Mar 03, 2023
16 mins read
I'm not sure what this will be yet, probably a novelette. This idea came to me as a conversation between two characters. I filled out the rest around that in a mad dash at like 4 am. Tell me what you think!
Dunkers (tentative title)
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. No one really knows who came up with that. Some say it’s from the Old Testament; some think it’s even older. I wonder if back then, whenever ‘then’ was, if they understood how true the saying would become.
I sit across from a man I’ve known for a decade. We’re in a plain room at one of the few havens that will have me. I need the table to do my thing. Well, that’s not really true. I need the engravings. I could make them myself, even just in the dirt. But what can I say? I’m a bad drifter. Shotty memory, chalk it up to my time in the heads of maniacs.
His name is Jasper. No last name. Fumies don’t tend to have ordinary things like last names or families. Probably why they go missing so often. He’s been rambling for a good five minutes. My name leaves his lips again, “Enna.” I’ve heard it so many times in the past few minutes that it almost sounds foreign. He wants me to know he’s serious; that his story isn’t a lie or the product of some heat-exhaustion-induced fever dream.
But he’s a fiend. He’s high right now.
Jasper isn’t picky. He’ll curb his needs with anything that’ll distort his mind. But like all junkies, he has a preference. I should know, I used to be one. Jasper is a dunker. I can see the black smears on his fingertips and under his nails. I can smell the fumes seeping from his soiled shirt like I’m in the dunk room with him.
His eyes give him away. Especially to someone like me.
His pupils are massive, and I can’t recall a time when they weren’t. His scleras are barely visible, and his irises have that multicolored metallic sheen like the surface of gasoline spilled on the pavement.
My eyes are orange. All drifters have orange eyes. Not just the iris, mind you, the pupil and sclera are orange too. All of it.
You get odd looks as kid with orange eyes.
Jasper’s enlarged pupils tell me all I need to know. Hell, anyone can tell he’s a fiend. And he’s the worst kind.
It takes a special kind of person to fall into the depravity of dunking. If Jasper took a shower, he might not even look like a fiend. His hair is still full and thick. Black like mine. His skin is brown, no yellow or green tint like most fumies—also like mine. He’s thin—thinner than one would think his build and height would dictate.
The experience of dunking is so intense that the user involuntarily digs their fingers into the railings of the tank. Most dunkers keep their nails short, lest their fingers become scabby, bloody numbs.
Fumies use empty tanks; honestly, I don’t know why they even use a tank. I don’t know who came up with that. The drug is an aerosol.
I try not to stare at his eyes too long. I don’t want to see what he did last night.
He’s shaking his head now, staring at the engravings on the table. I don’t think he’s considering them. I’m not sure he even understands their purpose. Like most, he probably thinks they’re for show.
And he’d be right—in a way.
“Please.” He looks at me, his pupils as wide as tires. “I know what I saw. I’m not crazy!”
“I believe you.”
His brows raise. Hell, mine almost join his. But the crazy thing is, I do believe him. He isn’t the first person to report a sighting. But he is a junkie, and people tend to dismiss anything a junkie says. Jasper is many things, but he’s not creative. He falls silent. I should’ve expected that. I’m sure it’s been years since anyone has said they believe a word that’s crawled from his foamy mouth.
“Why are you here?” I ask.
“No”—I raise my hand to emphasize the word and let a moment of silence punctuate it— “not your story. Why me?”
His mouth hangs open for just a moment longer than it should, and I know he’s going to gas me up. I put a stop to that shit before it can happen. I don’t have to say anything. My deadpan look says more than I need. He retreats into himself and slumps.
“I’m your last option,” I say. We both know it’s true.
“You’re my last option.” Bingo.
“Simo didn’t believe you?”
“He wouldn’t even see me. Said I was probably high.”
He answered too quickly, and his waving hands for effect did more to give him away than back him up.
“Well…” He stammers, and we both know a lie was about to follow the word, but he digresses. “Yeah, I was.”
“You’re high right now.”
My palm finds air and he stops. He knows not to push his luck. I might be persona non grata to the Cove, but I’m still a drifter. The only drifter who would be foolish enough to climb through the window to a dunker’s soul.
“Tell me what happened. From the beginning.”
“I was on Curt Street, near…” He looks away, presumably feeling guilty. I get it. I had those feelings too when I was a user.
“The details help,” I say.
“Near Dolby Park.”
I just need a spark, and then I’ll be in. I stare at wide eyes as he talks, but I don’t see it. Something is off, something important that’s stopping me climbing through. His fingers are tapping the table; I don’t think he knows he’s doing it. He’s leaving something out.
“Were you alone?”
He hesitates, and I know this is what I’m missing. This is what I need.
His mouth opens but the words won’t come to him. He’s looking past me, at the wall, but that doesn’t matter. I’m the one who needs to focus; he just needs to talk. His eyes gloss, dampness softening his cheeks.
“Bec was there.”
And I’m in.
His words fade as I zone out and zero in on his memory. I’m there. Bec is there. She looks worse than the last time I saw her. I hate that she never got out of this life. I hate that we never got that house or had those kids. The dreams of junkies lost to the wind.
Why was Jasper starting to cry?
Why is Bec here?
I feel it. I know it will happen.
Bec is going to die.
And no one will care. Bec is junkie, a loser.
Jasper and Bec are on the corner of Curt Street. But Jasper isn’t there anymore; I am. I’m with Bec. I hurt. My stomach twists and growls, but it’s not from hunger. I’m jonesing, and it’s bad. Jasper needs the tank; I need the tank.
It’s dark as they—we—cross Curt Street and enter Dolby Park. The forbidden park. There are no cars around, no one walking the street. Law abiding citizens are inside, obeying curfew. I’m holding a phone. We use the flashlight on the phone to see the cracked sidewalk and unkempt bushes in the park.
Bec is holding my hand. Were her and Jasper a thing? I know I shouldn’t veer off course, but I explore that thought. I take in the air around us and float from myself. I look at her, at them. I see them like I’m standing there with them, in front of them—but I’m not there; I’m just a specter in this flash of time that’s already happened. A wayward visitor in a place I shouldn’t be, a place I can’t stay in for too long.
Bec is afraid.
She’s not holding Jasper’s hand for companionship; she’s holding it to feel safe.
And I’m relieved. It’s sad—fucked up even—but I feel comforted knowing she’s just afraid. Knowing that she and Jasper aren’t hooking up.
I understand her fear. Dolby Park is at the edge of the city, and the park is off-limits.
I’m back in Jasper now.
This junkie asshole brought Bec to Dolby Park at night. Fucking dunkers.
Wait. Why are they here?
I search Jasper’s pockets. Figures. He has a can. They’re going to get high.
I jump from my chair and slam the table. Jasper nearly falls over.
“You piece of shit.” I yell and I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway. I’m mad, sue me.
“Did you see it?”
“You took her to the edge of the city? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Did you see it?”
“When did she start dunking?”
“Was it one of them?”
“What are you talking about?”
I’m so angry that it takes me a moment to notice how wet Jasper’s cheeks are now. He’s crying, full on crying. His legs and arms are shaking like hasn’t had a fix in months. His lips quiver, and I see the same fear on his face that I saw on Bec. Red hazes my vision of him, and I have to audibly count down from five to remind myself why I’m drifting into Jasper.
“I saw you and Bec at Dolby Park. I know you had a can. Why the fuck were you at the park?”
I’m still distracted. I can’t get the anger to subside. This dumb fucking fumie took my ex-girlfriend to a forbidden zone at night.
“Carlos won’t let me use the spot anymore. No one will let me use their tanks. There’s a shack—”
“That burnt down years ago.” Jasper is a braindead fumie; I don’t know why I’m surprised. My hands are on my hips. I could snap Jasper’s neck right now. No one would notice; no one would care. It wouldn’t be the first time I put down a junkie after drifting into them. Some sins are too great to wait for the law.
Did Jasper dunk and kill Bec?
Is he here to confess?
I’m losing sight of the trail again. I’m forgetting things. I feel myself fracturing. The room spins, Jasper spins. He laughs, he cries. The walls bleed and melt. I feel the world shaking, and I sit again.
“You stupid fuck.” I try to push through, but my head is throbbing. “You took—”
“It didn’t burn down.”
“What?” I look at him, but he breaks apart into a million pieces. His lips float and separate. One moves to the ceiling, the other to the floor. He’s speaking again, and the lips move like they’re still together. I don’t hear his words. I feel the sickness coming. I brace, but I know it’s futile.
Jasper is screaming, and I’m in the corner of the room puking. He’s probably never seen a drifter vomit before; it’s black like bile but wobbly like gelatin.
Then it’s over, and I’m still standing, staring at Jasper. I don’t know if any of it really happened. He doesn’t look shocked or frightened, so I assume it was in my head.
“It’s not burnt down,” he says. “It’s still there.”
Our conversation is still going. The experience felt like hours, but it must’ve been seconds.
“Bullshit,” I say, gathering myself and sitting again. “It was all over the news. That’s why Dolby Park was shut down. It’s too close to the edge anyway, the fire was the last straw. Some junkie—”
Jasper lunges over the table so quickly that I don’t even have time to react. “Go deeper,” he says. He’s trembling from head to toe. There’s a desperation on him that strikes something in me. He’s serious, and he’s terrified.
I was so caught up in Bec being there and knowing that she’s going to die that I forgot why Jasper had even come to me.
I orient my hands on the engravings again and take in his eyes.
The light from the phone brightens the jagged sidewalk. Bec is still holding my hand, Jasper’s hand. She feels warm, familiar. I miss her. I haven’t thought about her in years. I haven’t wanted to but being here with her now—then—tugs at my own memories.
We round a bend, and the shack comes into view. Jasper was right—it’s not burnt down.
The Cove lied.
Well, what else is new?
The shack door is locked. I don’t know why anyone ever called it a shack. It’s a building, about the size of a two-bedroom house. There’s only one door, one window. Jasper finds a rock and throws it through the window. He hoists Bec up, and she climbs through.
The door opens and Bec’s sunken, beautiful face is illuminated by the phone. There are three rooms in the shack. The first has a couch, some chairs, a table, and a stand that presumably had a TV on it at one time. All the furniture is covered with white sheets. The other two rooms are barren save for one dastardly detail—each room has a tank. The rooms are sealed and airtight, with pressurized doors. Dunking is serious business.
And that tracks. After all, the drug was created for chemical warfare.
Jasper and Bec can’t dunk at the same time. Dolby Park is off-limits. Someone has to keep watch. They argue about who will go first. Bec ultimately wins, and she’s happy. But I’m inside Jasper, his body, his thoughts, I see it all. I feel it all. The bastard let her win because he wanted to short her on the gas. He’s going to give her a third of the can and use the rest himself. But Bec has to dose his room; she’ll know he shorted her. Jasper isn’t the brightest of the bunch.
The worst of it is that Jasper doesn’t even realize this. He thinks he pulled one over on her, and she’ll just empty the rest of the can into his room without thinking about it. Fuck, he’s dumb.
Bec goes to her room. Jasper shuts the door and seals it. The vent above the door is vapor-proof. This shack was built for dunking. Gas can only travel into the room, not out.
Jasper gases her room and waits. Drifting is in real time. There’s no fast forward. So, I wait with Jasper, as Jasper, stuck with his miserable and foolishly boastful thoughts.
An hour passes. Bec will be under for another three. To Jasper’s credit, he doesn’t roam the shack or leave it. He stays at Bec’s room, sitting against the door.
I see it before he does. In fact, it takes him a disturbing amount of time to notice it.
Then, he finds it, and I feel the fear creep into him.
The rooms are on either side of a hallway. One end leads into the front room, where the entrance is, the other end of the hallway leads to a wall.
At the end leading to the front room, a figure stands. It’s short, three—maybe four—feet tall. Its arms are almost long enough to touch the ground. The shack is dark, and Jasper doesn’t shine the light down the hall. The figure is cloaked, but the thing is so dark that it contrasts the absence of light around it.
Jasper stares at the figure for a long, long moment. It doesn’t move. Japer doesn’t move.
Dolby Park is at the edge of the city, but still within the city limits. This thing shouldn’t be here. There are rules, laws. It can’t come here; to one of our cities. And we can’t encroach on their land. This was agreed upon well before my time. Yet here it is. One of them in our city.
Finally, the figure moves away from the hall. I don’t know where it goes. Jasper doesn’t know. Then, the stupid junkie scrambles to his feet and runs. The front room isn’t exactly small, but not’s not large either. There’s only one door to the shack. That thing is still in the front room, and Jasper runs in there anyway.
In his mind, the thing is out of sight, so he can make a break for it and get away. That is his thought process, and even though it’s the dumbest decision he could make, it works. He reaches the door and leaves without looking back.
Bec was still in there.
He left her there, and that thing was in the shack.
I’m back in the room with Jasper, and there’s blood on the table. The engravings are filled. He’s on the floor, crying and screaming. My hands are red. I’m standing over him. He’s begging me to stop, and I don’t remember any of it.