Part One: The Reunion
Two weeks ago I reconnected with someone from my past; a girl I loved once, very much. I hadn’t planned on it – I was simply sat alone one lunchtime by the canal near Admiralsbrücke watching the swans, enjoying the last warmth of the autumn sun, when I was clobbered out of nowhere by a brutal realisation. I owed this girl an apology. A really, really big apology. Maya tore me to ribbons, without a doubt, but her actions were the fallout of the explosion of my own idiocy.
After months of silence I sent a message out of the blue, a message in its fiftieth iteration after days and days of revisions and frustrated deletions. I sent my apology, and I saw her read the message as I stared at my phone screen. She started typing, my heart burst. She typed for a long time, then stopped. Then started again. Then, finally, her message came through:
She told me she had wanted to message me for a long time, but had been convinced that I hated her. I thought she hated me. I thought she had found love in the arms of another. I was simply seeking to retain some tiny sliver of the friendship we once shared, and yet here she was, just as messed up and mournful as me, healing slowly yet never the same since we broke one another. And so, though we shouldn’t have, though every single member of my family and all of my friends would have slapped me for even considering it, in the giddy clamour of raw hope and frantic passion, we agreed to meet.
Part Two: The Twist
I booked a flight, she booked a hotel. Two nights, three days. Wonderful. And then I had a very silly idea: Mushrooms. Magical ones. Ever since that day at the lake in summer, I’ve been astounded by their healing powers. Last time I gobbled them it felt as though someone had feather dusted the inside of my skull and buffed my weary brain back to fresh-of-the-production-line gleaming. If there was ever an occasion for hallucinogen-induced psychological reparations, this was it.
We met in the airport and smiled and got misty eyed and hugged and kissed and breathed each other in, we shivered and laughed and gazed, we sighed and caressed and both us of struggled to think of a single thing to say that suited the magnitude of the situation, but there was nothing, and so we just shut up and held hands and it felt like home.
When we arrived we found that the hotel was old fashioned, cheap and pleasant enough; a grand open lobby with a chandelier, a wide staircase, a bar trimmed with gold and oak and patterned red carpets underfoot. Framed paintings hung askew on the walls, and chipped statues of tigers and historical figures watched us pass by as we drew into reception.
We checked into our room and fell upon each other before the door had closed behind us. After, we lay side by side, clinked beer bottles, and decided it was time for the mushrooms. The sun would be up for another few hours, and that would give us enough time to come up and wander the grounds and reflect. We would watch the sky ignite and witness the stars creep out. Maya had never tried mushrooms before, so I would be her guide through the impending Strangeness. I was glad of that. I like looking after her.
Part Three: The Descent
We ate two squares of the infused chocolate each and sat on the bed watching some awful game show; one of those shows with a lobotomised studio audience and name tags with enormous fonts and fake laughter and a surreal, over saturated colour scheme. Within ten minutes I felt my stomach begin to twist, and Maya said she felt ill. I told her it would pass soon and that we should do something to take our minds off it, but she only wanted to lie still and watch the game show.
I lay with her and stroked her back, and we watched the ranks of identikit contestants answer questions that rolled across a huge LED screen, given voice by an orange-skinned host in a suit and tie with a tattooed-on grin, gleaming teeth. You never quite know when mushrooms are first kicking in; they’re gentler than most substances. There is no rush; you slide quietly into insanity without ever quite realising when you began your descent. As we watched the telly and the show seemed increasingly macabre, I could only shrug and assume we had begun our journey.
Before long we could no longer stomach the television and I switched it off with a grunt of disgust for the vapid people and their money grasping. Maya was rocking back and forth on the bed to relieve her nausea, and trapped in the little room we began to freak each other out. I asked her to stop rocking because it was unnerving me, and she stopped, only to begin five seconds later complaining that she felt as though there was a hair on her tongue. She kept plucking at it, over and over, finding nothing yet persevering anyway. Then she began to rock again, now with her tongue out, like one of those demonic blow-up rocking clowns that you punch. I could only laugh.
Part Four: Mania
The key to functioning and not freaking out during strange, tilted reality moments like this is to breathe and remind yourself that you are safe, and that all of this oddness is only due to the chemicals in your system. It never really bothers me; I’m reasonably grounded, it seems, and can shrug off disturbing foreign schemas easily enough – and when you’re on mushrooms, everything you see is a foreign schema. That’s why you laugh so much; all the mundane facts of life become alien and ridiculous. Shoes, wallets, haircuts, taxis – the concepts become as abstract to you as they are to a dog, or a goldfish.
A lamp by the bedside became our safe point; we would roll around like children, sensory and manic, limp with laughter, and when things became too chaotic we stared at the white lamp and its stoic mise en scène of empty beer bottles and spare change; safe, immobile objects that settled us back to earth.
I sighed with familiarity as my mind began to warp and bulge. The patterns on the wallpaper and the roof were now blossoming and twirling idly, and I lay on my back watching the strange shapes merge and bubble. It’s easy to get lost like this, gawping in awe as the walls pulsate, staring at paintings, watching their brush strokes coalesce like the ephemeral work of ghostly artists. Occasionally our minds would click back to normality for a second, and we would realise the two of us were lying side by side in silence staring at a wall, then the sheer silliness would render us helpless with laughter.
Part Five: The Creator
We began to dress; the sun was dipping low outside and I wanted to watch the sunset. Maya took what felt like 16 hours to put her clothes on; if you hesitate beforehand, such a task seems incredibly complicated. The only way to achieve anything on mushrooms, rather than spending six hours melting in a pool on the floor, is to act before your mind can catch up with you. You still have muscle memory, and so I quickly pulled on my clothes before I could get too muddled by the process. Maya was less successful, reappearing from the bathroom every few minutes in various, baffling states of undress. I had to pull her jeans on for her, but even that was a challenge – when they were around her knees we both collapsed into giggles – encasing her beautiful body in black cloth seemed like such a cruelty. Now you know why hippies are always naked.
While Maya was in the bathroom I clambered up on a chest of draws to peer out of the skylight at the sunset. I cracked it open a little so I could feel the breeze, and watched the clouds unfurl across the sky. Little clumps of green moss on the roof looked like fat hamsters. I breathed in the clean air and watched the trees sway with the gentle autumn wind. I could hear Maya babbling away sweetly in the bathroom, though I could make out nothing of what she was saying to me, and I shared a gentle laugh with the heavens.
I gazed at the sky, aflame with the setting sun, and from above I became aware of a humble sentience regarding me in turn. It watched me ponderously for a long, tranquil moment, benevolent and patient. Then, with the nod of an unravelling cloud, it deemed me worthy of its majesty. The sky opened up its beating heart to me, and with its acceptance of my soul it granted me to bear witness to its splendour, free from the chaos of human thought.
I thought of nothing at all and for a moment the sky was mine, all the lazy golden wisps and the blue beyond, yawning and stretching as a lion that wakes from a nap. I was so grateful to be alive, thankful to the sun, the moon and the stars, and I gasped as tears welled in my eyes. They streamed down my cheeks and I laughed softly, never in my life more thankful for my quiet little existence. I’d never felt so loved, so welcome in the world, so vital, cradled in the gentle smile of the sunset.
Maya left the bathroom and found me sitting on the bed smiling with damp eyes, speechless. I wanted to explain, but any attempt at vocalisation would have dealt the sky an injustice. She smiled and cuddled me.
Part Six: The Lobby
Dressed finally, we crept out of the room. We wanted to venture out, but first we had to navigate the hotel corridors and stairs and lobby, and the idea of interacting with other, proper humans was horrifying. Neither of us could function among civilised society; we held each other close and nobody else existed, we the only two sane people in a world fast unravelling.
The corridor outside was silent. It felt as though we were leaving the room for the first time in months. We were fearful and darting; rabbits leaving their warm burrows after months of winter ice. We avoided the lifts because neither of us could stomach the idea of being trapped in a little metal box with real humans. We’d have detonated into shards of laughter and been sectioned immediately, winched into an ambulance strapped to a couple of parallel gurneys. We took the stairs instead, and descended hand-in-hand into the yawning cavern of the lobby.
In the three hours since we entered our room someone had erected an enormous Christmas tree, despite it being November. There was nobody around. Quiet, cheerful music was playing from a rattling old speaker, drifting idly across the space, echoing off the oaken surfaces to be finally muffled by the glaring red carpets. The young girl on reception glanced up at us for a moment, then went back to her typing. So still, so quiet, so sensible, so fucking absurd. I bit the inside of my cheeks to avoid laughing and we hurried across the vast chamber.
Part Seven: Riverrun
We burst out into the open air with a gasp of relief; we could be weird again. We wandered as clouds across the car park heading for a walking trail. With the mushrooms distorting our reality we began to feel as though we were in a low budget horror, a forgotten episode of Midsummer Murders. A scraping sound made us spin around. The groundskeeper of the hotel was hobbling along after us dragging an old umbrella along the concrete. He had a knackered radio slung around his neck playing a crackly, distorted Queen song. We slowed to let him pass so we didn’t feel compelled to flee before him for the next half hour. We watched him limp away into the night.
We climbed over a small grass verge and spent an hour ambling at a snail’s pace alongside a little river, our minds finally able to breathe now that were outside. I found a tree whose autumnal leaves matched the exact shade of Maya’s hair, and we stood under it a while, feeling safe. We both felt sober by the time we arrived back at the hotel, and decided to unwind with a pint in the bar. We were tired and happy to have made it to the end of our trip. Sane once more.
Only, not at all.
Part Eight: The Overlook Hotel
Maya sat down on the furthest table we could find from any other humans, and I crossed the empty bar. It was silent, ghostly. I looked at the barman and asked for half a cider and a Guinness and handed him the money, and the formality of the situation – human beings wearing suits and pouring drinks and exchanging currency – blasted my grey matter through the roof of my cranium. It was at this point that I surmised that I was still outrageously twisted, and in the mirrored bar I saw my pupils were enormous. It took all my mental capacity not to scream with laughter as he handed me the drinks. I teetered back over to Maya, who quietly confirmed to me that she, too, was absolutely loopy.
The hotel took on a new, uncanny quality in the darkness; rain pattered the windows, the carpets warped underfoot. The lone bartender scrubbed glasses to the sorrowful croon of a crackling jazz singer. Flickering lightbulbs twisted the ranks of haunting watercolours housed in tattered golden frames. In the bathrooms, mournful music mingled with the hiss of the pipes, and my warped reflection squinted at me with suspicious hostility. And yet, I was loving every second. Rarely is life so immediately cinematic.
Part Nine: Tears
We sat and chatted and laughed far too loud, and we lurched into the next stage of the mushrooms. We had passed through mania and absurdity, we had basked with awe in nature’s wake, and finally our egos began to dissolve. There is no lying to oneself on mushrooms. Human egos are comprised of ten thousand lies we tell ourselves, some light, some monstrous, and the magic of these little fungi is that they cut through every single one. It hurts, it’s raw, but it’s pure. Wash away the festering lies that bolster your ego, suffer the truth, reconnect with the core of yourself, and strive to become a better person.
We discussed our relationship and our flaws, and my fragile self image collapsed. I wept with shame and guilt for every wrong I ever wrought upon Maya, who had ascended by now in my mind to angelic perfection and purity. I was a stain, I was loathsome, I was unworthy – nobody was worthy of her, ever. Maya wept too, her fingers laced with my own, a year’s worth of bottled pain spilling forth.
We calmed ourselves but from there on the tears fell freely – at a smile, at a kiss, at a memory, at nothing at all. Maya’s cheeks were streaked with black, my eyes were red and puffy, but we were happy and smiling, cleansed and fresh. Our drinks went untouched. After some time, while I was waxing lyrical about some nonsense as usual, still inexplicably crying, a faint smell of burning reached our nostrils; plastic and chemical. We began to panic, wondering if the hotel had caught fire. The same waiter that had served me at the bar walked by our table, and I leant over to ask if something was burning.
Now, from our viewpoint this seemed perfectly reasonable. We were simply enquiring what the worrisome smell was. From the waiter’s view however? Imagine you’re working a bar shift in the old hotel; it’s late, everyone else has gone home. You’re tired, walking to the kitchen, when a guest leans out of his chair and grabs you. Turning, you see a pale faced boy and girl sitting hand in hand. They are smiling up at you, perfectly polite, yet you notice their shoes are muddy, their clothes are bedraggled, and their faces are makeup-spattered and soaked in gleaming tears. “Hello there, sir,” says the ghoulish blonde man in a cheery tone, clutching your arm as water streams freely from his eyes and drips into his lap, “we just wanted to trouble you to know whether or not the hotel is ablaze?”
Part Ten: The Future
Half an hour later we adjourned to our room, as we finally realised that sitting and weeping merrily for two hours in a public place was just as likely to lead to a sectioning as wild cackling laughter. We grinned at one another under the guilty realisation that we had become the ghosts haunting the grand Overlook Hotel.
I closed the door behind us, shut out the world, and boiled the kettle. Once again, in our strange little room she became my whole universe. We cuddled up, two bodies without egos, two lovers without pretension, two nothings, a pair of zeros entwined to form an infinity. We sighed with exhaustion as sanity faded back into the forefront of our newly-shared consciousness. It’s hard work being insane, and after five hours reality was welcomed back. We drank our teas and watched a film until we fell asleep in each other’s arms, moonbeams streaming in, dreams of past summers unspooling gently into the night.