Ten green shots of absinthee lined the brown table. They stood in formation along their wooden walkway. A tiny spoon, overflowing of sugar, soaked with absinthee and glowed with fire as it ran to each tiny glass. Blue and yellow pyres swirled high.
Wormwood, the psychoactive ingredient that sat absinthee apart, without it I would be just drinking terrible version of vodka. Wormwood, it’s what made van Gogh lop off his ear. Wormwood, it makes people insane. Wormwood, was ready to course through my veins.
No worries, I had to already be insane, otherwise why would I take the challenge? 10 shots of absinthee in 10 minutes. Physically possible? Yes? A good idea? No! If I drunk them and survive, they’re free, if not, then I’m out $100. I don’t like to part so easily with my money. So challenge accepted.
The clock ticked, the alcohol burned. 10 shots. A shot is 25 milliliters. 250 ML of absinthe. Almost a full cola can of spirit. That’s black out drunk level. Would the fire lower the alcohol content enough?
“E come wid a fee shirt” the Scottish bartender added as he washed the spoon off “ ih you blackout you stil get a fee shirt”.
I watched the ten candles burn as the time ticket. 4:58. 4:59. 5:00.
“Fiv mins up, and 0 glasses dawn, nat a good stat.”
I blew out the fire and threw back the first three shots. Warm, cold, minty, the pain of alcohol burning its way down. It would take five more minutes before it hit me. Shot four. Shot five. My stomach churned with weak acid and strong alcohol, with mint and wormwood, with craziness and stupidity.
The clock hit 7 minutes. Five fires competing with me, their fuel, my poison. Around me my friends stood, gawking, laughing, waiting, and whispering. Their circle kept me warm, the alcohol petering into my blood stream made me hot. Someone was already holding my new shirt. When did they get it? How did I not notice?
“Shoot it without blowing out the fire” someone muttered.
The bartender nodded “Is awright.”
Flames carried down my throat and into a river Styx? No, the fire died a painless death and went to no afterlife. Six, Seven Eight. Like eating embers, they singed, my lips, my teeth, hot, uncomfortable, but not painful, not burnt.
Water, lots of water, 1 bottle, 2, 3, I can’t remember. I would piss the alcohol out.
9 minutes, a shot glass in my quivering hand. Flames: modern dancers, shifting, shaking, collapsing under a light breeze.
One shot left.
20 seconds left.
My name coming from the mouths of total strangers. Their awkward smiles encouraging me, pressuring me, to finish my shots, to drink the 10th.
10. 9. 8. It is like the New Year count down and I am the ball. The fireworks explode in my stomach. I hold it down. 5, 4. 3. 2. 1. Cheers, celebration an empty glass resting upside down on the bar, lonely drops of absinthe sliding down the rim.
I walked out into the cool Scottish air, November winds snapping around the tall stone buildings and descending onto me. Alcohol opened my veins, and the heat poured out. A hot body, cool skin. Relaxed. The wind carried colors with it, pixels of green, blue and yellow that snow over the thick stone walls of old Edinburgh. The grey, brown and black stone walls merge with these colorful lights. The buildings illuminate, like sad rainbows in the dead of the night. The stones waved like flags and soon become them. The British flag, the French flag, Germany, Turkey, India, Thailand, I don’t know that one, or that one, Oh the next is Canada.
I found myself back inside, where people greeted me. They asked me how I felt, and mechanically I answered back “good”. I don’t answer that I’m drunk, I’m tripping, that the world is bending and flexing and someone else’s hands and arms are keeping me up right.
A flash of a camera and I am someone’s memory.
Another bottle of water. Even if the drinks are free maybe the water bottles will bankrupt me.
Outside the night sky glows blue-green, like a tranquil sea. It’s too high to swim up into. So I ignore it. The patrons are not goblins, but I suspect there might be one among them. Perhaps the goblins are looking for gold. I suggested this to a friend.
“Eric, are you ok.”
I nodd. I want to explain that absinthe causes hallucinations like rain causes wetness, but all I say is “lights”.
I woke up the next day with an earth shattering headache that could have sent tsunamis over mountains. My shirt in one hand, a hundred dollars in another. Victory? Maybe, but I spent the next 2 days recovering.