The Acid Casualty

It’s 10PM, at a remote hostel near a hilltop in a magical place…

Mr. Balcombe: “What is he doing? Where is he going? I’ve never seen that before.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Oh he’s one of those. They walk up to their hotel and feel as if something isn’t right. It feels Californian, if you get what I mean. They’re young, able-bodied and think they can make it through on their own, or they’re just in denial. Just look at him. Dead giveaway. Years of heavy drug use. He’s used to this sort of stuff, he thinks he’s just hallucinating again. He’s going into the Night. He’s going to try it.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Sad. What sort of drugs?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Yeah I suppose it’s tragic, but he made a choice. Every once in a while you have someone who decides to be another martyr, someone who thinks he can do it on his own. If I had to guess, I’d say that guy took LSD for the umpteenth time and thought he could hug a train.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Never seen that before. So why doesn’t anyone try to stop him, or help him?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Yeah I’d say he’s one in a thousand. How long have you been here?”

Mr. Balcombe: “A few weeks…”

Mr. Eccleston: “Well the thing is, there’s nothing more valuable than an innocent sacrifice. If you sully it in any manner, if you try to tell him what you think is going on, I think you’ll make a lot of enemies around here. But in all fairness, mostly I don’t try to help them because I’ve noticed everyone else not helping them.”

Mr. Balcombe: “A sacrifice? What are you on about?”

Mr. Eccleston: “People who have a lot of money often get on a boat, sail away from the shore and watch the smoke rise into the air, until it stops. People pay a lot to see it. That’s why they don’t allow combustion engines here. They want a perfectly clear view. Then in the morning people will retrieve his body, or at least what’s left of it after the flies have had their way. And if they find he made it far enough to start trying to burn the brambles, they’ll crown this new Lord of the Flies, by pressing the thorns into his skin.”

Mr. Balcombe: “How often does that happen?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Last time it happened must have been decades ago, but every day here feels the same. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been here. But anyway, I think the guy was Polish. He has elderly grandmothers kissing the bones of his feet now in a chapel.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Hey look, there’s smoke rising!”

Mr. Eccleston: “He started already? Ugh. He’s scared of the dark. Probably having visions of a dozen spiders crawling over his face already, poor lad. I give him two hours before he burns through his fuel and plunges into nothingness. The bigger he builds the fire, the more darkness he will see. Just another acid casualty, about to learn the story of the human race. I’m off to bed.”

Mr. Balcombe: “I’m going to watch this.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Well you have a perfect spot. If I knew we’d have another one today I would’ve charged a small fortune for your room. Enjoy the show, I’m going off to bed. The first time is a spectacle. The second time is quiet hope. Then it just gets depressing.”

Mr. Balcombe: “I have to ask: What should I do when I run out of money?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Well you could try to leave before you do.”

Mr. Balcombe: “But what happens when I try to leave?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Well there’s the thing. You’re surrounded by people who’ve never left. And people who do leave don’t seem to come back. So what answer could I possibly give you?”

2 AM.

Mr. Balcombe: “Um sorry John. But I think you want to see this.”

Mr. Eccleston: “What is it?”

Mr. Balcombe: “He’s still going.”

Mr. Eccleston: “You woke me up for that?”

Mr. Balcombe: “I think you’ll want to see this. He started with a big fire, it must’ve been visible for everyone. But then it shrunk. And it’s been burning like this steadily since.”

Mr. Eccleston: “When was that?”

Mr. Balcombe: “About an hour ago I’d say.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Haha! Oh the lad is conserving. Oh my. That I get to see this. Go to the bright light, but return to the dim light. Yeah you’ve got one who knows what he’s doing. I’ve never seen that before. And you’ve got a front row seat, at a bargain price, lucky you. Can you see him?”

Mr. Balcombe: “I could make out his shadow every now and then.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Is he…”

Mr. Balcombe: “Gathering brambles to dry as the fire burns? I think he is.”

Mr. Eccleston: “You’re joking with me.”

Mr. Balcombe: “I think he is. Hungry, exhausted, sores and scratches covering his fingers. And yet he descends down the cliff. He gathers more firewood and brambles, thorns piercing his flesh. Then he crawls back up. He conserves. He endures and he conserves.”

Mr. Eccleston: “He’s going to fall down. The river will swallow him.”

Mr. Balcombe: “You really have no hope left, do you?”

Mr. Eccleston: “A pessimist is a man cured of his illusions.”

Mr. Balcombe: “At least stay up with me. Come to the window. Come see this.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Alright.”

A luxury yacht off the coast.


Mr. Brighton: “Heh. Yeah that’s the spirit. Hey how old are you?”

Alice: “I’m 21, forever 21! WOOOO!”

Mr. Brighton: “And what did you do?”

Alice: “I was like, a model. Catwalks in Milan, that sort of stuff.”

Mr. Brighton: “And then what happened?”

Alice: “My agent gave me like… these pills and I just…”

Mr. Brighton: “You just?”

Alice begins to cry.

Mr. Brighton: “Oh look. I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it I get it, it’s just…”

Megan (under her breath): “Dick.”

Mr. Brighton: “Hey ladies, who’s up for some tequila? LET’S PARTY!”

Megan: “Hey how much did you pay for that tequila?”

Mr. Brighton: “It’s the last bottle of tequila the hotel had left. I paid this guy I know who works there like a thousand-“

Alice laughs.

At the hostel…

Mr. Balcombe: “I can’t see the fire anymore.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Like I thought. Well that was fun while it lasted, I’m off to bed.”

Mr. Balcombe: “We have to pray for him.”

Mr. Eccleston: “You think our prayers will be heard? Ha! You might as well talk to a tree.”

Mr. Balcombe: “It’s the right thing to do.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Well you go do the right thing to do and I’m going back to bed.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Sounds like you have only yourself to blame.”

Mr. Eccleston: “I beg your pardon?”

Mr. Balcombe: “You heard what I said.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Well I suppose I’m going to have to introduce you to some basic manners. You are a guest at this house and you are new to this place. Now, I don’t know who you were before you came here, but I would urge you to keep in mind that you’re new here, hardly understand how this place works and if you think you’re going to make a difference by praying, I’d urge you to get it in your head that we’ve all tried that, a thousand times. We tried it alone. We tried it in groups. Our prayers are not being heard.”

Mr. Balcombe: “I’m not asking you to pray because it works. I’m not asking you to pray because I think it will free us, or even make a difference.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Then why should I pray?”

Mr. Balcombe: “Because it allows us to fulfill our only obligation.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Which is?”

Mr. Balcombe: “To love.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Hold on. Do you see that?”

Mr. Balcombe: “Hah! The lad is still going at it.”

Mr. Eccleston: “This is unprecedented.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Is it?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Pretty sure it is. We’ve never had this before.”

Mr. Balcombe: “So where are the flies?”

Mr. Eccleston: “The smoke must have kept them away.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Is he going to make it?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Oh it’s not over once the sun returns. That’s when the next step of his torture begins.”

On the yacht


Mr. Brighton: “You finished it all.”


Mr. Brighton: “Hey, do you see that?”

Megan: “I see it.”

Mr. Brighton: “That’s not how it normally goes.”

Megan: “Oh I know. Where were the binoculars?”


Megan: “Hush now, be quiet.”

Alice: “What’s wrong? We’re going to watch a dork make a campfire all night long? I’m bored. You people do this every night here? BORING-“

Mr. Brighton: “Shut up.”

Megan: “She’s new, nobody explained it to her yet.”

Alice: “Explained what? Hey where am I anyway? Why is everything so strange here?”

Megan: “Look, you’ll grow used to it.”

Alice: “I’m covered in…”

Megan: “Just don’t look at it.”

At the hostel:

Mr. Balcombe: “So what happens next?”

Mr. Eccleston: “You’ve witnessed the birth of the most desired prey you can imagine. A lamb surrounded by wolves. You know what you’re supposed to do when you see the Buddha on the side of the road.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Why?”

Mr. Eccleston: “It will want him gone. And so it offers up the perfect get out of jail-free card.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Why does it want him gone? And what is it?”

Mr. Eccleston: “I’ve said too much already.”

Mr. Balcombe: “What is this place?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Hey grab yourself another glass of brandy, try to enjoy the show.”

On the yacht


Megan: “She’s not here.”


Megan: “We can’t.”

Alice: “WHY NOT?”

Megan: “We just can’t ok?”

Mr. Brighton: “Try to be in the here and now. This is what we have. You’re on a beautiful boat, with fun and cool beautiful people. We have a fridge full of drinks…”

Megan: “That mentality got you here.”

Mr. Brighton: “You realize you’re not helping, right? You’re not helping her, you’re not helping me.”

Megan: “I’m just saying, your way of coping is your way of coping. You burn through your fuel, you stare directly into the light, let her decide on her own how much she needs. Let her decide how much of the black cup she can endure. At least grant her that basic respect.”


Mr. Brighton: “Oof, I was planning on saving that for another night. But hey, for a thousand-“


Mr. Brighton: “I’m no longer in the mood.”

At the hostel…

Mr. Balcombe: “I beg of you, tell me, what is this place? Am I in-“

Mr. Eccleston: “No, it’s weirder than that.”

Mr. Balcombe: “I need to know.”

Mr. Eccleston: “And once you know, I have nothing left to offer. The value of a flame declines as more men dip their torch in it. But tell me first, about the place you come from. By now I have almost no memories left of the place I was before I came here. How was it? Was it perfect?”

Mr. Balcombe: “No, it wasn’t.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Why not?”

Mr. Balcombe: “Well for starters, it was overpopulated and the people were annihilating it through their greed.”

Mr. Eccleston: “So why didn’t the governments stop them?”

Mr. Balcombe: “Because people deserve to be free.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Even if they can’t handle the responsibility?”

Mr. Balcombe: “I suppose not. We don’t let children drive cars. People deserve as much freedom as they can responsibly handle.”

Mr. Eccleston: “So what do you think this place is?”

On the yacht

Mr. Brighton: “The sun can be here any moment. Where’s Alice?”

Megan: “Asleep, finally.”

Mr. Brighton: “Should we wake her up?”

Megan: “Of course not. There’s no point in having her see this, if you’re not going to tell her what she’s seeing. Just try to keep her sedated. She has to be weaned into this. Didn’t you?”

Mr. Brighton: “I honestly don’t remember. Did you?”

Megan: “I don’t remember either. Can you remember what you ate for dinner yesterday?”

Mr. Brighton: “I can’t.”

Megan: “We’re a field. That’s all we are. A shrinking field of awareness, the best possible product of the connections our brains have left to work with. Slowly losing grasp of the past. Slowly losing grasp of reality. Slowly forgetting the distinction between the sacred and the mundane, as everything begins to blend together. Slowly fading out into the night…”

Mr. Brighton: “…I can see the sun.”

In the hostel

Mr. Balcombe: “There he goes, back to civilization. I don’t get it. He clearly doesn’t belong here. Why is he here? And why can’t he just go back?”

Mr. Eccleston: “Oh I think he could go back. Return as a prince. Return as a movie star. For a thousand lives, bare minimum. But you can tell he’s not that sort of person. He sees the colors around him. He sees the cost. At some level he gets what’s going on and he can’t get himself to do it.”

Mr. Balcombe: “So why is he here then?”

Mr. Eccleston: “He didn’t do something wrong. It’s curiosity that killed the cat.”

Mr. Balcombe: “Your ‘cat’ is walking down the hill right there.”

Mr. Eccleston: “Sshh he can hear us.”

The two old men watch in silence, as the emaciated youth walks by the hostel. He carries many bags, his hands are covered in soot and sores.

Mr. Eccleston: “They say that hell is other people, don’t they? Imagine what it’s like to walk in his shoes. All of us are demons. All of us speak about him in hushed tones. All of us who are polite. Those of us who are impolite, those of us who have a big bill to settle, will let him know they know who he is. Because fear feeds them. It empowers them. It opens his mind to their perspective. And if they can terrify him enough, they’ll catch a lamb.”

On the road

A black station wagon comes to a halt and the driver lowers his window. “Hey do you need a lift?” He asks.

The youth responds: “No thanks, I’m good.”

“Are you sure? You must be exhausted, carrying all that stuff around.” The old man replies.

“Eh, I got it uphill. It’s easier downhill than uphill.” The youth responds again.

“Look. I saw you make that fire.” The youth looks shocked. “That was pretty impressive. You kept it going all night long, must have been a challenge. Just take it easy from here ok?” The old man suggests.

“It’s not that special. I brought some firewood and two lighters, the weather was dry, so I made a fire.” The youth responds again, nervously.

“You deserve a rest. And between you and me, you deserve much more than that.” The man suggests.

“Who are you?” The youth asks.

“Come in the car.” The man suggests.

The young man continues walking.

But the people he sees speak of him, insofar as he can make out what they are saying. And the walls speak of him. They carry messages, about him. And he knows this is not possible. He knows this is not right. But the coincidences accumulate, even as he tells himself, it can not be about him. A torture-dungeon of meaningful coincidences is being constructed all around him, gradually robbing him of the ability to deny its nature.

He realizes he needs to get out of here. But he is surrounded, by messages of death and blood. Not just his own death, but worse. He sees the cost of every action he takes. He makes a mistake, he walks in a wrong direction, trying to ignore the haunting visual spectacle unfolding everywhere around him, telling himself it is not real as he hears another ambulance drive off, within milliseconds of his error. And the town looks abandoned, compared to when he arrived.

But what he doesn’t know, is that there is no such thing as real. There are no delusions. There is no duality. There are only perspectives. And for a thousand people he has already served as their sacrificial lamb, their get-out-of-jail-free card. From their perspective, he is already dead and they have to live with the shameful experience of having murdered him. But within his branch, nothing happened.

And this, this is when most people look at the money they have left, force themselves through their fear, tell themselves that none of it is real, tell themselves they lost their minds and pay up to leave this place for good, while they still can. Because it’s spreading. Where once sat a little flower boutique, now sits nothing. As if the old lady who worked there never even existed. When you see this, you know you will be declared insane. You can not tell anyone. You must simply figure out how to leave, no matter the cost, into the thick grey mist of nothingness that surrounds this place.

That is what most people who can’t afford to stay for long do. But he is different. He closes his eyes and looks inside himself. He asks himself what he did wrong. He asks himself what he did, to deserve this place. He lets the pain flow over him. He purifies his soul.

And so it crashes. It’s powerful, but not designed for this. He breaks through, he finds the key, unlocks his chains and says:


Alice’s very next memory was of opening her eyes. Her agent noticed something was wrong and gave her Narcan. She had vomited her Bloody Mary all over her white dress. And already she was beginning to forget what she had seen. Already her mind began to polish her memories.

But our hero’s next memory was of opening his eyes in a mental ward, where he has lived ever since. He has given up on trying to convince people that he is sane, or that any of it ever actually happened. There are wards full of guys like him and the doctors have heard it all before. They call them acid casualties.


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The patients in the mental ward have had their daily dose of xanax and calmed down it seems, so most of your comments should be automatically posted again. Try not to annoy me with your low IQ low status white male theories about the Nazi gas chambers being fake or CO2 being harmless plant food and we can all get along. Have fun!

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