Blood gushed like a tiny crimson fountain into the plastic cylinder, mixing with the clear liquid. Sammy smiled. It was rare for him to hit a vein on the first try; the tortured little tubes seemed to hide every time he came near them with a needle. Sammy supposed he would too if he had the sense God gave a squirrel. Of course he didn’t, that’s why he was crouched in an abandoned building, about to slam enough heroin into his arm to knock a grizzly bear into early hibernation. That is unless the bear happened to have the kind of habit that Sammy did, in which case he’d just sigh, scratch his nose, and go out to find the money for his next shot. Sammy loosened the belt from his arm, pushed the plunger, and passed into oblivion before he even had a chance to feel the drug.
The first thing Sammy saw when he came to was the cracked plaster ceiling of the vacant building. The first thing he felt was straight. It was an unaccustomed state for him, having spent the last ten or twelve or maybe a hundred years, either sick or high, but he was pretty sure that’s what he was experiencing. And he was at a total loss for an explanation for this phenomenon. It wasn’t all that unusual for him to overdose, but every time it had happened he’d surfaced slowly back into consciousness, enjoying the kind of profound euphoria that can only be reached by a dope dose just short of lethal. Sammy was lying amidst the broken bricks and empty glassine bags, trying to figure out what went wrong, when someone leaped onto his chest.
A pair of yellow eyes gleamed wickedly down at him, the pupils long and thin, jittering in savage excitement. A cold, dank breath blew in his face, like air pumped up from a tainted well. The amber eyes narrowed, the foul flow of effluvium paused, and a puzzled voice said, “What the fuck!”
The weight was suddenly off Sammy. He looked up to see a young man, barely out of his teens, scraggly whiskers curling from his chin in a wishful goatee. Tattered clothes hung from his bony frame with the panache of a dressed up broomstick, his skin had the waxy look of old cheese. And there were those eyes, those terrible yellow eyes. The young man leaned over Sammy, a sheepish grin chasing the ferocity from his face as he said, “Jeez, buddy, sorry about that. I didn’t realize ’til it was almost too late. Wachya doin’ layin’ there on the floor?”
Sammy was more confused than ever. He’d been sure the kid was going to kill him, then go through his pockets. So what saved him? His good looks, his esteemed position in the community? The young man squatted down next to Sammy and said, “Where’re my fuckin’ manners? I’m Roy, pleased ta meechya.” He stuck out a hand and looked hurt when Sammy just stared at it instead of shaking it. “Hey, I said I was sorry. I didn’t recognize you at first, anybody can make a mistake. Whatya want me to do, poke out my eyes with a rusty nail?” The young man stood and began to walk away. “Fuckya, then!” he called over his shoulder.
“Wait!” Sammy yelled, the strength of his own voice surprising him. “What do you mean you didn’t recognize me? Do we know each other?”
The other man turned, the look on his face saying he was getting fed up with this clown lying on the ground. Sammy sat up. A wave of dizziness hit him, his stomach tightened into a knot, his body was wracked with sudden chills. He put a hand to his sweaty forehead and lay back down. Roy was beside him, instantly, peering worriedly down at Sammy.
“Hey, you all right? When’s the last time you fixed? Ya look like yer havin’ withdrawals.”
“I just did a shot,” Sammy answered faintly. “Musta been stronger shit than I thought. Went right out.”
Roy looked puzzled. “What are you talkin’ about, shot? You still tryin’ to get off from dope? What the fuck’s wrong with you? You can’t be doin’ that no more, that ain’t gonna help.”
“Are we talking about the same thing?” Sammy wanted to know.
“Beats the shit outa me!” frustration jacking up the volume in the younger man’s voice. “I’m just tryin’ to help ya, like as a professional courtesy, but I guess I’m the asshole here.”
“Look,” Sammy said, “I’m sorry, I just don’t know what’s happening. I did four bags and I fell out. Then I’m on the ground wondering why I’m not even a little high, and you jump me. Now I feel awful, and you tell me dope isn’t gonna help. One of us is crazy as a shithouse rat, and if it’s you, I wish you’d either finish killing me, or just go away. I’m sick.”
Roy’s pale eyes widened in amazement. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“Know what?” The words were barely out when Roy’s hand clamped over Sammy’s mouth like the steel door of a rabbit trap.
“Sshh. Somebody’s comin’,” Roy whispered. He tilted his head to one side, brows furrowed in concentration. Sammy felt something like a vise clamp onto his shoulder, and he was suddenly bouncing and scraping along as the other man dragged him across the rubble strewn floor and out of the building.
Sammy’s eyes squinted shut in the midday sunlight, so he didn’t even see the car until he was tossed inside, landing mostly on the front seat. He looked over to see Roy already behind the wheel. The engine roared and the car took off in a spray of gravel as they sped onto the street.
“Shit! Rat bastards got a car.” Roy eyeed the cracked rearview mirror as he banged through the gears. He leaned forward, felt around under the seat, and came up with a sawed-off shotgun. Clicking the safety off, he laid the barrel on his shoulder, the muzzle pointing backward toward the rear window, and took aim through the mirror. He grinned saying, “Saw this in a movie.” Then jerked his thumb against the trigger.
The sound was earsplitting, but Roy kept yanking the trigger, paying no attention to the noise or the shattering back glass or the hot, empty shells spitting from the breech and pinging with amazing accuracy into Sammy’s left temple. When the gun finally clicked empty, Roy flipped it into the back seat and looked over at his passenger. “‘Course there was no way that was gonna kill ‘em, but I fucked up their car pretty good. See that shot that took out the front tire? That one surprised me as much as them.”
“Yea, nice one.” Sammy said. He hadn’t seen the shot, the other car, or even known they were being chased, until the maniac next to him had gone into his Annie Oakley act. He was partly deaf, mostly sick, and completely scared out of his wits. “Who was after us?” Sammy asked, more out of nervousness than any real desire to know. He figured if he could establish some sort of bond between them, there would be less chance of the other man turning on him.
“Crack Carrion,” Roy spat, wrestling the car around a corner, barely missing a bread truck. “Motherfuckers’ll go after anything, they don’t care. They’ll probably turn on each other, now they lost us.”
Sammy slumped down in the seat and closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe Roy’s hulk of a car could keep up the pace without either smashing into something or just disintegrating. When he felt the car nose up a hill, then actually gain speed, he opened his eyes and saw they’d merged onto a highway. “Where’re we going?” He hoped he didn’t sound as panicky as he felt; it didn’t seem like a good idea to keep reminding a yellow-eyed monster that you were weak and scared and totally at his mercy.
But Roy seemed to be having a great time, passing cars and cutting of trucks. He took one hand away from the wheel to pat Sammy’s knee, saying, “Headin’ upstate to a place I know. Been meaning to get outa the city for a while, visit some guys I useta run with. Nice people, you’ll like ‘em. Fiends, like us. They’ll fix you up, just hang on for a couple hours. I’m gonna need a little somethin’ pretty soon, myself. Just hope we don’t hafta try an outrun any cops. Troopers in this state are real sticklers fer havin’ rear windows an’ license plates an’ shit on your car.”
Sammy thought back to when he had a car. It was a lot like this one, except it was registered and insured and even had glass in all the right places. Of course, that was when he had a job. And friends. And a life outside the cooker. He doubted that anyone could tell anymore, but he hadn’t been born with a heroin habit. And, goddamnit, he wasn’t going to die with one, either. Sammy took his ten thousandth oath that he’d kick. Right after the next shot.
He closed his eyes and tried to escape the sickness through sleep, but Roy’s penchant for belting out old Black Sabbath songs at the top of his lungs made that impossible. He gave up and tried to strike up a conversation about who these friends were and how much farther it was, but Roy was more interested in singing and making faces at the other motorists. The sun was just sinking behind a range of hills, when Roy swerved down an exit ramp and onto a secondary road. Half an hour later, they pulled into an unmarked dirt lane.
“Is this it?” Sammy choked out between dry heaves. His belly felt like it was full of rusty nails.
“That’s right, buddy,” Roy said, pulling on the headlights.
Sammy’s stomach was doing somersaults in anticipation of a fix. He was afraid his hands were shaking to badly to hold a syringe steady. Maybe his new friend Roy would help him get a hit. Then a horrible thought struck him: what if these people had no dope? Or if all this was just some elaborate joke. It couldn’t be a beat, because not even his worn-out shoes were worth stealing. It went against everything he’d learned on the streets, but there was no choice but to trust this guy. Roy had said they’d take care of them, that they were dope fiends, too. He’d just have to tough it out for a few more minutes, get introduced to these guys, maybe shoot the shit for a little bit, then get down to business. He gave Roy what he hoped would pass for a smile.
The road wound through close standing trees and seemed to go on for miles, the car creeping along, scraping rocks, bumping over holes. They eased through a curve, and Sammy could make out the lines of a two story farmhouse, dim light glowing from a window on the first floor. Roy pulled the car up to a front porch that looked as though the only thing holding it together was a coat of peeling paint. He switched off the engine, and nearly gave Sammy a heart attack by leaning on the horn. “They probably knew we were here as soon as we turned in the road,” Roy said, “but I hate to arrive unannounced.”
Sammy looked over just as the driver’s door slammed shut. He peered up at the house and saw that Roy was already on the porch, standing with a group of dark figures. They were there one second, then they were gone. Sammy didn’t know what to do, wait in the car, follow up the steps, or get behind the wheel and haul ass back to civilization. A glance at the empty ignition lock made up his mind. Sammy stumbled out of the car and trudged into the house.
He entered a small foyer, a set of dark stairs in front of him, light flickering into the hall through an open door to his right. Following the light, he passed into a large room where there were some chairs and a small sofa arranged in a loose circle. The walls and floor were totally bare. A shadowy group of people sat talking quietly. The only illumination in the room came from a hurricane lamp, sitting atop a marble mantelpiece, and he was having a hard time picking out his traveling companion. Then he heard Roy speak.
“Here he is, now. C’mon in, meet my friends.” Roy gestured toward a chair next to his, and Sammy sat, straining his eyes to see into the shrouded faces scattered around the room.
“He looks sick,” a voice said from Sammy’s left.
“He is sick,” Roy said. “We drove all the way out here with him jonesin’ like a bastard.”
“Anybody follow you here?” Another voice, this one with some sort of foreign accent.
“Naah, I told ya we lost em’ back in the city,” Roy sounded impatient, as if he’d gone over the story again and again, though Sammy didn’t see how there would have been time to tell it even once.
“And you say he doesn’t understand what happened to him, what he’s become?” A third voice, possibly female, asked. These people sounded odd to Sammy, like their vocal cords were withered.
“Not a fuckin’ clue,” Roy answered. “Was gonna run to the dealer if I didn’t grab him.” A few dry chuckles from around the room. “‘Course he wouldn’t have made it to the street, with those assholes closin’ in.” More arid laughter.
Sammy sat silently, arms folded across his stomach to keep the cramps from doubling him over. He’d acquired a lot of patience during his years of being strung out. It was Sammy’s experience that people involved in drugs were the most unreliable, erratic individuals on Earth. He’d been through hundreds of similar scenes, and worse. Dope dealers telling you to sit tight in their apartment while they went out for a new supply, only to return a picture of paranoia, accusing you of setting them up, asking how they were supposed to know you weren’t a cop. He’d spent countless hours waiting for connections, the runners getting high and not showing until the middle of the night. People forgetting where they hid their stash, putting it somewhere when they were practically too stoned to breath, let alone think. And then there were the ones who were feeling so good they wanted to socialize while your guts were doing gymnastics, talk about mutual acquaintances, discuss world politics, anything but getting down to the business at hand. So Sammy just sat, waiting until the amenities were over and he could get something into his system to quiet the detox demons.
“Anyway,” Roy was saying, “canya help me an my pal out?”
“We don’t see you for nearly a year,” the first voice said, “and now you need our help.”
Roy stood up, saying, “Hey, we can go someplace else. I can score anywhere. I just thought this’d be a good place to get my buddy off for the first time, that’s all.”
“Sit down, sit down,” the accented voice soothed. “You know you’re always welcome here. Didn’t we offer you a place with us? It was you who chose to stay in the city.”
Roy eased back into the chair. “Yea, well, you know how I am. I’d go batshit out here in the boonies. I gotta have action!”
“Perhaps when you’ve been around as long as we have you’ll feel differently,” the female voice said.
Sammy wasn’t really paying attention. He’d developed a kind of selective hearing, filtering out everything that had nothing to do with getting high. But the next bit of conversation produced a whale size blip on his survival sonar.
“So, whatya say?” Roy asked. “Can you fix us up, or what?”
“Of course,” said one of the voices. “We’d never turn our backs on you. Ethan, bring them what they need.”
In a far corner a dark figure rose from his chair and made his way across the room. As he passed by the lamp, Sammy saw that it was a very old man. Countless years seemed to have carved their passing in the leathery skin of his face. His long, silver hair flowed in fine strands as he moved with the grace of a swan gliding across still water. Sammy caught a glimpse of the man’s eyes as he passed by. Eyes the color of ancient amber.
Sammy wondered if the guy was related to Roy, some kind of gene thing going on. Maybe odd eye pigment and drug addiction ran in their family. Maybe they all had hepatitis from passing around the same set of works, who the hell knew? At this point Sammy was willing to take a chance on picking up a case of hep, or anything else, as long as he got a shot. The creepy bastard must be going to get the stuff. Finally! It did bother him that the guy looked so old; fifty was elderly for a junkie, but this dude looked a hundred. Sammy put his worries on a back burner, knowing that once that wonderful warmth enveloped his brain, none of this would matter.
It seemed like only a matter of seconds and the old man was back. And he wasn’t alone. He swept into the room, clutching the hand of a little girl. She looked about six years old, dressed in a filthy jumper, her black hair snarled with leaves and twigs. Her face was impassive, eyes glassy as a doll’s. Sammy glanced over at Roy, but the other man didn’t notice, his attention riveted on the child. There was a rustle of movement around the room, like the stirring of an audience as the curtain opens.
“I’ve prepared a vein,” the old man said, his voice trembling with excitement. He led the girl forward, and Sammy could see blood pumping from one of her skinny wrists. The thickest, brightest, most enticing blood Sammy had ever seen. And he’d seen a lot of blood in his time: seeping into syringes, trickling down punctured arms, spattering clothing in the tell-tale pattern of the mainliner. But this was different. It gave him the same feeling he got when he watched heroin cook up clear in a spoon. The longing, the anticipation, the sure knowledge that liquid nourishment was just a jab and a plunger push away. But how could this be? What sort of short circuit in his tired old drug addled brain could cause this reaction? This was wrong. This was sick. Totally infuckingsane! He looked over and saw the huge grin on Roy’s face, yellow eyes so bright they seemed to glow with hellfire. “Go for it,” Roy whispered.
Sammy found himself getting up from his chair, approaching the girl, reaching for her arm. His mouth watered, stomach constricted, and every vein in his body pulsed like a triphammer. His fingers closed around the bony wrist as he dropped to one knee to worship at the chalice of flesh. Sammy drew the fragile limb toward his lips, and his mind was suddenly flooded with visions of all the terrible things he had done since the first time he’d banged the spike in his own, innocent arm: the lying, the stealing, the robbing, the willingness to trade friends, relatives, his body and soul for a bag of white powder. But this! This was too much, even for him. He’d rather die himself than take this poor child’s life to feed the monster gnawing away at his guts. Sammy pushed the girl away before it was too late, hid his face in his shaking hands, and felt the warm teardrops flow through his fingers.
The next thing he knew, someone was pulling his hands gently from his face, and he realized that just he and Roy were in the room. Roy looked into Sammy’s eyes, saying, ” Hey, take it easy. A lotta guys have a hard time at first. I bet you were scared, even grossed out, the first time ya stuck a needle in yer arm, but you’ll get it. Believe me, it’s worth it. Besides, there ain’t no other choice, this is the only thing that’s gonna do it now.”
“I can’t do that,” Sammy whispered.
“Gotta,” Roy said, not unkindly.
“Can’t I just have a shot?” Sammy pleaded.
“Won’t help.” Roy guided Sammy onto a chair, then took a seat across from him. “Look, this is the only way. Hell, if there was some way around this, one a those other fiends would’a figured it out by now. And, in their day, they was the slickest of the slick. Old Ethan, he was swiggin’ Laudanum back when you just strolled inta the drugstore, slapped yer money on the counter, and they handed over a big ol’ bottle a the shit. And Cho, that motherfucker, he was suckin’ on the opium pipe before trains ran coast to coast. So if there was another way to get over, don’tya think they’d know?”
“You’re crazy,” Sammy said. “They’d have to be, how old? There’s no way these people could live that long.” When Roy just stared at him, he asked, “Could they?”
“What do you think?” Roy answered, tilting his head to one side and rolling his eyes.
“You mean they’re … ?” Sammy could barely be heard. “And I’m … me too? That was a hot shot I did back there?”
“‘Fraid so.” Roy spread his arms in a gesture of helplessness.
“How did this happen?” Sammy’s voice was ragged, choked with tears and frustration.
“Nobody knows.” Roy shrugged his shoulders.
“You mean to tell me I can’t get any peace even after I’m dead?” Sammy shouted. “Why me? Does this happen to everybody?”
“I understand you’re upset,” Roy said, calmly, “But ya don’t hafta bite my head off. It’s not like it’s my fault, ya know.” He sat back, getting comfortable in his chair. “I guess your question is, does this happen to all drug addicts, and the answer is, of course not. Think about it fer a minute, we’d be upta our armpits in dead dope fiends. It’s maybe one in a million, if that many. And it’s mainly heroin addicts, though ya get a few crackheads like those assholes that were after us. They’re just as fucked up after they’re dead as before. Anyway, in some of us, addiction never dies. Luck a the draw, ya might say.”
“But why don’t drugs work … after?” Sammy wanted to know. “How come we gotta … you know.”
Roy looked up at the ceiling, considering his answer. “Metabolic change? Punishment for our sins? Cosmic fuckin’ joke? Search me, I don’t think about it much. But I’ll tellya, it’s a lot easier than coppin’ dope. Look what a sweet thing these junkie bastards have here. All they gotta do is throw some food to the livestock once in a while, let ‘em breed, and they’ve got an unlimited supply of homegrown. Ever try raisin’ poppies? Forget it!”
Sammy looked into Roy’s eyes, searching for a glimmer of hope. “There’s no other way? You’re sure you’re telling me everything? Some people quit drugs, I’ve seen it happen. Isn’t there something like that I could try?”
“Well,” Roy said slowly, “there is one thing. But I never heard of anybody goin’ through it.”
“Yea, go on.”
“Now this is just guess work, but I figure if ya don’t use, just flat out refuse ta do it, you’ll eventually die. I mean really die, like for good. You can kick, go cold corpse. But forget it, can’t be done.”
“I’ll do it.” Sammy stuck out his chin, a grim look on his face.
“Yea, right,” Roy smiled.
Roy had to give his new friend a lot of credit; Sammy lasted almost sixteen hours before he was begging them to bring back the little girl. But the idea of detoxing had caught the imagination of the fiends in the farmhouse. They’d all wondered what would happen if they went for a long period without a fix, but none of them could hold out any longer than they could when they were alive. So they ignored Sammy’s screams, tying him to the bed with clothesline.
It was only a matter of minutes until his wild thrashing broke the rope, and it took all six of them to drag him down the hall to the only room that still had sturdy shutters and a working lock. The door held for a while, but Sammy’s frenzied attacks finally ripped the hinges from the jamb. They caught him halfway down the stairs, and it took all of their weight to hold him down while they planned their next move. Someone suggested the cellar, another wanted to go into town to buy chains. Sammy seemed to be getting stronger by the minute. It was Roy who came up with the idea that made the most sense.
The weight of the earth held Sammy still. He couldn’t get enough leverage to move as much as a single finger. His eyes were pinned closed by the dirt, the pressure constricting his screams inside his throat. He had no sense of how long he’d been buried beneath the ground. There was no sleep to ease the passage of time, no rest from the unending craving that tore at his shriveled soul. And no hope that the fiends who did this to him would ever get around to digging him up. Because, whether it was dope or blood, a junkie was a junkie, and Sammy knew better than anybody that there was nothing, besides a fix, that couldn’t be put off indefinitely.
(c) Lester Thees, All Rights Reserved
Tags: Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, fiends, lester thees, Short Story, Vampire, Vampire Fiction, Writers
- 'Needs' by J. E. Deegan
- 'Toizz' by Mordant Carnival
- 'The Meaning of Dreams' by Joy Wilkinson
- 'Mainstreaming' by Lida Broadhurst
- 'Intolerance' by Miles Deacon