“Drug addiction, small town and junkies; ‘The stuffed monkey in the dark alley’ is a raw and detailed narrative about a junkies’ life. The instability, lack of humanity and even tender moments, gives the reader an insight very different from the ones seen nightly in our local news.”
Joelcy Kay | Editor | Edge of Humanity Magazine
Written by George Gad Economou
“Yeah, I fucked up,” Peter banged the back of his head on the molded wall and let out a deep groan. His glance perused the dilapidated house with the broken windows, the cracked-up ceiling, the barely-standing walls, the bent doorframe. He rubbed his shut eyelids with his dirty index and thumb fingers and pulled the zip of his worn-out leather jacket up to the neck.
“I’ll fix everything, I promise,” he gulped and started back at the spike lying next to him on the damp floor. “This time, I fucking mean it.” He scratched his neck and shuddered; he was lying. All he did was make grand, false promises to himself, as was his wont. His arid, cracked-up lips twitched into a faint smile when he picked up and glanced into the old, black backpack—a totem of old, better (not necessarily good, though) times.
“Are you cold?” He scoffed just a moment after firing the question. “Of course you are. We used to sleep in a proper apartment, surrounded by sturdy walls, tucked in under blankets and warm covers, and…come here.” He put the worn-out, brown stuffed monkey under his jacket and embraced it, making sure its head rested on his chest.
He patted its head and leaned his head back against the wall, listening to the strong gusts whistling as they ravaged the streets outside and the cold breeze penetrating the broken windows went straight into his bones. Finally, with a tighter embrace around the stuffed monkey, he nodded off.
* * * *
“Look, man, for this kind of money,” David, the street-corner dealer, explained in a somber voice, “you can only get a gram.”
“Since when?” He demanded, running his fingers through his unwashed, long hair. “Last week, the same amount got me an 8ball.”
“Well, you know how it is, man. Prices change.”
“And what in the hell I am supposed to do with a single gram, huh?”
“Tough shit, bud. Go earn some more dough, maybe?”
“Come on, man. I’ve been panhandling for the last three goddamned hours. I need my fix.”
“Then, take the gram and fuck off. I’ve got more people waiting to get their medicine.”
“Fuck you, man,” he growled and handed the smirking man all the coins, and a couple of paper bills, he had on him, and frowned at the tiny plastic bag he held in his fingers.
“See you later, crocodile,” David shouted. While already rushing away from the street corner, Peter raised his middle finger at him.
He clambered down the dirty alley and entered the abandoned house he’d claimed as his own. He collapsed down in the corner of what used to be someone’s bedroom and took the plastic bag out of his jacket’s pocket, ripping it open as carefully as his trembling in anticipation fingers allowed.
“Shit,” he groaned as he rummaged through his stuffed backpack looking for a clean needle. A refulgent grin decorated his rugged face once he discovered one lying in the bottom and put the gram in a bottle cap, instantly putting it over the dancing flame of the lighter. Once he drew the liquid dream-maker into the syringe, his glance fell into the backpack and at the stuffed monkey peacefully resting there, carefully tucked in under an old t-shirt.
A single tear rolled down his eye when he patted its head; “I’ll quit, I promise,” he stated with quivering lips and lifted the t-shirt over its head before unzipping his jacket and taking his arm out of the sleeve. “Ah, fuck,” he leaned back against the wall and his eyes rolled to the back of his head as powerful torrents of pleasure and joy—stronger than any orgasm he ever had—traversed his body and twirled around in his brain, allowing for the world to make perfect sense once more.
* * * *
“Thank you; have a great day,” he forged a tired smile and waved at the lumbering man that tossed a few coins in his plastic cup. He kept one arm over the backpack, making sure no moron got any ideas of attempting to grab and run with it. He stole a peek into the still almost empty cup, flinching at his recollection of never giving money to beggars back when he still could be called a (semi-)respectable member of society. Three hours outside the train station, bypassed by dozens of people and he had only accumulated enough to buy a lowly gram of black-tar heroin.
Cold sweat ran down the back of his neck and his spine stiffened and shuddered; he shoved the quarters and nickles in his jacket’s pocket and clambered up to his feet, shrugging off the judgemental glares coming his way, seemingly drilling holes into his soul—if not trying to cause him to evaporate out of existence. Back during the first few months of his living out in the streets, those glares bothered him, compelling him always to take dark, lonely alleys and walk longer routes only to avoid crowds.
Without a hint of shame in his heart, he strolled down the commercial street filled with people and even smiled at some of the children that gazed at him as if he had just escaped a circus of freaks.
“You’re back!” David exclaimed with a triumphant grin and rubbed his clean, smooth hands together.
“Wh don’t you go fuck yourself?” He snapped and gave him the coins that had created a bulge in his pocket.
“Here’s your gram.”
“You’re robbing me clean, you know that, right?”
“Hey, I’m not running a charity, man. I do have to make a living, you know.”
“And I’ve gotta live.”
“How’s that my problem?”
With a solemn nod, Peter shoved the tiny plastic bag in his pocket and spun on his heels.
“Look, man,” David whispered in his ear after putting his hand on his tense shoulder, stopping him mid-step. “there is a way to get your fix for free.”
“I’m aware. Contrary to popular belief, though, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. I still hope I’ll get back on the saddle one of these days.”
“Sure, yeah,” he rolled his eyes. “At any rate, when you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“I thought you weren’t running a charity.”
“It’s not charity, asswipe. I just…well, I’ve been contacted by some new pushers; new batches that I have to know if they’re any good. And…”
“I appreciate you thinking of me. I’ll let you know once I think about it.”
“Look, they said you’ll be getting an 8ball every day; for free. They’re big game, planning on bringing new batches in every week.”
“When did we get big sharks in this shithole?”
“Don’t know why they’re here; don’t care. All I know is that working with them will do wonders to my income.”
“That’s why you charge more now.”
“I always knew you were smart. Yes, they do charge more than other pushers; they also have better stuff.”
“I guess, having drug lords doing business in our shitty town could be called progress.”
“Whatever. Think about the offer, man. It’ll be good for all of us.”
“Except if they give me a too-strong batch to test,” he rubbed his wrinkled forehead. “Okay, I’ll let you know what I decide.”
“Take care, man!” David shouted as Peter already shuffled away from the street corner, with a hungry glint in his eyes.
The sickness had gotten a too-firm grip around his soul, pushing him to trot down the small alleys despite the rising pain in his trembling legs. He finally made it home.
* * * *
With the stuffed monkey resting on his chest, safely lying under the closed jacket, his mind nodded on and off, meandering between the land of the living and the realm of the dead. Images of an apartment not too far away from where he was grew vivid in his racing imagination: a blue, worn-out couch, almost like a breathing monster, stood against the wall, on it had sat and lain many a woman. It faced two stacked bookcases, containing the radiant, effervescent words of great past heroes; one shelf was dedicated to the greatest hero of them all: booze. An academic life he had pursued, with most days spent on reading and the nights dedicated to movies and pro-wrestling.
In his philosophy classes, he tangoed with the leviathan names of the past, the tiny names of the contemporaries, trying to dredge up a niche wherein he could fit and nest. Thousands of words were typed on blinking screens and stained yellow legal pads, lines and sentences that often made no sense to no one but to him on his drunkest hour. Nothing ever came out of all those thousands and thousands of words, his thoughts and emotions poured out on algid pages. Nothing but desolation; in his self-inflicted isolation, he sought inspiration in the magical everywhere and nowhere. The means didn’t matter, as long as they were powerful enough to spark the flames of creativity.
Soon enough, booze did not suffice; plain tobacco did nothing but occasionally give him something to kill seven minutes with. Pot and blow proved good enough for a while; so did college parties and wild nights in crowded bars, almost as good as spending early mornings wide awake on the bed while a perfect stranger slept next to him. His life had become an amalgamation of philosophy, professional wrestling, classic literature, wild parties, cultural movies, and one-night-stands; he had no niche, did not belong even in the vicinity of the hall of the greats. Despair wrung his heart and a permanent weight crushed his chest.
He locked the door and windows of the apartment, shunning the world; the wealthy, generous welfare system giving monthly checks to every university student sustained him, allowing him to work on his Master’s thesis while wasting days and nights away in front of a glistening screen, dreaming of different lives and hoping he’d one day grow the balls required to board a plane and go elsewhere, start afresh and uncover the meaning of life.
Days went by without him hitting the shower; until he stopped being bothered by the noisome scent the pores of his skin emitted. The air of the apartment was enwreathed by a dense cloud of smoke that smelled of tobacco, bourbon, and dried-up vomit. Soon, the strong smell of pot was added to the cloud, and traces of blow mixed in with the dust on the floor. Finally, the glass pipe entered his life—the soul-numbing ice, the thought-murdering rock. He peregrinated all alone in a dense forest sheathed by an unforgiving mist; he didn’t yearn for the way out and remained trapped in the fog, praying to the moonless sky for answers.
It didn’t take long for junk to enter his life; a final, desperate attempt to put an end to the continuous misery. Lost already, he didn’t care about death; he cherished the idea of being carried away by the cruel angel that had too many times refused his pleas. Living in a constant high—high on everything and anything—he continued reading, writing, and studying, attempting to maintain the dying hope of one day making it.
The hope was dead, he had no chance in hell, and the stars upon which he made drunken wishes just guffawed at him, their cruel cackles reverberating across the silent, sequestered nights. He earned his Master’s and, one early hungover morning, he used it to wipe his ass and flushed it down the toilet, sending it to the sewers alongside every dream he ever had.
Jobless, almost moneyless, he still managed to find traces of hope to push him out of bed every morning and to prevent him from tying a belt around his neck. There was nothing to believe in, yet he did; some deity played a trick and he got accepted as a grad student, ready to work for the university, and on his Ph.D., about to earn more money and eventually insert his name in the halls of academia.
He still spent most nights on the worn-out couch, scrutinizing wrestling shows and attempting to comprehend the inner workings and small twists and turns that made a good match brilliant, fighting to fathom the delicate essence of storytelling. Next to him on the couch, the stuffed monkey lay, a memento of his childhood and the last remnant from a time things were actually good and the future appeared effulgent and brimful with opportunities.
Filled with shame, he’d pull the blanket over the monkey’s head before shooting the dream-maker into his vein and would sit by the flung-open window, drinking and reeling in and out of consciousness as he waited for the arrival of the fallen angel that would drag him to whatever awaited next; even Dante’s most gruesome descriptions appeared more tempting and hospitable than his everyday life.
The sun would always rise, it would stand coruscating and mocking on the sky, and he’d continue to breathe, and drink and shoot, lacking the courage to put down the final dot he yearned for on his own.
* * * *
Within his blissful junk-slumber, a deep growl reverberated; he barely stirred, dismissing the threatening, famished sound as the sound of the monster that chased him in his colorful nightmare. His eyelids fluttered and the menacing sight that penetrated his initially blurry sight thrust him back to reality. Two large dogs, whose ribs protruded through their thin skin, prowled about the house; the deep growl emerged out of the depths of the hungry soul of the mongrel standing in the doorway leading into the once upon a time bedroom.
The adrenaline his brain pumped across his body in excess destroyed the numbness and the pain and he grabbed the backpack as he leaped out of the window. Blaring barks accompanied his clumsy attempt at a spectacular escape and he dashed down the alley, managing to put the backpack’s straps around his shoulders.
Cold sweat ran down the back of his neck and for a moment his heart stopped beating; the bulge on his chest had disappeared.
He glimpsed over his shoulder and his stomach sank once he noticed the stuffed monkey lying on the dirty pavement, just a few meters behind him. The famished mongrels were but a handful of meters farther down the alley, now moving slowly toward him with their fangs exposed. His stomach whirled and the world around him spun around fast, rendering him helpless to react, let alone move.
The dogs licked their sharp teeth as they moved toward the stuffed monkey; he wiped the sweat off his burning eyes and time had stopped, everything had frozen around him. He needed to act in seconds, there was no time to think of a plan.
He lunged at the worn-out stuffed monkey and picked it up while already building up a heavy pant. The moment he picked it up from the pavement, the dogs let out thunderous barks and plunged toward him, their gnarls blaring in his throbbing head.
He tripped and barely managed to stay up on his feet, staggering about while the hot breath of the mongrels seemingly landed on the back of his neck, their snapping jaws mere inches away from his body. Death had always seemed lucrative, but he was not yet ready to lie down and give his life for a good cause—even if it was just feeding two mongrels destined, like him, to meander about the city hoping for some kindness from above.
Once he regained his balance, empowered by the survival instinct instilled in his brain by billions of years of evolution, he lunged forth, huffing and puffing. His legs were on fire and his lungs and liver throbbed in excruciating pain; he refused to stop running. What rescued him was the dogs’ starvation; they gave up on the chase, deciding he was not a worthy meal to waste their borrowed time on.
He leaned against a wall, gasping for air and holding on to his waist—his liver throbbed like it was about to explode—and peeked about. He frowned and bit his lips down when his eyes met the familiar, and heart-wrenching, sight of the port, where his ghosts remained alive and well.
Christine sat at the edge of the port, right beside him; they both stared at the sea, the large ships arriving at the port, carrying massive towers of containers with products from all corners of the world—the sailors having drunk bars dry in cities and countries he would never even come close to.
With the stuffed monkey in his hand, he moved closer to the edge of the pier and peeked inside a couple of trash cans; finding a half-eaten sandwich wrapped tightly in a paper bag filled him with more happiness than even a contract from Penguin ever would. He sat near the water, putting the stuffed monkey next to him—making sure it would not fall into the water—and had a few large bites out of the stale sandwich.
His heart still thundered behind his ear and he could not stop huffing and puffing, but, for a few moments, he had evaded the sickness. The need to survive, the exhilaration of the chase and of having to fight for his right to live, had annihilated the decimating symptoms of the sickness. Now that he could relax, the sickness returned, ravaging his body with more intensity than ever before.
He scooted a little to his left and leaned over the edge of the pier, heaving into the calm water; while he gagged on air, he watched tiny fish attacking the still-intact pieces of the sandwich floating on the water’s surface.
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he lumbered up to his feet and put the stuffed monkey in the backpack, using a t-shirt to cover it with affection and reverence. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled and, putting the backpack around his shoulders, shuffled along the pier’s edge, perusing each trash can on his way and fishing out every aluminum can and glass bottle he found. He would need to collect more than a hundred to afford just enough junk for a lousy half-fix that would partly calm down the sickness.
* * * *
He trudged along the sandy beach near the town’s center; it was still early spring and the strong breeze chilled him down to the bone, forcing him to keep his arms wrapped around his chest. In his ears blared the roar of the splashing waves intermingling with the rustling of the tree line that ran along the sand, a green barricade between blocks of cement and the open sea.
Despite the cold, sweat peppering his forehead, he shivered not from the cold air but from the algid waves of fever coming from within. He dashed to the water and plunged his face into the frigid sea, washing his beard and face and trying to lower the high fever of sickness rattling his bones and wrecking his insides.
He glared to his left once he heard some light panting and heavy footsteps on the sand. His heart’s palpitations shot off the roof and for a few moments he was incapacitated, able only to stay on his knees, letting the surf send more chills down his aching bones, as memories from other sandy beaches, in places far away physically and temporally, assaulted his whirling brain.
A single tear rolled down his blurry eyes while he stared at the middle-aged woman coming his way. He ran his fingers through his damp hair, momentarily toying with the emerging bald spot on the crown of his head before shuffling his remaining hair in order to conceal it. The woman continued walking towards him; his neck stiffened, the running sweat burned his eyes, and in just an instant, the whole world turned blurry and spinning.
The long-lost island of his childhood and early adulthood amalgamated with the beach of his today, a monstrosity born out of acid nightmares and horrid hallucinations. He drew deep breaths and failed to stir, his legs having gone too numb from the continuous hits of the icy water splashing them, and drenching his pants enough to cause them to stick to his quavering skin.
The woman kept on trudging along the sand, her face an island of serenity; her soft eyes betraying her obliviousness to the impending danger. He lumbered up to his feet, struggling to stay in an upright position, and shuffled toward her with his whirling mind moving across thoughts at impossible speed. The moment she noticed him, she tried to hasten her pace, but her feet sunk in the moist sand.
No one else was around; still too early in the year, and too cold, for beachgoers. Out of the inner pocket of his jacket, he fished out a steak knife he’d stolen from a restaurant a while back and managed to wrap his arms around the woman’s back, pressing the sharp edge of the knife against her long, shivering neck.
She wailed, he pressed the knife harder against her skin, drawing a single drop of blood, and she gave her purse up before lunging forth, her face pallid as a ghost’s. He rummaged through the purse, took the money out of the wallet, and tossed the purse and the wallet on the sand, leaving them for the seagulls.
The way back to downtown was hard, as dark thoughts and guilt riddled his already-tormented soul. He needed to survive—only by living would he ever get the chance to make things better—but he questioned whether there was true value in his desperate attempts to extend his lifespan.
Clouds appeared in the sky and soon a heavy deluge washed over the small, idyllic town. He pressed forth, despite the rain hitting his face like bullets fired out of a machine gun hell-bent on the extinction of mankind; knowing the cure to all that ailed him was to be found a couple hundred meters away filled him with determination to move forth instead of stuffing rocks in his jacket and stroll into the open sea.
* * * *
“I can’t stand this any longer,” he addressed the stuffed monkey that lay on his shoulder, only its head coming out of the zipped-up jacket. “I’ve fucked everything up and…I can’t fix things. Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s my fault, that I…all I need is a chance, an opportunity to…I don’t know anymore.
“We can’t keep going like this,” he sniffled and glanced up at the ceiling of the abandoned house. “I miss the old days, but…one day; one day, we’ll get everything back, I promise. This is not another empty promise, either; we’ll…I shall figure out a way to reclaim everything we had.”
His soliloquy turned into mumblings of no meaning as his brain kept nodding on and off; the world vanished from all around him for just a second, only to return even more infernal and ferocious. The stuffed monkey stared back at him with apathy, though he sensed its judgment piercing his soul.
He’d had it since his birth; he once considered it a lucky charm, a talisman to remind him of his lost innocence. It was, also, the only memento he had from his former life, from back when he still had a real place to call home, a place with four sturdy walls and a ceiling that wasn’t all cracked up. Now, the stuffed monkey was the only thing he had left to help him retain parts of his sanity and to give him a reason to find Hell’s emergency exit.
His eyes bulged and he sat up when footsteps resounded in the air. While he still was too numb and vulnerable, the survival instinct kicked in and allowed some clarity of mind. He put the stuffed monkey in the backpack and hurriedly covered it with the t-shirt.
“Wow, hey, I didn’t mean to scare you,” the intruder said in a mellow voice from the door opening; he already had one of the backpack’s straps over his shoulder.
“What do you want?” He snapped.
“I’m…just looking for shelter for the night,” she sighed. “I thought the place was deserted, that’s all. I didn’t know…I’ll just leave.” Her lips curled into a faint, sorrowful smile and she took a step back.
Don’t do it, he scolded himself. It’s stupid, it’s…“Wait,” he said. “You can stay, if you want. There’s plenty of space for two people.”
“Are you…sure?” She cleared her throat and stared at him, only clenching and unclenching her fists.”
“Yeah,” he nodded and ran his tongue across his arid lips.
“Alright,” she took a few steps toward him with an elegance of a deer, despite the film of emptiness over her eyes and the dirt on her skin.
He sat on the one corner of the room and hugged his backpack; he thrust one hand inside it and, as inconspicuously as possible, helped the stuffed monkey to lie properly under the t-shirt.
“Do you want some?” He asked after pulling the half-eaten sandwich he’d found earlier out of the backpack.
“I’m famished, yes,” she muttered from the other side of the room, where she sat in the corner with her knees up to her chin. “Are you sure you don’t want some?” She arched an eyebrow when he tossed her the sandwich.
“I’ve got more, I’m just not hungry right now.”
“Thanks.” Her lips tugged up into a warm grin and she wolfed the sandwich down. He didn’t mention where it’d come from; besides, food is food and when you’re starving, where it came from doesn’t always matter. “I really needed that,” she ran the back of her hand across her lips. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” he shrugged. He leaned his head against the wall and his eyes rolled to the back of his head; despite his desire to remain vigilant, and watch over the stranger, his brain had succumbed to the dream-maker coursing through his veins.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
“Define okay,” he tried to chortle but produced a dry, bone-chilling sound.
“Should I worry you’ll die during the night?”
“I probably won’t…one can never know, though.”
She didn’t respond. Once her hand went into her jacket, he straightened his back and pressed himself against the wall, with the vain hope of managing to go through it if the need arose. She merely took out a dirty glass-pipe, which she twirled in her fingers for a few moments before putting a small piece of rock in it.
“I’ve gotta say, the quality of rock has gone bad the past couple of years; they cook it up too much.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he muttered and only replied to her inquiring gaze with a shrug of his shoulders. “Don’t you think it’s funny how all these hard drugs managed to penetrate the bubble of our small town?
“I mean, you expect to find them in metropolises in the US and in Europe, but…here?”
“Drugs are everywhere,” she stated plainly and dragged long from the pipe as a crackling sound resounded in the room.
“Apparently. So, what are you trying to escape?”
“Fair enough,” he nodded and turned his gaze to the broken window and at the rain now falling softly on the town.
“You stay here often?” She broke the silence after dragging the last puff from her glass pipe.
“More or less,” he slurred and rubbed his throbbing, fluttering eyelids that refused to stay open for more than a few seconds. “We all need a place to call home.”
“I never had one. I keep moving around, sleeping wherever I can find a peaceful corner.”
“It’s probably safer than staying in one place.”
“It’s also exhausting.”
“No one said the vagabond lifestyle was meant to be fun or easy.”
“Unless you’re constantly high or drunk.”
“True; there are always moments of soberness and harsh realizations, though.”
“Ever thought of escaping…this?”
“Every time I’m sick.”
“Yup,” he bit the corner of his lips and lowered his head.
“Is there ever a reason?”
“I don’t know,” she shook her head and glanced up. “Is this house going to come down on our heads?”
“One day, it will. I doubt it’ll be tonight. Forget about the ceiling and…try and get some sleep.”
“Fine,” she sighed and laid down in the corner, curled up in the fetal position.
“I’m Peter, by the way.”
* * * *
Even as his eyelids fluttered from the sun that bathed the room with its coruscating light, the images of his nightmares continued to plague him, turning the room into a grotesque set from a horror movie come to life. He peered about with his heart banging against his ribs and she was nowhere to be found.
Sweating buckets, he searched his backpack and only let out a sigh when he ensured nothing was missing. Perhaps, her appearance had been nothing but a dream, a pleasant brief break from the bleak reality. He planted a soft kiss on the stuffed monkey’s forehead and finished the last bottle of water he had, its stale, lukewarm taste gliding down his desiccated throat like ambrosia poured straight out of Zeus’ jug.
He picked the last tiny piece of black-tar heroin he had left and brought it up to his eyes, listening to its harsh accusations blaring in his ears like thunderous yowls. He closed his fist around it and came close to tossing it out of the window. Even when engulfed by his fist, the chunk reminded him of how it had been acquired, what he did to pay for it.
The cold sweat that ran down his neck and the shivers that had all his muscles quake in violent spasms were stronger than guilt; he melted the chunk in a bottle cap and shot it.
With the spike still in his arm, he leaned back against the wall and the next breath he drew was one of freedom. Now, he could conjure a way to escape the misery.
As the world became less and less significant, his mind grew lighter and his body limp, he fathomed the pointlessness of everything; he faced the cruelty of the broken merry-go-round he rode, its joyful, circus music nothing but a mockery and a reminder of life’s absolute meaninglessness.
It felt good being at the bottom of the barrel; it felt good being buried deep into the hole of no escape. Wherefore risk breaking his bones to climb out only to fall into another bottomless well?
He scratched his arm and got up. As he meandered around the town, he washed his face and hair in a public fountain decorating the main commercial street of the town and refilled two plastic bottles with water.
He sat at the edge of the fountain and lit a cigarette, exhaling a plume of smoke at the refulgent sun that bathed the streets yellow. Scornful glares came his way in abundance; he did not care. It was a new day, offering the possibility of a fresh beginning; he wished to believe it but he couldn’t, as the vicious sickness crept back into him, poisoning whatever optimism existed in his heart out.
* * * *
“Alright, look,” he said in a low, unsteady mumble, “I’ll do it. You did say I’ll get an 8ball daily, right?”
“Yes,” David clapped him on the shoulder with a bright grin. “I’m glad you agreed, man.”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t expect it?”
“I kinda did, yes. We do go back, after all, huh?”
“Yeah, back to better times.”
“Back when we both poisoned the streets. This,” he flung his arms in the air, “is our doing, motherfucker. Our accomplishment.”
“Nothing to be proud of.”
“Yeah, well, fuck your morality. Okay, look,” he stated coldly, his grin turning into a scowl in an instant, “come back in a couple of hours; I’ll have the first sample.”
“Okay. So, I take it, shoot, and let you know what I think about it?”
“Precisely. Oh,” he snapped his fingers, “try to be here at…let’s say, three in the afternoon every day, okay? If you don’t show up on time, I’ll assume you’re dead and let the bosses know the batch was too strong.”
“Brilliant,” he scoffed and spun on his heels, lumbering back toward the broken-down house he called home.
* * * *
“Shit,” he spat in exasperation and held his breath. He tiptoed into the house, following the clanging noises coming from one of the rooms deeper within. His gaze remained glued down to the floor as he avoided anything that could produce even the faintest of sounds. He clenched his right fist to a tight ball, ready to defend the dump he had learned to call home.
A sigh of relief had his chest heave and he leaned against the door opening—that had no door like most rooms of the house—leading into the kitchen, staring at the unexpected sight in wonderment.
Once upon a time, he’d be the one working at the kitchen counter of his old apartment, preparing a nice meal while she leaned against the doorframe, staring at him with an effulgent grin. Sometimes, she’d crawl up to him and hug him from behind, trying to distract him by kissing his neck and face while he stirred the pot or slicing up vegetables. After she was gone, he stopped cooking—meals.
“What are you doing?” He asked. “Relax, it’s just me,” he added in a serene, mellow voice when her heels left the floor and all blood drained from her face.
“Oh, hey there,” Olivia mumbled in a trembling voice. “I…well, managed to get a hold of some vegetables and…well, I wanted to repay you for last night.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You let me sleep here without robbing me, raping me, or killing me…and you gave me your sandwich. For people like us, that’s a lot.”
“Yeah, guess we’re not normal people, so…kindness takes a different meaning for us.”
She simply shrugged and her lips twitched into a genuine smile.
“Need some help?” He asked.
“I’ll manage…just, please, don’t expect anything fancy. I mean, if the place had electricity, it would be great, but…”
“I think it’s been years since this place had power.”
“Kinda deduced that myself. Anyway, why don’t you have a seat? It won’t take more than a few minutes. I just have to cut the lettuce and…it’s done.”
“Are we eating it with a coat of rust?”
“The few utensils that are still in the drawers are covered in rust; and there’s no running water to do dishes.”
“I got a clean knife, two clean plates, and a piece of cloth I used to clean the counter and the table.”
“Where did you get all that?”
“I’d rather not disclose my secrets.”
“Right, stole them.”
She mixed the salad in the two plates and brought them to the small, metal table.
“Here you go. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to grab any forks, so…”
“Eating with your hands is a good way to connect with our primate nature. It actually looks good.”
“Thanks. So, how are you holding up?”
“Sorry, what? Are we having a typical dinner conversation? As in…detailing our day and shit?”
“Why not? A shot of normalcy never hurt anyone, right?”
“Fair enough,” he rolled his eyes and leaned back on the creaking chair. “I had a rather uneventful day. Went to work, took a stroll around town, then came home. And I’ve got a business meeting in about an hour.
“How’s that for normal?”
“You almost made it sound real,” she giggled, and her nose flared up.
“How about your day?”
“I went grocery shopping. And met an old friend for a brief while.”
“Wasn’t that fun…”
“Had a feeling, yes.”
“What’s the business meeting, then?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I suppose that’s the answer you’ll give if I ask how you ended up here in the first place?”
“I think normalcy’s out of the window.”
“It was nice while it lasted,” he grinned.
They ate in silence; after the plates were empty, she lit her glass-pipe and he fired up one of the half-smoked cigarettes he kept in an old pack in the breast pocket of his jacket.
“You know, I started smoking as a teenager,” he said while holding up the burning cigarette in front of his face. “Despite all other addictions that followed, I still love the fuckers.”
“Yeah, they can be quite the nasty habit,” she burst into a coughing fit once she exhaled a dense plume of blue smoke that momentarily hid her face. “By the way addictions? Plural?”
“Junk’s my number one poison, but I didn’t start with it. It came late…it was the last, and best.”
“Don’t know. It just…came along. Just like everything else, I guess.”
“Does seem innocent at first, don’t it? The whole, I’ll just give it a try, satisfy my curiosity, mentality.”
“So, crack was an experiment?”
“Kinda gave it away, didn’t I? Yeah. At first, I’d just snort some coke at parties. It was expensive, so I wanted to find something cheaper but with an equal kick. Crack-cocaine had a ring to it; I figured, you don’t get hooked on cocaine, then, it’s gonna be the same, you know?
“Well, I could not have been more wrong,” she lifted the glass-pipe with a smile emanating melancholy.
“You know,” he gave the bridge of his nose a quick rub, “I used to cook that shit, once upon a time.”
“Oh, cut the crap.”
“I mean it. I did have to find a way to sustain myself, you know? I was studying and was getting paid by the government, but I needed money for booze and my drug habits. So, I thought, why not give it a shot? It paid very well, but it’s hard work and it’s not smart being high when you cook it. The results aren’t that good, anyway.
“I couldn’t keep up with the demand, so I quit. I taught a couple of friends the trade and walked away.”
“No shit,” he nodded, staring deep into her warm, magnificent eyes.
“So, your friends are the ones cooking it up too much?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me; they are greedy bastards.”
“You should go back to cooking; you’d do us both a big favor. You’ll make some money, I’ll get better drugs.”
“If only things were that easy.”
“Maybe, they will be, one day. Don’t forget your meeting, by the way.”
“Shit, you’re right,” he leaped from the chair and dashed toward the exit, stopping abruptly on his track and returning to the kitchen. “Will I see you again?”
“I don’t know. You’ll just have to wait and see,” she waved at him with a cryptic smile on her flushed face.
* * * *
a dark, dense forest engulfed in a mist covering everything like a thick veil the sky cloudless and murk, not a single star up there nor the moon, nothing. eternal darkness and he stared right into the abyss and, as Nietzsche once claimed, the monsters stared right back, luring him into their realm. he moved forth and the stuffed monkey walked right beside him. alive and well. it wasn’t worn-out, dirty, a shell of its former self. it was brand new, its body smooth, its stuffing complete; looking exactly like it did on a photograph from when he was merely one year old and held it in his arms. back then, they were both innocent, young, ready to conquer the world. he remained the worn-out, broken vessel carrying around a wizening soul, but the monkey had reverted to its former self reflecting all the dead dreams, the broken promises, the murdered hopes.
they roamed around the forest, the monkey close to him, holding him by the ankle, both accommodating their pace to keep up with each other. within the mist shadows moved, calling him with low whispers that belonged to long-forgotten voices, erased smiles, and kisses whose taste had dissipated from his lips a long time ago. they were everywhere, their touches made his skin crawl, he shuddered under every kiss on his neck, quavered from the hands massaging his back.
he was all alone, girdled by company; in the distance, he saw the apartment at Dryos where many summers were spent; a small beach covered in algae, where kisses had been exchanged under the sanguine light of a setting sun. the streets of childhood in Athens, where dreams had been born, where hope remained in the air mingling with the inspiring voices of the ancient. he gallivanted the streets haunted by genius ghosts, re-visiting the places of youth: the bar wherein he and his best friend first tasted sweet intoxication at the age of fourteen; the motorway traversing the city, which they crossed during a drunken drive with no recollection of how they pulled it off and got home safe and unscathed.
suddenly, the small apartment at Aarhus emerged out of thin air; the blue, stained couch, the stacked bookcases, the office facing the window and the small street underneath it. it was all alive, back, the place he refused to call home despite it being one for too damn long. lying on the couch, the stuffed monkey under the blanket, watching a movie or pro-wrestling; the monkey in the closet, nestled under stacks of underwear, whenever a woman arrived; he sat at the desk, battling with the page, trying to bring the dream to life like a Dr. Frankenstein gone insane by drugs.
the streets came to life, witnessed from rusty benches, sleeping under blankets made of snow. his books gone, the tv, the computer, everything gone; everything but the omnipresent stuffed monkey. cooking crack in the old kitchen; quitting the business, too high on junk and nodding off while cutting coke can be lethal, in many ways. it’s all back, intertwining inside the mist, many visions turning into one until the puzzle collapsed and everything was once more gone.
the shadows, the voices, the kisses of lovers past, the nights sleeping next to strangers, and the nights sleeping alone because he was tired of company and of people; all gone. the mist swallowed the forest and he was all alone in the complete darkness. only the stuffed monkey remained, faithful companion till the very end, and they stepped into nothingness when a faint light appeared; growing stronger, he heard music and saw the faces of all the heroes and past masters, they called him over and he dashed forth.
the light became more distant the faster he galloped, the bar was still visible an old man poured him a beer and he beckoned him over he ran couldn’t reach there was nothing but the bar and the monkey ran and he ran and the bar was there and the old man stood at the entrance,
his ugly mug twitching from a smile someone else appeared, a bulldog of a man and they were all there, inside the bar more awaited and he ran and the monkey ran both getting closer the bar almost reached the ultimate goal achieved at last in nothingness happiness exists and the eternal darkness appeared more lucent than life
* * * *
His eyelids fluttered and through the initial blurry film that covered his eyes he encountered the familiar crack-riddled ceiling of the abandoned house; he winced when he lifted his arm to rub his throbbing forehead and pulsating eyes.
“Take it easy,” a gentle voice whispered and a soft hand cupped the back of his head, tenderly lifting his neck and helping him sit up.
“What happened?” He managed to push the words out of his arid throat and mouth.
“Have this,” she handed him a bottle of water. “Easy now, just a small sip.”
“What in the hell happened?” He demanded again.
“You OD’ed,” she scolded him.
“Fortunately, I came by, saw you lying here half-dead, and I dashed down to the corner. Got you this,” she showed him the empty syringe of Narcan, “from some med-students that hang around, trying to get into Heaven by helping people. How are you feeling?”
“They mentioned it’d be a possibility,” she nodded.
“Thanks, I guess,” he muttered while staring at his quaking, sweaty hands.
“Don’t mention, it,” she rubbed his tense shoulder and her lips curled up in a sorrowful, yet still beautiful, smile. “Take it easy now, have some water and try to relax.”
“Maybe, you’re right,” he nodded and opened the backpack the moment she was out of the room. “You would not believe where we were, what we…” He bit his lips down and continued caressing the stuffed monkey’s head while some tears streamed down his eyes.
He tucked it back under the t-shirt and closed the backpack’s zip before burying his face in his palms, allowing the tears to stream down his eyes. He could not stop thinking of the crowded bar, all his heroes boozing eternity away and waiting for him to join them. It was too tempting to return, to…what would happen to the stuffed monkey if he was gone? Some other desperate junkie would ransack the backpack and would toss the stuffed monkey away without a second thought. He fished out of his pocket the gram that remained from the 8ball of junk that almost sent him to the glorious bar.
He lit the lighter under the bottle cap, caring only about curing the excruciating sickness—the potential ramifications of shooting that gram were locked away from his thoughts. He drew the melted junk in the syringe and flickered his fingers on the needle.
“What the fuck are you doing?” She bawled from under the doorframe.
“If two and a half grams killed me, one gram will do the trick,” he explained with a shrug. “It’s just a more potent batch, that’s all.”
“I’m not saving your life again, mister,” she tried to sound stern, but her voice, like her lips, trembled when the needle pierced his vein.
* * * *
“Why, good morning,” she chirped and her smile illumined her face, and the entire kitchen. “Here, I got this for you,” she offered him a plastic cup of coffee. “Though, I’m afraid it’s probably gone cold by now.”
“Yep, cold,” he nodded after a sip. “It’s all right. Thanks.”
“Figured you could use something to cheer you up; considering you died yesterday and whatnot.”
“Almost died,” he corrected her. “By the way, what time is it?”
“It was one in the afternoon when I came here, so…I don’t know. About two?”
“I’ve got some time, then.”
“Time for what?”
“I’ve got a meeting at three, that’s all.”
“Thank you, by the way, again, for…yesterday, for…being here.”
“Don’t mention it. You’d have done the same for me.”
“How can you be so sure? I mean…I would have, yes, but still…”
“I see it in your eyes. Living on the streets, all the drugs you do…they haven’t yet managed to eviscerate who you are. There’s still something in you from who you used to be,” she averted her gaze from him and bit the corner of her lips.
“Right,” he rubbed his eyebrows. “Are you going out later today?”
“I don’t know. Don’t think so; got my fix earlier. Why?”
“I just…well, I was thinking if I could leave my backpack here, with you, when I go to my meeting. I mean, there’s no point in me carrying it around if you’ll stay here to look after it.”
“Oh, okay, sure. No problem. By the way, is this your way of ensuring I stick around?”
“Maybe,” he smirked. “Thanks.”
“Looks like we’re in this together,” she tossed him a wink and tied her long, black hair into a ponytail.
“Does look like it,” he concurred and shambled into the bedroom. “It’ll only be for a few minutes, okay?” He whispered to the stuffed monkey. “And, don’t worry, Olivia is nice, nothing will happen.”
“Who are you talking to?” She asked.
“Jesus,” he jumped and put his hand on his chest, feeling his palpitating heart. “You walk like a fucking deer; how can you be so silent?”
“Thanks for the compliment,” she took a light bow. “So, who were you talking to?”
“No one, I…all right, look. I’ll tell you but…don’t laugh, okay?”
“I promise I’ll try not to,” she nodded and scratched the back of her neck.
“Okay…I was talking to her…it,” he changed the pronoun hastily after taking the stuffed monkey out of the backpack.
“Her?” She arched her eyebrow and crossed her arms around her chest.
“It’s a linguistic thing,” he shrugged. “The word monkey in Greek uses female pronouns. Hence…”
“Okay, so you speak Greek and walk around with a stuffed animal in your backpack. I learn something new about you every day, it seems.”
“Yeah, I’m a junkie full of surprises. No laughing, remember?”
“Okay, okay,” she cleared her throat. “So what’s its…sorry; what’s her story?”
“I’ve had it since I was a baby, that’s all. It’s the one thing I’ve got left from…well, from before I became a squatter, living in an abandoned house in skid row.”
“Fair enough. It explains why you’re so protective of that damn backpack. In the beginning, I thought you hid gold or something in there, with the way you held onto it.”
“Would I be here, if I possessed gold or jewelry?”
“You could have been one of those weirdo rich guys trying to understand poor people,” she pouted. “Okay, I’ll look after her while you’re gone,” she smiled and extended her arm towards him.
“Okay,” he let out a heavy sigh and handed the stuffed monkey to her. His lips tugged up into a smile when she took it in her arms with careful, tender movements. “I won’t be late.”
“We’ll be here, waiting for you,” she chortled and waved the stuffed monkey’s arm goodbye at him.
* * * *
“Must you cover her eyes whenever you shoot?”
“Old habits die hard,” he shrugged and looked down to make sure the stuffed monkey lay hidden under his jacket. Then, he thrust the needle in the protruding vein in his hand.
“How come you never named it? Most kids give names to their stuffed animals.”
“Never thought of it. I was just content using the Greek word for monkey, I guess.”
“To each their own,” she smirked and rested her head on his shoulder. “Told your dealer about you OD’ing?”
“Yeah. I shouldn’t have, though. Now, he’ll tell the dealers to cut it more; an 8ball of the batch that nearly killed me would suffice me for a whole day; I wouldn’t have to pay for junk anymore.”
“Focus on the important, please. It nearly killed you.”
“Sure, but…it didn’t. Okay, fine, thanks to you, but still.”
“So, you’re still getting an 8ball for free?”
“Yeah. Why would they seek another tester? I’ve proven I can come back from the grave.”
“I won’t always be around, you know.”
“Planning on leaving, then?” He turned to look at her, then immediately hung his head, drawing a deep breath.
“Not really but…you never know what will happen. Crack kills, too.”
“So do cars, heart attacks, the sea…pretty much everything in this world can kill you.”
“Fine,” she licked her lips and thrust her hand inside his jacket, cupping the stuffed monkey’s head. “I think she’s better off than us; at least, she’s been taken care of.”
“Having even the illusion of responsibility helps me maintain my sanity; if we can call all this sane, that is.”
“Don’t get stuck in definitions; they don’t matter.”
They both closed their eyes and quickly fell to sleep; she rested her head on his shoulder while he had wrapped his arm around her waist. They both caressed the stuffed monkey lying on his chest, and their fingers touched on occasion, lighting up sparks of warmth and affection in both their hearts.
* * * *
For about a week, life progressed slowly, as it tends to do when there’s nothing left standing. They scoured the streets together, rummaging trash cans for things to sell and for food; they fed their addiction and they tried, within their limited means, to restore the abandoned house to a state that would resemble a true home—including fixing a couple of the broken/missing windows.
“By the way,” she said as they sat at the kitchen table, whereon the stuffed monkey also sat, observing them sipping on their warm coffees, “I heard a dealer was found dead last night.”
“Really?” He lifted his gaze off the newspaper he’d laid down on the table.
“Heard some mumbling earlier about it, when I went to get my fix. Apparently, there’s been an influx of wannabe drug lords and it causes tensions.”
“What kind of morons would want to establish a drug empire in this tiny shithole?”
“I guess, they think it’s small enough to be low-profile while still a great spot to help them expand into the rest of Scandinavia; perhaps Germany, too. Either way, this is not the kind of town authorities would first come to look for the big fish…does it make sense?”
“Yeah, I think it does.”
“Besides, the guys whose junk you’re tasting must be pretty big players; I mean, they bring new batches by the key every day.”
“Seems so, yes. Their stuff is high quality, too.”
“So far, no more OD’s, either; that’s the great news.”
“I do feel a bit guilty for not always being truthful about the strength of their batches. I’m quite accustomed and have a high tolerance, but rookies might OD even by a gram of some of their stuff. It does feel a little too strong when I test it.”
“Why don’t you tell them?”
“Because, when I do, I get weaker batches and I am compelled to spend money to get a proper fix.”
“Live and let die,” she scowled.
“I don’t like it, either, but…well, it is better when I spend the money I make through panhandling for food instead of junk, right?”
“Considering I still spend most of the money I make on rock…yes. I do hate admitting it, just to be clear.”
“Okay, I’ve gotta go,” he stated while still laughing. “I gotta go report my impression on yesterday’s batch and get my new sample.” He clambered up to his feet and planted a kiss on the stuffed monkey’s head. “You both behave while I’m gone, okay?” He tossed her a wink and leaned forth to kiss her cheek; she turned her head and their lips touched.
For a few moments, they both remained petrified, staring into each other’s eyes.
“Okay, I do have to go,” he repeated with a quivering voice and took a few steps back.
“Yep, I…and I’ve gotta…I’ll just wait here,” she smiled and ran her fingers through her hair.
“See you soon,” he headed out of the house and licked his lips; he tasted stale coffee, cheap rock, and something he couldn’t identify but which made the day appear brighter than it ever had before.
* * * *
“I’m back!” He exclaimed cheerfully when he stepped back into the house. His eyebrows reached the beginning of his receding hairline when he was met with nothing but silence; the house was too still and quiet, too empty. Even the air had grown heavier and it crushed his chest. He peeked into every room with his heart thundering behind his ear as he moved around the house.
Olivia was nowhere to be found. His backpack remained in the corner of the bedroom, but her few things were missing. Panting heavily, he dashed to the kitchen; it was empty except for the stuffed monkey sitting on Olivia’s chair; a small piece of paper lay on its lap.
With quaking hands, he grabbed the paper and took the stuffed monkey in his arms.
I’m sorry; it felt too real, too normal. it’s not right; not under these circumstances. thank you for everything, take care and please don’t die.
He clenched his fist around the paper that rustled under his skin and his heart sank. He placed the stuffed monkey on the table and he collapsed on the chair, staring at it; there was nothing he could do but let a flood of tears roll down his bloodshot eyes.
He put the entire 8ball he’d gotten in a bottle cap and heated it up; he injected it right after safely tucking the stuffed monkey in under his jacket.
* * * *
He woke up drenched in cold sweat and with his heart palpitating in his chest. A nearby thunder caused the house to shake down to its foundations. He could hardly breathe and his hands quaked violently. With quick moves, he took the stuffed monkey out of his jacket, placed it on the floor, and crawled to the opposite corner to heave.
With the back of his hand, he wiped his dry lips and returned to the stuffed monkey, taking it in his arms while the room spun around him in high velocity. He searched his pockets frantically, failing to find even a trace of junk. He had no spit to swallow and no water with which to wet, even just a little, his dry throat.
He grabbed two t-shirts from the backpack and wrapped them around the stuffed monkey, making sure it sat comfortably and snuggly against the wall with only its head exposed.
“I’ll be right back, don’t worry,” he whispered, kissed its head, and dashed out of the house, desperate for another fix to kill the sickness. The rain intensified and the walls of the house creaked; the window frame of the bedroom began succumbing to the strong wind.
“Hey, Peter, what the fuck are you doing here?” David asked, genuinely astonished.
“I need some more junk, man. Desperately.”
“How much can you give me for free?”
“For free?” He chuckled dryly.
“Look, I don’t have any money on me, man. I’m…I’m just sick, I can’t take it…just give me tomorrow’s sample now.”
“Did you already shoot what I gave you?”
“That’s not the problem right now, man, just…” He paused when the growling engine of a speeding car broke the silence of the rainy night.
“Who the hell is speeding in this shitty weather?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Peter shrugged. “Will you give me my…”
“What the fuck?” They both uttered when a sports car emerged drifting from around the corner, with three masked figures leaning out of the windows and wielding automatic weapons. The few pedestrians bracing the storm screamed and wailed as they tried to disperse. A blaring cacophony of dozens of shootings filled the air; in seconds, the shooting ceased. Three bullets had gone into Peter’s body, two in the stomach and one in the chest.
The heavy rain soaked him as he lay on the pavement, just a part of the writhing crowd of the dead and dying. He coughed and a fountain of dark blood gushed out of his lips. His mind traveled to Olivia and the sole kiss they had exchanged, which had lasted only for a fraction of a second. His slowing down heart twitched when he remembered the stuffed monkey, now sitting helplessly in the abandoned house, wrapped in two t-shirts and no one to take care of it.
It was the last promise he would ever break and the darkness engulfed him.
The window frame caved in from the winds and the first drop of rain entered the house; it landed on the stuffed monkey’s head and rolled down its face.
Text © George Gad Economou
George Gad Economou holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy of Science and resides in Athens, Greece, doing freelance work whenever he can while searching for a new place to go. His novella, Letters to S., was published in Storylandia Issue 30 and his short stories and poems have appeared in literary magazines, such as Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, The Edge of Humanity Magazine, and Modern Drunkard Magazine. His first poetry collection, Bourbon Bottles and Broken Beds, has been published by Adelaide Books.
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