August and I are silent for a moment as we let the weight of the words sink into us. I look over my friend’s shoulder to see who is talking to us, expecting to find some waifish, ambiguously gendered stranger with dilated pupils and kandi and glow sticks. Instead, I find myself staring into the eyes of an archetypal punk. She has tan skin, a shaved head with tattoos on her scalp, and metal piercings distributed so randomly on her face that they must have been arranged in some kind of pattern I couldn’t even begin to guess at. I try to guess at her ethnicity and can’t. My eyes run over her outfit and there were no identifying marks of any kind, not even the logo of a favorite band. There is something timeless and placeless about her. Something unsettling. I frown and shake my head, as if the music and the liquor are things I could simply shake off.
August turns to her and doesn’t even seem to notice her odd appearance. “How much?”
Her eyes dart between the two of us. “You guys ever try it before?”
August shakes his head no. The woman smiles. Her teeth have been filed into points and the tip of her tongue appears from between them for just a moment. I can’t tell, but in the dim lighting, it looks like her tongue has been split up the middle, like a snake’s.
“Then it’s my pleasure to give you guys your first taste. Come with me.”
She hops out of her seat and waves for us, then begins making her way to the other side of the warehouse, weaving effortlessly through the crowd. August is right on her heels, and after a moment’s hesitation, I follow them. We wind up in the most isolated corner we can find. The woman reaches into a jacket pocket and pulls out a bindle for each of us. “Here you go guys. On the house.”
We take them. I turn it over in my hands, slip it into my pocket. “Hey, thanks.”
August just stares at his for a moment then looks at her. “You a dealer?”
She just smiles. “I’m a prophet. The gods speak to us through the Ceph. Well, some of us. There are those who are chosen and those who are unworthy. The chosen are invited to be more like the gods; the unworthy are forgotten. Maybe you’ll be lucky, maybe you won’t. But there’s only one way to find out.” She reaches out and puts her hand on my shoulder, still smiling that serpent’s smile. The tips of her fingers dig into me like knives, but there is no malice in her expression, no sign that she’s actually trying to hurt me. “Open it up, put it on your tongue, and embrace the deep.”
She walks away from us with no further explanation. As she leaves, some random kid comes up to her. There’s breathless excitement in his voice. “Hey, sorry to bug you, but I heard you tell those guys you have Ceph. Do you—”
Without stopping for even a moment, she turns to the boy and hissed at him, her tongue flicking out from between her lips, and then she moves on. The kid just stands there paralyzed for a moment before looking around like he’s embarrassed and disappearing back into the crowd.
“Well, this is what we came for, right?” August says out loud. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
I’m silent for a moment, but only for a moment. Give everything a fair shake, after all. “See you on the other side, man.”
We unwrap the bindles and dump the powder inside onto our tongues. We stand there, silent, waiting. “Shit,” August says. “Is this going to take half an hour to kick in? I didn’t even think about that. How will we–”
He stops mid-sentence, and I’m guessing it’s because I’ve turned into a ball of light the same way he has. There’s a glowing outline in Robert’s shape standing where he used to be, but the world around him is completely unchanged. It’s like I can see the essence of his being. Like facade of the world as we know it has been peeled back and the energy underneath everything, the truth of it, is visible for the first time. I look down at my hands, and the flesh is gone, the bones, the veins, arteries glowing with crystal light effervescence incandescence and I want to cheer iya iya!
“Dude,” August says. “I can see your soul.”
I snap my head up, his voice reaching even to the heights of my elevated consciousness. “Yeah. I can see yours, too.”
I look out over the crowd. About half of the people have been replaced by beings of light, and maybe half of those are glowing as brightly as August seems to be. Are those the chosen? Is there such a thing as “chosen” or is this just a drug and they’ve gotten good shit strong shit?
Or is this just a drug and I’m hallucinating and only barely aware of it? Am I on a journey with no paths, a road that leads to the highest heights to the lowest depths to someplace beyond the stars beyond dreams beyond and beyond and through the gates of the silver
“Dude. Dude. The music.”
But it’s not music. Not anymore. What I’d thought was nothing but headache and nausea inducing dissonance is actually a new language a new math a new vision. It’s a sound you can see. A rhythm you can taste. I feel it in my bones, but not just the bass. I feel it like a certainty, like the affirmation of a glorious truth I’d always been dimly aware of but had never been able to give voice to.
“Join us. Dance with us. Be like us,” it says.
So I do.