They’d yet to do any duster, and they joked proudly of this, even though it was only 11 a.m. You had to appreciate the ludicrous irony of duster inhalation or it was no fun at all. The first thing they did was pull out three cans….”
by mike sauve
Rich was a quiet dude, quiet to the point of rudeness some thought. But he and Matt had been friends since they were five years old. Although they’d taken considerably different paths in their young lives, the bond between them was forged in the white heat of youth, and a bond like that was strong. They met in the park between their houses.
“I’ve got to tell you something, but it’s really messed up,” Rich said.
“What is it?”
“My sister Kaitlin is addicted to computer duster.”
“That is messed up.”
Matt had been fascinated by the duster-focused Intervention episodes he’d seen. Such a spectacularly stupid thing to do, yet dusting, like all inhalant-abuse, was worse than any high-end drug once you were quickly hooked. Those episodes taught Matt that inhaling computer duster made people heinously weird, or “good television” from the exploitive vantage of the producers.
“I know you’ve done some drugs in your time,” Rich said, “Nothing as stupid as inhaling from a can of pressurized air I’m sure, but I’m wondering if you could maybe talk to her. She hangs out around the movie theatre all the time with that ratty midget kid. She’s either there, or between there and the Value-Mart on her way to buy more duster. She inhales like eight cans a day. I asked Derek Ellis, that shithead, he’s a manager at Value-Mart, to stop selling it to her, and he said they couldn’t discriminate against individual customers like that, because of store policy.”
“That’s pretty crazy. Is she acting all weird?”
“She’s fucked up beyond all recognition.”
His sister was a delicate girl, maybe 16. Matt was 22 himself and he’d sort of been waiting for Kaitlin to reach a respectable age so he could make his move. His respect for Rich only extended so far.
Matt found her outside the movie theatre, but she wouldn’t talk to him. She was staring into space and making a cooing noise. The mall security had never been first-rate, but Matt was surprised that even this bizarre behaviour fell through their notoriously porous net.
When conversation with Kaitlin proved impossible, Matt spoke with her 4-foot-11-inch friend who everyone called Silky instead of his given name of Rexroth, which never struck anyone as very appropriate.
“Hey man, what you guys up to?”
“Same old….” Silky said. “Bumming some change, doing some duster.”
“Excellent. Why’d you start doing duster?”
“I don’t know; saw it on Intervention, it looked awesome. Checked some YouTube videos, looked even more awesome.”
Silky was rife with dysfunction, so Matt did not begrudge him his brain-decimating chemicals. In the past Silky had been the butt of endless jokes. He’d had to play along, but he never looked that happy. He was 18 or 19 and already on a death trip. Matt could respect that. And he was almost glad Silky had a friend like Kaitlin to keep him company. But life had better things in store for a sweet girl like her. Matt hoped this would all end up as an embarrassing anecdote of misspent youth she’d one day tell over glasses of wine to a more sophisticated peer group.
“How can I talk to Kaitlin?”
“Man…she’s someplace else right now…a good place. I wouldn’t bother.”
“Is she safe, can you get her home safe?”
Silky laughed. “Of course man. It’s just duster. Makes you a little dizzy, changes your perspective on the world, no different than shrooms or anything.”
“Give me a hit,” Matt said.
“You got two bucks?”
They went into a bathroom stall and Silky produced the can. No instruction was necessary. Matt pressed the trigger, inhaled from the tiny white straw and held it in. At the last second he assured himself, “I have to know what I’m dealing with here.” As the stall began to implode inwardly he had one other thought: “Research.” This word bounced around his brain for what felt like maybe six hours. Silky was laughing for the whole perceived six hours….“Fucks you up doesn’t it?”
The next day he invited Silky and Kaitlin to his parents’ house. They’d yet to do any duster, and they joked proudly of this, even though it was only 11 a.m. You had to appreciate the ludicrous irony of duster inhalation or it was no fun at all. The first thing they did was pull out three cans.
“Duster party!” Kaitllin shouted, her cheeks still rosy from the December air. In that moment, she was just a sweet kid again. The same kid Matt had watched Return of the Jedi with when he’d slept over at Rich’s, the same precocious brat who’d chased them around and got angry over whatever wasn’t going her way, the same girl Matt had ignored until a couple years ago when he realized she was going to be beautiful.
The duster party still held some necessary magic for her and Silky; in a perverse way this only embellished the image of purity she projected then. It was a nihilist magic, but how can a naive teen be asked to distinguish between light and dark incantation when the dark kind was always so readily available?
They’d all seen the Intervention episodes. Every drug-loving kid puts the box sets on their Christmas wish list. No they don’t; they download them illegally, with absolute surety that there will be no repercussions. They invite friends over for a pot-smoking session before watching, laugh at the obviousness of the emotionally manipulative music and usually turn it off before the second half when the self-important intervener makes everyone eat shit. Drug-using teens of taste enjoy the opening scenes of excess and debauch, but little else about the program.
After their first hit a weird magic began swirling through the IKEA-furnished living room. Soul communication…even Silky seemed like a beautiful creation. “I love duster,” one of them said. “This is beautiful,” said another.
As the day wore on, Kaitlin’s hits of duster became so increasingly frequent that she’d have had the A and E execs drooling. Matt laid off for awhile. But once they started listening to Pink Floyd and talking about the visuals he wanted another hit. He took one and was promptly sucked into a purple hole. Lying on the couch, he could sense Kaitlin’s fleshy thigh just a few inches away from him. He put his hand on it. He forgot that he’d left his webcam on, recording the whole duster party as a continuation of his “research.”
He and Silky ate some cheese-whiz out of a can. First, the texture of cheese-whiz struck them as a remarkable feat of food engineering. Then they were astounded that his parents had paid $6.99 for the small can.
“Dude, that’s like a can of duster. Two during Deal Dayz…” Silky said.
Suddenly Matt felt all too close to joining the Duster Society of Shit-Town, Ontario. He tried to stage his own half-assed intervention. “Let’s smoke a joint.”
“Nah,” Silky said, “It fucks up my duster high. I’m duster for life now.” His laugh revealed a deep-rooted insecurity.
They looked at some other items in the fridge for a while. Then Matt decided it would be fun to hang out with his dog. The dog had shown her typical good sense and ran upstairs to her bed at the first sign of weirdness. The stately Corgi dog was above all this, but if Matt went by himself and was quiet and gentle he might communicate with the dog on some higher plane.
The dog was gone, and so was Kaitlin, who had apparently decamped without any clothes; her Slayer T-shirt, corduroy pants, and underwear were lying on the dog’s bed. Matt speculated that she had seen the dog in his natural state and wanted to get back to her own. A quick check of the three bedrooms, a glance downstairs….
“Holy shit! She’s gone, and naked!” Matt yelled downstairs to Silky.
Silky had just done three huge hits in a row, something he called a “three-banger.” Silky expressed a profound remorse, his face twitching into a grimace of horror, but ultimately he was too incapacitated to join the search for Kaitlin.
Mercifully, Matt wasn’t so far gone, and his last duster hit was wearing off. He wondered what the hell he was doing. There was a second mercy: A fresh snow had fallen and Matt was able to follow a small set of Corgi tracks next to a correlating set of erratic human ones.
He followed them at a dead sprint until he saw a pair of milky white calves sticking out from behind a bush. Some kids from the junior-high were taking pictures and video with their cell phones. The dog was jumping up at them hoping to be petted.
From the opposite direction he heard Rich’s booming baritone, “Do you kids want your skulls fractured?”
The kids ran off, but not without plenty of salacious Facebook content well-ensconced in the collective and unforgetting memory of their phones.
Kaitlin’s brother got to her first. He looked mad as hell.
“Man, this is what you call helping her? You took all her clothes off.”
“She took them off. I was trying to gain her confidence or whatever by doing a little duster myself. Things got carried away. I took my eye off her, and here she is.”
“Where are her clothes?”
“Back at my place…” and then, realizing how suspicious this still must have seemed, Matt added, “On my dog’s bed.”
“For fuck’s sake. Give me your jacket then.”
“Use your own jacket.”
“Give me your jacket or I’m going to break your teeth.”
Matt could appreciate a straightforward ultimatum. He handed over his jacket. Kaitlin was rolling in the snow, oblivious to the trouble she’d caused…communing with Rasputin the duster god for all they knew.
“Silky?” she asked Rich.
“If I see that troll I’m going to knock his block off.”
The dog came over and Matt picked her up. He wondered what might bring Rich around to a better understanding of his sister’s experience, and then noticed the can of duster tucked into his back pocket.
“Do you want a hit?” he asked.
“No, I do not. I do not want a hit of fucking computer duster, you fucking idiot.”
(photos: john richen )
Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, The Toronto International Film Festival Group, Exclaim Magazine and other publications. His online fiction has appeared everywhere from Feathertale, Frost Writing, and McSweeney’s to university journals of moderate renown. Stories have also appeared in print in M-Brane, Criminal Class Review, Filling Station, and elsewhere. More from Mike Sauve can be found in the Vault of Smoke.