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Anhedonius

I.

The sign from above doesn’t come in time to stop the man’s finger from squeezing the trigger, and I don’t think it’s intended to,  but it does come in time — in that last moment, that last tenth of a second when the bullet tears a gap through the front of my skull and just starts to impact brain matter — that’s when this all replays in a flash before my eyes, clear as crystal in perfect hindsight. The slowdown doesn’t keep him from ending my life, but it does give me time to float in limbo for a while, with the last one percent going live time. I can already feel myself – my soul, my spirit, my essence, whatever the fuck it is —  leaving my soon-to-be-lifeless body here in Mercer’s godforsaken laboratory and rewinding back in to my pre-lab rat self and my first memory of puking on my mom’s church blouse as a ten month old.  It’s all a fast forwarded, speed-of-light slipstream, from first memory to childhood to manhood to my fall from grace and my ascension to the manifestation of grace itself. It slows down and then it grinds on the purgatory brakes — that fateful morning when I woke up and my wretched problems became a certain pharmaceutical giant’s glorious windfall, and I’m reliving it again, as some final gift…and curse, a two-in-one combo. Fate’s endgame caveat to me for redeeming myself is the chance to relive the moments that mattered. The moments that gave meaning to my life and grant me some peace and reassurance. One last breath away from the end, the replay is the first thing that makes me feel since the floodgates were opened right after the inundation. The shock and awe of the moment shatters the anhedonia, and I find it ironic that the ultimate pain of a killing blow is the only thing that makes me feel again. But it’s fine. It’s all fine….

So this is my choice. The bullet is resolving this fucked up mess for me. Lifting the burden that I’ve carried, unaware, for my entire life. Liberating. Absolving.  It breaks through all the tortured second guesses and musings on whether I did right by a moral code that never existed until they found me and spilled innocent blood.

The round is one third of the way through my mutated brain when time stops completely and the bullet stops traveling. Maybe it’s God’s way of watching the sizzle reel of his latest casualty on the last spiral rung of the mortal coil and slingshotting me onto that home stretch of hairpin turns it before I shuffle off it for good. The Omnipotent, All-Seeing and All-Knowing Creator, Him cranking the projector and me in the front row of the theatre and filling in the shoes of the lead actor at the same time.

He plays cosmic origami and folds space-time in on itself, but not for me.

For you, and your children, and your children’s children.

Action. This is how it goes.

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II.

The ruthless gorilla on my back rips me out of my shivering limbo at 6:42am with a primal biological roar. It’s five or six days ago, but exactly how long, I couldn’t tell you.

The first shockwave reverberates up and down my body, and before I even open my eyes, I can smell my desperate miasma of sweaty filth that has steadily absorbed in to my comforter and mattress overnight. Everything is soaked through, but I am shivering, and this is the breaking point when natural sleep is no longer physically possible without a heavy blend of muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines to insist and usher it through. Peaks and valleys in my body temperature, deeply set bone aches, and the twitchy, restless kicking of my feet mark my descent in to a domain of sleepless suffering.

I know this world all too well. It is a shadowed reality in which I am a tormented spirit, drifting about, envious of those who awake to a new day to face the sunrise with goals and to do lists and optimistic aspirations of progressive revelry. I am an excellent faker, a trained chameleon; one who can keep my shoulders squared and reciprocate the imploring gaze of “normals” on the street as they pass by, fooled by a false smile that is all teeth and perfectly chipper. But the teeth in the back, the teeth you don’t see, are rotted and abscessed in pieces. You see, the normal on the street would be horrified by the truth: that under the veil within me, everything is falling to ruin.  

My body has already leapt off the precipice of retaining any food for longer than fifteen minutes before it comes back up. I am ten hours away from being unable to drive.  I am fourteen hours away from being unable to walk or speak coherently.

I am twenty-two hours away from full-blown hell.

I’ve never reached the full end of the countdown or checked in to a hospital, but I can tell you what happens next, because one thing is guaranteed. This will not be the last time I wake up this way.

Withdrawal envelops every waking second and divides time outward in to a distorted and thin razor’s edge that threatens the boundaries of my senses. It cuts in to every breath, every pore, every moment of being. Each cycle festers the wound further. There is no healing to be had. I carry the scars forever. It fractures that natural warmth imbued by the very beginnings of life inside the womb and destroys that balance, forever skewing any concept of a “comfort zone.” Once deceived, I am forever betrayed by my own pleasure center to expect a singular and fleeting state of ecstasy that cannot be replicated by anything other than the devouring, priority perforating poison that systematically imbued itself within me. Heroin has dismantled my body and brain’s definition of “survival.”

The routinely simple act of standing to face the day becomes a daunting and seemingly impossible task amidst this crippled stupor. The horde of angered ice insects crawling just beneath my flesh will continue to intensify until it skitters like a raging swarm with no inkling of mercy. My gut rumbles, topsy-turvy from its opiate induced rollercoaster. It flip-flops between the urge to purge itself through vomit and shit. Or both, sometimes simultaneously.

This is only the beginning.

I roll out of bed and grab my trusty five-gallon paint bucket in a clumsy race to the bathroom. I’ve eaten nothing in two days and have barely had anything to drink except water. The spastic mouthfuls of puke are nothing but pure, acidic stomach bile.  I am afraid to see the tarlike black blob that’s exiting my large intestine from the other end, a sort of unique purged creature that I’ve given birth to hundreds of times, each increasingly more discomforting and revolting than the last. I dump my bucket and flush the results of my latest binge in to the depths of this decrepit city and all its horrible temptations, eyes tightly shut in denial, too afraid to see blood in the water. Too afraid to see my face in the mirror. Too afraid to see the hunger.

This is the last time.

Right.

I splash cold water on my face after nearly an hour of suffering and refuse to look up and face what I’ve become in the half-shattered mirror. The first hints of the sun creep through torn and ragged venetian blinds as I fight a thirty second war within myself that seems to last for an eternity.

Never again.

I microwave two-day-old leftovers from the coffee pot and manage to force down some of it before the mug slips from my hands and bursts into glass shards on the kitchen floor. I scream loud enough to wake others through the walls of my building, furious and full of hate for no one but the devilishly selfish little fiend inside me that grows and evolves by the second.  He breaks through and takes control of me, and I am helpless and hijacked. I am in the driver’s seat no longer.  The fiend commands me to grab my phone, form the first two words,  with my other half — no, my other six percent — quietly cursing what’s left of my human side for even considering the thought of kicking off this nightmarish cycle all over again.

I need

No. You don’t. Stay away, fiend. Go away forever.

I press delete and throw the phone across the room against the wall, with the fiend secretly hoping that it won’t be busted when I inevitably lose another temporary battle at the mercy of his relentless assault. The struggle between what’s left of my old self and the fiend gets more vicious as a fresh chill sweeps down my back and my nose starts to run. Logic parry, passion riposte, and then he connects with a temptation slash to the jugular. The false flu drip, wobbly knees, and a newfound sense of enfeeblement reinforce the fiend’s argument on all three levels. He scores the first point of many.

My body takes his side. My mind takes his side. My spirit surrenders de facto, having evaporated long ago, along with my fiancée, all my friends, all my family.

I trudge back to the living room and pick up the phone yet again. I open the sliding glass doors to the small patio outside and consider throwing the damn thing off the balcony in to the stream of traffic below, to be crushed under the tires of a taxi or garbage truck. The fragment of humanity left within me smiles at the strength of considering such a proposition, but the fiend injects a potentially horrific thought of losing all the numbers for my backup contacts and less-than-frequent sources of heroin alternatives in to the stream of protest. I have at least ten phone numbers for my main three dope hooks committed to memory, but I can’t recall the number for my mother or my sister to save my life.

The fiend tries to force my thoughts away from them and how long it’s been since I’ve heard their voices. A fresh tsunami of guilt and shame pulls me within its undertow, providing the fiend yet another reason to grab the phone and cop a fix. A temporary twelve-hour memory wipe fails to suppress the cold truth that I am a lost son and uncle to my sister’s newborn twins. They are likely walking and talking now, but cannot recognize a sunken face that their eyes have never beheld, and probably never will, until they are sealed shut in a funeral parlor.

I sputter after a throaty belch and dregs of the microwaved coffee threaten to come up. I swallow them back down and shudder.

The fiend interrupts my pity party, while the logical me tries to divert my inevitable journey back to hell with any other way of surviving the next seventy two hours without pissing away my life and future through a needle in my arm.

Kill half a bottle of the bourbon in the freezer instead. Take some of those three year old, expired “rainy day” Xanax from your trusty old kicking stash, and go comatose for sixteen hours before the REAL pain begins.

The fiend says no.

Kill the entire bottle, all the Xanax, all the Soma, and pass out forever. He can’t win if you’re dead.

No.

Make it even easier! Eat the business end of the Glock under the bed, pull the trigger, and leave a nice mess for your prick landlord!

Tempting, but no.

Rustle up some fake tears, make up a story about your grandpa dying, and beg the fellow junkies across the hallway to share seconds on their morning black tar shot.

Their fiend is more conniving and evil than mine. Not a chance in hell.

Walk the five blocks in the cold to the methadone clinic and get there before seven and just maintain, motherfucker. Maintain, maintain, maintain. Physically, you’ll be well. Not high, but well enough to keep some food down.

Food? Psh. No.

Pull another cash advance, max out the fourth credit card, and make it all better.

Why yes, Mr. Fiend. That sounds like an excellent idea. Let’s do that.

My hands shake even worse now with a renewed mixture of sickness, blended with an anxious anticipation and an absolute fear that my first choice within the hierarchy of connects has a possibility of falling through. Amir ignores you if he’s out, regardless of how many calls or texts he receives, or he responds within five minutes and instructs you to meet him at one of many stash houses that he holds throughout the city.  In addition to consistently providing powerful and nearly pure enough shit capable of knocking out an elephant with less than a tenth of a gram in the bloodstream, he provides deals to his regulars and is willing to front out advances to the truly dedicated junkies who will place priority on quality and ease of acquisition above all else . He also supplies me with clean points and a safe and private place to inject.  I key in a badly garbled text message, riddled with extra characters and absent of any punctuation whatsoever.

Good moring friend cam I pleas stop by to see Helena I miss her no front todaz I have moneyis 15;00 hrs okaythanks brother

Oops. That’s the fiend spelling it out just a little too quickly.

Good morning, Amir my man. I need to stop by and see Helen of Troy. I miss her so dearly. No credit needed! Nine o’clock sharp, thank you brother!

The next four and a half minutes stretch out in to a continuum of eternity as I stare at the digital clock on my microwave, pacing back and forth from the kitchen and in to the living room. My finger hovers over the send button to my plan B connect (good old Powpow!) and my phone beeps with the heavenly godsend of a newly arrived confirmation from Amir.

All good, she’s ready for you and she brought a friend, got a little extra surprise for you today.

The fiend inside assumes full control. A rush of pre-fix adrenaline manufactures itself out of nowhere and floods through my legs.

I slice my foot on a broken shard of glass from the coffee cup in my haste to find the most presentable pair of pants from the wrinkled pile in the corner of my living room that hasn’t been laundered in over a month. I don’t feel or notice it until I shove my socks and shoes on.

<My observatory window gets a little fuzzy. Hypophysis, anterior lobe, optic chiasma, ophthalmic nerve, olfactory trigone, all shredded now. The first half of my brain is mush. This bullet is making impressive progress, ripping right along. I am a third person observer of my own body on autopilot as it bounds down the stairs three at a time, opting for a quicker descent to the street than the elevator.>

The fiend traverses the grid, cleans out what’s left of my account at the ATM,  and nearly sprints the remaining nine blocks to Amir’s building, stopping to vomit one last time in to a storm drain, oblivious to the judgmental, baffled looks of sour disdain on the faces of the pedestrians unfortunate enough to cross Captain Sidewalk Fiend’s path.

In the back of my mind, I can’t help but feel as though I am being watched by someone other than a random stranger on the street as the fiend pulls the puppet strings. Fate holds much more than a ritualistic and routine shift from misery to paradise for me on this gloomy overcast morning.

Enter the morning of my life that starts like any other. The change that needs to happen, that is bound to happen for someone like me — it is not the change that actually occurs. It should be the first step towards sobriety, death by the hand of the fiend in the form of an overdose, or suicide. But it is none of these things. It’s a change that will transform the world when it is finished with me, and if I might redeem the small shred of a soul that remains in my wretched body, then this is the day that fate guides me off my own desperate and pathetic path of self-destruction, towards an encounter with an evil more potent and terrible than anything I could have possibly comprehended when I woke up this morning, sick and sad and pathetic as always.

It’s true, what they say. Once a junkie, always a junkie.

But what they don’t say?

Even junkies can have a purpose, and mine is not to save myself.

It’s to save everyone else.


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III.

I rap on the door to Amir’s apartment with both hands. Three over two. Spiral out, spiral out.

Of his many quirks and paranoid requirements to complete a transaction, a codified rhythmic pattern pulled straight from Tool’s “Lateralus” signifies that I am not his cleaning service, a rival from midtown with a gun, or a Jehovah’s Witness.

My phone buzzes with another text. Quirk number two.

Password?

I check the calendar app on my phone to see if it’s an even or an odd week of the month, and to confirm what day it is.

“Whorish homunculus,” I say out loud in the empty hallway, feeling like a fool, but jumping through the required hoops, nonetheless.

He opens the door, and he is the first human being of the day that doesn’t give me a once over of pity and disapproval. He grins, and I manage a forced smile, not to match his candor, but because I am a few more painful minutes away from being well, and that’s the only thing that matters.

“Ah, Davy boy. It’s been a bit since I saw you last,” Amir says, chuckling as I slump on to his sofa. “You’ve been avoiding me, eh? Going for that cheaper fent-cut garbage from the gulch, no doubt?”

“Going for nothing, actually. I was two days in to the good fight, but fuck it,” I confess, failing to meet his gaze and dropping my cash roll on the coffee table, opting instead to stare at the paintings on the wall. “I have to play downtown tonight and there’s no way I can hold a beat like this. They’d boo Chance off stage before we even got through the first song.”

Two oil paintings of Willie Nelson, one in his young years and one in his sixties, seem to be watching me, eyes piercing through my putrid soul. “The Peeping Willies,” as Amir’s customer base has dubbed them, have seen me transform countless times in this very room, from a hollowed weakling to a fiending phoenix, rising from the ashes to spread my wings and soar over cloud nine. Who knows what else they’ve beheld from their stationary post of observance. I certainly don’t want to know.

Amir cleans his hands with Purell, knowing full well that my own are too shaky to properly prepare a shot to hit myself with. He obliges me the courtesy of mixing part of my purchase in to a new dope cooker with bacteriostatic water and a micron filter. He knows that I need point four grams of the three and a half I’ve just bought before I’ll offer much in the form of conversation. He draws it up in to a fresh Luer-lock rig, breaking the seal to fill it with forty units of golden amber liquid, barely translucent and devoid of any air bubbles. The nectar of the gods, my be all and end all, ready to plunge me in to paradise.

“Hey, Amir. Go ahead and make it a straight Gee. Point four ain’t gonna do it tonight.” I say.

“Sure, no problem Dee, just don’t be nodding out halfway through your set brother.” Amir says with a chuckle.

He ties the tourniquet around my forearm leisurely and pulls a sealed vial with some sort of intricate logo on it that appears to be an interlocking “W” and “M” overlaid in to each other. The liquid inside glows in the light of the living room with an electric sapphire color. I find myself captivated by it, normally fixated on the pulsing of my go-to vein of choice on the left side of my hand leading up my wrist. Hell’s highway. But the vial demands my attention as Amir stabs the syringe in to it, drawing up a remaining forty units.

“W-What are you doing? What the fuck is that shit?” I ask, intrigued and annoyed, curiosity piqued but struck by a sudden onslaught of unrest that my fix is delayed by the substance in question.

<I could save his life and tell him to pour the crude Blue down the sink, but then the butterfly wing flap from earlier, when 0.4 became 1.0, could become a tsunami that levels Japan, and more than twelve perish in the lab a few hours from now as they try to harvest it again. There’s already too much blood on my hands.>

“This is that little ‘extra’ I was telling you about on the phone,” Amir says, smiling from ear to ear. “You don’t even know how fortunate you are to be getting a taste of this. Nocturnus illuminatus. My sister’s boss hates it, but all his lab geeks are calling it Liquid Blue.”

“Whoa whoa whoa, Amir. Your sister? This is a new product from Mercer pharma and it’s not even out of TESTING yet!?  I thought you were going to mix in a little coke or ketamine or something. You know I’m picky. Is it an opiate potentiator? How many people have fired it as a speedball? Do you have some narcan? What if I fall out? You know I’m not big on contaminating my first …”

I trail off as two massive men in expensive suits come out of the bedroom in the hallway with a briefcase.

I forget to keep speaking and let out a startled cry of surprise. They unlatch it on the table and slide it across to Amir. It’s more cash than I’ve ever seen in my life, neatly folded in perfect stacks of crisp hundred dollar bills. At least half a million, if not more than that.

It’s remarkable, really, how your entire world, the people you know, the routines you come to expect — they can turn over on themselves in a matter of seconds and explode in to chaos.

Holy shit, what is this?

“Amir, what the fuck man, who are these —-“

“You were right,” the first suit says. “He did say exactly what you said he would.”

“I told you boys. He’s my favorite junkie, the only regular I’ll hit and take care of like this, and he’s a damn BEAST when it comes to tolerance. He could fire this entire bun and still not fall out.” Amir cackles, pulling one of the bill rolls from the briefcase and placing it under his nose as he sniffs it.

“Hey, wait a second, what are they paying you for, Amir?” I grab my drugs instinctively and rip the tie-off from my arm as I rise to my feet, backing to the door slowly. “Look, I don’t deal. You’re looking at possession and purchasing, but he’ll never testify against me in court. A fucking NARC, Amir? You’re always so careful man! How did they get to you? At least let me shoot my shit before you arrest me, I can’t believe this bullsh….”

The second suit pulls a silenced USP .45 from his jacket pocket and places it firmly against my temple.

“Sit back down, sir. You came here to get high, and you’re going to get high.” He says, chillingly calm and collected.

Yeah, not cops.

I’m not going to jail, but something inside me tells me that would be the better scenario.

My heart pounds and races. For the first time in my life, there’s a fully loaded shot of heroin in front of me and I don’t want it. I take a deep breath and try not to make any sudden moves. Both suits are watching me like birds of prey.

“Cap it off. The last ten units.” The first suit says to Amir.

“Look fellas,” Amir says, trying to reason with them. “Put the gun away, he’s the last guy you would ever have to force –“

The suit redirects the gun from my head and fires a round in to the ceiling with a muffled phwip before placing it back against my ear. It burns my skin and I wince in pain, but I don’t say word.

“OK! OK! Chill the fuck out, Jesus Christ!” Amir interjects, filling the last ten units of the Luerlock with yet another vial of clear, “normal” looking fluid that the suit with the briefcase pulls from his pocket. It’s not labeled and could be anything, in addition to the Liquid Blue that’s turned my shot completely cerulean,  seemingly undiluted. Any latecomer to the party would have no idea it was a combination of three substances and the encased fluid loses none of its strong blue hue. “You’re going to be fine bro, my sister works for Mercer, they’re just paying me so they can keep you doped up for free and observe you for the first twelve hours while….”

The second suit fires another round in to the ceiling.

“NOT ANOTHER FUCKING WORD, PAVEL!” The other suited man roars. “You inject him in the next thirty seconds, or the cash goes out the door, and the rest of this clip goes in your chest and brain, got it? I’ll tell your sister the junkie swiped my piece and shot you. DON’T TEST ME.”

“Oh man, oh God, I should have just gone to the clinic, I can’t believe this….”

“Not another word from you either or there won’t be enough heroin in the world to stop the pain from the next bullet shattering your kneecap, Davy boy.”

They know my name.

Amir ties off my arm again, pierces my flesh, and misses my vein completely. I wince with the flash of thin metal digging inside the scar tissue,  and he has to back out of it and reregister. I shiver, because in two years of trusting his expertise, I realize that I’ve never seen him miss. Ever.

“I-It’s ok, Amir, just d-do it,” I say, shaking all over and terrified, but trying not to show it. The most pathetic part is, the fiend inside of me is still excited about being fed, and even more so about the rush of a new high that he’s never experienced before. Memories and lapses of a “feeling catalogue” dance through my mind,  searching for a way to compare what I’m about to feel to the warm and itchy onset of pins and needles from heroin, the instant numbed jumpstart dopamine flood from cocaine, the breath taking euphoric creeping embrace of oxymorphone…

“You’re going to be fine, man. You’re gonna feel great. When this is over and they have their data, I’m going to give you a hundred thousand bucks of my cut….” He trails off as the red plume of blood floods in to the barrel of the syringe, indicating that he’s in, and he pushes the plunger home. I close my eyes, sweating bullets as I release the tourniquet for a second time.

I wait for the rush. The familiar warmth blends with a foreign elation, and then it feels like weighted anvils are pulling down on my chest. I surrender to it, but I know I’m about to fall out, not from an overdose, but something entirely different. It’s almost like a “K-hole,” but ten times heavier. I’ve done enough barbiturates to realize part of the mix is a tranquilizer, without a doubt. I feel consciousness starting to slip, but I want it to go, because it feels so wonderful….

“Go pull the van around.”

“I don’t have to come with you guys, right?”

“Nope, you’ve done your job. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

I’ve got maybe ten seconds left before my senses shift away in to induced sleep, but I try with all my strength to fight it, to listen. I open my mouth to speak and the sound is the weak moan of a groggy spectre, a doped up visage who can barely string two barely coherent words together.

“Whaaat was dat laaaast stuff you put in der, Uhmerr…” My voice slurs as I start to drift away.

I hear the last words, foggy and distant and a hundred miles away before the blackness takes me completely. I hear the muted whipping of another gunshot and feel the vibration of something hitting the floor near my feet. It could be a body. The last words — they are not Amir’s words. The voice belongs to one of the suited men.

“Thorazine. Nighty night, you poor bastard. “


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IV.

<Ladies and gentlemen, the middle frontal gyrus and lateral sulcus are destroyed. We are down to the intra parietal sulcus and the occipital gyri, then a few inches of skull, some skin and hair, and the peaceful end to it all. But this is when time will slow down even more. This is when I’ll be able to make huge, sweeping changes if I can. Maybe I can save some of them. Maybe I can make Mercer suffer more than he did the first time around. There are plenty of maybes that I want to bring around full swing. We’ll see what we can do. This is weird, but it’s about to get downright fun. This is when I go from dirty, despicable junkie to ultimate martyr. Roll all of these personal favorites of mine in to one and thank me later when they aren’t chopping up your neighbor’s mother to cure your lung cancer without telling you where the miracle came from because you wouldn’t take it if you knew. This is my moment, when I’m  — before this bullet destroys my amygdala and epithalamus and I forget them — Andy Dufresne. Neo. King Leonidas. Rocky. Inigo Montoya. Marty McFly. Frodo Baggins. James Bond. Han MotherFucking Solo.>

I open my eyes slowly, disoriented, and it all comes flooding back when I realize that I am in a brightly lit white room instead of my dark hovel above 28th street.  The gunpoint cocktail, the double cross payoff, the flood of bliss and feeling perfect, feeling whole, feeling complete and then polished beyond the human body’s learned concept of limited pleasure…

When this is over and they have their data….

Captivity. I am a guinea pig. This must be some sort of clandestine, high-security lab at Mercer Pharma.

I am a prisoner in what I can only describe as a sealed off prison cell of reinforced glass with interlocked walls on each side. My body should be lingering in the shadowed reality of waking up sober, dulled and paying the price for what I’ve put in to it, but the withdrawal isn’t there.

Men and women in lab coats are standing outside the cube, watching me like a confined rat in an experiment, jotting notes down on clipboards.

I can hear every last word they’re muttering, even though I shouldn’t be able to. Even without the glass between us, it shouldn’t be possible for me to discern their conversations, but I can break it down to every last consonant and syllable. They’re talking about my “awareness level” and “stigma overload” and “stimulus thresholds.”

My eyes.

Can. See. Everything. EVERYTHING.

The lab techs and their neck hairs, standing on end, likely due to the fact that they’ve been watching me sleep for however long and now I’m up and moving and they’re witnessing raw data in action. I see globules of ink ejecting from the tips of their gel roller pens. I hear it congeal and scrape against the paper. I can discern what words are forming on the paper, based on the angles and strokes and how the pens rotate between their thumbs and index fingers.

I can smell heroin — MY bag of heroin that I purchased at Amir’s — inside the top left drawer of the desk on the far wall where the suit with the gun is typing furiously at a computer. From across the room, I can see every key that his fingers mash in sequence and I can see the words he’s forming spelling out visually in live time inside my brain, even though the monitor is turned with its back side to me.  He’s typing something up about “unavoidable collateral damage” and how unpredictable and dangerous I was. Some kind of rundown report, mostly false and manufactured to make it seem like Amir was shot by me before they got the gun back and put me under. More lies, about how they unplugged Amir’s security cameras and there’s no footage to verify what happened, so Mr. Mercer would you please take our word against his, and tell Pavel’s sister that his last words were that he loved her before he bled to death.

And none of this should be possible for a human being to extrapolate from my vantage point here. Not for anyone, and ESPECIALLY not for me, coming off a fat dose of thorazine and dope and…

The Liquid Blue.

I jump off the cot they’ve provided for me inside my glass box and slam my fists against the barrier, and that’s when I realize there’s an IV stuck in the crook of my arm, feeding in to a wallfish at the top of the cell that branches along the lab in to what appears to be very sophisticated hospital equipment in the rear corner. I try to rip it out of my skin, but it’s clamped in with staples. The pain that shoots through my arm from aggravating the puncture spreads through me like exhaust from a jet engine.

I pound my fists against the glass, cursing them up and down, demanding for them to let me go, threatening lawsuits and ass kickings and murderous violent acts that I have no current ability to bring to fruition. I already have the attention of everyone in the lab, but they don’t acknowledge the extreme change in my behavior, except to write more furiously. They erupt in to more spirited conversation about their newest pet and something tells me that they know I can hear them, and they don’t give two shits whether I’m eavesdropping or not.

“So lively! The energy level! His endorphins are through the roof!”

“If he doesn’t collapse within ten minutes, then this is the endgame formula for sure.”

“No, it’s working and the subject functions at the threshold, but what they gave him was a fraction of the purity of what we have here. It has to be dispensed in to his body within a few seconds of getting processed to retain the agonist properties that burn off the nocturnus strand. What he has now are augmented senses, and nothing more. No strength, no speed, no indication of mental or psychic sensitivities. The full blown dose could still kill him instantly, and if it does…”

“Then we’re back at square one, except with a finished formula and no test subject.”

“Exactly.”

“Wait, why can’t we just grab another junkie off the street?”

“Tolerance. The flood of dopamine and serotonin is not just a booster. It would instantly overload and incapacitate any normal human brain. The formula intakes through the Mu agonist receptor, which has been reformulated by this one’s opiate use. He’s the only person who has injected Pavel’s diacetylmorphine at high levels for years, and Pavel is the only known source of ninety percent purity or greater in the city.”

“So we find more of his loyal customers.”

“Except he’s dead. Coughlin shot him.”

“Those fucking idiots. To save a million dollars? Are you serious? Just the equipment in three square feet of this room costs….”

“Trust me, we’re aware. They weren’t. And Pavel’s phone is coded. It’s all nicknames and street slang. Even if we called them and illegally triangulated where they were, there’s no way to know what their level of use is, or if opiates are even their drug of choice. He sold lots of different substances. Oh, and there’s the worst part. Miranda Pavel doesn’t know he’s dead yet.  ”

“Oh god. Oh GOD. What if she goes to Mercer when she finds out? You know when she leaves here, she’ll go straight to him to make sure he was paid the correct amount and that he’s alright…”

“We’ve assigned her enough lab work to keep her here for the next thirty six hours. We need to have this done before then. Then it will all have been worth it and they can pay her off and send her to her own private island for the rest of her days.”

“There are no reparations for losing a loved one, O’Connor. His life didn’t have a price tag. You’re an asshole.”

“it is what it is, Sneed.”

“So if we started a backup subject on two daily doses to mold their Mu receptors with the opiates and increased it exponentially, what’s the timeline? And why can’t we use something stronger? Fentanyl, perhaps? Or we could manufacture a new compound and open up a wide open study at the university and recruit from the local needle exchange, they would show up in droves….”

“There are too many factors. Risk of overdose, even in a controlled lab environment. We’re not giving cocaine to monkeys or LSD doses to hippies from the seventies. People with his kind of tolerance end up in prison, or they end up dead. How he’s maintained his habit for this long, we don’t know. He may be a dirty junkie, but he’s damn good at it, and a unique one at that. Even if we got the exact dosage right and increased it by five percent per day — hell, even twenty five percent — it would still take two years of induction on a fresh subject before we could even think about giving the real formula to them. If we got extremely lucky and found someone near his addiction level, or even someone beyond it, then maybe we’d have the green light for Mr. Mercer, but Miranda will blow this whole thing wide open…”

“If we don’t have a data feed on the finished formula inside THIS man’s body, transmitting data in to the hub with him alive and kicking before the sun comes up, we can kiss our jobs goodbye. I can guarantee you that. Mercer will hire a fresh new batch of grad students from Stanford and send us packing.”

“So now you see, this man’s life is precious. Give him a dose from his stash. He has to stay content, and he only cares about one thing. How hard can it be?”

I back away from the glass and fall back on the bed, drained of my willingness to protest any longer. One of the lab techs takes my bag from the drawer, opens the cap off my drip line by the equipment hub, and dumps half of it in to the saline bag. It instantly goes dark brown and I see it creep through the tubes running along the ceiling until it reaches my arm.

An overwhelming urge to scratch an artificially induced fit of itches undulates through me, accompanied by a tidal wave of euphoric warmth, amplified by the residual synergy of Liquid Blue. The fiend begs me to stand up, apologize to them for my erratic threats, and ask them to give me the rest of it.

“His receptors should be as primed as they can possibly be right now. Raise the divider.”

One of the techs pulls a lever on the main control panel, and a portion of the far wall retracts, revealing a series of cells like mine, with other people trapped inside. There’s a dozen of them.  Some are screaming. Some are crying uncontrollably.  Others appear to be motionless and trapped in their own heads, staring at walls or floors or ceilings, possibly sedated or tranquilized. Each of the cells has unique differences, with different mechanical setups, but they’re all connected to a hub of IV lines that feeds in to the same panel that mine are hooked up to.

“As you know,” the oldest and seemingly most seasoned of the scientists begins, “There’s a unique blend of chemicals released by the brain and body at the point of death. There’s a certain time window that opens up for us to harvest the framework of the true illuminatus dose, with yields varying based on the subject. HOW they die is not so important as how they FEEL about how they die. It comes down to one thing.”

“Fear.” Sneed says.

“We’ve seen twenty to thirty percent yields from terminating subjects with lethal injection. Those are the lowest, probably because there’s no pain or suffering involved. We’ve tried systematic and strategic dismemberment, which works to a more successful degree than “quick and painless” methods, but immolation and electrocution are the best methods by far. They’re about equal, depending on the subject.”

“Doesn’t the subject’s personal psychological profile fluctuate the yield by as much as twenty percent over the top? For example, if we asked them, would you rather drown or burn to death, and they choose one or the other, and then we use the method they don’t prefer, we end up with the highest yields, correct?”

“It’s true. I think it’s safe to say that everyone on this team knew that ethics and conscientious objections have no place here, in the name of accomplishing what we set out to do for Mr. Mercer in the first place. Needless to say, there’s not a strict enough nondisclosure agreement that could be drafted by an army of lawyers to cover you if there are any leaks on this. What’s about to happen stays in this room. If any of you have any last minute objections, now is the time to leave and pretend you were never here. The company won’t retaliate against you if you back out before alpha phase begins, but once you’re in, you’re in. Is everyone onboard?”

“I’ve fully debriefed them about the consequences of anything but bull-horn determination from this point forward.”  O’Connor says. “We are men and women of logic. What is the ultimate form of logic? The ends justify the means.  We didn’t fuck up and leak the first nocturnus. Everyone who worked on that project is dead. All we can do is clean up their mess before anyone ever finds out that it exists.”

They all nod or mutter terms of agreement amongst themselves. I have an awful inkling that I know what’s about to happen next. I feel my stomach lurch and vomit in to the toilet in my cell.

“We will now initiate the apparatus for subjects A through L. Methods of execution from cells one through twelve will be as follows, from projected lowest yield to highest yield. Sneed?”

“Ahem. Asphyxiation through white phosphorus and sarin reaction. Asphyxiation through proximity. Strangulation by Kevlar fibers. Dismemberment by surgical laser. Envenomed induction via arachnid and serpent species. Envenomed induction via cyanide and cyanide analogues. Chemical immolation. Flame jet apparatus immolation. Drowning via water boarding apparatus. Drowning by submersion. Implosion via vacuum apparatus. Last but not least, and by far the greatest yield we can expect to see, organ failure via compaction. There will be a singular data feed with a short break in between for each method. We have a yield line going straight to Anhedonius Alpha. We can’t give him the dose until we’ve synthesized the yield from all twelve subjects together.”

“If at any point,” the lead tech begins,” Our vital signs for Anhedonius begin to drop, we’ll engage the kill switch and block the feed.”

Don’t watch. Turn the fuck around. This will stay in you forever.

But I do. Why? Because the fiend is in control. The fiend knows that another rush of the godsense serum, more pure and powerful than the teaser he’s already greedily devoured, will be cruising through the savage line that connects us to them. He doesn’t have to watch to receive it, but he wants to know the very moment when it’s coming. He wants an instant-by-instant timeline, the selfish evil fuck. Tears flow from my eyes, and maybe some from the left are my tears of pain, and sadness, and remorse for the terrible fate of these people who are about to be murdered for nothing more than ones and zeroes, but then again, the tears from the right eye, the tears that the fiend controls, they might just be tears of joy and happiness.

Yes, he IS that fucked up, and in this moment when I see the lever labeled “AB” engage, I vow to purge the world of his influence, even if it’s at the cost of my own life. Because I have to avenge these helpless people. These people who aren’t like me, and deserve to live. These normals.

The phosphorus bomb detonates in the first two cubes. But it’s not just phosphorus. That’s the base, but the catalyst has to be something much more sinister. Before it saturates the spaces completely, I see their handprints on the glass, and for the briefest of moments, I am filled with hope, because I can see the outlines of the man and woman inside, and they’re not thrashing or screaming….

But then, Sneed’s goddamn voice:

“Organophosphate environment primed. Deploy cyclosarin reaction.”

Condensed beads of moisture build on the interior walls of A and B as the gas flashpoints into liquid on every surface in the cell, including the skin of the two victims inside.

Sneed again:

“Deploy suction.”

What’s left of the phosphorus dust and vapor zips through the vac lines, dropping instantly like a curtain call to reveal the most horrific sight that my eyes have been unlucky enough to behold in my lifetime. The boils on their faces and arms are juicy and bulbous until the liquid fully absorbs, and they burst like Snickers-and-Cheeto birthed pimples on the face of a fat seventh grader. They are sizzling, but the burns and boils are not what’s killing them.

I’ve seen a few overdoses in my time, and as much of a vile and disgusting piece of shit that I am, I’ve never let anyone fall out completely in front of me. I’ve driven those junkies to the hospital, kicked them out of my car on to the curb, and sped off in to the night before anyone could question me, but they lived. I’ve stuck my fingers down the throats of people I’ve barely known to depress their tongues and force them to gag and puke up the vomit —- to purge it and expel and get it out, before it chokes them to death —- and ironically, now all I want more than ever is for that disgusted feeling to come back and wash over me in overwhelming waves, because that would mean I’m helping A and B…

But I can’t, because there are a hundred barriers between us. Barriers of impossible glass and fatal gas. Barriers of evil fucks who can already see dollar signs. And one, final barrier that’s inside ME, licking his fucking chops and waiting for that IV line to fill up with blue murder juice.

It doesn’t take long at all before their eyes go deadshot and A and B asphyxiate completely on the bloody backlog of vomit in their throats. There’s still steam and vapor rising off the boils when they drop to the floor. The fiend is nearly tap dancing now, waiting for that rush.

O’Connor reaffirms his jubilance.

“Yield on cyclosarin asphyxiation is marginal. Thirty nine percent. But that was to be expected. Death is guaranteed within one to three minutes, as you all know. Can I release the feed?”

I expect the old guy or Sneed to give O’Connor his orders, but instead, it’s a new voice.

“No, Linus. Save the feed until all the cycles are complete.”

An old man wearing a hundred grand enters the party through the sealed airlock where the suit who shot Amir is typing away. His Rolex is custom-made, and with my augmented vision, I can see the “WM” logo that was on the Liquid Blue vial encrusted with diamonds under the face.

William Mercer.

The scientists break in to a round of applause, falling all over themselves to shake his hand, with the freshly gassed corpses of the first two victims still marinating in the byproducts of the sarin, like an afterthought.

“We’re glad you’re here, sir! Are you sure you don’t want to wait until we’ve prepared the full dose? Harvesting this yield will be quite gruesome….”

“No, I came down here precisely because I want to witness the yields. In fact…” Mercer pauses and pulls a video recording device from his blazer. “I’m going to capture it forever. When we cure cancer, when we bring back the dead, when we overcome every medical obstacle and leap over every biological scientific hurdle that has plagued man since the beginning of time, we will show them that THIS is what had to be done. Nothing is gained without sacrifice,ladies and gentlemen. NOTHING.”

He’s got them captivated. Awestruck, even. They believe that what they’re doing here is benevolent and virtuous and good.

I am more determined than ever now to make them pay for this. Somehow.

The next thirty minutes of the slaughter burn in to my memory. I want to look away, but the screams and wails would haunt me just the same. Knowing that these innocent people will die for me — it is burning agony, a cause so monstrous and brutal in nature that it could snap the addiction gorilla off my back on a split second whim and replace it with PTSD that extends in to the afterlife. If there’s something horrible enough to echo in your psyche after you’re dead, then this is it.

A new hole opens in my soul with the gas victims, a tiny pinprick. It stretches mercilessly with the strangulations in the next cell of victims number nine and ten. My imprisoned gaze is transfixed courtesy of the inner dope fiend, so that he can measure the timetable of his impending Liquid Blue dose. I have the morbid luxury of screaming, of banging on the walls, of begging them to stop this now before eight more suffer an even more gruesome fate. By the time the spider-silk kevlar fibers have dismembered the heads and extremities of the next two, Mercer and his lab flunkies have already released the swarm of black mambas, black widows, brown recluses, and poison dart frogs into the third enclosure.

The deadly creatures ignore the two at first, until some pressurized switch hisses, and they’re covered in some sort of pheromone that apparently enrages the frogs. Number eight suffers a barrage of deadly barbs to the throat and face. Surely, the venom will kill him in moments. There’s another hiss, something to antagonize the snakes. Perhaps the poisonous arachnids are a backup plan just to cover their bases. Number seven hugs her knees in the corner, screaming, kicking at the two mambas with her bare feet, but to no avail. A black widow crawls up her leg as she’s preoccupied with keeping the snake away from her, and the sudden movement of her kicking causes both to strike simultaneously. The snake’s fangs rip a hole in her foot, then there’s another bite at her calf, then another. It continues to strike with a lightning rush of pheromone induced ferocity and tears in to her pelvis, using the bone there as leverage to depress its fangs in to her flesh as deeply as possible. The venom is dispatched in a flooded deluge in to her femoral vein, where she may find some mercy, as her death will come quicker through that route.

I can’t stop screaming. I know Mercer has the antivenin. If I can get out of this, I swear on my mother’s good grace that he will suffer ten times beyond the horrors that are transpiring before me.

The frog and snake venom have caused their wounds to swell, corroding them from the inside out. But the girl is strong. She grabs the snake off the floor and wraps it around her neck, clawing in to its skin with her fingernails, forcing it to constrict around her throat in a sickening effort to strangle herself so she can stop the burn of the poison.

“Ooh! Nice! Give her points for creativity! I think an applause is in order, our yield just jumped up a good nine percent!” Sneed exclaims.

“Disrespect the dead again with a little outburst like that again, Sneed, and I’ll make a cell for you too.” Mercer says coldly.

There’s no time for me to dwell on any of it because the next cell is already activating…

“Wait,” Mercer abruptly commands. “Stop operations for a moment. Dump the remainder of the diacetylmorphine in to Anhedonius Alpha’s drip line. We are halfway to pure induction and his Mu receptors need to be wide open. Use our pure lab reserve if there’s none of Pavel’s left. We need him primed and ready. Sneed, what’s our yield rate looking like?”

“Almost thirty percent above what we expected after three cells. The nocturnus capacity has already reached fifty five.”

“Excellent! For once, something is progressing better than we planned! Proceed with the flame jets, the water tank, and the cyanide blaster.” Mercer says, like a little kid on Christmas morning.

Yummy! The fiend inside says. Blue, blue, blue! Fuck Roxy and Helen and all those short acting bitches! Here comes the BLUE!

I try to tune out that voice by distracting myself with the fates of numbers five and six. Watching someone drown in a sealed tank and then another person burned alive back to back within one minute will take your mind off anything. Then they break out the laser cutter.

Ooh! Ooh! Getting close! Only a few cells away from becoming GOD!

Just then, the rest of the heroin dump slams through my IV and I collapse to my knees with the pleasure of it. I begin to nod, and I hate myself for it. I hear the screams of the remaining test subjects but I can’t keep my head up or my eyes open. When I finally come to, the last chamber has been compacted by the hydraulics, and there’s a thin smear of blood, guts, and bone on the far wall. It’s all that remains of number twelve, crushed in to a pulp for no other cause than the very reason that he was most afraid of enclosed spaces.

“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the moment of truth has arrived,” Mercer begins with another one of his power drunk tirades of grandiose bullshit. “We expected a yield of ninety to ninety five percent, but we are instead sitting on a magnificent ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY, which means our Alpha here is going to demonstrate and accomplish things that even WE have no way of predicting. I’m thinking we take a cadaver and try to bring it back from the dead, but first things first. O’Connor, is the dose ready?”

“Confirmed, sir. Synthesized and ready to engage.”


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V.

I awake to more screams from those who are already gone, not on the outside, but inside my head. Inside my veins. Inside my soul.

The rush isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced — a surreal flood of raw fear, the dread of certain death. They are gone, but the echoes of their terror reverberate and bounce around in my head as the world glazes over in front of me. It’s another slipstreamed bubble with a time differential, slow motion fear in its most primal state, relived, regurgitated, reanimated in my mind. I can’t move or scream. My body jerks and goes rigid as a wooden board. The equipment beeps with increasing frequency…

deedledeedledeedle

..and I can only assume that my vitals are dropping.

“It’s too much. We’re losing him! Cut the feed!”

“No. If he falls out, he falls out, but we’re committed now. There’s no going back.”

I send out a millisecond prayer that I won’t survive and that they’ll fail. I try not to breathe, intentionally, contributing in my own minimalist self-sabotage.

But the rush finally arrives and I evolve in to something beyond human, beyond natural life. It’s more mental than physical, but I know within a flash of a moment that my body is repairing itself. The tunnel vision becomes spherical omniscience. A surreal bubble of invisible essence seals me away from the real world.

Very suddenly, I am aware of everything I need to do to make this right. I can almost see it panning out before it happens, before my hands move and rip out the stapled IV line in my arm, only to see my flesh mend itself instantly. One drop of blood falls to the white tiles below in infinite slow motion. By the time it hits the floor, the entire plan has played out in my head, down to the last detail.

Mercer approaches the glass and our eyes burn in to each other’s souls, a high noon stare down as he curls his lip in disgust at my defiance.

“Tch. It’s already in you, fool. You’re not even a person anymore. I can read the machines, but tell me. How do you feel?” he implores with contempt.

I remain silent. The game of smoke and mirrors kicks off as I roll my eyes in to the back of my head and collapse to the floor, shuddering violently. There’s enough energy ripping through me that forcing my body to quiver and shake is easy. And surely it looks like a genuine seizure.

“FUCK. Get in there now, we need to put him under and get his heart rate under control for observation.”

A platoon of security goons floods in to the lab, armed with tasers and hypodermic needles likely loaded with more thorazine. They’re not techs, just beefed up meatheads who are all likely juicing on steroids.
I keep my eyes closed, but I can hear Mercer’s sixty year old heartbeat, somewhat more sluggish and labored than the others. I feel him step away from the airlock through the changes in the air around me. He’s only four feet away now.

A hiss of pressure. The divider opens. His apes come through first and lift me off the ground to my feet, but I continue to play ‘possum.

“Get him on the table. Sneed, a blood sample. Is he succumbing to the strength of the illuminatus, or is it the diacetyl?”

A pinprick in my arm. More hustled footsteps. I still quiver, but I don’t full-on twitch or shake uncontrollably.

“Standby, Mr. Mercer,” Sneed says from the nearby monitor. “Prep a naloxone dose, just in case he’s revivable. If it’s our serum, he’s dead anyway.”

Deedledeedledeedle. The readings are coming through. I only have a few moments before they realize I’m faking and I go back in the cell, probably forever.

I raise my eyelids and take in the positions of the bodyguards. I see the opening, another slow motion slipstream of revealed weakness within all their careful precautions. I sit up and tuck my legs under as I push off the open lab table, grabbing a pair of forceps mid leap and wrapping my free arm around Mercer’s throat. In a few more milliseconds, I have the cold points of the tool against the old man’s carotid artery.

“None of you move a muscle, or I’ll open him up and he’ll bleed to death. He’s a hemophiliac, right?” I ask, eyes gleaming, a devil possessed by a demon. “And don’t lie to me, Sneed. I can HEAR his blood. I can feel it. I know it won’t stop flooding, once the gates are open.”

“How did you ….”

“Shut up, you bastard. You keep these meatheads away from me and open the door. And you slide me your phone on the floor. Now.”

I slowly retreat to the far side of the room by Mr. Suit’s computer. He’s on his feet with the .45 trained on my forehead. Sneed does as commanded. I can feel the open hallway as Sneed unseals the lab and the hum of elevator cables, fifty yards away.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, fellas. I’m going to get in that elevator with Mercer, and we’re going to the bottom floor. But before that, I’m going to call 911 and tell them there’s been a lab accident here, and that twelve people are dead. And I’m going to wait in the lobby downstairs until the cops come through the front door. Then, you’ll all lie and I’ll tell the truth when I’m out of here and safe, and we’ll see who the world believes. Sound good?”

“You fool.” Mercer spits. “We’ll find you, wherever you go. You have almost two billion dollars running through your veins right now. You’d better find the biggest bag of junk and shoot all of it and hope you fall out if you get out of here, because as long as you’re alive, we’ll be after you.”

“Sure, sure. Maybe so. But you’ll be spending another two billion to do it. Maybe more. And that’s if the FBI doesn’t shut you down while you kidnap another dozen innocent people. You fucked up. I know how valuable I am now.”

I open the cellphone and dial 911, but before I can press send…

I make a critical mistake, taking my eyes off of Suit. I see muzzle flash just after hearing the low scream of my impending doom. I smell the hot gunpowder breath of death. The dose grants me the time to make the choice.

Shove the old man in front of it, or take it and get rid of the fiend forever and the blue with it.

I hate the man inside, the fiend man, so much more than this old one. But both are dangerous.

I also see slow-motion Sneed out of the corner of my eye, ordering the other apes to put down the shooter before he costs them everything.

“NO! NO! You can’t kill hi—”

I stand firm. It’s Mercer’s lucky day.


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V.

The bullet rips a hole through my forehead and I’m astonished that I can feel myself blink at the force of its impact. This is square one, where the rehashing first began. I feel Mercer scurry away as my grip around him goes weak, but my brain thinks fast enough to force sleight of hand. I snag his keycard off his belt before I start to fall, before he gets too far away from me.

I’m dead. For a moment, at least. I keep waiting for the life flashing slipstream, but I don’t get a second play through. This is it. But at least only thirteen died and not twenty six, or more….

The numbers don’t mean anything when the sizzle reel hits the last frame. The blackness feels better than anything that came before it. It’s permanent peace, except there’s this small speck of blue, scurrying around in the abyss….

Livetime again.

….I feel the edges of the skin and the fragmented bone and the blood itself, all coming together like a colony of worker drones, repairing the damage before I fall to the floor. My hands are out in time to arrest my descent, before I faceplant and smash my face against the tiles.

It’s all new. This hasn’t happened yet. It’s all new in Liquid Blue.

I keep the soundness of mind to snag the keycard just before it hits the floor, although the phone is out of reach. I backpedal through the last airlock in the hallway before the goons are within ten yards of me and slide Mercer’s passkey through the device outside. It slams shut, sealing them inside until they kill his badge in a few minutes through the computer. I already hear O’Connor’s fingers pounding furiously on the keyboard.

I realize that I underestimated Sneed when he kills the lights as I’m halfway down the hall, sprinting for the elevator. I improvise and turn left, doubling my pace to the red exit sign at the forked end. I can still beat them down on the stairs. Maybe.

I feel the impact of metal against metal through the door, but it’s coming from the floors below me. Cylinders of steel, humming with a low electric current. Deployed maglocks, which I should have known would be on every door in every stairwell of this building.

They want me to go up to the roof, and I have to. It’s the only chance I have at open space, where the blue gives me a true advantage.

They have no idea how much, though.

My mind races with what could be waiting for me at the top as I bound up the stairs, three at a time.

They wouldn’t be letting you go up there, unless…

Unless what?

I reach the door to the rooftop, which would almost certainly be locked in any normal building, but the undeployed maglock taunts me, an ominous harbinger of doom.

The night air kisses across my skin and gives me chill bumps as I go through the door, but the weather is perfectly still. The wind is from the rotors of the helicopter on the other side of the roof. I hold my hands up and slowly backpedal until my heels hit the lip of the precipice and there’s nowhere to go.

I can hear Mercer’s voice in the earpieces of the mercenary team that’s spilling out of the aircraft, and the click of carbon on reinforced plastic and glass as they load tranquilizers in to the chambers of their modified AR15s. The troops have laser sights on me, and they should have already fired, but Mercer hasn’t given the order.

“Do not shoot. I repeat, do not fire. Just subdue him and bring him back down. I can’t risk contaminating the specimen inside his body. Is that clear?”

I have only one choice here, and I’ve already seen it. I saw it downstairs, before. But what I didn’t see were the shades of the twelve, holding my outstretched hands on either side of the rooftop’s edge. No one else can see them, but they are with me. They will always be with me. I hear their voices, begging and pleading me to make it through this and press on and persevere. They whisper the names of their loved ones inside my head.

Above all things, although I don’t deserve this gift, it is my duty to carry it, for the sake of truth and truth alone.

I hear a twitchy and overly zealous trigger finger depress against a trigger, and I’m out of time.

So we jump.


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VI.

I scream through the entire freefalling descent to the pavement, many stories below.

I’m ashamed that I find myself leaning forward, to ensure that my head hits the concrete first, because maybe that will be enough to take me out of this fight for good.

But it’s not. Not even close.

I feel hundreds of bones shatter all at once. I feel the curve of my forehead caving in to a bloodied and impacted parabola. My body warps immediately afterward, like a lone scarecrow fraying and ripping apart in the gale force of a tornado. I hear clicks and flashes of cellphones and gasps and wails as bystanders and pedestrians on the street bear witness to my destruction.

But then, the screams shift from horror to astonishment. My bones begin to push themselves back in to their proper positions. It’s as if I’m a broken Lego toy that has blasted apart after a fall to the kitchen floor, and my invisible child master, the Liquid Blue, is putting me back together so that I can be played with again.

I hear the helicopter overhead as it hovers above with a spotlight, ready to chase me to the ends of the earth. As I rise to my feet, regenerated yet again, I can think of nothing I can do or say to the bystanders to make them understand. But something does come out of my mouth. I suppose it’s somewhat acceptable.

“William Mercer did this.” I tell them. “And he murdered twelve innocent people to do it.”

There are police sirens a few streets away. The helicopter flees. I am tempted to enter the custody of the police, but there’s a chance that they’ve been paid, or that they will be. Mercer has too many contacts, too many resources. I can’t trust them.

“David!”

A familiar voice. I turn to face the opposite end of the block and see Miranda Pavel. Our eyes meet with a certain sadness and I run to her car as fast as I can.

My flesh hasn’t fully mended yet and I leave a dripping trail of ichor down the sidewalk as I reach her, bleeding gallons the entire way.

We speed off in to the night as I leak glowing sapphire pools of unnatural vitae in the leather passenger seat of her Camaro.


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VII.

I wish I could tell you that William Mercer went to prison for murder and his pharmaceutical company went under. I wish I could tell you that the people who took the videos and photos of me when I jumped off that roof didn’t conveniently disappear one by one over the course of the next three months. I wish I could tell you a lot of things about truth and justice, that they prevailed. But I’ve been a liar my entire life until that night, and I’m not about to start again now.

Here’s the truth. The government needs what Mercer created in that lab, and he knows it. I am somewhat unique, but I’m not one of a kind. They’ll find another eventually. Anhedonius Beta is inevitable.

But they won’t cure cancer or bring back your loved ones when they succeed. Not you, and not me. There’s too much money, too much power, too much control at stake for them to do that. I’m not naive enough to believe that they would use Liquid Blue to benefit mankind. Every single person who was in that labratory is dead except for Mercer himself. For a time, Miranda was able to run with me, to keep me away from them, but I found her dead last week in our oceanside hut in the Phillipines. She was one of those people with an irrational phobia. She couldn’t stand cotton balls. Amir and I used to sneak up behind her and rub them against her cheek to freak her out when we were high.

Her skin had been completely sheared off. They were tufts of cotton stuck between tendons and ligaments and an entire mound of them crammed down her throat. The only thing I’m thankful for is that they weren’t able to put what they harvested from her inside me like the others, because I can’t handle a thirteenth voice or the responsibility of another burden of closure.

I hear them, constantly. They aren’t trying to torment me, but they do. They beg me to find their mothers, their spouses, their brothers, their sisters. So their loved ones can stop worrying about them or expecting them to come home.

I can’t visit their families and tell them the truth because I can’t even function anymore. It’s the anhedonia, you see. I can’t get high, because then their whispers become roars, and instead of shadows in the corner of my eye, they appear in front of me, gassed or crushed or bitten or dismembered. So I wrote letters for them like this one I’m writing now, along with some for my mother and sister, and that will have to be enough.

I know everything about the twelve. I AM the twelve, whether I want to be or not. And how can I be twelve when I couldn’t even get through the day as one? Without poisoning myself to feel better?

And with no drug to protect me, with no feelings to anchor me, I am just as driftless and empty as the others. I may as well be dead, but it’s so difficult to be dead. The terrible power that runs through my veins should not belong to any man. It shouldn’t even belong to God himself.

There’s only one way I can think of to end this, and it’s fitting, I think. I was damned from the beginning, but I like to think of this furnace as a cleansing crucible of flame. A redeeming and righteous end that will burn it all away, and finally bring me some peace.

I feel my tear ducts itching to release moisture. My mind, the intangible spirit within that does still hold emotion, it’s telling my body to cry. But there are no tears. And, finally, there is no dread to wake up tomorrow in hell. Because there will be no tomorrow. I thank God for that.

It may take hours for me to burn, and the pain will be great, and the Blue will try hard to mend my body as it slowly flakes away, one patch of incinerating flesh at a time. But eventually, the fire will win. That, I am certain of. Until then, I will stand with the twelve amongst the flames, and they will stand with me.

My name is David, and I’m a drug addict.

My sobriety date is January 9th, 2017.


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Credit: D.A. Wilcox / Violent Harvest

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by cnkguy
Anhedonius

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