Mortimer was physically diminutive. Standing only five foot three and weighing in at a scant 130 pounds, it was only the illusion created by his attire and demeanor that caused people to find him imposing. This glamoury of self-confidence was something which he used carefully, projecting different heights through careful use of clothing, accessories and attitude. When travelling in France, for example, he preferred to be seen as short. More specifically he like to be seen as little, petit. He also made it a point of introducing himself to the Amazonian women that were his sexual preference as "Mort." The pun would wedge itself in the subconcious of his quarry and cause them to giggle in the midst of the inevitable post coital glow. "Le Petit Mort" they would dreamily whisper, as Fleishman stared at the ceiling and weighed the encounter against those that had come before.
I was standing in the parlor of Friedrich Klein; a friend, confidant and part-time shaman. He had recently obtained of one of his Sporadic Acquistions. These were items, texts or substances which had a tendency to make their way to him and usually led to strange dealings of one kind or another. In this particular case, the Sporadic Acquistion was a finely crafted mohagany box with fine bronze fixtures and an intricate locking mechanism which required the use of two keys in the shape of ancient Norse talismans.
Contained within the box were three items. A jar of what appeared to be almost fluorescent pink peppercorns, a bottle of liquid so dark in color that it's exact shade could not be determined from my vantage point, and an ornate cut crystal goblet. Placing the items on his bar top, Friedrich proceeded to explain a little of the mythos behind the rig. "This is said to be the archetypal psychotropic beverage. Just about anything you have experienced from absinthe to Amazonian bark extractives fermetned in the belly of a rare tree frog have been attempts to tap in to the properties of this beverage.
"Even the absinthe ritual of the sugar cube and the water are an attempt at capturing the unique alchemy of the peppercorn ceremony. The interaction between the elixer and the compounds found in these mysterious little spheres." This said, he dropped three of the strange little peppercorns into the glass one at a time. Each impact caused a reverberating ring all its own, with the three tones harmonizing in odd ways that made me wonder if it was the crystal goblet or the pearls themselves creating the sound.
He swirled a single ice cube in the glass with the peppercorns until the ice had just melted. Then he added the liquid. The stream of opaque prussian blue liquid poured from the decanter with an odd refraction of the light that caused it to look as if it were flowing up from the glass even as it made it descent. The second it hit the water, it louched a brilliant mother of pearl on it's way to a more conventional milky white. At the same time, the goblet changed color as if it were charring from the inside taking in a grey transparency of smoky quartz.
I sniffed. It smelled of electric flowers, a strange blend of ozone and jasmine with a dozen other notes flashing across my mind. I thought fleetingly of a tire stuffed with magnolias being set ablaze, but no sooner had that image established itself then the scent of lightning-struck orchids washed over me ushering in the scent of a condemned man's carnation boutineer frying with him in the executioner's chair. I brought the dark glass to my lips. It tasted like the moment between the pop of a blown out lightbulb and the subsequent darkness.
A warm vibration swept over me. Take a moment. As you read these words, picture a ham and cheese sandwich sitting on top of a typewriter. Even though you are physically seeing these words and the environment in which you are reading them, you have a second visual image as well. Imagine for a moment that you could not tell which one you were actually seeing and which one was just an image in your head; that you do not know if it is the words on a page or the grilled cheese sandwich that you are seeing with your eyes. This is how I felt as I looked at my host and my host, dressed in the same attire quietly reading in a corner of the room.
"Which of you is real?" I ask.
My host, the one who is looking at me, replies "We both are. Though I am the one who dwells on the plain you are accustomed to. What do you see?"
"I see you, reading a book."
"How dull. Just a world where we have not met, or one where you are not at this moment in their time having this experience."
The entire thing was making my head throb, and the pay-off was not looking as though it would live up to the impending price. "This has jumpstarted evolution?" At this, the other host looked up, startled. "Can he hear me?"
"You are, at best, a ghost there. Since he is me with only minimal deviation, he probably can hear you faintly. We're sensitive to the vagaries of the universe and if he has imbibed from time to time as I have then he may be something of an adept as well."
"I said you were witnessing a rather dull variation. Drink again."
I complied, blinked and nearly passed out. The other universe was one chaos. A world of flame. Creatures clawed and tore at one another, flesh was rended. I was still afflicted by the simultaneous vision phenomenon, and could see that the look on my face pleased my host. "A lot of the odder elements of religion were inspired by drinking from the dark glass," my host clarified.
I took another sip.
Summer Vacation - Tom Waits
As a child of the circus, I decided to run away and join the suburbs. I snuck out of the big top during the Flying DeSades trapeze act, clutching my pack stuffed with cotton candy and corn dogs; my red rubber nose and a tube of greasepaint tucked in my back pocket just in case. I found a minivan with no soccer decals or honor student bumper stickers: an aspiring family in search of a kid. I kneeled down in the shadows. Waiting for the moment to leap.
Sure enough as the show was over I heard the electric chirp as a man in khakis and a cardigan wielded his keychain like a magic wand. He and the wife had kids in tow, a niece and a nephew. Their vicarious brood. I slipped in the sliding door and buried myself behind the third row seat, my knees in my eye sockets like I was back in the tiny hatcback with Starry-eyed Calhoun sitting on my legs.
It seemed like forever until we got there: a two story McMansion built in a little more time than it takes to raise the big tent, and no elephants involved to make things interesting. I was soon discovered, and offered to pay my way doing menial tasks: mowing the lawn, wearing a tie in family portraits and supplying the refrigerator with a steady stream of doodles and etchings.
We lived this way for a while, enjoying our backyard barbecues with pitchers of lemonade that "Mom" made by furiously squeezing lemons over the pitcher until pulp and rind squeezed through her fingers like the wild yellow hair of Nutsy Malone, then adding sugar as freely as Nutsy enhaled his curative powders.
I taught their dog, a goofy half chihuahua half Great Dane mutt, to dance the Lindy; and drew strange looks from neighbors who wondered where I came from and why my shoes were six sizes too big. I would just finger the rubber nose in my pocket and mutter that old habits die hard.
Old Habits Die Hard.