(Download the audio version of this story here, or click the play button below. Read by Vincent LaRosa. Story illustrations by Peter Szmer.)
How much again?
Listen friend, ah’m gonna hep ya. The obsidian capra aegagrus, well it’s the expensive shit- $500 a gram. Outrageous I know I know. But I’m a reasonable man, I want to see this through. For you, bein’ as you’re my new customah an’ all, $300. His difficult to place but vaguely Southern drawl gave his voice a warmth that his words turned to ice.
It was early afternoon- how much heroin had I mainlined already? Two grams? I could stand a lot more. I’d anticipated and funded this drug acquisition over a period of months by selling several boxes of my beloved vinyl collection topped off by a handful of drug deals where I illicitly chalked up the product to inflate the price. But $300 for a gram of heroin was unheard of even if it was the legendary La Chiva. I only had $260 to my name but my resistance to traditional heroin made everything else boring, I had to up the ante. I could no longer even come close to the waves of euphoria a few mgs of smack had swelled under my skin back in the day. I’d been looking for this obsidian’ musk for months, never accepting that the legendary heroin the most erudite junkies and most subversive poets spoke of with reverence was an urban legend.
You ready to touch the yella’ hem of the KING’s robe? His features were odd, long oval face, flat nosed like a boxer who had lost too many bouts, high cheekbones that seemed to collapse his beady eyes deeper into his taut skin, an unruly wisp of a goatee the same pale straw color as his thin-haired scalp.
Ya know, Chase the Ochre Dragon? Crank up?
I was so nervous about the mysterious heroin I was about to buy and insert into my veins I could only respond with a stuttering reference to the strange swirling symbols and the number 238 tattooed on the back of the thoroughbred’s hands. He idly played with a gaudy pinky ring ascribed with the skull of a goat.
Like the ring? I get ya one ok? Ya be one a the Thousand too. Heh hah. But first ya gotta buy then ya slam then we talk.
Of course I handed over the $260. The dealer frowned, considered the missing money, shrugged, pushed the wad of bills into his pocket and removed a bindle in its place. A’right, good enough fah now. You pay the rest back latuh, ‘k? He dangled the small intricately folded envelope between a thumb and forefinger so long they appeared to have too many knuckles. I nodded, he tossed me the heroin.
I cooked the shit up with the dealer sitting right there the whole time watching me with that bovid-shaped face of his. I filled the syringe, dark brown liquor strained through the cotton ball, found an intact vein, spiked it, slipped the tip deeper, pulled the plunger back and welcomed the pink swirl of my blood floating freely inside- this was my cue to push the syringe down slowly and gently like an artist methodically stippling the shading in a drawing.
When I joy-popped that ‘capra aegagrus for the first time it gave me the familiar sensation of a soothing heat throughout my entire body, a visceral sleeping-in-front-of-the-campfire nodding off warmth. But there was also the novel introduction of an unidentifiable odor so vivid I was certain it was emanating from something sitting in front of me, scrutinizing me as my head bobbed, my mind nodding off into a euphoric dream sleep where everything was perfect. This heroin was different. Special. I was suffused with the good sick, far better than the usual tar, no comparison, a starless night compared to one animated with swirling novas and a kaleidoscopic panorama of galaxies forming and dissipating against a deep sky. When my neuropomp escorted me to the chemical side I heard the twittering of a woodwind spinning in the air accompanied by a voice that stirred atavistic memories of spectral landscapes. …
…the din of a church bell’s tremor in my sternum. My hands a complexity of whorls and skin, blood spiked under my palms. I am made of LIGHT.
I woke up groggy, clutching a bizarre white flower unlike any specimen I’d ever seen. It was slick with my forearms’ blood. The texture of the petals was unusual, I ran my thumb across the flower and realized it was actually an origami paper flower. I pushed the petals aside and saw a phone number with the name KHEIRON printed there. I opened the origami flower, flattened it out then folded it into square so the business card would fit into my wallet. Judging by how dark it was Kheiron had probably left hours before. I was grateful he had thought to lock the door behind him.
But that heroin! There was sheer joy and unadulterated bliss to be had by lifting this humdrum veil, a veil that reminded me of my daily degeneration into a worthless creature, addict or not, simply subjecting myself to the repetitive motions of tiresome existence. All it took was a small taste of obsidian capra aegagrus to open that curtain and allow myself to be dragged through the Star Filled Woods by the Black Goat, whisked away into a tantalizingly ceaseless cosmos. I’d found transcendence.
The next day at work all I could think about was getting home and shooting up. I filed my reports, made idle chit-chat with co-workers who seemed overly concerned with how haggard I appeared, talked about last night’s tv shows while all the while I only cared about filling my veins with that amniotic-fluid comfort again. On the way home on the subway I could have sworn I saw Kheiron in the car ahead of me but when he turned to exit the car I noticed that this commuter had long dark hair. The stranger stood on the platform staring at my train as it started to move. I couldn’t be sure since the lights in the station were flickering but as the man moved his head to look towards the stairs leading to the street I thought his features suggested the same flat nose and goatish eyes as Kheiron.
I walked the 6 blocks to my dingy apartment and didn’t even bother changing into casual clothes before I mainlined the remaining ‘capra aegagrus. Heroin took the weight of the world off my shoulders, plunged me into a pristine pool of tranquility, a kind of cocoon-like apathetic contentedness. But this drug did more, it relieved me of any vestige of pain, let loose the anxiety of dwelling on how irrelevant I was in this World, an insignificant speck of dull color on the canvas of the universe. This angst over how nothing ever mattered and never would dissipated in my bloodstream, replaced with a chemical lassitude, the comfort of not one care in the cosmos much less this sick planet.
A psychic string connecting my bloodstream and brain tense-snapped. I let the heroin taste settle all honey-thick with my blood getting heavier than my bones which were filled with air bubbles and I was feeling calm and composed. Music. A choir of leaves rustling, bass driven clopclop of hooves, the usual heroin tranquility where everything is pristine, floating on a gently undulating tranquility seeping into everywhere, supporting me limply as the ichor-light from drab crumbling stars further lull me into drugged perfection.
When that semen-thick tar filled my blood-
…I dreamt of the Black Essence for the first time.
Whisked away to another world, a lush forest, hyacinth shrubs sprouting from the fertile loam of my drugged imagination. I walked through fields of lilies and tulips brightening the landscape, moved amongst sleeping poppies swaying in the caress of the Hypnos-moon’s illumination. Heroin wasn’t a psychoactive, I had no idea what was in the obsidian‘ that was making me hallucinate but I felt physically present as I passed through tangled herbage, the scent of purple verbena intoxicatingly strong. Nothing sentient stirred here, only the torpid drift of lotus blossoms and the low thrum of mushroom gills vibrating under the moonbeam’s light touch. I was in Morpheus’ garden- but if he had once been attending this place he had left long ago to let it flourish on its own.
Once again I heard the music of that woodwind and voice. I sought the source of the fioritura with dogged determination. As I parted the thick overgrowth of a maidenhair plant I found myself standing before a dilapidated wall whose cracked foundation littered the ground like monstrous children’s toy blocks. The curious music came from beyond this barrier. I explored the wall’s span searching for an opening. Finding the shadowy maw of a collapsed portion I entered the darkness and stepped down into a sunken garden.
A thin stream of water trickled between a pair of malachite boulders and fed into a scented pool. I walked past a marble naiad thigh deep in the water and three dryads carved from chrysoprase dancing beneath the branches of a crape myrtle tree. But I was horrified to see the face of the satyr leering with argillite eyes from his cloak of vines, lifelike yet perpetually frozen in the posture its creator had sculpted it. My heroin calm was agitated, jangled by the sight of the satyr’s presence. So intent was I on that foreboding statue I was startled to realize the garden was cloaked in abject silence. Then I saw what had been making the music.
I have no words to adequately describe my initial encounter save that the undefinable Black Essence stepped from the encompassing shadows of the boulders. My imagination is far too mundane to elucidate the Presence sufficiently; my memory only retains the suggestion of an ominous cloud, a fog bank hiding something malevolent. The Essence hinted at an androgynous beauty, not merely the absence of gender but a figure pulsing with sexuality, the ousia of addiction. Tendrils of mist wavered above it like radiant beams from Helios’ halo. Its eyes were sorrel in the light but became darker when its black-as-the-ocean-floor ram’s horns cast a shadow across what may have been Its face. It held a stone flute, the pilfered property of the satyr, and gestured with the wind instrument towards a small plot of earth. A single strange flower grew there, not quite a hyacinth nor an iris, something whose petals were clasped in an odd manner suggesting the bud’s interior was distorted. The alien flower was the sole red object I’d encountered in the narcotic dream. The Essence smiled revealing small alabaster teeth. When I noticed the shape and color of Its lips I awoke disturbed.
I was obsessed with the Essence. During the following week I attempted to dream of the garden again but failed; the Entity shyly avoided my persistent enquiries into dream no matter how much heroin or how potent the hallucinogens I imbibed. I didn’t want to waste my remaining obsidian capra aegagrus so I relied on less expensive substances usually pilfered off of friends. I spent more time at clubs and drug dens to meet up with old acquaintances I hadn’t seen in years- they seemed vaguely familiar but had aged into the oddly shaped faces of strangers. I became quite the social butterfly attending as many parties as I could accommodate to make potential connections with any dealers who were selling ‘capra aegagrus. But I had no luck. I was obsessed with reconciliation with the Essence but days of drugged explorations and nights of dreamless sleep passed with no success. I jealously guarded the remaining milligrams of ‘obsidian I had left.
But I could only hold out for so long; my willpower was limited. In desperation I finally broke down and mainlined the remaining drug and drifted on that flow of a perpetual cosmic flood, everything poetic perfection, washed up onto the edge of the garden. My dream still prospered with vegetation though now of a terrible sort: disease, pestilence, a nightmare of bloated insects feasted on the substance of my narco-dream. Dying leaves furred with mold polluted the once rich soil, the very earth was saturated with weird fungi and weedy stalks twitching in the phantasmal half-light.
The beauteous song which formerly moved me was now a shriek that haunted as I searched for the Essence. My passage through the garden was hindered by the protrusion of gluttonous roots feeding on foul subterranean nutrients. I parted the maidenhair growth and it dissolved into sticky decay at my touch. When I reached the wall I found it once again towered before me; masonry stacked with uncanny precision, the rubble having mysteriously rebuilt itself. Wandering around the armor of the inner garden I found the structure impenetrable. Incited by frustration I scaled the wall with fanatical strength and allowed myself to fall into the darkness below.
The dim moonlight revealed a much changed sunken garden. Naiads and dryads no longer pranced in stasis but writhed in frozen agony, the satyr choked under a knot of puffy vines. The waters ran oily and foul, filling the air with a fetid stench, unsavory nourishment for the ivy encumbered trees drooping sullenly under the weight of their parasitic cargo.
That embodiment of lust, the Black Essence itself exited the shadows. It pointed the stone flute at the weird flower- the color had deepened to a deep incarnadine hue, the bud slightly parting its petals in prelude to bloom. Strangely, this flower’s birth terrified me. The vines twining about the satyr quivered, the statue’s head moved with a dreamy slowness until its gaze was locked onto mine. I awoke just in time to make it to the kitchen where I vomited into the sink until a trickle of water was all that my stomach could expel.
I was now completely broke, I’d sold all my possessions to maintain another month’s worth of rent. Two, three weeks had passed before I realized I had forgotten to show up for work. I assumed I had been fired though I never heard from any of my former employers. Nothing mattered anymore. I dragged myself to the bathroom and looked in the mirror like an actor in a movie playing an addict. My lower lip was torn, a blackened eye’s purple stain overflowing onto my upper cheek, a thread of broken capillaries mapping out the last few weeks’ worth of trauma. I didn’t remember if I’d been beaten up or fallen down. I didn’t care about anything except experiencing the ride again.
The holes in my forearm skin stung from the application of wadded toilet paper sopping wet with rubbing alcohol. In my bedroom I slumped on the floor at the foot of the bed. I was inert sinew, arms a ruin of collapsed vein runnels and abscessed tissue. The rest of the world was also inert meat but they had never run through the darkest part of the woods on the path that my consciousness had travelled. I was painfully thin and still in that limbo of sludge-sleep and awareness, the drug still muddying up my brain. My used syringes protruded from a glass filled with a pink tinged liquid like an artist’s paint brushes soaking in soapy water. I could still hear the delicate, almost fussy cloven-hoofed steps on the wood floors and some atavistic clump in my R-complex reeled and plucked the string, brushed cotton candy tipped fingers against the sky, stars as viscous as artery blood dribbled light and AWE cavorted in my head like ancient things dancing in deep grottoes.
I had to go back. Mainstream drugs were long ineffective; I had grown completely immune to the banality of this world’s opioids. Only the obsidian capra aegagrus could transport me but I was completely dry. No matter, the Essence was all I craved, all I could think about. He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
It was just past 1 a.m. I visited the usual copping zones but nobody had any tips on how to get my hands on some obsidian‘. Nobody at Bona Deas had any crank or shub-tar much less the mystery heroin- neither did any of the other clubs in the area. As a last resort I set out for the outskirts of town, crawled through holes in wire mesh fences, wandered down alleys where kicked syringes rattled, skulked across the empty lots of industrial areas. With so few people around the night seemed abandoned, a vacuous empty space. I walked to the edge of the city through a construction site that had ceased work months ago and the few houses that had been partially built had been vandalized, their broken windows and doors grafittied with swirling patterns and horned goats.
The forest was all I had left. I knew that in the woods there were vagrants camped out in ripped tents and torn plastic tarps, a community of junkies and dealers living off each other symbiotically. My viscera squirmed with withdrawal symptoms like insects burrowing under bark. I was all but a walking corpse. The forest was my last hope.
I trudged along a gravel path past piles of clothes and fast food wrappers where transients had camped out. Another 10 minutes of walking and the path dissolved into the forest floor. Just ahead, contrasted against the night sky, I saw what looked like human figures dangling from the trees, ghostly shapes whose limbs fluttered weightlessly as a slight wind stirred the branches.
As I approached the area I saw that the trees were decorated with plastic clothes hangers hooked on the lower branches, some with long sleeved shirts and pants still drying in the dry night air. I came upon the encampment just 30 feet or so deeper. The tent city was small but gave the impression of a massive forest animal trying to blend into its surroundings. I looked into several shelters but there was nobody around. I was aching for a hit, sweating, withdrawal nausea curdling in my stomach. I lifted the flaps of a few more tents and kicked some soiled mattresses in frustration before I decided to call it quits. I made it as far as the beginning of the gravel path when a powerful stench assailed me. I reeled at the sensation and spun around at the sound of branches snapping.
The Black Essence stood before me. It was majestic, the unfettered expression of wanton lust and desire/addiction. My sludge-sleep had dreamt itself into reality, the Essence, the very Being that made my addiction a poetic expression and each chemical manipulation a symphony of color and mood was here! My trackmarks burned, spread wider, thin rivulets of blood began to seep from the holes as if in preparation of foreplay. The Black Goat leaned towards me out of a gray cloud shuddering with tentacles of mist, a thing with eyes of azure embers, cochlea shaped horns curling high into the night air. It snorted the stench of opium into my face and open mouth, its rows of bloated teats glistening in the starlight. It moved fast.
Its impact was tremendous, a monstrous weight like a planet’s gravity pressing me against the earth. I was dragged across the forest floor towards the tents. I heard ribs break. The Goat tore into me, raped and clawed its lust in profound gashes across my skin, threw gobbets of bloody muscle across the forest as it neared orgasm. I was drenched in my blood and our shared perspiration. I was sweating semen.
The Black Goat withdrew and ejaculated a stream of tobacco-spit black heroin onto the dirt. The forest stank of festering wounds and a vinegar burn in the back of the mouth after shooting up. I was in a world of sour sweat and stained mattresses, floating calmly into Oblivion. The Goat embraced me, smothered me in its bosom. I tasted colostrum, entered my decaying dream. My mind sluiced through the foul arteries of a dying universe, the stink of moldering stars floating in the blackness. I swam down a tranquil passage through gray waters that coursed into the dream garden where rot gnawed the corpses of flowers and trees dark with loathsome hues. I trod upon strange pods that burst and spewed mephitic gas, vomited exhalations of air from an emptied stomach. More disturbing than the previous song of dissonance was the absolute silence of that wicked flute. Arriving at the wall I was shocked to discover the stone blocks scattered in greater disarray than when I first confronted the monolithic structure. I scrambled over the chaos of stonework into the inner arbor where I prayed the Essence still waited for me.
But the sculpted figures had crumbled into powder, the remains of a stone arm here, a stone chunk of face there. The once pleasant waters no longer flowed, stilled by the shifting of the boulders due to an odd spasm of the earth. Trees had decomposed into compost. I waited for the Black Essence to acknowledge its presence but the darkness hid only silence. Its absence was but the first of assaults on my psyche for when I turned my gaze to that mound of soil and its inexplicably horrific flower I saw it was fully bloomed, a blood red spill on the shadowy garden. The stone flute lay half buried by the contaminated dirt. Overcome with fear and despair I was disgorged from reverie back into the forest where I collapsed onto a piss soaked mattress, rolled into a fetal position, my blood gushing, soaking into the fabric.
My sweet, sweet boy. I have so much more to experience from you. The Black Goat’s voice was the sound of tree trunks snapping in a windstorm. As It towered over me I saw It was lactating a dark brown liquid. The Goat snorted, dipped Its horned scalp towards me and loped back into the Woods with graceful strength. I watched Its progress until I could no longer hear It crashing through the foliage. My body was shaking uncontrollably from withdrawal pain and blood loss.
First time is always the killuh. Worse ‘en the cotton fever. Kheiron unzipped a tent’s entrance and stepped out.
Yeah? You been there the whole time?
Ah’m always near mah junkie friend.
Then you got somethin’ to help me with the pain?
Kheiron smiled a big toothed smile, his thick gray tongue moistened his thin lower lip. He grabbed my wrist forcefully, I didn’t have much strength left and his grip was inhuman. He turned my hand palm up and pried my fingers open as easily as if he were unfolding a piece of origami art. He dropped a handful of what felt like small smooth pebbles onto my palm and forced my fingers closed around them. These’ll save ya. Stop the blood, stop the pain, stop everything.
What about the Essence?
The Black Goat of the Woods? She be out there a’right. I call her “She” though she ain’t what you’d call sex specific the way we understand it. “Black Essence“? Heh hah. She is and all that. No need to worry ‘bout Her so long ya does what She Wills. He patted me on the shoulder and turned to leave.
My ring. I want it.
Kheiron froze. Looked me up and down with a sly smile, his eyes flashing emerald in the starlight. Well then welcome aboard m’friend. He reached into a breast pocket and tossed a goat-skull ring to me. I caught it and put it on.
The Black Goat welcomes ya. When ya Desire more ya know how to find one uh the Thousand of Us. We’ll talk about the tattoos next time. He pointed at the 238 and ornate symbols on the back of his left hand then gave a wave with the other. He disappeared along the gravel path back into the city.
If I were a poet I’d say that heroin mocks me with its resplendency; beauty’s true nature exposed from every blossoming injection like a dissected fruit exposing the worm within. If I were more eloquent I’d say that I now recognize the true identity of obsidian capra aegagrus– it engages in incestuous revelry with Hypnos and Nyx and beneath its allure hides dear old familiar Thanatos. Heh ha!
But I’m no poet and I sure as hell have no regrets. I had no choice but to return to the garden, to taste the Black Essence and float on its warm currents. I want nothing more than to shirk off this diseased skin and abandon everything that anchors me here. The Goat and Kheiron and the obsidian capra aegagrus will fulfill my wish, allow me one last chance to unspool my mind from this cesspool of existence. I no longer care about much of anything; I willingly relinquish my ownership of this skin, muscle blood and bone. Everything I was and am belongs to the Black Goat now. It has free reign to mold my flesh into whatever It Desires.
I will escape this finite existence into infinite dream. I rattle the objects in the palm of my closed fist, pop one into my mouth and dry swallow Kheiron’s pill without even looking at it. The drug takes effect immediately: my blood flow clots, bones knit together, skin seals shut. I wear a pallid mask as I coast into drugged dreams. I study the mound of pills on my palm. Each tablet is delicately stamped with the image of my strange dream flower and hand painted with the blood red letters ai ai.
The nickel-sized needle wounds on my arms gape, open and close their mouths in unison. Hungry for ceaseless currents.
Christopher Slatsky’s stories have appeared in Death Head Grin, Eschatology, and the anthology Arcane. He writes out of some futile desire to someday capture just a hint of the wonder that authors like Blackwood, Poe, McCarthy, Ducornet, Klein, Peake, Schulz, Nabokov and Campbell have offered him. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and California, escaped to the U.K., then recently returned to Southern California. Christopher, his wife, and their two sons are currently located in the Los Angeles area… that is until something summons them elsewhere again.
If you enjoyed this story, let Christopher know by commenting below — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.
Story illustrations by Peter Szmer.
Absolutely love this story-reading it and listening to it-amazing energy,description and emotion-worth several rereads and listens!
Good job, Christopher, really enjoyed this story.
Excellent story with some great imagery.
Mr. Jones’ “Taking the Cure” is in the march issue of The Lovecraft eZine and it is brilliant. The Garden of Doubt on the Island of Shadows is wonderful as well. I look forward to catching up on your other works as well.
Thank you so much for the compliments Dennis! A comparison to K. E. Wagner not only made my day it also made my year. Maybe even my decade.
Eerily reminiscent of a conversation in a smokey bar with Karl Edward Wagner. You KNOW it’s sick, and you KNOW it’s wrong. But it is so GOOD.
Thanks for the kind words! And a big thanks to Peter Szmer for the amazing art and Mr. Davis for the eZine as well.
Excellent story, suspenseful yet fast paced with luxurious almost decadent use of language. What starts out as a maniacal self-destruct driven inner monologue of a mere junk lusting user, quickly builds to a dangerous crescendo of hedonistic nihilism transporting you to another plane of existence where the dragon (or should that be goat) chases you.
Ok, I really liked this story, after reading it. I listened to the audio version first, and was left with nothing. I fell in love with the eloquent prose, but felt the audio did not do it justice. After reading it, I could actually feel the story move along. This is an excellently written drug induced erotic fantasy! A little darker than expected for the eZine, but well received. Good job Christopher. I especially enjoyed the title, which is pretty much, black goat.