of vegetation. The soundtrack to this whirling madness is a constant howl, sometimes low, menacing, other times shrill and cutting like an old-fashioned train whistle. Whole clumps of grass the size of basketballs with dark mud and undulating roots fly by, occasionally colliding with us, spraying us with the very essence of the land. It’s freezing cold now, each spark of water on skin a stinging attack, almost at the point of becoming ice.
I cannot see my own feet. My hands a blur, an unfocused blob of shadow. Erik’s back is an unformed shape, something I know I must follow, though I’m forgetting why. My world becomes a tunnel of elemental fibers. A sensation of light, of dark, of grasping forward. A cave without purpose. I continue out of some nameless purpose, from habit, because I know not what else to do.
I’m normally a controlled adventurer in the realms of psychotropic journeys. The one relied upon to remind others of sanity, of the path back to logic and reason. I’m the one to remember how to get home, that we have a van, that we need water to live. I’ve pushed the envelope hard, slid it way across the table to see what lies beneath and have discovered only that in the end my connection to the physical world is too strong to allow myself to fully lose control. And I’ve tried. I’ve taken large quantities of acid in short periods of time, heroic doses of psilocybin alone in dark rooms. DMT, STP.
But here, in this place of rawness, of savage exposure, I’m becoming cut loose. My last coherent thought before the physical melts into pure color and psychic playgrounds is: ‘I may die here today.’
Now the sky swirls around. My face lashed by sheets of wind frosted rain pounding vertically. Is my head tipped back? Have I been lifted into the air? I feel softness beneath me. I’m lying on the muddy ground. I cannot rise, my limbs unconnected, dead, useless slabs of meat. Only my eyes partially belong to me. They’re wide open, hemispherical prisms of light that absorb everything in minute portioned segments.
There’s not much left of me now. This I’m cognizant of if nothing else. Curving towards me in winding arcs like clapping monkeys on a helter-skelter slide are brilliant demons doing somersaults, their tongues out, eyes tight pinpricks of fire. They’re slicing down slowly, growing larger and more menacing as they descend. I can feel them. Their evil intent, their need to devour. Circles open within my eyes like windows flung open, and the demons float closer hissing a single word: Reorganize! Reorganize! As they fill me I know I’m disappearing. Not long left now, the windows are closing, the last demons sliding through. I’m forgetting my name. I’m forgetting I’m a thing. The last thing I hear are the windows closing tightly, old paint crusting off as the latch slides home. Then.
I awaken to the sound of Erik trying to spring a flame from a plastic lighter that is undoubtedly soaked like everything else from the previous night. I open my eyes to brilliant sunshine. It’s painfully bright, a cloudless pale blue sky over hills a thousand shades of green. Erik is standing above me, his face cocked at an angle, a hand cupping a stubby joint against the breeze. A small flame finally shoots from the lighter, igniting the papery end into fire and smoke.
“I thought we didn’t have anything to smoke?” I ask, my mouth gummy, my throat raw and scratchy.
He grins sheepishly, exhaling fragrant plumes of smoke from his nostrils. It’s hashish. “Found a lump in the bottom of my rucksack.”
I know it’s a lie, he knows it’s a lie, neither of us acknowledges it. This is the game we always play. He does whatever he wants and I let him without consequence. It’s the only way we’ve managed to stay friends. He’s lost everyone else, but I have an understanding of him that nobody else has managed. He’s made an art form out of the lie. It’s part of who is. The archetypical Trickster, the jester skipping ahead of the crowd mumbling half-truths and ironical statements that if you listen closely may reveal partially cloaked wisdom.
Erik takes three drags in rapid succession, hands me the joint that’s already half done.
Sitting up and reaching for the joint, I see we are on a flat grassy mound a step down from the peak of a hill. The grass is relatively short and free of tussocks as if it’s an artificially created pasture. In front of Erik is a high chain link fence. “How did I get here?”
He’s looking at the fence and scratching his head beneath his bright blue woolen hat. “We’ve rivers running inside us, oceans actually. Some of us have green fast running water, rapids, dangerous whirls pools that suck us down. I have that.” He turns to face me. “Some, like you, peaceful waters of Caribbean blue with colorful tropical fishes and plants. Places of tranquility, wisdom.” He smiles. These are the finest words he’s ever said to me. “Others, murky, slimy creeks of dark creatures that poison the water and live to devour beauty and love. Evil waters. We’re the shores to the oceans within. The land is our ego, our personality. What makes us human. The oceans within are our spirit, the connection with the eternal.” Erik kneels and pats the grass with his hands. “With knowledge, practice, and a little natural ability, we can traverse our oceans to do amazing things. Things some call supernatural. Shamans use their waters, medicine men and women. Psychoactive substances act like sails or even boats for these oceans.” He looks up at me again. “Hence the term, ‘you took a trip. You’re tripping’.” He lifts his left hand, opens it, palm upwards, revealing two blocks of three squares of the acid, the purple ohms shining up in the sunlight that’s dappling his hands. He takes one block and puts it in his mouth.
“You’re joking? I need a break,” I say. The idea of descending back into that world is repulsive to me, my stomach churning already.
He lifts his hand to my mouth. “Come on, Davey. Got to keep those sails up. Breeze is coming in strong, mate. Time to catch it.” He takes the joint from my fingers, breathes smoke over the hand as if infusing the tabs with further psychoactive energy. I close my eyes and accept the sacrament, a congregant before his priest.
Standing up on unsteady legs, I can now see that the chain link fence, is in fact, an entirely closed-in section of grass. Four walls, a fifth section for a roof. It’s about twenty meters long and ten meters wide. It has no gate, no way to enter. There’s nothing visible inside, nothing to distinguish it as dangerous, or that it contains anything at all. No signs or warnings adorn it.
“Mysterious, isn’t it?” Erik asks, burning his fingers on the stub of his joint, dropping it and stamping it under his boot.
I approach the fence and touch it with my fingers. I let the cold rough metal scrape my skin. The chain has become rusty, the tarnish worn down by long years of exposure to wind and rain. The grass inside the fence looks identical to the grass outside, but there is a haziness to the air above, perhaps a trick of the light, I think. My imagination? Perhaps there is too much Lysergic acid floating through my blood.
“You feel it too?” Erik asks, chewing his lips into thin white strips.
“This is a powerful place, Davey. A place of magic.” He walks away from me, down the side of the fence, his fingers brushing the metal, coaxing up a high pitch rattling I feel in my gut. A sound one dreads to hear like nails on a chalkboard. “The Pennines are known as the spine of England, but others call it, The Window, because of the many supernatural events here. The UFO’s, the ghosts, the druid lore, the strange visitors from other time-periods. This is one of the most active zones in the world for that stuff. It’s a window to other dimensions.” At the place where the fence makes a 90-degree turn, he stops and grins. “Watch,” he says.
I feel light now, so light I could float away. Drift into the ether, somersaulting, spinning my way into space. “What?” I ask. I almost don’t want to know. But I watch with growing horror as he pushes his hand, then his whole arm through the chain link, his fingers appearing inside the fenced area, parts of his hand intermeshed with the metal, some outside, some within. I rub my eyes with the palms of my hand, take another look, try to conjure up a rational answer for what I’m seeing. It’s a trick surely, a sleight of hand, an illusion. He’s set this up. It’s all planned. The acid, the mysterious fenced in grass, the hash, even the storm. Wait, what am I saying? That he arranged the fucking storm. I walk closer, slowly, as if stepping on eggs, desperate to break the illusion but terrified I cannot.
“Watch,” he repeats. His grin grows wider, eyes locked on mine, pupils black and massive. I think I see his incisors grow. He’s a wolf, I think. His whole arm is through. Now he steps through sideways, a foot, his leg, the waist, his chest, then the head. He pretends it’s painful then laughs maniacally, a little drool falling from the oversized teeth. He’s stepped all the way through, is rotating slowly while singing some strange high-pitched song in what I imagine is Icelandic.
I approach the fence where he entered and touch the chain. It’s intact. There are no breaks, no gaps at all. It is one continuous section of metal fence and he’s inside it. What he has done is impossible. I rub my eyes again, sit heavily on the ground, and stare at him.
He stops singing, turns, and sits down himself. He’s still inside, looking at me as if we’ve never met. He touches the fence, feels its permanence. “See, Davey. This place is a window. I felt it as soon as we arrived. See what I can do here.”
I shake my head quickly. “It’s the acid. It’s too strong, Erik. We’ve taken too much.” I’m starting to panic now, feel myself spiraling into chronic fear, into the hell like darkness that can happen on psychedelics when things become too strange, too frightening. I know I have to control it or chaos will overwhelm me. I close my eyes, but the inside is louder than reality. Too many colors, too much noise. I open them, see Erik still sitting in front of me, but now we are a few meters away from the fence and he is on my side again.
“Take it easy, mate,” Erik says, patting me on the head like I’m his Collie waking from a canine nightmare. “Come on, let’s get going. We’ve got a lot of miles to do today. And anyway, this a bad place to tell you the truth. There’s some mixed-up energy here. Too many fucking crazy bastards have been through here.”
I nod, pull myself to my feet, glad to be leaving. As soon as I stand I feel much better. I feel strong, super strong like one can on LSD. I feel as if I could leap over the hills with no effort at all. I scoop up my rucksack that weighs nothing, run laughing down the path. My feet are powered springs, my arms giant cranes that could lift tons of steel, or huge blocks of concrete. All that pent-up fear, the anxiety, the panic at what I saw is unwound into fathomless energy, infinite strength.
At the edge of the hill that yawns into a valley, I stop to turn towards Erik. He’s smiling up at me, his saucer like eyes crinkled up, enjoying the moment.
“I’m invincible,” I tell him.
He nods. “Finally, you get it,” he says.
The day after the storm we cover many miles. Our spirits are high and our minds and bodies expansive and invincible. Erik leads the way using narrow sheep trails that undulate up and down hills, and by streams as clear as the night sky. We finally stop at the crest of a rocky butte that reveals a view of The Pennines that stretches further than I can see. We haven’t eaten all day and have only stopped occasionally to drink from the slow running water of the valley streams. Neither of us are remotely tired and walking has become effortless, as if our legs are powered remotely from our bodies. When Erik offers me four Purple Ohms I open my mouth eagerly to receive them.
He points to a moonlit smudge on the horizon where the hills seem to soften and drop away. “That’s where need to get by morning, then we can rest before we carry on.”
I say nothing and nod, no longer doubting the impossible, remembering Douglas Adam’s quote from both of our current favorite book, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency; “There is no point in using the word ‘impossible’ to describe something that has clearly happened.”
That’s how this feels now, as if we’re actors in a play that’s already been shown a million times.
When dawn rises in brilliant hues of purple and pink, we’re leaving the barren hills and entering a lush forest that appears as an unlikely but welcome guest at a party that’s become too dull. The acid is wearing off and fatigue is filling my head and making my body weak. My feet are aching intensely and every step now is agony, but I’m still happy to be descending into the lush green of the woods. It’s like dropping out of Tolkein’s Mordor into Rivendell.
As we descend further into the woods, I realize it’s a recreational area and we can hear and see families and hikers on different paths. The idea of coming across real people is terrifying to me but Erik turns and grins at me as if he’s looking forward to cannibalizing them. After we pass the first family who nod and smile at us as if we’re just day-trippers out on a nature walk, I realize to them we don’t look anywhere near as insane as I feel.
We settle by a reservoir and set up a little camp. I take off my shoes and socks and my feet are blistered and bleeding, my white socks now stained crimson. Erik is fine and picks orange flowers that he tells me are called Land’s Mantle, and he crushes them and tells me to put them on my wounds. He bandages them up for me and they already feel better. We cook beans and rice and I fall asleep as the afternoon sun slips lazily behind the trees.
“Time to pack up, mate,” Erik says to me as he prods me awake.
“I can’t walk on,” I tell him. “My feet.”
“We’re aren’t going far.” He opens his palm and reveals five tabs of acid.
I shake my head. “I’m done.”
Erik cocks his head and reveals an odd smile that I’ve never seen before, brimming with some archaic wisdom. “It’s too late to turn back now. Anyway, we’re almost there.”
“Almost there? We’re at Ladybower Reservoir. We’re still in fucking Yorkshire.”
Erik sighs and pushes the acid towards me. “Come on, mate. Trust me. Do you know what day it is?”
I shrug. “Wednesday?”
“It’s Umardagurinn Fyrsti, the summer solstice, and the Huldofolk are about.” He laughs. “Come on, Davey. Take the trips and open those eyes.”
I don’t want to but I still reach out and put them in my mouth. They dissolve on my tongue etching dreams deep in my blood. I hear the creak of a gate open and look about then realize it came from within.
We pack up and Erik leads up a thin path that climbs out of the woods across some farmland and into a dark dell. It’s hot and humid and swarms of tiny midges blanket the air and we have to pull our hoods up tight to protect our faces from them. At the bottom of the little dell I see the soft glow of a small fire and the insects have gone and the acid is coursing through me. Instead of the traces I normally see when I’m coming up everything is precise and stained with the brightest colors I’ve ever seen. Around the flames stand two tall men and behind them I can see a field and an arrangement of large stones.
As we get closer Erik turns to me and says, “Fucking druids. Don’t say a word. Leave them to me.”
The men look at us with leering faces. One of them is fat and has a rough ginger beard and black eyes that twinkle in the firelight. He looks like a bear. The other is whippet lean with long, straight black hair and eyes so small they look like they’re painted on. They’re both dressed in woolen coats like robes and they’re adorned with feathers and silver pentacles. The fat one holds a staff.
“Fuck off, Grimmson,” he says as we approach.
“Don’t be a cunt Tristan. It’s a holiday,” Erik fires back. “We’re heading in.”
The thin one shakes his head. “Not tonight you’re not. We’re under orders, nobody gets in.”
Erik puffs himself up and looks angry. “You don’t own the stones, Kestrel. Nobody does.”
The thin one, the one Erik calls Kestrel, spits a glob of phlegm into the fire that sizzles with protest. “You’re not even English. Go back to Iceland and dance in your own stones.”
The fat one, Tristan, looks at me. “Who are you?”
I look at Erik who shakes his head and I say nothing. Erik digs in his pocket and comes out with a small folded piece of paper. He opens it and shows them what’s inside. “Ten double dipped Purple Ohms each, lads.”
Tristan and Kestrel exchange a look. Tristan says, “You tell anybody and we’ll come for you.”
Erik nods. “I know.”
Tristan snatches the packet greedily and stands aside revealing a wooden stile that crosses a low stone wall into a field. “One way,” he says to us, and we cross into the field. I look back at him but they’re already devouring the hallucinogens.
There are five stones that stand at odd angles in a circle. They’re coated with moss and all lean at different angles. The rest of the field is black and silent except for the hoot of an owl somewhere in the dark. I get a bad feeling about the place and tell Erik.
“That’s just fear of the unknown, Davey.” He’s creeping around the circle stroking the outside of the stones. The moon peaks out from behind a cloud and bathes the stones in a bluish silvery light that makes them look alive.
“Are you ready?” he asks me.
Erik laughs and steps inside the stones. He turns to face me, shimmers and disappears. I watch the space that he occupied with growing horror and realize he’s not coming back. I hear peels of laughter from the druids who are now dancing around their fire. I’m sick on the grass near my feet and wipe my mouth. My head’s pounding and I can hear my own heartbeat, a drum between my ears.
I don’t want to be alone here and I don’t want to go back to the druids, so I swallow hard and walk into the circle. I walk right through the other side and Erik is standing at the edge of a grass cliff that is overlooking a valley filled with lights. It looks like a city except in place of houses and buildings there are tents and stages. “Where the hell are we?”
Erik turns slowly towards me. “Can’t you guess, Davey?”
I look behind me and see people a little way down around a fire dancing to drums. I look back at the city of lights. “Glastonbury?”
Erik nods. “We’re on Glastonbury Tor and that’s the festival below us. We’re two days early.”
I rub my eyes but the vision doesn’t go away. “How?”
Erik doesn’t answer and instead shuffles away from the lights and down a path. He calls back to me, “Come on, mate. There’s a pub down the way and I could murder a pint and some chips.”
I take a last look at the festival lights and with aching feet follow him down.