You Are a Rock God

Joelle Killian

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I t’s your turn. Push the food wrappers and parking tickets on Reed’s living room table aside to make space for two neat lines of opalescent powder, your innards twisting in anticipation. Reed and CJ lie prone on the floor nearby, silently drifting along to industrial metal. Give yourself extra karma points for graciously letting them go down first this time.

The drugs sparkle in the low light. Whatever those chemical wizards add during synthesis to create this effect always leaves you with glitter-snot for days.

Hold a straw up to one nostril and snort, then tip your head back as the explosions begin. Floodlights warm your skin; roaring applause drowns out the guitars thundering from the stereo. The room swims away as you recline on the sagging couch, blazing pyrotechnics filling your vision.

Then pow – you land, relieved to escape your own disappointing skin. Remove the aviator shades now perched on your face and use their mirrored surface to check out how you appear in this world: weathered face, lit cigarette dangling beneath a thick handlebar mustache, shaggy mane cascading out from under a leather cowboy hat. Flex those meaty biceps covered in blackwork tattoos. A hulking brute. Perfect.

Better jam those shades back on before anyone clocks you gaping at your own reflection. You vault off the plush sofa, blurting, “Yeah, let’s fucking party!” Not the most original rallying cry, but it’ll do in a pinch.

A skeletal degenerate with sunken eyes hands you a bottle of Jack Daniels. Go ahead and swig from it, even though you can tell this body is already gloriously wasted. Because fuck it: you’re a rock god.

Lurch through the smoke-filled suite, littered with guitar cases and duffel bags, overturned room service carts and shattered lamps, the sodden carpet squishy beneath your boots. An ogre-sized dude hurls daggers at a poster on the wall with one hand, the other protecting the tiny marmalade kitten in a sling around his chest. Another beast with Schnauzer-like mutton chops is out on the balcony hoisting a TV over the railing. It lands in the palm tree-lined courtyard below with a crash.

Just as you smash the whiskey bottle to the floor in chaotic solidarity, the suite door bangs open. A sweaty yutz in a navy-blue blazer enters, taking in the singed curtains, the skeletal creature passed out on the couch, the conspicuously absent television. “Jesus, how did you goddamned monsters get this wasted in the hour I’ve been gone?” He throws his hands in the air. “You’ve been banned from two hotel chains already. We going for a third?”

Kitten Ogre flings another knife at the wall. It sticks in with a thud.

Blazer gestures at the deployed fire extinguishers. “Anyone wanna fill me in on what inspired this little tantrum?” He looks at you with raised eyebrows. You immediately go blank.

Schnauzer leans in from the balcony with a pout. “How come the opener has a better catering rider than us?”

And bigger blood cannons?” Kitten Ogre stalks over to his makeshift dartboard and pulls the daggers out of a Chronic Emergency poster. “It’s just not right.” The kitten meows.

Blazer rubs both hands over his grimacing face. “Tonight’s your largest sold-out show yet, you cretins.” He waves towards Skeletor. “Wake him up and let’s go, we’re late for sound check.”

“Never!” Schnauzer drags more splintered furniture towards the balcony. “Fuck ’em all, we quit!”

You hesitate, picturing the packed venue, the thousands of eyes locked on you as rabid fans scream your name. Wasn’t that the point of this trip? You gaze longingly at a guitar case while Blazer tries to wrestle the knives away from Kitten Ogre, which even you can tell is a terrible idea.

Flip open the case and caress the Flying V inside, your breath coming faster. You’re running out of time. Take out the ax, its weight reassuring in your callused hands, and marvel at how these fingers can span seven frets.

Too late. The sound of chairs splashing into the pool below morphs into rippling echoes as the trashed hotel suite destabilizes and dissolves. The guitar slips through your hands.

Orbit-sml ><

T he first sense to return is smell, which is how you can tell someone puked on reentry. Then the music mutates into droning bagpipes. Your least favorite part of the comedown.

Pat your weakened limbs as the rest of your scrawny body returns, teeth settling back into the groove bitten inside your cheek. Blink your eyes open and stare up at the popcorn ceiling.

CJ and Reed are already vibing about their trips – down first, up first – and you listen for clues, always curious how their Rock God journeys differ from yours.

“That was phenomenal.” Reed’s face is paler than usual; he’s probably the puker. “Hot tub party with top-tier babes.” His obsession with the groupies always makes you suspect that his drug-avatar is a glam rock frontman, though you can never get him to admit it.

CJ unbuttons their oversized flannel. “Lame. I got to crowd-surf a sold-out show.” Hard to believe mopey grunge fans would hold them up that long, but hey, it’s their trip. They point to the other side of the room. “Wait, was your TV screen always so cracked?”

“Yo, welcome back.” Reed nods in your direction. “How’d you do?”

Try to find your voice, even though your tongue is still numb. “We trashed a hotel room again. I mean, it was a pretty epic trashing, but…” Those squawking bagpipes are making you nauseous too, so you sit up to steady yourself. “Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to, y’know. Play.”

Reed’s grin fades. Bet he can’t remember the last time he played, either.

“You losers with the unimaginative rock star tropes.” CJ’s face is flushed, their eyes bright. “I always get to play.”

Orbit-sml ><

T ime to go. Wobble out of Reed’s apartment on legs like overcooked noodles and careen down the stairwell. Hit the street, where gusts of icy wind dampen your Rock God afterglow.

Back in the day you tried plenty of the usual street drugs, but now you far prefer the hyper-specificity of this bespoke shit. The classics were fun, but too unpredictable. You could end up anywhere, from merger with Gaia to the other end of your 8th-grade bully’s fist to the copyright approved nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh. Better to dial it in, know exactly where you’re going.

All the dopey college kids gakked out of their minds on Fluffy Bunnies or Pillowy Abyss were a turn-off, but you eventually found your favorite flavors. You dabbled with Gold Medal and Viking Warrior, but once you had a taste of Rock God… well. That one scratched an itch you’d forgotten you had.

Turn your phone back on. It blows up with text notifications, most of them from the same person:


what’s up?

msg me when you get this plz

you OK?

yo, it’s srsly been like 3 days

are you ghosting me??!?


Turn it off again.

Arrive at what passes for home, where a fire inspection announcement is taped to your apartment door. Crumple it into a ball and toss it down the hallway. You’d wager ten bucks that next you’ll see for-sale signs on your building, then an escalating series of eviction notices.

Kick your way through the pile of mail inside – nothing good in there – and strip off your jacket. Acrid body odor hits you, like a goat that’s been munching on onions. You consider showering since it’s been a minute, but the landlord has installed this wrenches-and-gears steampunk contraption to bypass the rusted hot water tap. Too much trouble. Just go find a T-shirt that doesn’t have Hot Pocket cheese stains on it instead.

Your uniform sits on top of the heap in the laundry hamper. Did you have to work today?

Depends what day it is. Guess you’d have to turn your phone back on to find out, so may as well get dressed and head in. You can check the schedule when you get there; odds are you’ll be on-shift soon enough. Might avoid getting written up again, too.

The polyester pants smell like beef tallow and sadness, which reminds you of the black gunk embedded in every crevice of the employee break room, a disgusting mix of lard and grime. Your slimeball manager won’t promote you off the fryer vat to the register, dooming you to an existence of pinprick grease burns and his low-key harassment.

Could really use something to tamp down the dread curdling in your stomach, but you left your stash at Reed’s to avoid temptation. Riffle through the bedside table drawer – your ramshackle apothecary, filled with half-empty gram bags and pill bottles – and fish out a mostly-empty baggie of Rock God. Score.

Cut it open and scrape the crystalline crumbs out. Not nearly enough for a full trip, but it should help take the edge off. Add a little sparkle.

Orbit-sml ><

A nd bam, you’re back.

Schnauzer, Ogre, and Skeletor sit in a semi-circle before you. The room’s burgundy walls are covered with 1970s concert posters in gilded frames. Six buckets of fried chicken lay ransacked beneath illuminated vanity mirrors, the greasy smell comingling with stale skunk weed. Bass rattles the floorboards.

Everyone is staring at you.

“Explain yourself.” Ogre’s voice is the low rumble of a semi-truck driving over your head. “Because you really crossed a line this time.” He makes little boundary-setting motions with the hand that isn’t cradling that orange kitten. The kitten also glares at you.

Good thing your expression is partly hidden behind these aviators, because this jangles your nerves like an unexpected minor chord progression. What kind of atrocities would freak these monsters out?

But what croaks out of your throat is, “Oh, boo-fucking-hoo.”

“We’re serious,” Schnauzer growls. “Not gonna make it even halfway through this tour if you keep this fuckery up.”

“Remember what the boss told us.” Ogre nudges him. “Use your ‘I’ statements.”

“Right, sorry.” Schnauzer’s eyebrows furrow like furry apostrophes. “I feel… very disrespected by your fuckery.”

“Excuse me?” Dig through your pockets, find a cigarette and light it. Play it cool. “What the hell’s got your panties in such a twist?”

“Hey, don’t blame us, man.” Skeletor’s hands lay limply on his leather-clad legs, black makeup disappearing into the wrinkles around his eyes. He jerks his head across the way. “The boss says we gotta start setting limits.”

Your head swivels around in search of Blazer, but everyone else is staring at the kitten.

The little puffball peeks out of the sling around Ogre’s chest and bares its fangs at you, its once blue eyes now an inky black.

It opens its mouth and hisses:

Are you ghosting me

Where the fuck are you

Your third no-show, don’t bother coming back

Its sepulchral shriek plunges your heart into an ice bath. You drop the lit cigarette and jump up, backing towards the door as the rest of the band sits transfixed by their tiny master.

Then the audience roaring in the distance pulls at you like a magnet.

God, you’re so close.

Can’t stop yourself from making a run for it, out the dressing room door and down a long hallway. Chronic Emergency are finishing their encore. You could slide in there and play. Blow the minds of everyone in the front row wearing T-shirts with your band’s logo, all pentacles and umlauts. Now’s your chance.

But dozens of groupies clad in leather bustiers and leopard-print, shredded tights and skintight jeans, form a wall between you and the wings of the stage. Their eyes gleam as they click-clack their press-on talons. Fangs flash between crimson lips.

They pull you in and drag you under, where you drown in a sea of grabbing hands and open mouths.

Orbit-sml ><

Y ou swim back up to the surface, gasping for air. Damn, that’d been a big one. Bigger than you intended.

Atonal droning, nausea and spinning, your tongue coated in thick fur. Sit up from your spot on the grimy tiles right outside your apartment, still wearing your uniform. Your door is not only papered with more notices but now padlocked closed.

How far did you get after doing that bump? Maybe you went to work and came back… or never made it there at all. Better turn your phone back on.

Sure enough, there’s the inevitable wall of texts:

really crossing a line here, asshole

so over it

pretty sure that banging groupies while wasted on rock god counts as cheating, BTW

You’re pretty sure that it doesn’t, but whatever. The rest of the messages make it clear you’re getting dumped.

Listen to three voicemails from your boss, demanding to know where the hell you are in the first two and firing you in the third.

Gather the smashed bits of your brain. How long were you in there, and why did such a tiny bump take you that deep? Maybe it was too soon after your last one. You should call someone who knows what they’re doing.

“Kinda freaked me out,” you slur into your phone, tongue still fuzzy. “What was up with that evil-kitten crap?”

CJ snorts on the other end. “Maybe your neighbor’s cat walked over your head while you were out.”

“Not funny. Drugs aren’t supposed to turn on you like that.” Chemicals were always more reliable than people, as far as you’re concerned. This new unpredictability only makes you queasier. “It’s just not right.”

“Wasn’t it you who scolded us to be more intentional with mindset and setting for tripping?” CJ says. “Be less sloppy with your use, dumbass.”

You hang up in the middle of their monologue about shamanic medicine ceremonies. But they have a point: seriously, get your shit together. C’mon, get up, brush the carpet lint from your legs. Put your headphones on, blast Combichrist at top volume to drown out the bagpipes still echoing around in your skull.

Nothing left to do now but call Reed and tell him you’re coming over.

Orbit-sml ><

R eed answers the door in one of his many threadbare Skinny Puppy tees – no judgment, you’re still in your nasty-ass uniform – his scraggly beard grown long and suspiciously Schnauzer-like.

He also looks like he could use a hit, so good thing you stowed your stash. He cues up a playlist while you retrieve the baggie from its hiding place behind the never-used cleaning supplies in the bathroom.

“Reed.” Fix him in your sights. “Have your trips been… like, weirdly misbehaving lately?”

“Misbehaving? Sounds naughty.” He leers at you. “In that case, absolutely.”

“Never mind.” God, he’s an idiot. “I just think it’s important to play this time. For real.”

He shrugs. “You do you, rock star.”

Forget him. Focus, because you’ve got to get this right. What were CJ’s tips again? Right, create some sort of ritual. Set an intention, light a candle. Maybe sage the room.

But in the end, you just try to find a spot on Reed’s kitchen table that isn’t tacky with spilled soda – this medical mystery claims he’s never drunk anything but Dr. Pepper in his life – and tap out two nice, fat rails of magic dust.

“Let’s do this,” you tell Reed. “But I get dibs on the first round this time.”

Feel the burn as the powder hits your raw nasal passages. The moment you close your eyes, eviction notices and angry texts wallpaper the inside of your skull. You worry this shit will follow you into the void, along with those evil persistent bagpipes. Maybe this is just how it is now.

But after one tortured minute, you’re squeezed through the gears of the universe, stretching and flattening your atoms out, and then you’re soaring, a hot air balloon over the Grand Canyon.

And, thankfully: the sound of applause.

You’re here. Backstage, huddled with the other band members. Schnauzer makes devil-horns with both hands, black glitter streaked down his face like obsidian tears. “Let’s do this!”

Ogre gives you a once-over and grimaces. “Are we both wearing bullet belts?”

“Oh.” You run your hand over the shell casings. “I think it’s okay if we match.”

Skeletor takes a slug of whiskey, then passes you the bottle. Take a little nip to quell the pre-show jitters rumbling around in your gut. Don’t fuck this up.

The handlers escort you into the wings. Strap your guitar on as the crowd claps in unison, chanting your name.

An announcer booms, “Here’s who you’ve all been waiting for!” Hooting and cheering. “Everybody give it up for… Ouröbörös!”

Showtime. Part the curtain and climb the stairs to the stage, past the wall of amps and into the white-hot floodlights.

Squint out past the blinding glare at the vast ocean of black-clad masses stretching clear out to the horizon, bobbing in endless waves. People riding on each other’s shoulders, screaming themselves hoarse.

Adrenaline surges through your arms; your hands shake. Total cottonmouth, like you’ve smoked three bowls of Pillowy Abyss. But you can do this: breathe. Approach the mike positioned high above you, forcing your head up at an angle.

Skeletor counts out four intro beats, Schnauzer’s bass joins in, Ogre’s guitar squeals. You’re up next. Everyone’s waiting for that raw, rumbling thunder welling up from your gut to launch itself out of your throat.

You’ve made it. Strum your first chord.

And then that horrible kitten appears above the crowd, its head looming larger and larger till it fills the sky like marmalade fire.

Cower, cringe, cold sweat. Turn to look at your bandmates, now glassy-eyed and frozen in place. On closer inspection, you spot the tiny bite marks on their necks, the rivulets of crimson soaking into their shirts.

They fling themselves to the ground, prostrate before Murder Kitten as its deafening screech knocks your cowboy hat off. The audience flips out, probably thinking that this demon-cat is your newest special effect.

Murder Kitten’s inky eyes swirl with unknown galaxies, its mouth overfilled with pointy reptilian teeth. Its yowl cracks open the cobalt sky, behind which all the angry notices and texts leak in, along with that incessant droning.

Breathe again. Feel the reassuring weight of the guitar in your rough hands as you’re drawn into those galaxies. Remember your intention to play.

There’s nothing left to do now but try.

So go on. It’s your turn.


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Joelle Killian

Author image of Joelle Killian Joelle Killian is a queer Canadian living in San Francisco whose fiction appears in Maudlin House, The Stygian Lepus, and Wicked Shadow Press. She has also published about psychedelic therapy in her other life as a psychologist, and was part of an undead dance troupe back in the day. Find more of her writing at her linktree.

© Joelle Killian 2023 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using an image from Melvin Buezo - many thanks!

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