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  • Writer's pictureBrian Gatti

Pipe Dream



I waited for Dr. Pendleton in one of the many uncomfortable wooden chairs in the foyer, a glass of champagne bubbling gently on the table beside me. I seethed on the ornately uncomfortable chair as frustration brewed within me. As a grown man, I should be free to live as I wish, but as the eldest, I was the heir to my family's wealth and my mother's unrelenting expectations. 

One aspect of me would love nothing more than to fail their test and let them make my brother the heir. But a stronger part raged against this thought. I am firstborn; I’ve dealt with their picking, berating, and haranguing my whole life. I deserve it. Not perfect Marlon. He can live in a slum for all I care, where I know I’ll end up if he inherits it all. 

And so a deal was struck. I would accept a radical new treatment from Dr. Julius Pendleton that will supposedly cure my love of opium. In exchange? I keep my position as primary heir, I get a thousand pounds, and my parents get some sort of compensation. 

All in exchange for my beloved opium. 

I had no plan to keep my promise, of course. Once my parents were dead, I could live as I wished. God willing, the money I’ve paid Gilcrest and his merry band of thugs will help my parents to their great reward. 

I reached for the neglected glass of champagne when the door opened from the library, admitting a tall, slender woman with pale skin in a nurse's uniform. “Mr. Huston, are you ready?” 

I opened my mouth to speak but found myself arrested by her appearance. She was not beautiful. Her green-stained lips curved in an expression that looked like a mockery of a smile. Her face was porcelain smooth but, in a literal way, looked more like a doll than a human being. It was disconcerting because I drank in imperfect perfection and felt a familiar stir in my pants; perhaps I could arrange an after-visit. 

If she knew what was happening in my mind, she gave no sign save for a tightening at the corners of her eyes as though in restrained amusement. 

I averted my gaze and approached the library door. Affixed to the inside of the door was a large, 8-pointed star with brass letters ADF above it. 

I walked into the library behind the nurse. Just inside waited Dr. Pendleton; he cut a tall, slim silhouette against the light of the fire. The room was a study in burnished wood and green lead glass, giving the room an inviting atmosphere. Over the fireplace was an unusual family crest, an octopus coiled around a two-masted merchant ship holding objects aloft in its tentacles with the phrase, ‘devorabit omnia’ below the image. 

Dr. Pendleton smiled thinly, “Welcome, Alex, to my humble office.” He pointed to one of six white calfskin leather chairs, each large and overstuffed to the point of absurdity. 

I glanced at them briefly and settled into the one he directed me to, closest to the fire; it had been chilly out, and this was most welcoming. 

I sat in the generously padded chair; it embraced me like fat Aunt Margaret, uncomfortably warm and with too many soft bulges. Dr. Pendleton’s reedy voice directed me, “Please take a moment to settle. The chair may initially be overwhelming, but it’s here to give you comfort and safety.”

I sank into it as I sat there; each movement caused me to settle deeper into its plushness, like cozy quicksand but without the drowning death at the end. 

“Comfortable?”

I nodded, my mouth suddenly dry. 

“Wonderful. We are participating in a pharmacological study with people who currently smoke opium. During this study, you’ll be asked to smoke a modified blend of opium designed to eliminate any further desire for it. Are you still willing?”

Only in the way a hostage is a willing participant in a kidnapping, I thought bitterly. But I kept this to myself as I nodded again, licking my lips. “Can I have water?”

Dr. Pendleton’s bland smile creased briefly at my interruption, and he motioned to the woman dressed as a nurse, who left without speaking. 

“When was the last time you used opium?”

The nurse returned and handed me a green-tinted crystal goblet filled with water. I swallowed eagerly before saying, “Ahh, well, as per your instructions, I haven’t in the past week.” I paused as I fought the sense of nausea that I’d been battling since I began abstaining. “It’s been a very hard week.”

Dr. Pendleton took the goblet from me and handed it to the nurse. “Well, we are very grateful for your strict adherence to the program. It will help ensure the success of the treatment. The process is very precise.”

He sat on the table's edge so we were eye to eye. “Now, you should be aware previous participants have reported feelings of euphoria, vivid visions, and most importantly, a complete elimination of the desire to smoke in the future. The nurse and I will monitor your entire session to ensure your safety. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I croak out, throat dry again. “And… the compensation…” between the chair and the fire, I was becoming tired and warm. I suddenly wanted this over. 

The doctor cut me off. “£1,000 for you when the treatment is complete, as promised.” He removed an envelope filled with cash and set it on the table beside me. As he did this, the nurse brought the opium pipe and set it before me. It was unusual, maybe jade; it glittered blood-tinted green in the firelight, the top open as she pressed the mixture to the saddle. 

I refrained from licking my lips as the heady scent of quality opium hit me; my mouth watered in anticipation. “I am ready.”

Dr. Pendleton smiled again and touched a burning twig to the lamp on the pipe, igniting it. I took several experimental puffs to draw the air through and aid the process. A strong hit of the smoke came, and I was gone. 

For me, opium isn’t just the high; it’s the whole experience. There’s the smell of it before it’s burnt, I imagine like that of primeval forests, so rich. This had that scent, but it was tainted with the foul, eggy stink of sulfur. 

Usually, the smoke is sweet yet coy, but whatever was in the added medicine made it sharp and strident, like being scolded. 

When the smoke hit my lungs, it was like being embraced by thick, sun-soaked mud. Warm and inescapable, pulling my unresisting mind under. 

Peace found me, and I was no longer afraid. I was no longer myself, transformed into a glorious non-being, unburdened by pain and expectations of the sour sadness that came with the knowledge I’d never be enough for my parents.

In my beautiful pipe dream, none of that mattered; I could simply be. The painful thoughts leaked away from my mind like poison drawn from a wound as I succumbed to the opium’s power, drifting lower into the dream space, my one true happy place.


I lived in a house by the beach; the sand was warm under my feet. Great basalt cliffs encircled the beach with endlessly black stone arms, a comforting embrace. I fish in the bay in my boat, a simple life. Fishing brings dangers, but I know them. 

I looked over the boat's edge; the green water flexed with gentle waves, and silvery fish darted below. An octopus lazily floated on the waves as fish struggled in a tentacle. I watched with delight and inspired by the eight-armed creature’s languid movement in the water, I dove in. The cool water embraced me, soaking me through my clothing as I floated on my back. It was as though, instead of staring up, I gazed down at the cloudless blue sky suspended above it by gravity. 

I drifted on the surface of consciousness in the bay of controlled reality. My body dipped and rose; a lull came over me as I was gently carried toward the mouth of the bay. 

The waves carried me from my boat, and I was not afraid. I wondered, what’s past the break? I didn’t move my limbs to swim, but thinking about the mouth of the bay drew me closer to the ocean, its dangers, and delights. My boat was barely a dot beyond now, occasionally obscured by a wave, but I was calm. 

I felt the water was somehow looser, as though its parts were too far apart, and I struggled to stay buoyant; the water was no longer coherent enough to hold me up.

The water was colder, and some clouds covered the sun; the waves remained gentle and became foamy. Is it evaporating beneath me? I dipped below the waves into the dark water, the foam lit by the sun like milky stars. I rose again, taking a deep breath and tasting the troubling and unfamiliar flavor of the sulphuric water.

I could no longer stay above the surface, the greenish water tinting the world, giving the sun and sky the hue of an alien world. I held my breath as the light from above faded. Silvery bubbles floated past my descending body; their delicacy tickled my skin and left it tingling.

The water’s weight pushed me down, and the tingling sensation grew worse as the bubbles raced past me to the surface, as though they gloried in their freedom. The cold and dark were unwelcome additions to my drugged oblivion; I reached helplessly upwards, grasping at the airy water.

My chest screamed for me to breathe; an animal panic filled me. I wanted so much to live, to fight against the merciless indifference of the ocean. I hated my life so, buried in soul-deep sadness. Only opium helped me escape, and I was willing to trade my life for this moment of wonder and terror, but my animal self cried to live. It would fight anything for one more breath, something I knew I should not do.

Pearls of air slid between my lips, rocketing upwards as my chest ached and the tingling turned to burning. I was cold and on fire, reaching the end of my sanity as I felt the darkness close in at the edges of my vision. 

At last, my final breath erupted from my mouth with the violence of a submarine at crush depth. I was at crush depth. My body gently landed on the slime-covered stones at the bottom, and I inhaled. I had no choice; the animal mind won and didn’t know we were dead.


 

Dr. Pendleton watched Alex’s body sag in the chair; only his head remained visible before disappearing into the infant devourer's soft, leathery flesh. The other five babies gave up the pretense of being chairs and opened their mouths, filled with glittering green teeth. They keened in unison, a cry of celebration and yearning; they all longed to be fed next. 


The doctor affectionately stroked the creature's pale hide and looked up as the nurse walked in awkwardly carrying a burlap sack; viscera leaked through and shone black on the floor in the light of the fire. She looked at the creature Alex had been gifted to, her eyes raised. 

“Yes, sister,” the doctor said. “She’s accepted the offering. It is glorious, for we are closer. We must complete the ritual now.”

“Glory to the All-Devouring Flesh!” she cried out, joy suffusing her waxen features. “Glory to the Great Feasting. And we are grateful to serve The Ravenous One!” As she spoke, she reached her delicate hand into the bag, pulled out chunks of flesh, and tossed them to the hungry babies, a beard-covered slice caught in the mouth of the closest one before being pulled in by a tentacle-like tongue. 

“The Huston family has kept their bargain,” Dr. Pendleton said with satisfaction as the infant devourer seemed to shrink in on itself as it digested its meal. He looked at his sister as she licked the gore off her fingers. “Prepare it to go home and begin its new life as Alex.”


 


Brian (he/him) lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife, son, daughter, and long-suffering dog. He's been writing horror and sci-fi for the last 33 years, sidetracked by many things but always hearing the voices of his characters. 

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