“Cannabis alienus ‘alien dope’” originated from something that really happened to me (no, not the alien slug.) My family moved out of state before my junior year of high school, and two years later (after graduation) I made a trip back to what used to be home to try reconnecting with people I knew. Aside from learning that it only took two years for things to change so much that I couldn’t really “go back”, I also had an encounter with a former band mate who had taken a wrong turn, and took me on a journey through woods and corn fields to see where he had stashed his marijuana plant.
Here’s the blurb:
Be careful what you smoke.
L.D. had always been an unapologetic pot-head, but something has gone wrong and he’s fallen off the radar. Eric returns home for what he thinks is going to be a simple intervention, but turns into… something else. Find out what – read “Cannabis alienus ‘alien dope’.”
And here’s the excerpt:
I’d kicked the habit by the end of my first semester – Julie wouldn’t have had anything to do with me, otherwise. This was no mean feat for a theater major, but it was just as well, because I don’t think I would have made it through my freshman year if I’d kept smoking. And now I had just one more year until graduation.
I hadn’t been back home since I left. Oh, I’d been to see my parents plenty – they’d moved to Arkansas pretty soon after I went off to college. No, when I say home I mean Massachusetts; Tewksbury has always felt like home to me. I hadn’t made it back there between school, distance, and Julie since I left, and probably never would have except for the call from L.D.’s mom on the last day of finals.
“I’m worried, Eric. Leonard’s run away from home.”
“Hi, Mrs. Daniels,” I said. I was surprised I knew who it was – she’d never called me before. I didn’t know any other Leonards, though, and she was the only one who called L.D. that. “He’s twenty-two, like me. It’s probably time for him to move out.”
“His father told Leonard he needed to get a job and start helping out around here, and he left.”
“There you go – he’s taking some responsibility for himself.”
Then she whispered in the phone like she was afraid someone would hear her, “I think he might be doing drugs.”
That started me worrying. Parents can be pretty dense, but even as heavy as L.D. was into pot he’d covered it up really well, and kept the Daniels’ clueless throughout high school. If Mrs. Daniels was suspicious now, then maybe L.D. had graduated into something heavier. It might be time for an intervention.
“How long has it been?”
“I haven’t seen him for four months.”
That meant he’d left when there was still snow on the ground, so he would have had to hole up somewhere, at least at first. And I knew where that somewhere was.
It had been three years since I’d had anything to do with L.D., but prior to that we were inseparable, and except when we had to show up at Tewksbury Memorial for classes, we spent all our free time hiding out up in an old tree fort at the edge of Mr. Withers’ corn field – smoking pot when we could get some, until L.D.’s plants grew enough to give us a pretty steady supply.
I was probably nuts, driving all the way back up to Massachusetts on a hunch, and Julie said so. If I was so sure I knew where he’d gone, I should have just told his parents where it was and let them go find him. But even after all that time I would have felt like a Benedict Arnold to give up the fort, so I had to go up there myself. I had planned to go up to Seattle with Julie for a month, but that was her home. Why not go back to mine?
“Just make sure you’re back before start of semester,” Julie said. “Try not to get into too much trouble.”
She said that last part joking, but if she’d been worried that I might get back into things with L.D., she would have had good reason.
I hadn’t told Mrs. Daniels I was coming, and I wasn’t sure I wanted them to know, so I parked a couple of streets away from the Daniels’ and slipped into the pine woods to look for L.D. The fresh smell of mold caught me by surprise. Something about the odor brought back memories of hanging around smoking with L.D. in our misspent high school years. Maybe it wouldn’t have hit me the same way if I’d spent time in the Texas woods, but I suspect there was something subtly different there. Funny how smells will trigger memories like that.
I headed off in the direction of the corn fields. I’d planned to back-track from there to the tree fort, but I spotted L.D.’s head above the stalks as he walked between the rows.
“Hey L.D. – wait up!” I said as I wove my way toward him.
He ducked down when I called out, and I lost sight of him.
“Come on, L.D.,” I called out. “It’s Eric!”
“Eric… Little Man.”
L.D. had always been this tall, gangly thing that stood a head above the rest of our class, even back in seventh grade when we first started hanging together, and I was one of the shortest, so the other kids called us Big Man and Little Man. Even though I got my growth and caught up with everyone except L.D. before high school, he still called me that.
His head floated back up where I could see it.
“Is that really you?”
“Yeah it’s me.”
“Good, that means I’m not hallucinating,” he said. “Can’t ever be too sure.”
I stepped into the row with him and looked him up and down. He looked gawkier than I remembered, and maybe taller, but I think it was just that he was so damn skinny. He wore jeans and a dirty white t-shirt that just sort of hung on his bones. Probably wasn’t getting enough food, out here on his own.
But the eyes were creepy. He barely blinked, and they were all red rimmed and bloodshot like he hadn’t slept in days. Or maybe he’d been doing a hell of a lot of weed, but in the old days he would have covered it a lot better; he’d never been this blatant about it.
“What have you been smoking, L.D.? You look like hell.”
“Hey, I just woke up.”
“From the dead, maybe.”
“Feels like it sometimes. What’s today?”
“Wednesday,” I said.
He counted off real slow on his fingers.
“Wow – I’ve been out for maybe three days,” he said. “Hope they’re not all eaten up.”
We walked silently between the corn rows, no conversation, like we hadn’t been apart for four years. They say you can’t go back, and it’s true mostly – places change like people, and usually not in the same direction. But L.D. and I, it was like it had only been yesterday, like we were tuned into each other and would just pick up where we left off. Part of me was leaning that way with the memories that being there brought back, but another part of me was thinking about Julie and the life I had now, and how if I wasn’t careful I could lose it. I needed to set a stake in the ground before that went any further. I stopped walking.
“I don’t do pot anymore, L.D.”
He stopped and looked down at me with those red-rimmed eyes.
“That’s okay – I won’t hold it against you,” he said with a weak smile, then continued walking. “Your loss, though.”
His reaction didn’t surprise me at all – I could have told him I was a space alien from mars and he would have still been fine with it. It was my reaction, like I was disappointed that he hadn’t tried to talk me back into it. I wondered if I was really cut out for this intervention, if that’s what it was.
“Through here,” he said.
I could see a stand of darker, slightly taller stalks ahead, and we zigzagged through the rows to reach it. The stalks looked odd, black striations running through the green leaves. As L.D. stepped past the outer boundary of the stand, he seemed to get shorter, and then I lost sight of him.
“Watch your step,” he said.
The black-veined corn was growing around the edges of a circular depression maybe twelve feet across, that went down about three feet before it bottomed out. The soil had all these bits of red-black rocks and powder through it. Growing around a basketball-sized, red-black rock at the bottom were three of the blackest cannabis I’d ever seen. L.D. was picking off leaves and putting them in a plastic DeMoulas grocery bag.
“Did you dig this pit? Mr. Withers is going to be pissed.”
“Was already here when I went to plant,” he said. “Seemed like a good place to hide my crop. Dammit, there’s another one.”
He pointed at what looked like a shiny black, thumbnail-sized blob on the stalk of one of his plants. He tried to pry it off with a pocketknife, but it looked like he’d damage the plant if he pressed much harder, and it wasn’t budging, so he stopped.
“That’s a strange looking slug,” I said.
Strange? Eric doesn’t know the half of it – this isn’t any ordinary slug. Or cannabis, for that matter.
“Cannabis Alienus ‘alien dope’” is a speculative fiction short story, and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“Cannabis Alienus ‘alien dope’” is also included in the collection Still Even More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND:
Which is itself included in the mega-collection The Next Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’
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