Damion came in the front door holding a large paper bag that clinked as he walked. Roger was sitting on the divan reading Hemmingway’s “The Killers”. Andrew was on the big brown couch and was doing calculus problems on the cluttered oak coffee table. The room was otherwise quiet except for the sound of crickets chirping in the woods just outside their apartment.
Roger was the first to look up from his reading, “Did you get it?”
While holding the paper bag under his left arm, Damion reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic zip-lock sandwich bag that was crammed full of dank hydro. He glanced at it briefly, then tossed it onto the coffee table and went back into the kitchen.
Andrew finished the calculus problem that he was working on and glanced at the bag. He picked it up and sniffed it, “What was the total harvest?”
“Jeremy said he pulled three ounces off of the plants,” Damion shouted from the kitchen, “That bag should have an ounce an a half.”
Andrew hefted the bag with his right hand. He attempted to confirm the weight of the bag, lifting it up and down until he was satisfied that it was at least an ounce. He looked at the bag once more, then dropped it back down on the table and began gathering up his homework.
Roger dropped “The Killers” onto the table and made his way back to the kitchen, “Vodka?”
Andrew heard the freezer door open. He could hear Damion rummaging around in the ice tray with his hand. He listened as Damion dropped the ice into the glasses, klink-klink-klink, and then the cool rush of the thin liquid being poured over the ice. Andrew picked up his calculus book and walked back to his room, stopping briefly to watch Roger and Damion lift their glasses up as if they were toasting for some grandiose occasion.
“Are you going to join us or not?” Damion asked.
“Sure,” Andrew shouted from his room as he dropped his books upon his mattress, “I’ll be right there.”
He walked back into the kitchen and his two roommates were still waiting for him. He picked his glass of vodka off of the table and lifted it up with the three of them.
“To our education!” Roger toasted.
“To life!” Damion replied.
“To freedom,” Andrew spoke, then toasted with them and they drank the cold burning liquid down their dry throats. Damion began to pour another round of drinks for them, but Andrew put his glass in the sink.
“Not drinking with us?” Damion asked.
“It’s a Sunday,” Andrew replied.
“So what?” Damion asked, “I’m more religious than you are. Why not drink?”
“I’ve got a nine-thirty class tomorrow,” Andrew replied, “And besides, I’ve got to work on the garden.”
“There he goes,” Roger chuckled, “The beast returns to his lair.”
Andrew smiled and walked back towards his room.
“Well, if you feel like coming out of the closet tonight, we’ll be smoking,” Damion called to him as he disappeared down the hallway.
Andrew would have liked to join them, but he had work to do. He made his way back into his bedroom, which was situated at the farthest point from the front door. It was the largest of the three rooms, and it had its own bathroom complete with a shower. The thing that he liked the most about his room however, was that it had a large walk-in closet with a door that could be locked by a key. Andrew quietly closed the door to his room, then walked over to his closet door. He pulled his keys out of his pocket, and smiled when he saw the light pouring out from underneath the door. He unlocked the door, opened it, and walked into the brightly lit room.
His eyes squinted as he was drenched with light that poured from the trapezoidal reflector of the Metal Halide that hung from a chain in the ceiling. He loved that light, all four-hundred and fifty fucking watts of it. He loved the way it hummed. It’s humming was its meditation, an aum, a meditation on light, and it chanted this meditation for twelve hours at a time like a Buddhist monk reborn as a light bulb. Aum, it chanted, and as it chanted it demanded food as an offering. Aum, it chanted in delight as it sucked the electricity from the power strip, and in return for this offering it doused Andrew’s plants in a light so strong that you could get a sun tan from sitting underneath it too long. But this god of light which hung in his closet was also a god of fire, and it filled the room with a warmth so powerful that in winter they seldom used the thermostat.
The heat from the lamp had to be ventilated, for Andrew knew that thermal detection was one of the ways that they busted cultivators such as himself. So with paranoid concentration he had removed the cover to the air duct and wired in a fan that would ventilate the room of its well-cooked air, and to ease the suffering of his plants he wired a fan on a timer which caused a gentle breeze in the room. His paranoia demanded further action, for there was the powerful smell that the plants gave off as they flowered. For this Andrew bought a HEPA filter which helped to cleanse the air of its pungent odor, and through these efforts he was able to quell the fire of his paranoid discontent.
Andrew could hear his roommates in the front of the apartment. They must of been slightly drunk, for they had begun to shout playfully at each other. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it must of been light-hearted in nature for their shouts were interjected with bursts of laughter. He would have to go out there later and quiet them down if they got any worse. After all, it was a Sunday night. He resolved to do that later, for there was still work to be done in the garden.
Andrew leaned down in front of his plants which stood green in all their floral magnificence as one would kneel before an altar. He clicked a small electric timer to the next hour, and the pump within the hydroponic tub began to hum with life. A small cylindrical spout which stuck up from the center of the basin began to spurt water from the holes in its side. It quickly filled up the basin, flooding the square plastic flowerpots with water. The water level soon stabilized as it circulated through the system. It sloshed like a Japanese water garden where only the Koi had been forgotten in its design.
Andrew pulled out the tools that he would need for tonight’s maintenance: a pair of scissors, a small test tube, a small bottle of pH solution, a larger bottle of alkaline solution, and a large tub of Dr. Schultz’ All-Purpose 12-60-12 Flowering Solution. First Andrew took the test tube and dipped it into the water. He immediately retracted his hand from the water as if it were boiling. The sting at his fingertips told him that the water was far too acidic. No need to bother with the pH solution when the neurons in your fingertips work just as well. He walked briskly to his bathroom sink and washed the pain away. Returning to the garden he quickly added a capful of alkaline solution to the water in the ebb-and-flow tray.
They must have been juggling bottles again, for Andrew began to periodically hear a loud thump as the bottle hit the ground. They did that now and then. It was a strange hobby, he admitted, but they were bored college students. Andrew was convinced that that all of the great inventions of the previous two centuries had been the result of very bored college students. Einstein himself must have been the most bored of them all, but then again if Andrew had worked in a patent office, perhaps he too would reach a stage in his boredom that a theory such as relativity could of been his only reprieve.
Andrew was in need of clones to perpetuate his operation, so he gently clipped a couple of small branches from the larger, bushier plants. As he moved across the closet with the clippings dripping from his left hand, he thought about how funny it was that these five small branches would in three months time provide him with enough money to cover that month’s rent. He went about preparing the clippings to grow into full fledged clones of the original mother plant. It was a simple enough technique: cut the trimming, dip it in rooting solution, put the trimming in a rockwool cube, put the cube in warm aerated water, and let sit under twenty four hours of light for about a month until it’s a foot tall and ready to be flowered.
Andrew heard the muffled crash of a body falling against the floor. The sound was followed by laughter and a few shouts. There was a short silence which was soon annotated by another loud thump. It too was followed by laughter, a brief silence, then another thump, and so on. They must of gotten bored with juggling and moved on to martial arts, Andrew thought. Ever since the time they had dropped acid and watched kung-fu movies for six hours strait one evening, they had been fascinated with emulating them. Unfortunately, he and his roommates were not very adept at the arts, and their practice sessions would frequently end when somebody got thrown too hard up against a wall. The vodka must of dulled their sense of pain, Andrew thought, for the commotion did not stop after the first couple of crashes, but rather decreased in frequency as they took longer and longer to get up from each fall. Andrew knew that he would have to yell at them in order to quiet them down. If he yelled a them they would probably just want to fight him instead. Andrew still felt drained from the conversation that he had with his girlfriend earlier that day, and thus was in no mood for Kung-Fu. Besides, fighting them would only cause more commotion. So instead of intervening, Andrew simply hoped that somebody would get knocked too hard and end the fight.
Having completed the majority of his gardening, Andrew leaned over the terrarium which he had constructed out of a clear plastic storage unit that he found at K-mart. He peered through the condensation blurred plastic at the little mushrooms which were pushing their way up through layers of vermiculite. Ah, my little linga’s, Andrew thought, my little murti’s of Siva, grant me a darsana of your divine presence. He took the lid off of the terrarium and looked down at his experiment in rogue mycology. Down in the plastic tub stood six Tupperware shoe-boxes which contained his mushroom colonies. Two of them were doing quite well, and he was about to reach down and pluck a few Psyclobe cubensis caps from the mycelium when he heard a rush of footsteps come up from behind him.
Roger burst through the door of the closet and hissed, “There’s a cop at the door!”
At first he froze, unable to comprehend whether Roger was merely playing off of his own paranoia, or whether he was in fact telling the truth. Soon enough, however, the realization that it was not one of Roger’s mind games struck an intense chord of fear upon the warm instrument of Andrew’s life. The sound played out in his mind over and over again like a hallucinogenic echo that keeps getting louder with each repetition. A cop at the door? There’s a cop at the door? There is a cop at the door.
Andrew looked up and saw that Roger had disappeared from the closet door. Quickly, his mind began to work again. He lunged across the room to the power-socket and yanked out the chord which fed his surge protector. The room plunged into darkness as the giant Metal Halide ceased flooding the room with light. The whir of the fans went silent as they stopped blowing the hot air away from the plants. The gentle humming of the HEPA filter spiraled into silence.
Then he spun around and shut the closet door, sealing himself in a darkness which seeped its way deep down into his soul. Now the only light in the closet was the dim light from the bathroom fluorescents that seeped its way underneath the closet door like water from a backed-up toilet. Beyond the bathroom Andrew could hear voices. Blurred murmurs of Damion’s slurred words and the sharp but unintelligible words of another voice. It was the second voice that Andrew yearned to hear. Was it actually a cop, or were they just playing a game on his fragile mind? They knew how paranoid he was, perhaps they were just doing this for fun. They were, after all, drunk.
No, Andrew thought, they’re not faking this. Damion is down the hall, at the front door, talking to a cop. A cop who without a doubt can smell the liquor on Damion’s breath. A cop who might also smell the lingering haze of marijuana odors that seemed to permeate every pore of the apartment. A hundred HEPA filters couldn’t remove all the smell, and the cop would be surely able to smell it.
Or perhaps not, perhaps the cop was just there as a warning. Perhaps he had been called on a noise violation and only wanted them to shut up. Perhaps he wouldn’t care about the fact that Damion was drunk so long as he would quiet down. Yes, the cop would simply give them a warning and go back to his doughnuts and coffee.
Or perhaps not, maybe this cop did have it out for them. Maybe he wants to step inside the apartment. If he steps inside the apartment, then he’ll see the ounce and a half of pot that’s sitting on the coffee table in the living room. Then he’ll read them their rights and call for back-up. After he handcuffs Damion and Roger, he’ll begin to search the house in order to make sure that nobody will sneak out from the bathroom and put a hollow-jacket nine-millimeter slug in his brain. Yeah, the cop will walk through the house, pistol in hand, and search every room one by one. He’ll start with Roger’s, because his is closest to the door. He won’t do a thorough search quite yet, no, he’s got to wait for back-up to do that, but he’s got to clear the house first. After Roger’s he’ll move on to Damion’s room.
After a quick glance, he’d walk out of Damion’s room and move slowly down the hall towards Andrew’s room. Maybe the cop would just look around the room and then head back to the front door to wait for back-up. Or maybe he’ll be smart enough to come back here into the bathroom. Perhaps he’ll walk in and see the closet door, then slowly open it with his gun in his right hand, ready to plug a bullet into anything that moves too suddenly.
“No, he won’t shoot me,” Andrew mused as he stood ear to the door, “but he might as well. When his backup comes, they’ll search the house, and find everything. The ounce alone would put us all behind bars for at least a year or two.”
Andrew thanked God that they would never find out that Damion had picked it up from Jeremy’s house. Andrew had several satellite gardens, and Jeremy’s house was one of them.
“But maybe under interrogation Damion will rat on Jeremy,” Andrew mumbled to himself, “Or maybe it was Jeremy? Had they already raided his house? Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s the DEA at the door. Perhaps this is the end of a long sting operation. In that case I’m really fucked.”
Andrew turned and looked into the darkness where his plants stood silently staring back at him. He could feel it all coming down around him.
“Ten years,” he thought out loud, “I’ll get at least ten years behind bars just for the plants in this room. The mushrooms will add another five or so years onto that sentence. Another year or so for the paraphernalia, plus two or more for the ounce. Add another ten or twenty years onto that if they already know about my other gardens.”
Andrew paused in order to listen to the mumbling he could hear farther down the hall. His heart was pounding in his chest, counting time for the stopwatch in his head that kept track of the marathon that his paranoid delusion was running. He leaned his back up against the wall of the closet and began gently rocking back and forth.
“If they search through the contents of my computer,” Andrew’s paranoia began to speak, “Then they’ll find out about my anti-government rantings where I complain that the Feds are a bunch of fascist pigs who have negated all of our constitutional rights while carrying out their crusade against drugs. They’ll know that I’ve dropped acid. Oh god, the mushrooms! Isn’t that like ‘conspiracy to overthrow the government’ or some bullshit like that? Oh god, I’ll get the chair. Yup, they’ll just say, ‘Screw it, this druggie bastard doesn’t deserve to live!’ Then they’ll put me on the electric chair and throw the lever, laughing at me while I fry like a hot-dog in a microwave.”
Andrew sat down against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest. He could no longer hear the voices echoing down the hall, and the silence began to further gnaw away at his over-active mind much in the same way that dogs gnaw harder on bones which have already been stripped off all their meat.
“No, they wouldn’t be so kind as to kill me,” Andrew continued, “Killing me would be merciful, and mercy is not something which the government is known for liberally distributing.”
He strained his ears in order to hear what was going on. It was relatively quiet now except for the faint mish-mash of sounds that was coming from the television. Just as he was beginning to relax and have thoughts about leaving the dark safety of the closet, he heard the faint sound of footsteps coming down the wood floors of the hallway.
“That’s it,” Andrew thought, “that’s the sound of my demise. That’s the sound that’s gonna echo in my head for the rest of my life. From now on I’ll the bitch for some large inmate who’s only one step up from Neanderthal. My life is over. They might as well shoot me now.”
Andrew slumped down, letting his legs fall out before him in the darkness like a puppet who’s master let go of his strings, “How did I get to this point in my life? How could I stake my freedom, my love for my girlfriend, my education, and my career upon the cultivation of illegal substances? The answer? Necessity. I had to grow in order to survive. Between my college tuition, the rent for my three bedroom apartment that I’m sharing with my two best friends, the cost of maintaining my car, food, and treating my girlfriend to various extravagances in order to attract her attention and love; I had to grow pot and shrooms in order to survive. If I didn’t, I’d have to quit school and work full-time just to keep myself going from into massive debt. Why is it so wrong to want to go to college? That’s all I want!”
The sounds of footsteps grew louder, and Andrew’s over-imaginative mind began to cycle faster and faster. Andrew’s sharp paranoia began to focus on himself, analyzing the frailties of his young ego and wondering if he should of told her, Cynthia, the sole source of stability and love in his life; that he was a criminal.
“All together,” Andrew pondered, “I guess that it’s rather funny that I haven’t told her yet. But how could he tell her?”
How could he tell the woman that he adored that he was a soldier on the opposite side of the drug war that she so feverishly supported. Whenever she has asked about his occupation in the past, he had always lied and told her that he was a website designer. She seemed to accept that explanation, and had not inquired any further.
“But now what would I tell her?” Andrew contemplated, “’Hello, Cynthia? It’s Andrew, I’m calling from jail...how are you?’ What kind of fucked-up conversation would that be? How could I ever speak to her if she knew that I was a criminal? How could I ever tell her that the money that I used to buy her a gold necklace, her book of H.R. Geiger paintings, and every meal that we’ve ever eaten together with the profits that I’ve earned from selling large quantities of high-grade hydroponic marijuana to other college students my age. At least they’re probably smoking up right now while I’m sitting her in my closet, waiting for the fuzz to burst into my operation. I can just picture it now: me walking into my new prison cell and being introduced to my new lover, who’s name is ‘Bubba’ and happens to have a taste for tall, lanky, white-boys.”
The sound of the footsteps approaching the closet door acted like a catalyst inside Andrew’s mind. It speeded up the fear and the imaginative fantasies of his demise as he sat there cowering in the darkness.
“I can hear voices talking outside of the closet down the hall by the front door,” Andrew observed, “I know now that we’re all going to jail. I just know it. I can imagine it now, my roommate Damion must of stood by the door, the cop opposite of him. The cop would have asked him if he’d been smoking that night, and if he could come in and search the apartment. Damion would’ve said no, of course. Surely Damion would have known that the cop needed a warrant in order to search the house.”
The footsteps were now just outside the closet.
“It must be Damion or Roger,” Andrew meditated, “The cops would have needed a warrant in order to search the place. It must be Damion.”
And then, just as he heard the doorknob turn, his mind conjured up one last nightmare which played itself out before himself.
“They couldn’t search the apparent,” Andrew realized, “Unless of course they had probable cause. Did marijuana smoke constitute probable cause? Of course it does! Drug users have no rights! We, just because we choose to change the chemistry of our bodies, have lost all our rights in our so-called land of the free. How is it that I could spend ten or more years in jail for growing the exact same plant that George Washington himself cultivated. Ten years. Ten years in jail. That would destroy all possibility of having a normal life. It would destroy my dreams of graduating from George Mason University with a degree in Computer Science and becoming a normal productive citizen in our wonderful nation of Ronald Fucking Reagan loving free citizens. They might as well kill me. Ten years would just be a tortuous tenure behind bars that would destroy me. Execution would be by far more merciful than incarceration. Being staked down into blistering-hot-and-salty desert soil by rusty nails through various extremities of my body while being covered in honey and left for the fire-ants would be a thousand times more merciful than being busted for cultivation in a southern Republican state!”
The door began to open, and Andrew envisioned an angry cop pointing his revolver at him and shaking it in very much the same way that an angry mother scolds her son for running out into the street.
But no, it was Damion, looking out of breath and relieved.