At first, I wanted to tell this story in the most realistic setting possible. A working man who had barely enough sleep the last couple of days; getting out of a café, spotting whatever he had to run away from. A tired employee at home, staring at the perturbing news that promised misery while attempting to figure out where he’d seen those eyes before. Unfortunately, none of those beginnings fit the story. It didn’t need to be told realistically, because no one would believe me either way. There was no humane way of describing him. Not when he’d come for me, and I still felt him walking the darkest passages of my mind; his pace steady as his steps began to fade away to a point where I could no longer hear him. How realistic and truthful could the human mind be?
I remember the day it happened. It was just that I couldn’t be assured of whether my memories hadn’t been altered from the many times I went over them, to figure out where it all went wrong. What I can be certain about is how we came to be.
“Are you sure you don’t want to enter?” I heard the voice of the man I’d come with to that place.
The door he held open led to the darkness of the building we’d been cited in. Like a mouth that awaited prey to feed the monster of the house. I sniffed, rubbing at my nose before coughing through a very dried throat. My nails began to mark thin skin, pinching at the fading bruises on my forearm.
“I don’t know, man. It’s too sketchy. When have we come this far for some dope?” I muttered, checking the ruined spaces that were supposed to be windows scattered along the facade.
The older guy hesitated and mimicked my uneasiness. He scoffed, a smile full of broken brown teeth appearing. “What? It’s not like they are going to kill a bunch of junkies?” He still didn’t convince me, and I was unsure he would be able to do so, like other times. His orbs gazed at my sore skin. “How long it’s been?”
I shrugged. “Too long.”
He nodded, pursing his lips and aggressively scratching the back of his head. “Look, I’m going in. And if you don’t come, I won’t be getting you any. I’m not your errand boy-“
“Do you have the money?” I interrupted his antsy raising tone.
He opened his mouth and closed it, before stepping inside the darkness and disappearing in the shadows. Sniffing, my nails reached to pinch at my itchy neck, while I fumbled through my pocket to find what I was looking for. Lifting the joint to my lips, I brought the lighter to the end of it and inhaled. This would have to do. Until I found another opportunity to get something heavier. My teeth chattered with the cold breeze that froze my limbs and yet brought some comfort to my heating mind. I should have gone inside, it’s been too long… But I don’t like it here, perhaps it is my slight sobriety talking.
For minutes I remained there, not knowing the time, but it hadn’t felt like long. Getting out of my lungs the last calming drag, I threw the rest to the concrete and stepped on it with the sole of my shoe. My brain thumped, my heartbeat calmed; the high was at peace. Clutching the ends of my sweater, I rubbed at the holes in my trousers. I glanced at the darkness before me and heard nothing. Leaning back, I let my eyes wonder through the abandoned building, from left to right- I stopped my head from turning and looked to my left again; not at the building but rather at the man that stood next to me, watching me. Anxiety settled inside my stomach.
He was tall and hovered over my sitting form. Dressed in a dark sort of suit, his pale complexion stood out. And his eyes… so bright they seemed to glow in the dark. A white in contrast to the two dark abysses where his pupils hid.
“What are you doing?” His voice was raspy, settling irritably in my eardrums.
I frowned. “Mind your business.”
He didn’t flinch. His body and features didn’t move a single inch. “I am. Aren’t you going to enter?”
I swallowed with difficulty. “I’m waiting for my friends.”
“Friends?” His face began to retreat as he stood up straight, his back letting out four sordid cracks that disturbed the quiet night. “Lies.”
My heart skipped a bit. “L-Look, if you are interested in getting some dope, go inside the building. The dealer is there somewhere.”
He remained impassive, until his lips curved upward and revealed blood soaked teeth. “Shall we?” With a quick movement, his frail hand settled on my jaw and squeezed my cheeks. A fracture echoed, and I felt pieces of teeth falling on my tongue and down my throat. With a scream, everything went black.
But not quite.
My eyes felt wide open, though I couldn’t see a thing. Nothing but two blanc circles staring at me in the dark. I was unable to comprehend the situation, and yet like a wall, I was held back from doing so. My limbs were soggy; as in a dense pool that pushed at my ears. The echoes of thumping and chattering resonated. And through it all; through darkness, terror, confusion and sickness, it all ended with him.
“You don’t have to run. It’s okay. Your mind doesn’t feel like yours, but you are accustomed to it, already. It’s all like a pinch; a few seconds give you a lifetime of escapism.” A sickening chuckle. “What is it that you miss the most in this moment? Your family, your friend or a high. Answer truthfully, there is only one correct answer and I have no patience for liars.”
A high. I answered, my lips not moving.
I heard brief clapping. “Very good. That is the only matter a drug addict wants and needs. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.” A sigh. “What a lovely day… Do you remember your mother’s words? Right before you stole a couple hundred bills from where she hid them from you. You’d woken up well, believed that that was your last day, that everything would get better, and then… It is fascinating how quickly people’s will change, isn’t it? You
went from loving your mother that morning, to stealing from her and disappearing from her life. Do you think that was better or worse for her? Again, only one correct answer.” Steady steps approached, seeming to come from everywhere at once.
There was silence. Hot blood dripped from my mouth vanishing into nothingness. “What a disappointing answer.” P-Please. “Your mother also begged you to stay. Am I wrong?” I left because I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, more blood escaped my lips. “It is so much easier to destroy a butchered mind… Do you feel the holes in your brain?” An agonising pain settled on my temples. “The dead tissue smells rotten. Just like your mother’s heart. You chewed at it, then spit it on to the floor, and that stench follows you everywhere. You will rot by the drug your choices are. You will eventually die, and leave behind more hurt, more stench, more pain. A mother that loved and tried to help her son despite the circumstances.”
I sobbed, the pain making me squeeze my eyes shut. Please… “You humans are amusing. Like a never ending cycle. Your friend is currently overdosing in one of the empty rooms in the building, and after all that, you’d still recur to the same substance that kills you. So, why are you so afraid? I’m just another high. But I guess that things turn difficult when the same substance that hurts speaks, and has a conscience. I don’t, do you? You think you have the strength to turn around from all of this?” I don’t know. Black circles settled before me, staring down at me. “That is not good enough for me. But it’s okay. I’m happy for you, because your selfishness goes beyond my expectations. That means you have a strong mind, one I can feed on until you drop dead.”
My body froze. What are you saying?
The darkness faded out until a distance away shadows began to form familiar objects and faces. My limbs felt soggier than before, and yet I advanced towards the faint light, tiring sore muscles that begged me to stop.
A woman sat on a sofa; her stare lost, fist tightly clutching a green familiar jumper while her cheeks wetted with more tears. A guy trembling on concrete dusty floor, a rubber band circling his arm while a syringe stayed embedded in his skin. And then, substances. I
impulsively reached towards the clear liquid before I stopped myself and let my hand wonder above the glass.
A presence lingered close to my back. “You have three choices. A decision to make. Only one right answer. No turning back. This is your last chance to scratch those itches. Which one aches more?”
I stood there, my heart speeding up. Eyes lingering on the crying woman I’d already said goodbye to. Her tears wouldn’t affect me as much as they did, but it still upset me to see her this sad. Mum. The reflection of the trembling man caught my attention. Ben, I think his name was. But I couldn’t be so sure. We met each other through highs and withdrawals, and I’d never asked him again. I barely knew him. Lastly, the glinting of the fine syringe called out to me. Something I still hadn’t said goodbye to, something I still craved and knew all too well. My skin itched. I’m sorry. I’m not. It’s all just a dream. It will all be okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. None of them managed to help, none but one. One that couldn’t make me feel bad. One that as long as I consumed it, wouldn’t treat me poorly. One I couldn’t upset. One I couldn’t live without.
Reaching for the clear jar, the illusion dissolved and everything turned to dust floating around me; slightly illuminated by the dimming light that withdrew until I was once again left in darkness and deafening silence.
Then, came a response. “You’ve made your decision.”
My eyes snapped opened and I stared agitatedly at the building we’d arrived to long time ago. I felt a lump in my throat as I saw medics rushing to the abandoned structure.
“Are you the person that called?” I turned to the medic that stood next to a police officer. “Are you the anonymous caller?”
It hadn’t been a dream. My jaw cracked two times as my lips gave way to a crazed smile that made both women flinch. Hot liquid dripped down my chin. Standing up, I turned around and began to walk away, not before I saw them covering their noses at my smell. Putrid stench. And as I took careful slow steps to a place I didn’t know, I felt someone mimicking the pace inside my mind. An itch and a bite.
Texto de Izaskun Fandiño, primer premio del XXVI certamen de relato corto en modalidad inglés.