La Belle Dame sans Merci

La Belle Dame sans Merci

by Robert Anton Wilson

Excerpt from Email to the Universe

The four weirdest and scariest drug stories I know all involve belladonna, a chemical for which I now have the same sincere respect as I have for hungry tigers, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, IRS and Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

The first story I’ll tell comes from a young friend, then a 1960s drop-out hippie freak but now, 2001, a Ph.D. in sociology. He tried belladonna around 1965 under the impression that it had much the same effects as LSD. When he immediately went into toxic convulsions, friends rushed him to a hospital where the ER staff pumped out his stomach — probably saving his life, but a bit too late to save him from delirium, since the belladonna had already entered his blood stream.

When he returned to what seemed normal consciousness he found himself in a hospital bed, surrounded by people in other beds with different ailments.  Then a Beautiful Blonde Nurse with Great Big Hooters entered the ward, accompanied by an olde style New Orleans jazz band.

As my friend watched entranced, the nurse proceeded to perform a classic Strip Tease dance with plenty of tantalizing tease but eventual total nudity followed by even more bumps and grinds. The music seemed louder and raunchier than any jazz he had ever heard, and came to a wild Dionysian climax when the naked nurse crawled into bed with a delighted patient and proceeded to make love to him, loudly and frequently and more ways than a dozen porn stars.

My friend never once suspected that this might be a hallucination. Nor did it seem an unusually innovative medical procedure. You don’t ask philosophic or ontological questions during a belladonna journey the way you usually do on real psychedelics. He only began to wonder if any of that sex stuff really happened the following morning.

….and that’s this whole story. Belladonna erases a great deal of your memory of what you saw during the trip. He might have had dozens of other visions that night but all he ever remembered was the nurse from Mitchell Brothers Clinic for the Horrendously Horny. I guess I would have remembered her too.

The second, more perplexing yarn comes from another 1960s veteran, but I lost touch with him and have no idea how his life worked out. He told me he took the belladonna in his dorm room at the college he attended and then waited for psychedelic fireworks and transcendental experiences.

Nothing happened for a while.

Then his friend Joe entered the room and asked what he was doing. He told Joe about the belladonna and said he was waiting to feel an effect. Joe asked him something but he didn’t quite hear it.

Then his friend Joe entered the room and asked what he was doing. He told Joe about the belladonna and said he was waiting to feel an effect. Joe asked him something but he got distracted by having two Joes in the room. He tried to explain about the two Joes but then one of them vanished. He tried to tell Joe “Hey, you came in before you came in, ” but his tongue seemed unable to function and he thought he was merely grunting like a hog.

Then his friend Joe entered the room, and this time he got The Fear.  He fled the room and the dorm and hopped on his motorcycle to Get Away, speeding across the campus and down the nearest highway as fast as he could gun her.

He didn’t even own a motorcycle. I often wonder what the other people on campus and on the highway thought they saw when he went racing past them on his phantom bike….?

Medieval witches used belladonna in their brews, and some scholars think that’s why they believed they could fly through the sky on broomsticks. Modern witches — at least the ones I’ve known — prudently substitute the kinder, gentler cannabis.

The next morning my friend returned to “consensus reality” and found himself in a ditch several miles from campus. He had no bumps or bruises –and nobody else’s motorcycle either– but his right shoe and right sock had disappeared. He never did find them and never remembered anymore of that night either.

My longest yarn involves my own experience with belladonna, in 1962.  What can I say about why I did it? I hadn’t heard the above stories yet, I was young, I was a damned eejit, and the guy who gave it to me said it was “just like peyote.”

Let me explain that this happened on a farm in the deep woods.

A few minutes after I took the stuff — drank it as a tea, actually — my wife Arlen developed a severe case of fangs and quickly turned into a beautiful, sexy, red-headed vampire with malice in her eyes. I immediately rushed to the kitchen sink, stuck a finger down my throat and forced several painful fits of vomiting. When I could vomit no more I told her — she looked normal again for a moment: beautiful, sexy, red-headed but friendly, not vampirish — “This is a Bad Trip, but I’ll find my way back to you, I promise.”

Those were the last sane words I spoke for the next 12 hours.

I remember taking a long walk through a forest of magic green jewels with the Tin Woodsman of Oz. Later, the next day, it became clear that this was Jeff, a friend Arlen had phoned to help me through the Emergency. He was walking me around our cabin, thinking fresh air might help.

I remember some dwarfs in Nazi uniforms trying to shove me into a furnace literally “as hot as Hell.” I have never felt more terror in my life.

Blank space”: memory loss.

I remember thinking the worst was over and trying to tell Arlen and Jeff that some parts of it were quite good, really.  I was lighting one cigarette after another, chain-smoking I thought. Jeff and Arlen saw me striking the lighter repeatedly but I never did have a cigarette in my mouth.

I remember trying to explain something I had discovered Out There. Arlen wrote it down. The note said, “The literary critics will all have to be shot because of the Kennedy administration in Outer Space of the Nuremberg pickle that exploded.”

Not quite as good as the last words of Dutch Shultz, I’d say, but a bit better than what William James brought back from his nitrous oxide adventure: “Over all, there is a smell of fried onions.”

Around dawn, I had to go to the out-house, Jeff accompanied me to make sure I didn’t wander off into the Pink Dimension or get lost amid the buzzing and whistling things in the Realm of Thud.

I opened the out-house door and found Jeff already in there. I closed the door and told him, “I can’t go in. You’re already in there.”

He persuaded me reasonably that he wasn’t in there, but outside with me, so I opened the door again, found nobody inside and took a healthy crap.

I felt even closer to “normal” when I came out, but then I noticed King Kong peeking at me over the top of the trees. He seemed whimsical and unthreatening and when I looked again he turned into just another tree.

The next day I moved slowly back into the ordinary world, and by evening I felt well enough to go to a movie, Kurasawa’s The Seven Samurai. I enjoyed the first half, especially the innovative technique of alternating between black-and-white and color, but in the second half Toshiro Mifune’s nose started growing like Pinocchio’s and I knew I was hallucinating again, which vexed me a bit.

No more flashbacks occurred for about a month and then one day all the people in the supermarket turned into iguanas. That only lasted a few seconds, and it was the last of the trip. I never tried this nefarious chemical again, and I hope to gawd you won’t either.

My last story I heard from novelist William S. Burroughs, who bought some “morphine” once that some wiseacre had cut with belladonna. He never remembered anything of the experience, but a friend did: he said that at one point William walked to the window, opened it and stuck a leg out.

“What are you doing?” the friend asked.

“Going down for some cigarettes,” William replied. The friend grabbed him and dragged him back into the room, which was on the third floor.

“Bella donna,” by the way means beautiful lady in Italian. Go figure.


(submitted to by EWagner382)

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