Follow the Yellow Brick Road


The man in the bandana by the Hole in the Wall, always present at this location from my mid-to-late teens, was looking characteristically suspicious, with his snake eyes and inexplicable smile. Standing in his black leather trench coat, he may as well have been hissing “Psst!” from the shadows of a doorjamb as a Pied Piper lure to inquisitive youngsters. I had in the past bought LSD in the form of Double-dip Strawberries, Penguins, Microdots and Black Stars from the forbidden chemist, and this time it was the sign of the Black Star which was imprinted on the tiny squares of blotting paper which we purchased for just three pounds each. Having tried it a few times before, I told Teejay what to expect. The first time I had tried it a line from a nursery song led me to part from my company and enter the playgrounds of my infancy in the middle of the night in search of my childhood self. The last time I tried it I had called a friend on his landline from a public callbox (there were no mobile phones in those days) and was still conversing with him on the line when he pulled up in his car half an hour later. There were no words to really relay the experience, but I prepared Teejay for it as best I could, and told him that after an hour of letting the tab melt on the tongue things would start to happen and everything would change.

First there arrived a sensation in the body, a tang in the mouth which gave way to wide-eyed laughter that heralded mutations of perception. Within minutes following these sensations the trip came on more powerfully, cryptically enhancing and distorting what we had all our lives taken to be familiar. A brittle pool of autumn leaves around the bole of a tree appeared a deeply enigmatic mosaic made of “magic eye” composite fractals. The pavement below our feet richly configured into the shifting silt of sand-grains and coloured crystals within the kaleidoscopes we had looked through as schoolchildren.

“What the fuck’s happening?” Teejay was laughing slightly, but his eyes were wide with nervous astonishment at everything that moved, or seemed to move.  “This is so weird. Is this happening to you as well?”

“I’ve been here before,” I said, and he, the new initiate, looked at me as if I had revealed something unimaginable about myself.

“You’re native to this realm? It’s so weird,” he said, “everything I look at becomes the thing I was just looking at. How do I know you’re real?”

“I’m real enough.”

“I think I’m losing the nature of my identity,” he pondered.

We were walking up the longest road in town when I tried to make sense of what was happening. “It’s like we’re following the Yellow Brick Road,” I said.

“To see the Wizard of Oz!” he exclaimed.

Suddenly we grew self-conscious of our expressions and decided to take a detour into a graveyard. The rosebuds on the graves were glinting and scintillating, their scarlet warm cores were corridors of spiral flames; each momentary raindrop on every bud and thorn was planetary, absolute, a signal of something from a world behind the dense materiality of this world’s surface.

Domain,” I said, and Teejay looked at me with the wide lambent eyes of a bushbaby and gave wholehearted assent, as if on some telepathic level he knew exactly what I meant and why I said it and that the word itself, both in its meaning and in the darkness of its very sound, was precise and penetrating.

When we exited the churchyard we saw the tail of a dog or fox disappear at the end of the street, and as we turned every corner we caught sight of it, like a deep shadow, an elusive will-o’-the-wisp slinking away around the corners and leading us on. “It’s as if the streets are showing us their legs. The prospect of each street is glowing with invitation at every turn. I feel horny right now.” We were struck by the animated patterns of an ivy plant scaling a wall in perfect symmetry.

“There’s a Newtonian equation at the root and heart of every plant and flower,” I said, “replicating itself endlessly even in its minute mutations. Just think of it.”

“The distortions are beautiful. Perhaps beauty is a form of deviation. Perhaps all that we see is an illusion.”

“How can it be illusory? What better proof do you need than the evidence of your own senses? If it is illusion, then it is more real than what we otherwise define as reality. What was it Pushkin said, ‘The illusion which exalts us is greater than ten thousand truths’. We have just five senses; imagine what we’d perceive if we had thousands!”

Everything was a Byzantine tapestry of nature’s endlessly self-generating forms. There were reticulated web-spun spirals wherever we focused that seemed to sing with the pulse of timelessness and eternity. The whole earth seemed an incarnation, the signature of a sacred universe made manifest on an earth of inexplicable geometric order. And so we wandered on, like magi following a star which would lead them to something which would alter their knowledge of the cosmos.

We must have paused for at least fifteen minutes to savour the radiance of a streetlamp that poured its torch of soft flames through the wet trees, when suddenly the beauty was disrupted by a hedgehog following its snout across the road. For some reason we found this funny.

Teejay called after it, “Hey! The Wizard of Oz, he who is both deviser and conceiver, what can you tell us about him?”

The hog of the hedges said nothing, and as it scurried away Teejay cried “Follow him!” and we gave chase, pursuing it into parkland. I knelt down beside the furtive creature. “Where is he?” I implored. “The maker behind the curtain, where is he? We’ve come to see him. Tell him the password is Domain.” But the hog, doubtless a spy, somehow implicated in this conspiracy, folded into itself and guarded its secret with a thousand thorns.

I made the same inquiry to a polished beetle which I found making its journey through the jungle of grass blades like a mirror of midnight, but it too disappeared without elucidation into the earthen potpourri which pullulated with the wet rot of mortal matter. I poked the leaves to interview him further, but the transit of entangled fractality just intensified into a compound of subdivisions where I could not follow.

On the way back I fell slightly silent. I kept thinking of the black beetle and what it was trying to tell me, how it fitted, perhaps unknowingly and uniquely, into the ecological matrix of the cosmos. We paused again to stare at the florescent sulphur of the streetlamps, each one a nest of soul-alluring light, a golden tunnel of unpolluted gold within a tracery of rotating twigs, dripping with the slow honey of the night’s endless rainfall. It was enamouring, as if all four seasons pulsed within each instant. It was then that we realized our clothes were heavy with incessant downpour. The trance had prevented us from noticing how saturated we had become.

“Where are we? Let’s get our bearings. We should find shelter somewhere.”

We hauled ourselves up onto a disused stone bridge and crossed the dark river with the water notching and warping beneath us at brimming speed, navigating its way through glistening humps of stone. Once we had navigated our own route through the web of streets we came upon Janet’s house and found the back door unlocked. I checked my watch; it was gone 3am. Janet, a middle-aged ex-police officer turned broken down alcoholic, lived not far from Teejay. The downstairs house was dark, silent. She must have been unconscious upstairs, if home at all. We whispered as we passed from room to room, then tentatively turned on the kitchen lights. Minutes later, all inhibitions gone and our curiosity tweaked, Teejay turned on a stereo and began to play Aretha Franklyn’s Say a Little Prayer loudly over and over. Being still teenagers, we had no taste for whisky, but finding an unopened bottle we broke the seal and began to drink with immune gusto and lit candles to make a ceremony of our experience.

After an hour or so since our entry into the house, a duck-like shape appeared from the unlit hallway into the living room where we sat on the carpet, lost in its billowing spirals and uncontrollable mosaics. It was Janet. “Who’s there?” she quacked. “Oh, is that you, smiler?” – a nickname referring to my dimples. She fondly patted my head, seemingly oblivious that two uninvited adolescents were in her house in the middle of the night. “I knew someone had been at my whisky. Where is it?” A moment later we were toasting with refilled tumblers. It was then that I noticed that she was only half-clad: a loose T-shirt above and nothing below. Despite initial surprise at this, it was merely part of the play: she was after all nothing but an animal caricature of her herself, her facial features swirling like jam mixed into a bowl of rice pudding. After sometime she retreated, whisky under her wing, upstairs to her bedroom. But as she disappeared her cat entered the room, and I sensed at once that her cat knew something; there was something knowing and magisterial in its unblinking expression and the way it regarded me, and when it eventually turned and lifted its slinking tail I had the unshakeable impression that another world watched me through the eye of its arsehole.

“Something’s in the room with us,” I said, and just at that moment the candle blew out and, a full minute later, sputtered back into life, as in a séance.

“What the? Did you just see that?”

There was an intense moment of telepathy between us. We were party to some ceremony in which something not readily perceived was alive to the occasion. Swirls were writhing in the patterns of curtains and carpets as if preparing to reveal an entity. “I just can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Teejay said. “Are you seeing the same as me? See how the shadows are dancing with their own shadows?”

When I walked into the bathroom a print of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, framed on the landing wall, was a turbulence of rolling clouds and incandescent whirlpools. When I met myself in the bathroom mirror I myself became a Van Gogh portrait, my features animated and swimming like iron filings around a magnet. I watched my reflection with fascinated revulsion, citing Nietzsche to myself as I returned downstairs: “If you gaze for long enough into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

After several hours of tripping we decided to go out into the park as the first hints of dawn inched their way across the measured lawns. Clearing the rain from the seats, we sat on two swings. “Let’s just thaw,” I said, feeling the crystals of my mind melt and reformulate. Yes, dawn was nudging its way across the world, once again calling time on an insoluble mystery. The ants were busy about their industry; dogs were taking their owners for walks; the ground was ravelled and faceted, and we ourselves had become displaced fragments of an incomplete and modified puzzle; a jigsaw which, now taken apart, would reassemble to compose an altered image of reality, like a secret doorway that leads towards a speechless icon.