METHAMPHETAMINE AND A SHOTGUN
by Alec Cizak
With respect to Chester Himes.
Debbie had been over earlier. She laid out a couple of rails. They topped off the crank with a joint she rolled with papers decorated like the American flag. After burning down Old Glory, they got busy on Ethan's bed. He only came once. It took him half an hour to get there, thanks to the dope. Debbie seemed happy enough. She put her clothes on and left without telling him where she was going.
Ethan sat up, his back propped by a cracked wall in his one room apartment. There was no kitchen. There were no windows that weren't holding broken glass together with tape and cardboard. Aside from the bed, there was only a folding table with two metal chairs by the door. That was where they had gotten high. Normally, Ethan would provide the drugs. His source had been buckled by the pigs. The only possession he had at that point was a Remington 12-guage. A cop had traded it to him for some crank.
"We use these to take down fuckers on PCP," the johnny had said. "You shoot somebody nice and close, their head'll bust open like a hamster in a microwave."
Ethan was aware of everything relevant, which was nothing. Meth and heroin brought him to the same place, but in different ways. Smack allowed him to quietly accept mortality. It was like an angel, gently rubbing his shoulders, whispering, "Someday you're going to die, and that's ok." Crank, on the other hand, made him feel as though possession of this knowledge hoisted him above common people who couldn't face the reality that their lives, at the end of the day, would mean nothing.
While he was riding a wave of superiority, he felt the undertow of worry, rising up from the depths of his mind, forming a hand, then a claw, and wrapping its tough, leathery fingers around his skull. "I think I'm thirsty," he said. What he thought, however, was:
Why did Debbie leave so goddamn soon?
The claw grew larger and scooped him off the bed. The effort to move muscles and bones in his body was easier than slicing through a lightly melted stick of butter. Walking across the room, he understood that his feet were heavier than the Earth and that they bounced off of the floor as though it were made up of a million titties, waiting to cradle him if he chose to fall. He stopped at the table and looked at the shotgun. There were three shells next to it.
They met him on the elevator. Luckily, Ethan was alone. They started on his shins and elbows. He could feel their little feet scampering up and down and in circles. They were too cowardly to show themselves in the physical world. He was certain they were millipedes. When he started using meth he scratched them, opening up his skin and marking himself as an addict. Now he was wiser. They wanted him to tear himself apart. They were sent by the enemy. He tolerated the itching the way he put up with roaches and mice in his apartment.
In the lobby, the mailman was stuffing clouds into thin metal boxes. Ethan bit down on his lower lip to keep from asking the guy just who the hell he thought he was, doing God's work without God's permission. Before he could get to the street, he broke out in hysterical laughter. "I'm God," he reminded himself.
The postman backed against the wall, his hands raised. "Anything you say, man."
Ethan pushed the glass doors leading outside open. He was still chuckling over his own mistaken identity. The palm trees lining both sides of the street waved to him.
It was Saturday afternoon in Koreatown. Children played on thin strips of grass between the apartment buildings and sidewalks. Their parents sat on steps talking. Plotting, Ethan thought. "Your kids are smarter than you," he said. He pointed at the adults and every one of them jumped up and backwards. They ran to their sons and daughters.
"Don't even think about it!"
The adults stopped. They put their hands up. "Please," they said. They whimpered, cried, sobbed into the grass that danced to the same rhythm as the palm trees. They got on their knees and worshipped Ethan.
"That's more like it," he said. He headed up Ardmore, towards Third Street. There was a consumer temple on the corner of Kingsley and Third, just one block over. The way the sidewalk moved under Ethan's feet, he began to suspect the whole thing had been planned-- His thirst, his paranoia about Debbie. Why was she in such a hurry to leave? he wondered again. When he turned onto Third, he saw the Kipling Hotel. A relic from the time before the world had been blessed by his presence. He crossed the street. Cars stopped for him. The people inside them pointed at him. Some grabbed their cell phones. Some made phone calls. Some even took pictures.
"They know I'm God," said Ethan.
The front door to the Kipling swung open and a man in a suit and tie stepped out and put his hand in his pocket. Ethan wondered why anybody would be dressed like that on a Saturday. He watched the man pull out a set of keys and drop them on the ground. Then he saw her, sitting inside the SUV the man eventually unlocked and climbed into.
Debbie was in the passenger seat. She was in the back, as well. And sitting right next to her was Debbie. Even in the rear, where normal people put groceries and bowling balls, two more Debbies sat, facing the opposite direction. In the driver's side, the man was desperately trying to get the key into the ignition.
"You sonofabitch," Ethan said. He drew back and pointed a giant, angry finger at the windshield. The glass exploded into a star-shower of crystals. The interior of the car filled like a bath tub with red, boiling lava.
Somewhere, someone screamed, "Oh my God!"
Ethan nodded. Proud to be so easily recognized. He saw the harsh orange and green announcing the 7-11 across the street from the Kipling. There would be liquids in the money temple that would wash away the snakes of worry burrowing permanent homes just under his skin. He remembered root beer, a substance that worked on his temporary shell like gasoline in an engine.
"Debbie's there, too," he said to himself. "I'm sure she is."
Cars screeched in the parking lot, peeling up pavement like a banana-skin, to get out of his way. Ethan put his free hand out and motioned for everyone to calm down. "Relax," he said, "you have my permission to be here." Two homeless guys standing outside and opening the door for customers in hopes of getting spare change ran away as fast as they could.
Ethan laughed. "I hope you folks realize that kissing my ass won't help you. Not ultimately." He entered the convenience store.
The first thing he noticed was that Singh, the attendant on duty, was talking on the phone. He looked nervous. Ethan realized the short man, usually his friend, was hiding something. "Who's on the other end?" He pointed at Singh.
Singh dropped the phone and put his hands up.
Ethan could hear the voice coming from the receiver:
It was Debbie.
"You tagging my girl behind my back?"
"What?" Singh looked desperately at the only other customer in the store.
It was a kid with a skateboard and Super-Gulp overflowing with neon green bubbles. He held his arms out, pretending to be Jesus. "Mister, you're in big trouble," he said.
Ethan looked at the skater. "You fucking her too?"
"No man. I ain't doing nobody named Debbie."
Ethan nodded. He stepped back. The kid dropped the cup and ran out the door.
Singh moved slowly to the other side of the counter.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Singh's white hair snaked around like it had been hooked up to electricity. The flourescent lights bounced off his otherwise bald head with a basketball rhythm.
"Shame on you," said Ethan. His voice sounded like a vicious thunderclap. His judgment was so severe the blood of the devil spilled all over the cigarette wrack behind the counter. "I said I'd get to the bottom of this." He walked to the coolers and opened one of the doors. "I haven't been wrong so far." The rush of cold air made him think he had been reborn in an arctic region. He closed his eyes and saw himself on an iceberg, drifting over the ocean. The night sky in front of him bled blue into purple into black and stars pierced the curtain like the gaze of a million dead people, curious to see if he would put the last piece of the puzzle together.
Ethan opened his eyes, found a bottle of Barq's root beer and walked back to the counter. He looked around for the cashier. "I'm a fair man," he said. He dropped two wrinkled dollar bills on the counter. They smelled like a farm he had visited with his mother when he was eight. Manure and pigs and horses and chickens, all rolled up together to manufacture a super-stench that never quite left his senses. Then he heard the sirens.
"I'm no fool," he said. The song shrieking through the air was anything but beautiful. Besides, he thought, I'm only interested in Debbie.
The front door opened and a skinny man in a uniform stepped inside. His hands were shaking. "S-s-sir," he said.
Ethan realized the new customer was holding a pistol. A .40 caliber semi-automatic. The tiny finger was pointed right at him. His face scrunched up. Ethan wondered if his eyes would collapse into his mouth. The gall, he thought. "You don't judge me," he said. Then he pointed right back at the johnny.
The officer jumped through the glass windows protecting the store from the laughing wind. As shards spun in magic circles, Ethan briefly saw a hole in the universe open up. A huge eye, all pupil and no color, stared back. Even gods have fathers, he thought.
He stepped over the cop, who was now wrapped up in a sticky red blanket, and walked back towards Ardmore. Crowds of people had gathered across Third Street, all of them looking as if they might run away, on command. Ethan smiled. There were more sirens scraping the summer blue off the atmosphere. They would have to come for him, he decided. He was going home to enjoy his root beer and the rest of his buzz. With all the competition out of the way, Debbie would no doubt return. If she was smart, she would apologize.
As he approached his apartment building on the corner of Fourth and Ardmore, he realized the sirens belonged to the police. Lots of them. The air was filled from pocket to pocket with the annoying scream of emergency vehicles providing the illusion that something could be done to prevent the final tragedy. Ethan shook his head. He pitied everyone around him. "I'll help you," he said, "all of you." Then he remembered:
He was out of shells.
Alec Cizak is a writer from Indianapolis. His crime fiction has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, A Twist of Noir, and Thuglit. His work will also be featured in an upcoming edition of Powder Burn Flash. He maintains a blog called No Moral Center.