's 2016 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Jenne Kaivo (email)

    Life is hard in Russia. The Soviet days ended before I was born, but democracy hasn't been kind to all of us. I became one of the country's two million junkies early on, to escape the grinding poverty, and the cold land. I think the land itself despises us. It's beautiful, but cruel: it preserves us from invasion, only to allow us to be oppressed by our own people.

    The junk kept me calm for a while. I would lie about for days with my friends, half-conscious or dreaming. Friends are other bodies who are slaves to the same chemical as you, when you're a junkie. I don't know what they thought about, which ones shot up to kill the same hopeless feelings I was tangled in, which ones were spoiled suburbanites who had taken to drugs because they were so fabulously decadent and rock-and-roll. Well, I shouldn't judge whose addiction was more inauthentic. Hopelessness and nihilism were my fears then, but I have since seen worse.

    I would dream, lying in the filthy rooms we used. Staring at the stained carpets and cracking walls, I would feel myself departing on cosmic voyages, drifting through wonderful galaxies and stranger things. These were fantasies, but stronger than I ever had when clean. They grew so intense, so real, realler than my empty stomach or the bruises on my skinny arms. I began to believe that I was truly traveling, leaving behind my pale and unwashed body, and the bleak, uncaring landscape of my small town. The dirty, grey blocks of houses looked ridiculous in the vast taiga. I dreamed myself flying overhead, watching dispassionately as the people walked about through their tiny lives. I saw stray dogs, and a human life meant just as much, but then I passed into a dream-world.

    There, beauty was everywhere. Meaning was intense. The cosmos were vast, filled with human-like figures who were wise and beautiful, and lived in golden and ivory cities, ornate and lovely under red sunsets and dancing auroras. Stranger lands surrounded them, forests full of unknowable creatures. The Baba Yaga, the great doyenne of the Russian witches, prowled about on her chicken-footed hut, and even though she ate human flesh, her life seemed more rich and worthy than anything I knew in my waking life.

    But the beauty didn't last. I was poor enough already, and the heroin grew scarce. The government cracked down on the shipments coming in from Afghanistan, and the junk grew more and more expensive. I haven't seen the pure stuff in my small town for several years. Addicts don't give up, though, we improvise.

    Desomorphine is an opiate far more addictive than heroin, first discovered in the 1930's but quickly discarded, lacking any medical benefits. We Russian junkies learned to make it at home, out of codeine-based headache pills that are available over the counter, and other substances. Gasoline, iodine, hydrochloric acid, the red tips of matches and paint thinner are also on the ingredients list. We called it Krokodil, because it's so toxic that it turns your skin green and scaly before too long. Lesions form if you miss a vein shooting up, even slightly, and gangrene sets in.

    It's a zombie drug. Me and my fellow users began to rot, quite literally. The poison filled our veins and we knew it was poison, a Krokodil that would eat us up before too long, but it was all we had. My dream-worlds changed accordingly. I went beyond the golden cities, to strange places with soft and spongy grounds. The forms were wrong, and the people I saw were wronger. At least I fit in. My astral body was as twisted and squamous as my real one was becoming. The black tips of my decaying fingers made me feel safe, protected, and I found some grim enjoyment in the nightmarish visions that I saw. They fit my soul, which was also dark and twisted.

    The highs of Krokodil end quickly, and I couldn't dream for long. 90 minutes after shooting up, I'd have to cook again. For all that, my dreams seemed closer and closer.

    There were deaths among my friends, far more than we had on good, clean heroin. Before they died, they rotted. Some looked for help. I never even thought of it. What was worth living for, in this shallow world? Now I saw the deeper realms, and the suffering of my old life seemed so hollow. I came to realize that my visions were true. I came to consciousness one day and saw my leg rotting, almost gnawed away by the Krokodil. I wrapped it well in plastic wrap, from the stumps where the toes were to the knee, and cooked up again.

    There were whispers among the twisted people, in the soft land. They spoke of a crawling chaos, a force that even the Gods feared. Fear is a beautiful emotion, and seemed to fill me in places that had felt emptiness before. It filled me better than any drug. More and more of my time was spent on this quest through the dreamlands, and I found I could barely move in the waking world. My body was stiff, my hands black and bloated. The foot on my wrapped leg had stopped moving at my command, but I hardly noticed. I felt the cold winter air, and exhaustion, and smelled the stench of iodine that was ever-present. It was unimportant.

    I think the Krokodil may be alive. Desomorphine brings it to us, but it isn't just a chemical that means nothing. Somewhere, in the deeper world, it has a soul. In the real world. Outside of Earth and its petty concerns, and shallow, dreary Russia. It reaches out, it spreads into us, consumes us. Wants to spread further, and I want to help it. The Krokodil is eating me, and spreading. Eating Mother Russia, spreading. Will find a stronger foothold. I will use the rest of my strength in the dreamlands, seek out the Krokodil, serve it. Maybe my body, my used-up body, can be the new vessel, and the Crawling Chaos will be free to spread through the shallow world.

    I unwrapped my leg and its bones were bare and white. The foot at the bottom is soft, almost liquid, hanging away and stinking of iodine. I pray that the stench of my rotting flesh is a worthy vessel.