Christopher R. Howard

Mons Simplicitatis

ON TSUS

August 12, 2013

Tags: Tsus, Tea of Ulaanbaatar, Eat Me Drink Me Esprit de Corps, Book

It has come to the author’s attention that the drug Tsus depicted in Tea of Ulaanbaatar is currently being listed on the Fictional Drugs in Non-Science Fiction Works page of a certain online encyclopedia site. This supposition, which a quick Google search revealed is supported by several other Web sources, is incorrect. Whereas Tea is a novel, that is to say a fictional work, the Mongol Tsus is not, and the record should be set straight in this regard.

Whereas the drug is referred to by its Mongol name, Tsus (‘blood’), in only limited and rare tomes, such as Darkness Over Tibet by Theodore Illian and, most famously, Tsetseg Nuur Hazuulsan by ‘The Shaded Smile dictating to acolytes unnamed’, what we may clearly deduce is the same substance by name, delivery method, and effects is recorded in several historical and at least one contemporary work besides mine. Examples: Cezar Kouska’s De Impossibilitate Prognoscendi mentions that the delirious prognostications of certain addicts of the Eurasian ‘krew’ may merit further study. Both Friedrich von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia note the use of ‘blut elixier’ brewed like tea in certain arcane and distasteful rituals wherein all practitioners are not expected to survive.

Charles Misner, in Webs of Darklight: Theory and Practice of Spacetime Anomolies, recounts the fascinating case of a man found dead on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia in 1948. Police have never been able to identify the body. The coroner was unable to determine a cause of death. The man’s only possessions were his clothes – including a pullover and suitcoat despite the hot weather – cigarettes, a used bus ticket, a packet of Juicy Fruit gum, and a small pouch containing ‘a strange red tea or tobacco of likes never seen before in southern Australia’. Examination of the man’s trousers revealed a sewn pocket containing a small fragment torn from a translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It read only, ‘Tamam Shud’ (‘It is ended’). Interestingly, Misner links the fragment to a copy of the Methuen & Co eighth edition – yet the publisher reports only seven editions were printed. Anyway, the pouch was sent to the University of Adelaide for testing, but only preliminary results were recorded before it promptly went missing, never to be seen again. Misner argues that based on the preliminary results, this substance was Tsus, and I see no flaw in his theory.

More recently, in The Serpent and The Rainbow, ethnobotanist Wade Davis mistakenly identifies Tsus as Datura stramonium in regards to the composition of the Haitian zombie powder. This is an understandable error given the author’s circumstances and moreso the substance’s resemblance to the Solanaceae family, and something which should not significantly detract from an otherwise extraordinary work.

As for the earliest surviving and specific reference to Tsus, I could not claim to be an expert. (Frankly, I’m amazed that anyone besides friends and family would bother to read my morose scribblings and that this would become an issue.) We’ve all heard the stories of Hulagu Khan’s wizards taking special interest in certain holdings during the sacking of the Great Library of Baghdad in 1258, so a lack of historical certainties may be by design. However, one contender may be Travels by Marco Polo, circa 1300, wherein the author writes: ‘Leaving the [Gobi] desert, our procession was interrupted by three native men of a most quiet and sinister demeanor’. They softly asked that one of the expedition’s bearers be turned over to them. Polo inquired what the man in question had done to rouse the trackers’ ire, as they had clearly traveled a great distance to find him. The men politely but firmly declined to fully elaborate, stating only that their target was a fellow aficionado of a certain exotic red tea, and that their request was merely a courtesy. Polo declined, yet reported that the man in question then disappeared from the expedition two days hence, his personal effects left behind. A search was ordered, but no footprints nor any clues, not a single trace of him was ever found, and none of his fellows wished to discuss the matter. Instead, Polo recounts, they carried on as if their colleague had never existed at all. Intriguingly, Polo concludes:

‘It was an occurrence that engaged my curiosity. Later I mentioned the incident to certain informed sources who shall not be named. Their comments on the matter shall not be recorded herein. However, it should be known to all related parties that I shall not pursue the subject further, and yet, suffice it to say, man is a creature of vast wickedness whose ultimate fate is ruin.’

Selected Works

Fiction
"An accomplished novel with a keen sense of atmosphere and description."
Library Journal
"The collection etches a disturbing, unsettling vision, told with a brave, unflinching perspective..."

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