Dec 27 2012 2:00pm
The Heroin Chronicles: “Ghost Town,” An Exclusive Short Story Excerpt
The Heroin Chronicles, edited by Jerry Stahl, is the third anthology in the Drug Chronicles series and features short fiction by: Eric Bogosian, Tony O’Neill, L.Z. Hansen, John Albert, Sophia Langdon, Michael Albo, Gary Phillips, Nathan Larson, Jervey Tervalon, Lydia Lunch, Antonia Crane, and Ava Stander (available January 1, 2013).
From the introduction: “ …It may have been some twenty years since I’ve stuck a needle in my neck, but it’s not like everything above it has healed up nicely. Shooting dope isn’t what made me a crazy, pissed-off, outsider sleazeball and one-man crippling fear machine. Heroin just gave me an excuse. But that’s me. If the short stories you are about to read in this collection are about nothing else, they’re about actions—occasionally hell-driven, occasionally hilarious, uniformly desperation-and-delusion-fueled actions—the kind made by those in the grip of constant gnawing need. The entire anthology, on some level, can be viewed as an eclectic and festive encyclopedia of bad behavior…”
Appearing exclusively with permission of the author and Akashic Books:
Never answer the door at five forty-five a.m. on a Sunday morning. Either somebody’s too high, somebody has just died, or somebody has just arrived who wants to kill you.
I drove 2,777 miles just to get away from him. From the Hudson River to the Pacific Ocean and it still wasn’t far enough away.
A low-brow dirt bike racer from Topanga Canyon who was hell bent on a cross-country creepy crawl had pulled up, swept me off my feet, threw me into the front seat of his dilapidated pickup truck, and headed west, gunning it at full speed until we hit the “Slum by the Sea”: Venice, California. He said he was on a rescue mission to save me. That he had been sent east by a mutual friend who was concerned for my safety after hearing stories about hospital stays and late-night 911 calls. Great, the sociopath abducts the schizophrenic out from under the psychopath in a late-night snatch-and-grab.
Something had to give because I was at the breaking point. The burned-out buildings, uncollected garbage, broken streetlights, endless break-ins, chronic shake-downs, and general havoc wreaked on the streets of New York City’s Lower East Side, circa 1979, were a cake walk next to the damage being done in my own apartment. The alcoholic pill-popping Irish construction worker who I’d been holed up with for the past few months was getting mean.
Jealous, cruel, and beautiful. An irresistible combination of mania and machismo. By day he’d play iron man. Up at the crack of six sporting boxers and a wife beater, Lucky Strike behind his left ear, throwing sandwiches in a bag, filling a thermos with black coffee and Irish whiskey, singing a silly rockabilly song, a sly smile dancing under sleepy green eyes, happy to just be alive as he kissed me goodbye and disappeared out the door. Everything hunky dory until the sun went down, the knives came out, and he stumbled back from the bar half plastered after banging steel girders together for another eight-hour stretch. The first thirty minutes were always filled with bliss. We’d kiss, fall back onto the bed, and batter our bodies into each other until one of us started bleeding. Then batter away a little more after swallowing a couple of Seconals with a back of Johnnie Walker Black.
And that, my friend, is where the trouble came in. Loverboy loved his booze more than he loved me, and in return the booze hated my fucking guts. Probably because I refused to play slave to it and only used it as a lubricant for pharmaceuticals. A treacherous combination which triggered the bitch that provoked the bastard and resulted in a fucking that felt more like fighting, and the fighting would flare up over some petty jealous bullshit usually concerning who I was or wasn’t fucking while the dick was dry humping rebar over at the construction site breaking his goddamn ass, and on and on until the garbage trucks rumbled on their early-morning run and he’d pass out for two or three hours, waking up refreshed and ready to greet the day as if nothing had happened, with a “Good mornin’, darlin’, care for a cup of joe?” as he smiled whistling through his wolfen teeth.
If Brando did Badlands while stoned on barbiturates and booze . . . well . . . you get the picture. The one that played in rerun like a bad Turner Classic that our TV eyes got stuck on night after night for weeks on end.
Yeah . . . yeah, and so it went, so wrapped up in torturing the shit out of each other that the world outside our ghetto hidey-hole was a squirrel-gray cotton-candy haze that we were too fucked up to realize didn’t muffle the screeching or screams forever leaching out the windows and reverberating into the street below, and if anyone was tuned in they probably could have heard us all the way to the West Coast. Our psychosis getting carried away like radio frequencies emitting toxic shock waves into the ionosphere. I needed to get the fuck out. And fast.
I spiked his drink, packed a bag, left a note, and climbed into the front seat of the grease monkey’s pickup truck, which was parked on the corner of 12th Street and Avenue B where he had been waiting for me to show up for thirty-six hours so that he could “save me.”
Four days later we landed in Ghost Town. A grungy biker and his nubile Las Vegas bride, a bitchy witch dressed in black casting voodoo glances at the neighboring hood rats. They probably feared the look on my face more than I feared what they hid in their waistbands. The gangbangers left me alone. But the ghosts wouldn’t. They were everywhere.
Some people are afraid of ghosts and what lurks in the dark. Terrified of the possibility of the unseen violators sneaking around within its murky shadows. But true evil is arrogant by nature and doesn’t always bother to hide its intentions under the cloak of night. It gathers even more power by flaunting its vigor in the unadulterated glare of a perpetual high noon.
Los Angeles. A beautifully hideous sprawl. Stretching like an ever-expanding virus of sick contagion under the relentless sun as hot Devil Winds blow down from the mountains scorching the landscape. The promise of an endless summer shattered by gunshots and sirens, helicopters and hospital beds.
In 1980, Los Angeles County reported 51,448 violent crimes, 27,987 cases of aggravated assault, and 1,011 murders. The Sunset Strip Slayers preyed on young women, ex-lovers, and each other’s twisted fantasies as they played out depraved rituals with the decapitated head of one of their victims. Welcome to Hollywood, asshole, where anything is possible.
New York City may have been bankrupt, decrepit, and suffering from the final stages of rigor mortis, but the California Dream was a waking nightmare of dead-end streets ripe with bloated corpses where bad beat poets, dope-sick singers, cracked actors, and petty criminals were all praying to a burned-out star on the sidewalk. All betting on a chance encounter which would flip the script in the lousy late-night made-for-TV movie of their wasted lives. I guess I was no different.
Everything was fucking peaches and whipped cream for the first six months of matrimonial bliss, until the lunatic who rescued me from the maniac took a bad spill on the Pacific Coast Highway and ended up in a coma with two charges of vehicular manslaughter on his rap sheet and a letter at the side of his bed which threatened eviction from our Venice crash pad. I went home and started to pack my bags.
In the same way that a shark can smell blood, a junkie’s sixth sense alerts him to any possible random opportunity that may arise in which he can hustle, steal, score, or move in on and take advantage of an unsuspecting mark’s benevolent disposition, a friend’s temporary weakness, or an ex-girlfriend’s first night alone in a near-empty house. It was five forty-five a.m. on a Sunday morning when the doorbell blasted and shattered what was left of my nerves.
Impeccable timing. The bastard always had it. Even down to the way he smoked a cigarette as I opened the door. Holding it down between thumb and index, deep drag, a small puckering sound as he pulled it away from his lips, staring straight into my eyes before he flung the butt into the wet grass. A sadistic smirk creeping in and cracking up the left side of his face. His husky whisper, hypnotic and irresistible . . . “Good mornin’, darlin’, spare a cup of joe for the road warrior?”
The Irish construction worker. One hundred and ninety-three days later and a distance of almost three thousand miles meant nothing to the madman convinced he could walk right in whistling Dixie and simply steal me back. Don’t laugh. I let him in.
With the cunning of a snake that can sense whether or not you’re about to attack it first, a schizophrenic can detect the atmospheric flux in a psychopath’s gravitational force field. Something inside him had shifted slightly since I last saw him. His magnetism seemed less manic. More mesmerizing. Fucking hypnotic.
“I’m off the sauce.” He grinned, head cocked, a quick wink, and one hand pulling out a small white packet of what I assumed to be coke from the inside pocket of his leather jacket.
“And on the skids,” I quipped, turning toward the bedroom door, which he quickly pinned me against.
“Don’t walk away from me. Not again. I’ll leave. I will. Let’s just smoke a cigarette, do a little line, and if you want me to leave, I’ll go. Promise. I just want to look at you for another five minutes.”
He slowly backed away, pulling me with him, easing me onto the couch as he got down on one knee, like a love-struck delinquent, sucking air between his teeth and whispering, “Damn . . . You are a luscious little bitch . . .” He opened the packet, spilled out some powder, rolled a note, and handed it to me with a sweet smile that concealed his deceit and treachery. I had to get the hell away from him or I’d be suckered right back in.
“I need coffee . . .” I lied. I needed to split. “I’ll put some on.”
I slithered off the couch, fake smile planted on my lips, and suggested he chop out a few fatties. I’d be right back. I planned on spiking him again. I still had half a dozen Seconals left over from our binge in New York. I quit that shit when I quit him. Make it strong enough and black enough and he’ll never know what hit him. I’d grab a bag, write a note, and leave both the psychopath and the sociopath where they belonged. In fucking comas.
I could hear the methodical rhythm of razor on glass. A deep snotty inhalation as he cleared his throat. A quick snort followed by a soft chuckle. Why the hell was that motherfucker chuckling? It prickled the hair on the back of my neck.
I poured the coffee, emptied the red devils into the muddy brew, and prayed for deliverance while slinking over to the couch. He handed me the note, I gave him the cup. I just wanted to get this over with.
He swigged the coffee like he was chugging beer. Old habits and all that shit. I snorted a fat blast of what I thought was coke and immediately fell ass backward, landing on the bag I had been packing earlier that night and hitting my head on the edge of the table. It knocked me out.
I woke up bloody and puking. Projectile vomiting. All over the table. All over his dope. All over his boots. Down the front of my slip. Great heaving waves of gelatinous funk shooting out of my mouth and nose. Thick rich fists of sour phlegm cascading in golden arcs all over the room. I pissed myself and started to laugh. The bastard had almost killed me. I had never done heroin. He knew that. It just wasn’t my trip. I wasn’t looking for nirvana, a velvet womb, or a soft euphoric haze of interstellar space to melt into. I dug the shit that jacked up the irritation level. Barbs and booze. Coke or speed. LSD. Something that accelerated my already jacked-up metabolism. I wasn’t interested in slowing shit down. Smoothing it out. Softening the edges. I wanted to keep the edges rough, like the one I had just hit my head against. The one that had finally banged a bit of sense into my thick nugget. Never, under any circumstances, will I ever again answer the door at five forty-five a.m. on a Sunday morning.
Copyright © 2013 Lydia Lunch
Introduction Copyright © 2013 Jerry Stahl
Lydia Lunch is always rebelling against the hypocrisy of America’s picture-perfect Hollywood image, which it exports through television, films, and commercial music. Her art has always revealed the down-and-dirty side of the all-too-real American underbelly. She is the author of Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary and Will Work for Drugs, both published by Akashic Books.
Novelist, journalist, and screenwriter, Jerry Stahl is the author of six books, including Permanent Midnight, Pain Killers, and I, Fatty. Most recently, he wrote the HBO film, Hemingway & Gellhorn.