Sunday, June 27, 2010

Golgotha: Chapter 5

Javier Santiago had been called many things in his life, but brave was never one of them. It was his first instinct upon being faced with what he thought was a vengeful spirit to run. He went with it. He managed not to scream. He was already running down the dingy stairs before the Night Rain had come out into the hallway. He looked back briefly and saw the dark figure with the flashing red eyes. He immediately turned his attention back to not falling down the stairs.

“They always run.” Wade Granby muttered under the suit. He had switched the armor’s voice modulation aspect off. The only person that could here him was a man sitting at a computer consol miles away monitoring the action through the armor’s sensor array.

“That’s one thing about pretending to be a ghost, Wade, you get no shortage of cardio chasing down frightened suspects.” Eric Granby sat behind the consol and memories of his tenure as the ‘Ghost of Quadesport’ ran through his mind. He had chased done more than his fair share of people before turning the role over to his son.

“Well, this guy is pretty damn fast.” Wade leapt into the stairwell, taking entire flights of stairs at a time. He had done this hundreds of time, and he knew he would be upon his target in a matter on minutes.

Javier continued running. He was panicked and the only direction he was heading was out of the building. He was already breathing hard. There was only one more flight of stairs left then just a quick sprint to the street. He thought he would be safe once he was out of the building. He had no reason to think that, but his mind was already over tasked with everything that was happening. He was having enough trouble wrapping his mind around what had happened in the alley, or whatever else had gone on during his blackouts. Now, the Ghost of Quadesport was after him. Javier was not sure that he believed in ghosts, but he knew something was after him and it scared him. He made it to the bottom floor, the sole of his shoe slapping the dirty tiles.

He suddenly knew something was coming. It was not the shadowy figure pursuing him. It was something new. He also became aware that he had stopped running. He had made it to the hall and was within a few yards of the door he had been scrambling desperately to get to. He saw the door, and then he started not to see the door. The last thing he was fully aware of was him turning against his will to face the red-eyed thing behind him.

The red-eyed phantom stopped as well at the bottom of the stairs. The man he had been chasing down was facing him now. Santiago had been a bit hunched over when he first saw him. He now stood straight. His face was expressionless, and his stringy black hair hung in it a bit. Santiago was certainly a thin man, but the way he stood gave an impression of confidence and strength.

“Dad, you seeing this?” The helmet’s display gave Wade plenty of information. He was able to track Santiago’s every move with it. Now in a clear line of sight the displays dumped every bit of information onto the mini-screens in front of Wade’s eyes. It also sent the information to Eric Granby’s screens where he advised and watched his son.

“His pulse and heart rate just dropped significantly.” The senior Granby noted. “You usually only see a heart rate like this from professional athletes. His core temperature is now steady at ninety-six six. Watch yourself, son.”

“You run drugs for The Crew, Santiago.” Wade said through the voice modulator. It made him sound inhuman, but if that fazed Santiago he did not show it. “Butch Kerns was murdered last night. You know who did it.”

“No.” Santiago said barely above a whisper. Wade’s helmet picked up and amplified Santiago’s words. “Butch Kerns died long before last night.” Wade was taken aback. He had been bluffing, hoping to panic Santiago into giving up information.

“Wade, this is wrong on a ton of levels. I’m seeing weird EM readings strobing off this guy. He’s got to be enhanced.” Eric was starting to worry for his son. He knew Wade had the best training possible, even better than he had when he was his son’s age. Still, he felt a very noticeable chill in his spine even in a safehouse miles away. More and more people were becoming more than people. Javier Santiago seemed to fall into that category.

“You’re not leaving until you tell me what you know.” Wade snarled and his altered voice echoed through the building startling even the most drugged out residents. He clinched his fists and prepared to charge the thin man in front of him.

“Yes.” Santiago responded. “I am.”

* * * * *

“Well?” Dennis Yi asked as he stood in the alleyway where Butch Kerns had been murdered. This case already had him in a surly mood, and the possibility of something supernatural being involved did not help his disposition one bit.

“You really can’t see it?” Lurch Rollins asked as he looked up from the dingy slush towards his fellow detectives.

“So help me, Lurch.” His partner, Phil Escobar, snapped, “If you start going on about some freaky vision thing again I’m having the LT drug test you.”

“Fine.” Lurch uttered as he pulled a handheld device from his coat pocket. “You know what this is, right?”

“That’s the EM detector.” Dennis answered. “You can measure electromagnetic signatures with it.”

“Exactly.” Lurch knelt in the icy alley and held the device right where they had found Butch Kerns’ body. He turned it on and it immediately came to life, buzzing loudly. The small meter on it was fully illuminated. “There is a ley line that runs not more than three blocks from here right through the city. It fluctuated right around the victim’s time of death.”

“So you’re saying something supernatural killed Kerns?” Dennis was wishing that he had not volunteered to accompany Lurch and Phil to the crime scene. His partner, Sharon, was still at the station checking some more files before calling it a night. She had a better disposition about dealing with cases that go bump in the night.

“Definitely possible.” Lurch stood up and turned the device off. “Dennis, are you sure Butch Kerns was human?”

* * * * *

Pilar Ruiz was trying to enjoy an old movie in her living room. As much as she wanted to lose herself in the film, she found herself distracted. Javier showing up at her doorstep had been a surprise, but she knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. It dredged up a slew of bad memories that she had wanted to stay buried. Javier was not the one who had gotten her hooked on heroin, but he certainly was not the one who helped her quit either. They had lived in the apartment together for over a year. They claimed to love each other, but really all they were to each other was someone to help pay the bills and shoot up with.

Pilar finally quit using after waking up on the floor next to Javier in a pool of vomit and to that day she was not sure whose vomit it was. Detox was hard. Rehab was harder. Not one day went by when she did not want to shoot up. Fortunately Pilar’s reason kept that urge in check. She buried herself in her job to keep herself distracted. Workaholics live longer than drug addicts. The new vice worked well for her. Her supervisors took notice of her new drive and initiative. Within a few months she found herself able to pay her bills and her rent all by herself. She was well on her way to getting out of the debt she had racked up while she was using, to the point that she was happy to answer her phone not worried that it would be a bill collector on the other end of the line.

But then there came the knock on the door, and sure enough there was her junkie ex-boyfriend collapsing in front of her. She was mentally kicking herself for not calling the police. But she let him sleep in her bathroom and gave him some breakfast the next morning while kicking him out. Had she known she would be dwelling on her past so much after seeing him she would have slammed the door in his face.

Her heart skipped and she gasped when there was a knock on her door. She clenched her teeth. She decided that if it were Javier on the other side of the door that she would call the police. She got up and adjusted the plush blue robe she was wearing before starting towards the door.

She did not make it four steps before the door was smashed off its hinges. She screamed as splinters of wood from the frame cascaded across her living room. Two men were entering the room. One was older and wearing a dress shirt and slacks under a heavy overcoat. He was rather pale with sharp features and short cropped brown hair. The other man was larger with a shaved head that had a tattoo of Japanese Oni mask on the side of it. He was wearing heavy street clothes, which despite being loose fitting did not hide the fact that he was thickly muscled.

Pilar did not have time to demand who they were before the larger man spoke.

“You can blame Santiago for this.”

Pilar did not make it to the phone.

About this month's artist: Marty Nozz writes this stuff, and is going to try to start posting these again on a regular basis.

Monday, March 8, 2010

GolGotha: Chapter 4

The factory had been a Crew headquarters for just over a year. It originally had been used to make engine parts for ships, but had closed down two decades previously. There had been some attempts to move a new company in, but refitting the old building was not considered cost effective. As such, it sat waiting to eventually be demolished when someone finally got around to it, but in the meantime it served the Crew well. They kept the operation there small, only keeping what they needed there. Mostly it was a spot for getting drugs in, sorting them and getting them to the dealers.

Despite a bitter cold outside, business was going quite well. The Crew had some of their people working that evening. Mostly they were sorting a shipment of cocaine they had just received. They mixed the cocaine with baby powder to get more volume to sell. There were fires burning in fifty-five gallon drums to provide warmth. Hip-hop music emanated from a radio that sat on a table next to packages of drugs. The bass from the stereo filled the air. Amazingly enough, the people in the factory were still holding conversations as business was being conducted despite the noise that passed for music.

There were guards there, and they were armed. They displayed their pistols openly. Despite knowing everyone that was at the factory they still had their guard up. A few did so because that’s what they were paid to do. The rest were more interested in maintaining their tough persona. It was no surprise that it was one of the former who saw it coming.

It was just glimpse. Just enough out of the corner of his eye to get his attention. Just enough to get him to aim his gun at what he saw. Just enough to get him to pull the trigger after he called out to what he thought he saw and all he got in response was low laughter that he still heard somehow over the music. He was chilled to the bone when the laughter continued after he fired. The burn barrel near him did not help at all. Others were flocking to him. There were questions yelled at him. Guns were drawn. Everyone was on edge. The noise drowned out the laughter, but that first guard knew it was still there. His demands that everyone be quiet fell on deaf ears.

No one else heard the laughter until the radio was silenced. None of the crew had turned it off. They did not see what had, but they all heard the laughter then. It echoed off the walls making it nearly impossible to figure out where it was coming from. The gang began to murmur. Some thought it was the police. Some thought it was the Night Rain come for them. It was one of the younger gangbangers, still a teenager, which fired the first shot. It was the opening of the chorus of gunfire. Bullets flew in all direction, hitting walls and crates. They ricocheted off the old machinery. It didn’t stop until one of the ricochets clipped someone in the arm. Miraculously, despite well over a hundred rounds being fired, no one was killed.

None to the gang members there walked out of that building. The ones that survived said they were attacked. They said it looked like a man with long, stringy black hair. None of them said it was actually a man.

* * * * *

Dennis Yi was sick of coffee. He made a mental note to buy out the store of their supply of green tea. He and Sharon had been through over a pot of coffee since they returned to the station. Despite that, he was still ready to go to sleep right there at his desk. This was mostly due to fatigue and sleep deprivation, but the thought that sleeping would be more productive than what he was doing at the station was the dominant thought in his head.

Butch Kerns had plenty of connections and most of them had records. There was nothing obvious, and the thought of tracking down the dozens of scumbags to question them was not an appealing thought. None one on the list seemed like the type to willing to tell the police where they were at any given time, much less the night of a murder.

Dennis was hunkered over his computer. Sharon was standing next to him in the Special Crimes Unit office moving files and pictures around on the wall touch screen by her desk, sifting through all the data looking for anything that may help. They were both about to call it a night when two more of the detectives shambled in. Phil Escobar and “Lurch” Rollins both looked tired. Phil’s expression seemed like his mood matched Dennis’s. Lurch rarely showed much emotion on his face and that night was no exception.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Phil said as he checked his watch. He set his coat over the back of his chair, and them flopped down in it. The thick, scruffy looking Cuban was never really one to mince words. “And what happened to the coffee? Did Jack drink it all again and not brew another pot?”

Dennis and Sharon glanced at each other briefly. Jack Wesley was one of the newer unit members and drank enough coffee that it was theorized that a blood transfusion from him would keep a normal person awake for three days. “Yes.” They answered in unison.

Lurch did not say a word before heading off into the adjoining room. Dennis cocked an eyebrow knowing what the unit kept in that room.

“We’re working the Kerns homicide, and getting nowhere fast.” Sharon said, answering Phil’s first question. “How about you two?”

“I’m here because God hates me and sent Lurch to torture me for all my sins and misspent youth.”

“I can hear you.” Lurch called from the next room.

“I know.” Phil snapped back, reminding everyone that he is cranky when he is tired. “Lurch says something’s up and hauled me up here to dig some stuff out of the Voo Doo Locker.” The Unit did indeed handle specialized cases. Most of the force knew that there were plenty of things out there that haunted the shadows of the city. Dennis learned the hard way after he had emptied a full clip of bullets into a man who was attacking a woman in an alley, only to have that man jump right back up and run like hell. The Unit had been put together years before to handle things like that, and their equipment for doing so was by no means regulation. Lurch emerged with what looked like some scrolls and a brown, leather satchel.

“Something is up. Every Ley Line in a hundred miles fluctuated. That doesn’t happen for no reason and there were no reasons scheduled.” Lurch was very well versed in these matters. When asked how he knew about these things, his answer was always ‘college’. He was a tall imposing man, which was the main reason he had gotten his nickname. He was always dressed professionally. It was rumored that Phil had seen him without a tie on once. “There’s plenty of things that could cause this, and the vast majority of them shouldn’t be ignored.”

“So, when did this all happen?” Dennis asked as his bloodshot eyes tired to focus on his computer screen.

“Last night.”

* * * * *

Javier did not remember how he gotten on the rooftop he found himself on. The night cold grabbed him immediately. He quickly found the fire escape and descended down into the alley and out of the biting wind. He did not notice a small red stains on his hands and jacket. His head hurt and his vision was still a little blurry, but that passed soon enough. By the time he had reached the pavement, he felt completely coherent. This was new. He had not felt that way in years. His mind was racing, wondering how he had gotten there. He recognized the street he was one once he emerged from the alley. The building he was squatting at was only a couple blocks away.

He was halfway there before he realized that he was not thinking about shooting up.

Javier’s knew something was happening to him, but he did not know what. He had blacked out before, but not like this. He could remember bits and pieces, but it was memories of the sensation of movement. He knew he had been doing something, but he did not know what. He thought about visiting the free clinic to see if they could help, but spontaneous sleepwalking seemed a bit out of their league.

The building he was staying in was a dilapidated, six-story, brick monstrosity with featured that could be improved with high explosives. There were still a few apartments in it that functioned and some poor souls actually paid money to stay in them. Javier stayed there to keep a roof over his head and to keep the winter wind from cutting through him. He ascended to the fourth floor. The building was quiet at that hour. His door was unlocked just as he had left it.

The room was only illuminated by the streetlights that shone dimly through the window. The apartment had no electricity, but it did have running water most days. Javier was tired and was eager to get to the dingy mattress he slept on. He hoped that another junkie had not decided to crash there and claim it.
There was someone else there. It was not another squatter. Javier could barely see him as he stood in the middle of the dark room. He thought for a moment that he was imagining it until two red eyes flashed in the darkness. A voice that could not possibly be human pierced the cold air.

“I have questions for you, Javier Santiago.”

About this month's artist: Bridget once snorted orange-flavored Pixie Stix dust when she was younger, simply because someone dared her to. Not only would she be sneezing orange for a week after the incident, but many would blame the act for her current mental state. All evidence suggests otherwise, proving she was never the brightest sandwich in the galaxy even before the lapse in judgment.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Golgotha: Chapter 3

Detective Dennis Yi was still in a bad mood. He had not gotten much sleep. His morning regiment of tai chi managed to get him through the early part of the shift, but as the afternoon wore on he found himself weary and ready to call it a day. Fortunately his partner, Sharon Montessi, was well rested and was nice enough to buy Dennis what was to be the fifth cup of coffee of the afternoon.

They had spent the morning looking up information on the victim. James “Butch” Kerns had recently done a stretch in prison for possession and assault. Seems it did not take him very long to get back together with his old crew once he got released. A Glock was found at the scene. It was currently being checked for fingerprints, but there were traces of gunpowder on Kerns’ hand so it was most likely his. His neck had been snapped and that was likely the cause of death. Hopefully there would be more information soon.

Kerns was big man. His size, muscle and disposition to use both worked him up the ranks in the Crew, which was one of the street gangs that were looking to try to get control of the narcotics racket in Quadesport. Kerns was labor, not management. Seemed the management liked him though. There were a lot of rumors and allegations about Kerns but not a lot of evidence.

Dennis and Sharon had revisited the crime scene. Forensics still had not found either of the bullets from gun, which was bit surprising since there was not a lot of room in the alleyway. It was just another piece missing to the puzzle.

“This is getting us no where.” Dennis said between sips of coffee.

“Relax Den. It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours yet. We’ll have something soon.” Sharon was looking at the surroundings as she spoke to her partner. There had been rumors as to their partnership. Sharon was an olive-skinned, buxom brunette who knew how to use her looks and charm to her advantage. Dennis was a trim man and not very striking in appearance. He had heard repeatedly how lucky he was to have Sharon for a partner. He was indeed lucky. Sharon Montessi was third generation police and one of the finest detectives Dennis had ever worked with. She was certainly easy on the eyes, but when Dennis looked at her all he saw was the best partner he’d ever had.

“I’m just not seeing this.” Dennis said as he looked at where it had marked where the body was found.

“I’m having trouble walking through it myself. Kerns is confronted here. He’s armed. He shoots, but we can’t find the bullet. There’s blood, but that’s from Kerns.” She looked to Dennis. “He hemorrhaged, right?”

“That’s what they’re saying. His neck broke and something burst inside him. It caused blood to come out of his mouth and nose as he was lying there.”


“We’ve seen worse.”

“Still ick.”

“But how did his neck break? Our witness said the man confronting Kerns was trim. Kerns is a big bastard. I don’t think the other guy broke it.”

“It’s pretty icy out here. He could have slipped. Broke it in the fall.” Sharon did not bother looking at Dennis and cut him off before he could reply. “I know. That’s ridiculously thin.”

“I think we should shelve the ‘how’ and try to get at the ‘why’.”

“You’re just saying that so we can get back to our desks and out of the deep freeze.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Hell no.” She answered. “It’s freaking freezing out here. Let’s go see what we can dig up on our dead guy’s friends list.”

* * * * *

Javier spent the day scared. He was afraid to go back to the building he had been squatting at. While his memories of the previous night were hazy at best he remembered enough to know that people were not happy with him. He knew there would be risks selling drugs for the Crew, but their money was good they had plenty of heroin not only for profit, but also for his own personal habit. He knew it was stupid to use what he was told to sell, but he did not think they would try to kill him for it.

His thoughts bounced back in forth between wondering how he was going to survive his angry employers and trying to figure out where his next hit would be coming from. Most of the other dealers he knew already worked for the Crew so it would be stupid to go to them. He sat in a church basement eating surprising decent vegetable soup as he pondered this. He was surprised how hungry he was, and how good everything tasted.

He knew the church well. He would come into their soup kitchen on a regular basis. Seemed that no matter how much dope he sold he never had enough money to feed himself and his habit. The staff typically gave him his food and left him alone. When he first started coming to the soup kitchen councilors would come and try to talk to him. The attempts became less frequent as the months went on.

Javier looked up from his soup to see one of the councilors looking at him. He knew the man from his previous visits, but couldn’t recall his name. The councilor looked at him curiously. The man was stout and appeared to he in his fifties. His deep dark eyes peered at Javier over his glasses that rode low on his nose. His black hair was gray at his temples and a bit of the gray had crept into his mustache. The man approached, and Javier felt immediately uncomfortable.

“Hello, Javier.” He said softly in a deep baritone voice. He stood across the table from Javier and gripped the back of a chair as if he was preparing to pull it out to sit, but was waiting for an invitation.

“Hi… um… how do you know my name?” Javier stammered. The confusion was obvious on his face.

“We’ve spoken many times.” The man said after a heavy sigh. “I’m Silas. I’m one of the councilors here at St. Gregory’s.”

“Yeah. I know that much.” Javier was feeling nervous and embarrassed. “Sorry, I’m not very good at names.”

“It’s alright. May I sit?” Silas asked gently, fully prepared for Javier to tell him ‘no’.

“Um… sure… I guess.” Javier felt bad. He knew he was in for a lecture and to be bombarded with information about support groups. Silas sat down across from him and looked Javier over as if he was studying him.

“How’s the soup?” Silas asked as he clasped his hands together and placed them on the table in front of him.

“Its… really good. Thanks.”

“Good. You look like you needed a good meal.”

“I was really hungry.” That felt weird. Javier did not usually think about food. The contents of his stomach usually took a back seat to the contents of his veins.

“Good. When did you stop using?”

“What?” The question hit him like a punch. He pushed his stringy black hair out of his face.

“It’s been a few weeks since you’ve been in here, and I barely recognized you.”

“What are you talking about?’

“Relax, son. I’m not here to preach to you. I’ve seen a lot of people come through here. I know addiction when I see it. You don’t have to be ashamed. In fact, you should feel proud that you’re trying to get cleaned up.” Silas was smiling, but Javier felt a bit scared.

“Why do you think I’m trying to get cleaned up?”

“You’re actually talking, for one. And I can see it on you. You look a lot healthier than you did.
There’s new life in you, young man, and that’s something to be celebrated.”

Javier sat silently for a moment. Despite looking calm, he was freaking out internally. He wanted to run. He wanted to flee that church so badly that his legs twitched. He slowly put down the spoon he had been eating the soup with, and stood up slowly. It took all the effort he could muster not to bolt for the door. He needed a hit. He wanted one so badly at that moment that he thought his brains were going to explode.

“I have to go.”

“Are you sure?”


“If you ever want to talk, you can find me here.”

Javier left quickly. The freezing night air assaulted him. He headed into an alleyway to get away from the wind that was attempting to cut through him. His head kept hurting. He felt like he needed to keep moving, so he did. He did not know where he was going. As he walked briskly through the icy alleyways of Quadesport the cold was bothering him less and less. He was not thinking about where he was going, but he was obviously heading somewhere.

He wanted to stop, but he didn’t. He could not feel the cold air, or his feet sinking into the dirty slush on the pavement anymore. He could not see where he was moving anymore. Finally, he could not see nor hear nor feel anything anymore. He felt fear, but that got pushed away. He wasn’t the one pushing it away.

He did not know what was happening, but he knew he was moving.

* * * * *

Wade Granby had spent the day researching Butch Kerns. He knew every associate the man had. He knew where he liked to hang out. He knew where the man did his business. He had studied the police reports from top to bottom. He also knew Dennis Yi and Sharon Montessi were on the case. If something was going to go bad, he wanted to be able to protect them from it. They were damn fine police, but there were some things even the best police are not prepared to handle.

And when Carson Rogers calls from Laslo University and tells his father to look into something, it was going to be bad.

Wade was in his armor as soon as the sun set. The Night Rain armor was cutting edge and allowed him to make his way across the city undetected. The theatrics that went into convincing people that a person is an urban legend, or even better a vengeful spirit of a slain thief, were easily accomplished by the armors many features. It was designed not only to protect the wearer, but also to scare the hell out of people.

It did a good job of that. Wade had visited over a half dozen associates of Kerns. They all talked, some quicker than others. Some showed a bit of backbone, but Wade quickly convinced them that it was easier and healthier to answer his questions.

The last time Kerns had been seen he was going to run and errand for the Crew. That errand was to take care of a two-bit junkie dealer that was using product instead of selling it. Wade Granby was the Night Rain, and the Night Rain was looking for Javier Santiago.

About this month's artist: Kat is a doodler from Texas. She likes comics, monsters, and an assortment of old stuff. Someday perhaps she'll get off her lazy duff and make one of them thar comic doohickeys. For now, though, it's all about the random sketches. She thinks that Hellboy is awesome and believes that you should think so too.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Golgotha: Chapter 2

Dennis was all right with freezing weather. He also did not mind having to be working in the middle of the night. It was the combination of the two that bothered him. At that hour there was no getting a good cup of hot coffee, even in Quadesport. The freezing slush on the sidewalk mercifully had not soaked through his shoes yet as having cold, wet socks would be the final barb that would drive him over the edge and possibly lead to him assaulting one of the colleagues.

Then again they were in the same boat he was in. All of them were standing in an alleyway shivering and wondering why a known gangbanger was lying face down in slush that was dyed red around him. Officers responded to a call from residents in the apartment building adjacent to the alley reporting shots fired and someone screaming. The forensics officer was already hard at work and Dennis was not sure why he had been called in on the case. He and his partner Sharon, who was no doubt curled up in a nice warm bed, usually caught special cases. Special in this case meant the type of cases no one else would want to deal with for the sake of their sanity. Dennis would not have even gotten the call if not for the fact that he happened to have been in the neighborhood when the request for SCU assistance went out.

The officers at the scene told him that the man who called the police had witnessed part of what happened. Dennis was happy to hear it, not only since it would help the case, but also the apartment building had to be more pleasant than being outside in that weather. Another officer was already talking to witness when he got to the apartment. The witness was a trim man in his mid-twenties who looked like he really needed some sleep.

“Detective Dennis Yi.” He said as an introduction as he showed the man his ID. “I understand you saw something, Mister…”

“Constance. Kevin Constance.” Kevin and Dennis shook hands briefly. “Yeah. Am I going to have to go to the station tonight?” Kevin looked like he dreaded the thought and the fatigue on his face made it obvious as to why.

“Hopefully not.” Dennis said with a smile to try to comfort the man. “I know you went over everything already.” The officer gave a nod and held up his notebook. Dennis gave him a nod back. Even in the middle of the night everyone was on the ball. “Would you mind going over things one more time for me and then we’ll leave you alone to get some rest.”

“Sure thing.” Kevin answered followed by a small sigh that came out more like a yawn. “I was adjusting my window when I heard yelling from the alley.”

“Adjusting your window?’

“Yeah, this building is pretty old and my bedroom window sometimes slips a little and lets in a draft.”

“I see. Please go on.”

“Well, I hear a guy screaming ‘you’re dead, you’re dead’ and that’s when I heard the gunshots. I looked out the window real quick and saw the guy in the alley struggling with another guy.”

“What did the other guy look like?’

“I didn’t get much of a look, because once I saw what was going on I went for my phone to call 911. It looked like a thin guy with long black hair. I looked again after I had grabbed my cell phone, but by the time I had gotten it and got back to the window the guy was just lying in the alley and the other guy was gone.”

“Any idea which of them was threatening the other?”

“What do you mean?”

“The person screaming ‘you’re dead, you’re dead’.”

“Oh. That was the weird part.”

“How so?’

“Whoever was yelling that didn’t sound like he was threatening anyone. He sounded scared to death.”

* * * * *

Javier came to in a bathtub. He was lying on his side and the first thing he was aware of was the smell of vomit and feces. He was sore all over and his body complained as he moved to right himself. He realized that the vomit and feces were his own. He started to pull himself up and out of the tub. He recognized the bathroom. It was Pilar’s, and much cleaner than the last time he had been there.

He peeked over the edge of the tub he saw a black garbage with a note on it.

“Don’t you dare come out of there until you put your filthy clothes in the bag and bathe yourself.”

He stripped down and tossed everything into the bag except his wallet, which luckily was not damaged from him soiling himself. He knotted off the top of the bag and turned on the shower. The hot water pounded him back into something resembling human. Washing himself was a chore. He still had a lot of trouble moving, but he managed to get himself cleaned up. He could not remember the last time he had a good shower and felt that clean. He emerged soon and dried off. He wrapped a towel around himself and peeked out of the bathroom.

The apartment had been completely redone since he had lived there. The furniture was new and everything was neat and orderly. The wall-mounted flat screen television was on the morning news show. It hardly seemed like the same place. Pilar was in the kitchen, already dressed and sipping a cup of coffee. She immediately saw him and glared at him.

“There’s some of your old clothes next to door.” She said coldly and went back to sipping her coffee. Javier looked down and there was some clothes folded neatly on a table.

“Th-thanks.” He stammered and quickly grabbed the clothes. After dressing himself, he emerged and walked slowly to the kitchen. Pilar continued staring icily at him. Javier sheepishly returned her look. “Thanks for…”

“Save it. You’re not staying.”

“I understand. I’ll get my stuff out of there and go.” His stomach growled audibly.

“Jesus. When was the last time you ate something, Javier?” She pulled a bagel out of a bag on the counter and tossed it to him. He caught it, which seemed to surprise them both.

“I don’t remember. My head’s… really fuzzy, right now.” I began quickly devouring the bagel.

“That’s nothing new.” She jabbed at him, but something was new. She saw something in Javier that was different. It was his eyes. There was something there again. “You’re still using.”

“I am. I was. Something happened last night. I can’t really remember.”

“I don’t want it or you around me anymore.”

“I know.” He said after finishing the bagel. “I know that. I’ll get my things and get out. Thanks Pilar.” She tossed him another bagel, which he also caught, before going to the bathroom and retrieving the trash bag with his soiled clothes. He was moving a lot easier now. There was still a weight on him as he walked but it was something different than what Pilar remembered. Before, the chemicals and poisons that he filled himself with to escape his existence chained him. Now there was something different upon him with every step.


* * * * *

The cell phone rang in the middle of him pounding away on a heavy bag. Even after pounding away for several minutes his breathing was still even. He took a break from the bag to answer, but was eager to get back to work.

“Hey. Dad.”

“Get to a safehouse, Wade. Something’s up.”

About the artist: This month's artwork is courtesy of the very talented Amy Lou Kirner.