I1. Salt and Alcohol

Dan slept on his arms, so when he woke in the morning, they were somehow both painful and numb. Faith was unsympathetic. “If you’re awake, it’s time to leave.”

“Huh?” Dan managed to sit up. He surveyed the wreckage from the party. Empty liquor bottles cluttered counter-tops. “How’s Beatrice?”

“BeatBax is waiting for you to leave so she can come out for breakfast.” Faith folded her arms. “In case you forgot, you tried to start a fight last night. We don’t appreciate that atmosphere in our apartment.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Damn right.”

“That guy,” said Dan, “Henry. Don’t you recognize him? He’s Leo, from high-school.”

“I know,” said Faith. “He’s my cricket dealer. Or, he was, until I saw that swastika tattoo. Now I don’t I want him around anymore, either.” She pulled Dan by the arm. “C’mon, Dainty. Get outta my house.”

Dan lingered by the door. “Can I come back next week? Beatrice and I didn’t finish our cricket together.”

“You want cricket?” Faith took Leo’s bong and pressed it into his hands. “If Leo asks I’ll say someone smashed it after he left. Take it and get out.”


Dan put the bong on his coffee-table. The bong was a glass cylinder a foot tall. Brown water clogged its pair of internal chambers. From the bottom chamber a sliding glass tube stuck at an angle to hold a bowl of powder. Dan pinched his nose; he couldn’t risk a whiff of the murky water.

He pulled the sliding tube and soggy bug bits slopped out. He almost set it on the coffee table, but worried it would soak the wood with stench. He shuddered and lay the tube on a napkin.

He donned rubber gloves to empty the bong into his sink and retched at the unleashed odor. He donned a surgical mask. The glass was almost opaque with crust. Looking into the top chamber, he saw the bong filtered smoke through five slotted glass fingers. No wonder Leo never bothered cleaning it. It was a Sisyphean task, a punishment.

So Dan began.

He filled the bong with tap-water and emptied it. This barely affected the congealed crust, so he tried a hundred more times, but that didn’t help. Before he resorted to acid and bleach he realized he should be careful with chemicals in the instrument he’d inhale from. Internet research suggested the proper solution was rock-salt and isopropyl alcohol.

He put the bong in the sink and poured salt in its mouth, then opened one of his many bottles of isopropyl. He sniffed the alcohol through his surgical mask; it made his nose burn, which he hoped spoke to its pipe-cleaning power.

He emptied the whole bottle into the bong. This didn’t even fill the bong’s bottom chamber. It seemed impossible the bong could hold such volume. He heard trickling liquid, and realized the bong leaked from two holes in its lower chamber. The first was the hole for the sliding tube. The second hole was smaller and meant for plugging to control airflow. Embarrassed he hadn’t noticed them before, Dan covered the holes with saran-wrap and finally filled the pipe with alcohol. 

He emptied the powder from the sliding glass tube into a tupperware container for later. He filled a plastic baggie with more salt and isopropyl. He put the glass tube in the baggie and sealed it. He put the first baggie in a bigger baggie so nothing leaked.

Then he stood over the sink and shook the bong in his right hand and the baggies in his left. He shook them for fifteen minutes, just looking out the window waiting for the time to pass. 

When he emptied the bong he absentmindedly sniffed the toxic runoff. He’d already burned nose-hairs on the isopropyl, so he should have known the foul process’ byproducts would smell worse.

But two thirds of the crust sloughed off. He refilled the bong and baggies with fresh salt and alcohol, and vowed to shake them for half an hour.

His arms tired after twenty minutes. For motivation, he imagined the pipe was Leo. “Save the whining for your rich daddy.” The salt swirled in Leo like spiky snowflakes. 

He emptied the bong and baggies, but this second cycle took only flecks of the remaining crust.

Dan refilled the bong and baggies, but frustration didn’t provide enough energy to shake them for long. He was still drunk and hungover. He decided to let it soak while he slept through the afternoon. He took off the gloves and surgical mask.


He must have been more tired than he realized, because he slept through the night.

In the morning gunk slipped into the sink with a satisfying sound, and the glass gleamed. Dan slid the glass tube into the lower chamber and poured the powder from the tupperware into its bowl.

Cleaning the bong taught Dan how to fill it with water for smoking. Fluid poured in the top would flow up the five glass fingers to fill the bottom chamber. Only enough water remained in the top chamber to cover the glass fingers’ slots, so smoke would have to bubble through them.

Having the rest of Sunday free, Dan sat on the couch and toked up.


Some kind of amoeba bubbled and blopped on the Mountain. The amoeba was translucent orange and the size of a man. It wriggled like it didn’t want to exist.

Its core spawned white specks. The specks formed flecks, which collected in flakes. The white flakes tore the jelly of the amoeba’s belly. The amoeba groped with blind pseudopods in impotent agony.

A shadow passed over the amoeba. An enormous bird landed beside the oozing thing with thunderous wing-beats. The sapphire bird in sky-blue robes used emerald eyes to watch the flakes in the amoeba turn to teeth. Molars and canines and worse were torturous instruments tearing the amoeba’s innards. The amoeba smacked the ground wetly.

“You’re a big one. Congratulations on finding the Mountain.” The bird withdrew its wings into its robes. “But I cannot collect you. You are infested. You’re no dead holy man becoming an arch-Zephyr. You’re a novice smoking beyond their limits, filled with shrieking teeth.”

The amoeba curdled with nerves for the teeth to tear through. It bristled with pleading eyes which were swiftly blinded by blood.

“Even I cannot help you.” The bird marched up the Mountain. “My assistant will take you to Anihilato.”

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