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Empire of Dirt

Chapter Text

“If I could start again,
a million miles away…”
-Hurt, Nine Inch Nails

August 28th, 1991

Heat- stifling, heavy, damp- weighed upon pale shoulders as soon as the car door opened. The sound of cicadas screaming pierced the air like a jet engine, loud enough to make his ears ache. The smell of sea water permeated the air, right along with the drifting scent of summer air, which held its own sort of smell, nothing like how it was back home in New Jersey. Their apartment had been nice, two bedrooms and a nice bathroom, a nice view of the city. Everything was good, back then. Even if it had been years after mom had passed away, it was still nice. It was still home.

This place wasn’t home. It would never be home.

Fingers flexed, stretching out from their cramped position, clutched around a red Nintendo Gameboy. Vivid cornflower blue hues, one natural, one false, squinted in the bright summer sunlight, somehow managing to look even brighter so far south. Annoying, hot, stifling, too bright. Lip curling behind the ceramic prosthetic mask, the boy stared up at the new house- could it be called a house? Or was it more like an apartment building?- they would be staying in. Addison Apartments, though it was short, squat, like all the other buildings here. Well, aside from that one bank building, and the hotels, and a few other tall buildings that were in the heart of New Orleans. But this building was short, two floors, but long, more apartments stretching backwards to surround a courtyard.

Nothing like Jersey. Nothing like home.

“Welp,” Henry Fisher breathed out, staring at the building. “It’s certainly nothing like Jersey, but it isn’t all that bad, is it?” He asked, turning to glance down at his son, taking in the disgust that absolutely radiated off him. He couldn’t see what his expression was, but just looking at him was enough… “Our things were already delivered and set up, so we don’t have to worry about unpacking in this heat! That’s a good thing, right?” Smiling, he reached out and ruffled his son’s messy, wavy hair- hair that had been straight before their plane landed, he noted with amusement.

“Stop,” Sal muttered, weakly batting at the offensive hand. “Why’s it so hot?” He complained, feeling sweat trickle down his face behind his mask. At least he wore a t-shirt and not a long-sleeved shirt, like he’d originally planned.

A bark of laughter escaped Henry as he started forward confidently. “Because you’re in the Deep South now, son!” He called over his shoulder.

Deep South. His lip curled as he followed his father, unease spreading through him the closer they got to the apartment… Block? He still wasn’t sure what to call this place. He glanced up as they neared the front doors, taking note of the sign that said, in big, bold, black letters “NOT HAUNTED”.

Right. Totally normal apartments. Right.

“Ah, Mr. Fisher?” A crackly, raspy voice asked, causing the pair to jump and spin around, seeking out the source of the voice. Sal nudged his father and gestured towards a long, horizontal slot in a door to their right- larger than a mail slot. “Yes, yes, you are Henry Fisher, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.” Henry answered uneasily, stepping forward. “You…?”

“Terrance Addison, the owner of Addison Apartments!” The voice replied, sounding less harsh and suddenly far more chipper.

While it may have eased Henry’s nerves, it simply made the hair on Sal’s arms stand on end. To switch from harsh and cold to kind and welcoming in mere seconds…

“Pleasure to meet you, Terrance.” Henry replied, while Sal murmured in agreement.

“I won’t keep you two; your apartment is number 402; second floor, on the back section.” He explained, his face disappearing and a pale, skinny hand reappearing to slide out a set of keys. “Welcome to Addison Apartments, and to New Orleans.” As soon as Henry took hold of the key rings, the oddly long mail slot slammed shut, leaving the pair to stand in the entry awkwardly.

“… Okay.” Sal drawled, shaking his head before taking a set of keys from Henry’s fingers. “I’m going to the apartment.”

“Right behind you!” Henry called, jogging to catch up with his son’s quick footsteps. No doors opened, but occasionally, the sound of a television or voices could be heard.

Sal took in the environment, the state of the courtyard- a small garden that was slowly being overtaken with weeds, a cracked, concreate walkway. The railings were painted white, with some parts chipping off, revealing rust beneath. His gaze tracked upwards, towards the ceiling of the walkway, taking in the occasional water spot. Outdoor walkways- it would be a pain to carry groceries to the apartment, but at least there weren’t too many stairs. Maybe they could get some sort of trolley…

“Here we are!” Henry cheered softly as they arrived at their apartment door: 402. He unlocked the door and stepped in, pausing in the doorway. “… It’s hot.” He stated simply, wincing. Sal slipped past, making a surprised noise due to the fact that yeah, it was hot, but it was also stuffy. Henry left the door open, where at least a breeze, albeit hot, blew. A window unit sat directly across in the living room, fat and with dust making itself at home on top of it. Wasting no time, Henry crossed to it, plugging it in and cranking it on.

And on it came, with a sputtering groan that sounded more akin to a dying animal than a machine.

“Well…” Henry began, turning to face Sal, “what should we-”

“I’m going to my room.” He stated simply, toeing off his converse and slipping away, down the small hall to his bedroom- across from the bathroom, with his father’s bedroom at the end, he noted with relief. His door was open, and the room was just as warm, but he had his own small window unit, already plugged in- just not on. Toeing the door shut, he crossed to the window unit, cranking it on and sighing in relief as cool air began to blow.

Turning slowly, he took in the way the movers had set up his bedroom; bed against the far wall with the head facing the window, a nightstand beside it on the wall that the door was on, closet on the opposite wall, TV stand (minus a TV), with four boxes of books sitting atop it, and his dresser. The walls were ivory, the ceiling was simple. His posters were in one of the many boxes, as were his clothes, and his CDs, and albums…

Softly, he began to hum an old lullaby his mother used to sing to him, or maybe it was an actual song? He wasn't sure, but he remembered her singing it in a soft, sweet voice. Black painted nails began to tear open the nearest box, revealing medical supplies. He stared the items down; the gauze, the isopropyl alcohol, the teeth guards, cotton balls. It made his skin itch, made him acutely aware of the way his mask stuck to his face. Shaking hands reached up, unclipping the back two straps, allowing it to fall free. The cooling air of the bedroom felt wonderful on his heated skin, and he closed his eyes for a moment, reveling in the feeling. Blue bangs stuck to his forehead thanks to the sweat.

Eyes opening, he was met with his reflection, causing him to startle in surprise. “Shit, man,” he whispered, shaking his head. How had he missed that his closet door was a mirror? He shook his head, grimacing at the grotesque face that stared back at him. Two long scars traced down the right side of his face, one stretching from his temple and ending on the left side of his chin, the other an inch above, falling at the corner of gnarled lips, giving him the appearance of halfway smiling, revealing white, false teeth. The left side of his face fared no better, with indents of teeth having scarred on his cheek. Smaller scars littered his face, across a nose that had been all but scratched off.

A monster. That’s what he was. Monstrous.

Turning away from his reflection, he climbed onto the bed- made, thankfully. Unpacking could wait; he had all weekend before starting Nockfell High on Monday. Exhaustion weighed heavily upon his bones as he settled in, staring at the unfamiliar ceiling. Quickly, sleep overtook him.

Nightmares were common, more so than normal dreams.

It was the same, as always. Hospital room, his face bandaged heavily, the maze of halls, going in one door and ending up in a new hallway. Then suddenly, he was outside, and there was a funeral happening. And a dog- always a dog, brown, decaying, and when he would ask what was happening, it would reply in some cryptic way. And then he would wake up in a sweat, heart pounding out of his chest.

Just like now.

The bedroom was dark, the sun having long since set. Blinking groggily, he swung jean-clad legs over the edge of the bed and sat in the darkness for a moment, breathing in for a standard four count before breathing out, lengthening each breath until he no longer felt ready to jump out of his skin. Dragging a hand through his hair (and wincing at how wavy it had become in the Louisiana summer heat), he slid off of the bed and stumbled his way through his room, cursing softly beneath his breath when he kicked a rather heavy box on accident.

Door opened, he peeked his head out, listening- Henry was passed out in the living room from the sound of his snores, no doubt having gone to the store for both food and his choice of poison. Nose scrunching up behind his mask, he made his way into the living room, each footfall soft despite the wooden floors. And just like he thought, there he was- sound asleep, beer bottles stacked on the table. His snores let him know that he was still alive, not having drank himself to death- yet.

Sighing softly, Sal shook his head and turned off the television, bathing the room in darkness. Quietly, he slipped out of the front door, closing it with careful gentleness afterwards. Glancing around the walkway, he noted all the other doors were closed. He wasted no time in jogging to the stairs and on down, crossing the courtyard, and through the outdoor lobby where soda and candy machines stood. Even at night, the air was humid, but the breeze was cooler this close to the ocean. He could hear cars, voices, the music of the night, mingling in the wind.

He knew it was stupid, for him to walk alone in a city he was unfamiliar with, but he needed to get out, to find something that was at least relatively familiar, that reminded him of Jersey somehow, someway. There had to be something in this city that shared similarities with his home, right? Right. Hands stuffed deep in his pockets, he wandered the mostly empty streets, keeping his head low when people passed- though, he found out that many didn’t even look twice. Right.

Land of Mardi Gras and drunks and voodoo: The Crescent City.

The sound of loud laughter and heavy guitar drew his attention, and against his better judgement, he wound his way through the alleys, cats and rats alike scattering at the sight of him, hissing at his form. That was fine. He didn’t feel like catching the plague today, anyway. Glancing around, he found himself in very, very unfamiliar territory, the houses no more than rubble from hurricanes past. But the voices grew louder, the music could be felt in his chest. Familiar territory. Swallowing the sudden nerves that grew, he moved towards the light, towards the music and voices. From where he stood, he could see flashing lights, could see bodies moving, dancing.

The ground beneath his feet was cracked pavement, as if the city had simply forgotten this part, or perhaps it was left out on purpose. Spanish moss hung heavy from large oak trees, beautiful and ethereal in the moonlight. It felt like a movie set, fake, unreal. He shook his head, ready to turn around, to go back to the apartments-

Only to find an arm suddenly slung over his shoulder, causing every single muscle in his body to tense at the sudden touch.

“You’s new here, ain’t you?” The owner of the arm spoke, accent warm, thick, low, lilting with a deeply southern drawl. “Ain’t seen anyone with blue hair ‘round these parts.”

“Who dat?” Came another voice, this one feminine, with an even more prominent lilt. Cajun? Was this what a Cajun voice sounded like? “Lar, who’s it?”

“Dunno,” Lar, apparently, spoke, pulling back enough for Sal to take a few quick steps back. “Whasyer name, stranger?” The man asked, a smirk curling his lips. No, not a man- he couldn’t have been more than two years older than he was. Long, chocolate brown locks fell clear to his waist, some strands pushed back behind his ears, making his face evident. His eyes were gorgeous, Sal noted in surprise: a mixture of not quite gold, not quite brown, hooded- bedroom eyes, with a mole beneath the right eye. Those were bedroom eyes, and this fucker was tall, dark, and handsome. He wore a tan shirt with SF on it- a band?- and a pair of black pants that looked nearly painted on, barely clinging to his hips, chains hanging from the pockets.

Oh, no.

The girl had appeared from behind him, with long, brown-red hair that fell to her hips, fluffy, messy bangs, and vivid emerald eyes rimmed with black eyeliner. She was pretty, too, wearing a purple tank top and black pants. Her nose was pierced through the septum.

Sal swallowed harshly, his heart beating wildly within his chest. “Sal.” He answered simply, forcing himself to at least appear calm, crossing his arms over his chest and cocking his hip out. “You?”

“Oh, you’s from de north!” The girl cooed, leaning forward with a bright smile. “Which part?”


“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there!”

“I’m Larry Johnson, and this is Ashley Campbell.” Larry introduced, a smirk curling his lips, hiding that small gap between his front two upper teeth. Handsome, charming, southern. This… Was dangerous. Sal’s gaze fell upon Larry’s mouth as he spoke, catching the glint of metal in the moonlight. Tongue piercing.

“… Right. Didn’t mean to burst in on your… Party.” Sal spoke, slowly backing away.

“Nah, cher, you didn’t burst nothin’- at least, not yet.” Larry teased, prompting for a flush of color to rise to Sal’s cheeks, which were thankfully covered by the mask. “Whas the mask for?”

“Prosthetic.” He answered quickly, brows furrowing. “I… Need to go.”

“Where you stayin’?” Ashley asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I c’n take ya!”

“She’s got a bike.” Larry added, following him step for step, slowly, like a cat hunting down a mouse. And Sal was the mouse.

“No- no, thank you. I’ll… Sorry.” Going against every instinct that screamed for him to not turn his back on the pair, he turned his back.

And ran. Fast. All the way back to Addison Apartments, leaving the sound of laughter, of golden brown and emerald, of strange southern charm, behind. He felt as if they were still there, right on his heels, the sound of their voices following him as he darted through the courtyard and to the stairs, as he all but yanked the front door open and had to force himself to not slam the door closed.

Something felt… Off about them. That entire area. His anxiety was so high, it made his hands shake. Toeing off his shoes, he made his way to the bathroom, where his father had placed his medication. Anti-anxiety and anti-depression. He hadn’t taken either today. Quickly dumping two pills into his hand, he swallowed them dry before chasing it down with a gulp of water from the faucet.

Somehow, he must’ve taken his mask off- a glance around and he saw the prosthetic laying on the bathroom tiles. Staring at his reflection, he forced himself to breathe. It was just anxiety from being in a new place, right? Right. That was all. Nothing more.

Shaking his head, he dragged his hands through his hair, gathered his mask, and made his way to his bedroom. He was still exhausted, jetlag getting the best of him, and then running for his life… Damn. Stripping down to his boxers, he set his mask aside, carefully removed his right eye and plopped it into a glass of water and saline solution before collapsing onto his bed.

He’d unpack tomorrow, and spend Sunday exploring the city with dad. Yeah. In the daylight.

Sleep consumed him, bringing with it odd dreams of elongated teeth, golden brown eyes, and a laugh like thunder.