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  • I knew within minutes of meeting Martin that he was brilliantly insane. I was seventeen and at the New Year’s Eve Party of someone I vaguely knew. We were introduced and when I politely asked him what he did he said that he was looking for the new forever and giggled like a small child. I couldn’t help but laugh along with him.

    Martin wanted magic and miracles and worked hard at manifesting them. He read Crowley and Castaneda and practiced astral travel. He meditated, waved an athame through clouds of incense and drew sigils on paper with his own blood and semen. He believed that the world was full of shamans, both good and evil, and that the apparently random events in his life were messages from one or other of these groups to him personally.

    These beliefs made him more gullible than anyone I’ve met before or since. If you wanted Martin to do something, say walk with you to the garage to get some cigarettes at two o’clock on a January morning, all you needed to do was tell him that it was what the gods or the spirits wanted. He would think for a moment, closed fist pressed against his lips, then say “Yeah” and burst into that infectious giggle.

    Once I was making just such a walk with him when he did this strange little skip, jumping into the air and throwing both of his feet out to the side. He repeated it several times over the course of our journey and eventually I had to ask him what he was doing.
    “You know that we create our own reality?”
    “And if you believe in something enough you can make it real?”
    “Well I’m trying to believe I have an invisible skateboard.”

    I suppose it was inevitable that Martin would descend onto the world of psychedelic drugs like an astronaut returning to his home planet. By the time we were nineteen a fairly normal breakfast for him would be toast washed down with magic mushroom tea. This would then be topped up mid-morning by a couple of hash pipes and often a tab or two of acid in the evening. I remember him turning up to my house sometimes so out of his mind that he could barely walk or talk, eyes like meteorite craters freshly punched into the earth’s crust.

    He never drank, though, or smoked tobacco. It was one area where he was strangely stubborn and although I often tried to cajole him into joining me for a beer he always turned me down.

    One night he knocked on my door while I was asleep next to an extremely attractive young woman, not a common occurrence at that time. I reluctantly got up, put some jeans on and opened the door.
    “Not now, Martin, I’m with someone” I whispered.
    He put his fist to his lips and stood silently for a moment as if deep in thought.
    “Yeah” he said and walked away.

    I found out later that his mum had just died and he’d come straight from the hospital.

    When he was sectioned I visited him. The medication slowed him down and he shuffled out to meet me in cardboard slippers. The mirrors in his room, he kept repeating, were dirty. He went on about it so much that I had to check. There were no mirrors in his room. As I was leaving he held my hand and looked searchingly into my eyes.
    “This place is heaven.”
    “No, Martin, it really isn’t.”
    “But it could be if we wanted it to be. Right now in this holy instant. Just by becoming aware of perfect oneness.”
    “Jesus Christ, Martin. Its saying stuff like that that got you here.”
    He giggled and let go of my hand.
    “Yeah” he said.

    Martin was released from the psychiatric ward and moved into a squat with some former new age travellers but our friendship had changed. I would see him occasionally at other people’s houses or flats but felt like we didn’t really have anything to say to say to each other anymore. I felt like I had moved on while he was still mining the same barren seams.

    And more and more often when I did see him he was in the company of Nutty. Nutty, aka James Nutworth, was a local small time criminal and heroin dealer who had acquired some notoriety for burgling the house of his own elderly parents while they were away on holiday. He totally stripped the place, so the story went, even emptied the attic and ripped out the light fittings. Sold the lot and got wasted for a month. A heavy set, ginger lad, he got to know Martin because his girlfriend was sectioned at the same time on the same ward.

    Martin’s mum had left him some money, almost a hundred thousand and Nutty persuaded him to buy a car with some of it. They filled the boot with drugs and spent a month driving to various outdoor raves and squat parties around the country.

    I bumped into Martin at around this time and his appearance shocked me. Always quite slight, he had lost a lot of weight and looked pale and tired. Even more surprising to me was the Marlborough that he was sucking on. It looked as incongruous as shit stains on the ceiling. His eyes jumped nervously around my face, never quite settling on anything. We talked a bit and then there was a long silence before we said goodbye and he turned away.
    “Hey Martin?”
    “How’s the skateboard going?”
    “What skateboard?”
    “The invisible one.”
    I was rewarded with a blast of that giggle, slightly louder and higher pitched than usual, but still recognisably Martin.
    “Yeah,” he said, “I think I’m almost there.”
    I smiled at his back as he disappeared around the corner.

    A few months later I was in a pub with an old friend.
    “D’y hear about Nutty?”
    “They found him dead in the toilets of McDonald’s”
    “Yeah. Overdosed on some mental scag he brought back from London.”
    “Jesus Christ. What about Martin?”
    “Dunno. Don’t think anyone’s seen him for yonks.”

    Later that night I went around to the squat but the windows and doors were covered in metal Sitex grills. I banged on it and shouted until I was hoarse. No one came out and the place remained dark and silent.

    I never saw or heard from Martin again and neither did anyone I knew. He left our orbit as surely and quietly as a child’s balloon drifting towards the sky.
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