The end of the world didn't begin in a conference room filled with solemn men, three-piece suits, and expensive communications equipment. It didn't begin in a musty cave filled with second-hand weapons, zealots and crazy men. It didn't even begin a sterile white lab filled with crimes against nature, unauthorized funding and all the arrogance money and advanced biochemical degrees can buy. No, the end of the world started in a ramshackle, one-bedroom dump in a tiny town called Oakdell, California. Also known as the Meth Capital of the World.
I know because I was there.
In that sense, maybe the end of the world started six weeks earlier, when my dealer, Owen, was dumb enough to get high with me and Ike around. He kind of did it to be a dick -- me and Ike were out of cash, and Owen refused to give us anything on credit. So we hung around the park with him, hoping either someone would come along to make a purchase and maybe loan us a hit, or that Owen would get so sick of us that he'd give us a dose just to get us to go away. So just to be an ass, Owen fires up his pipe and smokes a rock right there in front of us.
"You boys are missin' out," he said. "This is some incredible stuff."
Ike and I traded glances. Peckerhead. Mournfully, we watched him taste rapture and sail among the stars. "I am wearing Nirvana," he intoned. "Pity the fool who will never adorn themselves with the cloak of enlightenment."
That was when my mouth opened up. "Owen," it said as Ike and I regarded each other with some confusion. "I gotta have some of that. I'll give you my car."
"I've seen your car, Derrick, it's a piece of shit. It's got more junk in the trunk than Kirstie Allie."
My mouth knew where it was going with this. It was giving me a bad feeling, but I went along with it anyway. "I'll give you my old X-Men collection. There's some vintage stuff with Wolverine in it."
"I don't need any of your sticky-page, geek-shit, Derrick. I am drinking the light coming from your eye sockets. I am feeding off your essence and growing stronger."
Ike was trying to give me the hey, don't mess around with the unpredictable stoned guy look, but I ignored him. Instead, I gave a conflicted sigh and pulled something out of my pocket. I looked at it, closed my palm around it, then looked at it and sighed again.
"What you got there, Derrick?" Owen waved something away from the front of his face -- essence of eyeball, presumably -- and leaned forward to try to see past it. "Somethin' good for a change?"
"Nothing," I shook my head, telling the total truth for once. "It's... me and Ike will just watch you enjoy, man."
"Why, is it your rent money?"
"No, we gave you that last week." Hey, it was a special occasion. Get off me. It's not like with the world ending, giving him the rent money wound up making that much difference anyway. "I only have this one, Owen, it's okay. I guess Ike and I can wait to get a fix til that guy gives us the money he owes us."
Owen pawed at something only he could see, catching it and twining it between his fingers in an effort to keep it out of his eyes. "Let me see it, motherfrumper."
"No, Owen, I..."
"I said now."
Reluctantly, I held up my empty hand, palm up. "C'mon, Owen, it's my invisible box." Beside me, Ike was glaring at me suspiciously like maybe I had scored a dose of Owen's stock and wasn't sharing. "It's where I hide my weed so my mom doesn't find it when she cleans my room."
"Mo-thah frump-ah," Owen was staring at the empty space as I pantomimed brushing dirt off it. "You got any weed in there now?"
"No," I glared at him as if he were being cruel again. "Ike and me smoked it all. Duh. Anyway, it's totally cool for taking stuff in the car, in case you get pulled over by the cops. I don't want to get rid of it."
"Shit," Owen sneered. "You're gonna hand it over."
"Owen, it's an invisible box," I pleaded, sounding upset. "You can't just order them off the Internet!"
"Where'd you get it?"
Sometimes it bothered me how quickly this stuff sprang to my lips. "The guy down at the smoke shop. He made it for me. Right before he OD'd."
"Seriously. Ike was hella bummed. He was hoping to get one, too."
"Well, hand it over, sticklicker. It's mine now."
"Owen, that is seriously frumped up. You can't do that to me."
"The hell I can't. Gimme the box."
"No, Owen, I... all right. All right. Because it's you, I'll sell it to you."
"Sell it?" he snorted, hand on the pocket with his gun. Beside me, Ike was telegraphing if he goes for his piece, I am so leaving your ass behind with his eyes.
"Seriously, Owen. You don't want to accrue bad karma, do you?"
We shook on two rocks and as much cash as Owen had in his pockets, which was not as good a deal as I thought it was since he only had eleven bucks on him. Some frumpin lousy dealer he was. Then again, enough crack to get high and then get Taco Bell afterwards wasn't bad, considering we sold him an invisible box.
We were still laughing about it the next day when he kicked down our door and had two of his goons beat the crap out of us. Owen knew and we knew there was no way we could pay him back, so we made another deal. Me and Ike would hang out and pay it off working for Owen. And we would never speak of the deal again. Yeah, I know, I'm bringing it up now, but with the world being over it really doesn't matter, now does it?
Now originally, I was thinking that working for Owen meant being a goon like the two shaved gorillas that kicked me and Ike's asses. Ike's a pretty big guy, and a lot of it's muscle. You just can't tell because of the baggy tee-shirts he always wears. And me, well, you might think I'm just another bean pole, but I learned martial arts from this guy in the Army, and I'm pretty mean with a sword. I was thinking me and Ike would go around and back Owen up. "Yo, do what my man Owen says, or me and Ike are gonna tear you a new one." But, no. Turns out Owen already had a bunch of guys to bruise people for him.
"I'm going to do what?" I said as a guy who was doing what should have been my job shoved me into the back of Owen's car.
"You're going to come with me to visit the doctah!" Owen grinned at me through the rear view. "Derrick gunna be my new guinea pig. Doc says he has somethin' new, and the Boss wants someone to test it out on before we sell it on the street. An' I told the Boss I knew two motherfrumpers who would do anything to get high. Am I right?"
"You're right," me and Ike mumbled, looking at each other. Testing new hooch did not sound like a smart idea. Even to me.
"Now the Boss is gonna be in there. Don't embarrass me, or they'll be tryin' to figure out which one of you ugly motherfrumpers was the mommy when you wash up on shore six months down the road, get me?"
The doc's house was a piece of crap. Lawn three feet high and dead. Paint peeling, shingles missing, so small I couldn't figure out how he had room to fit in as many roaches as he did. Inside, the walls were covered in spray paint and what I hoped was old beer. The carpet smelled of funk and had huge sections either burned or cut out, exposing the cracked slab underneath. The scattered, ratty furniture looked like it had been salvaged from the dump, then had spent its few remaining good years doing porn to buy coke.
"You aren't looking for roommates, by any chance," I asked the doc as the door closed behind us. "We could sleep on the couch." What? Hey, a guy who lived in a place like this wasn't going to bitch about leaving last week's underwear on the floor. That's a definite plus.
"I don't live here, you dipshit," the doc looked at me like I was a turd in the bathtub.
"Shut up," Owen said and smacked me in the back of the head. He used the hand with all the rings on it, the dick.
There wasn't anything for me and Ike to do but stand around and try not to bother people as the Boss showed up with his entourage. We followed everyone into the lab, kind of nervous, kind of bored, while the doc pitched his new product for all he was worth.
"What's the biggest problem with meth?" the doc was asking, standing in front of a table cluttered with all sorts of drug cooking paraphernalia.
"Bullshit chemists who talk too much," the Boss said coolly. "Cut the crap and make your point."
"I've solved that problem, too," the doc grinned. He was a little nervous. Or high. Or both. "It's buying enough ingredients without being noticed by the feds. What's the problem with pot? The grow lights attract the wrong kind of attention." He struck an infomercial looking pose and began a spiel that sounded more like me talking than I do most times.
"What if I told you I could get you a drug that would produce an incredibly wild high, and that you could produce it without purchasing pharmaceutical ingredients, without having messy waste products you have to find someplace to dump, without any telltale heat output like from grow lights, without risk of explosion, without any raw material overhead, without the need of a bullshit chemist, without the need of any special facilities or personnel to blab or anything at all -- nothing but regular tap water in modest quantities?"
The Boss did not look impressed. "I'd say you were smokin' what you're cookin'."
"You familiar with Claviceps purpurea? Ergot mold?"
"Didn't I tell you to cut the crap?"
"It's ergot mold. The stuff they used to make LSD. I've found a way to breed it with a less toxic version of Stachybotrys, a virulent house mold. Not only does it give an amazing trip, but my mold breeds rapidly in any reasonably moist condition. You can go into high gear production almost..."
Boring! I looked over my shoulder at the glassware on the table behind me. A stoppered flask of black moldy looking stuff caught my eye. Was that what we were supposed to smoke? I reached out to pick up the flask and peer at it. What, were we going to scrape it into the bowl of a pipe, or roll it in a paper and smoke it like pot?
"This is gonna be more like an arum sandwich than a doobie," I told Ike, who leaned in to peer at the stuff with me.
"What the frump are you doin?!"
The shout startled me and I dropped the flask. Shards of glass and mold spores went flying all over the room.
Okay, well, I guess you could say I know how the end of the world began because in a way maybe I might have been kind of involved in it. But it wasn't my fault. It was the doc's fault for making the stuff. If I had anything to do with it at all, it was Owen's fault, for being stupid enough to buy an invisible box. I mean, if it hadn't been me who dropped the flask, it would have been some other doped up asshole. Actually, the mold had probably got out anyway -- I bet me dropping the flask was nothing more than dropping a match in an already blazing fire.
But when people tell you the world fell completely apart because of the judgment of Jehovah, or the wrath of the old pagan gods, or because scientists broke the laws of physics, don't you believe them. The world fell apart because Owen the dealer was stupid enough to buy an invisible box. Nothing more, nothing less.
What a dumbass.
Originally appeared March 13, 2005.