a short story
Gary Baker, July 2013
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.”
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!"
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.
It was near-instantaneous after that, as his reality twisted in an unexpected direction. He felt annoyance boil up at how the streets had been abandoned, yet people lived on them nonetheless. The city didn’t care for them, which was hilarious, but maddening in that they left the poor to their own devices only to crumble and burn out like lichen in the pyres of a long-since-used hearth.
He felt the thrill of rising anger as these annoyances drove him into red-faced mumbling about each thing that caught his attention.
He watched flies flit about, wanting to stop them from buzzing, their incessant noise grinding, berating, drilling deep into his head. Sure he didn’t have any headache just then, but did that give the pests an excuse to make all that racket? People walking the streets at near-midnight beyond the alley passed by without even noticing, but why didn’t they come down this way? Were they avoiding him? Were they too good to come down this way? Did they think they were too prim and proper to venture down here and risk what only they could assume would be a mugging? Did they not believe that he, a businessman from the upper reaches of society, deserved to be down here with the scum of the earth?
Well fuck them. Fuck them all. What good are those that are too afraid to do anything of worth or risk? Sissies, every last one of them. Fucking pansies. Piece-of-shit pussies, too good for this alleyway.
With a grin at how much he wanted to scream at those sleepless yuppies, Cookie turned back to the men that dared to call themselves companions of his, as if they deserved to join beside him in his stature. He worked hard for that placement in society -- what right did these drugged-up bums have to steal his worth from him, to steal his limelight should some of those rich bitches pass by.
Suddenly it struck him, that these emotions seemed to be off.
He may not have known true emotions due to some freak-tastic move by the fucking gods of evolution, where humanity lost the emotional aspect of their lives, forever damned to live as near-lifeless drones unless they delved into reaches like Cookie where they took tablets in back alleys to get the forgotten senses back, but he knew that something here was wrong. And it pissed him off, which made him want to laugh at the ironic insecurity of it all.
“Wait,” he fought, trying to push the words out through the combinations of screams and laughter that kept trying to escape him. “You... gave me the neutral, right?”
Pierce looked to Shaggy and Shaggy to Pierce, both with expectation lining their features like gleaming silver. Yet neither of the two answered.
Shaggy chose that moment to light up another cigarette and take a long, devastating drag. “Man,” he sighed while letting the smoke out slowly, “you gave it to’im anshit.”
Pierce waved it off, “yeah, but you’ve got the neutrals.”
The businessman watched the enactment with growing hatred for them both, yet enjoying every minute of this emotion. He huddled with glee into the awe of how dark his thoughts were growing, at how malevolent he felt himself becoming in the course of seconds to the dime.
Finally Shaggy lifted both hands in a playful, outgunned gesture. “Alright. You got me. So it’s my fault, but so what?” He drew on the length that couldn’t be just plain, old tobacco again. “Es jes ‘anger’, amIright?”
Cookie’s mouth dropped. They didn’t... they weren’t lucid enough to be sure, at least. And what was worse was that they hadn’t planned this meeting out to the last detail. Shaggy didn’t know... but he must. Surely the infantile man couldn’t be that dumb? “You... don’t know what he gave me?”
Pierce joined in, his own voice deepening in tinges of anger as well. “Why didn’t you give him a fucking neutral? You think it’s funny? That he’ll fucking thank us?!”
“And why wouldn’t I?” Cookie shot back, turning on the man who’d given the tablet in the first place. “What the fuck did you give me?”
The man’s response was cold, his stare like daggers of ice. “Somethin’ you couldn’ handle, it seems -- especially without a fucking neutral in your system.” He dropped his dark glare to Shaggy. “An’ I sureashell didn’ give him no ‘anger’.”
“A’ight.” The shaggy man shook his head in a mockery of true apology. “So I messed up anshit; who cares? Wha’s he gonna do? Glare at us with annoyance while sitting there tryin’ not to giggle?”
Cookie had had enough. He threw himself onto his feet and paced to the far wall, his knuckles turning white with clenched fury building up deep within. They had no right. Playing games with another man, using drugs to make him their nightly entertainment. Was it because he was rich? Was it because he clearly had a problem with drug abuse? Fuck them for making a profit off of it. They had no right... and he kicked at the sidewalk at the realization that he’d already crossed that bridge.
Through grit teeth, the businessman felt his lips stiffen. “I’m only gonna ask this once: What. Did you. Give me?”
Shaggy shrugged audibly, relaxed and energetic as usual even in this serious of a moment. Cookie hated him for it; the bastard. “Oh-oh-oh!” He raised his hand and acted like an eager child in the classroom, trying to prove his insight. Fucking prep. “I know! You gave him ‘rage’!”
Cookie turned just in time to see Pierce glare at Shaggy, then let his fist fly at the slower man’s face. Nothing could stop it in time, “don’t hit him!” He screamed then, in retaliation, let his foot swing and crunch against the pierced man’s stomach.
The upperclassman looked to the shaggy man, then, and loosed arrows of fire from his eyes. “You think this is a game?! That too many questions and I’ll give up and just ride it out?!” His right fist hurtled into Shaggy’s face, turning to a flat-backhand at the last minute. The crack was deafening, and the man swung onto his back from the momentum alone. Yet before the shaggy man had even hit the pavement, Cookie had Pierce’s shirt collar wrapped firmly in his fingertips, their faces mere inches apart. “What. The fuck. Did you give me?!”
Pierce fought against Cookie’s grip as though he were meters from the pavement, despite hanging by his collar merely a lone foot off the ground. His tattooed hands grasped the businessman’s and pried at the cinched fingers to no avail. Panting, the pierced man coughed spit in a hideous spray that coated Cookie’s cheeks. “Fuck man, you-you’re choking me!”
Again Cookie felt the hot swell of fury build up in him like the largest wave in a tsunami made of hate. “Why shouldn’t I?” He bellowed into the dangling man’s reddening face. “You piece of shit! I fucking hate you -- you did this! Both of you!”
The once-handsomely dark man writhed like a snake under the point of a sharp knife, his legs twisting maddeningly just to gain some sort of leverage. It was only when the man started twitching with cheeks like a tomato, that Cookie realized he had grabbed the man’s throat in a tightening grip of flesh on flesh.
It was wonderful. It was hideous. Yet still Cookie grit his teeth and forced his fingers apart, knowing that he’d rather not lose his chance at discovering what he’d been given. He had to know.
Instantly Pierce gasped for air, inhaling as though he expected to be submerged in seawater within the next few minutes. “WRATH! Damnit, I gave you ‘wrath’!”
The wave returned and the businessman let it flare like the searing flames of a wildfire as he launched the man against the wall, hearing a loud snap just before the man’s head fell limp against his chest.
Shaggy stared with eyes wide and more focus than Cookie had ever seen him contain. “Shi--t, man, that’s deep.” He drew long and hard on the decreasing length of burning leaves in his lips and exhaled in awe.
The cloud conformed around Cookie’s face like a warm, foggy glove meant to suffocate the upperclassman and bring him down pegs on the medical through second-hand chemicals. Again Cookie found himself striking the lesser being with a vicious backhand. Fuck him for expecting otherwise.
Blow smoke into someone’s face and get a mouthful of fist. It was a natural law as much a part of society as anything, in Cookie’s firm opinion.
The businessman turned to face Shaggy, smiling at the intense rage rising in him to reach a point of boiling over. It infuriated him when the man smiled back, ecstatically. “Ha! See?” He reeled in the throes of his own unspoken joke as though Cookie were just as aware. “I knew you’d enjoy it -- I knew you’d like the combo accident-o.”
The businessman found himself snickering, then the snicker turned to giggles to withheld mumbling guffaws and finally into uproarious outright hilarious hysterical laughter. He kneeled close to Pierce’s limp form and placed a hand on the lump within the man’s jacket, smiling like a cheshire cat from hell. “Oh I’m gonna enjoy it, alright,” he forced out as the two tablets climbed into complete warfare in his bloodstream. “I’ll enjoy it as I blast the life right out of you!”
In one fluid motion the upperclassman grabbed the pistol from the pierced man’s jacket, dropped the nose in line with the shaggy man’s cloud of fog-thick smoke, and fired two consecutive shots into the darkness. The shadow of the man slumped down after three precise seconds of shock, where the cigarette put itself out in a puddle at Shaggy’s side.
Still holding the gun aloft, Cookie fell against the wall behind him, right beside Pierce. He suddenly felt loose, his body drifting in a realm of ultimate woe and liquid satisfaction. His eyes then dropped the remaining junkie and found that the man had already lost himself in a pool of saliva and vomit held between his gaping jaw. His eyes were already glazed over and his limbs visibly losing their flexibility. A fit of giggles found Cookie, then, and he grinned at the dead drunk. “And they said I couldn’t handle it....”
Finally Cookie opened his eyes as the tablets drowned each other out and seemed to neutralize their effects as they wore off, and the upperclassman set eyes upon what he’d assumed to be a dream.
Gore trickled from the shaggy man’s neck and chest into pools at the center of the alleyway, and a stench more horrid than anything Cookie could imagine began to coat the air with an oily, putrid sulfuric pungency.
“No...” he breathed, “oh god, why?” His eyes fell to his right hand and the heavy gleaming steel pistol, still emitting fresh steam from the nose as though he’d just poured hot water onto ice inside the shaft. Tears welled up in his eyes and he stammered to himself, “I-I I can’t do this... I cant go to prison!”
He was on his feet before he could decipher the blurs of light through his briny eyes. The businessman found himself without his sea legs, lost aboard a galleon deep in the heart of oblivion, turning circles upon circles to survey the damage that had been done.
The drunk had been murdered by negligence as he’d drowned in his own vomit, Pierce had been felled by a violently broken neck... and Shaggy.... Cookie dropped his gaze back to the gun and seemed to see it for the first time once again.
Rivulets of salt water made their ways down his cheeks and over his clean-shaven chin to condense on his neatly pressed dress shirt. “What have I done?” He whispered to himself in disbelief. “What... I’ll never... dear god, why?”
He stared at the carnage to bore the image in his memory forever. It was a sight that he never wanted to forget, an image that he would live with for the rest of his--
In one fluid motion he brought the pistol to his the base of his chin and felt his finger grow heavy just before the sky rocked with thunder once more.