It was grey, cold and wet outside. Wind gusts occasionally blew the rain sideways, sleety pellets rattling against the window.
She shivered and wrapped her hands around her warm mug before downing the last of her coffee and sighing. Great, now what? She rinsed out her cup and gazed out the kitchen window at the trees flapping and bending in the wind. Flicked on the radio, tuned through half a dozen stations, talk shows, politics, car adverts, finally some music! Oh, wait. I hate that song. Flicked the radio off. The house was silent, the storm raged outside.
Emma paced from room to room. Daytime TV didn’t appeal to her, there was nothing to eat, she didn’t feel like reading. Going outside was out of the question. She wondered if it was possible to literally go mad with boredom.
She thought about the boxes in the spare room that had travelled with her from rental to rental. Never to be thrown out, never to be unpacked. Maybe a trip down memory lane? Was it too early for wine?
Luckily, there were a couple of bottles left over from the housewarming three months ago. Emma poured herself a generous glassful and made her way upstairs to the spare room.
She opened the first box. Old dust and decayed cardboard burned her sinuses and made her sneeze. Childhood books and old photo albums. Perfect.
Emma sipped her wine and flipped through the photo albums, watching her family age before her eyes as she went from page to page. Babies turned into toddlers, turned into teens, turned into adults, one candled birthday cake at a time. Her eyes filled with nostalgic tears, and she wished she could step into those pages, rejoin those long ago celebrations, be a family again. And her wine glass was empty. Damn.
Emma sighed, and made her way back to the kitchen, her head buzzing pleasantly. She poured another wine, paused … grabbed the bottle, and made her way back to her box of memories.
She leafed through her childhood books, more interested in the inscriptions than the stories. The Ugly Duckling. Happy 7th birthday, darling. Hope you turn into a beautiful swan soon! Haha. Love from mum and dad. My First Baby Book. My beautiful girl, I can’t believe your (you’re! Emma smiled to herself) nearly two already. Love from mum and dad. Some of the books had locks of hair stuck to the inside cover, and Emma marvelled at the fine, tiny blond curls. Hello, her glass was empty again. How did that happen?
Emma poured another wine with a slightly unsteady hand, but at least most of it went into the glass. She licked wine off her hand, and opened the next box. Old school yearbooks. Jackpot!
She grinned with delight as the parade of faces and names brought back a rush of memories of old friendships, of carefree days with no responsibility. They were all there; Catherine, Jody, Melissa. Poor little Angela who was so desperate to hang out with them that she readily volunteered as lookout and gopher. Memories of smoking behind the tennis courts while Angela loitered furtively at the corner, looking out for teachers. Wagging school so they could hang out at the arcade, shooting aliens, burning through their allowance one silver coin at a time.
Pictures of boys she’d crushed madly on, too shy to say anything. She gazed in wonder at their pictures, tracing their features with her finger, trying to recapture those wonderful, awful feelings.
There was a little bag of grey-brown pills taped to the inside back cover of her high school yearbook. She peeled the bag off and opened it up, wrinkling her nose at the musty odour. She took one of the pills out and rubbed it between her fingers, the smell taking her back twenty years.
The last year of high school.
Angela had found other friends, Jody’s family had moved away. It was just her, Catherine and Melissa. There were a couple of boys that used to hang around with them, but she couldn’t remember their names. John something? She closed her eyes and drifted. John Travers. Eric Bogarde. Dennis Clement. John and Dennis were potheads, Eric was a science geek. A match made in heaven. She could see Eric in her mind’s eye, his smudged glasses sliding down his nose every few minutes, Eric pushing them back into place.
Eric had managed to sneak their little gang into the school lab after school. They’d emptied their pockets of various drugs, and Eric had slaved over the huge mortar and pestle, grinding up the drugs and chemically binding them into small brown discs.
Dennis had contributed a small packet of clear-white crystals that he swore was LSD, and some brown-grey powder that smelled vaguely vinegary. Emma herself had contributed some quality weed. John had thrown in some yellow pills and capsules that they carefully opened to extract the grey granules.
Had they actually tried any of these things? Emma had a mental image of them standing around looking at the pills, but couldn’t remember if anyone had been game to actually eat one. Maybe someone had come in and interrupted their activities? She vaguely remembered stuffing them into her empty baggie, and sneaking out of the lab in a hurry. Apparently at some point, she’d taped them to the back of her yearbook for safe keeping.
Should she? Dare she? Emma gently touched her tongue to the pill. Saliva flooded her mouth at the chemically sour taste. She had another sip of wine, gazing thoughtfully at the pill. She felt a little mellow, but that was probably the alcohol.
Maybe she could just snap a tiny bit off the side. Surely just a tiny bit couldn’t do any harm.
She let the sliver of pill dissolve in her mouth, savouring the bitterness, and washed it down with a mouthful of wine.
Beautiful coloured lights sparkled in the corner of the room, and her heart beat with warm euphoria.
She nibbled a bit more, feeling a little like Alice. She giggled at the thought of suddenly growing too big for the room, her arms waving out of the windows, legs kicking through the doorway.
Oops, accidently ate the whole pill. Oh well, may as well enjoy the ride.
The sparkly lights turned into an amazing waterfall of colour that burst from the wall and rained down on her. To her absolute delight, there were fairies among the lights, bobbing and weaving in their beautiful gauzy gowns of gold, blue, red. One fairy hovered in front of Emma’s eyes, her eyes glowing hotly red as she drew her lips back over tiny curved fangs. Emma batted it away with a shudder, watching as her hand left perfect trails like a cheesy 80s music video.
Huge brown cockroaches hatched from the wall and crawled toward the floor in perfect synchronicity, followed by a swarm of white grubs.
Emma put her hands over her eyes. They weren’t real, she knew that. They weren’t real and they would fade as the trip wore off. She dared a peek, watching in horror as the cockroaches crawled over her ankle. Hallucination be damned, she could feel its legs scratching her skin. Could feel the disgusting cold weight of its dirty, bloated body.
She kicked her foot, and watched the cockroach float into the wall and disappear. Interesting.
The first of the grubs reached her leg and jabbed its maggoty head into her skin. Pain followed as it chewed a hole and started to burrow in. Emma let out a shriek as she grabbed the grub and flung it into the wall. It didn’t disappear, instead exploding in a riot of yellow and red. A spider the size of a cat scuttled down the wall and started feasting on the corpse, watching Emma with its shiny black eyes.
Nuh uh. No way. Bad trip hallucination or not, she was not going to sit idly while these creatures ate her from the inside out.
Emma struggled to her feet, floated to the ceiling, pushed herself down again. Dammit where were all the doors? She had gotten into the room, there must be a way out! She spun around in panic, but all the doors seem to have disappeared. Feeling madly disorientated, she looked up at the ceiling in the hope that the doors had merely moved rather than disappeared, but there were no doors in the ceiling, either.
A dark window appeared on one of the walls, grey tattered curtains flapping slowly in a foul breeze. Emma ran-swam towards it before it could disappear again, and launched herself through it into a dimly wooded landscape. Her heart sank. She hated woods and forests. Lord oh lordie, when was this damn trip going to wear off?
She floated to the stony ground and started walking through dying trees. Faces moved in the rough bark, grimacing and snarling as she passed. She heard frenzied whispering all around her, indecipherably menacing.
This was just plain depressing. Emma swore to herself she would never touch drugs again once this horror show wore off. She would be plain old Emma with her boring, predictable life, and would be as happy as a lark to be so. She wondered how long before the effects of the pill wore off. It felt like she had been trapped in this dismal nightmare for days. Maybe even weeks. Time lost all meaning when you were so abysmally stoned.
Something big crashed through the woods somewhere up ahead. The sound of running feet grew closer, went past, circled around. Brief glimpses of something huge, black, hairy. Burning eyes, gleaming teeth.
Emma started running, her lungs straining to use the old, dead air. Her breath sobbed in and out, and she wondered again how long she had been trapped here. Minutes? Years? God, when was this going to end?
Back in Emma’s house, the coroner zipped the body into a vinyl bag and stood to face the police officers.
“She’s been dead a while. Maybe a week or more. Who found her?”
A young police officer stepped forward gravely. “I was the responding officer. Her boyfriend was concerned when he was unable to contact her. When she didn’t answer the door, I walked around the property. I could smell … there was an open window …” The young man bent at the waist and vomited on his shoes. One of his colleagues patted him sympathetically on the back, taking care not to step in the mess.
In the nightmare woods, Emma ran until she could run no more. She could hear the beast crashing through the undergrowth, and she curled into a tight ball on the cold ground.