Friday, May 30, 2008

Cheap Goods (6)

Cheap wandered down the road far behind the girl, waiting till she'd almost disappeared from view. He didn't think she'd noticed him tailing her, but he was good at this. Maybe he'd been a pro in a past life.

Almost thinking of himself as a guardian angel - an optimistic appraisal of himself, he knew - he said to himself that he'd just follow the girl at least till she was out of this hood.

Hood? He'd been hanging around here too long, talking to too many thugs.

They amused him though. No matter what happened to them, however you explained it - they were still caught up on the same things. Turf and toughness. Never mind that even this particular skinny-ass junkie wasn't threatened by them; they didn't know when to quit. Not even when they got themselves killed.

Sigh.

Cheap really wished addiction wouldn't linger the way it did. Psychological addiction - shouldn't it be easier to get rid of than chemical addiction? The only relief was that now, he couldn't actually commit violence anymore to fuel his need; nothing could get him a fix. And though he could still harm others and himself in less tangible ways, he was learning not to.

He was becoming a better person. Hopefully that would save him from this miserable, loitering existence. There was no good reason to think it would, but he had to shoot for something.

Whatever else it might have been, it was rehab - and it was far from over. Cheap's emotional development had been stunted by his habits, and now there was something else wrong with him. Despite the odds, he struggled on. It was getting better all the time.

Or so it seemed.

He only relapsed when - well, he tried not to think about that. Almost losing himself from the world, as often happened, he looked at the phantoms of scars on his wrists. Not across the veins: he'd been more serious than that. They reminded him of what his desperation could lead to, streaking up and down the flesh in tangible memory.

Flesh? Is that what he should still be calling it? At this point it was insubstantial, must be imaginary. A wonder he wasn't fading away.

God, he missed Jel. Where'd she gone off to? So much for guarding the one he loved. She burned like embers somewhere under his soul, making him want to cry out, to run, to curl up and hide in a hole and never come out.

Like he'd always done with smack.

Wasn't it supposed to be the whore with the heart of gold? The junkie was just junk. Trash. No redeeming values, just a gaping vein destroying his life for a fix. And Cheap had done exactly that.

The girl was almost out of sight again, he had to pick up his pace a moment to make sure he didn't lose her.

Don't look too interested...

Now he remembered - he'd tired of seeing Jel with other guys. It hurt so much, he'd had to stop following her -

Stop.

There was a narc ahead. She had some message she was whispering, Cheap could see it clinging to the people as they passed her.

What was she up to? A quick glance along the trail of marked people, standing out like neon graffiti on the dull-gray street (as it seemed to Cheap), revealed nothing obvious to him. There was no apparent trend.

Pausing and trying to look casual, he watched her from the corner of his eye. It was almost mesmerizing, the skillful way in which she distributed her message, highlighting people for some unknown purpose - though it was probably sinister. It was like watching a spider, the way her delicate and weightless brushing and bumping and touching of people with her message made such a complex web.

This was a gift Cheap had always had, discerning irregularities in people no matter how convincing their performance might be. It had been different before - he'd mostly been on the lookout for cops, bad dealers, pissed off g's. Sometimes he could see it as if it glowed on them, some little wrongness about them that made them stand out. Like seeing some kind of aura, but it was more a feeling he got telling him how to act, which people to beware.

Instinct.

Had it arisen from a life of paranoia? Who could say. People had stolen from him and cheated him his entire life and in less clear moments, this was all he could think about: always the victim. There were few times he'd actually benefited from his odd little talent. Most times, he hadn't had the clarity or presence of mind to be helped by it - nor had he always acted for his own self-preservation. That motivation problem had been fixed - it had ended along with his pathetic life.

Even still, he was almost embarrassed to remember the way he'd whined about his pathetic life, sometimes; how useless it had felt to try and fix things. He'd even cried to the cops while being arrested, once ("I'm not on any drugs, I just have a shitty life, you don't even know!"). Good thing the bad trips that got him so wound up had blurred memory as much as they'd blurred reality.

But then some of them had only scarred him more deeply than a sober mind could have been scarred, cutting into an undefended mind.

He shuddered against the spell of desperation that wanted to wash over him as he was hit by a sudden memory, a sudden craving. Jel, he thought, his mind should know by now that it can't rely on drugs. They didn't phase him and he didn't think they were any more real than he was, these days.

Still...if he could just get a fix -

Stop.

There it was. And shit, he'd lost the girl now. Had she gone left? right? She hadn't been narced on, the narc had hesitated and avoided touching her. Why? But now he saw what he'd wanted to see. Like an owl her wings rose ghostlike as she homed in on the marked ones.

Oh come on, they don't have wings, Cheap told himself. That's just fear. It's a shawl. Like a gypsy grandma wears. Those gypsy grandmas are dangerous, he reminded himself.

Now she was harvesting. Her narc was following the line of tagged souls, showing where the trail ended. How did they always know which ones would move in the same direction? They must have had lifetimes to develop whatever it was they actually did, conning people and looking for marks for their clever thefts and scams - and now this was its perfection.

No longer living, they carried on in much the same way. What they stole was - did Cheap know what they stole? Life force? Whatever that meant. It was like watching junkies without knowing a thing about drugs. It was clear they were getting something they valued, but what was it?

He'd almost found out a couple of times, but junkies mustn't have had much of what they wanted. They would always ignore him once they came close enough to see how drained his soul was.

Resolve finally clamped down and he put his mind to the task at hand. Maybe he'd been on the right track to follow the girl, he thought while watching the...succubuses at work. A succubus, that was some kind of soul sucking thing. The name fit.

Succubuses? That sounded funny.

Whatever.

Messing with people had always been fun. A grin found its way onto Cheap's face as he made his purposefully insignificant way to the nearby alley.

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