Andrew Stoddard

The Last Stand in Landon Beach

Let me tell you the story about how LSD and Halloween go together about as well as water and a grease fire.  We were in Landon Beach, California a few years ago at around this time.  The place was a little desert resort town nestled deep in the Sombrilla Valley.  It was to nearby Palm Springs, what Reno, Nevada was to Las Vegas: a cheap, dirty knock-off that reeked purely of the sun-baked contents of an overflowing ashtray.  Blasting 30˚C – even in the fall – the weather was dry, and the heat aggressive.  Dandy if you’re a cactus, I’m sure, but I pitied every wretched resident who’d found a home in that horrible, rotten place.

My name is R.W. Samzar.  I once got told I look a bit like Warren Zevon, if he were built more like Muhammad Ali.  I played bass for The Black Lava Lamps; best neo-psychedelic rock quartet from the U.K. that surely you’ve never heard of.  We were in L.B. as part of this low-budget U.S. tour that, I’ll be honest, hadn’t been going all that well.  We were dangerously low on cash at that point, and were scrounging every corner of town for additional work.

There was this alt-rock radio station (I forget the channel) that we did this interview with.  They told us about this “Farmhouse of Fear” that they sponsored; one of those Halloween themed funhouses where they lead you through this extensive maze of corridors lined with fog machines, gory props, and costumed actors paid to jump out and scare the living daylights out of you.  They said they’d pay us money to take a tour of the place, and that they’d video tape us and put the footage up on the station’s website.  I think we all detested the idea, but like I said, we really needed the cash.

The four of us took the half hour drive through the irrigated California farmlands southeast of town in our black tour van, The Brick.  It was a reliable piece of junk, one of the few things on the tour that had yet to break down.  Tragically, it was on this journey that The Brick suffered a freak malfunction that caused certain components beneath the cabin floor to violently overheat, turning the whole surface into a bloody barbeque grill.  Just as we began to notice our feet getting toasty, these white fumes began rising up from underneath the seats, and quickly flooding the interior.

“Quick, somebody open a window!  I can’t see the damn road!” shouted Xerxes, our drummer.  He was at the helm when this incident took place.

“A window!?” snapped Min, our keyboardist, sitting in the front passenger seat.  “We’re on fire, you idiot!  Stop the car!”

“Hang about!” burst Teresa, our guitarist, sitting next to me in the back seat.  “I don’t think the car’s on fire.  It don’t smell like it…”

“Hey, yeah, what the hell is that?” asked Xerxes, swatting fumes away from his face with one hand, as he kept the other on the wheel.

Min took a deep breath through her nose and said, “It’s not the van… It kinda smells like peanut brittle… and ammonia.”

“I know that smell,” I said.  Teresa and Min both turned to look over at me as I reached underneath my seat.   Being careful not to singe my hand on the floor, I pulled out my metallic briefcase and placed it on my lap.  It’d heated up rather significantly, and I’d have probably burnt myself in a bad way if I didn’t have my overcoat on.

“What’s that, R.W?” asked Teresa.

“Pff, what the hell do you think, Teresa?” asked Min, rolling her eyes.

I entered the proper combination on the lock and undid the two latches. As I opened it, a huge plume of pure, white vapor escaped from inside, indicating that the case was indeed the source of the phantom substance.  I shooed away the remaining fumes, and as I watched them dissipate, my worst fears came to fruition.  Inside were exactly half a dozen empty glass vials. Five contained bits of semi-charred plant matter, and the last was dry, save for a ring of clear, bubbling residue softly cackling at the bottom.

Min and I were paralyzed with terror, while Teresa sat watching with a perplexed look on her face.  She knew not the horrors of what had just been discovered, nor did Xerxes, still focusing on the road up front.

“Eh, what’s goin’ on back there?” he asked, looking over his shoulder.

“Step on it, mate!” I shouted.  “I’ll explain on the way…”

It was no secret among my band mates that I was an avid drug user.  I started as a teenager with weed; found it helped with my back pain after I had that corrective surgery which left my spine about as healthy as my mangled granddad’s.  In my early twenties, I started using psychedelics.  They didn’t help with anything, but I did find them amusing.  My mates never cared for the stuff, and while they didn’t approve of my doing it, the fact that I could expertly manage my habit allowed them to tolerate it, as long as I remained perfectly discreet about it.

I kept my road stash in a tidy metallic briefcase, which I stowed under the backseat.  So far, it’d been apt a container as any, but what I’d failed to realize was that if placed on a hot enough surface, the temperature inside the container would become so great that the case itself could double as a damn vaporizer!  That is, it’d cook the contents at just the right temperature required to convert it into a gaseous matter that would seep out of the case and diffuse into the surrounding environment.  And unless that environment was very well ventilated, the gas would force everyone inside of it to receive a rather substantial dosage of whatever rank substances were being kept in the briefcase.

“So basically, the four of us just got hot boxed,” I concluded.  I had to yell over the roaring wind whipping past the open windows.

“Hot boxing?” asked Teresa.  “What’s that?”

“It’s like where you take a few hits off a bong, and blow the smoke into a cardboard box with, like, a cat or something inside it, so the cat gets really stoned, and can entertain people at parties,” added Xerxes, keeping his eyes firmly focused on the road as he drove well over the speed limit.  “I seen it done a few times, it’s pretty funny actually.”

“That’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard!” said Teresa.

“Yeah, karma’s a bitch, alright,” replied Xerxes.

“Okay, R.W. So what exactly was in there?” asked Min.

“Oh, nuthin’… peyote, shrooms, lotta acid, bit o’ weed.  Plus some crap the guy in Denver assured me was so new, it hadn’t been made illegal yet.”

Min sighed and said, “Great, so we’re gonna be trippin’ balls in like a matter of minutes, then?  Or dead, maybe?  Brilliant.”

“Well, sod this for a game of soldiers,” exclaimed Teresa.  “I’m not going into to some funhouse like that, bein’ scared to death by some papier-mâché bats.  I mean, shouldn’t we be heading to a hospital right about now?”

“Sorry, sis’, but it’s too late for us to scarper off now.  We need the money from this, else we ain’t gettin’ to Vancouver on time,” said Xerxes.

“So we’re goin’ through with it?” Teresa asked, looking at Min.

“We just keep as absolutely cool as possible,” I said, getting right Churchill on my mates.  “It’s gonna be an awful trip.  Really awful.  We might not make it out alive… but this too shall pass.  No matter what, we persevere, eh?  No matter what, the band plays on.”

So there was the nightmare.  To obtain our vital funding, we would have to traverse a Halloween funhouse whilst violently wasted on every psychedelic drug known to man (as well as another I acquired in Denver, which apparently smelled of ammonia and peanut brittle).  It was in this state, that we arrived.  We screeched into the vacant parking lot, narrowly dodging a massive red billboard, and emerged from our poorly-parked terrestrial craft, high as goddamn space satellites.

The building itself was rather impressive; a large three-story manor with nice, regal architecture, complete with turrets and a veranda.  It was built on a square plot of land cut out of a grain field, the remaining 99% of which was still quite full of crop.  The unpaved parking lot was empty, aside from a small village of mobile structures where the staff was likely preparing for the show, just like we’d done a thousand times.  As we approached the empty maze of ropes that made up the line, we were accosted by a curious member of the staff.

“Whoa, whoa, where you guys goin’?” he asked us.

I could make out the gist of what he said, and did my best to answer.

“How you do, sir?” I greeted him, sticking my hand out in front of him.

“Oh, you’re that band!  Here for the tour, right?  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” he apologized.

“Relax, mate, we only kill what we can eat,” said Xerxes, smiling.

“What was that?” asked the staff member, disturbed by Xerxes’ statement.

“Never mind that!” I said, pushing Xerxes aside.  He stumbled a bit, but fortunately didn’t fall over.  The staff member’s attention turned back to me.

I was utterly horrified by whatever state of mind my friends were currently lost in, and I knew that wherever it was, I was bound to get there soon enough.  Already, things were starting to look improper; the staff member’s face was morphing into grotesque shapes.  A dead body hung from a noose on the branch of a nearby tree, its mandible flapping up and down as if it were laughing at me.  I couldn’t tell if it was animatronics making it do that, or my own head.  At least I knew the drugs were responsible for the blue serpents slithering across the piss yellow sky overhead.  They always looked so lovely that time of year.

The staff member led us straight to the entrance and guided us inside.  Before he shut the door behind us, we were told to go through the place as quickly as possible.  Apparently, there was something called a “zombie walk” going on in town earlier that day, which the station was also sponsoring.  Everyone who attended the walk was going to receive a free tour of the place immediately after the event, and the staff preferred it if we got going before they arrived.  We were all fine with that, considering we just wanted to get the hell out.

We made our way through the parlor.  The scenery inside was rather static, nothing moving at its own will.  The walls and furniture were all covered in cobwebs, as were the exquisite glass light fixtures providing the room with its dim luminosity.  In the center of the room, there was a wax butler with rolled back eyes and a knife stuck in his forehead.  A thin trail of blood ran from the wound on the butler’s face down to a sign he was holding to his chest, instructing visitors to, “head to the left without losing your own.”

“My God, they know we’re here!” cried Min in a loud, frenzied whisper.

I managed to calm her down, barely convincing her that “they” (whoever she was referring to) were actually expecting us.  Teresa had gone off to get a closer look at the wax butler.  She was standing not a foot away from it, with her head slightly tilted.

“Shouldn’t we be helping him?” she turned and asked us.

“Sorry, dear, there’s nothing we can do for him,” I replied.

“But he can tell us where all these spiders are coming from,” said Teresa.

I ignored her comment.  There were no spiders in the parlor, despite the abundance of cobwebs on the furniture.  Besides, my mind was plagued by whatever fact or illusion was causing the ceiling to rise like a kite upwards, exposing a black void just beyond the wooden walls of the room.  The walls themselves remained earthbound, keeping us trapped like rats in a cosmic shoebox.  I looked away from the bizarre scene, figuring at that point it was best for me to avoid looking up.  It seemed that the vast majority of my demons existed in the z-plane.

“Stick together, now.  Trust me, you don’t want to be alone whilst in the ‘particular state’ we’re currently in, especially not in a place like this one,” I told them.

“And why the hell should we even be listening to you, R.W?  It’s your bloody fault we’re like this in the first place!  Besides, aren’t you just as stoned as the rest of us?” challenged Min. She sounded paranoid, angry.  Her eyes were widened and responded quickly to both actual and imagined stimuli that wandered into her periphery.  But she had a point.  I was soaring higher than the ceiling, and while I still possessed a slightly higher capacity to function with the crippling, hallucination-induced paranoia that had blighted the four of us, I was no less immune to it.  I still saw all kinds of craziness, but I’d gradually gotten good at identifying facts from figments.
“Easy on him, Min,” implored Teresa.  “It wasn’t his fault.”

I felt terrible guilt for what my habit had done to poor Teresa.  She stood a few feet away, shaking, clearly having a bad trip.  Not exactly paranoid, her sinister visions had cast her into a state of lethargic petrifaction.  She kept looking at the floor for some reason.  Earlier, she mentioned spiders.  Did she have some phobia we were unaware of?  Was she shivering because she was cold?   Or because she believed a swarm of ravenous, bloodthirsty arachnids was crawling up her legs and attempting to envelope her in a veil of infinite blackness?

“Yeah, Min, get stuffed,” I said, looking over at Min to see her glaring back at me like Nietzsche’s abyss.  “Look, I apologize for the situation here, but…” I realized someone was missing from the conversation.  Our shilling had become about sixpence short.

“Wait, where’s Xerxes?” I asked.  None of us had seen him leave.

We figured he’d obeyed the butler’s sign and had proceeded to the left.  I remembered the troubling remark he’d made outside, and wondered what sick delusions my mate had confused his reality with.  In truth, I was less worried about him, and more worried about the chaps in costumes he was bound to run into.  Just how would they deal with a mad Iranian drummer in the midst of an acid frenzy?  Did they have a protocol for that kind of thing?

The butler’s directions led us through a darkened corridor lined with several suits of medieval body armor, which seemed outrageously out-of-place in an American country house.  Each held a six-foot halberd in its right gauntlet. Whispers echoed from the visors with such poor, fizzling sound that the cheesy effect fooled no one.  There was, however, one in the center of the line to my right, which very clearly uttered the name “R.W.” after I had passed it.  Some combat reflex that I was formerly unaware of kicked-in, and I swung my right arm at the automaton’s head.  I ht it with such force that I smashed the helmet right off its shoulders, exposing the cheap sound system hidden inside the figure’s cuirass.  The thunderous “PANG” of the decapitation scared the Christ out of Teresa and Min, who both jumped about a foot in the air before scolding me for my overzealous reaction.

Before exiting the corridor, the three of us encountered something unusual.  One of the sentinels was missing its halberd.  The weapon had been pried out of its cold, tin fingers.

“He’s armed,” I said. The very thought seemed ominous.

The next area was something of a surprise, though greatly portended by the sounds of running water and amphibians.  The doorway opened into a large, indoor swamp scene, complete with willow trees that appeared to reach up and grow through the ceiling.  Fog machines hidden in their own mist provided the atmosphere with its moisture and believably stagnant aroma.  A rope bridge had replaced the tiled floors of the parlor and corridor, but fortunately, each plank was nailed onto a catwalk directly beneath us, so it was more of a stable walkway simply designed to look like a rickety bridge.  Visitors were merely bound to the path by the moss-covered guardrails, and the uncertainty of whether or not water actually occupied the area below the walkway.  Yellow gas lanterns hung from wooden posts set at various intervals along the path, barely lighting the massive room.  Dozens of areas remained pitch black, surely harboring our clandestine tormentors with whom I knew an encounter remained inevitable.

And it was.  Halfway through the creepy jungle concourse, this great big chunk of shrub grew arms and leapt out, shrieking at me like some kind of banshee orangutan.

“SCRAAAAAAW!”

When you’re that off the box and you see something like that, the old fight or flight kicks in at around full throttle, and flushes out any bit of reason you might have left.  Both are legitimate options, and I don’t wish to shame anyone who chooses the latter, but my mates and I, we were a band.  And the band played on.  We stayed put, and if that meant we needed to stick around and scuffle a bit, well, that’s just jammy.  Not saying it ever happened much, but we’d played up in Glasgow enough times to know that, as musicians, it pays to know how to throw a punch or two.

The second I saw what looked like a face in that swamp-thing’s matted gnarls of compost, I went for it.  I gave a right cross that knocked the bastard out, and sent him back towards the guardrail.  Timber.  With the illusion of danger vanquished, you’d think I might’ve returned to my senses, but no.  That brief rush of adrenaline had robbed me of my fleeting grip on reality, the same way I’d robbed that poor fellow in the ghillie suit of his consciousness.  It was because of this that my recollection of what happened next remains a bit hazy.  The following events were actually explained to me later, after I’d wound up at Landon General, so I can’t really vouch for their authenticity.

Apparently, we came upon Xerxes fighting off a pack of five or so werewolves in the next area; a room with a dungeon aesthetic and some corny, alliterated handle, like “Beelzebub’s Boudoir” or “Satan’s Somethingorother.”  After finishing the last one off, Xerxes (who had, by the way, gone ape-shit radio-rental at this point), showed us into some access area that wasn’t actually part of the tour.  I do vaguely recall one of the pummeled werewolves calling out, “Hey assholes, you can’t go in there!” just before we shut the double doors behind us.

We had barricaded ourselves in the staff lounge, convinced that just beyond the walls of the room lay the haunted dwellings of all sorts of fell creature and phantasm.  They tried to bash the doors in several times, but to no avail.  The couch we’d used to brace the entryway held fast.  While they had the appropriate tools to simply remove the door, there was no time.  The zombie walk was ending soon, and they had to repair the damaged sets before the horde arrived.

“Just leave ’em there for now. Long as they’re out of the way, they won’t be a problem.”

Little did they know how menacing a static environment could be to a group of people on acid.  It’s like a blank slate that the mind fills in with its own nightmares in absence of those based in reality.  We went mad in there.  The years we spent inside of that terrible confinement passed by in a matter of hours.

It wasn’t long before we ran out of food from the mini-fridge by the water cooler.  We eventually determined that the time had come for us to venture out for supplies.  We needed to sustain ourselves for the next phase of the apparent post-apocalypse.  Reluctantly, the four of us embarked, wondering what new foulness lay in wait beyond the refuge of the break room.

The staff failed to anticipate our pre-sober emergence.  They were still caught in the midst of managing the tour for the zombie walk participants.  A zombie walk, in case you didn’t know, is a fairly new pop-culture phenomenon, usually practiced around Halloween, in which a large group of 100+ members basically dresses up like cadavers and does a walking marathon about the town.  This meant that the participants currently enjoying their free tour of the establishment were still dressed for the event, which had just recently concluded.  Imagine their surprise when halfway through the tour, they suddenly ran into four loony-eyed Brits.  And imagine our own surprise when we hopped out of that scenery and found the place infested with legions upon legions of the damn, dirty undead.

The rest of it played out like a bad Romero flick.  We literally fought our way through waves of innocent tourists as we tried to get back to The Brick still parked in the lot outside.  Eventually, what our drug-rotten minds thought was the military showed up in an armored evacuation vehicle.  Naturally, the SWAT team greeted us with flashbangs, mace, and tasers.

Halloween’s a hell of a time to let reality and madness mingle, but it’s arguably the worst possible time to replace your sense of one with your sense of the other.  Psychedelics do that from time to time, and actually, there’s never a good time for that.  You shouldn’t do it.  That’s what the doc at Landon General told me.  He said I was alone when they found me, that my name was Vincent Dempsey, and that I was a vagrant who had never (to anyone’s knowledge) traveled outside California, let alone the United States.  Sure, I protested, telling them I was English.  It seemed I was suffering from a condition called dissociative fugue, a form of amnesia, likely caused by my chronic addiction to dangerous, mind-altering psychedelics.  I also had foreign accent syndrome, which the doctor assured me was a real thing.

“So my whole life has been some kind of fantasy then?” I asked the doctor from my hospital bed.  To my own astonishment, my sophisticated cadence had changed to that of a typical Yank’s.  The doctor closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he burst out laughing.

”I’m so sorry, Mr. Samzar… I couldn’t resist.  I was just dying to see if that actually worked,” he said.  “Did you hear yourself just then?  Man, your American accent is terrible!”

I almost popped that wanker in his scabby, rat beak, but pointlessly fought the urge.

Later, when I met with the others after we’d been discharged, I learned that they all received similar stories from their doctors who, like mine, got a good lark out of the sadistic use of psychology.

“Bloody worst bedside manner of any place I ever been to,” declared Xerxes.

Long story short, we still had some legal issues to sort out.  Min knew this crack attorney in L.A. who helped us settle the jam outside of court.  Since we fulfilled our obligations to the radio station, they very begrudgingly handed over the cash.  The only downside was that they got to keep the video surveillance footage of our visit, which included everything from our arrival to our apprehension.  Surprisingly, they didn’t put it up on the web like they said they would.  Then again, they of all people would know that doing so would just enhance our notoriety, as well as our record sales.  Ultimately, they actually hurt us more by keeping the whole thing under wraps. Not that not being famous was anything we weren’t used to.

For me, the real shit-storm took place on the way up to Vancouver.  Needless to say, my band mates were furious about the whole incident.  Luckily, I had just enough gift of gab to convince them that I wasn’t totally responsible.  Still, they weren’t about to let me go restocking my inventory anytime soon (not that I planned to).  My experience in Landon Beach has kept me off the psychedelics for a while, but probably not for good.  All I know for certain is that I’ll never buy drugs in Denver again.  Hell, I’ll have better things to do there when I’m dead.

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