a short story
Gary Baker, July 2013
(part 1 of 2)
Alright,” said the shaggy thin man through lips pursed around a thin cigarette. “Alrightalrightalright. Here.” He pushed a hand toward a well dressed businessman sitting against the brick wall in the midnight alley beside him and dropped a gray tablet into his hand as he reached for it. Seeing the speculative look on the businessman’s face, the shaggy man nodded, “the ‘calmer’. We call it ‘le neutral’, don’ever take s’m’others withou wonna these in between.”
The businessman, audibly referring to himself as ‘Cookie’ for the purposes of this meeting, looked to the two quiet men on the cement next to Shaggy. One watched him like a hawk from mascara-lined eyes and piercing-riddled features, while the other seemed entranced in his near-empty bottle of low-grade vodka, would-be grout-cleaner trickling down his chin to seep into the pores of his ragged coat.
Then, as Cookie placed the soft gray tablet beneath his tongue to let it begin dissolving, as he felt it crumble and roll in fizzy chemical throes, Shaggy shoved his hand into the breast pocket of his beat up track jacket. With a smile the man retrieved another tablet, this one smaller by mere millimeters at most, and had been made with a hue closely resembling a mix of yellow and black. If one could make a pill out of crushed, freeze dried bees, the businessman was sure this would be what it would look like.
Cookie looked to it curiously, feeling the drag of the previous tablet fade away as the neutral took its course. “And this next one is?”
Shaggy pulled air through the cig as though it were his only way of getting any oxygen, then smiled with broken teeth and elaborately motioned with his free hand. “A sample -- doesn’t last long,” he raced through his words like time were running out and police would be coming for them sooner rather than later. “It’s known as ‘clouded’.”
The businessman rolled the semi-circular compaction of chemicals between his forefinger and thumb, noting the way light seemed to be absorbed into the surface like a chunk of pumice. “and this one does...?”
“Crazyshit, man.” Again Shaggy enunciated his words with waves of his hands, letting the cigarette trail hairpin turns through the air like a virtual ribbon of smoke. His energy picked up notch, then, and he seemed unable to get the words out fast enough, stuttering in the process. “I-i-imagine having dark, stormy clouds anshit all up in your brain anshit.” He paused just long enough to take a long pull on the length of cheap tobacco. “Es dark anshit, man, but it’s still damn good shit if you know what I’m sayin’.”
Cookie smiled and placed the drug beneath his tongue, just like the neutral, and felt it sizzle and pop as the chemicals began being absorbed into his bloodstream while reacting to the saliva. In seconds the dark alley seemed to grow somehow darker, more menacing. The bricks exuded the heir of hatred for the builders having mined away the clay and burned it in ovens simply to house and shelter imperfect human beings incapable of handling the weather. The grime in the streets thickened and grew bold enough to appear as personifications of all the greed and evils of human society.
Trash cans stood like sentinels against the greater darkness, and Cookie became increasingly more aware that they had been, perhaps, placed there more as guards to keep the alleymen down and out, to never rise in the heights of society again. Homeless would come to this place only to die here, drinking away their pitiful lives and wash away their sorrows with emotion tablets; the only way they would ever feel anything close to real again as they rotted away in their living coffin at the heart of central urban living.
Cookie wanted to help them. He had the money, but lacked the necessary state of mind to set it free to these men and women in their throes of death and starvation. But it was hopeless, it always would be. Simply by him being here, Cookie began to feel the suppressing force of the invisible glass ceiling as it hurtled toward the floor and crushed those unlucky enough to still live beneath it. A tear wound it’s way down his cheek as he watched a family walk passed at the end of the alley, trailing behind a shopping cart filled with cans and bottles to recycle and redeem for pennies to the dollar.
They, too, would be crushed beneath it all.
The businessman lifted his knees and wrapped his arms around his legs in an attempt to curl into a ball and hope for some kind of hope to help these people. It was pointless, he knew, but the defeat was ever more deafening as he looked to the silent drunk closest to him who now lay with his head facing the dreary sky, passed out and unaware of how wrong the world had turned.
Shaggy prodded Cookie’s shoulder excitedly. An awkward, benefacting smile had lit itself upon his cheeks, practically stretching from ear to ear. “Eh? Eh? You see what I’m sayin’? You feelin the clouds, my man? The stars blowin’ out for you anshit?” He paused for a momentary second to assess Cookie’s tear-stricken face, then grinned devilishly against all odds. “Alright. Good. Feel this, man -- feel the clouds. Be the clouds, man.” He clapped Cookie on the shoulder. “Fuckin’ crazy shit amiright? Eh?”
Cookie sniffled and wiped his dress shirt sleeve across his dribbling nose, like a child who had just fallen out of a tree.
“Alright. Sweet. Gnarly.” Shaggy stammered with horrific energeticness again, “here -- take this.” He proffered another neutral which Cookie quickly took, breaking it in two between his teeth to allow it to start working immediately or as quick as possible, at least. “You felt the deep shit, man,” Shaggy continued, “but lets give you the good shit next.” At that he gave Cookie another colorful tablet, this one a stark grass green speckled with gold flecks in the porous texture. “This shit is for real, though. Grade-A validic-whatever that word is, man. Top’o’the class, it is.”
The businessman felt the world begin to lighten, his mind no longer focusing on the dreary side of the darkness, instead bringing him back to the moment as things really were, then dropped the green into the neutral’s place. “So what’s this one, then?” He mumbled through grit teeth.
“Skippy shit, that one.” Shaggy snickered, “Good ol’ fine-ass gleeful shit. They call it ‘giddy’, and that shit’s my personal favorite, man.”
Cookie felt the last of the green dissipate into his saliva, and opened his eyes to find the dark alleyway as something more. No longer were there shadows in every nook and cranny that threatened to pull him into the depths of despair, but instead seemed to hold secrets that anyone could simply poke a finger into and find hunks of gold or the like. The stars began to shimmer with color as the clouds overhead thinned on cue, light ranging from millions of lightyears away reaching him alone with a blue and green hue. And he alone was there to revel in it’s glory, to bathe in light that had travelled all that way just for him, just for that one moment of awe and universal satisfaction.
He turned, then, to stare at the passed out drunk with air bubbles pushing through the soupy concoction in his mouth, and the bubbles began the downbeat of a song as sonorous as any Cookie had ever heard. With the drunk man’s body prone on the ground in a position that Cookie envied for how comfortable it looked, the man seemed as though he’d been carved from solid gold and granite into a statue of beautiful proportions.
And the song grew thicker, the beat becoming louder until even the buildings swayed along as did the street cats in their trashcan homes howling their perfectly pitched tones of mating and territory claiming, of love in their fluffy feline form.
Then the deep voice of the pierced man joined in with “fuckin’ gay.” Cookie watched, then, as Shaggy looked to Mr. Pierce with a broad smile that barely hinted at a reflection of what Cookie was feeling. “Ain’t never seen none but homos take that queer-ass fuckin’ tab.”
Cookie watched him, dreamily. It suddenly seemed Pierce was right, as his every feature drew the energies towards himself, love a simple side effect what he exhumed. The chiselled structure of his jaw enticing him to almost want to rub his lips over the bristles of the man’s not-so-clean-shaven cheeks. “And what do you take?” He asked with less-than-withheld wonder. “Got any on you?”
With the sexy suaveness of a male model for Calvin Klein, Pierce looked away and grumbled to himself. “Not unless you’re buyin’, I aint.”
So Cookie tore his wallet from the secret zipper pocket in his jacket that he’d wrapped around his waist. Instantly he had clean-pressed one-hundreds in his fingertips and more in the other slips of the leather folds. “How much?”
“Trust me, you’d never be able to handle it.”
Shaggy dove in for the kill, then and begged alongside. “Oh come on, man. Let’im anshit. I wanna see how he reacts, man.”
The man grit his teeth and shrugged with annoyance. “Fine,” he turned back toward Cookie, saw the big bills, and his eyes lit up with awe. “On second thought -- I gotta better idea. I’ll go one up from what I use.”
Cookie was all ears, perking forward to listen more closely and get a better reach to make the tablet retrieval that much easier. “How much? One-hundred? Five-hundred?” He surged with giggles as the excitement bubbled free and loose of his bodily restraints. “Give me your worst -- I want to feel the emotion, I want to be the emotion!”
The pierced man grinned, his lips lifting to shift the shining silvery studs at the edges of his mouth. “Six-hundred, man, and we’ll call it even,” he quickly lifted his chin toward the upperclassman with eyes glittering greedily, “and you’ll pay me for it afterward. Make me laugh, my friend, an’ I’ll discount it for ya.”Cookie snapped his hand on the tablet as soon as it came out, barely making note of the deep sun-dried red as it knocked it back beneath his tongue and snapped it in half. He wanted the effects fast. He needed them, the thrill of living too much to worry about letting things take their natural course.