When your sanity falls off a cliff, you stop taking MXE and start talking to God.
Hello, I'm the Editor-in-Chief of VICE UK. I never get to write because I'm too busy walking around noisily criticising others. But, in an attempt to change that, here's Alex Miller's New Column. I asked Twitter to help me decide on a name and someone pointed out that this was a good one because it's a joke that only gets funny as it gets old.
ALEX MILLER'S NEW COLUMN #4: THE STRANGE TALE OF THE EXORCIST AND THE CLUB DRUG CASUALTY
Myself and the rest of the small film crew met Ryan outside one of those velvet nightclubs they grow in the North. The ones designed to look like a camp African despot’s rumpus room, or a charity episode of Strictly Come Dancing starring nothing but homophobes.
Ryan is outside and he stands out a mile. Customers here wear expensive denims that flop from their huge thighs over their mum trainers, but Ryan’s in a tracksuit, his cap sitting low over his face. He doesn’t really seem to know what to do with my hand when I offer it to him; he’s really quite young and kind of looks like a Dior twink waiting to be discovered.
Ryan’s from Sunderland. He lives on some estate there with his mum but he’s never spent much time in Newcastle, which is why we’re meeting here. He wouldn’t let me come to his estate, partly because what he’s going to tell us about is a secret and, I suspect, partly because if he brings a faggy London guy in brogues to his place, everyone’s gonna assume I’ve just bought his arsehole.
Ten minutes later and we’re sitting in a Costa coffee in the centre of Newcastle, which surely has never made more money than it’s making today – people are even buying the horrible, crazily expensive food – enormous biscuits and sandwiches with pink bread. I’m here to talk to Ryan about legal highs for a story but Ryan’s here to get something off his chest – after all, this is a kid who was recently possessed by the devil.
We found Ryan through a YouTube video (since deleted). The video scanned a roomful of kids giggling as the dawn light glowed through the sitting room curtains, ultimately settling on a corpse dumped on the sofa. Well, it looked like a corpse as we zoomed into the wide, empty, dilated and translucent eyes on the teenage boy lying there. His skin looked like someone had stamped veal into a cardboard box.
The laughing guys pick him up from the sofa and prop him onto his feet. Obviously, because his heart has either stopped beating or is beating FAR too much, he doesn’t stand. Imagine trying to balance a carrot on the pointed end; that’s how he falls, his head smacking the ground between a girl’s trainers. His eyes don’t move and the room continues laughing.
Inexplicably, though the film is a short, nasty, testament of the cruelty and stupidity of wanky teenage brats, it’s production is straight from prime time. Mournful piano music, some YouTube cypher of Coldplay or Snow Patrol, pounds over it mixing real horror with schmaltz; the result is very emotive. I think Ryan chose that music – because it was Ryan who shot the video – because he’s grown up watching X Factor eviction montages.
"What happened to the kid in the video?" I ask. "Did he die?"
Ryan says, no. No, but there was a second video. A second video Ryan deleted.
See the kids weren’t completely stupid – sure, they’d drunk enough and taken enough MXE to be acting like dicks, but they knew this guy was about to die. They dragged his body from the flat, into the lift, through the building and out onto the empty high street. There they used the kid’s phone and called 999 – “I’ve just found this guy passed out in the street, come and help.” They ran round the corner and watched to see if an ambulance would show. It did. Doctors ran out. They freaked out. They pulled out the defibrillator and shocked this teenage kid right back to fucking life in the middle of the street. Ryan filmed the whole thing.
“But I deleted it. I was worried I could get arrested.”
Probably for the best, I guess.
You ever do too many drugs? I did. When I was about 17, I smoked too much skunk, did too many hallucinogens and listened to too much paranoid UK hip-hop and DJ Shadow. I lost my mind. I heard voices, I had flashbacks I couldn’t control, even when I was sober. It sucked, I thought I was going to plop on with my life in a cell somewhere for eternity, but I was OK. I just needed to give up drugs and in about three years' time, I was alright again. I wasn’t mad, I was just strung out and paranoid, which, now that I type it, sounds like it’s probably the same thing.
Anyway, now here I was, again: 17 and losing my head on drugs. The only difference is that this time I was from Sunderland, not Kentish Town, I liked gabba not trip-hop and instead of skunk and shrooms, I’d fucked myself up on MCAT, MXE and all the other shitty legal highs I’d bought from the Teesside head shop. Oh, and this time instead of running to a shrink, I’d gone to an exorcist.
Ryan wanted to talk about all this. He was sat there with a guy he probably thought was old (he’s wrong, I’m in the prime of my life) who he probably thinks speaks like Queen Victoria (he’s wrong, I’m salt of the earth) and he still wanted to talk. How desperate he must have been to tell someone about the shitty time he’d been having lately and how he wanted to die and how Satan had taken over his soul and how it was all because of legal highs.
I don’t really get what legal highs are – they’re all a bit like mephedrone, but their DNA has been manipulated again and again to stay ahead of legislation; so, aside from a few psychedelic adventurers who really know what they’re doing, no-one knows what they are. Most of this stuff is sold in nasty little shops across Britain – places where you can buy Technics and T-shirts – these places are taking Ryan’s money and hoping he’ll come back alive to to buy a second bag.
His wasn’t a surprising story, really. He took a lot of the stuff at raves, had a wicked time, then started doing a lot more than his friends and his sanity fell off a cliff. He thought he was having a heart attack, he couldn’t breathe, all that panic attack stuff – standard, right? Except for his fucking hands. His hands went blue, then red, then blue. Looking at them in Costa, they look like they’ve been pickled in brine. He went to a GP, he was panicking and probably came across as what he was: an inarticulate, stressed out, slightly mental teenager. They told him to calm down and go away. He went to work, to paint and to decorate, but couldn’t take it. He left, walked towards home, climbed the side of a bridge and debated the pluses and minuses of throwing himself off.
He didn’t do it. He found salvation. He found salvation in an exorcist on Facebook.
You see, every time Ryan shut his eyes he was haunted by a demon. As soon as his eyelids shut, a reptilian thing with red eyes would charge at him from the darkness and Ryan would leap up, launched back into another panicking fit. If you’ve had night terrors you can probably understand what he’s talking about, but he didn’t. He’s 17; he doesn’t know shit.
“It was a demon, definitely,” he tells me in Costa.
“You think the drugs put a demon in your head?”
“Yeah, they unleashed something bad.”
He needed help, he knew he needed the most spiritual man he knew; the one person equipped to purify Ryan’s soul, an old face from the clubs; Dennis. So Ryan jumped onto Facebook to see if Dennis was online and over Facebook messenger Dennis did something amazing; he calmed Ryan down, and he helped Ryan chase Satan from his mind.
“He told me to close my eyes, see the monster and imagine Saint Paul coming down from heaven and squashing it.”
"And it worked?!"
Fuck me. The internet really can do anything. But do you think Dennis thought you were really possessed, I say, or do you think he just calmed you down with some good imagery and helped you get control of your head?
“No, he knew exactly what type of devil it was. Chita-something, Chittatta, or something, they’re Mexican demons or something.”
Oh god. He means Chitauri. I know what they are. I don’t know if you’ve read much David Icke, I’ve read a bit – he interested me enough to make a film about him – but if you have read his blockbuster, The Greatest Lie Ever Told, you’ll have heard of the Chitauri. They’re Icke’s lizard men, the ones who secretly control the world, the ones who’re secretly Obama and The Queen and Murdoch and Prince William. Most recently though, the Chitauri were the baddies in The Avengers Assemble – so at least things are looking up for them.
A month later and we’re driving to Dennis’s. He lives between Sunderland and Newcastle, near a beach which you can’t swim off any more. Dennis is older than Ryan, about 27. He has a sword hanging from his mantelpiece, and a lot of paintings of tigers dotted around. He’s a hippie, sure, but there’s something hard in his eyes, something that tells me I really don’t want to be around him when he’s holding that sword. Upstairs, behind the shower curtain, I see that the bath is filled with roses and for some reason I’m relieved it’s not body parts.
He’s got a bigger house than you’d expect an online exorcist to have, as well. 'Fucking bullshit London rent prices,' I think as I walk into his garden, resolving yet again to get over myself and move out of the capital.
Confronted by Dennis, Ryan seems embarrassed. I get the feeling that when we met first he was in desperate need of support; I gave him someone to talk to and a number of a doctor who runs a clinic for people suffering from club drug damage. Now though, because he’s 17, he reckons he’s all better, he’s embarrassed by the whole thing and watching Dennis talk about the multiple layers of reality which have allowed the interdimensional lizard Illuminati to storm his consciousness is a bit much.
Dennis shows us how he meditates in the garden, performs one of his rhymes from his days as a gabba MC and he tells us how he knew how to help Ryan. He’d seen it before you see, and basically it was your standard Chitauri possession, mate. Dennis tells us all about Icke, but I’ve heard it before and we leave.
Driving Ryan back to Sunderland I feel really bad. He won’t talk to me or look me in the eye. In Newcastle, we’d been friends, but that was over now, he was embarrassed and sat around big strange men who he didn’t really know. Along a motorway he sat up:
“Can you just pull in here, please?”
"On the slip lane? Are you sure?"
“Yeah, just here, this is where I’m meeting my mates.” And that was it. We pulled up, he jumped out of the car, yelled bye, ran across the six lanes of motorway traffic and disappeared into the bushes.
I really hope he’s OK.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @terriblesoup
Previously: My Unhappy Holiday With Lost Souls in Palestine