‘Cause now again I’ve found myself
So far down, away from the sun
That shines into the darkest place
I’m so far down, away from the sun again
Away from the sun again
Away From the Sun - Three Doors Down
He took the spoon away from the flame of the jasmine-scented pillar candle then stuck the end of the needle into the liquid, drawing it, like mellifluous life, into the syringe. He took a deep breath in. There was something about the scent of jasmine that comforted him, made him feel at ease. He pulled the tourniquet tighter over his arm, the leather strap biting into the pattern of Celtic knot work that encircled his slender biceps, the tattoo a relic of another, happier life.
He tapped the hollow of his elbow, feeling the bulge of a vein. It was the only clean spot on his body, washed with a bit of alcohol-soaked cotton. With well-practiced ease, he slid the needle under his pale flesh, pocked with reddish track marks. The tip of his tongue curled over his upper lip, tasting his own salt, the familiar burning sensation filling his arm as he pumped the heroin in. He set the syringe aside and wiped his arm with alcohol then released the tourniquet. Once, he had gotten an infection in his arm from shooting up and ever since took as much care as he could; cotton, alcohol, neosporin all stolen from a pharmacy and a fresh needle every time thanks to Sister Marion and her anti-AIDS-Hep C campaign. He let his head fall back against the moldy stuffing of the battered chair as the warm rush flooded him, sweet and pleasurable as an orgasm. Better even. Heroin quieted the murmurs inside his brain, banished the terrible monsters he saw in his mind’s eye. Sweet Dreams was like being wrapped in a warm security blanket where vampires and demons couldn’t get him anymore. He knew they weren’t real but on his own, without the bright sunlight of the opiod running through his veins, their apparent realness overwhelmed him.
He looked out the dirty bay window into the street. Sunlight shimmered on the tarmac, waves of heat rising up. This was the part of L.A. those in Beverly Hills liked to pretend didn’t exist. Houses like his had been left to rot and he and his crew had moved in like rats. He didn’t know how many runaways there were in his little patch of the world. His own home usually had six or seven kids sheltering within.
He shifted so he could breathe in the delicate perfume of the candle more easily. He thought again of sunlight, his saving grace. Sunny, he remembered that name from somewhere. She was his angel, telling him about the medicine that could make everything better. She’d been right about Sweet Dreams. He couldn’t find Sunny any more, if she ever existed, but he knew he owed her something.
Hearing footsteps racing into his room, he sat up, twisting sharply. No one just entered his room without permission. He was responsible for this house. He protected the street kids who lived with him and that was one of the rules; you knocked before entering. His room was the biggest and the best. He owned the most stuff, which didn’t mean much. Ratter, a fat tortoise shell cat, kept his home fairly clean of vermin. Ratter meowed at the intruders and hurried through a hole in the wall.
He looked at the dirty faces of two of his favorite girls, Misty and Darts. Misty was the oldest at seventeen, her brown hair pulled into a wild spray of little tails making her head look like a star gum shell. Darts was a year younger and had grown up in her daddy’s bar hustling at the game she was named for. They contrasted beautifully; Misty the color of dark wood and Darts like a freshwater pearl in sunlight. The third girl of their little group was oddly not with them, delicate little Lian, model pretty. She was his special charge, barely thirteen. He took it on himself to protect her from the predators of the night.
“Angelboy, you have to come quick!” Darts said, grabbing his arm.
“What’s wrong?” He didn’t want to get up. His high was just starting, his stomach twisting and churning a bit as was usual, and all he wanted to do was sit back and ride the sunshine.
“Lian’s dead,” Misty replied.
The sunshine faded to dark.
X X X
Angelboy followed Misty and Darts several blocks away to another section of abandoned buildings. He knew at least one of them was a squat but the girls didn’t go there. They went into a deserted church, the tiny heart of a community long gone. Inside, he smelled the residuals of marijuana and meth but they were nearly overwhelmed by the reek of blood, and something foul like an overflowing septic tank. The buzz of flies echoed in the old church.
“How did you find her?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at his companions.
“Two Two said he saw Lian here last night with Night Rain. They were here for a rave,” Darts said, her chewed bottom lip disappearing between her teeth for another gnawing.
“If we knew, we would have stopped her,” Misty said, disgust leaking into her voice.
Angelboy’s lip curled. He didn’t tell the kids in his house how to live outside his walls. Inside, he was the acknowledged house Nazi and what he said went but in the real world they were free. That was the way of the streets. They had had more than enough interference in the homes they had run away or been thrown out of but when they were as young as Lian, he took an interest in their lives. Lian had no business at a rave. Worse, Night Rain had brought her. Night Rain had no right to do that.
He crept forward, following the smell of blood. “Did Two Two tell you Lian was dead?
“No, just that she was here,” Darts said, stopping under a panel of broken stained glass. “We came looking for her when she didn’t show.”
Angelboy looked back at her. Reddish light, sweet sunshine through ruby glass, played over Dart’s pale face. He nodded sharply at her for her to take the lead but she didn’t move. He shrugged. He could probably follow his nose to where Lian was. He walked up to where the altar had been. Part of the flooring was retracted with steps leading down into a cement hollow. Inside, a spigot had bled rust down the wall leading to where Lian lay in the forgotten baptismal.
The smells of ruptured bowels and emptied bladder joined the stench of blood; that was the septic smell he had detected. Through the seething mass of flies he saw her throat had been torn open and her abdomen clawed apart; entrails looping over the shallow overhang of her hips like tinsel on a tree. One of her hands had been gnawed off. To her left, Night Rain rested in a concealing puddle of blood. She had been mauled in a similar manner, her face barely recognizable. Part of her raven hair was flipped to one side, the reddish underside of scalp making it look like a bad wig.
Angelboy turned, feeling his stomach churn, and it wasn’t from heroin. His buzz had long since been killed. Swallowing hard, he stared up at his companions, accusation in his eyes. “You didn’t say Night Rain was dead, too.”
Misty shrugged. “She’s not one of us, not our concern.”
Angelboy shot her an irritated look. He knew neither Misty nor Darts liked Night Rain and they were right; she wasn’t one of them. She came from a wealthy family and went to a special all-girls school. Somehow, she developed a taste for sneaking out and slumming it. It was common enough. Hanging with runaways was a dangerous thrill for bored rich kids.
Angelboy didn’t understand it. A good family was everything. Most of the runaways never had that but most of the slummers did. They didn’t have reason to put themselves in danger but Night Rain had been different. There had been a darkness in her, a hint that she believed the bad stuff he saw in his mind’s eye. She was a little like him. He had a good family until his hallucinations worsened and he turned to drugs for relief.
He hadn’t been above using her. Night Rain was his bang, another reason for Misty to be jealous. Darts didn’t like boys to touch her so she didn’t care as much. Either way, they were too young for him even if Misty didn’t see it that way. Neither understood why he kept Night Rain around. Truthfully, he hadn’t ever really liked Night Rain but she had money. She’d get him real food, sometimes enough to share with his kids, and gave him money so he could score without resorting to stealing or selling himself. All right, he mentally amended, he sold himself to her because she wouldn’t give him cash unless he’d let her spend most of the night with him and do to him whatever her dark fantasies dreamed up. Better yet, she liked to thumb her nose at her parents by taking him home when they were gone. He could get a real shower there. It helped with the itchiness of his filthy, flea-bitten, lice-beset body. He didn’t particularly like Night Rain but he’d miss her.
He saw something odd on the far side of the baptismal. It looked like large, bloody paw prints. A bit further away was a print that looked like a human foot. The first thought in his mind was werewolf but he knew that was just the junk in his head. They weren’t real. He’d need to put more of ‘The Witch’ in his veins to chase the monsters away.
“What do we do, Angelboy?” Darts asked.
He spun on heel and left the church. They followed him. He had to walk a few blocks to find a pay phone. They had become rarer now that most people had cellulars. He placed a quick call to 911 then headed back for his home.
“You called the cops,” Misty said in disbelief, her arms crossing defensively over her ample chest.
“Never trust them,” Darts added, tossing her long, lank blonde hair.
He faced them, his blue eyes glistening. “Lian deserves to be found. She deserves to be put to rest,” he said sternly and they bowed their heads.
Angelboy said nothing else. He just went home and locked himself in his room. He didn’t want to shoot up again so soon, so he got his pipe and sat down to chase the tiger. As the opiate-laden smoke burned into his lungs, Angelboy cried silently, his pain not for sharing.