Don began to sneak upon the idea that he was surrounded by losers on a warm winter morning, and it made him feel short of breath, out of space, and out of time. Probably out of mind too, but he'd felt this way for over a year. Or hell, maybe two years ago? These were things Don had to think harder on. Time travel was real. Any number of drugs in combination could make things a proverbial blur. Then BAM. It's been two years and you haven't moved an inch. But there was no going back. You did grow older. And in certain circles, it was common knowledge that time travel has its permanent effects. These were the rapid fire thoughts that were enough to throw anyone into a panic, particularly after being woke up too early to bad news.
Don sighed and shook his head, yawning, trying to clear the thoughts like flies. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain...
What's that movie? Don thought, staring at the wall from his bed. He followed the meandering train of thought, and it calmed him. It was said by Batty, played by Rutger Hauer in the film Blade Runner, '82. Mr. Hauer was a Dutch actor. And how did that line end? That part Don couldn't remember, and it bothered him like a gas oven. And what of the message that had jolted him awake to begin with? From behind glazed eyes and a three-day beard, Don hunted the phone out of the blankets of the bed. He read, and then nodded at the too small screen, and groaned. Now he remembered the loser train of thought he'd woken with.
"Hey, need to come pick up the money. When's a good time?"
It was from J.
When's a good time? Money? Don's mind reeled. Did J mean the money Helter had brought over two days ago for the grass? The money he'd set right in the wooden box on the table? The money that was now gone, under the default explanation that J had been by to pick it up while Don had been hammering through a twelve hour shift? Returning at three AM in the morning after dealing with stoners, tweakers, and college students all day was what let such a dangerous assumption hit Don. He hadn't called, after all, to confirm where the money had gone.
More time travelling effects.
Don was getting nervous again, shaky. No chance for sleep in that state, so he stumbled up and un-stripped, throwing on dirty jeans and a wrinkled, but clean, button down shirt. Outside, the sun shone bright, but in a soft, farewell, love kind of way. Winter light. It looked sixty but felt seventy outside. The heater in the house was still churning in a confused kind of way, snapping on and off as it rode the thermostat setting. Don shut it off on his way to the bathroom. If it was slightly warm downstairs, where he was, then he knew it was sweating-hot in the upstairs room where the other half of the rent, Kevin, was sleeping.
Don opened the cabinet mirror over the sink and scanned his eyes over the collection of translucent, orange cylinders. His new, daily drug regimen, since all the self-medication over the years hadn't helped. Two years straight stoned. Don felt like there was a specific drug term for that. He'd done a lot of other things in that period too. Thompson was right--you dive right in. LSD wasn't what it once was, but it could still stretch your mind into widescreen HQ. Good luck on getting it back to its original shape. Same with dimethyltryptamine--good ol' DMT. The 15 minute business trip that could feel like an hour or ten-thousand years. And oh, of course shrooms. And then a bit of a coke here and there to keep the mental engine running during those pesky crash periods. Like getting a car started with carburetor cleaner. Just SHOCK it to life with a surge of chemical cocktail that can cure all if you're willing to believe it.
He reached forward and, one by one, took the pills he needed. Light blues, greens, and cream whites. All those esoteric numbers and codes stamped on each one, like a work camp tattoo. These were grown-up drugs, Don figured. Fuck all those other losers with their ice, smack, and what have you. No more dime bags. No more grams. Now he had milligrams and refills. Little squares of blue paper crisscrossed with intricate, copy-proof lines. Latin abbreviations. The whole nine yards.
Don threw four pills down, and set one out to toss down before lunch. Kevin walked down the cramped set of stairs, taller than they were wide, at that precise moment Don tossed the last one back. Kevin laughed, hair swaying. He looked like Cobain might have if he'd been a Walmart stoner instead.
"Man, you're like a walking pharmacy. You probably shit adderalls these days."
Don grinned and raised a middle finger, swinging the shelf shut as he took another drink of water, washing down that plastic taste.
"You're just jealous that the doctors don't find you special like me."
"Right, special. You figure out who Ed is yet?"
"Don't you have something to smoke in that terrible room of yours?" Don referred to the now four-bag pile of trash that was still hovering in the corner of the room every time he went upstairs. And the bottles of piss for when he was too tired and stoned at four AM to make it downstairs. They got taken out as often as the trash.
"Hell no, I'm broke as fuck. Maybe I'll go break my leg today. Then I could get some hydros to last me."
This time Don laughed. "You don't even need to do that, yanno."
Don chuckled. "Oh yeah. Try this. Go in and tell them that you have intrusive and suicidal thoughts. Intrusive, as in you suddenly think of things that happened years past--inconsequential things you drag to bed and think about instead of sleeping. So naturally, you have severe insomnia. But outside that, when you're not exhausted from sleepless nights, you get manic. Like, start a bar fight manic."
"Yeah? And what does that get ya?" Kevin said in a tone that was clearly remembering haggard nights spent downing Ups, screaming together at pedestrians from the flat rooftops of the two story, white stucco while blaring CCR on 4th of July. You could create your own symptoms, he figured.
Don said, "Trazadone, two-hundred and fifty milligrams to be taken in thirds--tranq-level stuff when you ignore that bit" He grabbed a desert-tan brown leather jacket, pulling riding gloves from the pockets.
Kevin said, "Jesus."
"Yeah, I made a good dollar the first time I filled that prescription. Made almost three hundred dollars on a bottle."
"Yeah? Still makin' dollars on the side these days?"
Don shook his head as he nicked the motorcycle keys from the hook for the first time since fall had exiled itself. "Not since I realized I need them."
This--this was true freedom, Don thought as he barreled down 280, the V-twin underneath the bulbous gas tank snarling in agreement. Throwing a look over his shoulder, he whipped around a first time driver crawling down the right lane in a Towncar, relishing the jerk and tremble of dropping into lower gear. If he'd seen the way the boy's hands tightened around the wheel, the way the father narrowed his eyes in disapproval, Don would have relished that too. He loved irrational reactions to things, and people distrusted bikers for no goddamned good reason. He was going the speed limit. He had his license and used his blinker, but it didn't matter. The moment Don straddled the bike, people behind the wheel considered him an animal. A bandit. He'd been cut off, honked at, cursed at, and even steam-rolled--that jackass stunt diesel truck drivers pulled when they rolled smoke from their computer rigged engines, pouring it out behind them like a personal fuck you to every environmentalist that had ever, and would ever, come to exist. Don could only assume they hated the nature of the motorcycle--the bellowing tribute of shedding it all in honor of the Lost Men of WWII (and then eventually, Vietnam) who had first taken to the American highways nearly sixty years earlier. Men who, unable to return to their homes in any traditional, mental sense, looked towards the disappearing horizon to find what might have been left of themselves.
There hadn't been much left of Danny, who'd sold Don the black, low bodied cruiser. A solid one-thousand CCs--custom ignition. Custom handle bars too, just a few extra inches like a reference to Easy Rider (Francis Ford Coppella Film, '56). Don remembered Danny like someone remembered the deceased, and that was accurate in a vague sense. Danny had been a twenty-something student at that time, much like Don himself. But while Don had gone the way of the hippy, Danny had gone the way of the fiend. No one judged each other's drugs in these circles--most times. But even Don had raised his eye brows at the sight of Danny pulling an ice-pipe out for the first time. And so casually, too. Just like everyone else with their bags of grass. The way he'd rolled and torched that little glass globe, keeping that hazy white smoke from the plastic so perfectly centered inside. Then like a whisper--Danny had gently breathed it in, his eyes closing.
Everyone in that room had paused during the action, and Danny, absorbed as he was, didn't notice in the slightest everyone's sudden silence at his wordless monologue. Everyone stared: J, Kevin, Helter, and even Freddy, who once had been decently addicted to smoking smack (before yanking himself off it, dare he smoke himself stupid enough to go the way of the needle). When Danny opened his eyes, a momentary look of panic had crossed. He could feel the silent jury around him.
He exhaled. "...What?"
"Nothing, forget it," Don had said, turning up the music on his desk, puffing the joint to obscure his somber expression with smoke.
Four months later Danny sold Don the bike for six-hundred dollars. The conversation had been over the phone, and had gone something like...
"Don! Hey! It's Danny! What's up man-how you doing man-it's been a long time, dude."
"... It has. So what's up?"
"What you up to?"
"Smoking. Selling. What else?"
"Haha fuck yeah man, hell yeah that's awesome man. So hey, I was wondering, you like that bike, right? That big ass Honda?"
"Damn straight. That thing hauls like a beast. I've been looking for another like it. No luck."
"Well, look no more. I'll sell it to you man, fifteen-hundred."
"... What's wrong with it Did you wreck it?"
"Nothing! Haha, no man it's nothing man I swear to god. I just don't got a title on it--can't go to the court house to get one either."
"Ah--warrants. I've got one I've gotta take care of... but Christ, isn't that your goddamned kid or something?"
"Look man, I promised that I'd sell it to you if I was ever gonna sell it, right?"
"... Right, but why? You getting a car or something?"
"I just gotta make rent, man."
"... Okay, that's understandable, Dan. But I don't have that much to spend right now, I-"
"Twelve-hundred. C'mon man you can't pass this up."
"That's a helluva deal, Dan, but we're all in hard-"
"A thousand, dude. Can you do that?"
"Seven. Please, Don? I just really gotta make rent, man. I--I'll get evicted if I don't, yanno?"
".... I just-"
"Please, Don. Five hundred. Five hundred man just please. I want you to have this, not some fuckin' skeeze at a lot. This was my uncle's, yanno?"
Don had paid him six hundred, which was every penny he'd saved at the time. Danny delivered the bike that day looking like a ghoul. His work coveralls barely hung onto his frame--like loose chains, Don thought. And he would never forget his eyes. It was almost like he had red spiderwebs crammed in and around them. Watery on the edges yet seemingly dry. That dry, glazed, Don realized now, had been him in the throes of a hard and terrible crash. It pained him to buy the motorcycle, but not enough to keep him from doing so. Danny handed him the keys, and that had been that. Don didn't see him for another six months until he showed up in the local mugshot magazine for possession of--what else?
Don threw himself down the Indiana road exit. He'd compiled a mental list of everyone who had been there during the few days the cash had been sitting there, and realized it was short and sweet. It'd been awhile since he'd done a run like this, and thankfully it wasn't with the ominous tone as before. Don could cover the missing money. A hundred dollars wouldn't be worth kicking down a door and holding a man against his own electric oven, but at the very least it warranted some investigation. First stop, Andy and Nichole's.
Andy and Nichole, combined over the span of four different years in four different states, had amassed twelve warrants in unpaid tickets. They had associates degrees from Florida, tattoos from California, and a righteous pot habit from Washington. From Texas, where they had settled longest for the moment, they had a two year old son. When Don arrived, they greeted him on the front porch of the trailer, having heard the rumble since Don had entered the park. They enjoyed Don's company, much to his own amazement. And just by the way the stood out on the porch as he parked, Don knew that they wouldn't have the slightest clue where the money was.
Don called out. "Heyo!"
Andy nodded. "Hey yourself. You got that bike out again yeah?"
"Hey Don!" Nichole waved.
"I figured, hell, why not. I'm only out for a bit anyhow. Y'all came over Saturday, right? Remember who all else was there?"
"Yeah, and not sure man. What's up?"
Andy nodded grimly. "Wanna come in?"
Don followed them inside, where he was immediately accosted by the two year old, whose name he couldn't remember. He had long, curly blonde hair that hadn't been cut once in his life, and wore nothing but a pair of shorts with the edges of a diaper sticking out from the waistband. The kid's greeting to Don was a swift kick in the shins, which he was familiar with. Don immediately swooped the kid off his feet and held him upside down over his shoulder.
"You brat, I'll friggin' show ya'" he said, swinging the kid around, who laughed and screamed like it was the greatest show in the world. "You wild animal. You little shit..." Don muttered the last part, secretly meaning it but not really, because he had a soft spot for kids that weren't his. And for kids that grew up in trailer houses with parents that kept three foot bongs out the counter like a wine collection, filthy with resin.
No no, Don thought to himself. Don't judge. These are your friends, after all.
The trio sat down in a sort of palaver around a scuffed, XL sized poker table that served the kitchen table. Don had set down the kid, who quickly bolted into the far room to grab a disgruntled, but resigned grey cat, and deposit it in Don's lap. It remained there for the duration of the conversation. Andy had described, in distracted detail as he rolled a joint, who all had been there doing what drugs. Don had left for a late night shift at a late night gas station in that oh-so-great side of town where bars decorated windows, and had remained there until three AM. Andy said the crowd had been small. J had been there, but had forgotten the cash in the smoke box. Helter had left right before J, and it wouldn't make sense for him to steal money he'd just put down, Andy offered.
"We'd left and it'd just been Twitch and Robert. Kevin got home some time after that, I think. Don't he get off work around five? We left just before then."
A small cold feeling settled in Don's stomach, but he ignored it because he couldn't place it. Andy had confirmed what he knew in truthful detail. Only them, Twitch, and Robert had graced the place with the cash. He nodded and set the newly purring cat on the ground, where it rubbed up against his leg.
"Well, sorry to bother y'all. I don't want to come off like I'm accusing y'all or anything."
Andy immediately shook his head, as did Nichole.
"Dude no way it's totally fine, we understand," Nichole said, "We'd do the exact same thing."
She meant it too, as did Andy. It was universal knowledge that it was inevitable that shit would wind up missing. Natural reaction is to ask around, and you had to play investigator yourself. And there was no reason to take offense to hard questions unless there was a sense of guilt. A common, shared benefit of the doubt. After all, conventional antitheft tactics were nil--LPD would not react well to a theft report that started with, "The hundred dollars in drug money was sitting in the box of paraphernalia, when it was snatched during one of the multiple smoke sessions..."
Andy offered the freshly rolled joint to Don, who shook his head and politely took his leave
Don messaged Twitch via Facebook via phone via radio waves courtesy of ATandT, and via motorcycle he himself beamed downtown towards the rail yard. The bike trundled over the brick roads of Lubbock depot-district, a loose bolt somewhere on the chassis rattled. Making a mental note, he pulled over on an empty section of parking outside a vacant studio apartment for rent and checked his phone. As expected, a message was waiting. Twitch did not have a phone--or a home, for that matter. But the library had long hours and internet access.
"meet you at spot"
Don was already there, so he fished out a cigarette from the saddle pack and waited for thirty minutes. Again, he doubted he was questioning someone who had anything to do with the missing money. The time and quiet gave him more time to think, and it wasn't long before that cold feeling returned, and this time he knew why. Maybe he'd known it all along, but needed to exhaust every other possibility first. Benefit of the doubt.
Twitch wore a black bandanna most days, which made people avoid him like he was wearing colors. In fact, it was the opposite--black was the only safe color to wear, besides the stupidly bright yellows and greens, which bandannas weren't usually made in. Red and blue were off limits, but everyone knew that.
"Hey man." Twitch spoke in short, broken sentences. He smelled of legal herb--K2. Don didn't like it, but said nothing about it.
"Hey man. Just wanted to hit you up about Saturday. You remember who all was hanging out?"
Twitch nodded and motioned towards the gap between the buildings, something like a half-alley, as no true car could fit through it. They sat on the back steps of the apartments, where Twitch proceeded to roll a cigarette made of the spice as he talked.
"It was just Robert. And me. We saw your money. Someone. Someone left the box open."
"Did you shut it?" Don said, not trying to sound condescending.
"Yeah man. I know you don't know. Robert, I mean. Know him. But I had my eye on him. The money was there, for what it's worth."
Don nodded. He'd known Twitch for something like three years--before he'd gone and wrecked himself with excessive amounts of LSD. When his name was still Seth, and his only malfunction was being a child born with ADD during the Adderal wave of the mid-nineties. He'd been trustworthy then, a good friend with a good job. And then... something happened along the way. He'd dropped off the map one day, and next time they met he was Twitch. He jerked and talked to himself, and he was content with where he was, so long as the spice was still potent enough. He'd controlled the twitching somewhere along the way, but occasionally he still mumbled to himself.
In a twisted sense, Don saw an alternate reality where he was sitting in the space Twitch was. They hadn't been that different. For instance, they both had mental issues--and the real ones too, backed up with doctor's statements. Not the ridiculous, WebMD self-diagnosed types. Twitch and his ADD and, once hidden, schizoaffective tendencies. Don and his bipolar and depressive issues, on top of a healthy dose of insomnia.
Don wasn't as proud enough to admit he'd stopped doing drugs because he wanted to--but because he had to. Drugs brought out and magnified any and all mental instabilities the same way an incubator revealed disease in ashtray sized petri-dishes. For Don, it'd been no different. Nights spent huddled in the corner of a closet, sober, feeling every weight of the world crashing down on a stretched thin consciousness. Drugs made it go away the same way makeup made a rash disappear. Covered it--but was all kinds of horrible.
Twitch lit up his legal joint and began smoking the bitter grass. It had a biting, chemical smell that made Don's nose wrinkle.
"Hey, I'm gonna hit you up later. I've gotta go back to my place for a minute. Swing by if you need a place to crash."
Twitch nodded, but said nothing. Eyes already closing as he savored whatever terrible high the stuff was getting him. Don didn't understand it--but then again maybe he did. He remembered when the feeling of a clear and sober mind was something like a shock to the system. Suddenly, being sober felt wrong on a biological level. It was something to be avoided at anycost, the induced chemical be damned.
As Don travelled back towards the homestead, he thought of a new drug he'd heard that was surfacing in Eastern Europe. Krokodil¸ the Russian word for crocodile. Named after the black and green scaly skin that forms around the injection sites. The drug was a powerful, but short lived opiate synthesized from codeine--and gasoline. It created an abscess that necrotized with shocking speed anywhere it was injected. Life expectancy for a heroin addict was four to five years. Krokodil--less than one.
That was a self-destructive aspect to it that Don thought a lot of people were missing. If they knew what that edge of unwanted soberness felt like, that oh-so-constant feeling of having a blade held to your neck, they wouldn't be so flabbergasted as to why anyone would even consider doing such a thing to themselves. Don had been there, and it was a shitty, depressing feeling. That alone made you want to smoke, drink, snort, or toss back whatever pills happened to be lying around. Then maybe discovering that you were mentally fucked up, and that it was possibly your fault--well, things we'd all rather forget, right Donnie? Take another hit for God's sake.
He had moved past that, though. But so long as he remembered Twitch, it wouldn't be without a sense of survivor's guilt.
As Don neared the house, the bike rolling slow and loud in first gear, that cold feeling entered his stomach again. Kevin was still there, Impala parked in the driveway. It occurred to Don that he'd actually forgotten to ask him about the cash, distracted as he was about the pill banter, as well as the prospect of riding again. Everyone's reaction had been as expected. Don trusted people, but he trusted their spoken word more. Mere tone alone could reveal inconsistency alone, and he read those things like a book. Not that he would need to try hard.
Don walked up the stairs to the room and knocked, and Kevin called him in without hesitation. He smoked a cigarette behind a Walmart-cheap computer desk, staring into a laptop screen. Don took a seat on a couch they'd managed to drag in through one of the larger windows of the home.
"So this is a great year," Kevin said, grinning.
"Oh year. Yoga pants and twerking became a thing at the same time."
Don chuckled along with Kevin, pulling out a cigarette to distract himself from the hard task at hand. Accosting people who lived across town was one thing. When you boarded with the guy, well...
"Hey, do you remember who all was here Saturday? Helter came by, and then J. I left Andy and Nichole to chill and watch the place for a bit, and then you mentioned that Twitch and some other guy had been by."
"Uh, yeah, that Robert guy. I came home and they were chillun', as always. The place was pretty empty for the rest of the night. Why, what's up?"
Don wondered if any man knew when they were digging their own hole.
"Do you remember that cash Helter brought over? I'd set it in the smoke box before I'd left. Now it's gone and J said he didn't pick it up.
Kevin paused, and then glanced to the computer screen before answering. Goddammit, Don thought.
"Naw man I didn't see it. It was just Twitch and those other folks. And Helter wouldn't steal money back he'd just set down."
Don nodded. "Yeah, Andy said that too. They said they saw the money still sitting when I'd left."
Kevin's expression faltered, and his jaw tightened. "Yeah? Who else did you hit up?"
Don brushed a bit of grass from knee of his jeans. "I talked to Twitch too. He said they'd shut the box lid before they'd left."
"Alright, so what's up?"
What's up? Don thought., What's up is that you're a goddamned thief. You can't lie to me, Kevin. I've been your roommate too long. You blow it in the same way you blow a surprise party--you hesitate just too long.
"I'm just wondering if you knew where it went."
"Man, I didn't even know you had the fuckin' cash, so no. I don't fucking know." All bets were off. Kevin was pissed, or at the very least was acting like it. Don recognized that he was just as bad as keeping a kind façade just as much as Kevin.
"Look, I'm just asking," Don said.
"Then why'd you save me for last? To give yourself time to believe everyone else's story? Fuck you man. Get out," Kevin said, throwing a finger towards the door. Don backtracked, that cold feeling settling back in--panic. Goddammit, it was panic, and if he couldn't calm Kevin then it was going to very well attack.
"L-look I'm not trying to start shit, it doesn't even matter. You said you didn't t-take it so I going to believe you. Just please--"
"I said to get the fuck out of my room," Kevin barked.
And with that, Don bolted up and walked out, heart pounding. His breaths didn't help, and in fact seemed to close his chest in tighter and tighter, just like the narrow walls of the staircase that tilted back and sideways in Don's mind, causing him to sway drunkenly. He forced himself to slide against the wall, the only way to prevent from falling. Stumbling the last four steps, Don crashed into the bathroom, chest heaving, heart beating, and mind racing. And oh, wasn't that was the worst fucking part? That off the rail feeling of consciousness. Crashing. Burning. The mind shooting off thoughts like AA cannons, tearing across the sky like streaks of lightening.
He hates you now he fucking hates you you big goddamned HYPOCRITE. Like you were any better ripping a motorcycle of someone you called a fucking friend when you knew damn well where that money was going and everyone knows that you know and hates you because what kind of monster are you--
TIME TO DIE-TIME TO DIE-TIME TO DIE
Don hyperventilated as attempted to open the above sink cabinet with shaking hands. He thrust his hand in and started snatching bottles out, looking for that good-ol bottle of Zanax if only he could stop shaking long enough to read the fucking label and twist the--
TIME TO DIE-TIME TO DIE
He threw bottle after bottle in the sink, the plastic clattering the only sound beyond his breathing and--
"Are you fucking me? Are you honestly having a panic attack? Right now? Get a fucking hold of yourself. Loser."
Second to last bottle, Don did. He tore off the cap and fished one out, throwing it back dry as he gripped the sides of the sink. Breath. Breath. Calm, he told himself. You are not in danger. You are not a danger to anyone. You are fine. You are fine, even if you do hate the fact that you seem broken. It's fine even if you're a fuck up and half you believes the medicine is just a halfway placebo. It's fine even if someone, just on occasion, doesn't like you or hates your guts and doesn't think you're perfect. It's fine that you're not perfect.
Five or so minute later, a tangible calmness started to seep into Don. He ignored Kevin's snort and silent, unseen eye roll. Maybe the guy was right, Don figured. Just because Don thought he was a liar and a thief, it didn't mean he couldn't have accurate insight. Here's a loser, he figured, a loser who can't even do drugs to justify his substandard life in general. Someone who spends a warm winter morning belting around town on a motorcycle bought off a meth-head looking for stolen money, because he was stupid enough to let people stay in his room unattended for the sake of not breaking up the smoke circle too soon. Don sighed and closed his eyes.
Suddenly, that ending to Batty's line flared up in Don's head. Time to die.
It wasn't nearly as nice as the buildup had him remembering.
So here's something that's a weird blend of fiction and reality. Mostly fiction, really. All the characters and such. But some of the situations, types of people, and overall feelings and thought---well it's grounded in reality to a degree.
Anyhow, god damn I've got to turn this in tomorrow, ha. Feel free to critique in anyway--or at the very least point out any glaring errors you might see. Or if you just liked it or not. Man I'm cool with whatever.