Introductory chapter to my novel 'A Junkie Carol'
|In his line of work, his cell phone rang almost continuously. Demand was high.
“Is this Slearch?” the caller asked.
“I can’t believe people are still looking for Slearch. Slearch is dead, man. This is Scourge. I can hook you up. What do you need?”
So to begin, the reader must know and fully comprehend that Slearch was, in fact, dead. Dead these seven months. There was no grave site, no funeral, no public mourning. There was hardly a private mourning, save for his poor mother who had given him up for dead long before he actually expired; but nevertheless, Slearch was deceased. One must fully comprehend and acknowledge this to understand Scourge’s shock.
Slearch’s death was indisputable based on the amount of his blood on the sidewalk. It was confirmed by the police coming and taking away his spent body, and further affirmed by the news report the next day. Though not mourned except by his mother, it is no less fact for the lack of sorrow: Slearch was dead. Further evidence was provided by the fact that the people who owed him money no longer had to dread his presence and his customers came to Scourge looking for product. It was further corroborated by the knock on Scourge’s door the next day from their supplier wanting payment for Slearch’s last supply of product – for you see, he had had his last product put on credit, or fronted, as dealers will refer to these things. These people looking for Slearch had no idea what his real name was, but they knew well that Scourge and Slearch were associates and what one did, the other one knew.
Indeed, Scourge is rumored to have seen Slearch’s last moments and rummaged through his pockets after the danger ended. He would have done this so that Slearch’s character could not be besmirched by the contents of his pockets – or at least, this is the reason Scourge gave to himself. Also, why let product go to waste? But Scourge would never admit that he had gone through Slearch’s pockets; he would even swear he had never seen the shooting because people with memories have a way of finding a grave.
And so, dear reader, Slearch was quite dead. Some would say dead as a doornail. Although how one can be dead as doornail and what quality a doornail has that makes it resemble a dead thing remains unknown. Yet, like a doornail, Slearch was not missed; he was not mourned; he was simply replaced. Perhaps that is how Slearch resembles a doornail?
His replacement, Scourge, had carried on after Slearch’s death. After all, it was Slearch who took the risks for the business, contacted suppliers, dealt with people who owed him money. It would have been a bold thing for Scourge to carry on in Slearch’s absence if the business were not absolutely made necessary by Scourge’s lifestyle. Product was essential to his way of life; and, because of its enormous expense, the best way to curb cost was to deal it himself.
“No fronts. You gotta have cash every time,” Scourge informed his new customer on the phone. Scourge varied his business practice from the way Slearch had carried on. First, there were to be no fronts. Cash is king. Scourge could not consume people’s promises, but he could consume their cash with either rent on the broken down house, his actual apartment, or in more product. The broken down, squatter house required cash to keep the lawn reasonably tended so that the house would attract no suspicion. So, you see, promises to pay were no good. That is, other people’s promises to pay were no good. Scourge’s promises to pay were quite good in his own mind. He expected the supplier to take his word, and the supplier readily did because a relationship had been established in these seven months since Slearch’s death. Business had been done and done well; so if a little credit was extended to Scourge, that was only good business.
But business suffers the day we join Scourge’s tale. It is the abominable Christmas Day. Ah, Christmas! What about Christmas made his customers want to trade-in their normally drug-addled lifestyle and be with family? Bah, family! And besides, if one were planning to be with family, would one not need more product? More mechanisms with which to cope with the storm of unnecessary familial fraternization? Scourge’s constitution railed against the possibility of holidays borne without some ready ingestible means of escape.
The caller did not have cash, so the fronted product he had gotten from his supplier was to be a lovely Christmas present for himself! He may as well take one day off, he reasoned. All his other days were filled with meeting the product demands of others. Some customers could come back ten times in one night. He normally got no peace, but Christmas was here; and despite the sharp decline in his income this night, Scourge would have privacy and time to enjoy his own luxuries. So he shut up the squatter house and made his way home.
It is necessary in a dealer’s profession to have two residences. One that people know of, and one that people do not. Compartmentalization is vital. Scourge could never take the direct route home. The direct route led him past a school and a few churches and was, in truth, only a mile. But he could not go that way. Not because of the school or because it troubled his conscience (which was also deader than any doornail) to walk by a church, but because he could not chance being followed. He had often wondered if his customers may follow him home to rob him at night, so he always took different routes. He sometimes passed the little brook in the park; or sometimes, he went around the shops in the downtown square. He would go in a shop and double back to make sure he was not being followed. Then at last, he would go to his home, but only after he was sure there was no one on the street. He dare not post his name on his mailbox for fear that some customer would learn his real name – although how some of his customers learned anything baffles Scourge.
At last, Scourge arrives home to enjoy his solitary Christmas and his plentiful product. Christmas has just begun with clock chiming midnight, so he had a full 20 hours before his cell phone would start ringing with people asking him where he was and when they could meet him. He decides, in honor of the holiday, that he will shut his phone off for the night and the better part of next day. And then he does it – the unprecedented thing: the drug dealer shuts his phone off.
Scourge begins to get his gear ready to prepare his drugs. He has his lighter and his spoon; he is ready. He fetches a glass of water, sits on his bed, and prepares to become vegetable-like for the night, when he hears BEEP! BEEP! His signal for text messages. “Damn,” Scourge thinks, “I thought I had turned that off.” He walks over to his phone and sees the inexplicable. There is a text message from Slearch. The message reads, “On my way.” This is the message that they often sent to one another while Slearch was still alive. “Someone must be pranking me,” Scourge thinks quickly. When he tries to reply to the message, the phone goes dead. Remembering he had turned the phone off, he quickly turns the phone back on to search for the message; but when he does, there is no message from Slearch. “I must be imagining things. Slearch is long gone.” Scourge has a chuckle. Normally, hallucinations do not start until after product is ingested.
He switches the phone back off and goes back to his bed. He has just achieved a solid high, when again he hears BEEP! BEEP! “Damn phone!” Again, there is a message from Slearch. Again, the message reads, “On my way.” Scourge has a rising sense of fear but rationalizes that surely this must be some prank or short in the electrical wiring of the phone. He again turns the phone on, and checks the recent text messages. There is nothing new and certainly no messages from a dead person. He turns the phone off, telling himself that there must be an electrical short. “I will take the battery out.” He does so, setting the phone and battery side-by-side on his dresser. He settles in once again and takes a long, deep hit from his pipe. He is in the middle of a fabulous drug rush, when his phone starts to ring. He jumps so high and so hard that he nearly topples his mirror from his bed with the product on it!
“What in the hell!” Scourge screams at the top of his lungs. Shaking from the rush of the drug as much as from fear, he approaches the ringing phone as one may approach a rabid dog. He grabs a broom and is holding it out in front of him. Cautiously, he peeks at the phone’s display. Impossibly, it is Slearch’s name displayed as the incoming caller. A dead person is calling his phone with no batteries! Should he answer it?
While he decides, the phone rings and rings. By now, it should have gone to voicemail. The phone continues to ring and seems to grow louder with each passing ring. Ring! RING! Alarmed at the growing sound, Scourge answers the phone with a shout of, “Hello?” The response he gets comes through the receiver and seems to fill the whole room.
“Hello, old friend.” The voice was Slearch’s unmistakably, but it possesses a ghostly quality and seems to come from everywhere. Suddenly, the room is filled with a rush of wind that lifts his drug-laden mirror from the bed and smashes it on the floor. Scourge’s hair and clothes are tossed; indeed, the man himself is nearly knocked from his feet. Trembling, Scourge screams into the phone, “What is this? What is going on?”
“Don’t you recognize me?” A form, clearly resembling Slearch, materializes inches from his face. It has his sharp eyes, his hook nose, his thin and cracked lips; but his limbs – his wrists and ankles – are bound. He is shackled by chains that rattle as he waves to Scourge. Scourge screams and drops the phone. He looks for a place to hide and ducks under his small fold-out card table at the opposite end of the room. Burdened as he is by his chains, the ghost ambles slowly over to him,.
“What are you afraid of?” the forms asks him.
“Who…? What are you?” Scourge demands.
“You know who I am. Therefore, you know I must be a ghost. Ask me why I have come.”
“Fine! Why have you come?”
“I have come here to warn you.”
“Warn me of what?” Scourge asks, growing angry at the intrusion. “I well know the dangers of what I do. I saw you lose your life. I have seen others lose theirs. I believe what we always used to say, ‘We’ll party ‘til the wheels fall off!’ Nothing has changed for me.”
“It is not your life I come to warn you of, but of your soul,” the apparition replies.
“Soul?” Scourge asks incredulously. He raises both eyebrows and then begins to laugh hysterically. “Soul! Slearch’s ghost comes to talk to me about souls? This dope must really be something because…”
“SILENCE!” bellows the ghost. This instruction brings with it a new breeze of wind that caused Scourge’s hair to rise and fall. “I have come to warn you of what you face when you die. Look on me. Do you see my chains? Look at them more closely.”
Shaking slightly but trying not to let it show, Scourge examined the chains, at first not seeing the pale forms bound in them or hearing their whispers, but once he did discern them, he was shocked. Tied to Slearch by so many chains were gray figures who had their mouths always opened, yet managed to whisper, “More, more!” repeatedly as if they could not help themselves - as if “more” was all they had say and conveyed all they wanted.
“What are they asking for? Why do they always repeat ‘more, more’?” Scourge asked.
“They are shadow souls.”
“What are they?”
“They are my customers, some living, some dead.”
“How does living person have a soul represented in your chain? Aren’t their souls still in their bodies?”
“In an addict, the soul leaves the body before death. It is a sad process whereby the soul becomes reduced to only one desire, or a mere shadow of itself. The shadow soul becomes bound in links and chains to torment the soul of the person who supplied their torment in life. There is one link and one shadow soul for every customer. They are chained to me daily; they whisper their cry over and over until I think I could go mad. But, madness is not a luxury allowed the dead. For, I am not merely dead; I am doomed, you see. I am doomed to roam the earth with these heavy chains and these shadow souls always calling out to me. I asked permission to come here tonight and was granted it. Not that we were friends, but I would attempt to spare anyone this fate. You have my pity because you too are doomed if you do not change.” Scourge considers in silence this a moment, then the ghost said, “I have arranged for you to be visited by three spirits.”
“More like you?”
“Not very like me, but you will know when they arrived. The first will come at 1 a.m., the next will follow one hour later, and the third the hour after that.”
Scourge climbs out from under the table and considers this proposal. “Look, Slearch, I appreciate the trouble you have gone to arrange this … intervention. But I have a quiet night planned here, and since your entrance has knocked my drugs on the floor, I have to go to get more and…”
The ghost let out a terrific bellow which shook the walls, the floor, and seemed to reverberate within Scourge’s own body. As he shouted, he shook his chains; and the rattle is only drown out by the sudden rise in the voices crying “More! MORE!”
After silence descends, the ghost looks levelly at Scourge. “This is not a game. Look on me. See my misery.”
“How do I know I can trust this? This vision? I may have imagined these things. I likely did imagine these things. I am high after all. Yes, yes, that’s it! Why there is more of dope than dopey, old Slearch about you.”
“The drugs may soften your senses, but they do not obliterate them. You see now what is true even if you will not acknowledge it. Watch for the spirits. Know that they will reveal the truth to you. I cannot visit you again. Goodbye.”
With that, the Ghost of Slearch turned toward the window and moved through it, his chains rattling loudly after him. Scourge runs to the window and sees what he cannot explain: thousands of similarly chained spirits with ensnared shadow souls, crying, “More! More!”