Oliver poked at the powder in the little tin with a small metal scoop. It had seemed ivory-colored in the shop, but under the strong light of his desk lamp it actually seemed to have a kind of orange tinge, and it was a bit clumpy and mealy. Since it was neither fine nor powdery he risked a gentle sniff, and found its smell rather pungent and earthy, with notes like spoiled meat. It didn’t much remind him of any other drug he’d ever taken, but that was to be expected because it was supposed to be unlike anything else he’d ever taken; in fact, it wasn’t like any drug most people had ever taken, and because neither the cops nor the news media had heard of it yet, it wasn’t even illegal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly easy to get, either; this small pile of powder, enough for only three doses from what the old man at the Chinese apothecary had told him, had cost him $300, and it would be months before the old man could get any more. He helpfully explained that it came from a remote part of the Xinjiang region and had to go by way of certain parties in Hong Kong because, while it was not technically banned, Beijing frowned on its exportation.
After weighing the mass on a small digital scale, he used the scoop to divide it into three equal-seeming piles, then weighed each again and measured one into a waxed-paper bindle; he returned the second directly into the tin and tucked the bindle in beside it, then closed the lid and secreted the precious package in the box where he kept his stash. He then dumped the remaining measure into a tumbler, filled it halfway with Passiona, swirled it around until he was reasonably sure it had all dissolved, and then downed the lot as quickly as possible. It tasted terrible, but the rest of the soft drink in the can quickly alleviated that; then all there was left was to wait.
As previously agreed, he texted Nick that he had started the experiment; his friend was the perfect ground control because while he himself never used any drug stronger than a good stout, he had logged hundreds of hours with friends using every substance imaginable, and could always be counted on to take care of whatever problems might arise. He then closed the window against the chilly July evening, changed into sweat pants and fiddled around with his music player for a while, finally settling on a program of baroque chamber music that he felt would set the right mood. The clock said it had been 35 minutes since he had dosed, so he wrote the details in a little notebook and then settled back to listen to the music.
Finally, he began to feel some mild physical symptoms; a little restlessness, some lack of feeling in the extremities, an odd sort of bloatiness in the face, a bit of nausea. He wrote the sensations down and texted to Nick, who said he’d be over in an hour or so, and would Oliver like anything from Red Rooster? Oliver decided against it; the nausea might pass, but it could get much worse, as the restlessness already was.
About 75 minutes after downing the drug, the first of the visual effects appeared: drifting lazily into his field of view from the general direction of the kitchen was something very like a lavender paramecium about the size of his shoe. It just gently floated across the room in a generally-northerly direction, silently undulating its cilia; even for an experienced drug user like him, it was a pretty striking sight. And since nothing else had materialized as of yet, he decided to get up and follow it; he was a little unsteady on his feet, but that was more due to the fact that he couldn’t feel them than to anything else. Slipping his phone into his jacket pocket, he stumbled into the next room just in time to see the thing go through the closed window; as in, right through the shade and glass, like a ghost.
He was about to follow it outside when he realized he was barefooted; he quickly pulled on his sandshoes where he’d left them beside the door and hastened outside, only to immediately lose interest in the intruder as he took in the full vista before him. All around his house, all over the grass and trees and lamposts and parked cars, slid and floated and bounced and hopped and swam innumerable creatures of every description imaginable. Many were like the protozoans one might see in a drop of pond water under a microscope; others were like masses of crystals that grew rapidly in one direction while vanishing from the other; some were like living flows of liquid or tiny suns, and a few were like earthly creatures he knew, only transparent and silent. None of the alien things seemed even aware of his presence, and while the phantom animals seemed to sense him, they also seemed entirely uninterested in him.
He slowly walked down the street, taking it all in; he saw a few human shapes, too, but unlike the other creatures they appeared to actively avoid him. Since it was early, there was still considerable traffic on the main street; the faces of the car’s occupants looked strange and somehow distorted, though he couldn’t be sure through the moving window-glass due to shifting reflections. It was enough to pique his curiosity, though, so he decided to wander down to the shops to take a look at the people more closely. Though the numbness in his feet and hands had spread up the limbs, they still responded more or less normally, and it was worth the risk of stumbling to see what there was to see; at worst, people would think him drunk.
The first place he reached was a little kebab shop that always did brisk business even on weekday evenings, and he was soon glad some sense of caution prompted him to look through the glass before entering; the shop was swarming with a veritable menagerie of monsters. Oh, some of them looked human enough, but others looked like apes, reptiles or gigantic insects, and a few were so indescribably hideous he found himself unable to retain his composure. He had always been able to talk himself down from bad trips before, but this time he was unable to convince himself that what he saw was only in his mind. He lost control of his legs entirely and fell down upon the pavement, shaking and crying; he was aware that people emerging from the shop were staring at him and whispering, but he was too frightened to move until he heard a gentle voice asking, “Can we be of help, son?”
He looked up to see a face of almost unearthly beauty, strong and wise and benevolent; another of much the same type hovered nearby, and he heard the latter say, “Ian, I think I know this young man; he lives in the building down at the corner, don’t you love?”
Ollie was sure he’d never met these two angels before, but he instantly trusted them; no ill intent could possibly lurk behind such visages. “Yes’m.”
“What’s your name, son?”
“Oliver, sir. My friends call me Ollie.”
“Well, Ollie, you just let us help you up, and we’ll get you home so you can sleep it off, alright?”
He couldn’t feel their hands on him at all, but he could see them, and he also saw the multiplicity of wings they spread above and around him, shielding his eyes from the sight of the horrors that had collected on the sidewalk to gawk at him. He decided it was best to fix his gaze on his legs, since he could no longer feel them at all; still, they obeyed his commands and, with the help of his angelic guides, he was able to walk the several blocks back to his own place.
“Ollie! What happened to you?” He had rarely been as happy to hear anything as he was to hear Nick’s familiar, friendly tones conversing with his two rescuers; the man was explaining where they had found him while the woman was getting him settled on the couch and asking if he wanted a cup of tea.
“No ma’am, I think I had best just close my eyes and try to sleep this off.”
“Well, you take care dear, and perhaps you ought not to try anymore of whatever it was you tried tonight, yes?”
A few minutes later they were gone; Ollie heard Nick promising them he would stay the night to watch over him, and thanking them again for their kindness. The door closed, and he sat down in the chair. “Bloody hell, mate, but you gave me a scare! You look awful, like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“That’s exactly what I have done,” croaked Ollie, “hordes of ’em. That’s what this drug does.”
“This stuff opens the organs of metaphysical perception, and allows the user to see spiritual beings. Ghosts, spirits, disembodied ectoplasmic entities, the lot. That much I expected; what I didn’t realize was that I’d be able to see people’s souls, and that most of them wouldn’t be what we think of as human.”
“So, they’re like animals and such?”
“What about me? What do I look like?”
Ollie opened his eyes and looked toward his friend, and immediately started crying; Nick appeared to be a horrible fungoid mass crowned with undulating tentacles, bereft of anything like a face. He instantly shut his eyes again, but was so choked with sobs he couldn’t speak.
Nick let out a whistle. “That bad?” Ollie nodded. “Well, you know it’s still me, yeah?” He nodded again. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I feel sick. Would you help me to the lavatory?” He couldn’t bear to look at Nick again, so he just stared straight ahead while he was helped down the hall; once inside he collapsed to the floor in front of the toilet and chundered for several minutes, praying that at least some of the awful stuff would be purged from his body in the process. Finally the nausea subsided, and he pulled himself up to the basin, running cold water to rinse his mouth and splash his face. He then rose and opened his eyes, and began to shriek as he beheld the head of a gigantic reddish-black beetle staring back at him from the mirror.
(With grateful acknowledgement to the work of H.P. Lovecraft).