I motion to Lime that I'm going to go outside for some air and ask her if she wants to come with. She talks over Chew Toy to tell me she will be out in a minute.
I turn around and already, by the second step away, I feel relief. Walking through crowds of people is uncomfortable but at least it feels like I'm going somewhere. It's better than standing around becoming more and more of a stone wall of weirdness. There is a windowless steel door at the back of the room that people are coming in and out of. Each time it opens, a bright light tears in. I step outside. The air blows over me. It's cool. I am standing on a metal fire escape crowded with people. I step around them and down the stairs to the ground. There is a security light on the wall outside pointed at the door and 2 cameras on either side. There are 3 spotlights on the ground pointed up at different angles, making everyone look older and more miserable than they did inside. There are several groups of people huddled together, smoking and passing around repurposed water jugs filled with green liquid sloshing around.
At the corner where the building juts out, next to a spotlight, stands a group of spirits swaying gently across and through each other. They are a cluster of long stalks, pale with smoke gently swirling in each of them. They are waving in different directions but when they notice me looking at them, they stop fast. Their dark eye spots grow and they begin wiggling with anxiety. They move faster and faster as I step in their direction. They flop back and forth so wildly that I can barely see them. Are they trying to hide themselves? Now they are just a white blur with a dark shadow line criss-crossing across their middle.
They are probably used to this building being quiet but tonight it's filled with ravers and noise. All that stress must be making them hungry. I whisper a happy greeting in spirit tongue and hold both my palms facing down. I step slowly and stop several feet away so that I don't get whacked by a wildly flying stalk of spirit. Not all spirits feel pleasant when they touch you. Especially nervous ones. I hear four distinct voices shrieking for me to go away. I reach into my bag and pull out the croissant. I ask them if they want this gift. Their movement slows to a stop and their eye spots shrink and expand to examine the pastry. Can they smell with those spots? Maybe they aren't eyes. I step forward to set it down on the ground under them but my movement startled them and they start wiggling again.
"You chying to feed the rats over there?" a human voice asks from behind me. I turn around and see a tall person wearing a ribcage t-shirt. It looks exactly like the one I had when I was a child, but this one was huge, even on the tall person wearing it.
"Woah nice shirt!" I say to them, hoping to distract them. "I used to have one just like it."
"Really?!" they exclaim, eyes wide.
"Yeah it's been lost to the sands of time though unfortunately," I laugh, stuffing the croissant back into my bag.
"You lost it! That's so sad!" They seem legitimately upset. "You can have mine! Do you want it?" Before I can answer they are already taking it off and putting in my free hand. They are covered in sweat and the shirt is damp and cold.
"Aren't you going to get cold?" I ask.
"No I'm burning up! I always get so hot at these things. I don't know why I chied to wear a shirt today..."
I thank them.
A few people slowly walk over to us and one with a cleanly shaven head and long black robes hands me their jug of green drink.
"Want some?" They ask.
I thank them and take a whiff first. It smells sweet and green. I'm 90% sure it's a mixture of alcohol, sugar, and Moxdridol. And I'm pretty happy to find it because it's usually a lot more effective at relaxing me at a party than just alcoholic drinks on their own. I take a swig. It tastes rather watered down. I take a deeper swig and hand it to the small person next to me wearing a yellow parka.
"I'm Sugar by the way." I introduce myself.
"Hey Sugar, I'm Chavus. He/Him. Just moved here a couple months ago. We're from New York. Still getting used to the weather I guess hah!"
"And this is Kardi in the parka, Raven with no hair, and Vince with the purple hair." They all nod to me politely, clearly not as ready to become best friends as Chavus. There are always a group or two of quiet folks outside of the party, safely huddled together. They are willing to let you in but you have to be quiet and polite.
"Is this your recipe?" I ask Raven, pointing to the green jug.
"It's Vince's concoction. Tastes terrible, doesn't it?" Raven leans in, leering at Vince.
"It's not bad! I just didn't have enough liquor so I added dye to make it look more appealing. Raven is just mad that it isn't boozey enough."
"I don't mind. It's not the alcohol that really makes a good jug anyway, in my opinion," I try. I'm hoping they will tell me how much Moxdridol they put in it or if there was anything else in there.
"Sooooo Truuuuue," Drones Kardi from deep in their fuzzy yellow hood. I can only see their mouth and chin in the bottom.
"Do yall use the same recipe in New York?" I ask. "Here it's 800mg of Moxi, grass liquor, and water."
"Usually." Vince says. "But people like to use different liquors and dye them different colors to match the flavor."
"Or their outfit. We made grey and white jugs for a moon party back home," added Raven. Despite the fact that all venues, even underground venues, have banned it, it's still pretty easy to find outside or wherever people are smoking or trying to make an audio call. I'm always on the lookout for someone who has made a variation.
"It's weird people never add other drugs. I mean lots of things will dissolve in water and are nice to take slowly over the course of the night," I say. Maybe it's just wishful thinking that someone will make a more complex punch that I can happen upon.
"Maybe at private parties but nothing is as cheap as Mox-D and booze and people don't always like to share," suggested Raven.
"I would share!" exclaimed Chavus, smacking his sweaty chest.
"Yeah, Chavus, you are very generous," I say, holding up the t-shirt. He smiles and repeats his name back at me. I hope he doesn't want me to put the shirt on. It is so wet and probably smells.
"I've heard about people adding other drugs," starts Vince. "But it seems uhhh..." They wave their hand around in the air. "...not cool? Cause like, it's supposed to be a sharable and like not safe to have other things in there. Like for allergies or whatever."
I nod in agreement but, to be honest, I don't mind trying something new every once in a while. I mean yeah some things are weird or you might get sick but that risk exists with any drug. But maybe these people only use pharmaceuticals.
I ask them where they are living and if they are working. No one is mentioning a CASH job and I'm starting to think they don't have any ties to the underground at all, besides being at this party which is starting to feel less and less underground by the minute.
I ask them how the water is in New York. I've already read stories about New York parasites but they seem to be more concerned with the amount of medication circulating in the water supply. Apparently the whole city is taking a low dose of several anxiety and depression medications as biological waste water gets recycled back into drinking water. They came to LA to get away from it. I try to explain that we have our own water problems too but they aren't really listening. They insist that anything is better than taking some one else's psychological medications. They seem to be really mistrusting of doctors who prescribe psychological medications, but apparently think they are expert enough to take prescription drugs at parties.
Vince asks me if I saw a rat earlier. I turn around and look at the spirits still huddled together by the wall and the spotlight. I start to explain that there are some spirits there and wait to gauge their reaction. They seem to accept my statements seriously and thoughtfully. Well, all of them except for Chavus who is grinning from ear to ear.
"Can I see them?" he asks me.
"I can't exactly show them to you if you can't already see them," I start to explain. "But they are behind me next to that light over there." Chavus immediately walks over to them but they don't seem very disturbed by him. "You could give them some of the jug," I suggest. Chavus takes the jug and holds it in the air by the lamp.
"Should I dump it out into the ground?" he asks.
"No!" I squeal. "Just set the jug down... a little further back... yeah right there. Just leave it there for a moment." He gently sets it down on the ground between the light and the wall right where the spirits are growing from. He steps away and stares at the jug. Raven is standing on their toes, looking over Vince's fuzzy purple hair to see the jug on the ground.
"Are they drinking it?" they whisper to me. The spirits start swooping down low to the jug, each one taking their turn popping themselves in and then back out of the mouth.
"Yes," I say to Raven.
"I still can't see anything!" Chavus shouts to us. "Are you sure they are there?" I nod, waiting for all of them to get a drink before I tell Chavus to take the jug back. I wonder if the Moxdridol works on them the way it works on us.
"Okay, You can take the jug now!" I tell him. "I don't want them to get too wasted," I laugh. Chavus bends down slowly and takes the jug into his hands. One of the spirits tries to dive to the jug one last time as he walks away. They are swaying slower than before and humming together.
"I think you made them very happy, Chavus," I tell him. "It's Chavus," he says, blushing. He takes a swig out of the jug.
"It tastes different," he comments and takes another drink. "Hey chai yit!" He hands it toward Vince who takes a swig and passes it back around to the rest of us again. "Really?" he says. Raven drinks deeply and then nods.
"Less grassy, maybe?" Kardi asks, pushing back their hood to get a better look at the jug. "Looks the same though."
"Did the spirits change it? Leave their trace, I mean?" Raven asks very seriously.
"No..." I try to explain but the truth is that I don't really know. "I think they don't drink it the same way we do, so they take some parts of it and leave other parts and that's why there is still liquid left but yeah it kinda... tastes a little..."
"Light." Kardi nods.
Vince tells a story about living in a haunted building and seeing a ghost in the stairwell. Raven tells them that ghosts and spirits aren't the same thing and gives their own definition of the 2. Chavus says that a ghost is a spirit but a spirit doesn't have to be a ghost. Kardi thinks that everything is an alien from another planet because we don't know what aliens are like anyway.
I can feel my muscles have already relaxed a bit as we stand around, drinking that grass-flavored water. I ask if any of them want to have a spirit friend full time, and I pull one of the young yellow spirits from my bag, gripped onto a leaf. Raven says that they aren't stable enough to take care of a spirit. I try to explain that they do more caring for you, but they are just shaking their shiny head.
"There is a spirit on there?" Chavus asks, moving his large head closer and closer to the leaf. I tell him that he would make a great friend to this young spirit. Since he is already stooped over, I hold the leaf over his bare shoulder and the small yellow spirit slides onto his skin. A giant grin peels across Chavus's face. And he stands, frozen for a few moments before looking over to his friends.
"I can feel it," he says.
"You sure that isn't just the Mox-D?" Raven asks.
"You just like...have alien spirits... in your bag?" Vince asks.
Chavus has his eyes closed and is starting to giggle. I tell Vince that I promised an old tree spirit to find new homes for a few young spirits and this one seems to like Chavus.
"Travis," Vince says.
I'm an idiot.
Raven announces that they have had enough shivering outside and we all head back through the door to the building. I'm not sure where they are planning to go but I figure this is a good time to slip away and find Lime.