Puff the Magic Dragon

puffthemagicdragon

Puff the Magic Dragon by Chris Green

Before he met Prism, John Straight seemed destined for success. He had a Degree in Business Management from a top university, a big black BMW with bull bars and he was willing to travel. In a word, John’s future looked rosy. He was the son of Sir James Straight, the Somerset cider magnate. He enjoyed a privileged upbringing in the country, went to the best schools and never had to struggle. As an only child, he was cosseted. Not only did he have his own motorised BMX, he also had his own BMX track, six acres of it. He went on cultural summer camps in Europe every year. By the time he was eighteen had been to more countries than most adults. On finishing at Goldsmiths, his parents put down a large deposit on a house for him, a stylish four-bedroom barn conversion near Nether Stowey. At twenty one, he seemed to have it all going for him.

But, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, John Straight was a little worried about his future. He did not feel he was yet ready to settle down. He supposed one day he would have to knuckle down, get a job and become a responsible citizen, but could this not be delayed for a while he thought about it? John’s fate was perhaps changed forever, the day he met Prism at a party in Taunton. He was introduced to Prism and Prism introduced him to Molly.

These little beauties will loosen you up,’ Prism said.

John was not sure what she meant. He felt he couldn’t be much looser. After all, he had no plans. He was very much going with the flow. But Prism looked sexy in her skimpy dress and she had a persuasive way about her.

Take three of them,’ she said. ‘And the world will seem a different place.’

What are they?’ he asked, looking in a puzzled manner at the three purple pills she had put into his hand with Nintendo etched on them.

Molly,’ she said. ‘Ecstasy. MDMA.’

And loosen him up, they did. Three hours in, the feeling of well-being was so strong, John knew this was how he wanted things to be. This was a wonder drug. He began to understand why it was referred to as Ecstasy. A deep sense of love, peace and understanding flowed through him. He was inside the music and the music was inside him. He was the music. The music was him. His limbs moved effortlessly like he was discovering them for the first time, his body in perfect rhythm with the cosmos. He felt a powerful rush of energy and a profound connection with everyone at the party. They were all lovely people. Even Razor McNeish was lovely. Why had he not seen this before? The feeling went on and on. This was altogether more pleasurable than getting mullered on Somerset cider at a family bash to celebrate a new vintage or throwing up after a night of beer-boarding in the students’ union bar. And the skunk that his friend Frank had brought round recently had not even hinted at this kind of euphoria. This was Heaven.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream,’ Prism said, later, after they had made love for the third time.

More Molly-fuelled weekends with Prism followed. Concerts, parties and more intimate gatherings. Molly even made shopping more fun, especially in the big Beamer. Specialist loudspeaker shops were John’s favourite. With the right equipment, it was astonishing how loud your music could be. Meanwhile, Prism moved herself in and the house at Dulverton soon pulsated day and night with the latest tunes at frightening volume.

We are like the spider,’ Prism said. ‘We weave our life and then move along in it.’

Move along in it, they did. With neither of them going out to work, they had plenty of time to indulge themselves. But the mind is like a mad monkey. It is restless, capricious; fanciful, inconstant, confused and uncontrollable. It constantly wants to move on to something else. Things, therefore, can never stay the same. They do not always change for the better. Little by little, John and Prism’s lives began to move in a different direction. Charlie started coming round to the house with Molly and then Charlie came round instead of Molly. Whereas Molly might be described as gentle and easy going, Charlie was anything but gentle and easy going. Charlie was urgent and aggressive. The mood around the house changed. The unpredictability the Peruvian marching powder brought with it meant John and Prism frequently argued and fought. She stormed out, came back and stormed out again, over and over. He told her to get out, chased after her and told her to get out again.

Worse was to come. Henry started to visit. Henry the Horse, Smack, Scag, Heroin, whatever you want to call it. John was curious to know what it was like. You didn’t have to inject it, he discovered; you could smoke it. The first hit was wild but you were forever trying to repeat this. Smoking it was no longer enough. By the time you became disappointed with the hit you were getting, you were hooked. Henry wanted your body and soul. Henry was hard-edged and desperate. Henry took no prisoners.

The upbeat dance music was gradually replaced by downbeat grunge music. Prism had been agreeable to Charlie coming round. She had been able to take Charlie in her stride. Cocaine was upbeat, exciting, even if it did make you talk bollocks. The point was you always felt you were talking sense. But from the outset, Prism disliked Henry and eventually moved out for good.

John began to wallow in self-pity. Henry was now permanently in residence. All John’s actions in one way another revolved around the demon drug. His parents were disgusted with the direction his life was taking and cut off his allowance. The debts quickly piled up. Had he not crashed the Beamer one night after a trip to look for Henry, he could have sold it to bail himself out and perhaps buy some time until he got himself back on his feet. But the vehicle was a write-off. To make matters worse he was being prosecuted for dangerous driving and possession of a Class A Drug with Intent to Supply. Not that he had any intention of selling any but the huge quantity of heroin the police found in the car was sufficient to justify the charge.

………………………………….

It’s all going pear-shaped, isn’t it, Mr Straight?’ John’s solicitor, Sebastian Dark of Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed says.

It does seem a bit unlucky. All coming at once.’ John says. ‘Look! I don’t suppose you’ve got any gear.’

Gear?’

Yes. Crack, smack, spice. Anything at all.’

Can we treat this matter seriously, Mr Straight? Now, look! We’d better put the house on the market, for starters, don’t you think?’

I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to do that, Mr Dark.’

Oh, and why is that?’

It burned down last night,’

It burned down? How did that happen, Mr Straight?’

I arranged for someone to set fire to it.’

You arranged for someone to set fire to it?’

Yes. To get the insurance money.’

For Heaven’s sake, Mr Straight. The house wasn’t insured. You told me yourself the day before yesterday that the house insurance had lapsed. Your bank account is frozen. Your Direct Debit payment bounced. You’re broke, remember!’

I know that, Mr Dark but I made the arrangement with the arsonist last week and I was so strung out, I forgot to cancel the arrangement.’

Murphy’s Law doesn’t come close to taking account of your ability to bring about disaster, does it, Mr Straight?’

Then I thought I would be in when he came round, you see but I had to go out.’

Let me guess. To get some heroin.’

That’s right. I thought I might be able to call in a favour. Glassy-Eyed Dave owed me one. But it didn’t work out. Then I came home to find that, well not to put to fine a point on it, there was no home. Just a smouldering heap of rubble. …… Are you sure you haven’t got anything in your desk drawer? Not even enough for a hit.’

Not even a puff of the magic dragon, I’m afraid,’ Sebastian Dark says. ‘But what I do have is one of my brother’s books of short stories. It’s in the cabinet over there.’

Oh great! I’ll settle down and read for a bit, shall I? That will be much better than a fix. That will sort out the cold turkey.’

What you probably don’t realise, Mr Straight is that my brother is the science fiction writer, Philip C. Dark. No doubt you have heard of him but had never made the connection. Now, you will very likely be able to find a wormhole in one of Phil’s stories to offer you a passage to a more favourable situation. Why don’t you give it a try? It’s not as if you’ve got a lot to lose.’

The solicitor hands John the book, The Logic Mines of Őjj 9. He begins to read and suddenly ……………….. somewhere in the distance, John hears the haunting sound of a brass instrument. He edges the dune buggy closer. In front of a bank of brightly coloured pods, a tall slender figure with purple hair is playing a transparent saxophone. He has a small cat on his shoulder. John is not sure he has met him before yet he does seem oddly familiar. He wonders if perhaps he saw him playing at last year’s God Election celebrations. Overhead, the usual flock of winged serpents is circling. It is twilight. Both moons are already out. It is a fine evening. All is well. He has his pipe of green herbs to look forward to. Things are as they should be in John Straight’s world.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

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IN DREAMS

indreams

IN DREAMS by Chris Green

I am stunned. The stranger at the next table looks exactly like the girl I was dreaming about an hour or so ago. I might have recalled the dream in more detail when I first woke, but Donna needed a lift to work as her car had broken down. I would have started the day in a more leisurely way. It is my day off.

But, the dream comes back to me now. In vivid technicolor cinema surround sound. And the suntanned beauty sitting not six feet away from me in Costa where I am having breakfast is the spitting image of the girl from my dream. Everything about her matches. From the long flowing dark hair and smoky black eyes right down to the loafers she is wearing. Usually a dream fades quickly and only small parts of it are accessible. The rest is gone forever. But this one is different. I am able to replay it from the beginning, as if it were a recording. It is not just made up of visuals. It has sound, taste, touch and smell. It has body and texture. It evokes wonder and fear.

The girl leads me along dark labyrinthine corridors in a crepuscular gothic house on the outskirts of a half familiar town. Familiar only as a dreamscape perhaps. Corridors upon corridors career this way and that in impossible explorations of infinity, with echoey staircases ascending and descending like an Escher painting. We are looking for someone called Eddie Strange. I do not know who Eddie Strange is or why we are looking for him, but the girl in the dream keeps saying something about a key. We have to find the key. Does Eddie Strange perhaps know where the key can be found? The key will unlock a box, she says. A box where the dreams are kept. If we find the key and unlock the box, then I will be destined to dream about her forever. What does this mean, I wonder. Destined to dream about her forever.

There is a gap now, like some frames of the film are missing, but I manage to pick up the thread again. Further along in the narrative we find Eddie in one of the house’s subterranean rooms. Eddie is insubstantial, other worldly, like silence in a vacuum. He casts no shadow, but …….. he has the key. It is like no key I have ever seen. It is a twisted cylinder, what is known as a Möbius strip. How this impossible shape opens a box I cannot imagine. In fact, I do not remember it opening a box. The scenario jumps instead to a dream where I am dreaming about myself dreaming about her and then to a dream where I am dreaming about a dream where I am dreaming about her, and on and on, like a Droste mise en abyme.

In each new episode of the dream, the girl in the black dress, who is the spitting image of the girl sitting at the next table, is leading me through an ever more complex series of cascading corridors. I feel a haunting blend of longing and trepidation. I cannot help but follow. Eventually we are outside. We are in a city. Tall stone buildings. I can hear the thrum of traffic. But there is no traffic. The location keeps changing. We are by a river. A big brown river. Are we still looking for the box with the dreams in it? I do not not get the chance to find out. In the material world, Donna is shaking me by the shoulder to tell me that her car won’t start.

The girl at the next table looks across. Is it a look of recognition or is it a look of suspicion? I have never been too good at reading body language. Donna is always telling me that I misread her signals. Have I been staring at the girl all through my reverie, I wonder. I think I detect a smile. This is a good sign, surely. I lean over and am about to speak, but like a vision of the night she vanishes. One moment she is there and the next she isn’t. Her place at the table is now occupied by a wrinkled old harridan with a Bichon Frise and a tartan shopping basket. Was she the one I was staring at all along. It’s possible, but on reflection I don’t think so. This is all just too weird. I feel arcane forces may be at work.

I don’t often go to the pub at lunchtime but I know I will find Ross Cody at The Gordon Bennett. The squat little man with the curly grey hair, the paunch and the patched up John Lennon glasses will be sat at a table reading a sci-fi thriller, nursing a pint. Ross is a fount of occult knowledge. What he doesn’t know about dreams and the paranormal is not worth knowing. He is versed in East Asian shamanism, Hassidic Kabbalism, Armenian theosophy, Caribbean voodoo, H. P. Lovecraft and probably Harry Potter. Before he sank into his present dipsomania, he worked as a supernatural adviser on films for the cult film-makers, David Cronenberg and Lars Von Trier.

‘Hello Boyce,’ he says. ‘Long time, no see.’

I agree that it has been too long, and over a pint of Broadside, I begin to tell Ross about my experience.

‘One line of thinking is that every face that you see while dreaming you have seen in real life at least once,’ Ross says. ‘It is someone who you just don’t recognise. I don’t know. Maybe you met them nine years ago passing on a zebra crossing a busy street or nine hours ago in a cinema queue. Our brains are a lot better at remembering faces than we think.’

‘Why is it that I think I would have remembered if I had seen this girl before?’ I say. ‘She is really not the kind you expect to see every day. She is quite striking.’

‘On the other hand, Boycie. We might be seeing people in dreams that are not actually people. Our brain can create totally fictional characters and things that there is no way we could have ever seen. And we have the ability in dreams to do things that in waking life we have never been able to do. Or maybe we even see people that we will meet in the future.’

‘Which side do you come down upon?’

‘Its hard to say, but I think your unconscious can create people and somehow they become real.’

‘So, I’m not going mad, then.’

‘No. But if I am right, I think you will almost certainly see her again in dreams. And probably in waking. You might find that this girl, who might only seem to be a phantom at the moment gradually comes to life.’

Ross’s guess is right on the money. That night the mystery girl turns up in my dream world once more. This time in the dream she calls round to my house in the middle of the night and lets herself in. Donna and I are asleep. She puts a chloroform soaked handkerchief with a monogrammed R over Donna’s mouth. It meets with some initial resistance but quickly knocks Donna out.

She takes the strange key from the previous night out of her bag and says. ‘Come on, Boyce Shapiro. We’ve got work to do.’

I want to protest about what she has done to Donna. Do I want to be destined to dream about someone who is ruthless I wonder, but it is a dream wonder and has no substance. In the dream world, R has absolute power over me. I allow myself to descend once more into the surreal netherworld, ready to do whatever we have to do and go wherever we have to go to find the box of dreams that the key unlocks. All other thoughts now are gone.

We walk through some ancient ruins, set in a desolate landscape. The night sky is illuminated by a million stars. A full moon hovers. It is blood red. Ominous looking desert rocks lurk in the distance, like those of a Dalí painting, along with the fuselage of a long forgotten passenger jet and a sand whale. An all enveloping silence pervades. We pass through a crumbling stone archway decorated with a Medusa head. The other side of the arch, a pageant of small black snakes slithers across a chessboard patio. Snakes from the Medusa’s head? The board is illuminated now. The top left hand square is green instead of black. Suddenly I can hear music. I look around me to see that R is playing a clarinet. Or is it an oboe? A dwarf dressed as Robin Hood appears from out of nowhere and hands me a mandolin, and I join in the refrain.

‘There are unearthly delights to be found inside the box of dreams,’ R says, when we have finished the tune. ‘We will find it soon. Then you will my amante notturno.’

At breakfast, Donna seems a little dazed. She looks as if she hasn’t had a good night, so I do not mention my dream, and with her Fiat fixed, she leaves the house before me. It is probably one of the days she opens the salon early for a special customer. For a brief second I entertain the thought that the special customer might be R.

I dismiss the idea but I remain agitated. Details of my dream keep coming back to me. The half recognised tune we were playing was that Doors’ track. The one with the line faces come out of the rain. The Robin Hood dwarf was really freaky. And the mandolin, I didn’t know I could play the mandolin, but my dream persona seemed to know exactly where to put my fingers. Ross said that he believes that in dreams one has the ability to do things that in waking life you have never been able to do. And see people that you have never seen. But what was it the dwarf had said? ‘If you’re not a fish, how can you tell if a fish is happy.’ What did he mean by that? And the sand whale. It was a whale and it was in the sand yet I had actually touched it and in complete contradiction to its environment, it was sticky, wet, slimy to the touch, like an eel just out of the water. I wonder how a dream can be so bizarre but appear so real?

The other big question that needs answering is, assuming that there is an explanation for the unlikely stuff that is happening, why is it happening? Why would this vamp be interested in the devotion of a middle aged married man? What do I have to offer? What would be in it for her, besides amusement? What is in it for me apart from the loss of free will? None of it makes any sense.

I am so distracted I almost have an accident when I pull out in front of a bus at the Scott McKenzie roundabout and go through a red light at the David Icke crossroads. At work I am unable to concentrate. I send emails without messages and accidentally delete my inbox. Then, there she is. The girl from my dreams. Over by the photocopier. In a charcoal skirt and white blouse. The same sweeping hair and smouldering obsidian eyes. Even the same shoes. She is the one. No doubt about it. I am dumbstruck. How can this be? What is she doing here at my workplace?

Nikki Jackson from Accounts comes along and sees that I am gaping at the girl.

‘That’s the new girl, Rhonda,’ she says. ‘I see she’s making quite an impression on you, Mr Shapiro. Let me introduce you.’

‘Hi Rhonda. This is Mr Shapiro from our legal department. Mr Shapiro, this is Rhonda Chance.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Shapiro,’ Rhonda says, looking me right in the eye. ‘I expect I shall be seeing a lot more of you.’

Ẁhen I come to, I am unable to explain to Nikki Jackson why I fainted.

‘It could have been something I ate last night,’ I say. ‘That’s it. We had eel for dinner last night. I’m not used to eel, so I’m not sure how it should taste but I did thought it tasted a bit strange.’

No one remembers your name, when you’re strange starts to run through my head. The Doors song from the night before. On the mandolin. With the girl. With Rhonda.

‘Something is puzzling me,’ says Nikki. ‘Rhonda says that she knows you. In fact she says she has known you a long time. She thought that it was very strange that you did not recognise her. She says she hasn’t changed that much.’

I am anxious not to dig myself into too deep a hole, so I press the fake call button on the phone in my pocket. The opening chords of Gimme Shelter ring out. I step away to take the call. I begin a conversation with the imaginary caller.

‘Yes, I know,’ I say, as if responding to something the caller is telling.

And ‘What did you think about that?’

Suddenly to my amazement and horror, Rhonda’s voice comes on the line. ‘Hello Mr Shapiro,’ she says. ‘How have you been since our ……. meeting?’

All the blood drains from my face. Nothing could have prepared me for this. Now she is talking to me on his phone. All the encounters with her so far have been what I would think of as impossible, out of the realm of everyday life, but somehow this is cranking up the level of impossibility a notch.

‘See you later,’ says Rhonda. ‘I have a feeling we may find the box tonight.’

Donna wonders why I am home early. I tell her that we had a power cut at work. Several times through the evening she asks if everything is OK.

‘You normally like to watch Homeland,’ she says. ‘Is something wrong?’

‘I’m just tired,’ I say. ‘I don’t think I slept well last night.’

‘Shall we have an early night?’ she says, snuggling up to me.

‘There is something wrong, isn’t there?’ she says in bed, when I don’t respond to her overtures. ‘I don’t know why I buy this underwear from the Ann Summers catalogue if you are not going to be interested, when I wear it.’

With this, she turns over. I put off going to sleep as long as I can, but tiredness overtakes me and eventually I drift off. Rhonda of course is waiting.

‘The reason we haven’t been able to find the box up until now,’ she says. ‘is because it’s invisible.’

‘That does make it difficult,’ I say.

‘Not only is it invisible, but it only exists given certain very specific conditions. Atmospheric conditions, phases of the moon, planetary alignments and all that. But the good news is that I believe we do have these conditions tonight.’

Again I feel a confusing mix of apprehension and arousal, aware that as she puts me under her spell once more, apprehension is going to lose out. The strength of her sweet sorcery is too much for my defences.

It is hard to describe how you see an object that is invisible, but as Rhonda has pointed out, under particular circumstances, it can be done. If you are thinking invisibility cloak, you are barking up the wrong tree. You cannot really expect to understand matters like invisible boxes in the realm of night from a purely scientific viewpoint. Suffice to say the box is colossal, and to my amazement, Rhonda’s Möbius strip key fits the lock perfectly.

Once the box is opened things cannot be the same. Change is inevitable. A thousand and one dreams escaping from an invisible box that has been locked for years is a sight for the senses. All nineteen of the senses. It is like the moment of creation. Matter, anti matter and cosmological turbulence.

I feel a nudge in my back and I awake with a jolt. Usually a dream fades quickly and only small parts of it are accessible. The rest is gone forever. But this one is different. This one is no longer a dream. I turn over to find the girl on the pillow lying next to me looks exactly like the girl I’ve just been dreaming about. No doubt about it. Everything about her matches. The same long flowing dark hair and smoky black eyes right down to ……… It is Rhonda, the girl of my dreams. In the flesh. In the here and now. I am stunned.

‘No matter how unlikely the proposition,’ she says, ‘dreams can come true. Reality is constantly in flux. Forever changes. Prepare yourself for some strange days.’

But, the unanswered questions, I want to protest. What? ……. How? ……… Why? ……… And, where is Donna?

Rhonda reads my thoughts. ‘You will get answers to your questions but not until you are ready for them. In the meantime ……. ‘

‘I think we may be able to arrange an appointment for your husband for as early as next week, Mrs Shapiro.’ says the message left on the answerphone. I don’t think I’m meant to be hearing it, but Rhonda is out. ‘Please could you call back to confirm how you would like us to proceed.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved