Ghost Medicine
by Alex Sinclair, October 31st 2002

I get the tryptamazipine from a bloke on the mainland who calls himself the mayor.

 

I have forgotten my shoes, and the broken asphalt has baked the soles of my feet into shedded snakeskin.

 

Tuk tuk drivers with the face of toads stare and bare their cheap gold teeth in diseased grins.

 

They whisper to one another, as if they have to hide their words from ears, and I clock the bidhi sak crawling up their copper coloured forearms to seek the dark sanctuary of a sleeve.

 

I wonder what they did in their past lives.

 

I wonder who among them sucked on human gall bladders after filling boggy ditches with bodies limp and torn as kitchen rags, dragging smiles into tender necks with knives brown with baby blood.

 

The mayor is sitting outside the Monkey's Paw on his bike, the boxes of tryptamax in a wrinkled carrier bag hanging from the wing mirror. A sleepless man with thyroidal eyes permanently fixed in a perverts stare with white slugs of dehydrated scum coating his rubbery lips.

 

Hair absurd, so curly and robust it would probably break any set of scissors that ever dare tackle it.

 

Swathed in a cunt of a Hawaiian shirt, a real factory woven nightmare of flamingos and cocktail glasses with little straw hats.

 

“What are they?” I ask.

 

“Antivirals from the war, or before that even.

 

Surplus you see yes.

 

Same family as the doxycyclines and antimalarials, yes.

 

Potent. Did I ever tell you about all the knobs I saw in Bangkwang? Beads and needles, make your eyes water…”

 

“And there's no Mandy about?”

 

“Yes no Mandy. Nor Sid. It's a drought. Russians are pulling a strop. They assure me they will shoot many Chinese this weekend so as to alleviate any losses. Of course in Prey Sar, the Cambodian nick, they don’t mutilate their todgers…”

 

I pay the mayor his cut and I stuff the carrier bag into my backpack.

He rants for a moment about cocks and says soksabai to a passing moto driver who tried to sell me an AK47 the wet season before last.

 

Meth is on the mayor’s breath- a black noxious cloud of meth and metered by the hour sex, dispensed lovelessly from the despairing eyes of the restless dead, long dead living ghosts trapped in the bodies of girls that haunted only the worst establishments; Monkey’s Paw, The Magic Monkey, Blood Brothers Bar. The Grilling Fields….

 

Pipe and needle worshippers.

 

I check the ground beneath my feet, my eyes searching for the punji stakes of discarded needles.

 

I walk five feet and then turn back.

 

The mayor hasn’t moved; he is asking a schoolgirl if she is a happy chicken when he sees me again.

 

“Sabai muan? You were quick! You haven’t done all those already have you?”

 

“What do they do,” I say.

 

I forgot to ask.

 

My brain hasn’t been the same since the Blood Eagles tried to circumcise my head with a machete and a chunky ashtray.

 

I didn’t even take their product.

 

The mayor rubs his hands together and licks his lips.

 

“Oh yes of course the effects, yes, yes. Mild visuals, stimulant uppery effect. Heightened sex drive. And of course no viruses! Don’t take more than two or three at a time though.”

 

“Which?”

 

“Three,” he says.

 

He slaps my back and I walk down to the pier.

 

When I get back to black dog island, Koh Chkai Kmaw, I go into a valium hole and lay motionless and dormant for a few days, waiting for something to happen, a trapdoor spider waiting for something to stroll past my hole.

 

Which it does.

 

People start to go missing in nights lively with screams, and all the feral black dogs die, dropping down dead one by one.

 

The locals fear a curse but the expats don’t give a shit.

 

The hardcore dossers like me, drop outs too lazy or drunk to die, stand fast and barely move, except to administer more poison to themselves.

 

Until the typhoon arrives. 

 

The Khmers flee in a rickety fleet of longtails packed with pots and pans, livestock and eldery relatives, and most of the backpackers and tourists crowd the pier, awaiting the last boat until it's safe to sail again.

 

The ferry improbably sinks en route, struck by lightning, and the marooned hippies sulk and decide to throw an end of the world party up on Dead beach.

 

I sense an opportunity and take my bag of tryptamax and sell them for five dollars a strip.

 

I tell the crusties to go steady but they always know better and they start necking handfuls, and I reciprocate, unwilling to be outdone by a smarmy bunch of do-gooder yoghurt weaving bastards, each one drenched in fakery, the lot of them as organic as a batch of Monsanto Terminator seeds.

 

I drop five of the red pills into my mouth and wash them down with a warm Klang…

 


 

 …thoughts are silty and unclear, mind wading blind through a swamp of magnified sensory overload; bomb crater sized pores, fibre optic cable facial hair, surges of sex and death…I’ve got a stomach full of vampire moths and if I close my eyes, it feels like I’m being dropped down a hole in the ground by something with claws for feet…

 

The trees are melting, the sea is solid…the rain strips our clothes off us.

 

Everyone is fighting or getting hard ons and I can hear other people thinking so loudly I almost want to tell them to keep it down, the incessant radio wave chatter riding an itchy black magic carpet of static white noise, neurosis served back and forth in a tennis match of interior monologues. Unwanted or invasive ideas juggled like a hot potato, a psychic battleground.

 

It’s too much, the pressure is unbearable.

 

My brain is a diving bell sinking to unfathomable depths…

 

Something inside me, deep beneath my established self, seems to awaken and crawl upward.

 

It begins to claw and my brain vomits nightmares all over the beach.

Everything I’ve ever been scared of is spewed into the sand, and one by one, they dust themselves off and join other people’s horrors.

Behind us the jungle churns, writhing.

 

It’s an octopus, a giant octopus and it’s changing colour, darkening, as its eyes the size and colour of burning houses fix the beach with a hungry gaze. 

 

It’s curlicued tentacles snake along the beach and wrap around various party goers and squeeze them tight until they throw up secrets and schizophrenic madness… corrosive pools of violence bubbles like the spilled contents of a witches cauldron.

 

Voices jabber inside my skull, machine gunning it, the bullets of barely remembered words ricocheting around in there, making my teeth shake.

 

Some hippies stop dancing to projectile vomit…

 

The river, a water road, running through my head…there’s a noise that stabs me in the guts and it’s so physical my hands are running themselves over the ladder of my ribs, searching for a handle poking out…something rushes past the trees…a hellish birthday balloon, a head…a woman’s head is flying around us. Screeching, and she would be beautiful if she just had a body. If she drained the poison from her face.

 

Screeching so painfully, people fall to the sand stunned, as if they had tried to French kiss an electric eel, but it was not volts she was dispensing, but psychic beams of stored up trauma.

 

She was jealous, jealous of all the living and unharmed.

 

She didn’t want to be the only one and in a way she seemed generous.

 

She wanted to share her pain.

 

Up the beach stood her headless body.

 

It danced as sombre dead monks in mustard coloured robes stared and played Chinese chess, its blue-black nipples as urgent as shell casings, its pert bee sting breasts firm with delicious rigour mortis.

 

I look down at the triangle of black silk between its legs, aroused and appalled…

 

I am surrounded by the dead…the tryptamax has opened something and now I am surrounded by the busy dead…

 

I can see people's karma…the good in festering heaps like piles of dogshit or corpses…the bad glimmering like gold…

 

I watch the head fly around, its teardrops sizzling in the sand.

 

People are dropping to the floor chewing off their tongues, eyes rolled back.

 

Seizures make people break dance and shake their heads violently, as if they are all ferociously disagreeing with one another.

 

They froth at the mouth, thick beards of it the colour and consistency of bloody shaving foam.

 

Some people are piled together into slippery pyramids, fucking and tearing at whatever expanse of flesh looks the best.

 

One bloke makes a skinny tree droop with a makeshift chandelier consisting of himself and a belt.

 

Somehow he has tied his own hands behind his back…

 

A girl has waded out into the water and she’s scratching herself, tearing into her skin with her fingers.

 

“It’s trying to get out,” she’s saying.

 

“It’s trying to climb out of me.”

 

The head tears past again, a flickering projection stuttered out by the jungle, crackling and faded, almost rendered in grainy black and white, jumping from one frame of my vision to the next, like one of those flick books I would make as a kid… Kineographs… It’s called a kineograph…

 

Oh my god another rush rips up through me, a rush that fills me with a god like power so brittle and momentary I need to drop to the sand and worship myself in order to sustain it.

 

I swell and I want to fuck someone to death.

 

I reach out… my fingers questing… fingers are legs… my hand a giant tick… hungry for blood…

 

I reach out, ready to peel away the canvas of reality and leave it in shreds but it runs away, as if dragged by a train…

 

…I’m seeing white lights, cigarette burns floating like malignant plankton across the senseless ocean of my vision…

 

When I come around the sky bulges with lightning, clouds bristling with jagged snapped off prison shanks of electricity and the rain is coming down hard, so hard it rings my ears, but not hard enough that it can wash away the blood that lays around on the sagging sand in fat lazy pools. 

 

Many people are still dancing, eyes bulging and bloodshot like painted eggs but many more lay stretched out and stiff…I see one of my schoolmates, a kid that crashed his dads car into an oak tree and died, and I see my dad for the first time since I was born, talking to some of the monks…others lay mutilated… and the head, the severed woman’s head, floats leisurely from one corpse to the next, a happy hum foxtrotting out of the hellish murder hole of her mouth, chewing into them as she pleased… tasty, she purrs in Khmer, tasty death.

 

Chhnang kar slab.

 

Mouthful of bollocks crushed up into spunky mush.

 

Gristly rump that separates from its host with pops.

 

Party streamer length of intestine…she even takes the ear off a girl doing the Macarena by herself, her feet stomping into a big pile of rain and piss gathered underneath her as if waiting for a drain to appear in the beach and suck it away…my hands are bloody… my brain is heavy metal, calcified… I can’t think… the jungle beckons me, waves me in with a flick of a tentacle and a primordial groan… and then I’m running, my legs not listening. I’m a puppet for it, this giant green squid pulling humanity’s strings… I run into its folds and let it swallow me and I fall to the ground, crying until my scream can find me, until my scream remembers that I am its mouth and it should seal itself to my face…… the jungle a hall of mirrors, a shattered kaleidoscope of neon green blades that make no sense because it keeps rearranging itself, and now I’m in it I know it won’t let me go, I can feel it, it’s a jealous and vengeful god is the lord, and I’m going nowhere… in and out… breathing in and out… I’m a speck of dust in a giant green lung, a priest lost in the cathedral of his own god's mind and when I look up I realise I’m drowning in trees…


 

Some time has passed.

 

It is dark, and I have been watching the head sweep the beach.

 

From watching her I know she is way beyond jealousy and hate.

 

She is insane, broken into two spirits that will spend eternity sustaining themselves with one another’s pain.

 

She’s confused, and she can’t decide if she’s a scared little girl or a malign entity with bad luck for blood, an insatiable carnivorous curse. 

 

I watch her sing sadly up to the frozen moon, its surface cold and glazed with ice.

 

She sniffles, and sobs to herself, a scared lonely bird of a thing so sad and pathetic I want to crawl out and go to her, and then she screeches and I have to stuff my fingers in my ears.

 

I see the harm and hate oozing from her tongue.

 

She interrupts her own broken wailing with mocking laughter that emerges from her cruel mouth in spiteful barks and I think if she had a tail she would tear it off.

 

Tears cut lines in the blood and graveyard dust caked on her cheeks and she takes random bites out of the dead hippies, spitting the pieces back into the waxen faces that yielded them, making a right mess.

 

“Doh nah bong ? Where you go?”

 

A map of scarified flesh stares out of the jungle at me, eyes mad and cackling.

 

Badly stitched together skin the colour and texture of a rawhide saddle. 

 

I turn away from the torn jigsaw puzzle of the face and the lunatic lips bearing a smile like a mouthful of ivory dominoes.

 

The cheap Ara red cigarette smoke rising up in spider legs from the holes in the cheeks and lips make me cough and splutter…

 

I look at the head and the voice says ”Srey Ahp. Khamoach khylean. Very Hungry ghost. Angry and so sad. You see. You eat the thnam khamoach.

 

Ghost medicine. Now you see all. Like me. 

 

Barang bomb go BOOM. And now I see. 

 

No arms but I see.”

 

He holds up his the prosthetic claws that replace what a hungry bomb gnawed away, holds them up to shine in the icy grey slime the moon is pouring down on us and laughs a laugh that bisects his head.

 

I think of pez dispensers.

 

I get washed with vingerary opium den breath.

 

I reach out to touch this tree root of a man, to let my hands decide if he’s real.

 

He cackles again.

 

The myriad of charms and talismans hanging from his neck jingle against my fingers; sneering brass bird gods and strips of tiger skin in small tubes. Boar tusks and mummified snake heads.

 

The Kru Thmup leads me through the leaning shifting woods.

 

Things tattoo me with bites, dancing disease into my skin, inscribing promises of a sweaty slow death.

 

The Kru Thmup lets me swig from a foul bottle of home brewed rice wine, bitter and rank with a rotten knot of armoured centipedes that had drowned in the bottles depths fighting one another.

 

The wizard talks to the sorrowed ghosts of long exploded artillery shells and he plucks the neon green lightning bolt of a viper from a tree and kisses it on its diamond shaped head.

 

He leads me to the lake of one hundred murdered monks, high up in the hills overlooking the island.

 

A swamp more or less, dengue haunted, the stagnant mud rich with a jealously guarded bounty of cracked and smashed skulls, each one grinning eternal at the ancient hilarity of the cosmic practical joke.

 

The forest around the lake still rings like a bell from the massacre they witnessed, the silence as oppressive as face to face asphyxiation, the leaves wrinkled as old ladies labias and the trees twisted into painfully spastic contortions, as if they had tried to turn away from the horror that had spilled across the waters edge. 

 

Frogs burp in a madcap liturgy, warty priests hailing sulking jungle deities.

 

I don’t want to be here.

 

I look straight ahead, fearing the shifting shadows that wait for my soul at the edge of my eyes.

 

I feel something following us, something that knows the unknowable corridors of the jungle as intimately as its own house, something as heavy as only the restless dead can be. 

 

I don’t look back, I just let warmth breath prickle my neck, and I breathe out of my mouth so as not to drown in its stench.

 

The Kru Thmup leads me to a hut guarded by a portly water buffalo, regally bestowed with a royal crown of enormously crested horns. 

 

Its big ivory teeth work the sparse cud mechanically, its vast body smeared with the moon's silver slime.

 

I look up; it's a rotten orange fuzzy with mould and dust.

 

I think the hut is floating in mid air, until I see the vague outline of wonky stilts in the darkness, and sitting next to it is what appears to be a very elaborate and ornate bird house, brightly painted in technicolour.

 

I stare at the offerings of incense inside, and the rag of rotten meat studded with stuck fast flies, their feet cemented in place with dried juices.

 

I can hear their little wings buzzing, and I try to focus on the meat, squinting to make out its shape.

 

It’s familiar.

 

“Pteah tevoda. Spirit house,” the Kru says.

 

“What is this, a baby? Some kind of monkey embryo or what,” I manage.

 

The Kru Thmup laughs.

 

“No, no no.” he says. “Not baby.”

 

We sit upon a bamboo mat, the bare boards creaking under our weight.

 

The lamp bathes the Kru Thmup in dark orange and amber, the craters and ravines of scar tissue in his face overflowing with juicy shadows.

 

In one corner is a bird sized moth with a staring pair of eyes emblazoned on its papery wings and in another is a hand sized spider suspended seemingly in midair on an invisible web.

 

“Am I dead?” I ask, and the Kru laughs.

 

Beads of rice wine drip down his face and hang from his chin like poisonous little berries.

 

The python thick coil of natty dreads wrapped around his neck seems to twitch as if it's waking up.

 

I hear a rattle.

 

I watch him laugh and I know he is mad, but I can’t even be sure he even exists outside of my head. I can’t even be sure that I am awake.

I wonder if the jungle will be forever trapped in my skull, if I will carry its contents around with me wherever I go, infecting everything with its rot.

 

“No, not dead bong. Not dead.”

 

He hands me the bottle of rice wine. I tip it up and try to drown myself with it. Something clawed and dead in the bottle brushes my lips and touches my teeth and I spray out a cloud of mist that hangs in the dusty air like the after effects of a sniper's headshot.

 

The centipedes inside each a segmented nightmare.

 

He has a deck of worn playing cards in his claws and he shoots lances of blood red betelnut juice from the ragged spout of his mouth.

 

It splatters across the boards.

 

He manipulates the cards deftly for a man without hands and I keep my eyes fixed on him.

 

The corners are moving.

 

Things are crawling out of the corners again.

 

He has produced a carved pipe, a tar coloured artefact stained with various narcotic resins.

 

A squidgy bogey of opium sits in the nostril of the pipe and soon I’m sucking down worms of acrid smoke….

 

I’m melting, my sense of self dissolving in a pan… dreams begin to sprout across the inside of my eyelids, brief snapshots of another world…

 

I lay down on a thin mattress, the ethereal jellyfish of the mosquito net billowing around me…

 

Somehow I can see through the thin membranes of my eyelids.

 

I watch the Kru Thmup draw card after card. I watch the cackles jump from his mouth and dance on the tide of smoke filling the room…

 

Ghosts gather, I can feel them.

 

I look out the door and see their eyes shining in the moonlight; monks and their executioners as well as something else…

 

“Ahh she is here! Samnang laor bong. Good lucky to you.”

 

I open my lids, heavy as manhole covers, and I watch the head come through the window, the obedient dog of her torso scuttling up the stairs, a naked crab on all fours…angry hairy slash smiling and drooling death.

 

No smile as sardonic as a murdered woman’s muff.

 

Her nails scrape across the floor boards hard enough to leave claw marks across my mind.

 

I hear her joints pop.

 

A fusillade of bubble wrap noises, each one aimed in my direction.

 

I can’t move, and soon she is looming over me from behind the pixelated veil of the mosquito net, her face starched with lifelessness, a stiff and rigid mask of horror pale enough to match the moon, with evil eight balls for eyes.

 

Eight balls shiny with hell's reflection…

 

…hell on her breath and a sound trapped in her throat, like something stuck down a drain trying to hate its way out.

 

I’m transfixed…

 

…her naked rank heart beatless beside the lush foamy bellows of her lungs…exposed organs swinging down in purple meaty drapes, dangling from her neck, enclosed by the bony prison cell of her rib cage, each rib a cruel hooked claw…

 

lengths of sentient entrails dancing in the air, snatching at insects, pulling back the mosquito net… 

 

I try to scream but the torso climbs onto the mattress and wraps itself around me in a freezing straightjacket.

 

My nose is filled with evil’s odourless musk, my skin smeared with a light dusting of greasy mould…

 

She grabs at me, her strong hands with their cruel nails down my boards shorts, her head hovering close to me, her face robbing me of breath, the lank silken ropes of her hair crawling with lice.

 

A tick as fat and wrinkled as a Christmas current plops to the floor with a splat.

 

Up close I can see the storm clouds of haemorrhaging in her eyes, the cracked black lips coated with bird guano and still born cattle carcasses.

 

Strings of meat trapped between her teeth.

 

She starts to hum and tears cut silent silver rivers through the caked filth on her face.

 

She starts to kiss me, chewing into my lips, filling my mouth with a giant septic leech of a tongue that tastes bitter and black, blacker than a body bag.

 

The Kru Thmup laughs, but it seems to come from a hundred years away.

 

“Srey sa’art,” I say. Beautiful girl, my mantra, my prayer.

 

She smiles and I hear things fall dead from their nighttime perches and crash through the trees all around us.

 


 


 

A psychic holocaust blooms in my head and when I wake up I am not the same.

 

I have been prematurely aged.

 

I feel shrunken. Desiccated.

 

The hut is filled with golden rays of sunshine that reveal its emptiness, and I start to stew in my own neurosis.

 

The Kru Thmup is gone, but his laugh hangs in the air, as thick as opium smoke.

 

I look around.

 

There is nothing but the jungle outside trying to creep in.

 

Always trying to creep inside me.

 

I sit up and look back at a shadow cast into the mattress with the burning rain of my feverish sweat.

 

And she is there next to me, stiff and lifeless and stinking of dead sex, eyes dull buttons, a pale wax doll.

 

She looks out of place and sad, a loyal toy betrayed and abandoned on a doomed bus.

 

Flies march up and down the inside of her legs and orbit her nipples.

 

Between her legs, pale worms writhe like sentient hairs.

 

I feel the sickness slithering up my spine.

 

I can’t breathe, can’t catch my breath.

 

I dry heave and something wriggles in my guts.

 

I have to get out.

 

I stagger around trying to get dressed, looking for clothes I don’t have and I look down and she’s smiling at me.