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Getting High: A Cautionary Tale

31 January 200903:09PMfiction

Garbage blows across the street. A dog howls, far off, and a cloud of insects buzzes around an overturned bin. Clouds roil overhead as a teen stalks edgily down a dingy alleyway. He looks like he's meant to be meeting someone, his eyes darting from side to side. This is not his place, he feels uncomfortable. An older youth approaches him.

"You looking for mods?" he says.

"Yeah." the kid says. "They say they're the ultimate high. You know where I can get 'em?"

"Follow me." Says the other guy. He chuckles, and mutters to himself, "Ultimate high… yeah, that'd be right." and starts off down the alleyway. The kid hesitates. The older guy turns around. "Hey, you want these GMs or not? Move it!"

The kid jogs to catch up and they both disappear into a dingy looking shop.

15 minutes later, the kid comes out. He's carrying a syringe and a packet of pills. The older guy shoves him roughly out the door and calls after him, "Don't forget to take the suppressants, or your immune system will go haywire. Probably kill you. That'd be a pity now, wouldn't it?"

The kid nods and sets off down the street. The older guy turns to go back inside, but turns before he does. He takes a last look at the kid through glinting red insectoid eyes, and smirks.

The kid paces around the neighbourhood for a while, kicking an empty Styrofoam cup down the darkening streets. The pills and needle sit in his pocket. He wanders into a McDonalds, buys a bottle of water. He wanders out again, and heads for a nearby park. The park is a small patch of brown dryness, parched after another summer with no water. Even genetech grasses need at least a little moisture. The kid sits down on a rusty park bench and cracks his water. He looks around, then scoffs all four of the immunosuppressant pills. Those were the expensive part. It was rumoured they mugged transplant recipients to get them. He checks his watch, counts to 60. Then, with a quivering hand, he jabs the needle deep into his arm and pushes hard on the plunger knob. He has no idea what to expect. After all, they were supposedly the ultimate high. That was what he'd asked for, and that was what he expected to get, especially for this price. He'd had to steal his mum's engagement ring. She'd never notice. His parents had divorced years ago, shunting him around like they didn't care.

Suddenly his body is shaking. His flesh ripples, and he can't tell whether it's actually happening or if it's the drugs. His blood turns to fire in his veins, his joints to shards of glass. He lets out a piercing scream and keels over, welcoming the empty, numbing blackness.

He wakes up surrounded by tubes and monitors, in a room with soothing white glowing walls. He squirms a bit, something is digging into his back. He realises he's at a hospital and that something has gone seriously wrong. A door to his left hisses open and a small parade of people walk in: a couple of people in white coats, who he guesses are doctors; another one in a black suit who looks like a legal type; and two people in civilian clothes. His parents. They break down when they see him, and he wonders why. The doctors whisper amongst themselves for a bit, then one steps forward.

"Well, you've gone and messed yourself up real bad, son."

The kid isn't surprised at this, he's been doing drugs for years, on and off. God knows what was wrong with his system, but he couldn't care less.

"That wasn't any ordinary amphetamine job you pumped yourself full of. That was something much, much nastier."

The kid knew this too. After all, his previous experiments had never landed him in a medicenter.

"Son, I don't really know how to say this. What you've done to yourself is… inhuman."

"Whatever. Here comes the drug speech. I don't care, I'm just gonna go straight back out and do it again."

"No, it's inhuman. You're inhuman. You are no longer a member of the human race."

"How do you mean? Stop talking crap."

"You injected yourself with a potent cocktail of digestive acids, restriction enzymes, and packaged genetech retroviruses. That… stuff… you stuck in your arm has blasted holes in your cells, shredded your DNA into tiny bits and rebuilt it from scratch. With extra bits." His next words chill the kid to the bone. "You. Are. No. Longer. Human. At all."

"Shit."

"You should probably see this." The doctor reaches under the bed and tips a switch. The bed lifts up, and the kid realises he's strapped in. As the bed sheets fall away he sees why his parents and the doctors are so distressed. The legal guy lets out a whimper and vomits all over the floor. Covering his back is a shiny black carapace, and a pair of cellophane-looking insectoid wings. Wings. Flight. This is what the dealer had meant. The ultimate high...


-- This nasty piece of work was conceived one muggy night while listening to the buzz of insects and revising a biology lesson. I'm quite proud of it actually. The science-y bit was fun to write, I had to trim down my explanation from a few paragraphs to the 3 lines or so it is here. The science of this I found intriguing, and having just read Snow Crash, which is written entirely in the present tense, I decided to give it a go for this one and I think it works quite well. I submitted this as a piece for a writing workshop expecting it to get torn to pieces for being SF, and what do you know, the author doing the workshop turns out to be an SF author and liked it. Go figure. Pity I can't remember her name...

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