Pooh, Tate’s cousin sat in the oversized chair lighting cooking matches and dropping them into the glass of beer. He glared at Tate and I sat on the couch, tried to look small. He kept the roll of notes turning in his hand, flexing his fingers as he fought the nerves, chemical and real that whipped through him.
Dogs barking in another part of the house. A rotten monastery to a god made of chemicals. If we made the deal, then we would be high priests in the church. Tate would be talking it up, but I knew the chemistry.
‘So, it’s not even illegal.’
Pooh pretended to be dumb but he had left school with a masters in business studies, decided that there was money to be made in the game now. He liked to play gangster, and out here, he could. It was supposed to be a good place, but you could do bad things here and get away with it.
Make good things, too.
Tate nodded, the adam’s apple in his throat bobbing in a mechanical loop as he reached slowly into his leather jacket. It had been one of the first things that made me ache for him, that and the shy little smile that he gave me when no one was looking. There was something terrible about the effect he had on me. I understood it, the uptakes and inhibitors, how my entire world would be descended upon by imaginary storms of experience, created by my neurology and chemistry. To know it was one thing, but to experience it was quite another.
I worked with the printer, from blueprints that I drew up myself. I got the inks from the lab, and I wrote everything down then put it up, had a swarm of people from Alaska to Zimbabwe working out the kinks and sharing it until we almost got religious with it. Pia perfected MDMA and sent the blueprints to MAPS. We were helping people.
Out here though, Tate and I needed money. The patreon was doing okay, but we gave as much as we got, most of it on inks when I needed more quantities than I could steal. We told people we were buying a house which was true.
Bisbee was a long way, away. Some nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I would go downstairs, look out the window and whisper it to the night. Tate would come over and we would quietly fuck on the couch then we would talk about the simple life we would have. Keeping chickens, fresh eggs every morning and sitting on our own porch. Practicing to get old while we were young enough to enjoy it. The technology came to us, and we did what poor, bright people did with it.
We were making the best of it.
‘An’ I’m buying, what, a blueprint.’
He spoke through his nose, thought it made him sound like B-Real but he’d been part of the debate club, you know. It was embarrassing but he had started to get a little too into the cartoon. So. I decided to move things along as Tate clearly had not grasped the urgency of this. I loved him, but come on, you know?
‘If you give us money, then we give you the blueprint, and in addition, we give you money to buy the inks that you need-‘
Tate pointed to me and nodded enthusiastically.
‘So then you cut us in for what you make off it.’
Pooh sneered and blinked heavily, whatever he was doing clearly had started to kill off things that you didn’t really want dead.
I should have gone to college. This town though, hell when you’re smart and it’s a wasteland to cross to get to college now. Strange thing was, people were disappearing, taking their 3DPs with them, able to print off whatever they needed. Tools, food, and if you were careful, solar panels. America was going from being a place to a dream again. We really didn’t need one another, anymore.
Pooh clicked his fingers, gestured towards himself and clapped his hands.
‘I have to try it first, yo.’
I took out the bottle, we found a bunch of them when we cleaned out my mom’s private bathroom after she’d gone. We had put out testers, had our protected twitter feed blow up with requests, and not all of them spam. It was God in pill form, and if he started putting it out, he would be rich and, hopefully so would we.
I tossed it to him, he popped the lid off and poured it out. One 8mg pill would introduce him to the experience I had been created.
We sat there, looking around the room and beginning to smile in a lazy, easy way. It didn’t take long. He stared into space, breathing hard as he orgasmed in his underwear, young and perfect, all the systems waking up and turning your body into an aerial for the signal of the universe.
We called it L’Esprit De’scalier.
He asked someone to get him water. That was all, though until he drank it down in a single gulp and passed the glass back, even said thank you.
‘How much do you have?’
I handed over the cash, held in my Hello Kitty backpack and Pooh took it from me, opening it up and starting to count it. Tate grinned at me, with shiny teeth and eyes that darted around the room like the thoughts in his head had started to riot inside the prison of his skull.
‘It’s all there, Pooh.’
I shot a Tate a look of pure ‘shut the fuck up.’ but Pooh sat there, lost to the storm of chemical enlightenment. Pooh nodded and put the backpack down at his feet. No one spoke, and outside, we heard the faint wail of sirens and the pop of gunfire. I wanted to be away from here, so badly that I could taste it. We had done it, no need to stay and shoot the shit anymore. Pooh had taken the Pepsi challenge, and liked the taste.
‘So, we’re good?’ I said.
I spoke slowly, to hide the fear in my voice. Pooh grimaced and put his palm against the temple. Tate asked him if he was okay and he shook his head. When he looked up, there were tears streaming down his face and his lips were pulled back over his teeth, a predator suddenly afflicted with the worst handicap that a street hustler couldn’t abide.
Tate asked him if he was okay. I went to get to my feet but my legs didn’t work, my endocrinology going into panic mode. Pooh made his hand into a fist and punched himself hard in the temple, openly sobbing now. Tate reached for his cousin and tried to comfort him.
Pooh had gone into the third stage, and kept punching himself in the temple, over and over, pushing Tate away with the other hand.
‘I’ve been bad.’ Punch.
‘I’ve been bad.’ Punch.
I said Tate’s name but he ignored me.
Pooh wasn’t one to spend any amount of time alone. He ran the business along the lines of a frathouse and his brothers would be back soon. I knew how they’d react to this, and it wouldn’t be good for either of us.
I stood up, and watched them both. I started to reach for Tate, to pull him away, knowing that Pooh was stuck into this psychoactive loop for another hour or so. Or until he’d punched himself into a coma. Neither of which were options that you wanted to discuss with a concerned group of white trash with guns.
‘Come on, man. We can’t be here.’
He looked over his shoulder and hissed at me.
‘Fuck, girl, he’s my cousin. I can’t just leave him.’
What I loved about chemistry was the logic to it. The study of action and reaction, all available and yet open to mystery. I took a step from myself and appraised the situation with the same care that I typed in code to the printer.
I put my hand on his shoulder but he shoved me away. In his efforts to comfort Pooh, the backpack was kicked in front of my feet. I looked at it, worked out that it was enough to get me out of town.
I picked it up and Tate didn’t even look back at me. Pooh was wailing now, a baby without a nipple to feed on and I heard the thump of amplified bass coming down the street. Three Six Mafia or something, and it disturbed me that I still picked up on things like that.
Outside, the night air was thick and I darted across the overgrown lawn, in the opposite direction as the car, trusting to the broken street lighting to render me indistinct.
When I heard the shouts, I picked up my pace.
When I heard the scream, I started to run.